Ah, Mexico. When you hear the name, you probably think “fun,” right? And you’d be right. It’s an amazing, large, and vibrant country with a lot of diverse activities. If you’re planning a trip, lucky you! Wondering what to pack for Mexico getaways? We’ve got you covered!
My second international trip, when I was in my early 20s, was to Mexico – Acapulco to be exact. In the decades that followed, I’ve made dozens of trips to Mexico, from the Pacific coast to the Caribbean coast and inland, too. It’s my go-to destination since it’s inexpensive, has fabulous food, incredible history, gorgeous beaches, and is close to the United States. I’m always looking forward to my next trip, and truth-be-told, Kary and I are planning an extended stay in Mexico in two years.
I’ve become somewhat of an expert on what to pack and what to leave at home, much by trial and error. The list below is designed so that you can pick and choose what is right to pack for your destination. You’ll see a lot of “beach-type” items because even if you’re going to an urban area such as Mexico City, Merida, or San Miguel de Allende, there are lakes, waterfalls, and cenotes that you won’t want to miss.
You don’t need to take a huge suitcase to have a grand adventure! This Mexico packing list is designed to allow you to have everything you need in a rollaboard that most airlines allow you to stow in the overhead bin. I hardly ever check a bag anymore because (1) the fees have gotten too high, and (2) the probability of airlines losing/delaying your luggage is a terrible way to start a vacation.
But I also want to be up-front about this list…I’m not a backpacker and I don’t stay in hostels, so while I search for really fantastic deals for packing items, you won’t see things like bringing my own sheets/pillowcases or stuffing everything inside a big, ugly backpack that I have to haul around on my back. Nor will you see drab, unappealing clothing that will not photograph well in this Instagram age. Instead, you’ll see a variety of fun, interesting things that you can afford!
IS MEXICO SAFE?
In general, Mexico is a safe country for tourists. Just stay away from the troubled border cities like Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana, and along the Arizona border which have higher cartel activity, although there is also allegedly a cartel presence in Mexico City and the Sinaloa area. I’ve never had anything bad happen to me in Mexico but having said that, you should take the same precautions you’d take in any other country:
- Don’t buy or sell drugs. Enough said.
- Keep an eye on your belongings in crowded areas and keep them close.
- I don’t ride motorbikes, but if you do, always wear a helmet.
- Don’t wander around inebriated.
IMPORTANT! Never travel to any foreign country without travel insurance! Random, unplanned things can happen. I was involved in a horrendous car crash in South Africa in 2014. You can check policy prices on travel insurance here.
I like polycarbonate hard-shell luggage for lots of different reasons. First, unlike soft-sided fabric luggage, you can wipe them clean when they get dirty. Second, they are waterproof. They are also lighter than you might think. Lastly, you can get them in all kinds of colors and patterns – you would not believe the compliments I get on my suitcase, plus on those rare occasions when I do have to check a bag, I can easily identify it on the arrivals carousel and there’s virtually zero chance that someone will try to walk away with it claiming they were confused that it was theirs.
Make sure to get one with a zipper that will expand to hold the inevitable treasures you will want to buy in Mexico!
Packing cubes are one of the best finds I’ve ever made! Not only do they compress your rolled clothing so you can fit more, but I can organize my clothing by color, type, daywear, eveningwear, etc. And don’t forget to tightly roll your clothes to save room and avoid wrinkling.
In lieu of or in addition to a beach bag, is a daypack (small, lightweight backpack), especially if you plan to do some walking, hiking, or exploring. In it, you can easily stash your camera, reusable water bottle, smartphone, sunblock, mosquito repellent wipes, camera lens wipe, snacks, and other necessities. My daypack can also fit inside my beach bag if needed.
If are planning to do any snorkeling or scuba diving, a dry bag is something in which you can protect your technical equipment.
Small Cross-body Bag
I always bring a small, lightweight handbag that I can stick in my daypack, my beach bag, or sling across my shoulder at night. It contains such things as my cell phone, medications, reading glasses and cash.
