Rudolf and Larissa Jung
To contact us:
Phone in Germany: 0160 4637 132
Phone from US: 011-49-160 4637 132
How much money do I budget for?
The currency in Mexico is the Mexican Peso. During the past ten years its value has been fairly stable at an exchange rate of about 10-13 Pesos for 1 US Dollar. Generally, businesses expect you to pay in Pesos, but more often then not will accept US Dollars if you agree to the slightly lower rate of 10:1. Prices for most goods and services (groceries, restaurants, gasoline, etc.) are comparable in Mexico to prices in the US or in Europe and you can plan for an expense budget as if you would be living at home. We for example usually budget about 1,000 Pesos/ per person/ per week. In addition we take 200 USD as emergency money for the whole family, plus extra money depending on planned activities (diving, fishing, etc.).
The big watch out for traveling to the Costa Maya is that NO credit cards or traveler cheques are accepted anywhere (but you can use credit cards as far south as Tulum for getting groceries in the larger stores) and as of now there is NO bank in Mahahual and only a few automated teller machines (ATM) operate, which often don't work. As a precaution you should get some of your spending money in advance. Running out of cash– potentially a major inconvenience– has been one of the reoccurring problems that visitors have been experiencing.
Using ATMs (drawing money with your bank card) for obtaining Pesos will give you the by far (!!) best exchange rates. Only under exceptional circumstances resort to the so called “no commission” exchange booths or banks for exchanging US Dollars. In terms of rates, you will be better off using these Dollars directly for purchases.
ATM service in Mahahual has been vastly improving recently. About a half-dozen machines by three different providers have been installed. Watch out: Fees are higher in Mahahual than elsewhere and only 3000 pesos can be retrieved in one transaction. A reliably working low-fee ATM closest to Mahahual is in the center of Bacalar (distance 100 km). Travelling from Cancun, your last chance to obtain money (pesos) before heading for the Costa Maya is at an ATM at the Pemex gas station in the center of the town of Felipe Carillo Puerto (in 135 km distance to Mahahual).
While visiting Mexico we have been relying for many years now exclusively on ATMs for our cash needs. However, there is usually a maximum of 3000-5000 pesos you can draw per transaction and banks impose withdrawal limits for a 24-hours period. Even worse, your ATM card unexpectedly might not work (corrupted magnetic strip) or is retained by the ATM. To play it safe, we therefore always carry cards for two independent accounts and always have some emergency cash in US currency. Also we alert our bank in the US that we will be drawing money in Mexico. Suspecting fraud, they otherwise may put a hold on our card.
With so much cash to carry you have to worry keeping the money safe. Here is some common sense advice:
While on the road, distribute the money in equal portions between your travel companions to minimize the risk that a petty thief could get all of it by mugging the right person. Keep the bulk of the money of each person in a money belt or similar that is worn BELOW clothing. Keep the spending money in a separate purse. Never show money in public or re-supply the spending money from the main stash in public.
Always lock your car, if unattended. While making road trips, never leave any valuables or visible luggage in the car.
In the house we have a metal lock box. Generally, keep valuables in the lock box or at least upstairs. The lock box has enough space for camera equipment. Obviously, upon leaving the house (swimming, kayaking) all windows and entry doors -especially downstairs- should be closed and locked. During the night ALWAYS close all downstairs glass windows (the window screens are easily cut with a knife), unless someone sleeps downstairs.
The Emergency Phone Number in Mexico is 066. It works similar to the 911 emergency number in the US. If you call this number in Mahahual, it will connect you with an operator in Chetumal, who then will alert Mahahual authorities (police/medical assistance).
The pristine beaches and the undisturbed nature of the Costa Maya is partially owed to its remoteness and a relatively low level of infrastructure. These circumstances need to be considered when you plan your trip. Below some information and recommendations that may help you preparing for your visit.
