“Don’t drink the water,” is probably the most over-used piece of travel advice tourists get when telling people that they’re traveling to Mexico. The truth is that sanitation and water purification have come a long way in Mexico’s tourism hot spots. Restaurants cook with and serve purified water to their guests and if ice is available, it’s also been purified. You don’t need to worry about the glass of water at your table or about asking for ice for your soda.
Same is true of water at the large hotels. While it’s still advisable to drink bottled water for refreshment and hydration, you can brush your teeth, wash your face and shower without worrying that a droplet of water in your mouth will leave you huddling near your hotel bathroom for the rest of your trip.
As a long time resident of Puerto Vallarta and frequent traveler throughout Mexico, I’ve never been sick. Not even once. Not even after eating highly questionable things from sketchy street vendors. Still, it pays to be careful. Here are some things you can do to help protect yourself from the discomfort of Montezuma’s Revenge:
- Wash your hands. Wash your hands before you eat without fail. If you do not have access to a sink and soap, make sure you use hand sanitizer. After you eat, wash them again. Wash them after picking through trinkets at the market; wash them after you get out of the cab. Keep washing and keep your fingers out of your mouth.
- Be vigilant. If you’ve got a hankering for tacos al pastor from a street vendor, indulge! Just make sure that the vendor is using good food handling techniques, such as hand washing and not touching money and then food. Many vendors will use plastic bags or gloves when handling money so as not to contaminate their hands. Look for busy and clean stalls, stands and restaurants.
- Before you eat it, wash it. Wash fruits and vegetables, even ones that you peel, before you prepare or eat them. Wipe off the tops of soda cans before drinking from them. Citrus is a natural disinfectant, so use limes to wipe rims of bottles and cans. (I bet you were wondering why Mexican beer usually includes a lime, weren’t you?)
- Keep it cold. The weather is hot and humid much of the year in Mexico and food spoils more quickly there. Don’t leave meat, cheese or other perishables out for long.
- Service your water tank. If you’re renting a house for the season in Puerto Vallarta or decide to stay longer, ask when the last time the water tank was serviced at your rental. Most Mexican homes have water tanks on the roof which should be serviced every 6 months, although many are never cleaned (and thus can contain bacteria and algae).
These steps won’t guarantee a trouble-free trip; after all, some people just have sensitive digestive systems, but they will go a long ways towards preventing avoidable problems!