Tip: Make sure you have one with a zipper to discourage pickpockets! I had my smartphone lifted while in Ukraine. Here are more tips on how to avoid pickpocketing and what to do if it happens.
My best tip for packing is to pick one neutral color bottoms and then pair that with colorful tops and accessories. My go-to color for shorts/pants for beach vacations is white and my choice for non-beach or cooler trips is usually black (sometimes denim blue), but you can also choose gray or tan as your base color. Another advantage is that by choosing one neutral color, I don’t have to pack a lot of different shoes or jewelry which can take up space and weight. And it allows me to pack a lot of colorful tops that I can mix and match.
I feel like I need to mention this specific item first because after all, it’s Mexico. Depending on the time of year and place you’re visiting, it can get cool, especially in the evenings. Also, I get cold very, very easily, so I always bring something to slip on when I’m in highly air-conditioned restaurants. As a bonus, the “Baja hoodie” comes in lots of different color combinations so your photos can be as bright or subdued as you like.
For a non-beach vacation, I still wear a pair of jeans on the plane but trade out the shorts and capris for two pairs of leggings and another pair of jeans (blue or black).
Silky Tank Tops
My silky tops are a must-have! Mine are mostly 95% polyester 5% spandex. You can get them in an infinite variety of colors and prints, but the best thing is that unlike tee-shirts or knit tops, they roll up teeny-tiny you can fit them in the palm of your hand! I can pack a bunch of them without taking up much space so I never have to wash them or wear the same one twice. However, if you have to wash them in the sink, they dry very fast – much faster than a t-shirt.
Mexico is the perfect place to show off your flowy Instagrammable dresses! They’re great to walk around town, explore markets, historic sites, and museums. They’re also perfect to wear to dinner in the evening.
I’ve worn the turquoise outfit above in many destinations. Want to duplicate it? Here you go!
Who can resist these loose, fun, comfy pants? I pair them with a crop top, but they also work well with a longer tank top. These colorful bohemian pants photograph well in pictures, too. Go for it and have a ball!
This item essential has a lot of variation with consideration of personal style as well as the customs where you are traveling. Even if you’re visiting inland, the hotel may have a pool or you may hike to a waterfall or cenote. If you are going to a Mexican beach resort, you’ll probably want to pack more than one. I also like to wear different styles – here are some of my favorites.
I never travel without a sarong. It’s my essential go-to item that I’ve used as a beach cover-up, sundress, head covering for religious sites or conservative destinations, scarf, wind shawl, towel, pillow or seat covers, makeshift purse, privacy curtain, window shade, and packing padding.
God forbid, but it could also be used as a bandage, sling, tourniquet, or to tie a splint until you can get proper medical attention.
I love these so much I probably have at least 20, with no regrets. Don’t judge!
My caftan has multiple uses. I use it at the beach, at night walking around the resort, and for exploring in town. They are extremely airy and comfy and fit right in with tropical island dress.
Rain can break out at any random, unplanned time, but it doesn’t have to ruin your trip. I pack a compact plastic travel rain jacket into my daypack. It doesn’t take up much room at all, and I have several that are cute and photograph well.
I usually bring two pairs of sandals for a warm-weather trip– one pair of white Clarks that are more dressy, and a pair of good walking sandals for exploring and light hiking. I swear by my Teva’s which I’ve had for at least 10 years and are still as comfortable and look as good as the day I bought them.
Also, if you’re planning to do some hiking, the degree of difficulty will dictate what kind of footwear you’ll need. In most cases, my uber-comfy Sketcher sneakers are versatile enough. But if you’re planning to take on a more challenging trek, then you’ll want proper hiking shoes. Tip: wear these types of heavier shoes on the plane so you don’t take up valuable room in your luggage.
These travel undies are a lifesaver. I pack a few of these sweat-wicking, quick-dry underpants which are not only comfortable but if necessary can be washed by hand at night and are dry and ready to wear the next day.
No matter where you are in Mexico, you’ll likely have lots of sunshine, so protecting your eyes from harmful UV rays is very important. I always make sure I have stylish sunglasses since you can see them in basically every photo that I’m in.