Several small stores (in Mexico called “minisuper”) operate in Mahahual and offer all basic groceries as well as many essential household items. Other services include a gas station, two well-stocked hardware stores, two laundries, a pharmacy, an internet café, and a bakery. This is in stark contrast to just a few years ago when there was not a single store or service available in Mahahual. Visitors had to bring virtually all needed supplies themselves, which meant stocking up far away in one of the larger towns before making the trip to the coast. Some repeat visitors— out of old habits- still get staple groceries on their way down in Playa del Carmen (Sams Club or Chedraui super market) or in Tulum (San Fransisco super market). This is not necessary anymore, but if you like to bring cheaper or hard-to-get foods and beverages you may consider shopping at one of these places anyway. It is definitely recommended to make a stop for locally grown fruits in Limones, the last village on Highway 307 before you turn to the coast. Buy fruits at the road-side fruit stands at the “topes” (speed bumps) close to the south end of the village. A special bargain are 50lb-bags of oranges from local orchards that sell for only 30-80 pesos (~3-7 USD !). Note: Ripe oranges (Naranjas) grown here are on the outside typically rather green than orange. These are great for making a fresh and delicious juice. We have a mechanical orange juice press in the house.
Watch out: Even though Mahahual is often referred to as a “fishing village”, essentially all former fishermen have become cab drivers or work in other better paying tourism- related jobs. So quite oddly, its virtually impossible to buy fresh-caught fish in Mahahual! Frozen fish, brought in from other places, is available. For fresh fish inquire with locals along the coast that often can get you fish by spear fishing (our caretaker can assist in making contact to these occasional fishermen).
A special treat for shoppers is that on “cruise ship” days hundreds of artisans descent into Mahahual from all over Mexico and offer a wide variety of their beautiful and colorful handcraft and folk art. Use haggling skills to get a good price. Start with 10% of the asking price and you may be able to close a deal at 30%. Make sure you to let the vendors know that you are not one of those cruise ship tourists.
Mahahual has a number of restaurants and bars; most cater to the cruise ship passengers and may not be open in the evening, but some are excellent and specialize on overnight visitors. Further you will find small café’s, make-shift or mobile food stands that are frequented by locals. If you crave simple but genuine Mexican or Mayan food you will not be disappointed. Some restaurants and bars offer wireless internet.
Our top recommended restaurant in Mahahual is Travel in’ (for info click here), which is also very close to Casa del Cielo de las Estrellas (distance 1.5 miles). It is located outside of Mahahual at km 5.8 of the beach road (click here for map).
For a drink you might visit Fusion at Kabah-Na, a beach bar in only 200 m walking distance from our house. They also serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. El Castillo at km 13 (4 km to the south) has a good kitchen and serves also breakfast. Gabi is a very good cook: try her fresh fish cooked Mayan-style in banana leaves. Other choices not so distant from Casa del Cielo de las Estrellas are the restaurants of Maya Luna (at km 4.5) and Luna de Plata (genuine Italian Pizzas; km 2 of the beach road). A nice Mahahual restaurant is Aroma in the “casitas” (a new housing development close to the cruise ship port), which offers international cuisine and Friday night parties (discotheque) during high season. Excellent Mexican food is served at Fernando's 100% Agave Restaurant (on Calle Huachinango, second road parallel to the Malecon). The place has a very nice local flair and prices are reasonable. Fernando knows everything about Tequila and other Agave liquors. Getting treated by him to a Tequila lesson, including Tequila tasting, is an experience unforgettable (unless, of course, if you drink one of those Tequilas too many). The restaurant of the National Beach Club, located in the center of Mahahual, on the Malecon, is also a very good restaurant. They make an excellent Margarita.
Car Rental Tips
Renting a car in Mexico is not much different than renting a car in the US or in Europe and if you have a valid driver’s license and a credit card you typically will not encounter any problems.
However, with almost 20 years of car rental experience in Mexico we have been in all kind of situations and we think we can make a few general comments on this issue. We hope these may help you to avoid problems or to prevent some of the mistakes we made. If you read in internet forums about car rental in Mexico, you will often find quite contrasting views. Having said that, please follow any of what is written here with discretion.
Never rent a car without a reservation in advance. You will be totally at the mercy of the companies and you will get a terrible deal (2-3 x higher prices than with a reservation). Use the internet for reserving a car. First search for approximate rates each car rental company offers using several travel websites like Expedia. This will show you the company with the lowest rates for the timeframe you are interested in. It’s difficult to recommend any particular company. In Cancun they all offer similar service levels, so our main criterion is price. We prefer international over local companies. We have used local Mexican and international companies in the past and had equally good but also very bad experiences regardless of whom we used. However, renting from an international company gives us a shot at resolving disputes (if necessary) after our return to the US. We have been very successful in getting reimbursements after complaining about poor service (e.g. waiting more than a day until a broken down car was exchanged with a replacement car). In 3 out of 4 such disputes we got later the whole rental price reimbursed despite having used the car for more than 2 weeks. Hertz was in this context especially generous and easy to deal with.
