Thirst and Foremost:
Is the Drinking Water Safe in Mexico?




Concerns about drinking water are so frequent--even among travelers with some experience of Mexico and Central America--that the issue deserves its own definitive answer. And that answer is, definitively, yes...and no.

So, What's the Problem?

Mexico is making strides in bringing clean(er) water to locations across the country, but it is saddled with a legacy infrastructure that would require enormous capital to bring up to date. Consequently, there are plenty of pueblitos in remote areas that will never run out of Coca Cola but are chronically parched for water. The situation is better in the cities, but there's still a long way to go. And as far as I can see, supplying truly hygienic drinking water is not on anyone's agenda.

Politics As Usual

Another dynamic that slows progress is the way in which public works in Mexico are all driven my politics. Candidates often run on promises of building or renovating parks, stadiums, roadways, water or electrical services. But the moment a rival politician comes into office (and by "rival" we don't necessarily mean a member of an opposing party), these projects begin to suffer the effects of what I now believe is a deliberate malign neglect. There's nothing like a disintegrating, highly visible public project to arouse scorn among the electorate for a rival politician.

Even in tony Puebla, the local water treatment plant broke down and will probably remain that way until the next election cycle when someone sees an opportunity to generate vote-winning political capital by fixing it up.

Pasame La Botella

So, the lesson here is: Only drink bottled water. Never drink "agua potable," which, believe it or not, does not mean potable water, unless by "potable" you mean: "if you drink this it probably won't kill you."

"Agua potable" in Mexico corresponds to what we in North America would call "grey water." It's fine for washing, showering, even brushing you teeth, but it is not drinking water.

The only water you should drink is bottled water, and this is applies equally to gringo tourists and the Mexican population as a whole.

The right tool for the right job! If you really want to be sure your water is safe, take along a portable water purifier. More reliable than tablets and without the clorine taste. The SteriPEN, for example, is a handheld "pen" that will purify 16 oz of water in 45 secs.

Restaurants

What about water served or used to wash produce in restaurants? Use you best judgment. In an upscale establishment that caters to foreign tourists, there should be no problem, but don't hesitate to ask. The small offense this may cause is small indeed compared to the agonies of the "tourista."

On the Street

The same applies to beverages served on the street, the famous "aguas de sabor" which deliciously keep millions in this hot dry, country happily hydrated. Here you do run a higher risk, but chances are you'll be alright. Remember, Mexicans themselves never drink undisinfected water.

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