According to The Travel, more than 30 million people visited Mexico from all around the world in 2021. Its mix of picturesque beaches, all-inclusive resorts, and natural excursions make Mexico a desirable travel destination. And its close proximity to the United States makes it one of the most cost-effective international destinations for American travelers. Indeed, Mexico has a reputation for offering a wide variety of budget-friendly travel options.
But taking a budget-friendly Mexican vacation shouldn’t require you to sacrifice an immersive and memorable experience. An amazing Mexican vacation could be attainable for an affordable price as long as you know where to find the best deals and how to make your dollar go further.
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1. Focus Your Travels on a Few Choice Destinations
Mexico is a sprawling nation with massive cities, diverse natural attractions, vital historical monuments, and countless immersive cultural experiences. That’s the good news. The bad news is that you just can’t fit it all into one trip. According to The Travel, you would do better to “spend more time exploring one particular attraction rather than moving from one destination to the next. Visiting many places will make the Mexico trip expensive, perhaps unbearable to visitors looking to stay on a tight budget. It is more fun exploring one place, knowing its insides and outsides, and getting to know it well before heading to another destination.”
Ultimately, you’ll get the most bang for your buck by focusing your energy on one specific region, or a few key landmarks. That way, you can stay on a budget and still enjoy an enveloping experience.
2. Avoid the Big Tour Groups
Another advantage to staying in one basic area for your trip is the affordability of public transport. Indeed, guided bus tours may be the most convenient way to see the sites in your area, but they are rarely the most affordable. You can do a lot better by pursuing these bucket list destinations at our own speed. Via Travelers notes that “When traveling on a tight budget, going with organized tours is not the best option…your first preference should be to use the extremely cheap Mexican public transport wherever possible.”
Buses and “Colectivos”—public transport minivans—are among the most affordable options, and subways are extremely cheap in most urban areas. Taxis and rideshare services in Mexico are also a more affordable option than tour buses. And some budget car rental companies make it extremely affordable for you to travel the country with no strings attached. If you’re willing to go it alone, and you’re prepared to exercise the proper caution when traveling off the beaten path, you’ll save a lot on your sightseeing.
3. Use Budget Airlines
That said, Mexico is huge and there is much to see and do. Public transportation and car rentals can only go so far. If your journey does include a few different locations with some greater distance between them, look for budget flights to all points.
Expert Vagabond notes that domestic flights within Mexico can actually be quite affordable. There are a number of budget airlines that provide low cost flights within Mexico’s borders. According to Expert Vagabonds, “Flying around Mexico is affordable and local airlines are often more comfortable than many American carriers. You can get a flight starting around $25 USD by booking budget airlines in advance.”
While budget airlines are notorious for their lack of creature comforts, limited customer service, and a no-frills flying, they do generally pass the savings along to the consumer. Look for deals with affordable domestic carriers like Viva Aerobus, Volaris, and Interjet.
4. Avoid the Big Travel Dates
Once you figure out where you’re going, it’s time to figure out when you’re going. When it comes to planning a Mexican vacation, there are two particular times of year that you can expect crowds to be bigger and prices to be higher. According to Expert Vagabond, prices for lodging will typically be as high as five times greater than their base price during the Christmas Holiday season and Spring Break.
Instead, plan your trip during one of the so-called “shoulder seasons.” These are times of year when travel remains desirable, but which also fall between the most heavily traveled dates. According to The Travel, “If saving money when visiting Mexico is the goal, then one should seriously consider exploring the country during the shoulder season, right after, and before the rainy season. Visiting at this time guarantees cheaper prices on accommodation, flights, admission fees, and even taxis and buses. The shoulder season, which covers the months of April, May, Mid-October, and Early November, are the best times to explore Mexico for lower rates.”
5. Create a Budget and Stick to It
With your location and time locked in, it’s time to build a budget. Decide on the type of vacation experience you’d like to have before you set off for Mexico. The truth is that you can have an amazing experience in Mexico at any price point. It’s all about the experience you’re seeking and how willing you are to “rough it.” Indeed, if you shoot for an all-inclusive resort experience, you can easily spend upwards of $500 per person every single day of your trip.
On the other hand, points out Trip Savvy, if you wish to build your Mexican experience on the cheap, this is a highly attainable goal as well. Trip Savvy notes that “If you’re a budget traveler, you’re going to be pleasantly surprised by how low your expenses are. Let’s say you travel overland using public transport, stay primarily in hostels, eat Mexican street food for three meals a day, and take a tour every couple of weeks or so. In this situation, you can expect to average just $25 a day in Mexico.”
There’s also a happy medium. You can balance a few nice restaurants and one or two strategically selected guided tours with a stay at a mid-range hotel and an itinerary with a few free experiences included. The end result, says Trip Savvy, is a reasonably indulgent Mexican experience for closer to $70 a day per traveler.
