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After years of in-depth research and investigative work in Mexico, the MedToGo International doctors have identified the following destinations as meeting our standards for quality international health care. All of Mexico’s Joint Commission International accredited hospitals are found within the following cities:
Guadalajara, or La Perla del Occidente (the Pearl of the West), with its year-round temperate climate, is a favorite destination for tourists and expatriates living in Mexico. Considered the “most Mexican” city, it offers all things typical: great mariachi ensembles year round and an international mariachi festival in September. Other attractions include charreadas (rodeos) that combine great horsemanship and cattle handling skills with splendid costumes and still more mariachi music; and tequila, with attractive day trips to the original town, Tequila, or rowdy excursions to a tequila distillery on the Tequila Express.
Mexican craftware is at its best here too, with easy excursions to the nearby villages of Tonalá and Tlaquepaque to stock up on quality goods and souvenirs. Religious pilgrimages and colonial splendor are also part of the picture in the miraculous Virgin of Zapopan, whose basilica is a comfortable taxi ride from the center.
Guadalajara downtown has big city attractions such as history, museums, architecture, art—especially the grand Instituto Cabañas—markets, and regional cuisine without most of the problems, apart from traffic, which is frankly a drag. Its inhabitants, known as tapatíos, of over four million make it the second most populated city in the country, with the Universidad de Guadalajara being the second largest university in Mexico and the tenth largest in the world. High-tech plants in the suburbs have led to its nickname as the Silicon Valley of Mexico and its soccer (fútbol) teams, Chivas and Atlas command a great local and national following.
The English language weekly newspaper, The Guadalajara Reporter, provides a good orientation for visitors.
Despite its size, Guadalajara does not have the notoriety for crime that mars Mexico City. However, pickpockets are fairly common and tourists are advised to be alert, carry only the cash they need for the day, and have their credit cards and other valuables hidden. An excess of traffic, speed bumps, and insufficient places for parking are problems in the city, and visiting drivers should be careful not to park illegally because they will get towed.
Police support is generally good for foreigners who are victims of crime. North American citizens in need of assistance due to crime or medical emergencies are encouraged to call the U.S. U.S. Embassy in Guadalajara. U.S citizens who are detained or harassed by police should also seek assistance at the Consulate. The American Citizen Services Unit and the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Consulate maintain very good relations with local police officials and can assist upon request.
Guadalajara smog is typically at its worst from November to early February and tourists with respiratory ailments might prefer to avoid these months when planning their visits. For IMECA (Metropolitan Air Quality Index) updated hourly reports, visit the Guadalajara Secretary of the Environment’s online report (0-100: satisfactory, 101-200: not satisfactory, 201-300: bad, 301-500: very bad).
The hottest and driest months are March and April, during which you will need a sun hat, sunblock, and plenty of water when sightseeing. Although it is advisable to take taxis from a sitio (legitimate taxi stand) rather than hailing them on the street, especially at night, Guadalajara does not suffer from the ugly taxi cab crime that has caused so much concern in Mexico City.
Like many large Mexican coastal towns, Puerto Vallarta was once a small fishing village that was rapidly transformed into a tourist monolith. Hollywood brought Puerto Vallarta to mainstream North America in the 1960’s, when Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor arrived there to film “The Night of the Iguana.” Other movies have brought the U.S.‘s elite entertainers to its verdant mountains and sunny beaches, and many Hollywood producers still choose Puerto Vallarta for tropical scenes and jungle footage.
Tourist attractions in Vallarta, as it is referred to by locals, are wide-ranging, from the full gamut of water sports, golf, shopping, dining, dancing, and walking around exploring the nooks and crannies of its beachfront road and quaint downtown, easily accessible and attractive with cobblestones and red tile roofs. Visitors often rent cars to explore the beach communities north of town such as pretty Bucerías, breathtaking Punta de Mita, and Sayulita, a surf haven.
Nuevo Vallarta, characterized by large, all-inclusive hotels, is a commercial tourist development lacking historic character, but providing fine ocean views for those who just want to settle in and relax.
The Costa Alegre (Coast of Joy) starts about 75 miles south of Puerto Vallarta. This exclusive area stretches down about 60 miles, ending at Barra de Navidad, which is just north of Manzanillo. Vacationers who happen not to have their own plane or boat will reach the Costa Alegre by flying first into Vallarta’s international airport. Taxis from the airport are very expensive (over US$100) although many hotels there arrange airport transfers for guests. Exploring this area by rental car is usually the best option.
Vallarta has a significant expatriate population of U.S., Canadian, and European entrepreneurs as well as retirees. There is a flourishing real estate industry focused around foreigners and an appealing social and cultural life where those who speak English play an important role. The magazine, Vallarta Lifestyles, helps visitors get a sense of the community.
Puerto Vallarta watches over the well-being of its tourists in an exemplary fashion, with special tourist police sporting white uniforms and traveling on foot. They are visible throughout the tourist zone, and are often found directing traffic. The police are very willing to help should you need assistance.
