How to Avoid Getting Sick in Mexico (by Someone Who Got Very Sick)

"We should spend a couple of months here one day," I wrote to my husband while on a high after a day of exploring Mexico City with my best friend. “I love this city, the country, the culture, the people, everything” I gushed.

Unfortunately, just one week later I was pathetically mumbling the words "If I never see Mexico again, it’ll be too soon." What changed in so little time?

A table in a market is filled with mangos, oranges, and bananas in Mexico City

It turns out I have been grossly underestimating Montezuma's Revenge, the colloquial name for the less eloquent but appropriately named Traveler's Diarrhea.

What is Traveler’s Diarrhea?

The name says it all, and weak stomached travelers often fall victim to it when traveling to countries with lower food sanitation and water treatment standards.

Luckily, as horribly unpleasant as it may be, it isn’t serious. Here’s The Mayo Clinic’s definition:

Traveler’s diarrhea is a digestive tract disorder that commonly causes loose stools and abdominal cramps. It’s caused by eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water. Fortunately, traveler’s diarrhea usually isn’t serious — it’s just unpleasant.
— The Mayo Clinic
A woman and man walk down a hallway lined with food stands in a Mexico City market

That Time Montezuma sought Sweet Revenge

I’ve always been cavalier about how I travel. I’m healthy, strong, and have a fairly resilient stomach, so why worry? When on a bike tour in the South African township of Soweto, I fearlessly dug into beef heart grilled in a little shack with no running water.

The best part about travel is trying new things and that includes the cuisine. So when I spent a girl’s weekend in Mexico City,we dove in with ambition: “Ready, set, go. Let’s eat everything in sight.”

We ate it all: tacos in tiny holes in the wall, tlacoyos in the markets, and we sipped on Mezcal cocktails with ice. It should be no surprise that both of us went home with an unpleasant souvenir. I was flattened on the couch completely dehydrated for two days and had diarrhea that lingered for two weeks.

Raw meat sits on wooden blocks in a market in Mexico

How to Avoid Getting Sick in Mexico

I apologize for the very personal overshare above. But I wanted to impress the importance of why you should try to avoid getting sick in Mexico (or anywhere you travel!).

Although to be fair, this “condition that shall not be named” normally only lasts up to five days (whatever got me was exceptionally bad and uncommon). To avoid a similar fate, here are some simple steps to avoid getting sick while traveling:

Eat with Care

This is an obvious one, but not always the easiest to follow in a city with delicious street food! Contaminated food is going to get you sick, full stop. So be cautious about which street taco you eat, here are some tips:

  • Eat your meals cooked well done and served hot.

  • Avoid street vendors that prepared their food at home.

  • Look for the crowds. Let’s face it, we’re not going to completely avoid hole in the wall taco stands. You’re here to eat! But stick to popular spots with a lot of turnover. They’ll be constantly cooking fresh taco fillings rather than letting meat sit idle all afternoon.

  • Avoid eating in the markets. This is a common rule recommended by the CDC and the Mayo Clinic. I tell you this knowing I won’t abide by this guideline. I love the food in the markets too much to give it up. But be smart about which food stands or markets you choose or go with a tour guide that knows who prepares their food well.

  • Be judicious with fruits and vegetables. Did the salad get washed in contaminated water? Peel your own fruit.

Maybe skip the rocks in your margarita | Source: Brent Hofacker © 123RF.com

Maybe skip the rocks in your margarita | Source: Brent Hofacker © 123RF.com

Don’t Drink the water

Duh. This is a no brainer. don’t drink the tap water in Mexico, or any country that you may suspect has less the sanitary water treatment capabilities.

  • Many homes and nice restaurants have water filtration systems and drinking their filtered water is safe. Always ask the waiter to confirm whether they have one. I visited Mexico twice before and drank from filtered water without getting sick.

  • But when in doubt, always get a bottle of water. It pains me to waste the plastic, but it’s better safe than vomiting all weekend.

  • Use bottled or filtered water for brushing your teeth.

  • Use bottled or filtered water for baby formula (poor innocent babes!).

  • Shut your mouth in the shower (we all saw what happened to Charlotte in Sex and the City).

  • Stick to wine and beer. Cocktails may come with ice that has suspicious origins.

  • Enjoy your coffee and tea by making sure they’re served piping hot.

  • Slice your own fruit and veg to be sure it wasn’t recently washed in contaminated water

Source: stylephotographs © 123RF.com

Source: stylephotographs © 123RF.com

What Medicine to Take to Avoid Getting sick Abroad

There are some medications you can take to prevent getting Montezuma’s Revenge, and some you should not. Feel free to pop a pink Pepto Bismol tablet or two in the morning, but don’t do this for an overly extended amount of time.

I also recommend always having Imodium tablets in your purse, at all times, everywhere. Imodium is what my family always called “The Big Guns.” We’d give ole Pink Pepto a try, but if it failed, Imodium always got the job done. If you get sick while still on vacation, it will absolutely help you get through the day.

ANTIBIOTICS | I know many people travel with a course of antibiotics just in case. If you’d like to do this, consult your doctor. The exact antibiotic may differ per person and destination (and we should never self-prescribe).

Avoid taking antibiotics as a preventative measure, as they could just wipe out the good bacteria and leave you more susceptible. Creating antibiotic resistant bacteria and bugs is also a concern.

SOURCES | I went to the professionals to make sure I was providing accurate information. To read moe about this common traveler's ailment, visit The Mayo Clinic here and the the CDC here.

    Enjoy yourself to the Fullest

    All that said, it’s important to still enjoy yourself! You’re not in Mexico or on vacation to eat the same old things or be afraid of new experiences. Be adventurous! I love Mexico and will be back, despite getting ill on my most recent trip. The people are wonderful and so is, of course, the food.

    Never let the worry of getting sick on vacation be a barrier to trying new things. There are far too many delicious tacos in the world waiting to be tried. It would be a waste to not try them out of fear. However, one thing’s for sure, I will be more judicious in selecting my restaurants.

     

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