What Is Travel to Mexico Like Right Now?
Last fall, when some of her clients began to express interest in visiting Mexico at the beginning of the new year, GeoEx staffer Natalie Crow decided to journey there to experience travel conditions firsthand, so that she could better advise her guests on the realities of travel in Covid times. We recently spoke with her to find out how the trip had been and what it felt like to be visiting Mexico now.
When did you go to Mexico and where did you visit there?
We went to Mexico for a week at the beginning of December, and we visited Mexico City, San Miguel de Allende, and Puebla.
In terms of Covid preparations and practices, how was your experience preparing for and traveling to Mexico?
In an effort to mitigate risk, we decided to drive within Mexico rather than fly. This was fine by me as I love road trips—but it certainly was a different sort of trip than we would have taken pre-pandemic. For accommodations, we wanted to have room to spread out, and we liked the idea of having a whole place to ourselves, so that we wouldn’t have to come into contact with other people. So we decided to use vacation rentals rather than hotels, except for one grand hotel in Puebla. One bonus of this decision turned out to be that we had our own terrace and courtyard! Hotels are following all of the recommended guidelines/protocols, but if guests want to have an even more private experience, GeoEx has a large list of villas and rental properties in Mexico that we can book for guests if they would prefer this type of accommodation.
In terms of physical preparations, we bought N95 surgical masks and face shields, loaded up on hand sanitizer, and got tested before we left. We also got tested after coming back home, and we quarantined for a week after returning home.
Can you tell us how each step of your journey from your home to your accommodation in Mexico went?
Flight to Mexico: When we got to SFO (San Francisco International Airport), it was pretty empty. We thought, ok—so far so good.
Lounge: We decided to pay for lounge access with each flight. We felt this was worth it: less people around and more space made us feel more comfortable.
Flight: When we were preparing to board our flight, we realized that the plane was going to be more crowded than we had expected. While we were surprised by this, once we were on the plane and they turned on the filtration system, I felt OK. We kept our masks on, and people were compliant. All in all, I felt pretty safe on the plane.
Customs: This was the most nerve-wracking part of the trip. We had to wait in line, indoors, with the majority of the passengers from the plane. But it ended up being fine. And this was the only time we were at all uncomfortable on the entire trip.
Arrival: Once we got through Customs, we saw our GeoEx representative waiting, holding a sign with our name on it. What a relief! We were whisked away to our private vehicle, which was a Mercedes Sprinter, with lots of room for us. Our driver was wearing a mask.
I have been to Mexico City before and I know it is notorious for its traffic—but this time it was eerie and surreal. No traffic. It took about 25 minutes to drive to our apartment.
We got to our rental and checked in seamlessly. Then we went to the corner store and bought a few beers, which we enjoyed solo on our building’s rooftop.
What were the highlights of your stay in Mexico?
One huge highlight was San Miguel de Allende. To begin our stay there, we did an outdoor walking tour that was based on history, art, and architecture, and we just fell in love with the town! We were especially enchanted by the narrow, cobblestone streets and the Spanish-style architecture: The buildings were all one or two stories maximum, and they all had interior courtyards, so that we felt like we were constantly looking into these magical gardens from the street and discovering something.
Our guide was wonderful. He showed us some of the oldest and most historic homes—some had trees that were more than 100 years old inside their courtyards—and told us stories about the people who had lived there; these tales offered great insights and a fun trip back in time. Also, because it was the Christmas season, lights were strung up over the streets, which added even further to the magic.
San Miguel was entirely walkable, and after that first tour, we loved exploring on our own and getting lost. Every day brought more little adventures. Also, the town has numerous rooftop outdoor restaurants, so we could easily get fantastic views from many vantage points!
Another great highlight in San Miguel was a hot air balloon ride that we took. The day began with the most beautiful sunrise. Then we were in the air for about an hour; it was surreal and so beautiful floating over the town. I was surprised by how Zen it felt, very quiet and very peaceful. It was absolutely worth the 4:30 a.m. wake-up call. After the balloon ride, we celebrated with a luxurious brunch at the enchanting Belmond hotel, including some champagne for a toast!
