David Baird, co-author of "Frommer's Mexico 2008," answered your questions about planning a trip to Mexico's colonial cities and off-the-beaten path locations in southern Mexico and the Yucatán.
David Baird: Hello, this is David Baird. I'm going to be around for the next hour to answer your questions about interior and southern Mexico. My, my, my. A lot of questions have been pouring in this morning. I'll tackle those I am best qualified answer, and we'll see how far we can get today.
Princeton, N.J.: I believe I have read of a food wash that will render Mexican raw products safe for eating by Americans. Can you help me?
David Baird: There are various products out there for disinfecting fruits and vegetables. All of them are made with either chlorine or iodine. In the U.S., you can find them at backpacking outfitters, but it's easier and cheaper to pick them up once you get to Mexico since Mexican cooks use them all the time. The most popular brand is Microdine (pronounced mee-crow-DEE-neh). You can find it at supermarkets, convenience stores, and in some drug stores. A lot of people will use this to disinfect any produce that they can't peel or cook. Some even will dip mangos and avocadoes under the theory that the knife blade can contaminate the flesh when it cuts through the skin. I'm not that careful, but I have friends who are.
Duxbury, Mass.: We will be in Mexico City in February for three days and then plan to take a bus to Guanajuato. We don't speak Spanish and would like to buy the tickets in advance, if possible. Can we do that?
David Baird: Yes, you can buy tickets in advance. As long as you're not traveling on a holiday weekend, you shouldn't have any problem getting tickets to Guanajuato. February holidays are La Candelaria on Feb. 2, and Día de la Bandera on Feb. 24. Both fall on Saturday or Sunday this year, so they won't make for long weekends. My advice would be to buy tickets on the bus line called ETN. It offers "servico ejecutivo," which is above first class. Seats are bigger and more comfortable and there are several other perks. It's superior to any bus service I've tried in the U.S. The easiest option would be to buy the tickets once you're in Mexico City. There are many travel agencies there that sell bus tickets so you don't have to go to the bus station. Ask at your hotel for the closest one. Two days in advance would be more than enough cushion. I was in the Guanajuato bus station a couple of months ago and counted 10 ETN buses per day from Mexico City. Your other option is to buy your tickets online by going to etn.com.mx but this is fraught with complications. I've done this before and ended up with a very confused ticket agent, who couldn't seem to locate my online purchase. Better to buy once you get to Mexico City. To go to Guanajuato you'll want to leave from Mexico City's north bus station, called "Central del Norte." Sometimes it can be a problem getting a taxi from the Guanajuato bus station so schedule your trip to arrive in daylight (travel time is about 5 hours). And remember that dates are always formatted dd—mm—yyyy.
Valparaiso, Ind.: My husband are traveling to Ixtapa in February and are unsure if we need to rent a car. Is it safe to drive to Acapulco or Taxco from Ixtapa?
David Baird: Yes, it is safe to drive to Acapulco and from there up to Taxco, but that would be a long drive, and not necessarily a pleasant one. Once you make it to Taxco, having a car becomes a liability because of the narrow streets and lack of parking. Make sure you start out early and be prepared to walk a lot once you get to Taxco (and the walking is all up and down there). If you're not dead set on Taxco but want to see a little bit of colonial Mexico, I would advise you to head in the opposite diretion. There's a new super highway that connects Ixtapa with the highlands of Michoacán. It has made traveling to the colonial cities of Pátzcuaro and Morelia much faster and easier than going to Taxco. Personally, I find these cities more interesting than Taxco. From Ixtapa to Pátzcuaro in a car is about 5 hours. And, if you would rather not drive, you can catch buses to these destinations.
Raleigh, N.C.: We're looking into a trip to Holbox Island. What's the quickest, cheapest way to get there? Thanks!
David Baird: The fastest way is to fly to Cancún, rent a car and take the fast toll road 180 towards Mérida. You need to take the exit closest to the state line, which divides Quintana Roo from Yucatán. I remember the closest exit is a little after the state line and called Nuevo Xcan. From there you backtrack along the old Federal Highway 180 with all its speed bumps until you get to the crossroads called El Ideal. You go north on Hwy. 5 through Kantunilkin to the coastal town of Chiquilá, where you can park your car and take the ferry to Holbox. You won't need a car when you're on the island, and the parking is only $3 or $4 per day. The duration of the trip depends on the state of the road between Chiquila and El Ideal. When there are a lot of potholes it slows you down.
