Mexico Family Travel

22 Easy Basic Spanish Phrases for Travel in Mexico

December 27, 2023

When traveling to Mexico, understanding the language is important for getting around. As a Spanish speaking country, it’s not always guaranteed that locals will know how to speak your country’s language. That’s why knowing a few basic Spanish phrases for travel can go a long way toward helping you have a fun and stress-free vacation, especially if you're traveling with kids.

Our family has traveled extensively throughout Mexico, visiting eleven states in the country. And having an understanding of essential Spanish phrases has tremendously helped make our experiences in Mexico memorable and positive.

Our family walking in San Jose del Cabo (photo by Luis from Flytographer)

Spanish is spoken all throughout Mexico. And while some people at hotels, tour companies, and restaurants do speak English, it’s not always a given that you’ll have an English-speaker at your disposal, or any other language like French or Chinese.

You may find yourself having to ask for directions, make reservations at a hotel, or needing to order food in Spanish. Learning some Spanish before embarking on your family trip Mexico adventure will be extremely helpful.

This article was originally published on June 10, 2021.

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Top tips for learning Spanish

Want some quick tips for learning Spanish? Here are my top 3 recommendations for learning basic Spanish for travel in Mexico.

  1. Learn Spanish through movies and TV with Lingopie
  2. Grab a copy of the Easy Spanish Phrasebook
  3. Download my Basic Spanish Travel Phrases free pdf guide

Apps for language learning

If you're looking for an app to get started, the Duolingo app is helpful in introducing basic Spanish phrases for travel. Other apps you can download, such as Busuu and Lyrics Training, are also helpful for training your ear to hear Spanish words.

Sculptures for Dia de Muertos in Mexico City (photo by Astrid Vinje)

Duolingo and Lyrics Training are free, though they may require an email address to sign up. But you can pay for the premium account to access more tools. Busuu is a paid subscription, and offers opportunities to test out of a certain language level.

Another helpful app is Lingopie, which offers Spanish language tv shows and movies to help you learn Spanish through immersion. The app requires a paid subscription, but is packed with useful tools. Vocabulary words and transcripts accompany the video, and there are basic level videos geared towards kids too!

Read books to get familiar with basic Spanish phrases for travel

Reading is also a great way to learn a language. Pick up a Spanish language newspaper or a magazine, and read an article out loud. Translate words you don’t know. And then try to figure out the meaning of the article. 

Photo by Suad Kamarden

The Mexican government distributes their Mexican school textbooks for kids online. You can download a textbook and practice your Spanish that way.

Or better yet, buy a Mexican Spanish phrase book and read the phrases out loud. Reading aloud also helps you practice your pronunciation. Take a look at these Spanish phrase books and flash cards for helpful phrases for ordering food in Mexico.

Practice your basic Spanish phrases for travel on this 10 day Mexico itinerary.

The most useful basic Spanish phrases for travel

If you’re new to the Spanish language, don’t expect to be perfect at the language right away. Language learning takes time. However, you can start with the following essential phrases to help you get by on your travels in Mexico.

Sculpture in Playa del Carmen (photo by Astrid Vinje)

Whether you're traveling to the city of Guadalajara  in Jalisco, the town of San Miguel de Allende in Central Mexico, or the island of Cozumel in the Yucatán peninsula, having a basic understanding of Spanish will be extremely useful.

Basic Spanish phrases for travel: greetings

The following Spanish travel phrases are helpful for starting conversations with people.

1. Hola (hello) and hasta luego (see you later)

“Hello” and “see you later” are useful basic Spanish phrases for travel. You’ll use them every time you meet someone new. Hola is the standard greeting for “hello.”

Hasta luego is the more common way to say good-bye. But if you’re not planning to see the person again, you can simply say adios as you leave.

2. Buenos días, buenas tardes, buenas noches (Good morning, good afternoon, evening)

When you learn Spanish, one of the first things you learn is how to say “good morning,” “good afternoon,” or “good evening.” Mexicans will usually say “good afternoon” starting at noon and all the way until sunset.

