Eating in Mexico

 “Take my advice, dear; never eat anything ugly or wrinkled.”

Overheard in a Cancun restaurant.

Follow the advice offered here and you’ll have an excellent chance of coming home even healthier than you left.

It is sad but true that gringos sometimes get sick while traveling in Mexico. In fairness, Mexicans may also become ill when visiting the United States. Some people even experience health problems traveling inside their own country. In other words, travel may broaden the mind, but it also tends to upset our stomach.

Why? The short answer is that our body’s naturally occurring bacteria are adapted to our present location. Unfortunately, these bacteria don’t travel well and when we move far away from home, they can’t handle it. Once we arrive in Mexico (or Paris, Missoula, Tokyo, etc.), our body must re-adapt to other, new bacteria. Until we’ve completed this adjustment, we not only don’t feel as healthy as usual, but we have a tendency to become irritable and to blame our queasiness on the local enchiladas and ice cubes. Unfortunately, this process of adaptation seems to span most of the average traveler’s vacation time.

In addition to homesick bacteria, (known medically as “Traveler’s Diarrhea), travel also subjects us to stressful changes in climate, altitude and daily routines. Throw in the anxiety of last-minute travel preparations, white-knuckle cab rides, and long nights in short, lumpy hotel beds, and it’s a wonder the traveler survives at all.

The first step in staying healthy is to recognize that most health problems you’ll encounter in Mexico come from three sources: food, beverages (especially water) and Acts of Nature (sunburn, bug bites, tripping over cobblestones, etc.).

Not surprisingly, food and beverages are the biggest offenders. Next to overeating, the most likely cause of diarrhea suffered by both Mexicans and tourists (once they’ve adjusted to their location) is improper food handling and accidental contamination. No matter how fancy the restaurant or delicious the aroma, if the cook’s hands, knives or dishes are dirty, the food will not be clean.

Always attempt to reduce the chances of infection. I say reduce because for the most part it is impossible to completely eliminate the opportunities to eat or drink something that is contaminated.

This is one of the risks involved in leaving home. If the risk is too much for you, you’ll have to restrict the range of your traveling and experiences. You should not, however, carry a “come what may” attitude to extremes.

Prevention

“Your cautious friends and family will probably force you to prepare for your adventurous journey by filling yourself full of typhoid serum… quinine to dose the malaria they are sure you will acquire, and flannel bellybands to protect you from cholera….”

Off To Mexico by Leone and Alice Moats (1935)

Smart travelers are aware of their bodies. “Shall I have just one more taco and another beer?,” “Do I dare lay out on the beach until noon or should I go in now?,” “Am I too tired to tour the ruins and still get back by dinnertime?” Each of these situations requires a decision, one that can mean the difference between a good night’s sleep and indigestion, a tan or a burn and a relaxed day versus a marathon.

Since most of our vacations are all-too short, such decisions become very important. Yes, you can buy a fistful of anti-acid tablets at the local farmacia or smother your back with sunburn ointment, but why suffer the discomfort and inconvenience? It’s much smarter, both for your health and pleasure, to know when to stop and what to avoid. Rather than load up on medicines and remedies, think of prevention as your best protection against health problems.

Moderation

At the risk of sounding like your conscience, I must tell you that overindulging is the leading cause of tourist’s stomach complaints. Every day, visitors ladle chili sauce over mounds of cream-drenched enchiladas, wash it down with a few cold cervezas and a heavy dessert — and then gripe about the food when their stomach rebels.

You will receive all kinds of advice about eating only tinned foods, avoiding lettuce, and drinking nothing but bottled water. Most of it is nonsense.”

Off To Mexico Leone and Alice Moats, 1935.

Health Precautions

  • Relax! Take siestas: Your trip should refresh you, not wear you to a frazzle. Do whatever is necessary to relax and truly enjoy yourself, including just lying on your back staring at the sky for days at a time.

 

  • Don’t over do it: “Twenty archaeological sites, 12 museums, six folklorico performances and . . . oh yeah . . . two leg cramps, a backache, scorched nose and 14 blisters.” Take naps and frequent unscheduled stops. Don’t be afraid to turn in while others are forcing themselves to carry on.

