Misunderstood Mexico: Busting the 7 Biggest Myths I Keep Hearing

I’ve been slow-traveling across the country of Mexico since early 2022, discovering its many towns, cities, landscapes, bodies of water, natural and historic attractions, and cultural and culinary traditions. And I love sharing my solo adventures with you on my blog, social media, and YouTube!

Recently, my friend from the U.S. (who is of Mexican descent and fluent in Spanish), recently came to visit me. It was his first time this far south, and we had a laugh, because we discovered, that me, a blonde, blue-eyed American — is basically more “Mexican” than he is. 😉 Because…

  • I’ve traveled to 22 Mexican states.
  • I have legal residency here.
  • I am the local; while he the American tourist.
  • (I also reveled in the fact there were some Mexican expressions and Spanish vocabulary he didn’t know. What fun to be a guide and teacher!)

Yes, I often (and very publicly) sing the praises of this country I now call home, so naturally I tend to encounter a lot of myths, biases, and falsehoods from people who just don’t have the firsthand experience with Mexico that I do. So, here we go — let’s bust some myths!

Myth #1: Mexico is cheap.

Cheap is always in the eye of the beholder, so it’s one of the words I hate hearing when people describe the country or specific places in Mexico.

As a whole, the cost of living and travel expenses in Mexico are lower than that of the U.S., but, like anywhere, specific costs vary depending on:

  • The region
  • The amenities or class (budget-friendly to luxury, inexpensive to high-end, etc.)
  • The location: Touristy vs. non-touristy
  • Seasonality and demand
  • Whether it is produced locally or imported
  • The skill or schooling of the person administering the service

Because “cheap” is a comparative word, what someone on an American salary considers cheap will not be the same as what someone on a Mexican salary considers cheap. (So definitely don’t be that classless, uncouth person talking loudly in a coffee shop about the price of your breakfast!)

I talk about my spending in Mexico a lot on my blog, and I pay less for my lifestyle than I would pay for the same lifestyle in the United States. I also get more value for my money in Mexico than I do in the United States, so “cheap” is not a word I use. 

Myth #2: Mexico is dangerous.

Millions of tourists visit Mexico each year without experiencing any problems. And after a year in Mexico solo… I’ve never felt like my personal safety was threatened. 

Here’s what I know:

  • We are not living in fear
  • Tourists are not targets and violent crime rarely involves tourists
  • If you don’t buy or sell drugs, the cartel is not interested in you
  • Keep your wits about you and use common sense, as you would everywhere
  • Remember that media headlines are sensationalist — do your own research on routes and cities you intend to visit, and take normal precautions

Mexico, like any country, has certain areas that may pose safety concerns. But many popular tourist destinations have a relatively low crime rate and are generally safe for visitors. These areas have well-established tourism infrastructure and security measures in place.

Take common-sense precautions (such as not flashing wealth, using reputable transportation services, staying in well-reviewed and well-located accommodations, and staying aware of your surroundings) and consider traveling in a group for safety in numbers. I share some of my safety tips here. 

Myth #3: Mexican food is… tacos.

Well, if this isn’t the biggest understatement on the planet (and it could honestly take up an entire blog of its own)!

Gastronomy in Mexico is incredibly diverse and vibrant, reflecting the country’s rich culinary heritage, regional variations, and the use of a wide array of ingredients: Mexican cuisine has a history that spans thousands of years, blending indigenous traditions with influences from Spanish colonizers and other cultures.

Sure, you have tacos in Mexico, but you also have tamales, tostadas, mole, ceviches, molcajetes, birria, sopes, cochinita pibil, tlayudas, tortas, chilaquiles, pozole, aguachile, and so much more — and that’s just some of the traditional dishes of Mexico…

There is also a wide array of international and vegetarian offerings, especially in Mexico’s larger cities — offering a variety of dining options that cater to different tastes and preferences. (Just take a look at my Instagram stories!)