The cheapest way is to take a local bus from Cancún. There are only a couple per day and they are pretty slow. I think it takes about 4 hours to get to Chiquilá by bus. I once caught a ride from Valladolid to El Ideal, and from there I got on a colectivo to Kantunilkin and from there a taxi to Chiquilá. It was pretty fast and cheap, but I'm afraid that there's no advantage to doing this from Cancún.
Ann Arbor, Mich.: What is the best place in the Yucatán where I can get excellent snorkeling right in front of my hotel by just walking right off the shore?
David Baird: You can shore dive in the Yucatán from several areas. In Puerto Morelos, there's a long, shallow reef just off the coast. It's a nationally protected park so you have to have an accredited guide and wear a life jacket, which can be annoying but I've seen lots of sea creatures in those parts. Further down the coast, I would recommend the area north of Tulum starting around Akumal and continuing down the coast to Punta Solimán and Tankah. I've done some free diving in these waters and seen many rays, some sea turtles, nursing sharks and barracudas. But perhaps the best snorkeling I've had is further south on the other side of the Sian Ka'an Biopreserve, along the Majahual peninsula, between Majahual and Xcalak. Remember, however, that having snorkeling in front of your condo or hotel means that you won't have much of a beach. Beaches don't form where reefs are prominent.
Vienna, Va.: Do you have any suggestions on avoiding getting any intestinal illness while visiting Mexico?
David Baird: I can tell you only a few things that have worked for other people and then tell you what I do. Take all of this with a grain of salt. First let's talk about things you can do, and then we'll talk about things you can avoid.
Things you can try. A lot of people swear by the practice of building up their healthful intestinal flora before making a visit to Mexico by eating a large amount of yogurt with active cultures and/or taking acidophilus pills. The idea is that a healthy bacterial population in your gut will be better able to ward of intruding microbes. There's a certain logic to this. I'm not aware of any scientific study that supports or debunks it. Others I know will take two or more tablets of Pepto Bismol per day as a preventive measure for the duration of their stay in Mexico. This is a more aggressive tack. It's been shown to reduce the likelihood of catching an intestinal disease, but taking medicine for a prolonged period can have consequences. Others put their trust in the disinfectant properties of tequila, and will take one shot of tequila neat with lunch and dinner. I know of nothing that supports this claim, but far be it from me to burst anyone's bubble.
What to avoid. Tap water. Raw vegetables that haven't been peeled. Eateries of dubious hygiene. Any foods that have been left at room temperature, especially if they are very liquid (I am sorry to have to say that salsas are the perfect medium for growing bacteria). What about ice? I get asked this question a lot. Ice can be a source of infection for bacteria, but not for protozoa (amoeba, giardia), which don't survive freezing. It would be cruel to tell people to avoid ice on a trip to a tropical country, but, fortunately, I don't have to. It's a fairly easy question to resolve. Most restaurants and bars buy ice that has been made from purified water, and this ice is made in the same way across Mexico. The manufacturing method produces ice cubes that have the rough shape of hollow cylinders. They're easy to spot in your glass and are a sign that the ice is hygienic. Plain block ice carries no such guarantee.
The longer you stay in Mexico, the less methodical you become in following your own rules. I travel in Mexico for a good part of every year. I lived there as a kid, and I lived there as an adult. And through the years I've occasionally been sick. By now I have a certain immunity built up, but every couple of years I get "re-immunized." I hardly follow any rules, except for some common sense notions about food quality. But a traveler who is going to spend only two weeks in the country should take precautions. In addition to the advice above, I tell people not to over eat or over drink because this will tax a person's digestion. Also, you should be selective in trying the local foods—you might want to prefer tamales and enchiladas, which are well cooked, over tacos and tostadas, which come with raw vegetables and room-temperature salsa. Finally, I tell people that they must learn how to be cautious without becoming obsessed about it, because it can detract from your trip if you let it.
Long Beach, Calif.: Hi—I'm a fit 65 year old retiree. I get to visit an old fraternity brother who lives in Ixtapa for three weeks starting Feb 5. We have plans to do a road trip down the coast to visit the beaches and then extensively tour the Valley of Oaxaca and finish with a Chiapas visit to Bonampak, Palenque and San Cristóbal de las Casas.
Would you have highlights to recommend at each of those sites? In your opinion, is it basically safe/advised to drive in these locations? Do you imagine we have the time to comfortably add Chiapas to the journey?
