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Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Lonely Planet Travel Guides Lonely Planet ®

Caught between the relentless beat of progress and the echoing shouts of tradition, the Yucatán Peninsula stands at a crossroads. On one side you have the pomp of the brawny mega-resorts; on the other the proud, steadfast traditions of the Maya, the mystery of the ceremonial centers created by their ancestors, and the allure of colonial masterpieces such as Mérida and Campeche.

In between, on every peroxide-blonde beach and patch of jungle still echoing with the roars of howler monkeys, beats the heart of Ixchel, the earth goddess, marveling at her creation. Despite overzealous development, the natural beauty of the Yucatán abides. The ethereal coo of the motmot still reverberates overhead, while below the creepy-crawlies continue to writhe, renewing this scrub-jungle land year after year. Deep below, in the realm of Ah Puch (God of the Underworld), freshwater rivers gurgle through massive limestone caverns all the way to the pitch-perfect waters of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf. From the deep blue rises the Mesoamerican Reef, the world’s second-largest barrier reef, making this coast a diving and snorkeling destination par excellence. And several cenotes (limestone sinkholes) and ocean-front lagoons offer spectacular, accessible swimming.

Around here, the past is the present and the present is the past: they intermingle, toil and tangle eternally like two brawling brothers. You’ll witness it in the towering temples of the Maya, Toltec and Itzá, in the cobblestone streets of colonial centers, and in the sagacious smiles of southern Mexico’s native sons and daughters, the Maya.

Language Spoken

Spanish, Nahuatl




Things that visitors are allowed to bring into Mexico duty-free include items for personal use such as the following: clothing; two cameras; two cell phones; a portable computer; a portable radio/CD or DVD player or digital music player; three surfboards or windsurfing boards; two musical instruments; one tent; four fishing rods; medicine for personal use, with prescription in the case of psychotropic drugs; 6L of wine and 3L of other alcoholic drinks (adults only); and 400 cigarettes (adults).

The normal routine when you enter Mexico is to complete a customs declaration form (which lists duty-free allowances), and then place it in a machine. If the machine shows a green light, you pass without inspection. If a red light shows, your baggage will be searched.

Visa Overview

Every tourist must have an easily obtainable Mexican-government tourist permit. Some nationalities also need to obtain visas. The regulations sometimes change: it’s wise to confirm them with a Mexican embassy or consulate. The websites of some Mexican diplomatic offices, including the London consulate ( and the Washington embassy ( give useful information on visas and similar matters. The rules are also summarized on the website of Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Migración (INM, National Migration Institute; .

Citizens of the US, Canada, EU countries, Argentina, Australia, Chile, New Zealand, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Norway and Switzerland are among those who do not need visas to enter Mexico as tourists. If the purpose of your visit is to work (even as a volunteer), report, study or participate in humanitarian aid or human-rights observation, you may well need a visa whatever your nationality. Visa procedures can take several weeks and you may be required to apply in your country of residence or citizenship.

Non-US citizens passing (even in transit) through the US on the way to or from Mexico should check well in advance on the US’s complicated visa and visa-waiver rules. Consult a US consulate or your travel agent or the US State Department ( or Customs and Border Protection ( websites.

Tourist Permit

The Mexican tourist permit (tourist card; officially the forma migratoria para turista or FMT) is a brief paper document that you must fill out and get stamped by Mexican immigration when you enter Mexico, and keep till you leave. It’s available at official border crossings, international airports and ports, and often from airlines, travel agencies and Mexican consulates.

At land borders you won’t usually be given one automatically – you have to ask for it. One section of the card covers the length of your stay in Mexico, and this section is filled out by the immigration officer. The maximum is 180 days, but immigration officers may put a lower number (sometimes as little as 15 or 30 days) unless you tell them specifically what you need. It’s advisable to ask for more days than you think you’ll need, in case your plans change.