 

  • Adjust to the altitude: It takes me a full week to adjust from living near sea level to a change of 7,000 feet (the elevation of Mexico City and much of the central plateau). Going the other way, from high to low, takes less time, but still must be considered. Go very easy on exercise, alcohol, drugs of all types and life in general until you’ve adjusted.

 

  • Avoid sunburn: An extra 15 minutes of hot sun can cause many days of discomfort.

 

  • Don’t wander around with barefeet: Except for beaches, bare feet are not safe. Avoid the hazards of broken glass, rusty metal, infections from animal and human feces (very common), and hookworm. Do as the Mexicans, and at least wear sandals.

 

  • Wash your hands often: Mother was right, washing up before meals is actually good for your health. As you travel, your hands make constant contact with foreign objects, from doorknobs and hand rails to souvenirs and coins. Washing several times a day will help protect you from colds, flu and other hand-to-mouth illnesses.

 

  • Easy does it on alcohol: Some people get over-exuberant and spend their vacation hoisting beer bottles and cocktail glasses. When combined with driving, ruin-hopping, shopping and deep sea fishing, too much drinking can leave you completely exhausted and dehydrated.

 

  • Eat moderately: Avoid both over-eating and eating too little. A vacation isn’t the time for strict dieting or fasting. Avoid greasy foods: If you’re a marginal vegetarian you’ll learn, as I have, that not eating meat in Mexico cuts down dramatically on stomach problems. If those pork ribs are dripping with grease pass them by. Avoid raw dairy products or cook them well. To pasteurize raw (or suspicious) milk, bring it to a boil, then cool for two hours.

 

Street foods, especially fritangas (tacos and other fried treats), are both tempting and tricky. Vendors may try their best, but studies clearly show that hygienic conditions are very poor in most sidewalk food stands. Meat dishes are commonly held at low temperatures, encouraging microbes.

Be careful with uncooked vegetables in street food. Traditional warnings to avoid all fruits and vegetables that aren’t peeled or cooked are simply out of date. Though well intentioned, such advice exaggerates health risks and frightens travelers. This doesn’t mean, however, that some precautions aren’t in order.

When in doubt, imitate Mexicans: drench raw vegetables with lime juice and sprinkle them with chilie pepper. Raw fruits and vegetables can also be purified with bleach or iodine solutions. Peeling fruit and vegetables is always a good idea — if it’s done with a clean knife.

 

  • Drink purified water. Purified water is widely available in 1/2 liter to gallon plastic bottles.

 

  • Use Pepto Bismol as a diarrhea preventative.

 

At first glance, these precautions might seem to rule out everything you enjoy eating. This should not be true—as long as you use discretion when breaking the “rules.”

excerpted from The People’s Guide to Mexico

What to do in Cancun

Cancun is a very young city, being developed in the mid 70’s with only tourism in mind, Cancun has been the number one growing city in Mexico for the past 30 years.

The name Cancun, “Kaan kun”  means in Mayan language “nest of snakes” or “pot of snakes”

White sandy beaches, sunny weather, turquoise waters, the history behind the Mayans, and the kindess of its people, all of this makes of Cancun a constant FIESTA for all senses. Scuba diving, snorkeling, kite surfing, Eco-parks, Mayan ruins, nightlife, shopping, Kayaking, or just lay on you back and enjoy a frozen Margarita hanging in your hammock by the sea. Cancun has it all.

It all started around 1970-71 when the government of Mexico turned a small fisherman village in to a monumental touristic project that now offers more than 140 super resorts including all of the big names in the business. It was after 1974 that the developing of this city escalated exponentially to become what it is today, more than 700,000 people lives in Cancun and the city receives another 10 million visitors each year. Cancun is now one of the most important vacation destinations in the world.

Cancun is divided in three major areas, The hotel zone, this is where the beaches, and most of the big hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, shopping malls, and tourist attractions are.

In the other hand is Cancun “Centro” which means downtown, this is where most locals live their lives, houses, grocery stores, hospitals, schools and practically the whole city “the real Cancun” is here.