Thanks a lot,
David Baird: Hi, John. This sounds like a wonderful trip, and part of the beauty of it is that you won't have to follow the dictates of an itinerary. February is low season in this part of the world so you can show up just about anywhere without a reservation, no problem. If you make it to Chiapas, great, and if you're having way too much fun in Oaxaca and decide to stay there, that would work, too. I happen to like both places and can't really say skip one to see the other. I'm not as familiar with the coast as I am with the interior destinations, so I can only comment on the last part of your proposed trip. The city of Oaxaca is fascinating, the heavy colonial walls and stout church towers. The convents, the plazas. It's quite different from the rest of colonial Mexico. And even if you're not interested in ruins, you should see Monte Albán—a ceremonial center built high on top of a mountain that dominates the valleys below. I would also spend a little time in a couple of the villages in the surrounding area. A favorite that comes to mind is Tlacolula, on the way to the town of Mitla. It has an old Dominican convent with a thickly decorated interior. In San Cristóbal the thing to observe is the local Indians in the nearby towns, with their fiercely independent ways. Half way between San Cristóbal and Palenque is a small town called Ocosingo, with some impressive ruins (Toniná) nearby. From Ocosingo it's down into the hot lands.
Travel is safe so long as you drive during the day. There has been some sporadic banditry in Chiapas, but it mostly has happened at night. Three weeks would be enough to cover it all if you were so inclined, but if you decide to settle into a couple of spots along the way, who could blame you?
Lake Forest, Ill.: Any general information or advice for Cancún? A very large group from our company will be attending a meeting there in early February so any warnings or hints would be greatly appreciated by a very large number of US citizens. Thank you.
David Baird: I wish I could be of help to you, but of the entire Yucatán peninsula, Cancún is the one spot I don't cover. All I do is go in and out through the airport, and I occasionally cross the town to get to Isla Mujeres. My advice would be of little value. Sorry.
San Bernardino, Calif.: We will be in Tulum Feb. 9-16. We are renting a car so we can see the local sites on our own schedule. We plan to see Chichén Itzá, but are thinking we may not want to drive that far on our own. Should we take a group tour, hire a personal guide/driver, or drive on our own?
David Baird: The drive from Tulum to Chichén Itzá is not that long—150 km (95 miles), and it's a pleasant change from the coast. The highway that leads to Coba, continues to Chemax, then Valladolid, which is only about a half-hour ride from Chichén Itzá. It's true that you have to go pretty slow for speed bumps and potholes, and you'll lose some time getting through Valladolid or making sure you catch the right road out of the village of Cobá. but you can make it there in a leisurely 2 1/2 hours. Still, I wouldn't do the trip in one day, even when it means paying for a night at your hotel in Tulum without being there. You'll enjoy it much more if you overnight in the area. The ideal way to do it is to leave from Tulum after a morning swim. Check into a hotel, either in Valladolid or at the ruins in mid afternoon. Swim in the hotel pool or check out some of the local attractions. Go to the ruins at night to see the sound and light show. Explore the ruins the next morning while it's cool and before all the tour buses show up. Have lunch, and return to Tulum. Plan your return to get back to Tulum before night. That's the basic plan. There's a two-day option where you can soak up some of the local town life of Valladolid and see the ruins of Ek Balam on the next day. If you're determined to do it as a day trip, then hire a driver in Tulum and leave early and go directly to Chichén to see the ruins in the morning and then stop at a couple of places on the way back.
Hampstead, N.C.: We are planning a trip to Isla Mujares in mid-March. What are some easy day trips from there? We are interested in ruins, gardens, art and history. Thanks.
David Baird: From Isla Mujeres there are boat trips to the uninhabited island of Contoy, a national wildlife preserve. You can also take boat trips to fish and snorkel and dive. All other day trips require going to Cancún. From Cancún, there are group tours to the ruins in Chichén Itzá and the ruins in Tulum. The arts and cultural center of the Yucatán happens to be Mérida, which is much too far for a day trip. Valladolid is a colonial city close to Chichén, but it's a quiet town with out much in the way of cultural events, and I don't think you can enjoy it as part of a day trip.
Lawrenceville, Ga.: I will be in Guadalajara the last week of January for five days. What should I see? How safe is the bus system during the day to get to the cities outside GDL?