The fee for the tourist permit, called the derecho para no inmigrante (DNI, nonimmigrant fee), is around M$262 (subject to fluctuation with exchange rates), but it’s free for people entering by land who stay less than seven days. If you enter Mexico by air, the fee is included in your airfare. If you enter by land, you must pay the fee at a bank in Mexico at any time before you reenter the border zone on your way out of Mexico (or before you check in at an airport to fly out of Mexico). The border zone is the territory between the border itself and the INM’s control points on the highways leading into the Mexican interior (usually 20km to 30km from the border). Most Mexican border posts have on-the-spot bank offices where you can pay the DNI fee immediately. Your tourist permit will be stamped to prove that you have paid.

Look after your tourist permit because it may be checked when you leave the country. You can be fined for not having it.

Tourist permits (and fees) are not necessary for visits shorter than 72 hours within the border zones along Mexico’s northern and southern borders.

Extensions & Lost Cards

If the number of days given on your tourist permit is fewer than 180, its validity may be extended, one or more times, up to this maximum. To get a card extended, you have to apply to the INM, which has offices in many towns and cities: they’re listed on the INM website ( under ‘Directorio.’ The procedure costs around M$200 and should only take half an hour or so. You’ll need your passport, tourist permit, photocopies of them and, at some offices, evidence of ‘sufficient funds.’ A major credit card is usually OK for the latter, or an amount in traveler’s checks anywhere up to M$1000 depending on the office.

Most INM offices will not extend a card until a few days before it is due to expire.

If you lose your card, contact your nearest tourist office, or the Sectur tourist office ([tel]078) in Mexico City, or your embassy or consulate. Any of these should be able to give you an official note to take to your local INM office, which will issue a replacement for about M$450.

Telephone Overview

Local calls from fixed phones are cheap; international calls can be expensive, but with widely available discount cards they needn’t be. Calling from your hotel can be expensive as hotels charge what they like for this service. Quite a lot of hotels still have antiquated phone systems requiring outside calls to be made via the reception. Buying a Mexican SIM card or cell phone is generally much cheaper than roaming with your cell phone from home. Following are the most common ways to make calls in Mexico.

Internet Access

Most travelers make constant use of Mexico’s thousands of internet cafés (which typically charge M$10 per hour) and free web-based email such as Gmail ( and Hotmail ( Many Mexican internet cafés are equipped with webcams, headphones, Skype and so on.

Wi-fi (internet inalámbrico) is now common in Mexican accommodations and some cafés, bars and airports; These services may or may not be free of charge.


Plug with two parallel flat blades.

Two parallel flat blades above a large circular grounding pin.

Embassies and Consulates

If you’re having trouble locating your nearest Mexican embassy or consulate, look at the website of Mexico’s foreign ministry, the Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores (, which links to the websites of all Mexican diplomatic missions including the more than 40 consulates in US cities. Some of these sites have useful information on visas and similar matters.

Mexico City entries in this list are for embassies or their consular sections; other entries are consulates. Embassy websites are often useful sources of information about Mexico.

