8 Quirky Hotel Libraries You’ll Want to Book a Flight Just to Visit

By Jamie Beckman
April 8, 2019
A view of a comfortable chair, sofa, and library shelves at the Jefferson DC Book Room.
Courtesy The Jefferson DC
The best part? These unique spaces are free for guests to use and peruse, whether you’re visiting Washington, DC, or relaxing in the British Virgin Islands — plus, the hotels often offer book-related freebies and opportunities for philanthropy.

Today (book)marks the kickoff celebration of National Library Week, the perfect time to have books on the brain. In the spirit of lifelong reading, we’re spotlighting eight of the world’s coolest, quirkiest hotel libraries — because nothing goes better with travel than a good book, especially when it’s free of charge.

Many of the hotels below have partnerships with local public libraries and literacy programs. However, if you’d like to support the cause without hopping a plane, consider donating to the American Library Association, a nonprofit that promotes literacy and library services in the U.S. and the world at large.

1. The Book Room at The Jefferson: Washington, DC

Antique, leather-bound books on Thomas Jefferson’s favorite subjects (think: ornithology, astronomy, horticulture, and arithmetic) are just begging to be opened fireside while you’re curled up on the cozy velvet sofa or wingback chair in The Jefferson’s Book Room. Kids can choose their own tomes from the First Library shelf, curated by the DC Public Library and stocked with picks like the illustrated Pom Pom Panda series and Danica McKellar’s math-themed reads. If your heart hasn’t gone mushy already, for each room reserved, The Jefferson sponsors the purchase of a book for the public library’s Books from Birth program, which gives enrolled children a free book every month until they turn five years old.

2. Biblioteka at Conrad Cartagena: Cartagena, Colombia

The Biblioteka at Conrad Cartagena is technically a restaurant, but the hotel takes its literature seriously. Colorful books that showcase local subject matter — like the work of Colombian artist Ana Mercedes Hoyos — line Biblioteka’s walls, and the hotel recently launched a series of literary programs centered on Cartagena’s history. Sit for a spell in Colombian Corner and read about the area while sipping complimentary Colombian coffee; listen to scheduled poetry readings beside the outdoor fire pit; imbibe at the weekly Libros y Licor book club; or embark on a historian-led literary immersion walking tour through Nobel Prize–winning author Gabriel García Márquez’s world. Sights on the journey include the university where Márquez began to write, and the colonial-era homes that provided the setting for his beloved novel Love in the Time of Cholera.

3. Library Hotel: New York City

We promise we are not making this up: New York’s Library Hotel organizes its rooms and floors by the Dewey Decimal system. Each floor represents one of Melvil Dewey’s 10 classifications, and each room is a topic — décor and all. With 50 to 150 hardcover, theme-specific books to a room, your stay could turn you into an expert on a surprising subject. Find your inner Don Draper in room 600.001 (category: Technology, topic: Advertising). Request room 800.005 (category: Literature, topic: Fairy Tales) for a romantic rendezvous with your Prince or Princess Charming. There are plenty of places to read, including the lush, plant-filled rooftop terrace, with views of the New York Public Library. Book lovers won’t leave empty-handed, either: At check-in, every guest can select a free advance reader’s edition from Simon & Schuster. Prefer your e-reader? Download best-selling e-books gratis using Simon & Schuster’s Foli app.

4. The Library at Hotel Emma: San Antonio, Texas

Emma-Hotel-Library-Room.jpg?mtime=20190425143019#asset:105617(Courtesy Hotel Emma)

You’ll feel as though you’re starring in The Favourite — minus the book-throwing — when you luxuriate in the burgundy club chairs underneath the stately iron-and-wood-plank staircase inside Hotel Emma’s two-story library. Each of the towering space’s 3,700 volumes were handpicked by local novelist and anthropologist Sherry Kafka Wagner, co-creator of the San Antonio River Walk, from her personal library. The result of her mission is an eclectic, cerebral collection with a Southern twang, from William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying to recipe books to an oral history of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The diversity, she once said, “allows people to find themselves.” Once you’ve located your perfect-bound soul mate, visit the concierge to borrow it on the honor system.