David Baird: I always enjoy Guadalajara. You can take all five days to see the city, including Zapopan and Tlaquepaque and Tonalá. Depending on your interests and your schedule you might be able to catch a Mexican rodeo or a professional soccer game. You can walk around the downtown historical district and see the murals painted by Orozco, enjoy the city's broad plazas. There's always something going on in Guadalajara. You can also take a day trip to the town of Tequila and go on one or more of the tours of the local distilleries. And if you still have time left you could take a bus to the lake Chapala area. Bus service to the surrounding area is safe and comfortable and cheap.
Chaska, Minn.: Is there a fun side-trip that we can take while we are in Ixtapta, Mexico in February?
David Baird: I don't know about day-trips from Ixtapa, but for something longer, you can go up into the Michoacan highlands to the beautiful colonial towns of Morelia and Pátzcuaro. The absolute minimum would be to spend a night in each town. Going there for anything shorter than that doesn't make a lot of sense because travel time is about 5 hours.
Florence, Ore.: I have heard that there are ruins near the town of Valladolid that are just as interesting, but less crowded than Chitza Nitza. Is this true?
David Baird: Yes, the ruins of Ek Balam are only about 20 km (12 miles) north of Valladolid. They are a relatively recent discovery and were worked on extensively in the past 10 years. The site isn't nearly as big as Chichén Itzá, but you can climb the main pyramid almost all the way to the top. It's taller than the one in Chichén Itzá. But the star attraction of the site is the beautifully preserved stucco work that adorns the face of this pyramid. There's lots of detail and large representations of gods and Maya lords. It's definitely worth the trip.
Leawood, Kans.: I'm visiting Playa del Carmen in March, and being a nature lover, I would like to visit the Sian Kaan Biosphere Preserve for a day. Can you recommend a guide or other way to sample this ecological treasure?
David Baird: A lot of agencies in Playa sell tours of Sian Ka'an. But most contract with one or two operators. The best people to contact are Community Tours Sian Ka'an (siankaantours.org or 984/114-0750), which works with the local communities of the area, is the greenest of the operators and the best organized.
Sacramento, Calif.: We will be staying at the Mayan Palaca Riviera Maya, Riviera Maya, Quintana Roo, 77710, Mexico. We will be with my parents who are both in wheelchairs. Do you know of a place where we can rent electric scooters (the wheelchair type)—not motor scooters—near where we will be located? It would make it a lot easier for them to get around.
David Baird: I know the kind of wheel chairs you're talking about, but I've not seen any in that part of the world. I guess you've already inquired with your hotel and didn't get any help. I'll contact some friend who live down there and see what they know. I might get you an answer before the hour is up.
Chicago, Ill.: Hi, David. Starting in late January, several of my business school classmates and I will be spending six weeks studying in Monterrey, Mexico. Can you recommend some good, budget-friendly weekend getaway destinations?
David Baird: Hi, Alicia. Possible day trips would include the town of Real de Catorce, an abandoned mining town situated in a blind canyon; and the relaxing town of Parras in the old winegrowing area to the west of Monterrey. It's nontouristy and has a couple of small spas. Farther out are the colonial cities of Zacatecas and San Luis Potosi. The problem with Zacatecas and Real de Catorce is that they are high up and can be cold in the winter. So check the forecast before you leave Monterrey. Often, the month of February can be quite mild in the highlands.
Grand Island, Nebr.: We are interested in the train ride and tour of Copper Canyon. What do you suggest?
David Baird: I love going to the Copper Canyon. If you're going to stay up along the rim, then consider going during the shoulder season of September. The crowds are thinner. You can stay overnight in one or two spots and break up the train ride. The whole area is beautiful, but the most rugged part is between El Fuerte and Bahuichivo. The first-class train passes through this area in the morning when headed east, which is the main advantage to starting out on the coast and heading to Chihuahua rather than doing it in the reverse. I would advise you to research the trip well before going, because this is one of those destinations that is much improved when you know what to expect.
Glen Ridge, N.J.: We've been told that it's unsafe to drive from Cancún across the Yucatán to Merida. We did this trip on our honeymoon, but with a guided tour. Could we do this on our own safely?
David Baird: I've made the trip lots of times. It's absolutely safe, and it's a relatively easy drive. Taking the toll road is expensive ($40 total) but a real time saver. There isn't much traffic, and the road quality is excellent. The toll road ends about thirty miles east of Merida, and then it's a slow going for a bit. Then follow signs to get to the downtown area. If you get lost in town, hail a cab, tell him your destination and follow him to the place. Good luck.