  • Australia ([tel]55-1101-2200;; Rubén Darío 55, Polanco; [metro] Polanco) In Mexico City.
  • Belize Chetumal ([tel]983-832-19-34; Av San Salvador 566, Fraccionamiento Flamboyanes); Mexico City ([tel]55-5520-1274;; Bernardo de Gálvez 215, Lomas de Chapultepec; [metro] Auditorio)
  • Canada Acapulco ([tel]744-484-13-05; Local 23, Centro Comercial Marbella, La Costera); Cancún ([tel]998-883-33-60; Local 330, 3er Piso, Plaza Caracol II, Blvd Kukulcán Km 8.5, Zona Hotelera); Guadalajara ([tel]33-3671-4740; Piso 8, World Trade Center, Torre Pacífico, Av Otero 1249, Colonia Rinconada del Bosque); Playa del Carmen ([tel] 984-803-24-11;; Av 10 Sur btwn Calles 3 & 5 Sur); Mazatlán ([tel]669-913-73-20; Local 9, Hotel Playa Mazatlán, Av Playa Gaviotas 202, Zona Dorada); Mexico City ([tel]55-5724-7900; www.canadainter; Schiller 529, Polanco; [metro] Auditorio); Monterrey ([tel]81-8378-0240; Suite 404, Torre Gómez Morín 955, Av Gómez Morín 955, Colonia Montebello, San Pedro Garza García); Oaxaca ([tel]951-513-37-77; Local 11B, Pino Suárez 700); Puerto Vallarta ([tel]322-293-00-98; Edificio Obelisco Local 108, Av Francisco Medina Ascencio 1951, Zona Hotelera Las Glorias); San José del Cabo ([tel]624-142-43-33; Local 9, Plaza José Green, Blvd Mijares); Tijuana ([tel]664-684-04-61; Condominio del Parque, Gedovius 10411-101, Zona Río)
  • Cuba Cancún ([tel]998-884-34-23; Pecari 17); Mérida ([tel]999-944-42-15; Calle 1-D No 32, Colonia Campestre); Mexico City ([tel]55-5280-8039;, in Spanish; Av Presidente Masaryk 554, Polanco; [metro] Polanco)
  • France Acapulco ([tel]744-484-45-80; Locales 12 y 14, Planta Baja, Torre de Acapulco, La Costera 87); Cancún ([tel]998-147-74-48; Blvd Colosio 760, SM 311); Mazatlán ([tel]669-985-12-28; Belisario Domínguez 1008 Sur, Colonia Centro); Mérida ([tel]999-930-15-00; Calle 60 No 385); Mexico City ([tel]55-9171-9700;, in Spanish & French; Campos Elíseos 339, Polanco; [metro] Auditorio); consulate in Mexico City ([tel]55-9171-9700; Lafontaine 32, Polanco); Oaxaca ([tel]951-515-21-84; Planta Baja, 3a Privada de J López Alavez 5, San Felipe del Agua)
  • Germany Acapulco ([tel]744-484-18-60; Alaminos 26, Casa Tres Fuentes, Colonia Costa Azul); Cancún ([tel]998-884-18-98; Punta Conoco 36, SM24); Guadalajara ([tel]33-3810-2146;, in Spanish; Calle 7 No 319, Colonia Ferrocarril); Mérida ([tel]999-944-32-52; Calle 49 No 212); Mexico City ([tel]55-5283-2200;, in Spanish & German; Horacio 1506, Los Morales; [metro] Polanco)
  • Guatemala Ciudad Hidalgo ([tel]962-698-01-84; 9a Calle Ote 9, Colonia San José); Comitán ([tel]963-110-68-16; 1a Calle Sur Pte 35); Mexico City ([tel]55-5540-7520;; Av Explanada 1025, Lomas de Chapultepec; [metro] Auditorio); Tapachula ([tel]962-626-12-52; 5a Nte 5)
  • Ireland ([tel]55-5520-5803;; Piso 3, Cerrada Blvd Ávila Camacho 76, Lomas de Chapultepec; [metro] Auditorio) In Mexico City.