It’s also worth noting that some destinations are more expensive than others. While a famous beach like Acapulco may cost a fortune, you could set up a tent and camp on the stunning white sands of the Tulum beach on the Caribbean for just a few dollars a night.
Once you figure out exactly what type of experience you’d like to have in Mexico, build your budget accordingly.
6. Know the Basic Exchange Rate
Rule number one when it comes to staying on budget is actually understanding the value of the dollar in Mexico. The American dollar can go pretty far South of the Border. Not only is the exchange rate favorable for American travelers, but costs are generally lower throughout Mexico. Of course, if you’re spending inside a resort, you can essentially think of yourself as spending on American soil. This is because the prices are generally shaped around the hefty budgets of American tourists.
By contrast, shopping for local goods, street foods, public transportation, and other goods and services used by local residents will generally be a more affordable experience. Just be sure that you fully understand the value of the dollar versus peso. At the time of writing in the summer of 2022, $1 U.S Dollar is approximately equivalent to $20.51 Mexican Pesos.
This ratio is subject to constant fluctuation. However, you will be well-served by simply recognizing that you’ll generally get about 20 pesos to the dollar anywhere. Understand this and you’ll have a pretty good sense of the relative value of things. This should put you in a good position to differentiate between a fair local price and a tourist-gouging price.
7. Be Open Minded About Accommodations
Prices for lodging are generally tiered according to the type of experience you desire. According to Expert Vagabond, top tourist destinations such as Mexico’s Yucatan “offer every type of accommodation you could think of. From tree-houses and hostels to luxury resorts. Accommodation prices in the Yucatan are similar whether you’re staying in Cancun, Tulum or Playa del Carmen.” The travel site notes that while you’ll pay anywhere from $100 to $200 a night for a mid-level hotel room, or $200 to $500 for high-end hotels and resorts, you could pay as little as $4 to $17 a night to stay in a backpacker hostel.
Looking for something in between? Expert Vagabond says you can find an extremely diverse range of guest rentals—from single-room rentals to full homes—for $40 to $200 a night. If you’re willing to be flexible and creative about lodging, you’ll find plenty of options at a reasonable price.
8. If You Are Staying in a Hotel, Book All-Inclusive
Granted, the all-inclusive resort experience will hardly be the most affordable way to see Mexico. But if you are planning on booking a stay at a nice hotel and you are interested in a luxury getaway, the all-inclusive option will typically be your best bet. One reason for this is that you’ll have countless options at your disposal.
Travel Pulse notes that “All-inclusive resorts offer you room, food, drink and entertainment for one low nightly rate. Mexico’s resort cities are bursting with all-inclusive options from big brands like El Cid, Hyatt, and Barcelo. Compare destinations and resorts to find the best deal.”
Once you’ve done your due diligence, feel free to compare hotel rates alone, then factor in everything you’ll spend on food and amenities during your stay. Chances are, the all-inclusive option will be a bit more cost effective than taking on these expenses a la carte.
9. Take Advantage of Street Food
If you’re staying in a resort area, you will absolutely have your selection of expensive meals in fancy, air-conditioned restaurants. We won’t sway you from a few of these decadent experiences. But the truth is, some of the very best and most authentic food you’ll have access to will come from Mexico’s many street vendors. According to Via Travelers, “arguably the best food you can find is the typically delicious street food Mexico is famous for. It ain’t just best for your budget, it’s also a top choice for the most authentic Mexican cuisine.”
This advice isn’t just about saving money. For your most immersive and rewarding Mexican travel experience, do not fail to take advantage of the incredible street side cuisine. You may have some of your best and most memorable meals from a paper bag on the side of the road.
10. The Best Things in Life (and Mexico) are Free!
While you can spend a fortune on Mexican resort life, you can also offset your fancy meals and luxurious spa treatments with a few free experiences. Indeed, if you know where to go, and when to go there, you can experience quite a few natural and cultural offerings without spending a dime.
According to The Travel, “There are many places travelers can explore without spending a penny, except maybe on transportation and food. The Soumaya Museum and the National Palace in Mexico City are some of the numerous attractions one can experience without paying anything. Other places only charge admission fees at certain times of the day of the week. For instance, Palacio de Bella Artes can be visited free of charge on Sundays.”
From its national parks and Mayan ruins to the Gulf shores and historic landmarks, Mexico is a bounty of opportunities that will cost you little to nothing. Make sure these free experiences are built into your itinerary.
Speaking of free, how about traveling without spending a dime? There are a few ways to do it if you know where to look. Check out these Ten Ways to Travel For Free…and Maybe Even Get Paid to Do It.