And in the end is Puerto Juarez, formally known as Tamtamchen, this side of Cancun is the old route to Isla Mujeres just 7 Km into the sea and it is mostly dedicated to fishing.

Getting to Cancun from the airport is really easy, if you have a hotel reservation in the hotel zone, the best way to get there is arranging your transfer service through the hotel reservation or trough the airline, many travel agencies include this in your reservation, if you need to set a pick up service, you can find some good options here.

You can also get a ride to the Hotel zone on a private taxi or a shared van, a taxi will take only you and your family to your destination, while the shared van will stop on each of the other passenger´s hotels and eventually in yours. Fare varies depending on the location of your hotel.

If you are going downtown, you will find taxis, buses and vans that will take you. If you don´t mind paying around $40 US, a taxi can take you to the exact hotel or address that you need to go.

You will also find the A D O (Autobuses de Oriente)   this is a bus departing from the parking lot on the domestic flights arrivals area every 20 to 30 minutes, the first bus leaves at 6:00 am and last bus at 9:00 pm. just ask for the A D O bus going downtown Cancun. The ride is about 25 minutes long and it costs about $45 pesos (about 3 to 4 USD) This bus will take you to the downtown bus station which is located on the main street (Tulum Avenue).

Renting a car is the best way to explore the surroundings and visit some Mayan ruins, remember, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Chichen Itza, Merida and much more are near Cancun, why not checking them out?

The best car rental deals can be found (believe it or not) at the airport, rates are some times 20% lower and you can return the car right at the airport on your way back home. A very convenient option.

If by the time you read this you are already in your hotel, don´t worry, there are good options both in the Hotel Zone and down town, I will post some here.

Driving the hotel zone is easy, the strip is 23 Kilometers long (14,29 miles) and its only two lanes, back and forth, so you can´t get lost.

Along the Kukulkan Boulevard (which is the name of the strip) you will find Hotels, shopping malls, plazas, nightclubs, restaurants and marinas. Speed limit is 60 Km/ph (37 miles) and some areas 30 Km/ph (18 miles)

Gas prices vary (always rising) from month to month, but you can expect to pay some where around $10 pesos for one liter of gas (about $.90 cents of a dollar) All gas stations are managed by PEMEX (Petroleos Mexicanos) all these stations will provide free service, (oil check, air pressure on the tires, etc) this workers will appreciate a small tip when possible.

More about Driving in Mexico

Moving in Cancun
To move around Cancun should be very easy if you know a thing or two, in the hotel zone the city bus runs the 24 hours, this bus will ride most of the touristic strip and it cost $8.50 pesos (less than $1.00USD, prices change now and then)

To move downtown is a little different, city buses are $6.00 pesos only and stop running at 10 pm, after that only taxis are available, the taxi fare can also change as often as the gas price changes. (in Mexico that happens every month) but the average rate is $25 pesos with in the “centro” area and up to 40 pesos to the surroundings. From downtown to the H.Z. fares can get up to $100 pesos or more depending on how far up the strip you go.

Walking downtown can be a very nice experience, you can visit Market 28 or Market 23 for handicrafts and typical food, clothes and paraphernalia. There is a  square in Cancun called “parque de las palapas” which literally means park of the palapas, this is not a park and has no palapas, but if you´d like to taste some of the Cancun´s real flavour take a walk to this square in the afternoon, you will find food, folklore and fiesta. On weekends there’s always something going on here; concerts, shows, festivals, street shows, etc.. normally starting at 6 or 7:00 pm.

Across the street you will find a catholic church and another park called parque del artesano, “the craftsman park” this little park shows a variety of crafts and things like books, frankincense, T-shirts, smoking pipes, and some street art.

