Protect Your Credit Cards
Playa Del Carmen and Cozumel are especially notorious for fraud, copying, and the theft of credit cards. There are hundreds of credit card fraud stories on the Net about these two places.
Beware of waiters or hotel attendants "double swiping" cards, even at reputable places. Also be cautious of fake ATM machines, plain white machines that look innocent enough but don't actually dispense cash, they read "out of service" once you swipe your card. (I got taken in by one of these.)
Use cash for transactions whenever possible! In Playa, use the ScotiaBank across from the bus station, but cover your PIN number when you type it in and take a look around the machine for any hidden cameras that may have been added by thieves. If you must use your card, never let it out of your sight, go with the waiter or worker and watch everything they do. This is a huge problem in this area of Quintana Roo. When you get home, check your statement often (online or over the phone) to make sure nobody's currently using your numbers.
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Using your credit card
The respresentative from Best Day told us to be careful using our credit card in Mexico, he said that some unscrupulous people would write down the amount in pesos but if they didn't write pesos next to it, they would get paid in dollars. So a 600 peso charge which should be about $60US would show up as $600US. Make sure that pesos is written on the credit card slip before signing it.
Be sure to look for the stamp .925 or .950 on the silver. It is especially good if there is the stamp Mexico or Mex with the numbers. There are a lot of fake silver vendors (usually they are walking along the beach). It is better to buy silver in a store than from a person walking on the beach. Although I did find a shop in Playa del Carmen that was selling fake silver to tourists, but most of the time the silver in shops is safer.
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Maybe it was the season....every niight at sundown, if we were on the beach, we were practically devoured by Mosquitos. the worst were at an Open air restaurant at Tank-Ha. which is a GREAT place to be during the day.
Take your own repellant! The citronella just didn't seem to cut it and by the time we got to one of the small drug stores that was all we were able to find. If you have time to shop in the H..UGE supermarket it Playa..Chederaui I'm sure you can get anything, but be prepared and pack some from home. I'm still itchy!!
Beware of the time share salesmen. A lot of them have storefronts set up like travel agencies. When they mention that they will give you free tickets to whatever activity you are interested in, run as fast as you can!
I've never been sucked into one but I understand that they can last for hours and they are very high pressure. But some people, especially if they have a lot of time for vacation, actually plan on going on these while on vacation if they are down there for a couple of weeks to make a little extra money or get free excursions, just make sure you know what you are getting into.
Our resort this time, the Reef Playacar, even had one inside the resort, set up as a concierege, the minute she mentioned Royal Haciendas and said something about free tickets we politely excused ourselves and booked our excursion with the representative from Best Day Tours that Expedia uses.
Negotiating the airport
Getting through the airport in Cancun can be a challenge for the uninitiated. Getting through passport control is quick and getting your luggage is quick. Passing through customs depends on the number of people arriving at the same time, in December 2013 it only took a minute. Press the button, if it's green you are free to go through, red and they are going to have a look through your luggage.
The fun part starts as you make your way through the gauntlet of taxi drivers, time share sellers, etc. that you encounter right after customs. If you are on a package tour with Apple, FunJet, Expedia, etc. or have prearranged a transfer with your hotel or shuttle service, ignore everyone inside the airport and make your way to the area outside that is just past the fence, this is where you will find the tour representatives or someone holding a sign with your name on it.
Literally everyone that provides you a service expects a tip from the bus guide coming from the airport to the bell boy to the tour guides to the snorkel trip operators and they are not shy about asking for them or telling you that tips are a big part of their income.
I think that it is true that tips are a large part of the salary for people in the service industry in Mexico so I gave them freely when I thought the service was good which was almost all of the time.
Overpriced airport souvenirs
With the exception of liquid souvenirs like hot sauces, vanilla and tequila which you can't carry on a plane anymore, you'll want to buy your souvenirs in town where they are 2-3 times cheaper than at the airport plus you can sometimes barter in town if you are buying several things from the same store.
