You’re probably pretty stoked about your big trip to Mexico!
However, you can’t go anywhere until you pack your bags.
And packing for Mexico is a little more difficult than you might think.
There are a few vacation destinations that see more traffic than others—namely, sunny Mexico. Sometimes it’s easy to pack for a holiday south of the border. You could survive a weekend with little more than a pair of flip flops, a bathing suit and your passport.
But Mexico is more than just the beach and the bar.
What you take with you depends largely on where you’re going within Mexico and what activities you’ll enjoy while there. This a big country with varying weather systems, natural environments and no fewer than seven different climate regions.
Learn about what to take for five types of classic trips to Mexico.
But before we talk about what to pack… It’s also important to talk about what not to pack.
What Not to Pack for Mexico
There are different number and size restrictions for suitcases and carry-ons for airline flights, cruise ships and land transportation. The U.S. Department of State sets general guidelines, but every transportation company seems to have their own rules in addition to government laws.
It’s important to remember that certain prescription drugs and other substances can’t be taken across the border at any point. Even if your medication isn’t on the list of banned substances, always carry a copy of your written prescription with you, just in case.
Check directly with your transportation company, border authority or the nearest Mexican Consulate with any specific questions.
Also, leave the guidebooks at home. You can do everything on your phone these days! Download travel apps to make your trip as smooth as possible. For example, you can try the FluentU app to learn Spanish through fun, authentic videos.
For everything else, how and when you’re going to Mexico can help you determine what (and how much) you should and shouldn’t take.
How You’re Getting to Mexico
If you’re taking the typical beach vacation, you’ll probably be flying to Mexico. Package deals with big ticket airlines or travel companies usually give you more freedom if you want to take an extra checked bag.
A ticket with a discount airline often means limiting your weight as much as possible, sometimes even to a single carry-on.
Whether you go to Mexico by plane, car, cruise ship or private boat, rules for substances like liquids and other prohibited items are always the same. Actually, in the case of sea travel, further precautions must be taken to ensure the safety of the crew and your fellow passengers.
When You’re Getting to Mexico
If you’re traveling to Mexico for events such as Christmas or a wedding, don’t wrap gifts before you pack them! Not everything can be X-rayed, so customs might have to open them.
Mexico is a popular country for tourists to shop, and if you’re hoping to bring back Christmas or birthday presents for loved ones, don’t fill your bag to the brim. Leave a little space for gifts and souvenirs!
Remember that you’re required to pay duties on certain items depending on the length of your stay.
What to Pack for Mexico: 4 Packing Lists for 4 Types of Trips
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1. What to Pack for Northern Mexico: Colonial History and the Resort Lifestyle
Most of Mexico’s big resort towns are on the northern part of the Pacific Coast, like Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta.
Visitors to this region are probably staying in one place for a while as opposed to backpacking, which means more space for more stuff.
All of the cities and resorts here are tech-friendly. Free Wi-Fi and charging stations are easy to find in both public spaces and private areas like hotels and restaurants.
- Ideally, three bathing suits are recommended, one for water sports, one for lounging and tanning and another for walking around during the day.
- Bring a couple of sarongs, which work as both a fashion statement and a handy head cover or towel. Believe it or not, “resort casual” is a thing, and it works for this environment.
- Make room for beach activities. Are you bringing some books or magazines? Use a Kindle or related device instead to save bag space.
- Seven of Mexico’s 12 Biosphere Reserves are located in the north, including dramatic natural wonders like Copper Canyon. A visit might require hiking clothes and related gear, like a water bottle, map or camera.
- Your hiking boots can also double as good walking shoes for extended sightseeing tours of historic buildings and famous locations.
- Both the resort and the city require something dressy to enjoy the nightlife. This is especially true if you’re traveling during a winter holiday season that includes celebrations like Christmas or New Year’s Eve.
