Many people stay at all-inclusive resorts or pricey boutique hotels when they travel to Mexico. But I want to show you that Mexico does not have to be an expensive destination. Mexico is very affordable and is great if you are traveling on a budget and independently.
Here is a breakdown of exactly what I spent on my first solo trip to Mexico:
Where I Traveled:
I traveled to the towns/cities of Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Valladolid.
Number of Days:
12 days – May 21, 2015 to June 1, 2015
Type of Travel:
Budget, Independent, Solo Female, Off the Beaten Path
I stayed at three hostels (one each in Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Valladolid) and one hotel in Playa del Carmen. At the hostels, I slept in both mixed and female-only dorms, ranging from 4-6 beds.
I ate mostly at locally owned “loncherias” (lunch eateries) serving cheap and authentic Mexican cuisine and also a few nicer restaurants that were still reasonably priced. I also bought fresh fruit at the local markets.
I used the first-class ADO buses, taxis, colectivos (shared shuttle vans) and bicycles to get around in Mexico. All of these options are safe, convenient, reliable and comfortable.
I purchased my flights from the Canadian airline company WestJet on a Tuesday night, about three and a half months before my travels.
I seem to have the best luck with finding flight sales on Tuesday nights, and I ended up paying about $200 less than I was expecting to.
My flight was from Winnipeg, Canada to Cancun, Mexico with one connection each way (Toronto, Canada on the way there and Calgary, Canada on the way back home).
Many of the activities and attraction entrance fees in Mexico are cheap or very reasonably priced. The most I paid for an entrance fee was $18 CAD for the ruins of Chichen Itza.
Entire Trip Cost Per Person:
$1385.52 CAD – This price includes flights, food, transportation, accommodations, activities and tips.
$692.90 CAD – This price includes I spent in Mexico, excluding the cost of flights.
Average Cost Per Day Per Person:
$62.99 CAD per day which includes everything I spent in Mexico (note: this also includes the beachside massage that I got in Tulum, which increased my daily average).
$58.21 CAD per day is the cost of everything I spent in Mexico, minus the cost of the massage in Tulum.
It is very easy to spend this amount or even less while traveling throughout Mexico.
Breakdown of Travel Expenses – How Much Did I Spend?:
The total cost of all the attractions I visited while in Mexico was $85 CAD ($1020 MX pesos). Included in this total, was visiting the Mayan ruins of Tulum, Chichen Itza, and Ek Balam, along with nine cenotes (Gran Cenote and Casa Cenote near Tulum; Cenote Ik’Kil, Cenote Xkeken, Cenote Samula, Cenote Zaci, Cenote X’Canche and Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman Cenote near Valladolid).
I paid $585.36 CAD for my flight with WestJet from Winnipeg, Canada to Cancun, Mexico (with a connection in Toronto, Canada on the way there and Calgary, Canada on the return flight). I purchased my flights about three and a half months in advance of my trip, because there was a flight sale on the WestJet airline website.
I spent a total of $212.92 CAD on food and drinks during my travels in Mexico. I bought fresh fruit from the markets and street carts, fresh juices and smoothies, ice cream and popsicles for snacks, ate the free breakfasts that my hostels provided, and ate out at local eateries for lunches and nicer restaurants for dinners.
My average daily cost for food was $19.35 CAD. Very cheap!
I spent a total of $99.40 CAD on transportation, which included using the first-class ADO buses to get from one town/city to the next and local colectivos (shared shuttle vans), taxis/taxi colectivos and bicycles to get around while in my destination.
I spent $55.66 CAD on the ADO buses. Next time I travel to Mexico, I will definitely use the second class buses more often, as I realized they are essentially the same as first class, minus the fact that they do not have a washroom on board or a TV with Spanish movies playing. They are also cheaper than first class buses.
I spent $32.08 CAD on taxis and colectivos to get to and from the ruins and cenotes and $11.66 CAD on bicycle rentals in Tulum, to get to and from the Tulum ruins and the beach.
My average daily cost for transportation was $9.03 CAD.
