You’ve been dreaming of white sand beaches and turquoise waters for weeks now, and you’ve finally decided to book a beautiful beach vacation for your family to a destination you’ve never visited: Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. And now you can’t wait to trade your work heels for flip-flops and your business casual dress code for a beach casual bikini and cover-up to explore one of Mexico’s top five tourist destinations.
Traveling to a new destination can present a challenge, especially if you’re traveling with kids, but you should never let that deter you from going someplace special! You just need to do a little research before you go. If you’re about to embark on your first trip to Los Cabos — or even if you’re still just in dreaming mode — I’ve put together a beginner’s guide to help prepare you for sunny days spent burying your toes in the sand.
Get your passport ready
Everyone must have a passport before traveling to Cabo. If you haven’t done much traveling before, you should allow yourself ample time to apply for and obtain your passport before the beginning of your trip, which can take up to six weeks. And don’t forget — the little ones need a passport too, no matter how young they are!
If you’re from the United States, you may have heard stories about being able to travel between other North American countries and territories without a passport, but that isn’t necessarily possible. You may be able to enter those other countries, but you’ll run into trouble when trying to come home. So make sure you have all the appropriate paperwork, unless of course you’re hoping to extend your vacation a little (or a lot) longer.
Stick to bottled water
We’ve all heard stories about avoiding the water in Mexico and other destinations abroad, and Cabo San Lucas is no exception. Although the water itself isn’t anything to worry about, some pipes in the city are quite old and can contain contaminants that could cause an upset stomach for anyone who isn’t used to drinking the tap water.
Taking showers and brushing your teeth are completely safe, even for children, but it’s a good idea to stick to bottled water when out and about or ordering drinks at a restaurant.
If renting a car, think small
Renting a car in Baja is a great idea, especially if you want to adventure outside the city a little bit (which I would always suggest doing). Just be aware that the roads in Cabo can be more narrow than what some people are used to, so renting a large SUV or Jeep may not be the best idea.
Also, be careful of driving at night. There’s a lot of wildlife in the area that aren’t afraid of wandering into the road — including cattle — so always be on the lookout for creatures crossing your path.
Watch out for bad exchange rates
As with any travel, there are smart ways to exchange currency, and then there are ways that will cost you a lot of money. I’ve learned the hard way on many trips that bad exchange rates can really take a toll on your wallet. Avoid changing money in popular tourist stops, like Mexico City airport or any other airport (and other transportation hubs), hotels and even people hanging out on the streets.
Relying on an ATM to pull cash out of is typically a good way to go (just check with your bank to find out your ATM fee before you go), and using a credit card can provide added insurance (you can be refunded if there’s any case of fraud). Be wary of the percentage that most credit card companies charge on purchases abroad, and only visit the ATM a handful of times if your withdrawal fee is particularly high.
Internationalize your phone
One of the biggest drawbacks to traveling can be the insane roaming charges you have to pay when using your cell phone. Keeping in touch with people back home, whether it’s the dog walker, your neighbors or the people watching your children, is really important to most people, but you always have to be tethered to WiFi or shell out hundreds of dollars on your next phone bill.
One way to avoid that is by taking advantage of a local SIM card when traveling. You can easily unlock your phone, buy a SIM once you arrive in Cabo, pop it in and you’re good to go! It’s one of my top secrets for saving money no matter when I’m traveling to.
Pack your adventure shoes
Whether you love nightlife or want to keep things family-friendly, there’s something for everyone in Cabo. Water lovers can lounge on the beautiful beaches, snorkel off the coast or go sailing at sunset. Take the kids swimming with dolphins or whale watching, or even teach them to fish — then take your catch to a local restaurant where they’ll use it to cook dinner for the family.
Renting a car can get you away from the tourist stops and onto secluded beaches, pristine deserts, and picturesque little towns. There are adventures to be had by romantic couples, single parents of one, or large families of five. Just pack some sunscreen and a good pair of shoes, and you’ll be all set!
Cabo San Lucas may be known for the late-night parties and yard-long plastic margarita cups, but the abundance of outdoor adventures, wildlife excursions, and sunshine make it a perfect family destination in Mexico as well. Do a little prep before you go, and you’ll have smooth sailing all week (or two) long — metaphorically and literally.