Mexico as a country is chronically misunderstood. There are so many falsities and out and out lies spewed about this place on a daily basis that it’s really little wonder there are so many misconceptions about Mexico.
Unfortunately, most people have a wholly negative impression of Mexico, and in many sections of the press it’s depicted with one dimensional, caricature-like images.
But over the time that we spent travelling around this wonderfully diverse and beguiling country, we came to understand that it’s very different to what the headlines would have you believe.
Check out these 11 misconceptions about Mexico.
Mexico is in South America
“How long have you been in Mexico and what was the purpose of your visit?”. This was the first question from the immigration official as we transited through the U.S. on our way back from our epic Mexican adventure.
We explained that we’d been there about 8 months give or take, but had also visited Guatemala and Belize in that time. “OK so you came in via Mexico and visited some more of South America from there?”.
I bit my tongue. Well aware that as a mixed raced dude with a thick beard passing through the U.S. immigration system I’m already liable to suffer some, shall we say, unfavourable treatment.
I decided it wasn’t the right time to educate the border official on the fact that despite what many people believe, Mexico is not located in South America.
I don’t think he’d have taken kindly to the geography lesson on his misconception about Mexico.
Mexico is in Central America
Not only is Mexico not in South America, but it’s not even in Central America.
Yeah I know, I can hear your mind being blown from here. But it’s absolutely true. Even if you divide it into subcontinents and separate out Central America, Mexico still lands squarely in the North American section.
I guess the confusion comes from two things – firstly, when many people refer to North America, what they actually mean is the United States of America. Strangely, lots of people wouldn’t even consider Canada to be part of North America.
Secondly, Latin America is often mixed up with South America, when in fact they’re two different things. Though Latin America does include Mexico…
Mexico is Dangerous
As a blanket statement, this is quite simply nonsense.
Unfortunately it’s also probably the most enduring untruth about a country that, on the whole, is absolutely fine. That’s not to say that there aren’t extremely dangerous parts of Mexico that should probably be avoided.
But then the same goes for every single country in the world.
However, to take a few facts and figures and lump the whole country into one as a dangerous mess where you’re odds onto get kidnapped, murdered, raped, unintentionally caught up in the drugs trade, or all of the above, is just wrong.
Is it true that there’s an extremely high murder rate in some parts of Mexico? Yes. Are there all sorts of statistics that I could come up with to convince you not to step foot in the country? Absolutely. But there’s so much more to Mexico than drugs wars and gangland murders.
Plan properly, ask advice from people who have been recently, and keep an open mind. We travelled around a large portion of the place and never experienced any trouble whatsoever. So to dismiss an entire country as dangerous is misguided.
Mexico Ain’t Very Big
Mexico is very big.
Especially if you come from somewhere like the U.K as we do. Granted, compared to its larger neighbours the U.S.A and Canada it’s a fair amount smaller.
Which is probably where this misconception about Mexico comes from. But just because it pales in comparison to these huge countries, that doesn’t mean it’s not very big.
It’s the 13th largest country in the world. It will still take you over five hours of flying to get from one end to the other, and it certainly doesn’t feel small at all when you’re getting a 12 hour coach cross state.
Mexico is Crazy Hot
Another common misconception about Mexico is that its landscapes are made up solely of dry, dusty, cactus filled desserts. With the sun permanently stationed high above in the bright blue sky.
Nope. Another common misconception about Mexico.
As above, this place is pretty huge. The terrain encompasses virtually every kind that your mind could conjure. And the weather is also hugely diverse to match.
Don’t get me wrong, there are parts of Mexico that are crazy hot, where even winter temperatures don’t go below around 24 degrees C (75F) and rain falls on average once a decade.
But there are also areas that get a healthy dose of snowfall for a good portion of the year, cities at high altitude which ensures year round cooler temperatures, and places where rain is virtually an everyday reality.
You Can’t Eat the Salad in Mexico
Often the salad in Mexico gets blamed for being the cause of Montezuma’s Revenge, the Aztec Two Step, or terrible trots. Whatever you wanna call it, traveller’s diarrhea is no joke.
Mexico has a bit of a reputation as somewhere that you’re likely to pick it up, with people believing ingredients have been washed in tap water or perhaps not washed at all. Other things you’ll hear being assigned guilt are the spiciness of the food, ice cubes, the water, and even dodgy watermelon.