  • Mexican cities have a growing number of Asian restaurants, including Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, and Korean cuisines. Sushi bars, ramen shops, and dim sum restaurants are particularly popular.
  • French cuisine has a presence in Mexico, with upscale French restaurants serving dishes like coq au vin, escargots, and crème brûlée. French-style bakeries and patisseries are also popular for their pastries and bread.
  • Italian cuisine is also widely available in Mexico, with numerous restaurants offering pizza, pasta, and various Italian specialties. If you fancy Italian-style pizza though, be sure you locate a pizzeria specializing in the Italian tradition (Mexican pizza is distinctly different).
  • American fast-food chains like McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Subway can be found throughout Mexico, especially in urban areas. Additionally, American-style diners and restaurants serving burgers, ribs, and other classic American dishes can also be found.
  • Mexican cities often have restaurants specializing in Mediterranean cuisine, including Greek, Lebanese, and Turkish fare for dishes like falafel, hummus, kebabs, and baklava.
  • Given the historical ties between Mexico and Spain, Spanish cuisine is well-represented in the country. Tapas bars and restaurants offering paella, tortilla española, and other Spanish delicacies can be found.
  • Many restaurants in Mexico blend various culinary influences to create fusion dishes or offer international menus that span different cuisines. These establishments may incorporate elements from multiple culinary traditions to create unique and innovative flavor combinations. (Yum!)
  • Vegan and vegetarian-specific offerings also have a solid footprint in many cities in Mexico, and the niche has been been steadily growing, reflecting the growing interest in plant-based diets and the demand for vegan-friendly dining experiences. 

Myth #4: Mexico is a third world country.

Well, this one really chaps my a$$: first off, third world, second world, and first world are outdated terms, having to do with a country’s political alignment during the Cold War — NOTHING to do with economics. The proper terms are developed, developing, or underdeveloped: and there is some debate whether Mexico is classified as a developed or developing country, depending on different perspectives and criteria used to assess development. 

So, here are the facts: Currently, Mexico has the largest economy in Central America and South America in terms of nominal GDP, and it is the second-largest economy in the region overall, following Brazil. 

Mexico is also the 15th largest economy in the world by nominal GDP, and is classified as an upper-middle-income country by the World Bank based on its gross national income per capita. 

In the past few decades, Mexico has made significant progress in various areas, such as education, healthcare, infrastructure, and poverty reduction. However, there are still challenges related to income inequality, corruption, crime rates, and access to quality services in some regions. And of course, Mexico is a diverse country with regional variations in development. Some areas face more significant challenges than others. 

So while different individuals and organizations have differing views on Mexico’s level of development, I find it to be overall fairly developed, despite its socio-economic disparities and ongoing needs, and with a number of opportunities for advancement. (Anyway, my WiFi speed is stronger in 95% of Mexico than it is on my family’s property 30 minutes south of Kansas City!)

Myth #5: Mexico is all-inclusives and beaches. 

With 5,797 miles of coastline, Mexico has one of the longest in the world, ranking 11th globally in terms of length — and you can experience beautiful beaches, rugged cliffs, and vibrant coral reefs. But Mexico has a lot more to offer beyond the typical all-inclusive resorts and beaches. 

  • Historical sites, archaeological zones, and remains of some of the oldest and most ancient civilizations in the world (did you know the Mayans invented the concept of zero)? Check. 
  • Colonial cities, architectural landmarks, and pueblos magicós (magic towns) with special significance? Check. 
  • A rich cultural and indigenous heritage, numerous year-round festivals, beautiful arts and handicrafts, and vibrant musical traditions? Check. 
  • Stunning natural landscapes: like Sumidero Canyon in Chiapas, Hierve el Agua in Oaxaca, sky-high volcanoes Popocatépetl and Pico de Orizaba, the thundering waterfalls of Huasteca Potosina, and crystal-clear cenotes of the Yucatán Peninsula? Check.
  • Numerous opportunities for wildlife-viewing: whale watching in Baja California, turtle conservation in Oaxaca, flamingo-watching in Celestún, the monarch butterfly migration in Michoacán, swimming with whale sharks in Holbox, and visiting the monkey islands in Veracruz? Check.
  • Globally renowned cuisine? Check. 
  • Diverse geographical features and varied climates, from tropical rainforest to tropical savannah to desert to mediterranean to highland to subtropical to alpine? Check. 