Reading, Mass.: Do you know if there are any plans in the future to allow people to once again climb El Castillo in Chichén Itzá? I did it several years ago when I visited and would love to do it again. Thanks!
David Baird: Almost 10 years ago, the government agency that operates ruins, INAH, closed off the stairway of the Pyramid of the Dwarf in Uxmal. It has never been opened since. About 5 years ago INAH closed the stairway to El Castillo, but relented after a year. This time it looks permanent, but you never know with Mexico.
New York, N.Y.: Hi. In the past, I've hired local guides onsite at the ruins at Chichén Itzá, Tulum, and Coba, and while they were entertaining and somewhat informative, I've always wanted more insight and information than they could provide. Are there agencies that supply truly expert guides, or can you suggest a way to find and hire local guides that are experts in the subject—maybe from local universities? Thanks!
David Baird: Yes, the guides at the major ruins are all federally certified, but I'm afraid that it doesn't mean much. They see themselves more as performers and will offer special interpretations of the ruins if, for example, you tell them you're a Mormon. There's an outfit in Merida called Ecoturismo Yucatán that outfits some of the archeological teams that go to the Yucatán. They are very informative about the ruins. If you want to see the ruins in the southern part of the peninsula, one guide I can recommend is Sacbe Travel in Chetumal. Again, the guide knows the local archeologists and stays informed of what's going on. Both have web pages that will come up if you google them.
Carmichael, Calif.: How do you rate the Copper Canyon train trip? We're two well-traveled, adventurous women of a "certain age" and we like to travel in order to learn, not just sightsee. Are the visits to the indigenous people too "Disney-fied" or are they "real?" Both of us speak Spanish (with a bit of an English accent) and we love Mexico and its history and culture.
David Baird: To meet up with the Tarahumara of Chihuahua in a non-touristy setting requires that you distance yourself from the train and go into the mountains. I don't advise doing that by yourselves because you don't know the area, so your best bet is to hook up with one of the many small tour operators that travel in the canyon and explain to them what you want. Some outfits use local people who are part of the community and know the Tarahumara, who are a very reserved people and don't generally like to talk to strangers. Through local people is the best way to approach them.
Chippewa Falls, Wis.: We have frequently split our vacation time between Merida and Cozumel. Have any of the smaller regional airlines put in a direct flight between the two locations? We would like to avoid losing a whole day traveling by bus and ferry.
David Baird: During high season, the number of flights to Cozumel increases sharply. Check out the webpage of Click airlines. They might have started up a flight in the last month or so.
Newport, N.H.: What are the most interesting places to visit in the states of Zacatecas and Tlaxcala?
David Baird: Hey, shouldn't you be voting? The colonial city of Zacatecas is a jewel and is worth at least a few days stay—museums, cable car rides, beautiful architecture. The other two major sites are the ruins of La Quemada (which don't really impress) and the colonial town of Jerez, very much old Mexico. I really enjoy the sleepy town of Tlaxcala. It's got several attractions and an unhurried air about it. Nearby are the fabulous ruins of Cacaxtla, which, I'm afraid are closed at the moment because one of the murals collapsed. But from the ruins on the hill above the Cacaxtla, if the weather is right, you can see the volcanoes of Popocatepetl and Ixtacihuatl to the west and El Pico de Orizaba to the west—Mexico's tallest mountains, which have bright snowcaps during the winter months.
Sarasota, Fla.: I am planning a trip to the Yucatán, Palenque and possibly Villahermosa to see the Olmec heads in La Venta. I know the flooding was devastating in Tabasco and was wondering how the conditions are now. I am sure the local economy would appreciate some tourist dollars.
David Baird: Villahermosa is still far from being back to normal. Wait a couple more months, if you can, and take lots of bug spray. Also, one small note—the best examples of Olmec heads can be found in the Arch. museum in Xalapa, Veracruz, which is a town worth visiting but is too far away to include in a trip to the Yucatán.
West Covina, Calif.: I like to visit places where I can headquarter in a hotel in a city and go out on day trips from there. My favorites have been Merida, Morelia and Oaxaca. Where would you suggest?
