Where to go in Mexico
January 6, 2014 6:25 PM   Subscribe

Of the following places, which is the least touristy? By this I mostly mean, most likely not to encounter English speakers, thus forcing me to speak Spanish. Guadalajara * Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo * Loreto * Los Cabos * Manzanillo/Costa Alegre * Mazatlan * Mexico City * Puerto Vallarta/Riviera Nayarit
posted by falsedmitri to Travel & Transportation around Mexico (18 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Not Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta, or Ixtapa. Lots of tourism in those places and service staff mostly speak very good English, though in my experience they're usually more than happy to indulge you in Spanish practice.

In Mexico City, most people don't seem to speak English and it is assumed that business will be conducted in Spanish. Guadalajara is probably the same, though I haven't been there.
posted by chrchr at 6:33 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've been to Guadalajara, and it's pretty light on the English speakers. My husband and I were able to make do with our very rudimentary Spanish, but it was challenging at times. It's an absolutely lovely city and I highly recommend it.
posted by Fig at 6:39 PM on January 6, 2014

Mexico City and Guadalajara will challenge your Spanish skills to a much greater degree.
posted by quince at 6:44 PM on January 6, 2014

I have been to all of those places, and you will find English speakers at all of them. The question is, how much can you commit to speaking only Spanish, even when people address you in English?
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:48 PM on January 6, 2014

Loreto definitely has lots of English speakers, but in my experience they'll gladly deal with you in Spanish if that's how you begin the interaction. Mexico City would be a much better bet for an immersion-type experience.
posted by ambrosia at 6:52 PM on January 6, 2014

Hands down, Guadalajara and Mexico City.
posted by eldvno at 7:00 PM on January 6, 2014

Not on your list, but Oaxaca City is beautiful, and touristy, but it's where Mexicans go, so some English, but not much. When I went years ago, it was very definitely mostly Spanish-speaking.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 7:09 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding that you will find a lot of English speakers in Puerto Vallarta. Since most of the people working in hospitality there speak English and Spanish, it would take concerted effort on your part to stick with Spanish in daily interactions.
posted by thewestinggame at 7:11 PM on January 6, 2014

Seconding Oaxaca. I was just there a few weeks ago and English speakers were rare, even in hotels and restaurants, so you will starve to death and have nowhere to lay your head without some basic Spanish conversation. Consider it along with Mexico City and Guadalajara. (Between Oaxaca and Mexico D.F. I think D.F. is more interesting to visit).
posted by chrchr at 7:23 PM on January 6, 2014

On our drive from PV to Manzanillo we came to a little beach town called Barra de Navidad. It's been 5-10 years since I went but there weren't many Spanish speakers at the time. I barely speak Spanish but was with a fluent speaker and she did almost all the talking.

We ended up staying in a little beach hotel in Barra de Navidad for three or four days instead of continuing on to Manzanillo, but we did take a day trip there and there are a lot of little beach towns in the area with almost no tourists.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:29 PM on January 6, 2014

I studied Spanish in Guadalajara in 2004 and only heard other exchange students at my university speaking English. It's probably the least touristy place on your list, though I often wished I had picked a more scenic city. I lived on the western end of Guadalajara toward Zapopan, and it was like a weird version of suburban America (Walmart, Sam's Club, 7-11s, gigantic luxury shopping mall, absolutely pedestrian unfriendly intersections, etc.). I'm sure there are cooler parts of town to live in - I didn't do too much exploring beyond my half-dozen tried and true city bus routes.

Barra de Navidad and Melaque were lovely beach excursions from Guadalajara, too.
posted by Maarika at 7:58 PM on January 6, 2014

Small world! I was also going to mention Barra de Navidad if you want a small beach town. This was 14 years ago, but Guadalajara, Oaxaca, and Mexico City also challenged my Spanish more than Mazatlan. You will find English speakers in any of the bigger cities, of course, especially in the hotels, but usually you have to initiate the English interaction there more than the tourist towns.

I would second the recommendation for Oaxaca, btw. It's just very charming and very different from your usual North American urban experience. It's definitely smaller and sleepier, but it had a stronger indigenous presence that I found very interesting, and the food was just really good. I liked Guadalajara and there was a lot of wonderful things to do there, as there is in any large city, but Mexico City was just really awesome and is the city I would return to first. (Like comparing Chicago to New York--Chicago is definitely a great city, but it is also definitely a second city.)
posted by elizeh at 7:58 PM on January 6, 2014

I second Barra de Navidad. Melaque to the north has lots of snowbirds from Canada and the US. Another nice town north of Barra is La Manzanillo.
posted by OkTwigs at 8:02 PM on January 6, 2014

Yeah, a fair number of English-speakers in Zihua.

Interesting thing, though - once folks nail you as a Spanish-speaker, they'll likely stick with Spanish. That was my experience, anyway.
posted by jquinby at 8:07 PM on January 6, 2014

Manzanillo seems to be more of a destination for Mexican tourists rather than international ones, and yes, you can expect some folk in obvious touristy situations (e.g., some hotel staff and maybe some hawkers on beaches) to speak English, but it's definitely not a huge area of English speakers. In my too-many hours spent hanging around with folks waiting at the immigration office in Manzanillo, most snowbird expats in the area seem to reside north in Melaque and Barra de Navidad (I think the expat population has been growing there), and typically only during winter. In my many trips there, I barely recall seeing any obvious non-Mexicans at the beaches, the city centre, or the zona dorada (the main touristy area). It's certainly not at all like Mazatlan that very heavily caters for tourists/snowbirds from the North (and would suggest you avoid for this reason).

I'll confirm that Guadalajara isn't exactly heavy on the English speakers, but it does play host to more foreign visitors as a cultural and business capital, as well as lots of folks passing through immersion and TESOL schools. In my experience, as long as you're outside of the obvious ex-pat communities in both Guadalajara and Manzanillo, you're going to have to use Spanish, outside of counter staff at a hotel.

I'll second jquinby's experience, though: I met very few people that were eager to speak to me in English when they knew that I spoke Spanish, even those that were apparently quite well-studied in it. In fact, I can barely remember any occasion in which people in Manzanillo or Guadalajara would attempt to first speak in English with me (I'm quite obviously non-native).
posted by bunyip at 8:57 PM on January 6, 2014

I agree with everyone that Guadalajara and Mexico City are your best choices, and that Cabo is your worst.

But I respectfully disagree regarding Puerto Vallarta. The ugly hotel zone is certainly all gringo English, all the time. But if you frequent the small streets of the old town and the zone romantica then you'll find that people are more than happy to speak Spanish with you rather than English.
posted by kanewai at 3:02 AM on January 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I respectfully double disagree regarding Puerto Vallarta. I spent a week in Zona Romantica last November and loved it, of course. It's true that it's not overrun with North American tourists and you'll hear plenty of Spanish spoken. However, people in restaurants, bars, hotels, and shops there are usually bilingual fluent and address anglo-looking people in English. You will not be *forced* to interact in Spanish in Zona Romantica as you would in Mexico D.F. or Guadalajara or Oaxaca, where most people speak no English.
posted by chrchr at 9:02 PM on January 7, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses. I did talk to someone who said the Mazatlan has 2 very different sections: The touristy Zona Dorado and the not-so-touristy old town.
posted by falsedmitri at 3:21 AM on January 8, 2014

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