No matter where you go in the world you’re likely to get a dicky tummy at some stage. It’s just different bacteria that your stomach isn’t used to. We ate at a lot of street food stalls, restaurants, in people’s homes, and tried all kinds of weird and wonderful delicacies without incident.
And you can rest assured, the salad is fine to eat. Even street food stalls use purified water to wash their food in so there’s no danger there. However, it’s definitely wise to choose where you eat based on where there’s a crowd.
Spanish is Mexico’s Official Language
While Spanish is the most widely spoken language in Mexico, it’s a little know fact that it’s not the official language.
Indeed, Mexico doesn’t even have an official language. And there are a considerable amount of Mexicans who don’t speak Spanish at all.
There are still a good number of indigenous languages in usage. Such as Nahuatl which has over 1.3 million speakers, Yucatec Maya with over three quarter of a million speakers, and Mixtec with over 400,000.
There are almost 300 indigenous languages spoken within Mexico’s borders, some of which are sadly close to dying out with only a handful of speakers left.
In 2003 a law was passed to make all government services accessible to indigenous people in their own languages. Though in practice it’s not yet being achieved, it sounds like a good step towards recognising the importance of these languages as well as the people who speak them.
If you do already speak some Spanish we really recommend this Travel Spanish Confidence course we took recently. It enabled us move beyond a basic level to being able to communicate effectively in Spanish.
However if you’re a complete beginner, this won’t be for you yet. Better to get started with Duolingo or take some basic language classes first.
Mexican Food is All Burritos and Fajitas
It would probably be fair to say that a lot of the street food available in Mexico is some kind of a variation on a corn tortilla with a filling.
But unlike on many Mexican restaurant menus internationally where they’re the staple dishes, you won’t see burritos or fajitas too regularly.
Mexican food is far more diverse and varied than many people give it credit for, and even talking about Mexican food as a single homogenous thing seems to do it a disservice.
Each region has its own style and specialities that differ wildly from one to the next. Yep, the list goes on when it comes to misconceptions about Mexico.
Burritos and Fajitas Aren’t “Real” Mexican Food
This is a bit of a contentious issue, and one that isn’t helped by the existence of the so called Tex-Mex cuisine which is widely disparaged across much of Mexico. You’ll hear lots of people (mainly self righteous non-Mexicans) saying that burritos and fajitas aren’t real Mexican food, when in fact… it’s complicated.
I was invited to dinner by a Mexican lady while staying on Isla Mujeres in Cancun who wanted to cook me and a couple of new friends a traditional Mexican meal. What did she serve? Fajitas.
I was a little surprised, but she was somewhat confused when I asked whether fajitas were Mexican. “Of course” was her emphatic reply.
And as for burritos, people say they were invented in the U.S.A. But what passes for a burrito up there is totally different to what you’ll get given in Mexico.
Mexican burritos tend to be pretty simple and thin, filled only with beans and meat. Whereas U.S. burritos contain things like rice, cheese, salad, and whatever else it’s possible to stuff in them.
Mexicans Put a Lime Wedge in the Neck of their Corona Bottles to Keep the Flies Out
I genuinely used to accept this as fact when I was younger as it’s one of those stories that gets bandied around to explain why Corona always comes served with a lime.
It amused me when I arrived in Mexico and noticed that even if people do put lime in their Corona (which isn’t always a given as many people drink it straight up) they simply squeeze it in the top of the bottle and discard the lime pith.
Even funnier to me was that despite Corona being viewed as a semi-premium imported lager in places like the U.K, over in Mexico it’s the equivalent of Carling. Piss water.
Don’t get me wrong, plenty of people drink it, as with Carling, but actually there are plenty of better alternatives. As has happened all over the world, the trend is towards producing amazing craft beers and the big breweries no longer hold a monopoly over the market.
Mexico is Gonna Pay for the Wall
Which of these misconceptions about Mexico surprises you the most and why? Let us know down below in the comments!
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
We travelled around Mexico for 8 months and didn’t have a single bad thing happen to us. However! As with any trip abroad, make sure you have a good quality travel insurance in place.
Our go to travel insurance provider is World Nomads. They have a no bullshit approach to policy & are perfect for adventurous travellers like us. Get a quick, no obligation quote here:
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Travel lover, professional writer and football (soccer) obsessive, James loves nothing more than getting outside and exploring little known corners of the globe. He’s also very partial to a drop of Guinness.