Hazards include strong waves and undertow, so visitors should be aware of beach flag warning systems. The U.S. General Consulate in Puerto Vallarta reports:
green- it is safe to swim
yellow- swim with caution
red- stay out of the water due to rip tides or large waves
Playa los Camarones, near the Zona de Aventura, is a dangerous beach and should be avoided. Though many tourists swim there, it is not considered a tourist swimming area and is not overseen by lifeguards.
Hurricanes are very rare because the town is sheltered by the bay, but warning and emergency systems are active and in place.
Seawater pollution is a health concern for tourists, which can lead to gastrointestinal and skin ailments. Information from Mexico’s beach water advisory reports suggests the beaches most affected in Puerto Vallarta are Quimixto, Boca de Tomatlan, Playa los Muertos, and Playas del Cuale, while the beaches most affected in Bahía Banderas are Playa Bucerias, Punta Mita, and Sayulita. For more information, see Mexico Beach Water Advisory.
Mexico City, the capital and largest city in Mexico, spans an area of 1,457 square miles (3,773 square kilometers) and has a swelling population of over 22 million. Built on a former lake bed on a high plateau, it is surrounded by mountains and is visually beautiful, despite its huge size and all-too-evident environmental mismanagement.
At the heart of Mexico City is the Plaza de la Constitución, which after Red Square in Moscow is the second-largest public square in the world. During the Spanish conquest of Mexico in 1521, Cortés destroyed the Templo Mayor of the Aztecs here. They then used many of its stones to build the Metropolitan Cathedral, the oldest cathedral on the continent. Above the ruins of the great Aztec empire, the Spanish began to expand into the sprawling metropolis that exists today.
Avoiding Crime In México City
Like many of the world’s large cities, Mexico City is the site of a wide range of criminal activity. On average, between 500-600 crimes are reported daily, with even more unreported. To assist you while in Mexico City, we’ve put together some advice to help keep you safe:
- As pickpockets are legion in the city, avoid walking around with eye-catching jewelry or expensive watches.
- Thieves target those who look disoriented and vulnerable; therefore, study your guidebooks and maps ahead of time so you know where you’re going.
- Always hail a cab from a taxi stand or outside hotels and restaurants. Those driving around may be “pirate taxi” that can be looking for visitors to fleece.
- Avoid driving in Mexico City. Some police may be corrupt and invent traffic infractions, hoping to receive a bribe after making a false accusation.
- Avoid taking the combis, or rutas, mini-buses that weave dangerously through the capitol’s streets. They present the double danger of crashes and armed holdups. Stick to the new metrobus system, which is far safer.
- Should you be faced with a violent crime, don’t resist, as many criminals are under the influence of drugs, and angering them could put you at serious risk.
- If traveling in Mexico City, carry only a small amount of cash and leave credit cards and your original passport in your hotel or very safely hidden (you can carry a copy). Use your driver’s license if you need to identify yourself.
- Avoid crime-ridden neighborhoods, such as Tepito, Colonia Buenos Aires or Colonia Los Doctores.
- Travel only by day, if possible. Avoid traveling alone by night. Use only private taxis de sitio (Radio Taxi: 55-5271-9146, 5271-9058, and 55-5273-6125, Radio elite: 55-5660-1122) or the Airport Taxi (55-5785-8984) or taxis dispatched by your hotel concierge.
If this sounds extreme, remember these are precautions you should take in many major cities when traveling, especially in countries—like Mexico—where the divide between rich and poor is so extreme. Hopefully, you will be one of the thousands of people who visit the treasures of Mexico City without mishap, and have only pleasant experiences with the locals you meet.
For history and culture enthusiasts, this beautiful colonial city is one of the Peninsula’s major treasures. The historical center of the city is essentially a large outdoor museum overflowing with colonial architecture, including churches, cathedrals, and haciendas. The Museum of Anthropology offers a window into the past of the Maya, as do the neighboring Mayan ruins. The Paseo del Montejo, Mérida’s widest and busiest street, is lined with trees and elegant old mansions. It leads to the neighboring beach town, Progreso, located along the Gulf Coast of Mexico.
Mérida was originally the site of the Mayan city, Th’o, until Francisco Montejo claimed it in 1542 for Spain. Th’o was soon decimated, and the stones of its ruins were used to erect the Cathedral of San Idelfonso, one of the oldest cathedrals in the Americas, as well as the first colonial hacienda. Although Th’o was obliterated, the Palacio Cantón, which houses the Regional Museum of History and Anthropology, showcases several significant Mayan vestiges. The Yucatán Museum of Modern Art, located adjacent to the cathedral, exhibits the works of several renowned Mexican, Yucatecan, and foreign artists.
Chichén Itzá, Uxmal, Dzibilchaltun, and Mayapan are four of the most visited Mayan ruins in the peninsula. There are over 700 registered cenotes, most within a short distance of the city center. Xlacah, for example, is located at the site of the Dzibilchaltun ruins, 20 minutes from the Mérida center; Ik Kil, located in the ecoarchaeological park of the same name, is just under two miles from the Chichén Itzá ruins.
