The basics

Money

Mexico currency is the Peso (1 USD = about 13 MXN). Credit cards are widely accepted at bars, stores and restaurants. ATMS are available at banks, department stores, drug stores, shopping malls, convenience stores like "Oxxo" and gas stations.

Languages

Spanish is the national language, but English is common in some touristic areas.

Geography & Culture

With Belize, Guatemala and the United States as neighbors, Mexico has just under 6,000 miles (almost 10,000 km) of coastline and a rugged interior of mountains, deserts and high plateaus. Popular LGBTQ beaches are found in Puerto Vallarta, the so-call "gay capital" of Mexico, and in Acapulco, Playa del Carmen on the Mayan Riviera and Zipolite on the Pacific in the far south. The Yucatan Peninsula, separating the Gulf of Mexico from the Caribbean, has hundreds of Mayan ruins and some of the world's best diving and snorkeling. Baja California, a finger of land stretching south from Tiajuana, is a mix of fishing villages and exclusive resorts at Los Cabos. Its culinary contributions to the world include chocolate, vanilla, avocados, corn and tequila.

Travel tips

Blend In

Don't advertise you're a turista - and a target for robbery - by wearing shorts and flip-flops (except in beach resorts), hanging a camera around your neck or sporting an expensive watch.

Deal With Altitude

Mexico City, Guadalajara, Oaxaca and Chiapas will take your breath away - literally. Altitude sickness, which can be deadly, makes you feel lethargic and heady-achy with a loss of appetite and trouble sleeping. Worse, you'll get tipsier faster if you drink alcohol. Until you get used to breathing a mile or so above sea level, limit alcohol consumption, drink lots of water and take it easy.

Sip It Neat

Skip the shot glass with salt and lime and pour your tequila into a cognac snifter to savor it like a fine whiskey. That's how the Mexicans like it. But make sure it's high quality tequila, labeled 100 percent blue agave.

Climb A Volcano

Popocatépetl, Mexico's most famous volcano, is off limits to tourists because it spits ash, but many other volcanic peaks offer a good climb, some challenging enough to be training grounds for the Himalayas. Iztaccíhuatl and Pico de Orizaba have glaciers and year around snow. Less ambitious? Consider El Ajusco, a walk-up peak that can be reached by subway and taxi from Mexico City, or Nevado de Toluca with twin lagoons in its crater. Climb during the dry season, November - March, and get used to the altitude before climbing anywhere.

The Silver Standard

Unless you like silver jewelry that turns green, beware of fakes, especially sold by street vendors. The real thing - sterling silver - should be clearly stamped .925 or .950 (how much silver in the metal). An even better guarantee is the stamp "Mex" or "Mexico" or a symbol or letter/number combo silversmiths use to "sign" their work. Or head to Taxco, the old silver-mining town with more than 200 silver shops and a Saturday morning silver market.

Border Crossing No-No's

U.S. Customs agents are on the lookout for more than drugs. You also risk getting pulled aside if your souvenirs include cultural artifacts, turtle shells and tortoise shell items, coral (red/deep orange coral jewelry exempt for now), ivory anything, jaguar pelts, snakeskin belts, alligator shoes, designer knockoffs (only one allowed for personal use) and of course Cuban cigars (at least for now). Those gorgeous pottery plates may pass customs, but do you want to risk lead poisoning by using them?

Transportation

The Chihuahua-Pacific train, better known as El Chepe and Mexico's only passenger train, connects the states of Chihuahua and Sinaloa, along a 405-mile route through small towns, beautiful landscapes and breathtaking views.

If you are driving to Mexico from the US beyond the Free Trade Zone, you'll need to post a bond for a temporary import permit at a customs office. The bond will be returned when you cancel the permit, good for six months, at the border on your return. Be alert when driving as traffic regulations are often ignored. When there's a choice, drive only in the daytime and choose toll roads (cuotas) over "free" highways for greater safety and better roads.

Most major car rental agencies operate in the country. Basic personal liability insurance is mandatory, but for other options, check to see what your own auto insurance or the credit card you use will cover and carry a copy of the insurance policy with you. Renting at an office away from the airport may save you up to 10 percent.

You can get most anywhere in Mexico by bus. The extensive national bus network offers several classes of travel. First and executive class buses are most popular with tourists, because they are air-conditioned, travel mostly on toll roads and make few stops. Second-class buses generally aren't air-conditioned, make frequent stops on indirect routes and should be avoided on overnight trips and longer journeys.

Mexico is served by major international airlines with non-stop flights to a number of Mexican cities. AeroMéxico is the nation's flagship carrier, headquartered in Mexico City. Smaller airlines operating within the country with select routes abroad include: Magnicharters, Interjet, VivaAerobus and Volaris.