What it’s like Backpacking Mexico Solo in 2021
Hola from Mexico! There’s alot of confusion and controversy about traveling these days and I’ve had so many questions I thought it was about time I wrote about what it’s like backpacking Mexico solo in 2021.
Mexico is literally the only country that has been consistently open to travellers, tourists and backpackers of all nationalities during the coronavirus pandemic and also with no need to provide covid tests or quarantine!
No wonder Mexico has become the most popular travel destination of 2020 and 2021 and is full of people from all nationalities and all walks of life who want to take a much needed vacation in these challenging times or who just want to escape the lockdowns in their own country. Due to the EU/UK – USA travel bans many people also find themselves in Mexico for 14 days as a way to get between these two continents or as a way to avoid expensive hotel quarantines.
I’ve been in Mexico since the start of May 2021 and thought it was about time I wrote a full post about what it’s like backpacking Mexico solo in 2021 as I know many people are curious to know what travel is like nowadays and there is alot of conflicting information in the media. Also keep in mind that what you might read in the news or the official rules can differ to what you might experience in real life.
(This post is written from my experience as a UK passport holder – rules and regulations differ for different nationalities and change frequently so check out the specific info for your nationality. Travel IS possible! My advice is to avoid speculation and scare mongering in the News and go straight to official government websites like www.gov.uk I also wouldn’t travel without travel insurance that covers for Covid. Mine is with SafetyWing as well as coronavirus they also cover me even if I am traveling against my governments advice.)
Backpacking Mexico Solo in 2021
Traveling to Mexico in 2021
Mexico is 2020 and 2021’s most popular destination and has some of the easiest entry requirements nowadays – no Covid test or quarantine is required from visitors/tourists of all nationalities and many nationalities get a whopping 180 days visa free on entry! See more Mexico visa info here Also, Mexico has been pretty much consistently open during the pandemic unlike other countries who change their rules so often you can’t keep up!
You should be able to find flights to Mexico from most countries although the land borders are partially closed. There are direct flights with British Airways from the UK. I look on Skyscanner to check what flights are available but then check on the airlines website directly and the official government website or official tourism website for the country I’m traveling to to make sure they are running and to double check what the entry requirements are.
If it’s a connecting flight it’s also important to check that you will be allowed to transit through that country and what the requirements are which will depend on your nationality and which country you are traveling from. If your flight is on one ticket with the same airline all the way through you would be just transiting ‘airside’ which should be OK but if you have 2 separate tickets you be transiting ‘landside’ – you might need to collect your baggage, clear immigration and then check in for your next flight which may not be possible due to entry restrictions in some countries like the US. The best thing to do would be to call the airline and check you are allowed to travel on that route.
It’s also important to check what the requirements are for testing or quarantine to return back into your country and be aware that they may change at short notice. Here’s the page for the current advice on returning to the UK – www.gov.uk/uk-border-control
For me, I simply had to show a negative test (taken within the last 3 days) and that I’d filled out the passenger locator form online when checking into my flight and it only took a few minutes to go through the electronic gates when I landed. Then I stayed at home for 10 days and took 2 more tests. You can also pay for an additional test to release on day 5. They called me every day but didn’t visit and all the tests came back negative.
There are many places all around Mexico to get a covid test done easily, quickly and cheaply if you need one to return to your home country or for your onward travels including the airport where it costs 500 Pesos and takes 1 hour for the results so that shouldn’t be a problem. Most major airports around the world now offer this service.
Flying into Mexico in 2021
Traveling nowadays is more complicated than it used to be but, if you’ve gotten used to wearing a mask and got all the documents you need, then it’s bearable and can actually be quite pleasant and less stressful than in normal times.
Airports and planes are quieter and less crowded – all of the long haul flights I’ve taken recently I’ve had a whole row of 3 or 4 seats all to myself so I can stretch out and sleep. Domestic flights have been more crowded though. It’s takes less time to get through the airports, both times I’ve entered the UK during the pandemic immigration has only taken 10 minutes and apart from the phone calls, no-one actually came to my house to check I was isolating.
Remember that this is ‘the new normal’ for airport and airline staff – they’ve been doing this for over a year now and it’s their job to help you get to where you need to be safely and stress free. You just need to understand the rules and have the correct paperwork. If you don’t you could be denied boarding.
The changing rules and regulations (and the media) makes flying and traveling during the pandemic sound super stressful but as long as you have the necessary documents in order it’s actually less stressful than in normal times. (The thing that is the most stressful is trying to get your head around and keep up with the changing rules and u-turns from the UK government!)
I’ve taken many flights during the pandemic and I haven’t gotten sick – the airplane circulates the air and scientists have said that flying isn’t as risky as you might think and is no more risky than going to the supermarket. Check out this Harvard study on the risk of flying during covid.
Some flights I’ve been on are super packed and make you wear hazmat suits, visors and double masks (India) while some are much more laid back and just require 1 mask and leave the middle seat free and some flights are almost empty. Some flights are super cheap while some routes are more expensive than usual – kind of depends on supply and demand. Service, entertainment and food have mostly been great, although some airlines have reduced their food service.