There is no point in bringing your mobile to Mexico any more because their service providers really take advantage on long distance calls. I checked my rates the 2nd day I was there and they were going to charge me $3.50/minute, which is completely ridiculous, especially considering the fact that we are on the same continent (eg. from Tunisia it costs $1.50 to call Canada).
The National company selling Phone cards in Mexico will charge $1.50 to $2.00 USD a minute.
You are much better off going on the 5th avenue and going into one of the many phone stations which will charge 0.20 to 0.30 cents to calls made to the US and Canada. Calls made to Australia will cost about $1.20 USD. There was one with a really nice owner on the 5th and 14th avenues.
I have never suffered from this particular ailment but I have known people that have become very ill in Mexico.
The basic rule to be followed it boil it, peel it, cook it or forget it. This isn't foolproof but it certainly can't hurt to make sure that the food is hot.
A couple of other tips:
drink bottled water-it's cheap and it's not worth the risk to drink the tap water
I read somewhere that you should take a Pepto Bismal tablet every morning as a precaution. I didn't do this in Mexico but I did in China.
Bring some Immodium with you.
TAKE CARE WITH MONEYEXCHANGERS
All around the city you can find small Money Exchange Offices, but be careful if you use them! If you have american dollars it seems like most of them have almost a standard rate, and it might be the same for other frequently used curriences like euro, sterling pound etc. But you should know the exchangerate before going there, and if they don't give you a good rate you should go somewhere else.
One night my ATM card stopped working, all banks were closed and we had to pay for our hotel plus food. We only had norwegian money and many of them didn't exchange it. Also it were getting so late so most of them started closing down. Finally we found someone that could change our money, but I thought we got much less than we should. Since we had just gotten from Belize I thought maybe it was just me that was mixing up the currencies. Anyway I went straight to the hotel to check if it was correct. Then we found out we had just gotten half of what we should have, instead of getting 50 USD we only got about 25 USD. We went straight back to ask if this was correct, and of course they admitted no mistake. There was really not so much we could do, we should have known the exchange rate before we agreed to change the money, but unfortunately we didn't. Luckily the ATM card started working again so we didn't have to use the exchange offices again.
Take care when you buy phonecards, not all of them are useful. Be sure to check if your phonecard can be used at publicphones, many of them can not. We found out that the cards from TelCel where the best, as they have phoneboxes many places in the city.
Souvenir shopping-post liquid free flying
Welcome to the era of liquid free flying! The downside of carrying on all your luggage is how to get liquid souvenirs home with you. Either you can cough up the $15 or so to check a bag or you can wait until you get to duty free at the airport and buy your liquid souvenirs there, provided of course that you are not on a connecting flight. *Sigh*
We opted for the latter as we were on a straight flight back to Chicago, there's a good selection of tequila and other liquid refreshments, we found the honey liquer we were looking for as well as the pure vanilla. The only casualty was the sunscreen I forgot I packed that oddly made it through the US screening process but not the Mexican screening process. Yeah, that liquid ban sure is making flying safer...
Forget about bringing an empty water bottle with you to the Cancun airport, there are no water fountains in sight. And I wasn't about to use the tap water from the bathroom. So be prepared to pay the extortionary airport concession prices if you find yourself on the inevitable winter storm delay that keeps you at the airport for an extra few hours and dying of thirst.
We always travel to Mexico in December which is outside the peak hurricane season of September and October but many Caribbean vacations have been ruined by those opting to roll the dice and travel during hurricane season. We were in Playa about a month after Wilma hit in 2005 and they were feverishly replacing palm trees and trying to get the beaches back in Playa, Cancun was still a mess. But that was much better than being there when the hurricane hit, people were stranded at airports and obviously vacations were ruined.
While there in 2008, we noticed these large beached whale looking sand bags placed in the water, presumably to prevent beach erosion and hurricane damage. While not the most attractive thing to see when gazing out at the ocean, it seems to be working in this area to keep a nice large beach.
Watch out for the Mosquitos
I went to the Riviera Maya in early November. At least at this time of the year, the period from 7 to 8 am and from 5.30 to 6.30 pm is mosquito time. No repelent can help you at these times. The best thing to do is not to go outside.
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