5 Simple Tips to Avoid Getting Montezuma’s Revenge While Traveling in Central America

Roadside toilet in Ecuador - Photo by Crissie Hardy
Roadside toilet in Ecuador – Photo by Crissie Hardy

We all kind of laugh when a friend says they went somewhere in Central America for vacation and found themselves with a bad case of diarrhea. After all, everybody knows you’re not supposed to drink the water in Central America, right? Well, as it turns out, not everybody understands the nuances of avoiding bad water. Nearly every town in Mexico and Central America has water that you cannot safely drink, so how do you avoid getting a case of the old Montezuma’s Revenge without buying bottled water everywhere you go? Follow these 5 simple tips.

#1. Don’t drink the water.

I know. It seems pretty simple, but just don’t do it. Even if you see other people drinking tap water, don’t do it. If everyone jumped off a cliff, or drank a bunch of microbes, would you do it too? Instead, since you’re in a land where exotic fruits grow all year long, order yourself a smoothie (mixed with milk, not water) or a fruit juice and really enjoy some of the local flavors.

#2. Carry a UV Sterilizer.

If you drink as much water as I do, that first tip sounds like a death sentence. I want to drink water! And I hate plastic bottled water waste so it used to kill me when I’d arrive in an airport without water and have to buy a bottle. Gah! Then I bought a SteriPEN water sterilizer. It’s a UV light wand that disinfects clear water. It is absolutely perfect for travel because it’s battery operated and about the size of a tube of sunscreen. I can fill up my reusable water bottle from any tap, purify it in about a minute, and be good to go. I can also order tap water (without ice, see #3) at a restaurant and sterilize it in the glass. Freeeeeedom!

#3. Order drinks without ice.

Even though a margarita or mojito can look really amazing on a hot beach day, go for a beer or better yet, a coconut water instead. Though this seems like a no-brainer, it’s easy to forget that when ice cubes melt, they turn into water. And if the ice cubes aren’t made from purified water, you’re gonna have a bad time. I’ve read that there are laws in Mexico that say all ice cubes must be made from purified water, but I don’t always have faith that these kinds of laws are being followed perfectly.

#4. Don’t brush your teeth with tap water.

This one is a little tricky because you have to break a habit you’re used to doing: rinsing your toothbrush and rinsing your mouth with water from the bathroom sink. Instead, use a glass of purified water to rinse your mouth, then spit or pour purified water onto your toothbrush to rinse. While I was traveling in Mexico and Central America for over 2 years, I could get away with rinsing only my toothbrush in tap water, then letting it dry between uses, but I can’t recommend that method, especially if you’re on vacation for a week. You really don’t have time to get sick if that method doesn’t work for you. But the same method goes for dish washing. If you’re going to be washing your dishes in tap water, be sure to let them dry completely before using them again.

#5. Don’t Eat Fruits & Vegetables You Can’t Peel Easily — or Soak them in a Veg Wash First

It is tempting to buy beautiful fresh fruits from street vendors when you need a snack — and please do! Just be sure to choose fruits that have thick skins, you know, the kind you can peel with your bare hands. Bananas, dragon fruits, and mandarine oranges are great examples. Avoid all apples, grapes, and other fruits that you would normally eat the peel. This also means avoiding salads and raw vegetables prepared in restaurants you don’t necessarily trust. This can be challenging for vegetarians and vegans whose menu options are already very limited. But if you carry a small bottle of vegetable wash (such as BacDyn and Microdyn) and you can soak your vegetables when you get back to your room or apartment.

BONUS TIP:

If you want to test your Spanish skills, learn the words for “purified water” (agua purificado) and also be sure to ask any server if the ice is made from purified water by saying, “el hielo, es hecho de agua purificado?” If they don’t know what you’re talking about, don’t order the water or a drink with ice in it.

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