5. The Library at Baker’s Cay Resort: Key Largo, Florida


(Courtesy Hotel Emma)

The sleek midcentury-modern library inside brand-new Baker’s Cay Resort is nice, sure. But the real draw for book lovers is the sandy outdoor path that connects to shaded spots, beach areas, and hammocks, a feature that pairs perfectly with the resort’s collection of classic paperbacks, many with nautical themes, including Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. The combination is ideal for fulfilling that idyllic Florida Keys fantasy of dozing on and off while swaying in the breeze, a good book in hand. Hemingway would approve.

6. Heathman Library at The Heathman Hotel: Portland, Oregon

Fans of erotic novels might know The Heathman Hotel for its prominent role in E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, but its library spans multiple genres. Fresh off a recent renovation and topped with a crystal chandelier, the two-story wood-paneled Heathman Library holds 3,000-plus books signed by their authors, including Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize winners, U.S. Poet Laureates, and former U.S. president Jimmy Carter. Intended to serve as a modern-day European salon, the space hosts a reservation-only Russian Tea Experience on Saturdays, as well as author readings. And, yes, several E.L. James–signed copies of Fifty Shades are on the shelves.

7. The Library at E.B. Morgan House: Aurora, New York

This opulent Finger Lakes retreat — an 1833 stone mansion once home to a co-founder of the New York Times — combines history and nostalgia within the walls of its coral-hued library, replete with original marble fireplace. True to E.B. Morgan House’s history as a dormitory for students studying French at nearby Wells College, the collection features French language and art books as a tribute. Many of the mansion’s other reads are from the personal library of Pleasant Rowland, founder of the American Girl books and dolls, who owns the property. Look for hidden inscriptions: A number of the books were gifted to Rowland by their authors.

8. Marina Village at Oil Nut Bay: Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands

Opening this spring in the BVIs’ North Sound, the Marina Village at Oil Nut Bay eco-resort has a market, boutique shopping, and a coffee shop, but, more importantly, a Caribbean-themed library curated by Ultimate Library, a company staffed by book experts who create bespoke libraries for design-forward hotels around the world. Reaching beyond the resort’s boundaries, Oil Nut Bay and Ultimate Library donated an entire library to local Robinson O’Neal Memorial Primary School, which was devastated after Hurricane Irma.

Plan Your Next Getaway
Keep reading
Budget Travel Lists

Travel News: 10 Cheap Flights for Summer, Best Hotel Chains for Free Wi-Fi, and the Airline Passenger Who Tried to Fly Nude (Really)

This week’s travel news is mostly about know-how, sharing insider tips for low airfares and free hotel Wi-Fi. But we couldn’t resist reporting one really excellent example of how not to board an airplane. 10 Cheap Flights for Summer We’re approaching the sweet spot for booking summer airfares, and our friends at Skyscanner.com, the global travel search engine, have crunched data from more than 60 million monthly users to identify the top trending domestic summer destinations and to deliver incredible airfare deals to each one (airfares are, of course, always subject to change): Chicago to Las Vegas: $122 New York to Orlando: $162 Boston to Fort Lauderdale: $243 Chicago to Dallas: $115 Miami to New Orleans: $174 Los Angeles to San Diego: $231 Los Angeles to Honolulu: $408 Chicago to Phoenix: $221 New York to San Juan, Puerto Rico: $374 Los Angeles to Austin: $97 Best Hotel Chains for Free Wi-Fi You don’t want to pay for hotel Wi-Fi, do you? But you would also prefer that your free Wi-Fi is high-speed, right? A new report from HighSpeedInternet.com ranks the top 20 U.S. hotel chains (based on number of locations) for the fastest free Wi-Fi plans. Rodeway Inn tops the list with a free Wi-Fi speed of 7.66 Mbps. Runners-up are Americas Best Value Inn (5.91 Mbps), Quality Inn & Suites (5.91 Mbps), Super 8 (4.87 Mbps), and Days Inn (4.79 Mbps). But remember to observe appropriate security procedures when you are logging in to hotel Wi-Fi. The Airline Passenger Who Tried to Fly Nude (Really) The Moscow Times reports that a man attempted to board a Ural Airlines flight to Crimea while stark naked. He reportedly passed through security at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport clothed, but stripped before approaching the boarding gate, telling at least one witness that he was more “aerodynamic” in the buff. The man was detained by airport personnel and brought to a hospital for evaluation.