Ya’ll. Don’t sleep on the rest of Mexico!!

Myth #6: You need to speak Spanish to visit Mexico. 

Spanish is the primary language in Mexico, but depending more or less on where you are, many people in hospitality and tourism speak English. Still, learning a few basic Spanish phrases and greetings is a good idea (numbers are extremely helpful to know!!)

Let me preface the next section by saying: I communicate at a beginner-to-intermediate level of Spanish, and can carry on basic conversations — so when I see people traveling to Mexico with zero Spanish, part of me is horrified: not because I think they can’t get by (because they can — in a pinch, there are hand gestures and Google Translate)… the part of me that’s horrified is the part that knows there’s so much you’re missing if you can’t communicate and be communicated with. And that’s such a beautiful, joyous part of being in Mexico!

Flashback to the late 90s: I LOVED my Spanish language CD-ROM and learned TONS of vocabulary… numbers, colors, foods, verbs, and more. In high school: my teacher praised my pronunciation, I aced every Spanish class, and I even had a dream in Spanish. And then college and beyond: I almost never used Spanish again until the few weeks a year where I would go to Central or South America — and tried to rustle up what was buried deep in my brain.

Last year, I took a 4-week intermediate Spanish course in Mexico City: and with every lesson learned and successful recall, there were a million other complex ideas I still failed to master… oh, and by the way, let me just mention the fallacy of immersion: if you took Spanish in high school, you won’t just “pick it back up” simply by osmosis — to really learn, communicate, and expand your knowledge, you need to study and practice! 

There’s something extremely humbling about learning a second language!!

While I feel I can communicate most ideas I need to… I’m still translating in my head 90% of the time vs. thinking in Spanish. I struggle with tenses. I probably do not connect my sentences very well, even if my point gets across. I sometimes lack confidence. And during the off-times where my Spanish is better than my Mexican friends’ English, it’s a test of everyone’s patience!! 

The moral of the story: I’ve traveled to a ton of countries where I didn’t speak the official language and survived — so you can too. But, you will have a deeper, richer experience if you can communicate to some degree, and you will be able to better advocate for yourself.

Myth #7: You can just move to Mexico. 

As much as it would be nice to easily pick up and move to another country, moving to Mexico requires going through the appropriate immigration processes and obtaining the necessary visas (and paying the cost of such visas). It’s not as easy as it sounds!

For short-term visits, citizens of many countries can obtain a tourist visa for a small fee on arrival (bundled into their flight cost or paid separately if arriving by land border), which allows them to stay in Mexico for a specified period (up to 180 days, depending on the discretion of the border agent). 

But if you want to stay in Mexico for an extended period, you’ll need to meet the requirements, apply for the appropriate visa or permit, and go through the multi-step application and interview process. For example, I’m a temporary resident — which required a bunch of paperwork, a number of visits to the consulate in Kansas City, and then, once I was pre-approved, I had to complete several more steps upon arrival to Mexico. 

Contact the Mexican consulate in your home country for accurate and up-to-date information based on your specific circumstances. You may also want to consider working with an immigration attorney or facilitator for translation and assistance with the bureaucracy that is the Mexican immigration process. 

And that’s a wrap!

Well, this is getting to be a long blog, so I’m going to end it at seven… but I’d love to hear what other myths you’ve run into! Leave me a comment below… and contact me if you’d like help planning your next trip to Mexico!!

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4 thoughts on “Misunderstood Mexico: Busting the 7 Biggest Myths I Keep Hearing

  1. I couldn’t agree more. We’ve postponed our residency quest for the moment, but we love Mexico – will be spending November in Oaxaca (we’ve never been before) and we can’t wait to eat all the new regional food!

    1. Thanks Robb!! Can I ask why you’ve postponed residency? (I ask because I had my own kerfuffle with that at the end of last year/beginning of this year!) And that’s so great you’ll be on your way to Oaxaca soon, I’ll actually be there in early November as well — I happen to be hosting a group trip for Day of the Dead. Maybe your trip will overlap and we can share a mezcal or café!!

  2. I follow your FB page, but linked to this from the GoWithLess FB page. You’re a talented writer. I enjoy reading the details, the perspective and insights you share.

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