Mérida is a safe and dignified city, and the greatest hazards to tourists are sun exposure and heat exhaustion, both in the town and, in particular, when visiting the pyramids, which are extraordinary sun traps. Visitors are advised to try to follow local custom and start the day early, disappear into the shade at midday, and make the most of the slightly cooler evenings. Be prepared for extreme heat when visiting the pyramids and remember to bring and use two essentials: #15 strength sunblock and a wide-brimmed hat
If you’re a new traveler crossing the border into Monterrey from Texas, you might have trouble believing you have entered the developing world. Booming Monterrey, capital of Nuevo León, is Mexico’s third largest city and its second largest industrial center. It hosts colossal manufacturing plants of some of the world’s leading businesses, and it has more colleges, universities, and institutes of technology per capita than any other city in the country. Additionally, Monterrey was the site of the first iron and steel works in Latin America, which yielded an exceptionally wealthy community that thrives to this day.
Monterrey’s metropolitan area contains nearly four million people, yet it is noticeably more orderly and friendly than other large Mexican cities. Regiomontanos (or Regios, as locals are called for short) tend to be punctual, straight-talking and at ease with their northern neighbors, making this a welcoming and accessible city for outsiders.
Regios also have a reputation for being conservative. Family dynasties, pockets of wealth, religion and politics, and a significant tradition of philanthropy make up Monterrey life. The effect is an efficient, safe, modern environment where English is widely spoken and people live well and plan for the future.
Because of distances and car culture, Monterrey is not a city for walking. The only exception would be taking a stroll around the vast Macroplaza, which is the main square where visitors will find the MACO Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museo de Historia Mexicana, the Metropolitan Museum, and the town hall. Monterrey has a modern, safe metro system, but visitors are better off using their own vehicles, hiring a car, or catching taxis. These are not as cheap here as in other Mexican towns, but neither are they rip-offs, as in some beach resorts.
Monterrey is subject to extreme temperatures, surprisingly cold (occasionally as low as 50º F) at night in the winter, and uncomfortably hot (113º F in the shade) in the summer, when you will spend your time peeling off clothes outside, and then piling them back on so that the air-conditioning—which is always turned up to frigid levels—doesn’t make you sick.
Although Hurricane Gilbert caused damage and loss of life in 1988, climactic disasters are rare.
Tracing its origins back to the early 1700’s, Hermosillo now has a population of almost 700,000. Only 135 miles from the Arizona-Sonora border, Hermosillo and Phoenix are sister cities, a pairing of cities from politically distinct areas with the common goal of fostering human contact and cultural links. These links are apparent today as its modern amenities and laid back atmosphere make it very similar to the Southwest United States.
Dotted with plazas, shopping malls, and parks, sociable and serene Hermosillo possesses the characteristics of a classic Norteño (Northern Mexican) city. Located at the center of the state, Hermosillo provides easy access to major tourist destinations, such as the beaches of Kino Bay and San Carlos, the archaeological zone of “La Pintada,” the Rio Sonora route, and the retiree city of Alamos. This central location, coupled with its advanced hospitals and medical professionals, makes Hermosillo one of two regional referral cities for Northwest Mexico.
Like most of the cities of the Central Highlands region of Mexico, León (known as the shoe-making capital of Mexico, and Guanajuato’s most populous city) is full of friendly, busy people. Driving into the city with its bustling crowds visiting local shops, restaurants, and factories, is akin to driving into an immense anthill.
The leading industry is leather goods, specifically saddles and shoes, but steel, textiles, and soap factories are also scattered throughout the area. The Plaza Principal is located in the heart of the business district and is a common meeting place for lunch, dinner, or strolling about. Busy times of year are during the Guanajuato State Fair in January or February, and the Cervantino cultural festival in October.
Located across the border from San Diego, Tijuana has gained a reputation as a raucous nightspot for military personnel on leave and young southern Californians, who commonly call it “TJ.” Its proximity to the world’s busiest border crossing has led it to be known as the most visited city in the world, but also high-lighted its reputation as a major port for drug trafficking into the United States.
In addition to Tijuana“s prosperity, lively discos, and shopping areas, the city also has various schools of conservatory music, dance, plastic arts, science, and culinary arts. Additionally, it is known as the gay corner of Mexico and has a thriving independent arts community.
At the same time, Tijuana has a reputation for being Mexico’s biggest center for illicit drugs, prostitution, and human trafficking. Although Tijuana can be considered relatively safe, violent crime has been on the rise in recent years, and we advise people to travel with a companion or two and stay away from more desolate parts of the city, especially at night.
Tijuana is an exciting and culturally complex city with a definite edge, and visitors should have their city senses finely tuned. Read up on this city before arrival, and know in advance where to turn in case of trouble.
In response to demand, the streets of Tijuana are lined with pharmacies that dole out prescription drugs to North Americans seeking low-cost pharmaceuticals.
The Association of Pharmacies +52 (664) 685-0170 in Tijuana can be of help to those wanting to check whether pharmacies are legitimate, although there is not always a qualified or English-speaking person available to take the call.