Budget Travel Lists

7 Things to Do in Staten Island, New York

(Ymgerman/Dreamstime) Staten Island is commonly referred to as New York's "overlooked" borough, often drawing visitors who are primarily interested in the scenic free ferry ride, which departs every 30 minutes from the ferry terminal in lower Manhattan and provides superior photo opportunities of lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. We, however, see it more as a local gem, a bastion of incredible Sri Lankan food, which is hard to come by in the other boroughs, small cultural centers and museums, and more green space than anywhere else in New York City. We rounded up a few things to do when you spend a day on this urban island. 1. A Warm Welcome (Manon Ringuette/Dreamstime) Like so many other places in New York City, St. George, the neighborhood that starts at the ferry terminal, is in the throes of a massive building boom. The core of the project is Empire Outlets, a sweeping mall with many familiar designer stores. With its direct sightline to the Financial District, the terminal area is also the site of Postcards (pictured above), a poignant 9/11 memorial that was completed in 2004. The names of 263 Staten Islanders who were killed in the 9/11 attack and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing are marked on individual profile silhouettes built into the flat white freestanding cement walls that stretch into the sky, designed to look like postcards blowing in the wind, carrying messages to loved ones. An adjacent memorial pays tribute to the 73 local first responders who died in the aftermath. The ferry terminal is an easy walk to the waterfront Richmond County Bank Ballpark, home of the Staten Island Yankees, the New York Yankees’ minor league team. Tickets to games where you just might spot tomorrow’s MVP start around $12, view of the Manhattan skyline included. 2. Sri Lankan Nation Marked by a mural of majestic elephants along the side of the building, Lakruwana, a Sri Lankan restaurant (lakruwana.com) about a mile from the ferry terminal (a lovely waterside walk) feels like it was transplanted from the Sri Lankan countryside. And in a way, it is. Owner and expat Lakruwana Wijesinghe went to his homeland to buy nearly everything to design the restaurant, from the bamboo-and-stone-wall panels to the ornate wood door and Buddha statues, not to mention the clay pots and water cups. Lakruwana met his wife, Jayantha, on the Staten Island ferry and they run the business together: He oversees the front of the house and she helms the kitchen, turning out dishes defined by curry paste, mustard seed, ginger, coriander, and cumin. Weekend brunch is a buffet that presents a spectrum of flavors and heat. Regardless of what day you visit, though, order the signature lampreis from the menu. This banana-leaf-wrapped mixture of curried rice, eggplant, bananas, and soft cashews is so aromatic that the smell will linger in your mind for days. Lakruwana is one of several Sri Lankan restaurants on Staten Island, which is home to about 5,000 Sri Lankans, the largest population outside the South Asian country. There are more eateries nearby, sitting alongside markets that sell coconut vinegar, banana blossoms and other imported goods. There's also the Sri Lankan Arts & Cultural Museum (srilankanmuseny.org), a compact space down the street from Lakruwana showcasing masks, furniture, statues, and more, founded and run by the Wijesinghes' daughter. The community as a whole is so distinctive that Anthony Bourdain delved into it on his show No Reservations. 3. See a Show in a Historic Theater (or Just Take a Tour) In 1929, as Herbert Hoover moved into the White House, Popeye made his comic strip debut, Ernest Hemingway published A Farewell to Arms, and Picasso and Dali were painting their masterpieces. Despite the devastating stock-market crash, it was a big year for the arts, and New York was no exception. Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art opened to the public, and further south across the water, the St. George Theatre (stgeorgetheatre.com) became a glamorous destination with an ornate interior and domed ceiling, designed by Nestor Castro, who was responsible for the interiors of many Times Square theaters. Films and live vaudeville shows drew crowds until Vaudeville fell out of fashion, but it remained a movie house through the 1970s, when it ultimately fell into disrepair. After a local initiative, however, it was restored to its over-the-top baroque glory, complete with velvet seats, a stained-glass chandelier, tiled fountains, and much more. It reopened in 2004, and today it hosts first-run movies, art films, and national touring acts. Everyone from Diana Ross to Lee Ann Womack to the Jonas Brothers have graced the stage. Tours of this architectural tour de force are available by appointment. 