Is Mexico an affordable destination? And how much is a meal in Mexico? Given the size and diversity of the country across its 32 states, answering budget-related questions is anything but straightforward.
Affordability depends on the region, season, and the tourism infrastructure of a given location. Nevertheless, Mexico can certainly be a budget-friendly destination with screaming bargains – like $1 tacos, freshly squeezed fruit juices, ice-cold cervezas (beers), and bus rides. Even beach towns with ritzy resorts have less expensive areas.
Read on for our top tips for visiting Mexico on a budget.
- Hostel room: US$9–60
- Basic room for two: US$20–160
- Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): US$35–160
- Public transport ticket: US$0.25–2 (including charge card)
- Coffee: US$1–4
- Sandwich: US$1–5
- Dinner for two: US$22–120
- Beer/pint at the bar: US$1–4 (national beer)
- Tequila serving: US$1-10
- Taco: US$0.50–2
- Tip for a mariachi serenade: US$5–10
- Total average daily cost per person: US$30–200
Know the various low-cost airlines and their offers
To stretch your dollars, pounds, euros, and pesos further, it’s worth acquainting yourself with Mexico's low-cost airlines, which may not always appear on search engines. Volaris and VivaAerobus fly all around the country and to cities in the US, Caribbean and Latin American. Calafia Airlines and Aerotúcan are domestic only, covering Pacific destinations.
Keep an eye out for flash sales, competitive offers, and membership programs like Volaris’ all-you-can-fly annual pass for 7999 MXN (US$499.99) or the v.pass, which grants you one flight per month for a fixed monthly fee.
Book a hotel with free perks
A hotel with freebies can help your budget go further. For instance, a property with bicycles to borrow and complimentary personal training sessions or in-room Pelotons can save you money on keeping fit on the road. Little things like breakfasts, Wi-Fi or shuttle services being included can add up to substantial savings during your stay, especially as airport transfers can cost anywhere from US$10 to US$100.
You could also save big on attraction passes depending on your chosen accommodation. On the Yucatán Peninsula, guests at Hotel Xcaret Mexico and Hotel Xcaret Arte get access passes and transportation to all Xcaret group ecoparks for the duration of their stay, with tickets otherwise costing around US$100 per day per adult.
Some hotels also provide optional nice-to-haves that elevate your experience, like GoPros, polaroid cameras or stargazing telescopes to use while on the property. Shaman sessions or childcare may even be thrown in. Look for details on a hotel’s amenities page when booking.
Avoid getting fined
Escape unnecessary fines by adhering to local laws and adequately researching immigration and customs requirements. While many travelers know about restrictions on goods like tobacco or the US$10,000 cash limit when flying in, there's a lesser-known rule regarding electronic devices. According to Mexico's Tax Administration Service, commonly called SAT, travelers can bring only a single laptop into Mexico. You may be taxed or fined for having an additional machine. Similarly, only one video game console, GPS device, pair of binoculars, tent or telescope is permitted per flying passenger. Overstaying your Mexican visa can also result in a penalty fee.
Pre-book airport pickup in Cancún
Cancún International Airport (CUN) is the second-busiest airport in Mexico. Be prepared for a touch of overwhelm when you land there, with taxis, car rental companies and timeshare salespeople all vying for your attention. Save yourself stress (and money) by pre-booking an authorized taxi or reputable airport shuttle service so that someone will greet you with a sign bearing your name and whisk you away. Also, inquire with your hotel to see if they offer complimentary airport pickup.
Use the ADO bus over taxis
When moving between popular destinations, ADO (Autobuses de Oriente) buses can cost drastically less than a taxi. What’s more, these prompt and efficient buses have comfortable seats with ample legroom, bathrooms, air-conditioning (bring a sweater), charging outlets, free Wi-Fi (on occasion), and sufficient space for all passenger luggage. Whereas a taxi ride between Playa del Carmen and Tulum could set you back US$20–60 one-way, the ADO bus costs around US$7. Other long-distance domestic bus lines that could help you see more of Mexico on a budget include Transpais, ACN and Tufesa.
Get tour inclusions in writing
It isn’t uncommon for tour vendors to embellish their offerings when trying to get people to book their packages. They might offer you the world, including complimentary breakfasts, water, snacks, or multiple stops to swim at cenotes on your way to Chichén Itzá. When booking tours, get all inclusions and terms in writing. That way, you’re protected against any unexpected charges, and you can hold the operators accountable should they later exclude certain things from your package that you would have to cough up additional cash for.
Nab a shoulder-season deal
Shoulder season – July and August – is one of the cheapest times to vacation in Mexico. It’s hot in most of the country, and there are fewer North American travelers than in winter. Hotel rates fall, and there are deals to be had for everyone from flashpackers to luxe lovers.
