Sunday, June 16, 2024

How to travel in Mexico without the crowds

It’s finally time: the Mexican beach vacation you’ve been planning for months is upon you, and you arrive to find, yes, sparkling blue water and soft sands, but also something you perhaps hadn’t envisioned: a whole lot of other people.

There’s a word in Mexico to specifically describe that feeling of discomfort from being around just too many people at once: engentar. (See the word “gente” (“people”) in there?)

How to avoid the crowds in Mexico
Mexico is a beautiful place for a trip, but it’s popular for a reason. (Elizabeth Ruiz/Cuartoscuro)

It’s a word I use a lot, because – wouldn’t you know it – every time I decide it would be lovely to take a little trip somewhere, it seems everyone else has independently decided on the exact same thing. 

What to do?

If you don’t mind the crowds, the extra time waiting in lines, and the elevated prices for everything from taxis to souvenirs, just enjoy yourself. Some people thrive on the particular kind of energy that lots of people in one place bring, and if that’s you, then carry on.

If that’s not you, then never fear: I’ve got some tips to make you feel a tad less engentado on your next trip, whether you’re coming to Mexico from abroad for a long vacation, or hopping over to the next town for a long weekend.

How to avoid the crowds in Mexico

  1. Check the holiday calendar (especially the SEP calendar).

    Long weekends are a prime time when people decide to get out of town for a bit, and if there’s any kind of prime tourist destination or big holiday event or festival within reasonable driving or bus travel distance during those times, chances are you’re going to find big crowds.

    If you really care about being present at a specific event, try to plan way ahead: make reservations for whatever you can (hotels, meals, even parking if you’re able), and be prepared to enjoy a baño de pueblo (literally, a “people bath”)!

  2. Try to avoid going out on weekend quincenas.

    A quincena, literally a “fortnight,” (15 days) is the term people use for “payday” around here, usually around the 1st and the 15th of every month. As everywhere, people tend to go out looking for some fun once they’ve got some money in their pockets, so everywhere from the movie theater to the grocery stores tends to get a heavier-than-usual volume of visitors.

  3. Stay in the city when everyone else leaves.

    Semana Santa, summer break, long weekends…these are the best times to explore the urban landscape, as traffic is usually down and the hot spots are a little roomier than usual. City folk who can afford to get out of town mostly do get out of town during those times, so they make for rare moments of feeling like you’ve got the whole place to yourself!

  4. If you can, do your traveling and exploring during the off-season.

    This is likely a logical conclusion you’ve come to given the above, but it bears repeating: if you can travel during the times that most people are not traveling, you’ll have a lot more breathing room.

    Another advantage is that prices tend to fluctuate up and down with the comings and goings of crowds of vacationers. If you can go when demand is low, you’ll likely find you can hold onto your funds for a bit longer – perhaps for your next trip!

  5. Get off the beaten path.

    We all know the hot spots in Mexico right now, and we know how popular they are. But Mexico has much more to offer than its beaches and popular-with-expats cities.  Especially if you can speak/read Spanish, have a look at some Mexican travel sites to get a glimpse of some of the lesser-known areas, or take a look at the “travel” section of Mexico News Daily! Sometimes a little extra research majorly pays off, particularly if you are looking to avoid crowds.

So, those are my tips! If you’ve got any for your fellow travelers – or recommendations for great places to visit that people might not know about and how to avoid the crowds in Mexico – drop them in the comments below!

Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. She can be reached through her website, sarahedevries.substack.com.

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