You’ll definitely need a tote when off to the beach. When necessary, I can always use my daypack but prefer to have a large beach tote with lots of pockets to store my towel, phone and/or camera, sunglasses, snacks, and sunscreen.
Many women can travel without jewelry; I’m not one of those! Naturally, I never bring expensive jewelry on any trip, but I always bring a few pairs of fun, colorful earrings to match my outfits which do not take up a lot of room.
Also, if you have the option of visiting local markets during your trip you can buy some of the hand-crafted jewelry to wear on your trip as well as a keepsake of your visit.
I also bring a large-faced inexpensive watch daily, so I don’t have to dig out my cell phone (or put on my reading glasses) every time I wanted to check the time.
Most hotels will not allow you to take their towels off the premises, so if you’re planning day trips to a beach, lake, waterfall, or cenote, you’ll need one of these quick-dry towels that fold up really small and fit nicely in your tote or daypack.
Reusable Plastic Bags
These eco-friendly bags are great for shopping at local outdoor markets where vendors may not provide plastic bags. They are strong and call hold heavy items and come in lots of fun prints.
Some resorts provide these and others rent them – which I’d recommend. But because I need a vision correction mask to read your scuba diving gages, I bring my own.
Filtered Water Bottle
Water is questionable in many remote places so don’t risk contracting traveler’s diarrhea. But rather than buying plastic water bottles everywhere, filtered bottles are great for purifying unsafe water when you are away from your resort. I love this one because when empty, it can be folded up and doesn’t take up precious room in your luggage.
Insider Tip: If you hate getting your hair tangled in the scuba strap, like me, here’s a fabulous solution. This mask strap wrapper will save your hair!
Most beaches don’t allow alcohol, but if you feel like you need a little nip, you can camouflage your vice in a sunscreen lookalike flask. Of course, if you get caught, I’ll deny ever have recommended this!
It’s a great idea to bring some with you -especially a guide book – in case you don’t have access to WiFi. You can download to your kindle before you leave home, if you like.
I work when traveling because I’m in the industry, so I never travel without my uber-lightweight Lenovo laptop which is solid-state inside and resists being jostled about. But if you can get away with just checking emails on your phone, do so.
Never leave home without it, right? My Samsung smartphone takes exceptionally great photos and it’s become my go-to camera.
Mexico has an almost endless array of gorgeous outdoor beauty and charming colonial towns. I said “bye-bye” to my big, heavy Nikon DSLR camera about a year ago and have never looked back. I absolutely love my lightweight Canon mirrorless camera and it takes fabulous photos.
We love our tiny GoPro video camera! It takes underwater pictures and all sorts of action adventures. There are also a host of hand-free accessories where you can mount the camera on your head, chest, surfboard, bike, etc. to get unique footage without putting yourself in harm’s way.
Lightweight Tripod/Selfie Stick
If you’re traveling with someone else, a combination selfie stick/tripod is a great way to capture memories with both of you (and perhaps your guide) in it.
A universal adapter/converter that has options to work in any country is a must-have. This should come with you every time you leave your home country, so just buy one that has worldwide options.
I always have an SD card with high capacity in my camera, and one extra one in case the first gets filled or damaged.
Insider’s Tip: I download the photos from both my camera and my phone to my laptop’s hard drive every night. You never know when your equipment will malfunction or get stolen and you’ll lose precious photos. You can also download to the cloud if you prefer.
Outdoor elements are bad for your phone or camera lens. To obtain the best-quality photos, clean your camera and phone lenses intermittently throughout the day. I love this Klimt artsy cloth!
For lazy days at the beach, poolside, or mountain getaway, a kindle is a good gadget to have. With a kindle, you don’t have to worry about the weight and space that multiple books would take up in your luggage. You can load your guide books to educate yourself about your surroundings and/or favorite fiction all on one device.