I spent a total of $107.26 CAD on a comprehensive travel insurance plan from the provider World Nomads. I purchased this prior to departing for my trip. Thankfully, I did not need to use it.
I spent a total of $215.92 CAD for 11 nights’ accommodation. I stayed at three hostels in smaller dorms with 6-8 people (one mixed dorm and two female-only dorms) and one nicer hotel in Playa del Carmen which costs $67.02 CAD for one night.
My average nightly cost for accommodations (including the hotel stay) was $19.62 CAD and excluding the hotel, it would have been $13.53 CAD.
The cost for one night at Mama’s Home Hostel (6 bed mixed dorm) in Tulum was $14.05 CAD. The cost of one night at Hostel La Candelaria (6 bed female-only dorm) in Valladolid was $12.40 CAD and the cost of one night at Hostel 3B (8 bed female-only dorm) in Playa del Carmen was $21.55 CAD.
I spent $80.58 CAD on miscellaneous expenses. This included souvenir shopping for my family, a massage on the beach in Tulum, personal care items, toiletries and locker rentals at cenotes.
Chichen Itza Entrance: $18 CAD (220 pesos)
Ek Balam Entrance: $15 CAD (181 pesos)
Beachside Massage: $50 CAD (600 pesos)
Gran Cenote Entrance: $12.50 CAD (150 pesos)
Tips for Budget Travel in Mexico (Yucatan):
Here are some suggestions for traveling cheaper and sticking to your budget while traveling in Mexico:
Travel in the Off-Season:
High season in the Yucatan begins around mid-December and continues into March. The weather is warm and there tends to be less rain during this time. Low season begins in April and continues to December. In my opinion, the best times to visit Mexico would be in the months of May and November. These are the shoulder season months, which occur immediately before and after the rainy season, and the weather is hot and gorgeous! The costs of accommodations and flights are significantly cheaper during these times as well. I went during May to the Yucatan and the temperatures averaged out at around 35 degrees Celsius every day. It is super humid and hot, which is what I love. If you can stand these kinds of temperatures, traveling during off-season and shoulder-season can save you a lot of money and there will be less crowds of tourists!
Eat at Local Taquerias or Loncherias Serving Authentic Cuisine:
Taquerias are local eateries that serve authentic Mexican tacos and other traditional cuisine and loncherias are family-owned places that are usually open just for lunch. Eating street food is also an adventure and you will find the most authentic Mexican food at the local street food carts.
These places serve cheap and delicious traditional cuisine with everything from tacos to guacamole to panuchos to huevos rancheros and many other classic Mexican foods. Eating where the locals eat is a great way to practice your Spanish, immerse yourself in the culture, and save money.
Cook Your Own Meals:
Every Mexican village, town and city will have a local market where you can find every fruit and vegetable imaginable. The markets are a great place to visit to find ingredients for meals at a cheap price. If you are staying at a hostel, hotel or Airbnb rental that has a kitchen, you can cook your meals there. Sharing your food with other people is also a great way to make friends! I loved visiting the Mexican markets, because it was a great cultural experience and I enjoyed buying fresh and local produce.
Stay in Budget Accommodations:
Hostels are a cheap accommodation option for budget travelers in Mexico. I loved the colour decor and uniqueness of the ones that I stayed at. If sleeping in a hostel dorm isn’t your thing, many hostels also offer private rooms that are still much cheaper than staying at a hotel. The websites HostelWorld and HostelBookers have a huge inventory of hostels to choose from! Another budget accommodation could include renting a private room in a local’s house or apartment or renting an entire house or apartment using the website Airbnb. If you sign up for Airbnb using this link, you will get a $25 USD or $33 CAD credit that can be used towards your first booking!
If you are looking for short-term accommodations that are completely free, than Couchsurfing might be right for you. This is where locals offer up their couches or share beds for you to sleep on for free, in exchange for good conversation and maybe some help around the house. If you are planning on staying in Mexico for a longer period of time and desire to travel slower, then house sitting might be a good option for you (Trusted Housesitters has the most listings for housesits) or volunteering in exchange for free accommodation and food (you can purchase a membership to HelpX and/or Workaway to browse listings and contact hosts in your destination).