All around the square you can find restaurants of all kinds, Mexican, Sea food, Yucatan handicrafts,  hotels, hostels for all budgets, coffee shops, jazz, reggae and rock bars, taco stands, c-stores, and marquesita stands (these are some sort of waffle with Philadelphia cheese or butterscotch or strawberry jam or all together)

Shopping in Cancun

If you want to go shopping, there are several options where to find what you want, you can find at least 10 shopping malls in Cancun, 6 in the hotel zone and the rest downtown, there are open-doors shopping malls, like La Isla in the hotel zone or Cancun Outlet, downtown. there are high profile shopping malls like Luxury Ave. in the hotel zone or low profile like Cancun mall in the downtown area. All these shopping malls accept US dollars and major credit cards.

If you are of the adventurous type. try to go to “El tianguis” this is a bazaar type of street market that is set every Sunday on the streets of Cancun, this bazaar displays a vast amount of used things, from clothing to books, from tools to life animals, this market has an extension of more than 10 blocks in the city and it can house up to 500 stands crazy things happen on that market, make sure you bring confy shoes and cash, no credit card works here. The tianguis, pronounced (tee an gees) is located by Lopez Portillo ave. on super manzana 100, a taxi driver can take you there for around $30 pesos or you can get a $6.00 pesos van going to “tres reyes” You can take this van on Tulum ave. right in front of the City hall.

Paying with Credit Card.
Pay with your credit card when ever is possible to take advantage of the best exchange rate, you can get cash advance on some ATM´s many places accept credit card but not all places and not all of the cards. Visa, Master card and American Express are ok, any other kind of card is generally rejected.

There are ATM´s all over the city but there are fewer in the hotel zone, main shopping malls and plazas have a couple at least.

Where to eat.
Cancun´s cuisine is a collage of the rest of Mexico´s recipes, being such a young city means that most of the people living in it is from somewhere else, they brought the costumes and traditions with them when they came. In general Mexican cuisine is based on corn, so you will find it all over, normally in the shape of tortillas or tamales along with beef, pork, chicken and fish and all kinds of veggies and fruit.

Yucatan style food is very present in Cancun, salbutes, panuchos, cochinita pibil, sopa de lima, and many more typical dishes of Yucatan food are here, but also, food from Veracruz, Puebla, DF, Monterrey, Jalisco, and practically every state of Mexico in Cancun, you can also enjoy of a variety of international style food like Japanese, Italian, Indian, Arabic, Greek, French, Tahi and more.

Be aware! Mexican food can be very spicy some times, if you have a sensitive stomach, the mix of hot food and frozen margaritas can be a bomb.

Eating in Cancun can be fantastic, you can enjoy of a beautiful sunset as you have dinner and wine in any of the fine lagoon view restaurants in the hotel zone, I´ll post a list here soon.

These restaurants are the top of the line on food experience, international chefs cook exotic dishes on delicate atmospheres, life music and excellent service is a characteristic of these restaurants where making a moment to remember is an easy thing to do.

Cancun offers food for all tastes and budgets from romantic fancy dinners to cheese burgers and fries, or organic vegetarian cuisine.

If you are looking for some low budget but still tasty food, you can eat on any of the “comida corrida” restaurants  downtown, (comida corrida) means “food on a row” and this is a 3 curse meal, normally including some kind of chicken noodle soup or pasta as an appetiser, a main curse, normally Mexican style beef, chicken, pork or fish and something to drink, fruit of the season blended or mixed with other fruits. These type of places are the Mexican style fast food restaurants of all cities in Mexico, they serve a simple menu with 2 to 5 options where to choose from and it´s normally precooked so the service is fast and informal. You can get a full meal for somewhere between $45 to $60 pesos ( $3.00 to $4.00 US) per person.

Tacos
Tacos are a very Mexican tradition but not exclusively Mexican, you can find tacos all across Central America, each country changing it a little and maybe calling it different, but all sharing the goods of corn.

While most Mexicans can survive almost any kind of food on the streets, international visitors may want to go slow on street tacos, don´t get me wrong! they are fantastic, but some of the ingredients and procedures may be to much for inexperienced taster.

Salsas (hot dressing) are made out of many ingredients, the most common ones are tomato, onion, cilantro, avocado and of course hot peppers of many kinds.

Nightclubbing
Cancun’s nightlife is very exciting, there are amazing nightclubs to choose from, one every night. Most of Cancun nightlife is aimed to a young crowd and is loud and booze oriented.