HEALTH & BEAUTY
I love the beach but do not like staying in direct sunlight for long periods of time. During my sun exposure, I use this eco-friendly sunscreen that does not pollute the water or harm marine life. Win/win scenario. I also use sunscreen on my face even in cooler climates if I’ll be spending time in the sun such as hiking.
It helps to wear long sleeves and pants or long dresses at night and pack at least 30% DEET spray or wipes. I prefer the wipes on my skin because the scent is not as strong as an involuntary inhalant. It’s easier to get full coverage with the wipes and they’re individually packaged so you can just throw a couple in your bag. Alternatively, I use the spray by indirectly applying to my clothing.
Have you heard of Montezuma’s Revenge? Even a savvy traveler like me falls victim to it occasionally. If you’ve ever had Traveler’s Diarrhea, you know it’s terrible and can lay you up for a day or more. Over-the-counter medications like Imodium and Trioral can help with the symptoms, but I always travel with a prescription of Cipro, an antibiotic that stops the root cause.
Miscellaneous First Aid
First Aid Kit with Band-Aids, moleskin, antibiotic cream, ibuprofen, cream for bites, and any medications you normally take.
Toiletries take up most of the weight in your suitcase (plus TSA restrictions), so don’t bring if not needed. Most hotels and resorts will provide you with shampoo, conditioner, lotion, and hairdryers, so no need to ever bring these. As far as curling irons, straighteners, etc., while on a vacation, I often just do without. Normally, I just put my hair in a ponytail, braid it down the side if I’m wearing a floppy hat. I sometimes braid it at night so that it’s crimpy in the morning if I want to wear it long.
I can’t sleep unless it’s pitch black, and a lot of hotels have lights on their ceiling sprinklers, some light that seeps beneath the door, and night lights outside around the resort. I can only enjoy good nights’ sleep while wearing my sleep mask which blocks all light as well as coaxes my eyes to stay closed. They’re also great for blocking out light if you want to take a nap on a plane.
Whether it’s that screaming baby on the plane or the snoring of your travel companion, a good set of earplugs will save you hours of frustration.
WHAT TO BUY
Mexico is a treasure trove of open-air markets and colorful handicrafts. Make sure to leave a little room in your suitcase for these wonderful textiles, pottery, or specialty tequila, because I can virtually guarantee you’ll want to buy some.
Plus, I always feel good when I support the local economy. Note that bargaining is the norm in Mexico and it’s expected. It can be a lot of fun, and I always make sure it’s a win/win for both of us. A rule of thumb is to ask the price, then offer 50%. After that, bargain until you reach somewhere in the middle.
Note: If you forgot to pack your sarong or Baja hoodie, don’t worry; you’ll find them everywhere.
Be mindful that any clothing you purchase in Mexico will likely be of a lesser quality than in the US and sizes generally run a bit smaller.
The currency in Mexico is the peso. While most places will take a credit card or US dollars, some market stalls will not, especially street food which you must try (fish tacos!). Check with your bank – I can order foreign currency in advance of my trip with zero exchange fees because of the type of accounts I have. It just doesn’t get any easier than that! But you can also get peso at the airport of ATMs throughout the country. Just be careful though…I used an ATM just outside of Mexico City and my credit card was hacked. I suggest only using ATMs that are attached to a bank so you can get help if needed.
There is an endless variety of accommodations in Mexico. Here are ways to compare prices in the most popular tourist destinations of Cancun, Mexico City, Cabo San Lucas, San Miguel de Allende, Puerto Vallarta, and Oaxaca City. Driving in Mexico is pretty easy. Signage is pretty good, but if you do get lost you’ll find the locals friendly and willing to help.
Keep in mind which parts of Mexico you’ll be visiting, what activities you’ll be doing, and the time of year (hot, cool, rainy, dry, etc.) you’ll be traveling, then pick and choose from my list accordingly.
It’s important to take only what you need and not overpack. When in doubt, take this advice
“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.” (~Susan Heller)
Click on an image below to PIN so you can find these beach items again:
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About the Author
Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials.” Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled six continents looking for fabulous places and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer (and Gen X!) tribe.