2. What to Pack for Central Mexico: Big Cities in the Heart of a Nation
Central Mexico has the highest concentration of Mexico’s large and contemporary urban centers. Examples include Guadalajara, Puebla, Taxco and, of course, the nation’s capital, Mexico City.
- Leave the beach clothes at home unless you’ll be lounging by a hotel pool. Think of a look that’s smarter and less casual, but stay versatile and comfortable.
- You might require extra space in your bags for special clothes, a costume or accessories like makeup and masks.
- Dress to impress but also to stay warm and dry in these fashionable cities.
- There’s just as much to see in these areas when it comes to historic sites, from Aztec settlements to 21st century government buildings. Make space in your bags for a variety of footwear that includes both dressy and functional styles.
- Jeans, t-shirts, maxi skirts and two or three long-sleeved shirts should make up your wardrobe. Pack your most fashionable running or walking shoes and make sure there’s plenty of space for photos on your cell phone.
3. What to Pack for the Yucatán Peninsula: Ancient Places and Modern Tourism
The majority of Mexico’s cruise ship ports, famous ancient sites and natural wonders are in the Yucatán Peninsula, making it the busiest part of Mexico when it comes to tourism.
That also means that visitors need to prepare their bags accordingly.
The mix of different styles in this region makes it hard to get it wrong when it comes to packing. Keep in mind that heat is a factor throughout this region at any time of year. Summertime is the slow season because of heavy rain and strong wind, but the temperature doesn’t change considerably.
- You have a mix of needs for exploring ancient Mayan ruins, lounging on the beach and taking in history and nightlife. You need good shoes and other walking gear to prepare for extended time outside.
- The Yucatán is the perfect place to buy a handy sisal hat, so don’t worry about packing one.
- Mérida and Cancún are the big cities in this region, but formal dress isn’t as prevalent. The atmosphere is more casual than northern cities.
- Your cell phone can be handy as a map, translator and tour guide, so don’t forget your phone charger!
- This region is very tech-friendly, perhaps because it’s the part of the country most foreigners visit. Cancún hosts direct flights from Europe and the United Kingdom, so while you should pack a voltage adapter, you can probably find one here if you accidentally leave yours at home.
4. What to Pack for the Pacific Coast and Southern Mexico: Mountains and Surfing
This part of Mexico is home to the famous resort town of Acapulco and the lesser known but equally posh Huatulco. The former is a classic, old-school resort town, the latter a modern oasis of ecotourism.
Everything in between is surfers, turtles, a steady stream of backpackers, gap year adventurers and a surprisingly large expat community.
The interior of Oaxaca is less developed than other parts of Mexico and less tech-friendly. Unless you’re staying in an upscale hotel, your accommodation will probably have limited access to outlets and charging stations. And it can be difficult to find a three-prong plug.
- Puerto Escondido is where you find the infamous Zicatela Beach, one of the most active surfing beaches in the world. The sport is so influential that local everyday fashion reflects surfing gear.
- That rash guard can make a fashionable crop top when the sun goes down and it’s time to hit the bar. You can wear board shorts to a dinner party.
- Wardrobes have to be versatile to accommodate beach heat on the coast and high altitude chill in places like Oaxaca City and San Cristóbal de las Casas. That’s true no matter the time of year.
- The Valley of Oaxaca is littered with Zapotec ruins and bustling open markets. Chiapas is popular for extensive Mayan ruins and steep hiking trails. Leave your dress clothes at home and prepare for the outdoors.
- Sporty sandals can be for the beach and the mountains, and the time of year might require a rain poncho.
It’s easy to stress out when it comes to packing for a vacation. We want to focus on the upcoming adventure, not the preparation process.
But when we’re caught without the proper clothes or technology, it can put a big damper on a trip.
So follow this guide to packing for Mexico. Once you have everything you need, you’ll be able to fully relax on your journey.
Kristy Ambrose has been writing professionally since 2010. She dabbles in various genres, including everything from short blog posts to serialized novels. Her inspiration comes from gamers, beachcombers, foodies and fellow travelers. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the University of Victoria.
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