Beyond Montezuma’s Revenge

April 9, 2015
Beyond Montezuma's Revenge.

Mexico travel stories are filled with dramatic narrations of foreigners battling Moctezuma’s Revenge (also known as “Montezuma’s Revenge”). While this ailment is often easily curable with over-the-counter medicine, what if a traveler comes down with something serious enough to warrant a doctor’s visit? There are many options available in Mexico, but how does one find them, or decide which is the best option?

Depending on the problem and its severity, several options of varying appropriateness are available, unless you’re in a teeny-tiny town in the middle of nowhere. If that’s the case, it’s quite likely you’ll be able to find a pharmacy, doctor, clinic, or traditional healer, but not likely all four options. If the medical care you find in your hamlet isn’t to your satisfaction, head to the nearest city, where options abound. But where to start?

Beyond Montezuma’s Revenge


Mexicans are notorious at self-medicating. It used to be that one could just walk into a pharmacy, ask for whatever medicine one thought would cure an ill, and receive it, no questions asked or prescription necessary. This still happens all too frequently. However, the government is trying to prevent some of the potentially disastrous consequences of self-medication and overexposure to antibiotics. Now, it is entirely possible that a pharmacy tech might tell a patient, no, they can’t buy a certain medicine without a prescription.

At the same time, these pharmacies make it a good deal easier to get a prescription. All over the country, pharmacies of every shape and size have opened adjoining doctor’s clinics, usually staffed during regular business hours. For roughly 30 pesos (under 3 dollars), a licensed doctor will examine a patient and prescribe appropriate medicine. It’s a pretty slick system, and a great option for those with easily diagnosable ailments.

Private Practice

While I’ve taken my slimy, pinkeye-infected self to the pharmacy doctors, I hesitated to use them when I had a few weeks of dizziness, nausea, and unexplained weight loss. I had a feeling this mystery diagnosis was worth more than 30 pesos of any doctor’s time. Using a friend’s recommendation, I called her general practice physician, who almost immediately diagnosed me with typhoid. However, she did give me a very thorough physical exam, grilled me on my medical history, and ordered me to get a blood test and stool sample to confirm that I had typhoid.

A few days later, I delivered the lab results and she handed me a prescription for 500 pesos worth of typhoid-targeting antibiotics. With that, the 400 pesos for each visit to her office, plus the fees for the bloodwork, I was reeling a bit. But then I remembered how much more time, money and stress would be spent on such a diagnosis in the US (principally fighting with my insurance, no doubt) and I was quite happy with the experience.

Beyond Montezuma’s Revenge

So when she asked me to do follow-up bloodwork after I finished the antibiotics, I was pleased to know that she was confirming that we really had finished off the typhoid and it wouldn’t come back uglier than the first bout.

Private practice physicians tend to run 400-500 pesos nationwide. Of course, expect fees to rise considerably in larger cities or for those doctors with very fancy offices. With both private practice doctors and the pharmacy clinic doctors, don’t hesitate to get a second opinion if you’re not comfortable with the initial diagnosis. Some people find their clinic doctors to be more reliable than the more expensive private practice doctors.

Social Security

In Mexico, Social Security (IMSS) refers to government health care, not the pension program. Mexicans and Mexican residents who pay payroll taxes can enroll in Social Security. A few years ago, the government started another program, Seguro Popular, as an effort to provide medical coverage to the uninsured population. However, if one is visiting Mexico on a tourist visa, this is not an option.

If you do have some kind of resident visa, though, it may be worthwhile to enroll in the IMSS or Seguro Popular. True, many Mexicans complain about what a headache it is go to the Seguro for minor ailments or injuries. However, I have heard from a number of people, including some who are generally cynical about Mexico’s government healthcare, and they agree that there is no better place to go for catastrophic illnesses like cancer.

My few experiences with government healthcare in Mexico have been positive. I’ve had accurate diagnoses and free vaccines for my children. I don’t rely on them, but it’s nice to know they’re there.


Again, if you are not registered for government health care, government hospitals are off-limits. Fortunately, private hospitals abound, and provide excellent care. For this reason, and its proximity to the US, Mexico is poised to be a leader in medical tourism, offering quality surgical procedures at a fraction the costs in the US.

However, private hospitals are not cheap. Find out if your insurance covers medical coverage while abroad. Once a patient is checked in to a private hospital in Mexico, they are not released until the bill is paid. Yikes!

Beyond Montezuma’s Revenge

Natural Medicine

For a number of reasons, be it tradition or the expense of standard prescription drugs, many Mexicans prefer “natural” medicine. This tendency spans a huge spectrum, from well-reputed homeopathic doctors to curanderos, or traditional healers (who may also have very good reputations).

Both large cities and tiny villages have a number of options where one can find medicinal herbs, bee pollen, and incense. Most central markets have stalls selling traditional remedies, and the people owning these stands should be able to explain how to best use their herbs to cure what ails you—or if your problem is beyond their expertise, they can recommend someone more knowledgeable.

While I tend to shy away from traditional medicine in general, I must admit that half a cup of Coke mixed with half a cup of lime juice can cure some less serious strains of Moctezuma’s Revenge. There’s more than one way to beat any bug.

Beyond Montezuma's Revenge


Beyond Montezuma’s Revenge photos by Unsplash and Jill Douglas. 

Have you traveled to Mexico? How was your trip? Email us at [email protected] for information about sharing your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you.

About Jill Douglas

Originally from Indiana, Jill Douglas has spent the last 10 years in Mexico with plans to stay indefinitely, thanks to her Mexican husband and children. Her current online hobby aims to help foreigners transition to life in northern Mexico, at

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