4. Staten Island Beer Takes the Spotlight These days it seems like it’s hard to go more than a few miles in any given urban landscape without coming across a brewery, and Staten Island is no exception. Flagship Brewing Company (flagshipbrewery.nyc), for one, offers $5 brewery tours on Saturdays,tasting flight included, and the taproom is open Tuesdays through Sundays. With barrels holding up the bar, communal tables, and a taxidermied deer watching the scene like a sentinel, its warm vibe is hard to resist. In 2017, a group of homebrewers opened Kills Boro Brewing Co. (killsboro.com) in the back of Craft House, a barbecue restaurant that was already known for its extensive craft-beer menu. Since its launch, Kills Boro has made a name for itself with creative beers, like Midnight Snack, an oatmeal porter conditioned on toasted coconut, and the Gimme Gimme Kiwi Strawberry, a sour ale with kiwi, strawberry, and vanilla beans. A broad window affords guests a view of the grand copper kettles and the brewing process in action. 5. Explore the Parks of the "Greenest Borough" (Tanyabird777/Dreamstime) Staten Island has more green space than any other borough in New York, with 9,300 acres of federal, state, and city parkland. Running and biking trails, tranquil ponds, playgrounds, promenades, meadows, beaches, and even a historic fort can be found throughout. The roster is too extensive to list, but if you only have a day, your best bet is to hit Snug Harbor Cultural Center (snug-harbor.org), which was founded in 1831 when a Manhattan hospital for aged Marines relocated here. Today, the 83-acre park is home to five landmark Greek Revival buildings that house galleries featuring modern and historical art exhibits, as well as the Staten Island Children’s Museum and the lush Staten Island Botanical Garden. As further proof of why Staten Island is referred to as the greenest borough, consider Snug Harbor’s 2.5-acre heirloom heritage farm, which supplies high-end Manhattan restaurants like Per Se and sells its bounty to locals at a weekly seasonal farm stand. 6. To the Lighthouse Before digital navigation tools were the norm, the Lighthouse Depot Administrative Building was the center of operations for American lighthouses and headquarters for equipment and supplies. The circa-1869 building, located by the St. George Ferry Terminal, is now home to the National Lighthouse Museum (lighthousemuseum.org), where displays detail the history of these architectural marvels and the key players in along the way, including George Washington, who signed an act that put lighthouses under federal control. Don’t miss the tremendous glass-egg-like light-reflective lens that lighthouse keepers needed to clean constantly. While light bulbs and LED lights play a big role in guiding boats in modern times, these feats of physics are still in use today. 7. Visit a Treasure Trove of Himalayan Art From the front, the modest house that sits at the top of Lighthouse Hill overlooking Staten Island’s north shore doesn’t look like much. There’s a stone wall that extends around the property. Its simple appearance belies the rich story of its beginnings. Jacques Marchais, an Ohio native who came to New York in the 1920s in the hopes of becoming an actress, was part-socialite, part-eccentric, and part-art-collector. She was, as the story goes, a fiery independent spirit and her home was being built in the 1930s, she would pick up the architect in her big, fancy car and drive through the island to gather stones, which were used to construct the wall. Her home which is designed like a Tibetan monastery, is the first example of Himalayan style architecture in the United States. But it only hints at her all-consuming obsession with Himalayan and Tibetan art, and while she never traveled to the far east, she accumulated one of the earliest collection of art from the region. It’s all on display at the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art (tibetanmuseum.org), which she opened as a gallery in 1938 to showcase her extensive assortment of artwork, carved wood furniture, statues, and sculptures. Today, the two-building museum is the largest collection of Himalayan art in the United States. It’s a tranquil spot and a gorgeous refuge, especially in the warmer months when you can sit outside on the monastery-style patio that Jacques designed. It overlooks a pond and a landscape dense with blossoming trees.