Another highlight was our hotel in Puebla, the Azul Talaverna. We were touched that the hotel’s staff were clearly so excited to have us there—it seemed like only a few rooms were booked. And the hotel was spectacular. We fell in love with the outdoor rooftop pool and bar, which offered an amazing view of the city. This is where we really understood how big Puebla is. We were especially impressed that we could see so many of the city’s exquisite cathedrals. The hotel also had a gym, which we had completely to ourselves. I was very excited to use gym equipment for the first time in months. Finally, the breakfast was lovely. All the things I love about hotels—wonderful staff, amenities, ambiance and location—the Azul Talaverna had it all.
How did you feel touring—were most people following Covid protocols?
Yes. Wearing a mask in Mexico is not political. It is for public health, and that’s it. Everyone was mask compliant. We felt very safe. For contact tracing, we were required to write down our names and phone number everywhere we were served anything. There were mandatory temperature checks everywhere, as well as hand sanitizer that they would literally squirt in your hand for you. Everyone was compliant.
What were some of the dining highlights?
The dining was one of the highlights of the whole trip.
In Puebla, we went on a food crawl and tried Mexican dishes I had never even heard of before—and as a native Californian, I’ve been eating Mexican food all my life. One of these was essentially a fried chicken sandwich with avocado. What a dream! We tried sweet tamales with hot chocolate. This all-outdoors food tour was lovely and then that same night we had dinner at a famous place for mole (which Puebla state is known for). I did not know there were so many different kinds of mole! My favorite was the mole made from pumpkin seeds; it was green, sweet, nutty, and delicious.
Of course, the meal at the Belmond hotel in San Miguel, which we enjoyed after our hot air balloon ride, was absolutely delicious, too.
At the other end of the spectrum, there were the tacos! They are absolutely my favorite. We had delicious tacos throughout the trip, but one especially memorable find was in Mexico City. There we discovered a street stand two blocks from our apartment, and its tacos were some of the best of the trip. And they were all 50 cents!
Finally, in San Miguel, we ate at a swanky rooftop restaurant with a view of the famous cathedral. It was comfortably warm out, and we had a table to ourselves with a contactless menu and ordering. We celebrated with fancy cocktails at sunset, and with everyone wearing masks and all being outside, it felt safe and almost like—dare I say it—normal. It felt like a pre-pandemic “going out” night. What a welcome and wonderful feeling!
What was your overall impression about traveling in Mexico now?
Mexico relies heavily on tourism. Economically, so many people’s livelihoods depend on it, and it has been heartbreaking to see many people out of work. My feeling is that, recognizing how important tourism is to its economy, Mexico has prioritized making tourists feel safe when coming—and as a result, I have a great impression about travel to Mexico at the moment.
Were you surprised by anything in Mexico?
I was surprised by how much safer we felt once we were there. We felt safer than I sometimes feel going to the grocery store or to the post office in San Francisco.
In Mexico, everyone was mask compliant. Everyone kept their distance, and we were able to have a variety of great experiences—the food tour in Puebla, the walking tour of San Miguel, the hot air balloon ride—that were all outside. Once we arrived in the country, everything we did was in line with recommendations, and we felt very safe.
I was surprised that I loved San Miguel so much. It’s the most popular small town in Mexico, and I was afraid that it would be touristy and overdone. But when we arrived, I thought, “Wow, this town is just magical.” It has an aura to it–it’s artsy, it’s funky. And as our guide said, “People who live in San Miguel just like to have fun; we like to have a good time.” It’s very diverse, with a lot of Americans and expats from other countries as well. And it’s amazingly charming, with those cobblestone streets like you are in a fairy tale.
I was also surprised by how big Puebla is. I thought that it was a small town like San Miguel, but no, it’s a massive city. It looks like Barcelona, Spain; I felt like I was in Las Ramblas on every street. It was quiet, because of lockdown measures, but we could see how European the city is. This surprised me totally, to have such a European-feeling city so close to home.
Now that you’re back, what would you tell travelers who are interested in going to Mexico?
Go! Just go! GeoEx can help you plan a wonderful journey.
If you were to do the trip all over again, would you do anything differently?
The one thing I would do differently is STAY LONGER!
Are you glad you went?
SO GLAD. For our mental health, it was incredible. And again, we just wish we’d stayed longer.
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If you have any questions for Natalie about her experience traveling in Mexico, please post them in the comments section below!
To learn more about GeoEx journeys in Mexico, please call us at 888-570-7108.