For an economy car (e.g. Chevy Pop, Hyundai Athos, etc.) without air-condition and with manual transmission, the price per day SHOULD be between 12-22 $US per day (depends on season). The next size of car (e.g. Nissan Tsuru= sold in the US as Sentra, Volkswagen Rabbit) is about 20-30$US per day. Note: Automatic transmission and Air will add 10-20$ to the price. For more than 2 adults and luggage, a Chevy Pop or Hyundai Athos might be a bit small (Although, it is possible- we have done it with four adults).
Avoiding up-selling and other trouble
Before departing for Mexico, PRINT a copy of your reservation, especially showing the conditions and the PRICE, etc.
If your reserved car is not available, the car rental company is OBLIGED to upgrade you to the next available higher class for your originally quoted price and for the whole reserved period. They will try to charge you more or ask you to return tomorrow to exchange the upgrade. They might even try to give you a lesser car!! But you can insist on the upgrade and not to pay more. If you still meet resistance because of supposedly different rules in Mexico, ask the manager for a written statement. He will not give it, because it would create a paper trail and he knows you are right: In our experience this settles the argument.
Many seasoned car renters make two independent reservations with two companies. For car rental you don’t have to pay in advance AND you don’t have to pay a penalty if you don’t show up. By having two reservations you potentially avoid the hassle if in Cancun the representatives of one company start to play games (this happens unfortunately quite often). With two reservations you are at liberty to go immediately to the next window. You’d be surprised how they suddenly confirm everything exactly as you have reserved it….
Take car inspection seriously. This is done with a check list showing a drawing of a car. Have every (even minor) scratch, blemish or even tar spot marked! Check carefully the spare tire, the presence of all four foot mats, of the tools, etc. If you return the car, every non-marked scratch or missing item will cost you dearly.
A recently added clause to Cancun rental contracts states that warranties do not apply if you drive on unpaved roads, including beach roads. So if your car breaks down on the beach road have it first pushed or towed to the next paved road. Only then call the rental company for assistance or for a replacement car. If you car is on a unpaved road they WILL charge you for this otherwise free service!
Rental car insurance
Money-wise a potentially big-ticket item is car insurance. This is a hotly debated issue in internet forums with often contradicting recommendations about whether to or not to purchase additional insurance packages, with little discussion about the important distinction between liability coverage and property damage coverage. For the decision making process it helps to understand what actually is or is not covered. The most important insurance coverage, either in Mexico or elsewhere is liability insurance. All base rates for car rentals in Mexico MUST include 400,000 peso worth of liability insurance. The irony is that any additional insurance you purchase does not go toward additional liability, but for collision damage (CDW) and personal accident insurance (PAI). Usually, CDW ($10-$15/day, depending on the company) covers 90% of damage to the car. That is, any damage under 10% of the value of the car must be paid by the renter. Also available, is additional CDW ($5-$10/day) that lowers the deductible to zero. Another typical additional insurance is PAI, which covers for medical expenses for the driver and passengers of the rented car. These expenses would typically be covered by your own health insurance.
Similar to renting a car in the US, it does not make much sense to pay these additional costs if you can avoid them by using FREE coverage for CDW/PAI through your credit card. However, if it makes you more comfortable on your vacation, spend the money and purchase all of the coverage for CDW/PAI offered by the car rental company (usually $20-30/ day). But remember, if you get sued for injuring someone in Mexico in an accident, the only insurance you can rely on is the liability that comes with the base rental. The CDW, LDW, PAI or other property damage extras won't do you much good.
If you think, your card offers insurance, confirm this with your credit card company (this is printed in your credit card contract; a simple phone call to customer service should also clarify this issue).
If none of your current credit cards cover insurance, try for example BankOne cards. They offer a no fee card with rental car insurance: Browse the internet to access appropriate sites.
In Cancun the associate at the rental counter invariably will try to convince (even pressure) you to buy their CDW/PAI insurance anyway (this is their way of earning more money-much more!). Sometimes he will claim that either the Cancun location does not accept credit card coverage for insurance, or that there was just a change of rules, etc. This is not true! It is therefore very important you have a printout from the rental car web site that clearly shows that you can use your own insurance in Cancun. Don’t let you talk into something; just show them the written confirmation. We experience the squabble about insurance nearly every time and only the printout from the company website and some persistence stops this discussion. Finally, if this does not help, you still have your second reservation and you still can go to the lot of this other car rental company….