David Baird: After the towns you mention, probably San Cristóbal de las Casas and Puebla/Cholula. Both are in the hearts of fascinating regions. Another pick might be San Luis Potosi—nontouristy and it has some places of interest in just about every direction, but it's lacking tourist infrastructure, so getting to some places is difficult. Perhaps Queretaro, where you can take bus rides to San Miguel, to la Peña de Bernal and to the Sierra Gorda. That would be more than a day trip, however.
Huntington Beach, Calif.: If you had to pick from Mexico's many 'colonial' cities to visit, which would it be and why? (We have been to San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato and Oaxaca, but never to San Luis Potosi or Queretaro.)
David Baird: Zacatecas and Queretaro. Both have splendid architecture and great "ambiente." Queretaro is a great walking city, with lots of pedestrian-only streets and surprising plazas tucked here and there throughout the historic center. There's the aqueduct, several former convents and the beautiful baroque altars of Santa Clara and Santa Rosa de Viterbo. Zacatecas has jewels such as the striking façade of the cathedral and the beautiful colonial bull ring and an aqueduct of its own. I also love the colonial art museum in nearby Guadalupe. Also, a trip to Michoacan to see the contrasting colonial cities of Morelia and Patzcuaro. I've mentioned them already so I won't go into them now. That could be a separate trip.
Columbia, Conn.: Can you give me any tips about viewing the butterflies in Michoacán. Best time to go, how to get there, weather, tours, etc?
David Baird: To see the butterflies you have to be in pretty good physical condition because walking up a mountain at that altitude is taxing. Sometimes I have no trouble and sometimes it feels like I can't get enough air. You also need a bit of luck, because if the weather isn't sunny, then all the butterflies are clumped together on the trees and not flying. I think the best is a mix of sun and clouds or just plain sunny. There's a guide in Morelia I like called Luis Miguel Alaniz, the owner of Mex Mich Guias (google it or look it up in the book). He does small tours and is well informed about the amazing life cycle of these bizarre creatures. You can go anytime in the season. My personal preference is January or February. Good luck.
Sparta, Tenn.: My husband and I would like to fly into the City of Oaxaca for a few days, rent a car, and drive to Puerto Escondido. Is this feasible and is driving in this part of Mexico safe?
David Baird: Yes, it's feasible. The trip takes a lot longer than you would think just looking at the map (6 hours). The road is full of twists and turns and has some slow moving trucks that you have to pass. Go during the day so you can have good visibility. There isn't any crime on the road.
Hamilton, Tex.: Do you plan to let travelers to the Yucatán know that they will be traveling in an area that is endemic for malaria? I did not know that when we visited this past summer and am now ineligible to be a Red Cross blood donor for a year. I think people need to know this particular bit of information.
David Baird: Yes, it's worth pointing out that the Mexican lowlands, as well as tropical areas throughout Latin America, have seen a resurgence in malaria as well as dengue fever, both spread through mosquitoes. I would be sure to take bug spray with me when going. And, of course, you will be made ineligible to give blood. But for that matter, the last time I tried to give blood, I was made ineligible for having visited the UK, due to mad cow disease. So go figure.
Chicago, Ill.: My two sons (ages 23 and 25) and my husband and I are going to Mexico City for a few days. For safety's sake, we decided that it was very important NOT to look like tourists. Please give suggestions, especially for the middle-aged one who wants to carry a camera everywhere!
David Baird: In all my years tramping around Mexico, I've had only a couple of encounters with inept pickpockets. I hear all kinds of crime stories, but nothing has ever happened to me. In addition to all the common sense advice you hear about staying away from lonely places at night, not wearing jewelry, etc., I would add the following. In Mexico City, you'll want to avoid the snatch-and-run artists. If you're going to walk around with a camera always carry it on the side next to one of your party. There's a way to carry them nestled in your arm that makes it more difficult to get a hold of. But most important is to be nonchalantly aware of your surroundings at all times. Look passers-by in the eyes and focus on what's happening in a range of about 20 feet away. If you see two strangers making signs to each other, they're probably working as a team, and they'll go elsewhere as soon as they know they've been observed. This is what I do, and it seems to work, but then again, I have only anecdotal evidence to back me up.
David Baird: I'm really sorry that I've got to run now. I left several questions unanswered, many of which I'm not really qualified to address. I don't cover any of the Pacific beach resorts though I find myself there on occasion, so I didn't answer those questions. I hope those who did get an answer are satisfied. My friends in the Yucatán never called me back, so I can't help you, Sacramento. I wish you the best. Happy trails to all you travelers to Mexico. Adios, amigos.