Getting into Mexico in 2021
Mexico has probably the easiest immigration I’ve experienced in a long time and most nationalities get a whopping 180 days visa free on entry! They simply asked how long I was staying and why. I simply said tourism and told them the date I planned to leave.
You may require an onward ticket to enter Mexico but not always – when I was checking in for my flight to Mexico the airline (Air France) did ask to see my onward ticket and I don’t think they would have allowed me to board without one but immigration in Mexico didn’t ask to see proof. Not everyone gets asked for an onward ticket but it’s good to have one just in case. As I was unsure of my onward travel plans I rented an onward ticket to my home country from bestonwardticket.com which worked out great.
I also had to fill out this https://www.vuelaseguro.com/ an online health questionnaire to enter Mexico but immigration didn’t check this. The airline told us to fill out the health questionnaire and checked my onward ticket, proof of accommodation (I’d just booked an Air BnB for the first 3 days), reason for traveling and covid test but Mexican immigration were much more laid back. When you enter you will fill out a visitor permit (FMM) try not to lose this slip because you’ll need it for when you leave. If you do lose it, you might have a pay a small fine.
You don’t need a negative covid test to enter Mexico but the countries I was transiting through to get there did require it, although they also said that for transit the requirements of the destination country apply. I probably could have argued my way through stating that Mexico doesn’t require a covid test but wanted to be responsible and to have stress free travels so I had one anyway but it was not scrutinised.
Covid Restrictions in Mexico in 2021
Mexico currently has pretty low cases of Coronavirus but are still taking many precautions. The country has a covid traffic light system but in May 2021 no areas are Red and most things are open, but not all tourist attractions or museums. Some things say they are open on Google Maps but when I reached there they weren’t so it’s a good idea to double check that the places you want to see will be open.
Mexico is a noisy, crowded, colourful, vibrant country which is still full of life. In the big cities literally everyone is wearing a KN95 mask all the time, even when walking alone outside on the streets, the locals may look at you a bit suspicious if you are not wearing a mask outside but no-ones beating you up or fining you if you choose not to.
When you enter shops and restaurants you must wear a mask, you will walk through a sanitising mat, have your temperature checked and be given huge dollops of hand sanitizer and some places will also spray you down back and front with a sanitising spray.
On the beaches things are much more relaxed and you’ll hardly see a mask or sanitiser in sight apart from the restaurant staff. You can almost forget about covid and enjoy a much needed fun and relaxing beach holiday.
Getting around Mexico in 2021
Getting around Mexico is easy. Mexico City airport is surprisingly busy with affordable domestic flights all over this vast and diverse country. There is also a network of comfortable buses, Uber’s, taxis, and collectivos all operating a full schedule you just need to wear a mask when traveling. You can also rent a car or a campervan and travel around Mexico and stay in campsites – I wish I’d known that was possible. Next time!
Hotels, hostels, Air BnBs, campsites, beaches, ruins, restaurants, shops and supermarkets are generally all fully open and welcoming tourists of all nationalities while taking precautions. So, while you might be disappointed that a few places you might have wanted to go are closed, most things are open and you’ll find plenty to keep you entertained and having a good time in Mexico – as long as you don’t mind wearing a mask while doing most of it!
Just some attractions, especially indoors ones like museums and galleries are closed. Some attractions are partially open, like the mighty and mysterious pyramids at Teotihuacan – they are open but you need to wear a mask and cannot climb up the pyramids, and Frida Khalo’s house and museum is open but with limited capacity and only if you book your ticket and timeslot online in advance and adhere to a long list of covid precautions and a one way system.
Solo female travel in Mexico in 2021
I felt pretty safe as a solo female traveller backpacking Mexico solo in 2021. I’d heard horror stories about safety in Mexico City and I did worry a little in the first place I stayed (East of the Centro Historico) at night. Everything was eerily shuttered up and the streets were deserted apart from the massive police presence so I didn’t go out alone after dark. During the day time the streets bustled with people shopping and I didn’t have any problems.
It feels much like any city in the world – there are good areas and rougher areas of every city, as long as you are not involved with drugs and gangs or flash expensive stuff or look vulnerable/drunk, just do some research and stick to the good areas and you should be fine. The Centro Historical was nice for a few days to see the historical, colonial architecture and sights but I preferred the areas of Roma, La Condesa, Coyoacan and Polanco with their wider, leafy streets, chic cafes, nightlife and lovely parks with doggy day care facilities which all felt very safe and I felt safe to go out alone at night. Read more here about the best areas and neighbourhoods to stay in Mexico City.
As a solo woman I felt very safe in Mexico – it didn’t matter what, or how less, I wore I never got any hassle or creepy vibes from men – even on the nudist beach! It was so refreshing after so long in India. Even people trying to sell you things on the beaches or around tourist site were low hassle and left you alone after a polite ‘no, gracias.’ Here’s another good article about solo female safety in Mexico and the best places to visit for solo female travellers.