Bear in mind, however, that you could be oven-hot much of the time and face the threat of hurricanes on the Caribbean coast (hurricane season is June to November). That said, you might only experience some sideward tropical showers, which could actually be a welcome respite from the punishing heat.
Buy tickets in advance for extra savings
To save money on attractions, secure your tickets ahead of time. You’ll pay 15% less for the Xcaret parks (considered Mexico’s version of Disneyland) if you book at least 21 days in advance. You can even avoid paying full price for luxury buses if you buy your tickets in good time. With ETN, which has bus routes covering 80% of the country, you can snag as much as 40% off advance-purchase tickets.
The cheapest places to vacation in Mexico probably aren’t on the beach. Coastal cities and towns are generally pricier than inland locations that are off the established traveler trail. You can expect to pay less for a one-night stay in a private room in a three-star hotel in Mérida, Xilitla or San Cristóbal de Las Casas than you would in surfer-friendly Sayulita or Puerto Escondido. There will be even greater price differences if your inland destination is rural versus urban. You can have experiences that are just as rich, rewarding and riveting by heading inland to Mexico’s less-trodden cities and towns.
Shop for food at markets and larger supermarkets
Convenience stores such as Oxxo, Circle K, Extra, and 7-Eleven are rarely where the best prices are found for food and groceries. Go to larger supermarkets like Chedraui, Walmart and Soriana to stock up on fresh produce, snacks and even hearty-yet-inexpensive ready-made meals. Markets are also a wonderful way to soak in a place's sights, sounds and flavors while filling up on fresh, well-priced food.
Live the hostel life
You don’t have to spend a fortune to stay somewhere nice or central in your chosen Mexican destination. Why Not Rooftop Hostel could have you in the center of the action of Playa del Carmen’s main street, Quinta Avenida, for around US$22 per night in a dorm. In Bacalar, you could spend your days sipping margaritas overlooking the Lagoon of Seven Colors while staying at The Yak Lake House Hostel for roughly US$25 a night, also in a dorm.
Visit Booking.com or Hostelworld to find hostels with whatever vibe you want, whether that’s a community, social atmosphere or convenient location, or look based on your preferred perks – like a rooftop lounge, yoga studio, regular events, coworking space, free laundry or a kitchen to prepare your own meals.
Make the most of Mexico’s free museums
For budget-focused travelers, free is always the best price. Relish the opportunity to soak up history and art without spending a cent. Mexico City alone has upwards of 150 museums, and many are always free (such as the particularly grandiose Museo Soumaya). Others have no-charge days, including Palacio de Bellas Artes (Sundays) and Museo Dolores Olmedo (Tuesdays).
Pay in the local currency
Restaurants, bars and stores in highly trafficked coastal hotspots like Puerto Vallarta and Tulum may accept US dollar bills. However, you might get your change in pesos at an unfavorable exchange rate, which means you end up paying more for every morsel, Modelo or Mexican chocolate. When using your card, always choose to pay in Mexican pesos instead of your home currency to sidestep avoidable dynamic currency conversion fees.
Join tip-based walking tours
You can find tip-based or free walking tours in Mexico City, San Miguel de Allende, Guadalajara, Oaxaca City and practically all of Mexico’s most captivating cities. During these tours, you can gain fascinating insights, and map your route for individual exploration at a later time. Pay according to how you perceive the tour, ensuring you always get your money's worth.
Devour delicious street food
Mexico’s street food culture is nothing short of prolific, so you’re never too far from a stall or cart serving up tantalizing tacos, tlayudas (filled, folded tortillas), tortas or tamales (filled corn parcels). Stuffed-to-infinity quesadillas, juicy cheese-topped esquites (corn in a cup) or a plump tomatoey torta ahogada ('drowned sandwich' originating from Jalisco) can go for less than US$2 a pop. Street food is the ultimate gift for shoestring travelers looking to enjoy Mexico on a budget. Don’t forget to bring change or small bills.
Purchase a local SIM card
Dodge international roaming charges by getting a Mexican SIM card upon arrival. Having an active data plan on your phone while abroad is always advisable for safety and easy navigation. Purchase a SIM from Telcel, Movistar or AT&T at the airport or at the nearest phone shop or supermarket. Telcel has data plans for one to 30 days, costing between 10 MXN and 500 MXN (US$0.50–29) for 50MB to 6GB of data.
Enjoy free concerts and entertainment
Lively street performances and free concerts often grace Mexico's parks, plazas and promenades, from Plaza Machado in Mazatlán to Puerto Vallarta’s malecón (boardwalk). Catch mariachis belting out poignant ballads, see Mayan warriors breathing fire, or marvel at the Voladores de Papantla swinging upside down on ropes attached to sky-high poles, and become more enamored of Mexico’s cultural intricacies with every turn.