A mural in La Paz (photo by Astrid Vinje)

As a way to say good-bye, you can also add buen día (good day) during the day time or buena noche (good night) during the night time

Basic Spanish phrases for travel: words referring to people 

The following words and phrases will be helpful to use when you’re referring to people in conversations. 

3. Adultos/adultas (Adults) and niños/niñas (children)

At museums or attractions, you’ll often see different prices for adults and children. Knowing the words for “adults” and “children” will come in handy when buying tickets. 

Our family visiting Monte Alban near Oaxaca (photo by Astrid Vinje)

Note, in Spanish grammar, the gender of a person does make a difference in the word that is used. Men are adultos and women are adultas. But a mix of men and women are adultos

The same goes for kids. if your children are all boys, then use niño or niños. If you have a mix of boys and girls, you also use niños. But if you only have girls, use niña or niñas.

4. Señor (Mr.), señora (Mrs.), and señorita (Miss)

When learning basic Spanish phrases for travel, knowing how to address people is helpful. Men are always addressed as señor. But there are differences in how women are addressed.

Married women are addressed as señora. Unmarried women are addressed as señorita. If you’re an unmarried older woman, or just an older woman traveling without a man, you will usually be addressed as señora.

5. Yo (I), tu (you), el/ella (he/she) ellos/ellas (they), nosotros/nosotras (we)

Pronouns influence the spelling of verbs, particularly the ending of the verb (this is known as conjugation). Most regular verbs will end with either -ar, -er, or -ir

Dancers in San Miguel de Allende (photo by Astrid Vinje)

For simple present tense, when using the yo (I) pronoun, the ending will change to -o. For the tu (you) pronoun, change the ending to -as for -ar verbs, and -es for -er and -ir verbs. El (he) and ella (she) pronouns will change an -ar verb to -a, and will change -er and -ir verbs to -e.

For plural pronouns, such as ellos or ellas (both meaning they), the ending for -ar verbs will change to -an and the ending for -er and -ir verbs will change to -en. When using nosotros/nosotras, change the ending to -amos for -ar verbs, -emos for -er verbs, and -imos for -ir verbs. 

If you want to deep dive into verbs and Spanish grammar, buy these useful books.

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    Basic Spanish phrases for travel: being polite

    It’s always good to be polite, wherever you are. These words will be useful in helping you have polite and respectful conversations. 

    6. Por favor (please)

    Por favor is undoubtedly one of the most important basic Spanish phrases for travel that you should know. Say this when getting seated at a restaurant, ordering food, asking for things, or making reservations at a hotel.

    Kids eating a meal in San Miguel de Allende (photo by Clint Bush)

    7. Gracias (thank you) and no, gracias (no thank you)

    Two other basic Spanish phrases for travel to know are “thank you” and “no thank you.” When you say, “thank you” to someone, they will usually reply with de nada, which means “you’re welcome.”  Sometimes they may respond with a usted, which roughly translates to "same to you."

    Being able to say “no thank you” comes in handy when you’re trying to fend off pushy taxi drivers at the airport, or vendors on the beaches.

    8. Lo siento (I’m sorry) and disculpe (excuse me)

    One of the most helpful basic Spanish phrases for travel to know is how to say “I’m sorry” or “excuse me”.  You can say lo siento when you bump into people, knock things over, or just a general way of saying “I’m sorry.”

    A pyramid at Chichén Itzá (photo by Marv Watson on Unsplash)

    Disculpe can be used when you’re trying to get someone’s attention. However, if you’re squeezing by someone in a crowded room or street, you can also use con permiso.

    Basic Spanish phrases for travel: common Spanish phrases

    The following are a few other simple and helpful common Spanish phrases for travel to Mexico.

    9. Si (Yes) and no (no)

    The Spanish word for “yes” is si. And like English, the Spanish word for “no” is no.

    Street in Guanajuato City (photo by Astrid Vinje)

    Additionally, if you’re negating a sentence, you can usually use no by putting it in front of a verb. Examples of this would be no entiendo (I don’t understand), no se (I don’t know), and no hablo espanol (I don’t speak Spanish).

