Mexico is one of my favorite countries to travel to — not just because it’s filled with fascinating places to visit, but also because it’s so affordable.
Many people only think of the Caribbean coast for beach holidays, but Mexico has a greater range than just Cancun or Puerto Vallarta. It’s wild how much culture can be discovered when you step out of the all-inclusive resorts and into a colectivo (a public van) with the locals.
So, no more 1,000-dollar weekends spending your time poolside with a watered-down margarita — we are moving on to the real deal! Today is about exploring on a budget and choosing from the best cheap destinations in Mexico.
Whether you’re planning a backpacking trip and staying in hostels, or dreaming up a family holiday while eyeing some cheap Airbnbs, these destinations will make it easy to travel in Mexico for less.
Plan your trip to Mexico
Is Mexico expensive to travel?
In 2023 the currency exchange rates between the Mexican peso and other currencies like the USD and EUR have become less favorable. As I write this in 2023, the peso has risen almost 10% this year, so relatively speaking the country is more expensive than it has been in years past.
However, Mexico is cheap if you know where to go!
Beach resorts such as Cancun are designed around hosting large numbers of tourists from the US, Europe, and elsewhere. Prices are much higher there as a result of a completely tourist-focused economy. While a stay there may still seem like a good deal if you’re just on a beach holiday, by Mexican standards it is very expensive.
Your travel style also has a huge impact, of course. If you’re taking private taxis, heading to all-inclusive resorts, or visiting touristy areas, you could be forking out a lot. But if you travel a bit more “like a local”, your costs will go down considerably.
Affordable places to travel in Mexico
Looking for an alternative destination in the Yucatan Peninsula? Then look no further than Bacalar. This tiny magical city is located in the state of Quintana Roo on the Yucatan Peninsula. It’s about five hours from Cancun, but if you hop on the ADO bus, it only costs about $25 to get there.
It’s famous for its crystal-clear lagoon that is dotted with seven shades of blue. It looks like a turquoise ocean without all of the salt.
Days here are easy and breezy. You can rent a kayak for 100 pesos, or about $5, and explore the lagoon. Or, if you want to sail on a catamaran, a 3-hour tour with beers and snacks is only $38.
It’s the perfect town to keep your spending low, with Airbnbs as low as $30/night and yummy tacos from Mr. Taco for 23 pesos.
Oaxaca City has long been one of my favorite destinations in Mexico. And while it still ranks highly for me, its prices have increased since it’s become more popular. A few years ago, hostel beds averaged $12 per night. While there are still a few budget-friendly options at that rate, many of the more popular hostels are closer to $20 to $25 per night.
Even so, it’s still incredibly inexpensive compared to other cities in Mexico. Regardless of the bed prices, sticking to a low budget in Oaxaca City is still extremely easy. Take public transport when visiting the Mayan site Monte Albán, the markets, plazas, and churches. Most of these attractions are free or very cheap (under $2).
When it comes to food, you have to visit 20 de Noviembre and Mercado de la Merced. These vibrant markets are a treasure trove of local flavors and cultural experiences for cheap. You’ll find delicious home-cooked meals for around $3. I highly recommend the Tlayuda’s, an oversized tortilla filled with refried beans, creamy avocado, savory meat, Oaxaca cheese, and spicy salsa. It’s so good!
Tulum (yes, really!)
Okay, okay, hear me out! Tulum isn’t as expensive as you think — and I’m sure you’re saying, “Yeah, right!!” right about now.
But I promise you, Tulum can be a good budget destination if you only adjust your expectations.
Known for its skyrocketing prices and with luxury resorts and retreats catering mainly to high-spending Americans, Tulum has earned a reputation for being expensive, but that doesn’t mean you can’t visit it on a budget.
Sure, if you go to the hotel zone on the coast you may spend loads of money, but the town of Tulum is only 11km or 6 miles inland and is much more affordable. Hostel beds in the city center average around $12/night, and some even come with a free breakfast — Mama’s Home is my fave.
Restaurants in the city center have entrees ranging from $10-$20, but there are still some cheap eats in Tulum. Local tacos and quesadillas can be found for as little as 35 pesos (yep, that’s two bucks). And you can rent a bike for 24 hours for 100 pesos.
Bike to the public beach, eat some street tacos, and experience Tulum without breaking the bank.
The laidback island of Holbox north of Cancun is definitely a “spend as much or as little as you like” destination. If you’re feeling bougie, you can spend hundreds of dollars a night at high-end beachfront hotels and enjoy fancy restaurants every night.
Or… you can grab a $35 Airbnb in the center and eat at the tasty food trucks that line the city center every single night.
Three tacos for 60 pesos, a cup of street corn for 20 pesos, and a 17-peso beer from the street corner. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like the best 6 bucks I’ve ever spent.
The island is relatively small and can be explored on foot, and the beaches are some of the best in the country. Grab your beach towel, buy a mango for a few pesos, and have an insanely good beach holiday for less.
