Zika virus. Kidnappings. Abductions. Cartels. Border patrols. Walls. Mexico can sound pretty scary. We were asked so many questions about crusing the Mexican Riviera with all the stories coming out of Mexico. Our second port excursion took us to Mazatlan--by far our favorite port stop and the most beautiful of all the ports we visited:
WERE YOU SCARED ABOUT MEXICO AND THE ZIKA VIRUS?
That was probably the only thing I didn't consult google about before we left. I thought the Zika virus was in Africa. I found out once we got back it's in Mexico too. Whoops. No, I didn't get Zika virus and most people who get it never know they have it. Zika virus is transmitted by mosquitoes. In fact, the boat was awesome. No bugs. My youngest is afraid of bees so she loved that we didn't see one bug our whole cruise. Once on shore we got eaten a little by mosquitoes but only at one excursion. And they had bug spray you could buy while there but I forgot to in the hustle to calm overly excited kids down. At no time did the cruise line, or any of the excursions ever warn us or recommend we use bug spray or patches, etc. So my guess is it probably isn't a huge problem.
IS MEXICO SAFE TO TRAVEL TO?
Yes. I never at any point and time did not feel safe. I was cautious as anyone should be when traveling, but I never felt unsafe. We didn't leave stuff unattended at the beach--someone was always sitting and guarding our stuff while others played in the water, etc. But those are just common sense things. We also because of our limited time in ports stayed within the cities and didn't venture outside of it. We also were not doing any heavy drinking while in port and our ship was only in port during the daytime hours. So as far as cruising to Mexico yes we felt safe. The only thing that happened was the taxi driver tried to charge us double of an Uber driver in Cabo San Lucas. The armed police guards in a couple of places were a little intimidating at first but they were cute to the little girls and said "hi" to them and one stopped and asked the girls how they liked Mexico and what they had done for an activity while we were hailing Uber's on our phone.
DO YOU NEED TO SPEAK SPANISH IN MEXICAN RIVIERA CITIES?
No, but it's helpful. I took Spanish for two years and picked up a little Spanish working at the hospital but I'm very basic and rusty at best speaking it. I thought my daughter (who studied for four years) would get off the ship and start speaking Spanish to everyone she saw. But she actually got pretty nervous as she listened to native Spanish speakers talk. They talk very fast and she had to really think and work hard to keep up with their conversation. So she picked and chose what she would say and when.
Many of the people there we talked to spoke English or Spanglish. You don't need to know Spanish. We found it helpful when negotiating prices at the market. In Mazatlan we used Spanish the most of any city. Many people knew basic Spanish but when explaining things it was easier for us to explain it to them in Spanish or Spanglish. At the beach we used it a lot as there were a lot of natives who only spoke Spanish. Our waiter could take our order in English but if we asked any questions it was easier for him to understand it if we asked in Spanish as you could see he would get a little flustered trying to break what we were saying down in his head. We get it, we're all trying to remember our high school Spanish and English. When we were in Puerto Vallarta at the beach some kids my little girls age approached her and were asking her her name and what she was making in Spanish. They were making her uncomfortable a little because she couldn't understand what they were asking her. I told her, 'they are asking you your name and what you are making. Tell them your name and say a chair, 'silla.''
That being said, I wouldn't splurge on any fancy translating apps. You will be fine. For us, it came in handy in some areas.
ARE THE PEOPLE IN MEXICO NICE?
My mom told me about her experiences in Mexico and said it had not been positive. We found the people to be wonderful and so nice. In psychology we learn that if we take a random group of people, isolate and study them there will always be similar dynamics. One person emerges as the group leader, another the worker bee, one a gossiper, etc. Yes there were some people we met in Mexico who were pushy, some who were so sweet and some workers that you could tell were just muscling through their jobs or didn't enjoy them at all. It was the same as if we traveled to San Francisco or New York. Sometimes traveling to a foreign country forces you to observe in different ways. Instead of falling back on words and language in perceiving a person like I would in the United States, I had to often fall back on nonverbal cues, the ones we don't use as much anymore in our day and age.
In Mazatlan we had a lot of people approaching us on the beach asking us to buy things. The market was a little overwhelming as the sellers could be a little pushy if you didn't buy from them. We had our Uber driver in Cabo San Lucas make a comment to the security guard at one of the entrances to our excursion about not wanting to pay for parking because he was only taking us 'Americans' to the entrance to the park and then getting out of there. My daughter sat quietly and at the end of the trip thanked him kindly in Spanish for the ride and his patience. He asked her if she spoke Spanish and she said that she had understood him. He apologized for his comment.
Overall people in Mexico were really friendly. There were times they would roll their eyes when people off the ship would approach them and just start speaking Spanish or if they would come up and say English to them in slow, loud words. Yeah, we saw that happen more than once. It was as embarrassing as it sounds.