CocoBongo, Daddy’O, The City, Congo and more
Life music, shows and open bar, cover charge can vary from season to season and from place to place.
These  nightclubs are a must visit place in town, loud, extreme but definitely fun, located in what is known as “The Party Center” in the heart of the Hotel Zone.
To get there is really easy, any bus in the Hotel Zone can take you and remember, they run 24 hours a day.
You will also find other places like Señor Frog’s walking distance from the Party Center area.
Look for detailed information on each one of them here soon.

Does and don’ts
Cancun is a very safe city but just like any other city in the world common sense is the key to stay out of trouble, the drinking age in Mexico is 18 and bars and night clubs encourage people, specially young, to loose them selves to party, nothing wrong with this if you can handle alcohol,  but many accidents and arrests happen in Cancun during party time.

Another thing to remember is to keep you belongings in sight, on the swimming pool, on the beach and any other place you visit, although Cancun is not a dangerous city, you need to keep in mind that.

Drugs are illegal in Mexico, possession trade and consumption of controlled substances can get you in jail, there is a minimum amount you are allowed to carry in what is normally considered personal consumption. these amounts vary depending on the substance.

Replete with resorts, Cancun is one of the safest cities in Mexico. Drug cartel violence generally takes place 1,300 miles from Cancun on the northern border of Mexico (the same distance from New York to Texas). In fact, Cancun’s crime rate is much lower than that of most U.S. cities. Mexico is a very large country and the resort city of Cancun continues to be a safe destination for visitors.

Mayan ruins in Cancun
You can find to sets of Mayan ruins with in Cancun’s hotel zone, El Rey (the king) and Yamil Lu’um, at this point none of them is open to the public due to maintenance, but you can visit the “El Meco” ruins, they are located in the continental side of Isla Mujeres, 7 Km from Cancun on Puerto Juarez-Punta Sam road. this site is pretty small but very relevant in the Mayan history of the region.

To get to El Meco, you can take a van for $6.00 pesos (less than $.50 cents US) these vans run all day long from 7:00 am to about 9 or 10:00pm, if you are in the Hotel Zone just take the city bus downtown R1, once you get down town get off right at the city hall and then wait for the van, you will see many different ones, hop on the one that goes to Punta Sam and off you go.

To get back just do the inverse and once on Tulum ave. you can take the R1 bus back to your hotel. If you are staying downtown just skip the city bus part and get the van.
Another option is taking a taxi for about $50.00 pesos ($4 to $5.00 US) from downtown area, from the hotel zone can be up to $100 pesos or more.

Water Sports
Cancun has a vast variety of water activities to offer, from easy snorkelling for the un experienced, to first class cave scuba diving for experts, most of the hotels have an activity desk where you can find these activities but normally on a higher price, you can also contact the marinas directly for a better deal. I will post some options here soon.

Beach safety
Every experienced swimmer knows that you need to talk to locals who know the surf before you get in the water, Cancun has a gentle surf but undertow is present in most of Cancun’s eastern beaches, lifeguards are often on duty but not always. The city of Cancun has developed a safety system based on colored flags.
Green for good swimming conditions.
Yellow for mild surf where non-experienced swimmers may find hard to swim in.
Red for dangerous surf, no swimmers are allowed in the water.

All beaches in Cancun are federal property so they are public, you are free to set your self in any beach of your preference, but consider that access to the beach is not always easy, big hotels normally are in the way and the access to these is controlled. Only guests are allowed.

You will find several public entrances to the beach along the strip. See a map here.

Immigration
For Visa and tourist-card extension visit the (Instituto Nacional de Migracion) located in Nader Ave. #1 on the corner of Uxmal Ave. right downtown, the office is open from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm Monday to Friday. Ph number (998)884 1404

Medical care
There are many Hospitals in Cancun that can handle most of emergencies, how ever not all of them can handle American insurance situations, The American Medical Care Center located in Kukulkan Blvd. Kilometre 8 provides good medical care and accepts insurance plans from all over the world. See more here soon