Budget Travel Lists

8 Excellent American Wine Regions You Need to Know

Sure, Napa and Sonoma are America’s best-known (and most highly visited) wine-producing regions—but the Golden State isn’t the only place to seek out spectacular juice. Serious winemaking aimed at your swirling and sipping scrutiny is happening all over the United States. And while some of these spots might be better known for, say, potatoes, barbecue, or chili peppers, it might surprise you to learn that they're home to bountiful vineyards. Here are eight great wine-producing regions where passionate winemakers and the resulting liquid of the gods are well worth the trek. 1. Snake River Valley, Idaho About a half-hour’s drive from bustling Boise, Idaho’s Snake River Valley wine region in the southwestern Idaho has become a popular spot to set down vines due to its rich volcanic soil. (Fun fact: Idaho has several active, sleeping volcanoes, best observed in the 53,500 acres of hardened, basaltic lava flow fields and volcanic formations of Craters of the Moon national park.) Don’t miss Huston Vineyards (hustonvineyards.com), in Caldwell, where the floral-and-plum perfumed malbec is a stand-out. But if you’re looking for a tasting room with a view, about three miles south, the bright, zippy Riesling from Ste. Chappelle Winery (stechapelle.com) is nearly as refreshing as the breezes atop Winery Hill, which delivers sweeping vistas of the vineyards and the rolling Snake River below. 2. Southeastern New Hampshire Just over the Massachusetts border on the southeastern side of the Granite state lies the highest concentration of New Hampshire’s 25—and counting—wineries, known for everything from traditional wine-grape varieties to thoughtful takes on orchard and berry fruit-based wines and ciders. Make your base camp in pretty Portsmouth (a good choice is the boutique circa-1881 charm of the Hotel Portsmouth near Market Square), and head out to LaBelle Winery (labellewinerynh.com) in nearby Amherst, where owner Amy LaBelle takes wine and food pairing seriously at her three-acre winery and bistro. Another must-visit is Flag Hill Winery and Distillery (flaghill.com), which sources its grapes (and grains) from its 100-acre-plus estate. 3. Albuquerque, New Mexico Spanish priests planted grapes in New Mexican soil a solid century and change before they hit California, but it wasn’t until a French Champagne maker named Gilbert Gruet set down vines near Albuquerque in the mid-'80s that New Mexico caught the attention of the wine cognoscenti. Grapevines like to struggle a bit, and the arid, sunny, super high-altitude terrain of New Mexico has made it one of the best spots for sparkling, as evidenced by Gruet’s national success. Now, nearly 40 years later, nearby newcomers like Sheehan Winery (sheehanwinery.com) are broadening the playing field with reds that offer the kind of deep, inky extraction that any Napa cab fan would love. 4. Eastern Long Island This 100-mile skinny strip of land might be famed for its Hamptons glitz, but the 209 square miles of vineyards split between the island’s North and South Forks (liwines.com) offer spectacular sipping with seaside views of the Atlantic and Long Island Sound. Although the area is best known for its way with the mighty merlot grape, it’s nearly impossible to resist the summery allure of rose here. Producers like Wolffer Estate Vineyard (wolffer.com) and Kontokosta (kontokostawinery.com) provide two of the most beautiful tasting rooms with sigh-worthy views (the former of their vast acreage of manicured vines; the latter of the Long Island