    10. Y (and) and o (or)

    Knowing how to say "and" or "or" is extremely helpful as you're learning basic Spanish phrases for travel. You can use y when ordering multiple things at a restaurant: queremos ocho tacos y cuatro aguas de jamaica, por favor (we want eight tacos and four jamaica drinks, please).

    An example of when to use o is when you're asking if a store or restaurant is open or closed: ¿Está abierto o cerrado?

    11. No entiendo (I don’t understand) and ¿habla Inglés? (can you speak English?)

    Another useful Spanish phrase to know, especially when you’re still starting to learn Spanish, is “I don’t understand.” 

    You can follow this up by asking, “can you speak English?” If the person you’re talking to doesn’t know how to speak English, they will most likely try to find someone who does.

    12. Aquí/acá (here) and allí/allá (there)

    “Here” and “there” are two basic Spanish phrases for travel that will come in handy at restaurants (when you want to pick a table to sit) or when giving directions to a taxi driver.

    Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City

    A quick note about aquí versus acá. While both words mean “here,” aquí refers to the immediate “here,” while acá refers to the vicinity of “here.” It’s similar for allí and allá. Allí refers to a place far from the speaker but still has a specific location, while allá refers to a far place with no specific location.

    13. Cómo está? (How are you?) Estoy bien (I’m fine)

    Some more useful basic Spanish phrases for travel are “how are you” and “I’m fine.” These Spanish phrases for small talk are great to know, as you’ll most likely say this to taxi drivers, store owners, waiters, and basically anyone that you interact with.

    14. Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis, siete, ocho, nueve, diez  (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10)

    Understanding simple numbers will come in handy when ordering food, purchasing tickets, or even telling time. If you want to learn more numbers, these Spanish numbers flashcards are really helpful in teaching you the numbers from 1-100.

    Basic Spanish phrases for travel: asking questions

    Another aspect of being able to communicate basic Spanish phrases for travel is knowing how to ask questions. The following Spanish travel phrases are useful questions to have in your language bank.

    15. ¿Puedo …? (Can I …?) and ¿puede …? (can you…?)

    Questions are sometimes expressed by intonation. A phrase like puedo can mean “I can”. But if you raise the inflection of the ending, the meaning changes to “can I?” The same goes for when you are saying “can you?”

    Souvenirs in Oaxaca City (photo by Astrid Vinje)

    Some helpful verbs to know to ask questions include the following:

    • pedir (order)
    • pagar (pay)
    • traer (bring)
    • sentarme (sit)
    • tomar un foto (take a photo)

    16. ¿Qué es esto (What is this?) and ¿qué es eso? (what is that?)

    You can ask “what is this” or “what is that” to ask what something is when you’re at a restaurant, at the market, or even when you’re shopping at a store.

    Here’s a note about masculine and feminine words. In Spanish, nouns are assigned a masculine or feminine gender. 

    Pronouns like this or that have their own masculine and feminine forms too: esto (masculine) versus esta (feminine), and eso (masculine) versus esa (feminine). Personally, if I don’t know the gender of a noun, I default to masculine.

    17. ¿Cuánto cuesta? (how much does this cost?)

    Additionally, you can ask “how much does this cost” when you want to know the price of something. Mexico uses the peso as currency. While the current exchange rate will fluctuate, you can generally calculate 20 pesos for $1 USD.

    18. ¿Dónde está? (Where is …?) 

    If you’re asking for directions, start with dónde está, and then add the location that you’re wanting to go. For example, if you’re asking “where is the airport?” you would ask, ¿dónde está el aeropuerto

    Our family in La Paz (photo by Astrid Vinje)

    Alternatively, if you’re asking where an object is, such as a book, a pencil, or a phone, you can also use dónde está followed by the object.

    Basic Spanish phrases for travel: phrases for the restaurant

    As travelers, you'll likely spend a lot of your time at restaurants eating meals. Understanding a few Mexican food phrases will be very helpful in this case. These following basic Spanish phrases for travel will be especially useful for when you are at a restaurant.