In summary: WHICH insurance (credit card or rental company provided) you use for collision coverage is not the issue. Even though we have seen the claim that you could land in jail after an accident we would like to hear about an actual case that this has happened BECAUSE one has been using insurance via a credit card. To the opposite, we know of at least four cases (one was a major accident and another one involved us) where CDW through the credit card was adequately covering the damage to the rental car. However, -and this seems almost taking a backseat in this discussion- the coverage provided by the liability insurance (always included in the rental and not offered through a credit card) is rather low. This low coverage (~US$ 30,000) is perhaps the greater issue in case someone is at fault in an accident, and definitely a serious problem if one is likely liable above this limit.
If you want to play it safe, see if you can purchase additional liability insurance ($15 per diem) to be covered up to the US-customary level of $US 300,000 or more. If you are afraid of the hassle to explain to the police in a foreign language that for collision you are covered by your credit card, pay the $20-30 per diem collision insurance offered by the rental company. If you rely on the card for CDW/PAI insurance needs you will not land in jail! This is an untrue legend, invented to push you to purchase unnecessary and over-priced insurance packages.
Health Questions/ Bug Questions
Mahahual village has a health station (“Centro Salud”, next to the soccer field) with ambulance and a nurse and is equipped to provide first aid and also dispenses a limited set of pharmaceuticals. The closest hospital is in Bacalar. During cruise ship days, the cruise ship port operates a hospital exclusively for cruise passengers. This facility is not accessible for any non-cruise tourists. However, in a life-threatening emergency they certainly will make an exception and also accept outside patients.
What should you bring to prevent injuries and for first aid?
Small first aid kit that includes:
Skin disinfectant (iodine or peroxide)
Anti itch/ sunburn ointment
Anti diarrhea drug
Don’t forget to apply sunscreen before extended swimming or snorkeling trips. Wear a T-shirt (it protects against contact with corals)!
Beach shoes (or diving boots, surf boots or similar)
Even though it’s a sand beach, there can be sharp mussels, shell fragments or other creatures buried in the sand. While living at the beach, nothing seems worse than having a cut wound that prevents one from enjoying the water. So -especially for children- we recommend wearing always beach shoes for walking on the beach and also for swimming.
Motion sickness medication (in case you are sensitive and plan to make boat trips)
What health risks should you consider?
Generally the risk to contract infectious diseases or parasites is low.
Malaria is not an issue at the coast. Elsewhere on the Yucatan peninsular the malaria risk is low. If you want to avoid this low risk, you could use Malaria prophylaxis (a low dose of drugs that are used to cure Malaria) and/or consistently applying mosquito repellents.
Tetanus bacteria are commonly found world-wide in soil or dust. Being in the US or in Mexico does not make a difference (i.e. the prevalence is the same). It is therefore advisable-under any circumstances- to be current with your Tetanus vaccination. So if you did not get a boost of your vaccination within the last 10 years you should get one.
Food-borne diseases (Hepatitis A and dysentery)
Due to generally vastly improved hygienic practices (especially the widespread use of bottled purified drinking water), the danger to contract dysentery (aka Montezuma’s revenge) while vacationing in Mexico has become quite low. Still, it is always good to follow some common sense rules to minimize any infection risk: Eat only well cooked food. Drink only purified water, sterilized water (coffee) or bottled beverages. Eat only fruits that you peel yourself. Never buy juice on the roadside from street vendors. Stay away from ice cream and- very important- from any drinks with ice (here goes the margarita….) unless you are certain the ice was made from purified water.
Also the Hepatitis A virus is almost exclusively transmitted through food due to poor hygiene. Similar to Tetanus, it is advisable to be vaccinated, regardless where you live and especially if you travel often. Whenever you eat food prepared outside of your home, you are at risk of contracting it. The risk in Mexico is not high, but the virus is certainly more prevalent in Mexico than in the US. If you are not vaccinated, it’s probably best you get vaccinated.
H1N1 influenca virus (“Mexican Swine Flue”)
Overrated. By now risk contracting it is much higher in US or Europe than in Mexico. No case reported from Costa Maya. If this is still of concern to you– get a H1N1 flue shot at home!
Fernando’s 100% Agave. Go inside to experience it’s special atmosphere and excellent Mexican food.
For Mahahual South Beach Information
For Mahahual South Beach Information