  • Italy Cancún ([tel]998-884-12-61; Alcatraces 39, SM22); Guadalajara ([tel]33-3616-1700; 1er Piso, Av López Mateos Nte 790, Fraccionamiento Ladrón de Guevara); Mexico City ([tel]55-5596-3655;, in Spanish & Italian; Paseo de las Palmas 1994, Lomas de Chapultepec)
  • Japan ([tel]55-5211-0028;, in Spanish & Japanese; Paseo de la Reforma 395; [metro] Sevilla) In Mexico City.
  • Netherlands Cancún ([tel]998-884-62-84; Reno 45, SM20, M20); Guadalajara ([tel]33-3673-2211; 2 Piso, Av Vallarta 5500, Colonia Lomas Universidad, Zapopan); Mexico City ([tel]55-5258-9921;, in Spanish & Dutch; 7th fl, Edificio Calakmul, Av Vasco de Quiroga 3000, Santa Fe)
  • NewZealand ([tel]55-5283-9460;; Level 4, Jaime Balmes 8, Los Morales; [metro] Polanco) In Mexico City.
  • Spain Acapulco ([tel]744-435-15-76; Hotel Elcano, La Costera 75); Mexico City ([tel]55-5282-2271;, in Spanish; Galileo 114, Polanco; [metro] Polanco); Oaxaca ([tel]951-518-00-31; Calzada Porfirio Díaz 341, Colonia Reforma)
  • UK Cancún ([tel]998- 881-01-00; Royal Sands, Blvd Kukulcán Km 13.5, Zona Hotelera); Guadalajara ([tel]33-3630-4357; Interior 101 & 102, Guadalupe Zuno 2302, Colonia Americana); Mexico City ([tel]55-1670-3200;; Río Lerma 71, Colonia Cuauhtémoc; [metro] Insurgentes); consulate in Mexico City ([tel]55-1670-3200; Río Usumacinta 30); Tijuana ([tel]664-686-53-20; Blvd Salinas 1500, Fraccionamiento Aviación Tijuana)
  • USA Acapulco ([tel]744-481-01-00; Local 14, Hotel Continental Emporio, La Costera 121); Cabo San Lucas ([tel]624-143-35-66; Local C4, Plaza Nautica, Blvd Marina, Centro); Cancún ([tel]998-883-02-72; 2o Nivel No 320-323, Plaza Caracol Dos, Blvd Kukulcán Km 8.5, Zona Hotelera); Ciudad Juárez ([tel]656-227-30-00; Paseo de la Victoria 3650, Fraccionamiento Partido Senecú); Guadalajara ([tel]33-3268-2100; Progreso 175, Colonia Americana); Hermosillo ([tel]662-289-35-00; Monterrey 141); Ixtapa ([tel]755-553-21-00; Hotel Fontán, Blvd Ixtapa); Matamoros ([tel]868-812-44-02; Calle 1 No 2002, Colonia Jardín); Mazatlán ([tel]669-916-58-89; opposite Hotel Playa Mazatlán, Av Playa Gaviotas 202, Zona Dorada); Mérida ([tel]999-942-57-00; Calle 60 No 338K, btwn Calles 29 & 31, Colonia Alcalá Martín); Mexico City ([tel]55-5080-2000;; Paseo de la Reforma 305; [metro] Insurgentes); Monterrey ([tel]81-8047-3100; Av Constitución 411 Pte); Nogales ([tel]631-313-81-50; San José s/n, Fraccionamiento Los Álamos); Nuevo Laredo ([tel]867-714-05-12; Allende 3330); Oaxaca ([tel]951-514-30-54; Interior 20, Plaza Santo Domingo, Alcalá 407); Puerto Vallarta ([tel]322-222-00-69; Local L7 Interior, Paradise Plaza, Paseo de los Cocoteros 85 Sur, Nuevo Vallarta); San Miguel de Allende ([tel]415-152-23-57; Hernández Macías 72); Tijuana ([tel]664-622-74-00; Tapachula 96, Colonia Hipódromo)