Sound), but grabbing a stool at an intimate spot like Peconic Cellar Door (peconiccellardoor.com) will likely afford you a one-on-one with owner-winemakers Robin Epperson-McCarthy of Saltbird Cellars and Allie Shaper of As/If Wines and Brooklyn Oenology. (Do not miss her skin-fermented white, “Broken Land,” made from gewürztraminer and pinot gris.) 5. Central Vermont The deeper you get into Vermont, the more you’ll notice something is missing: billboards. There are none, because the state banned them along roadsides. All you see for hours on end are towering hemlock, pine, and ash trees. This verdant landscape is also home to some exciting pioneer-driven winemaking, like La Garagista (lagaragista.com), owned by grape-whisperer and winemaker Deirdre Heekin. Heekin and HER husband, Caleb Barber, grow and work exclusively with French-American hybrid grapes (a combo of traditional European grapes, like cabernet sauvignon, and native American varieties), which they’ve dubbed alpine wines for the cold climate the grapes endure here, a mere 160 miles south of Montreal. Lincoln Peak (lincolnpeakvineyard.com) in New Haven and Shelburne Vineyard in Shelburne, both nearby, are also worth the visit. And make sure to nab a copy of the Vermont Cheese Trail map, which includes nearly 50 artisan cheesemakers, for stops in between. 6. Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan Courtesy L. Mawby Vineyards/Michael PoehlmanThe 20-plus wineries on the Leelanau Peninsula, a broad, ragged land mass jutting into Lake Michigan, are part of the oldest wine trail in the state (lpwines.com), formed in the early 1980s, where whites and sparkling wines are the order of the day. For the latter, a must is L. Mawby Vineyards (lmowby.com), where owner Larry Mawby is as well known for his irreverent wine names as he is for the excellent bubbles within the bottles. Sitting at one of the highest points in the area is Rove Estate (roveestate.com), where winemaker and owner Creighton Gallagher focuses mostly on aromatic white grape varieties like gewürztraminer and pinot gris, but his elegant cool-climate reds aren’t to be overlooked. 7. Hill Country, Texas (Courtesy Texas Hill Country Wineries)When European grape varieties were nearly wiped out by a nasty vineyard pest in the late 1800s, it was Texas rootstock that saved the day, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that Texas wine started to find its groove. With the sweet little German-influenced town of Fredericksburg at its heart, the Hill Country wine region (texaswinetrail.com) is home to heat-loving grapes like Viognier, Marsanne, Tannat, and Mourvedre, which thrive in the loamy-clay soils of the Edwards Plateau. Stand-out spots: Pedernales (pedernalescellars.com) winemaker and co-owner David Kulkhen makes kick-ass Tempranillo (and hey, you’re in the heart of barbecue country here—what grows together, goes together), and newbie Southold Farm & Cellar’s modern tasting room mirrors the forward-thinking sensibilities of talented winemaker Regan Meader, especially in his petillant natural-style sangiovese or his grape skin–fermented picpoul. 8. Northwestern New Jersey It’s not called the Garden State for nothing, and yet New Jersey may be one of the most under-the-radar wine spots on the eastern seaboard. The wineries of the neighboring Hunterdon and Warren Hills AVAs may be among those poised to change that, though. Producers like Alba Vineyards in Milford are showing finesse with pinot noir and chardonnay, and Beneduce Vineyards in Pittstown has made its mark with aromatic varieties like gewürztraminer.

