Mexico is so much more than a beach.

Mexico is so much more than a beach, so very much more. People who watch CNN daily express their fears of visiting Mexico. When you tell them you are going there on holidays they wonder if you will return alive. But of course you will! Yes, there are some major problems with the country, particularly with the drug trade and the people behind it – the cartels. Yes, innocent people have been caught in the crossfire and it is sad. I do not mean to dismiss any of that but what I will say is, there is violence everywhere in the world. Bad things also happen in my home of Toronto.

I love Mexico. I try to go a few times every year. My sister, brother-in-law and baby niece live in that beautiful country and I love having that excuse to go see them.

The Mexico that I know is not the Cancun or Cabo (more about that in another blog post!) of Mexico. It is the real, authentic thing. There are thirty-one states in Mexico and so far I have visited twelve. I am working on conquering them all. Each state is beautiful and unique in itself and each has it’s own special food and craft.

I wanted to blog a few notes about this awesome country for any of your future visits.

1) Respect. Have respect and be open. Mexico is a foreign country. Yes, we share a continent but we have many differences. Keep your eyes and ears open to the people and the culture you see. Try the food, visit the markets, take public transit. Embrace what you see. Talk to the locals in your broken Spanish with a smile. But remember, never say or do something that you would not do in your own city. I have seen it often when people are on vacation, they suddenly act out of character, rudely and disrespectfully. Remember, you were allowed a visa to enter Mexico. That is a privilege and you should respect that.

2) Visa. When entering Mexico you are given a tourist visa. The maximum number of days you can visit as a tourist is for is 180. The visa will be a piece of paper that the officer will put in your passport. Keep it there at all times. If you are ever asked by an official for your passport, you will need the visa to prove you were legally allowed to enter the country. When you check in to your flight to leave Mexico, the airline representative will keep the visa.

3) Money. As everyone knows, the money used in Mexico is pesos. The more touristy places accept US dollars but you will end up paying more had you used pesos. Right now, roughly one Canadian dollar gets you 12 pesos. Instead of taking Canadian money to exchange at the airport (which is fine to do if you want), I get pesos out of a bank machine at the airport. That way you know you are getting the exact current exchange rate. I normally never carry more than 2000 pesos on me at a time. Look for machines from either HSBC or Banamex.

4) Tipping. All of that pesky change that you will receive will come in handy for tips. The guy who helps you park your car? Tip him. The guy who pumps your gas? Tip him. The oldest-woman-you-have-seen-in-your-life who looks at you with those glassy eyes? Give her a little something. Porque no? Giving a little gets you more in life.

5) Driving. While I do not recommend driving in, say, Mexico City (well unless you are a professional driver!), driving in other places like Quintana Roo is easy. When you rent a car, it will have a standard transmission unless you specifically ask for a standard one. The biggest obstacle when driving in Mexico – besides the pedestrians, bikes, motorbikes and dogs – are the speed bumps, better know as topes. If you don’t keep your eye out for them, you will definitely do damage to your car. Topes come in all styles and sizes. Beware! When it is time to gas up, look for a Pemex station. The signs are green and they are the only gas station you will see. They are all full-service so when you pull in, look for one of the guys waving you over to his pump.

6) Water. Don’t drink it. Bottled water is inexpensive and can be bought everywhere. If you are going to be cooking, be sure to wash fruits and vegetables very well. I also recommend picking up extra disinfectant to soak the produce in just to be extra safe.

P.S. The images in this blog post are from my on-going Mexican Holgas projects. To view more images from this series, please visit my main photography site and look for the Gallery called Mexican Holgas.