Guided tours in Mexico are an excellent option when you don’t want to worry about making an itinerary. There are people who prefer to take tours while there are others who prefer to do everything on their own. Personally, I have tried both and have found out there are several advantages and disadvantages to consider.
You may be wondering if I recommend doing guided tours in Mexico. It’s not black or white. Nothing is set in stone. Let’s take a look at some important factors and I will let you decide in the end for yourself.
What Are Some Advantages?
When I travel, I have found tours to be a convenient option over self-made itineraries. Guided tours are usually crafted by professionals who know what they’re doing. Above all, they’re made by locals who know what places are mandatory to visit by anyone who visits a destination for the first time. Some advantages I have seen are:
Access to places unavailable to the general public. I have seen this many times. Tour operators have relations with factory owners, artisans and many other key people who provide access to their facilities. For instance, I remember a few times when I wanted to visit a coffee plantation and a hacienda, but it was only possible to do so through a tour operator.
Easier access to remote areas. Now, there may be times when you can plan a visit somewhere on your own, but access there is not that easy. For instance, I remember my visit in Chiapas. We wanted to visit Palenque and Agua Azul. We were based in Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital, about 5 or 6 hours away. Unless you have a car, it’s not that easy to get over there. The same thing applies to several archaeological sites and other destinations. Tours come in handy these times.
Convenient especially when pressed for time. Sometimes you’re in a city and you only have 1 or 2 days to spare. It’s not that much time to get to know a city. If you didn’t plan accordingly, you may find yourself looking for activities to do at the last minute, wasting precious time. When you find yourself in this case, you may want to consider hiring a tour. You will have the opportunity to visit key places and experience a condensed version which will help you plan a longer trip in the future.
No need to worry about transportation or transfers. You may be the kind of traveler who always rents a car or you may be the kind who only uses public transportation. I have done both. But I must confess there are times when I don’t want to worry about directions to a place or looking for parking. When you hire a tour, they will pick you up and drop you off at your hotel and you don’t have to worry about anything. I really love that.
They can be a life saver. On my most recent trip, I wanted to visit El Parian in Tlaquepaque, which is a plaza with bars and restaurants famous for their mariachi bands. If you go see mariachis play, you have to drink tequila. I’m a tequila lover and although I don’t get drunk, I get tipsy at least. It’s dangerous to drive like that so going on tour is an excellent option.
You are insured. In case anything happens, God forbid, you are insured against any losses or damages that might occur during your tour.
What Are Some Disadvantages?
Obviously, there are also disadvantages to hiring a guided tour. Some of them include:
Elevated cost. Tours can be expensive. Depending on your destination, you may be looking at 65 dollars or more plus tip per person. If you’re traveling with family, each ticket will add up. However, if you’re traveling with a large group, you may be able to negotiate a rate with the tour company.
Strict cancellation policies. Many times, tours have to be canceled a specific number of hours beforehand to be eligible for a refund or time change. Other times refunds are not even allowed.
Limited forms of payment. Even though credit cards are widely accepted in Mexico, you might run into an operator who only handles cash. It’s not that uncommon, but it’s slowly starting to change.
Lack of flexibility. Usually, tour operators will try to include as many activities as possible. This means your time will be somewhat limited. If you want to stay somewhere for more time, you won’t probably be able to do so. Also, if the tour includes a place/activity you don’t like, you will have to wait for the group to finish in order to continue the tour.
They can take all day. There are tours that start really early and end late. You might have been planning to do other things, and it can be a little complicated to plan other activities apart from your tour.
Tips When Hiring a Tour
Carry more than 1 form of payment. Although credit cards are widely accepted, there are still operators who only handle cash.
Try to hire directly when possible. You can hire tours through third parties, but I recommend you do it directly with the tour company. This way you will have more leverage to work in case something happens.
Always make sure to check what’s included. Ask about any activities and places included in your package to avoid any confusion.
Ask about their cancellation/refund policies. Don’t assume you will be refunded your money in case you had to cancel for any reason.
Do some research about the tour company. Only hire tours from reputable companies. You can find valuable information about them online.
Ask if they have English-speaking guides. You won’t have any problems in Cancun or Los Cabos, but there are some destinations where this question is not that silly.
What Tours Do You Recommend?
Well, the list can be really long and the answer to this question depends on several factors. However, I will list some tours you could consider when visiting Mexico.
Tequila tours in Tequila, Jalisco
Mezcal tours in Oaxaca
Archaeological tours in Chichen Itza, Tulum, Calakmul, Teotihuacan and Palenque
Coffee tours in Veracruz
Food tours in various cities
Handicraft tours in Oaxaca, Michoacan, Jalisco, Puebla and various other cities
Mariachi tour in Tlaquepaque
Magical town tours
I will write about individual tours in more detail in future posts. Remember you can always check Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor and many other resources online to look for information, reviews and ideas.
Are guided tours in Mexico worth it? Like I said above, the answer to this question depends on several factors like your budget and how much time you have. There are people who avoid them altogether and prefer to do everything on their own. There’s nothing wrong with that. I have hired tours and I have made itineraries on my own and I have learned a lot from both.
Don’t discard tours automatically. They can be an excellent option when visiting a new destination. I’m not saying to just hire tours during your whole trip. That’s expensive. But don’t be afraid to hire 1 or 2. At the end of the day, the decision is up to you.
As always, feel free to ask any questions you have and leave your comments below. See you soon!