Budget Travel Lists

Visiting Mexico: 8 Things Every Traveler Should Know

Mexico has topped many news feeds lately. But this is not a political story. Rather, it’s a story about the abundant reasons why Mexico should top many travelers’ to-do lists. For starters, Mexico is vast—its land measures about the same as the western third of the continental U.S. It’s comprised of 32 states (one of which is Mexico City, technically a “federal entity” not a state); and just like each American state, each one has its own character and landmarks. As many visitors already know, Mexico is home to incredible beaches and resorts. But its cities rival those gorgeous recreational hotspots, thanks to rich urban culture, unforgettable gastronomy, iconic architecture, public markets, verdant parks, and more. Mexico’s diverse landscapes stretch from high plains of the Sierra Madre mountain system, to the shores of the Pacific Ocean and Gulf of Mexico/Caribbean Sea. Within those terrains is heritage so deep it’s considered one of the world’s five “cradles of civilization,” dating back to 8000 B.C. Over those pre-European millennia, the advanced cultures of Mesoamerica, including the Maya, Aztec, and Teotihuacan, built cities whose pyramids and other marvelous structures still stand today. The choices for how best to enjoy Mexico’s diverse destinations are plentiful, and entirely up to your travel predilections. But as you plan your visit, here are a few tips to keep in mind for a vacation that’s truly magnifico. 1. Arriving in Mexico Major airports are usually seamless for international arrivals, and even easier for domestic travel. Generally, customs lines in cities like Cancun and Puerto Vallarta move quickly; while in Mexico City, they’re fast and almost exclusively employ electronic kiosks for foreign arrivals to scan passports (and fingerprints, just like foreign travelers arriving in the U.S.). The most important thing to know is that, as a visitor, a Mexican customs agent will stamp your passport and return it to you with a thin slip of paper called a “tourist permit.” You won’t need it every day of your stay, but it’s required to exit Mexico. The smart move is to keep it tucked into your passport, which should then be tucked away in your hotel safe or other secure spot, so that it’s ready for your airline to collect prior to boarding your departure flight. If you lose it, expect to pay a fine. 2. Currency The exchange rate for pesos remains favorable for most currencies, around five U.S. cents for one peso. It’s probably one of the best reasons to visit Mexico. Yet many businesses accept the U.S. dollar. Resist the temptation to pay with dollars either in cash or credit card, since it’s almost certainly a less-favorable exchange rate. Upon arrival in Mexico, just hit a bank’s ATM to withdraw pesos; then traverse the city with only the amount you might need, leaving the rest in your hotel safe. (And FYI, the symbol for pesos is “MXN$”—not a unique peso symbol. Yes it’s confusing, but now you know!) 3. Affordable Mexico Overall, traveling in Mexico is pleasantly inexpensive for international visitors. There are so many ways to eat well and pay little, from cafés to markets to polished restaurants. Affordability also applies to independent shops selling handmade goods, museums, taxis and transit, and hotels (whether boutique or global chains). On the other hand, there are plenty of worthwhile places to splurge, including world-class restaurants and luxury lodging. The smart move is simply to figure out your total trip budget, then plan how best to divvy up and maximize your peso spending. 4. Travelers’ Safety View of Santa Prisca church in Taxco, Mexico (Ulita/Dreamstime) Sensational news might have you imagining that the whole of Mexico is a dangerous jungle. Such rich storytelling abounds, and it is unfortunate. Because if we’re generalizing, it should be about how wonderfully warm, friendly, and decidedly civilized Mexico and its people are. In terms of real safety, however, we should wisely apply the same level of caution towards a trip here that we would for any other locale. Stick to the usual safety rules: Be alert; don’t walk around with flashy valuables; carry only the cash and cards you’ll need; politely decline street hawkers; and stick to well-lit, well-traveled areas. 5. Food & Drink There is one stereotype about Mexico that tends to ring true: Don’t drink the water. Public tap water isn’t filtered to a degree that’s safe for most people to consume. So only drink, cook, wash food, and brush your teeth with bottled water. Avoid salads and street food that’s raw and possibly washed with tap water, and if you’re ordering a delicious juice from a store or vendor, watch closely that if any water is added, it’s from a bottle (preferably one you’ve seen and heard opened), not a pitcher. The exception is if you’re at a reliable resort or hotel with its own water-filtration system—those are consistently effective and safe. Plus guaranteed-filtered water is a far more eco-friendly way to stay hydrated than overusing little plastic bottles. As for street food or those other delicious antojitos (aka snacks, which include tacos, tortas, and tostados), don’t be shy—enjoy them, because they’re usually delicioso. Just look for stands that appear popular with diners, avoid consuming anything raw/washed (no lettuce; but squeezable limes and salsas are usually fine), and be sure the meat or veggie filling has been fully grilled. 6. Spanish vs. English You’ll find that in most hotels and fine restaurants, English is commonly spoken. But it’s worth the smiles you’ll get to practice even basic Spanish with Mexican folks, from taxi drivers and museum clerks; to hotel workers and bartenders. In fact, English isn’t so common that you’ll have a choice—so keep your translation app or Spanish dictionary handy. 7. Traffic Along with being a huge country geographically, Mexico also has a massive population of about 130 million, making it the world’s 10th-largest nation. And sometimes, when you’re stuck in traffic, you’ll feel like every last one of them is in a vehicle heading the same direction as you. In this situation, remember two things: Traffic here always seems to steadily creep along, and you will get there eventually. So budget extra travel time to ensure punctuality for reservations. Hot tip: If you’re in a city with Uber (which is increasingly common in Mexico), use it instead of a regular cab. That way you’ll ride at a pre-set rate, rather than on a taxi meter that keeps clicking up even in slow traffic. 8. What to Wear Relax on the beaches in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. (Lunamarina/Dreamstime) While coastal areas are sure to be warm even in winter, on the high plains, you’ll need to pack for the actual season. After all, Mexico City, Guadalajara, Oaxaca, and many other major (non-coastal) cities are thousands of feet high in elevation, making it plenty chilly, especially at night. So wear layers, and don’t forget to pack your jacket.