I grew up in Los Angeles, California, and always had a passion for travel and dreams of moving abroad.
In my early 20s, I took a vacation in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and fell in love — the beaches were stunning, the culture was warm and inviting and the food was mouth-wateringly good.
I decided that this could be a perfect spot to start my adventures of living abroad — it was close enough to home back in California, the prices were affordable, and the weather was great.
In total, I spent six years living throughout Mexico, spending time in the capital Mexico City, the surfers paradise of Sayulita, and the Caribbean coast in towns like Playa Del Carmen and Tulum. It was an unforgettable experience, but some things surprised me along the way.
Here are 11 things I wish I had known before moving there.
1. Burritos are not a thing
Growing up in Southern California, Mexican food was quite popular, from taco Tuesdays to big, juicy burritos. So when I decided to move to Mexico, I felt I had a pretty good understanding of Mexican dishes — but boy was I wrong!
The hard shell taco that I grew up eating does not exist in Mexico — here, tacos come on a small corn tortilla about the size of your palm and are filled with different meats, cheese, or vegetables. I was also surprised to see that a burrito was not a common dish in Mexico. Instead, my world was pleasantly opened to an array of different and delicious Mexican dishes like sopes, tamales, and chilaquiles.
2. It gets hot — like, really hot
I had been to the Caribbean side of Mexico on vacation once before moving there. It happened to be during springtime, so while the weather was quite hot, I loved it — it was perfect for going to the beach and bathing in the turquoise seas of the Caribbean.
But when I moved to Mexico, I quickly realized it wasn’t all about going to the beach — I had to work, run errands, and live a normal life, and trying to get daily tasks done in the humidity of this jungle climate was tough to get used to. Average temperatures can be around 90 degrees Fahrenheit or 31 degrees Celsius, but due to the high humidity, it can feel much hotter. It felt like I was arriving everywhere drenched in sweat! I would even keep napkins in my purse to try to dry myself off before arriving where I needed to be.
3. Summers are the low season
Empty beach in Tulum. Right: Author in Tulum.
The summers are boiling, and due to the high temperatures and extreme humidity, this is actually the low season in many Mexican towns. This came as a total surprise to me as I always thought of summer as a time when everyone flocks to the beach, and assumed restaurants and hotels would be packed due to summer crowds. That's certainly not the case in Mexico, where some restaurants and small businesses will close during the hot months as there is not enough tourism.
4. Dia de los Muertos is a magical expereince
The beautiful and unique tradition of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is celebrated throughout the country on November 1st and 2nd. I had heard of this holiday before arriving, but I could have never imagined the immense beauty that comes along with the celebration. Dia de los Muertos is a traditional Mexican holiday where people celebrate the lives of their friends and family members who have passed. On this day, people decorate the graves of their loved ones with things that they loved in life and bright orange marigold flowers. Being in Mexico during a Day of the Dead celebration is truly an unforgettable experience.
5. You can swim in the middle of the jungle in a freshwater sinkhole called a "cenote"
A cenote is a freshwater natural sinkhole that can be found in the jungles of the Yucatan Penisula in Mexico. When a friend asked me if I wanted to go to one, I wasn’t sure what to expect, as there were no cenotes in Los Angeles. The experience blew my mind, and it became one of my favorite pastimes while living in Mexico. These peaceful swimming holes have crystal clear waters and natural rock formations that can be perfect for jumping head-first into the refreshing pool below.
6. It's not uncommon to see turtles hatching on the beach
The wildlife and landscapes of Mexico are so rich and diverse in beauty. On the coasts of Mexico, it's common to see sea turtles laying their eggs or to see the actual hatching of the baby turtles as they waddle down the pristine beaches into the sea. One of my favorite beaches on the Caribbean coast of Mexico is Akumal, where nearly every time I went I had the fortune of seeing sea turtles swimming in the translucent waters. On a few occasions, I saw the babies coming into the world and racing down to the shores — a truly miraculous experience.
7. The history and pyramids of Mexico are truly incredible
Mexico is not only home to outstanding nature and wildlife but also home to amazing history. I was lucky enough to be able to visit a few different Mayan pyramids while I was living there. Throughout my six years living in Mexico, I spent four of them living between Playa Del Carmen and Tulum. Both of these Caribbean seaside towns are in the state of Quintana Roo which is home to quite a few extraordinary ruins like Chichen Itza, Coba, and the Tulum Pyramids which are perched on a rocky cliff alongside the mesmerizing blue seas. To be this close to such ancient history was mind-boggling, and the fact that it was in the town where I was living made for an even more remarkable experience.
8. The spicy food is no joke
I knew spicy food was big in Mexico, and I've always been a fan of throwing a little tabasco sauce on a taco or two, but nothing could have prepared me for the true spicy nature of Mexican cuisine. When you ask for hot sauce at a restaurant in Mexico they usually bring you 3 to choose from, ranging from very spicy to extremely spicy to set-your-mouth-on-fire spicy. With time my tastebuds began to adapt and I was able to handle more spice, and even enjoy it a bit, but I could never get used to the spicy candy — yes, Mexicans love their spice so much that even the candy can be coated with spicy seasoning!
9. Cinco de Mayo is not celebrated in Mexico
In Los Angeles, Cinco de Mayo is a huge celebration. No matter what day of the week it was, people drink tequila and celebrate, so I was quite surprised when I arrived and found out Cinco de Mayo is not a celebration in Mexico. It's a bank holiday, so people don't work, but there are no parties — instead, the biggest celebration in Mexico is on September 16th, which is their Independence Day. The night before on the 15th is the night of festivities with fireworks at midnight, and the party goes till the early morning hours.
10. The language and lingo is incredibly fun to learn
I couldn’t speak Spanish when I first arrived in Mexico, and learning a language from zero is not an easy task. Luckily, the locals were quite patient with me while I was learning, and many spoke English perfectly. Although learning the language took some time, learning the Mexican lingo was a bit easier, and was also incredibly fun.
Within the first few weeks of living in Mexico, I had to quickly learn some of the go-to phrases like "No mames Güey" which is a very common expression to say "no way!’ Güey, in general, is another way to say dude or man. A few other favorites were "que chido" meaning "how cool" and "a juevo" — while juevo translates to egg, this expression is used to say "for sure!"
11. The Mexican people are some of the friendliest and most welcoming I've ever met
Mexican culture is one of the richest and kindest I have ever encountered. I was welcomed into this country with open arms and respect. Not only is Mexico filled with beautiful traditions and breathtaking terrain and scenery, but the people as a whole are hospitable, warm, and gracious. Mexico was my first home away from home — it taught me so much, and living there was an incredibly rewarding experience. I will forever be grateful to the amazing country that shared its nature, beauty, culture, food, people, traditions, and all the amazing friends I met during my six-year stay in the magical place.
Before you get going, check out our Responsible Travel Guide so you can be informed, be safe, be smart, and most of all, be respectful on your adventure.