For the 50+ Traveler

Mexico is the perfect place for a quick getaway: It’s easy to get to and relatively inexpensive. Its resorts are known for their sugar-white sand and excellent snorkeling and diving opportunities. The country’s metro areas, including Monterrey and Mexico City, are famous for their museums and scenery. All in all, Mexico is a dream to visit! However, there are a few simple health precautions you should take when you’re visiting this beautiful place, and most of them center on the drinking water. Here’s what you should know about the water south of the border.

Avoid Ordinary Tap Water

While water treatment, filtration, and purification have greatly improved in Mexico, it’s still not a good idea to drink ordinary tap water during your visit. Here’s why: Sanitation standards there are still different from what you are normally used to, and that’s why traveler’s tummy strikes. Exposure to bacteria, viruses, or parasites that might remain in the water can cause gastrointestinal upset and other unpleasant symptoms, sometimes severe enough to wreck your vacation. It’s a problem that’s more prevalent than you might think: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 to 70 percent of travelers will come down with some form of stomach upset during their adventures abroad. In our opinion, it’s better to sit on a beach than a toilet, so be safe rather than sorry! Drink bottled, purified water at all times, be sure you’re the one breaking the seal, and keep that water in its original container while guzzling it down (don’t pour it into a glass or mug).

It's easy to find bottled water in Mexico. It is everywhere you’ll likely go, from your resort or hotel to beach snack bars and even street vendors. You won’t pay much -- only about a dollar a bottle -- but in exchange, you’ll get a lot of peace of mind. Mexican brands include Bonafont and Ciel, but those you’ll find at home, including Dasani, Evian, Fiji, and VOSS, are the most popular.

One other thing to note: At home, many of us carry around metal or heavy plastic bottles, filling them up with water throughout the day at drinking fountains or faucets. While commendable from a sustainability point of view, that’s not a habit you want to take with you to Mexico. Toss, or if possible, recycle your water bottles as you go, and get fresh, sealed ones as needed. Do not ever refill a water bottle!

A table set for lunch in Mexico.

Insist On Bottled Water At Restaurants

Of course, you should get out there and sample the local cuisine: Mexican food was the first national cuisine to be recognized by UNESCO on its List of Intangible Cultural Heritage, after all! It’s absolutely delicious, and you’ll want to get your share of freshly prepared tacos, tortas, and all the rest while sightseeing or at cantinas recommended by your concierge or guide. However, it’s important to insist on bottled water rather than tap water when you are out to eat. Bringing a few bottles with you during your off-resort adventures is always a terrific idea as well, just in case you find yourself in a spot where it’s not available.

Ice Is Off-Limits

Chances are you’ll polish off your fair share of ice-cold beverages during your time in Mexico; it is important to stay hydrated in the country’s hot climate! No matter your beverage of choice -- be it a cerveza, a margarita, or even a refreshing fruit agua fresca -- don’t use cubes to keep it cold. Again, if you don’t know for sure where the water for that ice is coming from, you’re taking a chance on an illness. It’s just not worth the risk.

Skip The Salad

While you’re likely to be just fine with foods cooked to safe temperatures, you’ll want to avoid some fruits and vegetables when you’re out and about. Some restaurants in Mexico do soak produce in anti-germ solutions before serving it, but there are no guarantees. Salad ingredients such as lettuce and other greens can retain large amounts of water when they are rinsed, and if a germ solution isn’t used on them, they could end up causing you some serious stomach distress. Again, be cautious here and take a yellow-light approach: Skip the salad (you’re on vacation, after all!), and don’t eat any raw fruit or vegetable you can’t peel yourself.

The Distintivo H seal of approval.

Keep Your Eyes Peeled For The Seal

The only exception to these rules involves restaurants that display the Distintivo H seal of approval. This award goes to eateries that have used a food safety consultant to train staff in food and water quality best practices. It’s a demonstrated commitment to customer safety that’s difficult to attain; it’s the most important award given to Mexican restaurants. Most high-end resorts have achieved the seal. If during your adventures you find a place with the seal, feel free to sip the water, crunch on ice, or even gorge on those greens without worrying. This very likely includes your resort or hotel, but it’s worth asking about when you check in. If you want to grab a bite to eat off-site, the staff members at the hotel or resort where you're staying would be happy to direct you to local restaurants that have earned the Distintivo H seal.

Boil Water For Coffee Or Tea

Need a caffeine fix first thing in the morning, before you even leave your hotel room? Completely understandable! If you’re out of bottled water to throw in that coffee machine, you can use boiled tap water. Just make sure it gets to a rolling boil for 5 minutes before tossing in your beans or a tea bag -- that will be enough to kill off any and all organisms that could make you sick. Many hotels will offer guests hot pots or kettles for this very reason. Do yourself a favor and use it if one’s in your room.

Use Bottled Water For Brushing

When it comes right down to it, the amount of water you actually ingest while brushing your teeth is pretty small. So is the chance that the agua coming from your hotel sink has actually been purified, so don’t take chances! A good thing to do when traveling to countries like Mexico is to leave a bottle of water right by your faucet. It’s a quick visual reminder of the precautions you need to take, even when you’re still sleepy first thing in the morning. A quick dip of your brush is all you really need, both when you begin to brush and when you rinse your brush off. Heeding this advice can save you from spending your vacation in misery.

The head of a shower.

Keep Your Mouth Shut In The Shower

It’s the vacation mistake that was immortalized by Charlotte in Sex and the City. Do not open your mouth in the shower while you are south of the border. Even if your resort says it offers filtered water, chances are that the water you’re washing with is not potable. That means that even a tiny, accidental drop can cause you severe distress while you’re on your vacation. Save your oohing and aahing for the gorgeous sunsets over the beach, and keep your mouth shut while showering or bathing.

Think Twice Before Taking A Dip

You’ll also want to make sure that any swimming pool, hot tub, or spa you enter is clean and well maintained. At your resort, that shouldn’t be an issue. However, it could get complicated if you choose to take a dip off-site. Recreational water can appear clear, but if it’s not chemically maintained, it can be infected with pathogens that can make you sick. Take our advice: Save the splashing and swimming for your hotel’s pool -- or, better yet, the ocean!

What To Do If You Slip Up

So, despite all of your precautions, what if you forget to keep your mouth closed in the shower? Or what if you grab that glass of tap water filled with local ice at a cantina away from your resort? Maybe you’ve splashed in a fountain in a charming little beach town for a quick cool-down. Don’t panic! In most cases, a simple Pepto-Bismol or Imodium pill or two can work wonders. Another thing to consider is taking along a preemptive antibiotic prescription should you accidently drink or ingest tap water. If you take it as directed -- typically at the first sign of stomach upset -- it should keep you from getting too sick, and it could very well save your vacation. A simple phone call to your doctor explaining your upcoming travels is likely all you’ll need to get the prescription for doxycycline or ciprofloxacin, and it’s a great peace-of-mind item to add to your carry-on. If you do get ill and end up taking the emergency pills, you’ll want to touch base with your doctor once you’re back home to make sure further tests or treatment isn’t needed.

Planning a trip to Mexico? Make sure to follow these six tips for staying safe while there.