Mexico: survival guide

Getting there

The only airline that links the UK direct with Mexico is British Airways (0345 222111), which has three non-stop flights each week from Heathrow to Mexico City. Through specialist discount agents such as Journey Latin America (0181-747 3108), South American Experience (SAX, 0171-976 5511) or Steamond (0171-730 8646), fares for this service have varied over the past year from pounds 300 to pounds 500. At present the fare is around pounds 445.

Flights to Mexico City connecting elsewhere in Europe have two advantages: they are normally rather cheaper, and they are accessible from more UK departure points. For example, Air France operates from Paris with connections from Heathrow, Manchester and Edinburgh for pounds 435 return including tax, through SAX.

Reaching Mexico via a connection in the United States tends to be more expensive, not least because airport taxes are high. The advantages of travelling via Houston with Continental Airlines is that you reach a wide range of destinations in Mexico, from Veracruz to Guadalajara, for around pounds 465 including tax.

Finally, visitors to Baja California may find a flight to Los Angeles or San Diego most appropriate. Through Trailfinders (0171-937 5400), these cities are served on Virgin Atlantic for pounds 323 return including tax (Virgin does not fly to San Diego, but a connecting flight is thrown in free). Bookings are heavy at this fare. An alternative is on American Airlines from Gatwick to San Diego via Dallas for pounds 311, based on weekend travel, available from Major Travel (0171- 485 7017).

Departure tax of around 100 pesos (pounds 9) is payable locally on all flights from Mexico.

Organised holidays

Many tour operators offer beach holidays on the Yucatan Peninsula (around Cancun) and at Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific. For example, two weeks at the Puerto Vallarta Holiday Inn with Thomson costs less than pounds 1,000 at any time in the next year apart from Christmas and summer holidays, while Sunworld (0113-255 5222) offers a fortnight at the Tucancun Beach Resort in Cancun for pounds 889 in November or April. Both these examples are all-inclusive, and are based on charter flights from Gatwick or Manchester.

More adventurous travellers can choose from dozens of trips. For example, Explore Worldwide (01252 319448) offers a 16-day Sierra Madre trek for around pounds 1,140, including flights from London.

Getting around

Each of the two domestic airlines has an office in London: Mexicana Airlines (0171-267 3787) and Aeromexico (0171-823 5231). They operate flights within the country at fares that are comparable with flights in Britain; Mexico City to Guadalajara, at 350 miles the same distance as London to Edinburgh or Glasgow, costs $122 (pounds 80) one way.

A complex system of air passes can reduce fares for overseas visitors still further. Cities are divided into zones and fares are computed from these. A return flight from Mexico City to Guadalajara costs $120 (pounds 78).

Trains are cheap but not necessarily cheerful; the journey from Nuevo Laredo, on the Texan border, to Mexico City costs about pounds 8 and takes 24 hours. Buses tend to be faster and more comfortable, and accordingly cost more: about pounds 20 for the 16-hour journey from Nuevo Laredo to Mexico City.

Pounds or pesos?

In terms of carrying the bulk of your funds, neither is appropriate. Sterling is not easily understood or exchangeable in Mexico, and the local currency, the peso, suffers from high inflation (35 per cent last year) and consequently devalues regularly.

At present pounds 1 equals 12.40 pesos. US dollar bills and travellers cheques are the most easily negotiable forms of currency.

When changing money or receiving change, beware of old pesos; the new variety was introduced in 1993, at a ratio of 1:1,000. Most of the old coins and notes have been phased out.

Leading credit cards are widely acceptable, but incur a tax of 6 per cent.

Health precautions

Protection against hepatitis, polio, typhoid and yellow fever is advised. Malaria may be a risk in isolated low-lying areas. Call the Medical Advisory Service for Travellers Abroad on its premium-rate number, 0891 224100, for an up-to-date health brief.

Climate

November to April is the most favourable time, to avoid rain and the worst of the summer heat.

More information

The Mexican Tourist Office (0171-734 1058) is on the second floor of 60 Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 3DS.

The most up-to-date guidebook at present is the Mexico & Central America Handbook (Footprint, pounds 14.99).

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