Regarding Covid – I also felt pretty safe.
The Mexicans are taking every precaution, it’s easy to get tested, there are alot of healthcare options here and my travel insurance with SafetyWing covers Covid.
Being in narrow streets with big crowds of people in masks in Mexico City did make me feel a little anxious though, probably mainly as it’s not what I’m used to, and the precautions like having temperature guns to your head made me feel uncomfortable too, but at the same time it’s also reassuring that they are taking it very seriously and the cases are very low in Mexico now.
I didn’t worry too much about getting sick when I was on the beaches or outside in fresh, warm, sunny air but at first I did feel a little anxious when staying in hostels, taking buses, riding the metro and going to bars and parties with travellers from all other the world. I did worry a bit about getting sick when being around so many new people and what I would do if I was sick as I was traveling alone.
In the hostels, some people wear masks all the time, some give you lots of space and are cautious, others aren’t worried at all and just act like normal while some think it’s all a scam. Whatever you believe you will find your tribe.
I feel it’s important to choose accommodation with plenty of ventilation, space and good cleanliness reviews and it’s kind of up to you to protect yourself how you feel is best when you’re socialising with other guests.
I worried how I could keep a physical distance from people while still being sociable and making friends so that I wasn’t alone all the time. I think that’s the dilemma for a solo traveller these days – how do you protect yourself and others without being lonely? If you get sick who would help you and how could you isolate yourself to protect others and still manage to eat?
Renting an apartment or Air BnB makes distancing or isolating easier and you can order groceries, takeaway food, medicines and everything online in Mexico City but this also means you’d likely be lonely as a solo traveller. This anxiety did make it more awkward than normal to make friends while traveling alone and the masks make it more difficult to communicate – especially with limited Spanish skills.
I guess your experience will depend on your levels of anxiety and your risk factors. I’m a bit of a worrier but I knew that in the worst case scenario if I got badly sick I had insurance to cover it and, in touristy areas at least, would be able to find an English speaking expat hospital. I haven’t been vaccinated but I haven’t had so much as a sniffle, I’ve had antibody tests and it seems I’ve just not been exposed despite all this traveling and mingling.
Other travellers and the general vibe
Everyone is in Mexico! Many digital nomads, long term travellers and expats have made a base in Mexico and as most countries in the world are closed many backpackers and all kinds of tourists are here backpacking Mexico solo in 2021 giving some places a Thailand like vibe.
Many North American’s are vacationing in Yucatan and the Cancun area and there are also people from all over the world just hanging out in Mexico waiting for the world to change, to escape the lockdowns or hotel quarantines or travel bans in their own countries or using 14 days in Mexico as a stepping stone to being allowed entry somewhere else for example UK citizens wanting to visit the USA.
In some places it can be hard to find a cheap room as Mexico has become the most popular travel and backpacking destination of 2021 so it’s a good idea to book your travel and rooms in advance. But the good thing about this is that if you are backpacking Mexico solo in 2021 don’t worry you won’t be lonely you will find plenty of people to make friends with in the hostels and bars or by using online groups and apps. People from all over the world are hanging out in Mexico City, Tulum, Oaxaca, Sayulita, San Cristobal de la Casas and Palenque.
The Mexicans are friendly, welcoming and helpful although English is not widely spoken here. I struggled as I don’t speak any Spanish and when everyone’s in masks it makes it can be even harder to communicate but I still managed to get around and get what I needed thanks to Google translate and the patience, tolerance and helpfulness of the Mexican’s. ‘Bus Oaxaca por favor?!’
Mexico is a huge, diverse and exciting country. It’s too big to see it all in a couple of weeks so I’d recommend concentrating on one region. I spent a month in Mexico City and traveling around the Oaxaca region which gave me a great taste of Mexico.
I’d also highly recommend learning some Spanish! Hardly anyone outside the hotels and tourist restaurants speaks English, and even in some of the hostels and hotels I stayed in often the staff didn’t speak English. You can enrol in a language school in Mexico or learn online – it will make your travels here much easier and your interactions with the locals much more fulfilling.
So should you go backpacking Mexico solo in 2021?
That’s a question only you can answer for yourself, I just wanted to share my experience backpacking Mexico solo in 2021 and provide a balanced, honest account to combat the negativity, fear and confusion surrounding travel these days, and on the flip side, the drool worthy, perfect instagram shots that don’t show the whole reality.
In all honesty, a pandemic is not the best time to be backpacking alone, while there are many people doing it and you will meet people here, worrying about getting sick alone can add an extra worry and I would have had a much better experience with a travel buddy. Also, some things may be closed, rules can change quickly and it can be stressful trying to keep up to date with them.
So the question whether to travel to Mexico in 2021 depends on your anxiety levels, your risk factors and the rules of your home country to whether they will allow you to leave and return.
There’s a lot of confusion and controversy about traveling these days, but it’s not impossible, and Mexico is one of the easiest places to travel right now and everyone’s welcome!
Thank you Mexico for having me!
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Have you been traveling in Mexico during the pandemic? I’m interested to know how your experience was?