Postal Services

An airmail letter or postcard weighing up to 20g costs M$10.50 to the US or Canada, M$13 to Europe or South America, and M$14.50 to the rest of the world. Items between 20g and 50g cost M$17.50, M$20.50 and M$24.50. Certificado (registered) service costs an extra M$20. Mark airmail items ‘Vía Aérea.’ An airmail letter to or from the US or Canada typically takes between four and 14 days to arrive. Mail to or from Europe averages one to two weeks.

If you’re sending a package internationally from Mexico, be prepared to open it for customs inspection at the post office; it’s better to take packing materials with you, or not seal it until you get there. For assured and speedy delivery, you can use one of the more expensive international courier services, such as UPS ([tel]800-902-9200;, Federal Express ([tel]800-900-1100; or Mexico’s Estafeta ([tel]800-3782-3382; Packages up to 500g typically cost about M$400 to the US or Canada, or M$550 to Europe.

Business Hours

Stores are typically open from 9am to 8pm Monday to Saturday. In the south of the country and in small towns, some stores close between 2pm and 4pm, then stay open till 9pm. Some don’t open on Saturday afternoon. Stores in malls and coastal resort towns often open on Sunday too. Supermarkets and department stores usually open from 9am or 10am to 10pm every day.

Offices have similar Monday to Friday hours to stores, with a greater likelihood of the 2pm to 4pm lunch break. Offices with tourist-related business, including airline and car-rental offices, usually open on Saturday too, from at least 9am to 1pm.

Typical restaurant hours are 7am (9am in central Mexico) to midnight. If a restaurant has a closing day, it’s usually Sunday or Monday. Cafés typically open from 8am to 10pm.

Banks are normally open 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, and 9am to 1pm Saturday. In smaller towns they may close earlier or not open on Saturday. Casas de cambio (money-exchange offices) are usually open from 9am to 7pm daily, often with even longer hours in coastal resorts.

Post offices typically open from 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday, and 9am to 1pm Saturday.

Money Overview

Mexico’s currency is the peso, usually denoted by the ‘M$’ sign. Any prices quoted in US dollars will normally be written ‘US$5’ or ‘5 USD’ to avoid misunderstanding. The peso is divided into 100 centavos. Coins come in denominations of 20 and 50 centavos and one, two, five, 10, 20 and 100 pesos. There are notes of 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1000 pesos.

The most convenient form of money in Mexico is a major international credit card or debit card – preferably two cards. These can be used to obtain cash easily from ATMs, and Visa, MasterCard and American Express are accepted for payment by most airlines and car-rental companies, plus many upper midrange and top-end hotels, and some restaurants and stores. Occasionally there’s a surcharge for paying by card, or a discount for paying cash. Buying by credit card normally gives you a more favorable exchange rate than exchanging money at a bank, and isn’t subject to commission, but you’ll normally have to pay your card issuer a ‘foreign exchange’ transaction fee of around 2.5%.

As a backup to cards, it’s a good idea to take a little cash and a few traveler’s checks. US dollars are easily the most exchangeable foreign currency in Mexico. In tourist areas and many Mexican cities along the US border, you can often make some purchases in US dollars, though the exchange rate will probably not be in your favor. Euros, British pounds and Canadian dollars, in cash or as traveler’s checks, are only accepted by some banks and casas de cambio (exchange houses), and acceptance is less likely away from main cities and tourist centers. Traveler’s checks should be a major brand, such as American Express or Visa.


A travel-insurance policy to cover theft, loss and medical problems is a good idea. Some policies specifically exclude dangerous activities such as scuba diving, motorcycling and even trekking.

You may prefer a policy that pays doctors or hospitals directly rather than you having to pay on the spot and claim later. If you have to claim later, ensure that you keep all documentation. Check that the policy covers ambulances or an emergency flight home.


In general, workers in small, cheap restaurants don’t expect much in the way of tips, while those in expensive resorts expect you to be lavish in your largesse. Workers in the tourism and hospitality industries often depend on tips to supplement miserable basic wages. In tourist cities frequented by foreigners (such as Cancún, Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta) tipping is up to US levels of 15%; elsewhere 10% is usually plenty. If you stay a few days in one place, you should leave up to 10% of your room costs for the people who have kept your room clean. A porter in a midrange hotel may not expect anything and will be happy with M$10 a bag. Taxi drivers don’t generally expect tips unless they provide some special service. Car-parking attendants and gas-station attendants expect a tip of M$3 to M$5.

Room rates are pretty firm, though it can be worth asking if any discounts are available, especially if it’s low season or you are going to stay a few nights. In markets bargaining is the rule, and you may pay much more than the going rate if you accept the first price quoted. You should also bargain with drivers of unmetered taxis.

Health Overview

Travelers to Mexico need to be concerned chiefly about food-borne diseases, though mosquito-borne infections can also be a problem. Most of these illnesses are not life threatening, but they can certainly ruin your trip. Besides getting the proper vaccinations, it’s important that you bring along a good insect repellent and exercise great care in what you eat and drink.

Before You Go

Bring medications in their original containers, clearly labeled. A signed, dated letter from your physician describing all medical conditions and medications, including generic names, is also a good idea. If carrying syringes or needles, be sure to have a physician’s letter documenting their medical necessity.

© 2012 Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd. All rights reserved.

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