How Much Spanish Should you know before your trip to Cabo?

So, how much Spanish do you really need to know when traveling in Mexico? From my experience, if you are staying in a tourist hot spot and you don’t know a single word in Spanish, you will be just fine on your vacation in Mexico. Most places frequented by tourists will have staff that knows enough English to get you everything that you need to have a wonderful vacation, and all of the important signage from road signs to menus will include an English translation. However, this is only the case for places heavily populated by tourists such as the airport, hotels, restaurants near tourist areas, etc. Once you go off the beaten path you are in the heart of Mexico where the locals speak the local language. If you want to immerse yourself in the local culture or haggle for a better price, speaking Spanish will open more doors for you. the handful of phrases I already know and maybe find a youtube video to teach me a few new ones.


International Love Language

I have never taken any Spanish lessons. In high school I took four years of French, and my college degree did not require a foreign language. So most of my Spanish has come from watching shows with subtitles, 25 years of listening to Spanglish in LA, and piecing together random phrases that are similar in Tagalog or French. Luckily for me, I’m staying in a resort popular with tourists from the US. So far everyone I have met speaks English, and maybe my sudden anxiety over being in a foreign country and not speaking the language was really just an overreaction. So that brings me to the most important question for someone who doesn’t have a lot of free time: “How much Spanish do I need to know in order to get by on my vacation in Mexico?”


In my experience at the airport, in the taxi, and at the hotel, you can get by with speaking only English. I used a couple of common phrases in Spanish including “¿habla Inglés?” or “Gracias”, but I have never had a situation where speaking Spanish was necessary. All of the signage was in Spanish and English, so finding baggage claim and ordering off of the menu was easy.


So when did I need my Spanish? Anytime I was off the beaten path. We love to just walk around the local area. Popping into the mom and pop shops, local haunts, and anything that looks interesting. Since these spots aren’t well-traveled by tourists, the shop owners don’t always speak English, or the little they do is broken and heavily accented. One thing that I’ve found in these stores is that negotiating prices at a store with no price tags always goes better if you speak the native tongue.


 Last time I was in Cabo we went to this small little gift shop to pick up some souvenirs to take home. There were no price tags, so there was a lot of “how much is it?” or “¿Cuánto cuesta?” When I asked in English the answer was $50 USD. When my friend asked in fluent Spanish, the answer given was 600 pesos or the equivalent of $30 USD. Clearly speaking the language gave her more bargaining power.



She also made the effort to talk to our cab drivers in Spanish, often gleaning tips on restaurants that the locals love, free activities, and can’t miss local events. These were not places we would have found at the brochure stand at the hotel. These are places that are run by locals for the enjoyment of locals. I love going to places like this because it really shows what it’s like to live in the city. These less touristy places tend to have the best food at a lower cost, and they really showcase the culture of the city. I like to say that it lets you feel the pulse of the city, not just the glitz and glam of the tourist shops, but the true heartbeat of the people that live there.


So, how much Spanish do you really need to know when traveling in Mexico? From my experience, if you are staying in a tourist hot spot and you don’t know a single word in Spanish, you will be just fine on your vacation in Mexico. Most places frequented by tourists will have staff that know enough English to get you everything that you need to have a wonderful vacation, and all of the important signage from road signs to menus will include an English translation. However, this is only the case for places heavily populated by tourists such as the airport, hotels, restaurants near tourist areas, etc. Once you go off the beaten path you are in the heart of Mexico where the locals speak the local language. If you want to immerse yourself in the local culture or haggle for a better price, speaking Spanish will open more doors for you. 


If your version of a perfect vacation is sitting by the pool drinking beer, then you are all set for your vacation. But if you would prefer to explore the town in search of the freshest seafood and warmest tortillas, then you might want to take some time to brush up on your Spanish before your trip.


¡Viva México! Orale que viva!

Here are some go-to Spanish phrases:


Where is: ¿Dónde está


Where is the bathroom: ¿Dónde está el baño?


Do you speak English: ¿Hablas inglés?


Can you help me?: ¿Me podría ayudar?


Excuse me: ¿Permiso? / Disculpe / Con permiso


I'm lost: Estoy perdido


How much does it cost: ¿Cuánto cuesta?


I don't understand: Yo no entiendo


I'd like a menu, please: Yo quiero un menu, por favor


What do you recommend?: ¿Qué me recomienda?


Good morning: ¡Buenos días!


Good afternoon: ¡Buenas tardes!


Good night: ¡Buenas noches!


By Emily Viggers

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