Use The Local Public Transportation:
Mexico has an amazing public transportation system. It is one of the best I have used. ADO is the primary bus company in Mexico and they have an extensive network of buses that can take you to many places around Mexico. They offer first-class buses which have a washroom on board, luggage storage and air conditioning as well as second-class buses which are pretty much identical to first-class buses, minus the washroom (and they are older model buses). The second class buses are slightly cheaper than the first class ones, but both are still very reasonably priced. The ADO buses are a great option to use when you are going from the airport to your destination, and then from each town/city to the next on your list.
The buses are convenient, safe, reliable and comfortable.
Colectivos are shared shuttle vans that are the most popular transportation option for the locals. They do not operate on a fixed schedule like buses do, and they wait until they have twelve passengers before departing. Colectivos are cheap, air conditioned, comfortable and fast! They are a great option for visiting ruins and cenotes from your destination.
Get Off The Beaten Path:
Choosing to participate in activities or visiting attractions that are lesser frequented by tourists and considered more off the beaten path is a great way to save money. There are definitely some famous attractions in Mexico that are still worth visiting, for obvious reasons, such as Chichen Itza. It is a Wonder of the World and very impressive to see.
A great way to learn about off the beaten places to visit, is by asking the locals or your hostel/accommodation staff for their recommendations. A local that I met in Tulum recommended visiting Casa Cenote, which was absolutely beautiful and well worth the visit! It was also significantly cheaper than other popular cenotes in the area and I was one of the only people there at the time, which created such a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere.
The staff at my hostel in Valladolid recommended visiting Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman Cenote, and it ended up being my favourite cenote that I visited during my travels! My group and I were the only ones there and it was absolutely magical.
Traveling slower and not cramming a bunch of sight-seeing and activities into a short period of time, is another great way to save money. I love researching and planning my travels in great detail prior to leaving home, but I always make sure to leave room for relaxation, spontaneity and days or even half-days where I have nothing planned. During these times, I would often spend time immersing myself in the local culture and observing the life of the locals, by just sitting at a local park, wandering through the streets of the town/city or just relaxing in a hammock at my hostel and journalling or reading a good book.
How Did I Save Money for this Trip?
If travel is important to you, you have to choose to make it a priority. I have set up a separate savings account at my bank, where I deposit a large chunk of my bi-weekly paycheck from my full-time job, on the morning of my payday. Through online banking, you can also set up your account to transfer a set amount of money automatically, and you can decide on the amount of money you are going to transfer and choose how often you want the transfer to be made. If the money is transferred on your payday, you won’t even realize that it’s gone. Right now, I am able to transfer a significant portion of my paycheck into my travel savings fund (between $650-$800 CAD per month), because I live frugally and simply in my daily life. This is my number one method for saving for travel.
If you find that you are not saving as much as you would like to be, then you also have the option of getting a second job in order to make your travel dreams a reality.
Track your income and expenses for a month or two to see where you spend your money. It can be very eye-opening when you see this written out on paper. Then, decide which categories of spending you can cut back on (rent, entertainment, makeup, clothing, car payments, eating out, alcohol, smoking, etc.). Some options might be: getting rid of cable TV, eating out less often, drinking less alcohol or eliminating it from your life altogether, stopping smoking, spending less money on clothing and entertainment, eating simpler and healthier to save money on groceries, biking or taking the bus to work, etc. There are many ways you can save money, you just have to make that choice.
The entire cost of my trip was less than $1400 CAD. When I stayed at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico with my family, I paid almost $1800 CAD.
I hope that through providing my detailed budget breakdown, that I have showed you that travel in Mexico can be very affordable for the frugally-minded and budget-conscious independent travelers, and that staying at an all-inclusive resort is not the only option available to you.
Have you been to Mexico? What was your budget like? How much did you spend?
Let me know in the comments.