Traveling in Mexico is easy. Maybe too easy. Because Mexico’s major destinations are set up for tourists, it’s all too easy to fall into the slavering and sunburned hoard of blended-drink guzzlers which is funneled with precision through a junket of must-see attractions, overpriced restaurants, and nightclubs best left to the frat boys. You don’t want to be that guy. Here’s a few rules for stepping away from the herd to enjoy a more sophisticated and fulfilling vacation.
“Mexico is a cosmopolitan country. Forget piña coladas and Cancun’s Senor Frog t-shirts. Envision eating at a decadent restaurant and shopping for fine leather shoes in Mexico City.”
Rule #1 Stop ordering margaritas
Mexicans, as a general rule, don’t drink margaritas. Perhaps this is because Mexican margaritas tend to be slushy sugar bombs. If you want to impress a local lady or bartender, order your tequila straight. And, of course, eschew Patron for something more interesting. Repeat after me: Un trago de Siete Leguas por favor. Your tequila will appear in a shot glass, but don’t feel pressured to shoot it. It’s perfectly acceptable to sip and savor. If straight liquor’s not your thing, drink like a local by ordering a Paloma, or tequila and grapefruit soda with a salted rim.
Rule #2 Leave the beach
We all need our fix of hammock time, but consider planning an inland vacation. Mexico is a cosmopolitan country and home to a handful of the world’s greatest cities, including Guadalajara, Oaxaca, and, that shining jewel–Mexico City. Instead of guzzling piña coladas and shopping for Senor Frog t-shirts in Cancun, eat at one of the world’s best restaurants and shop for fine leather shoes in Mexico City.
Rule #3 Talk to the locals
A true gentleman understands the art of conversation, and is willing to make the slight effort to extend that art across the language barrier. Take the time to learn the Spanish phrases you need to politely engage. Often a few phrases are enough to get the conversational ball rolling—in cities and tourist areas, most locals speak some English. Your respect and interest will be rewarded with local intel and, often, good company. After all, you won’t find the best restaurants, bars, or music by hanging out with other tourists.
“A few phrases are enough to get the ball rolling. Take the time to learn the Spanish phrases you need to politely engage. You won’t find the best restaurants, bars, or music by hanging out with other tourists.”
Rule #4 Ditch your flip-flops
Speaking of which, if you want to set yourself apart from the tourist herd (thereby improving your chances of getting the benefit of the doubt from interesting locals), pack some good clothes. If the heat mandates shorts, fine. If you must. But pack nice threads too. Show the residents some respect by dressing as good, or better, than you would in your home territory.
Rule #5 Stay awhile
Think slow travel. A month of in Mexico will give you the opportunity to polish your language skills, find the coolest haunts, and forge lasting relationships. Sadly, we don’t all have that luxury. But you can make the most of a short vacation by spending it all in one place and refusing to over-schedule your activities. Enjoy a daily routine, get to know a neighborhood. Rich in strange detail, Mexico is best savored at a leisurely pace, as befits a gentleman.