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Travel Tips: Mexican Vacation

by C. Martinez

Your eyes are heavy from reading, and you smell of library. You have to get away. Well, whether that calls for romance or a party, Mexico is the place. With little more than an Hola of Spanish and just a pocket full of pesos you can maneuver your way through a country rich in tradition and warm in disposition.

Time and place Begin with an investigation of possible destinations. Regardless of stereotypes perpetuated by Cancun and MTV, Mexico has many faces. It's more than beach and sunshine 365 days a year. Weather, climate, altitude and terrain vary by region. And, if you're counting pennies, keep in mind that there are several business seasons during the year. The difference between one and another may be only a day, and will save you big bucks.

Documentation In a land of open borders Canadians, U.S. Citizens and Citizens of many other countries don't need a visa to tour the Mexican interior. They only need a tourist card and to present one of the following documents: valid passport, certified copy of birth certificate, voter's registration or affidavit of birth with an official photo I.D. (i.e. drivers license).
Nationalities that require a tourist visa can apply easily by taking the necessary documentation to their nearest Mexican Consulate. You will need a completed application form, valid passport with a photocopy of the page where the bearer's personal data is and where the valid US visa and I-94 are, and a small consular fee (either cash or money order). Certain nationalities are exempt from this payment.
Student applicants should also present official proof of enrollment from the school, round trip airline ticket or official confirmation of the applicant's travel reservation, proof of economic solvency (either bank statement, international credit card or traveler checks) and passport type photos. Processing takes 48 hours.
Upon arrival or entry Customs will review your documentation. You will then pass a 'traffic light' set up to randomly turn green for Go or red for Stop. If you get a red light, they will ask to see the contents of your bags. Don't carry anything that equals trouble.
Finally, always carry your photo I.D.,. You must be at least 18 to cross the border without a parent or guardian. If you're underage and get caught, they'll hold you until your parents pick you up. I can't even begin to explain what that would be like if your parents live in Budapest.

What else to pack Paperwork isn't the only important thing to put in your suitcase. In addition to the appropriate wardrobe, be sure to pack the following: a pocket-size conversation dictionary, a pocket travel guide, a portable first aid kit, camera and film, sunscreen and traveler's checks and ATM cards.

Dollars and pesos As you explore, you'll discover that most businesses accept US dollars. Credit cards like Visa, MasterCard, and American Express are also widely accepted. If you prefer using pesos, exchange currency at one of the countless casas de cambio (exchange houses). They stay open later than most banks and offer quicker service. Check the current exchange rate just to be safe.

Driving My advice is drive as little as possible. If you insist on driving, listen up! First of all, purchase Mexican insurance. Your regular carrier probably doesn't cover travel to Mexico. This insurance is cheaply available on the border. When buying gasoline, remember that it is sold in liters. The green pumps, Magna Sin, are unleaded. Prices are about the same as in the U.S.,. But only cash is accepted, there is no self-service, and most stations close by 10 PM. As you pull onto the kilometered-highway, don't forget that it is a system that depends on toll funding. So, prepare with a hefty handful of coins. Finally, use caution. You're not in New Jersey. Cooperate with the legal authorities. If you're involved in a traffic accident: don't sign any agreements or accept any liability. Contact your Mexican insurance company immediately.

Other ways of getting around Within metro areas, buses are the primary local means of transportation. Tourists may be intimidated. But, these can add a unique experience to your vacation and are safer than cabs or rides from strangers. There is also a fairly safe inter-city bus system for exploring more of the country. For an even safer and more enjoyable ride, consider the more expensive train system.

Eating You may have heard of Moctezuma's Revenge. Well, Mexican food won't necessarily send you running for water or the bathroom. Many find that the food is simply something that you have to get used to. While you may want to stick to the nicer more reputable sit down places, you'll see plenty of gringos eagerly seeking out food stands. After all, the stands are still a zillion times better and cheaper than Taco Bell. If you opt for fresh fruits or vegetables, be sure to wash them with distilled or bottled water.

Shopping Stay away from the knock off name brand goods. That's stuff you can get at a swapmeet for the same price. Opt for artesanias (arts and crafts native to the region). Open market style stores have great cultural souvenirs. It's also easy to find inexpensive liquor and cigarettes. As you walk the streets, vendors will call to you. Bargain with them. However, don't be a tightwad and try to talk down the price of something that's already dirt-cheap.

Clubbing Depending on the city, the nightlife can be booming. As you walk by the nightclub-lined streets, bouncers will invite you in. Entrance is usually no-cover and you pay for each drink or approximately a ten-dollar cover charge for drink-and-drown. You can find a lot of American dance music playing with a Mexican twist. And, unlike in some U.S. locations, you can smoke inside. But respect those around you. If you don't, you may end up in jail.

Drinking In Mexico you only have to be 18 to drink. And it's better than a Saturday night kegger! There are always plenty of specials for tourists. Prices vary per day and establishment. And when you think of how much you'd be paying in the states, it's great to know you're paying less. To ensure you don't jeopardize your health, drink lots of other fluids (only distilled or bottled) to offset the liquor.

Enjoy! There you have it. Don't go overboard. Before and when you set foot on Mexican land, remember these guidelines. Enjoy yourself nonetheless! For more tips visit: http://www.go2mexico.com/traveltips/. Population: 94.4 million Area: 761,603 square miles Capital: Mexico City Currency: The Peso

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