I traveled to three incredibly different places around the world in the last three months, but everyone I know asked one major question about them all: Is it safe?
In the next few weeks I will be covering tips on traveling to northern Morocco and Israel, but today I’m focusing on our sunny neighbor to the south.
During the freezing temperatures and weekly snow last February, I got the chance to escape to the western coast of Mexico to the one the friendliest vacation destinations in the country, Puerto Vallarta.
- Practice basic Spanish before your trip. Not only will this enable you to speak with the locals and enhance your experience, but it will make getting around much easier.
- Depending on the season, you will have the rare opportunity to get close to amazing wildlife. Whichever animal you seek, make sure you plan your trip accordingly (i.e. whale watching is best December through February).
- Emergency medial care is available at all local hospitals for an out of pocket fee (usually cash only). I sprained my ankle while I was visiting, and my hotel had an EMT staff present 24 hours a day. They were able to call a local doctor to examine my injury, and I had to pay $100 in cash for the visit plus materials (just 5 pesos). This was a bargain compared to visiting a hospital, and much less stressful, so always check with the front desk before calling a cab or going to the hospital on your own.
- Most medicines are available by prescription at any local pharmacy for a very reasonable fee (my medicine for the sprain came out to just $4 U.S.). Some medicines are available over the counter, so if you are not experiencing a serious illness, try visiting a pharmacy before calling a doctor.
- Update your name, address, and contact info on your bag tag. Security may ask for identification before releasing your bags, so make sure it matches the information on your passport. Also, in case your luggage gets lost, it will be easier to track it and return it to you.
- Unless you are arriving from the West Coast of the U.S., you will most likely have a layover in Mexico City. You are required at this point to go through customs, but once you arrive in Puerto Vallarta, you are all set to go.
- There is a tiny square sheet attached to the bottom of your customs form that security will return to you after they stamp your passport. Make sure you hang on to this. If not, you will have to go through customs again before leaving the country.
- Always carry cash. More establishments are accepting credit cards than ever, but without cash, you may miss the truly local treats like street food, handmade clothing, and gifts for your loved ones.
- Make sure you carry your passport if you need to exchange money. It is a national law.
Food & Drink Information:
- Don’t drink the water. I’m sure everyone is aware of this, but it never hurts to have a reminder. Most of the hotels use filtered or bottled water, but it’s always best to ask before sipping.
- Start your day with a local java specialty: café de olla. This delicious breakfast treat is prepared with cinnamon and a Mexican-style brown sugar called piloncillo. This combination, along with its preparation in clay pots, gives the coffee a distinct and sweet flavor.
- Like crepes in Paris, you’ll want to try the authentic Mexican late night street food: tacos. Your best bet is to cruise the nightlife area and choose a nearby cart.
- Skip the shops and head straight to the outdoor markets scattered around the city. You’ll find load of handmade items unique to the area.
- Haggle – but be kind. Don’t forget that Mexico has a struggling economy and you are supporting locals by purchasing their items. Avoid “nickle and diming” these hard working people, and offer up a fair price.
- Puerto Vallarta after dark is something you don’t want to miss and a visit to the Malecón is an absolute must. By day, it’s a mellow, beach side promenade, and turns into a lively club scene at night.
- Enjoy yourself, but keep your wits about you. The appeal of 100% pure tequila can make you indulge more than you would at home. It’s completely fine (and expected) that you will have a few drinks in this hopping party town, but always remember that you are in a foreign country and should be aware of your surroundings at all times.