    19. Quiero … (I want …) and no quiero … (I don’t want …)

    If you’re still beginning to learn basic Spanish phrases for travel, knowing how to say “I want XYZ thing” or “I don’t want XYZ thing” is extremely helpful. You can use “I want” when you’re ordering food, or when you’re looking for something at the store.

    20. ¿Tiene …? (Do you have …?)

    Alternatively, you can also ask “do you have XYZ thing?” at restaurants and at stores. If the person answers in the affirmative, then you can follow up with “I want …”

    21. Para aquí (for here) and para llevar (to go)

    At restaurants, waiters may ask whether you want the food “for here” or “to go”. It’s not unusual for Mexicans to order food to go. 

    A tacos al pastor stand in San Miguel de Allende

    If you or your kids are sharing a plate, you would say para compartir (to share).

    22. Riquisimo (it’s very tasty) and delicioso (it’s delicious)

    After you’ve eaten a good meal, you can say either “it’s tasty” or “it’s delicious”. Your server will be more than delighted to hear you say either of those two phrases. 

    The best ways to learn basic Spanish phrases for travel

    Some of the best ways to learn Spanish for travel is to just jump right in. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes or sounding like a two year old. It’s all part of the process of learning Spanish.

    Boats at Xochimilco in Mexico City

    This approach is the best way to learn about Mexican culture as well. And it will help open doors to visiting other Spanish speaking countries as well. For your kids, you can have them read some bilingual kids books about Mexico to get used to the language.

    Spending time listening and practicing Spanish

    Overall, the best way to learn Spanish phrases for traveling is to practice, practice, practice before your trip! There is data that suggests that it takes 575-600 classroom hours to master conversational Spanish. And while you certainly don’t have to aim for full fluency, mastering just these basic Spanish phrases for travel can help you go a long way with communicating with people in Mexico.

    Another way to develop your Spanish vocabulary and language skills before traveling to Mexico is to listen to music from Mexico, Spain, or other Latin America countries. Reading the lyrics (and their translation) in conjunction with listening to the songs will help you get familiar with current Spanish slang and basic Spanish phrases for travel.

    Spanish language learning classes

    If you’re planning on traveling to Mexico for an extended length of time, another way to learn basic Spanish phrases for travel is to take Spanish language classes. This is a great way to build your foundational Spanish grammar skills as well, especially if you are just a beginner.

    Driving through Izamal in Yucatan Peninsula (photo by Astrid Vinje)

    Examples of Spanish language schools include El Nopal in La Paz, La Calle Spanish School in Mérida, Oasis Spanish and Surf School in Puerto Escondido, and Agora Language Center in Playa del Carmen. You may need to check each school’s policy on private classes or short term courses.

    Helping your kids get comfortable with the Spanish language

    The best way to help your kids get comfortable with the Spanish language is to start introducing them to Spanish words before your trip. Reading bilingual children’s books is a great way to have your kids start hearing Spanish words.

    Visiting Uxmal with kids (photo by Astrid Vinje)

    Classic stories like The Gingerbread Man and Jack and the Beanstalk have all been translated to bilingual books. These bilingual books can help your kids get used to the sound of Spanish before they travel to a Spanish speaking country.

    Having patience while learning basic Spanish phrases for travel

    Language acquisition is a long process. There’s no one perfect method to learn these basic Spanish phrases for travel. In actuality, it’s mostly trial and error. 

    Seeking out cultural activities to participate in, such as Dia de Muertos, can sometimes help. At the very least, it can help you understand the culture of Mexico a little better.

    Even if you only know a few words in Spanish, try and use them to have a conversation with someone. Have patience, and don’t give up.  Who knows. With practice you might become an expert at traveling and conversing with locals in Spanish-speaking countries!

    Do you have any tips on learning basic Spanish phrases for traveling Mexico? Drop a comment on our Facebook page with your favorite Spanish phrase.

    22 Easy Basic Spanish Phrases For Travel In Mexico | Mexico Family Travel

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