I think our vibe was what made it easier. We were genuine, a family on vacation just grateful to be out and having a good time. We were genuine and appreciative of our tour guides, drivers and those we met for making our trip great. I guess common courtesy and respect follow to other countries too. I would apologize when necessary and make my Mom proud by saying my please and thank yous. No one ever made any comments about us. My daughter was praised for her Spanish speaking, I was teased for my "Gringo" accent (by my daughter and those on excursions) and somehow between a mixture of hand gestures, English and Spanish we were able to carry on conversations and understand each other. But I could see how people would get the vibe that people in Mexico are not friendly. But I could usually see why. My favorite Spanglish conversation was with a man working the market in Puerto Vallarta. He went up to my boyfriend and started to talk to him in Spanish. My boyfriend doesn't understand a WORD of Spanish even though he is. I had to ask where the bano was for him. The worker thought my boyfriend was being rude when he didn't answer him back in Spanish and gave him a 'look.' I had to explain to the worker that as a counselor in a school in the United States it's actually becoming more common to see those of hispanic and latino descent not knowing Spanish. That by junior high and high school a lot of parents put their children in Spanish classes because they may be able to understand and speak Spanish, but they don't know how to read or write it. Or they may not be being taught it at all in the home like my boyfriend's case. His parents never dual spoke to him in Spanish and English. They only taught him English. The man was floored and apologized. it is a two way street. I always think they are trying as hard to understand me as I am them.
Read people's reactions, and learn a few words in another language to help you out. Words like "lo siento," (sorry), "como se dice" (how do you say?), "no se" (I don't understand or I don't know), "gracias," (thank you), and "chao" or "adios" (goodbye)--certain areas of Mexico use 'chao' as a goodbye; it's mostly used with younger people. In Utah at some of the Mexican markets they will say goodbye to me with 'chao' others with 'adios.' I guess it just depends. But those simple words go so far in helping to gauge reactions and help others see that you are making an effort for them same as they are to understand your language.
Almost all of the time we found the people in Mexico to be amazing, nice and caring. They were friendly, hospitable and loved the kids.
DO I NEED PESOS?
No. Most places took card. The markets took US dollars or pesos. Only one place at the beach required pesos to turn on the water to wash your feet off and there was a place that converted dollars to pesos right near the dressing rooms. You are fine
Our best bit of advice that we got was to carry smaller bills with you in Mexico. (US dollars) This came in handy when tipping, or when purchasing items at the market. I didn't carry any bill over $10 with me.
Several times I would have to stop and ask if a price was in dollars or pesos but usually they would quote in US dollars. A couple of times I was charged on my credit card in pesos and I would have to pull out a conversion calculator and just see how much that was in US dollars. Most of the time I was pretty close. When we visited the US dollar to peso was 18.50. I just rounded it to 20 to make my math a little easier to do quickly and to get a ballpark number. So at Walmart I was charged 252 pesos on my receipt. In my head I quickly said it was about $13 USD. The actual was $13.22 USD I was charged. So I was close.
MAZATLAN SHORE EXCURSIONS: BEACH AND MORE!
We know it is extremely hard to pick activities that all age groups will like. Mazatlan was a little difficult to find a lot to do here. We let the kids choose from an Old Town Tour, a visit to Stone Island, or a horse back ride and beach play.
The kids chose the HORSES!!!
We gave it to them. With all the blenderizing we are putting them through it was our turn to give in a little and sacrifice two hours of our life on an animal that could easily buck us off and send us to the hospital for the rest of the trip.
No worries that by the end of the horseback ride I couldn't feel my knees up but surprisingly my butt was wide awake and on fire.
At one point of the horseback ride my son cell phone came out of his pocket and landed in the ocean, our guide recovered it. While he was saving the cell phone my youngest daughter's horse decided during that time to start walking in the opposite direction. our guide had to run after her. She wasn't scared though and still had fun...although the guide then tethered her horse to his.
My horse would stop at every bush and eat, and my son's horse would nip the other horses in the butt. My son also told me that if you kick the horse with your legs it will stop. No, I ended up pulling my horse into a full blown trot. The kids got me again.
The horseback ride went off without a hitch, and we had plenty of fun stories to tell about our adventure at lunch afterward. And I must admit I enjoyed the horseback ride for about 30 seconds of the two hours and felt it every time I sat down for the next two days.
We booked our horseback riding excursion through ShoreTrips and had about 8 people and two guides on our horseback ride.
Afterwards we hit the beach and got some delicious food from a local restaurant/cantina that was beachside.
And I will say that one of my FAVORITE things about Mazatlan (besides the views and getting off the horse) was that on the beach they have nice umbrella tables and chairs/reclining chairs to rent right on the beach.
I wish California had more of this. It was $10 to rent a table and chairs for the day or $5 for half a day. It made the beach way more fun to have a table and chairs to lay out and tan on instead of the sand.
We found it to be the same at Puerto Vallarta too. It's so nice!
ARE YOU HEADING TO THE MEXICAN RIVIERA? DON'T MISS PART 1: CABO SAN LUCAS! IN ADDITION TO SHARING OUR SHORE EXCURSION WE ALSO TALK ABOUT THE DOCUMENTS TO PACK, WHAT YOU SHOULD/SHOULDN'T SPLURGE ON ONBOARD AND WHAT YOU NEED TO PACK THAT WE DIDN'T FIND ON ANY OTHER CRUISE PACKING LIST ONLINE!