For as long as I can remember, whenever people would talk about Mexico someone would inevitably say something like, “Don’t drink the water.”
The question is, is this still the case? After so many years is it still unwise to risk drinking the water out of the tap in Mexico or is it as safe as it would be in Anytown, USA?
Since Mexico is a very large country, it’s impossible to give you definitive answers that would apply to all parts of Mexico. In many areas, it is perfectly safe to drink the water out of the tap (unfiltered) but if you travel a short distance away, you might not want to risk it.
The difference is due to the delivery method, which ranges from pipes to water trucks, as well as the presence of additional water treatment systems. So, the answer to whether or not it is safe to drink the water is usually it depends.
What the Locals Say
The majority of the Mexican population, about 80% according to the World Bank, distrust the water systems in Mexico. This lack of confidence in the quality of the tap water makes bottled water the preferred option for most locals. In fact, Mexico consumes more bottled water per capita than any other country on Earth.
Just knowing this should cause a prudent person to lean toward the better-safe-than-sorry approach when it comes to consuming water in Mexico.
General Advice for Water Consumption
1. Follow the advice of the hotel or resort. If they don’t specifically tell you that the water is safe to drink, make sure you use bottled water for drinking, making coffee and brushing your teeth.
2. Outside of the hotel, ask if the ice is made with purified water or get your drinks without ice. Many restaurants/bars have prepackaged ice delivered to the establishment. If you see that, it’s a good sign.
3. If you don’t trust the water source at an establishment, avoid eating uncooked food (e.g. salad).
4. When in doubt, stick to bottled drinks like water, soft drinks or my personal favorite — beer.
Let’s Wrap This Up
In case you were wondering, neither of us has ever gotten sick from consuming the water in Mexico but I did in Colombia several years ago. I failed to follow the advice above and I contracted parasites from ice made with contaminated water.
The good news was that it was the first time that I could eat whatever I wanted and I still managed to lose 15 pounds. The bad news was that I spent an inordinate amount of my vacation touring the bathrooms of Bogotá. It was definitely an experience that I don’t ever wish to repeat.