If you’re heading to Chichen Itza, I highly recommend you stop in Valladolid for a visit. This colonial gem is situated in the Yucatan, and it’s known for its colorful streets, grand churches, and lower prices than the popular Playa Del Carmen or Cancun.
Staying here makes getting to Chichen Itza much easier and cheaper. You can take a round-trip public bus from Valladolid to Chichen Itza for only $8. You’ll still pay the standard entry fee, but by bypassing a tour fee, you’ll save a nice chunk of change.
Valladolid also has some great hostels and hotels — some as cheap as $10/night. The food is also excellent and won’t break the bank. I recommend visiting Cenote Zaci in the center. It’s within walking distance, and the entrance is only 60 pesos. So, for $3, you can spend the day cooling off in the refreshing waters.
Puerto Escondido is a laid-back surfer’s paradise located in the state of Oaxaca. Whereas the Yucatan Peninsula tends to be a lot more built-up, the Oaxacan coast offers a gentler and less crowded alternative, with the small city of Puerto Escondido being the main hub along this coast.
The area offers lots of affordable hostels costing around $15/night and basic but nice hotel rooms for around $35/night. And just like any beach town, most of the activities are free. You can rent a surfboard for the day for $10, take a $5 yoga class overlooking the beach, and finish your day with a free game of volleyball as the sun goes down.
The only thing that can really drive your budget up is if you’re taking taxis. The town is pretty spread out, so you may end up needing one of these once or twice. But other than that, your wallet will be happy in Puerto Escondido.
Depending on your travel preferences, you may want to stay in Puerto Escondido or Mazunte, another small beach town nearby.
Despite being on the domestic travel trail, Guanajuato still feels like a hidden gem, being often overlooked by foreign travelers in Mexico. The vibrant streets are buzzing with life, the architecture is stunning, and there are plenty of affordable and delicious restaurants to choose from.
Cheap hostels start at $10/night, to pricier options like Airbnbs for $40/night. When it comes to activities, your wallet can relax. The Museo de las Momias (Mummy Museum) is a must-see and costs only 85 pesos. Plus, there are tons of free things to do, like exploring the markets, wandering the colorful streets, and relaxing in one of their many plazas. Be sure to check my guide to the top things to do in Guanajuato.
Guadalajara is the second biggest city in Mexico and is sadly often overlooked by travelers, despite having so much to offer. The city is overflowing with culture and will have you dancing the night away at one of its many salsa bars.
It’s one of the cheapest cities to visit, with dorms as low as $10/night and hotels ranging from $30-$50. And because not that many tourists travel to Guadalajara, it’s easier to spend more like a local here.
You can take a free walking tour of downtown and explore the colorful streets, old churches, and squares. A “can’t miss” in Guadalajara is going to the El Mercadito de San Juan De Dios, which is the largest indoor market in Latin America. You can try some of the best street food in Mexico here, and it’s seriously all like a dollar.
I was absolutely enchanted by the historical charm of Merida. From its cobblestone streets to its beautiful plazas and colorful murals, there is so much culture to take in here. Most of the popular attractions are free to explore, making it a definite winner for anyone on a budget.
The cost of accommodation is also surprisingly low. Hostels start as low as $11/night, and Airbnb ranges from $20 to $30/night. They have some of the most delicious street food and traditional Yucatan dishes like cochinita pibil or sopa de lima costing anywhere from 15 to 100 pesos.
Merida is the perfect place to learn about the Maya culture, and you can visit the great museum of the Maya world for 150 Pesos. If you’re feeling like hitting the beach, you can take a 25-peso bus to the breathtaking beaches of Progreso or Celestun. After a day in the sun, head to the center and enjoy some free cultural events that always seem to be going on in Merida.
Don’t miss our complete travel guide to Merida.
San Cristobal De Las Casas
Way, way south lies the stunning region of Chiapas, with its unique landscapes and colonial cities like San Cristobal. It’s the perfect mix of culture, adventure, and nature. It still feels very local here, so you get a sense of what it’s like to live in the area.
San Cristobal is probably the cheapest destination on this list. You’ll find hostels as low as $5/night, which is just crazy! You can also snag a private room for around $18. Food is incredibly cheap as well. For 95 pesos, you can have a menu del dia. It includes soup, an entree, agua fresca/juice, plus coffee or tea. It’s one of my absolute favorite things.
Explore the city’s many churches, cathedrals, plazas, and markets for free. One thing you can’t miss while in San Cris is the free walking tour. The most popular thing to do in San Cristobal is to take a trip to Sumidero Canyon. Tours range from 500-800 pesos, so make sure to ask around for the best price.
Chiapas has long been one of the poorer states in Mexico, but it’s also one of the most colorful and authentic, having one of the largest indigenous populations. San Cristobal is an incredibly friendly place and one of the easiest on the wallet in all of Mexico.
Of course, there are many more cheap places to travel in Mexico, but this list should give you a great starting point for your trip research.
In general, your travel budget will go the furthest if you’re not dead set on going to the most popular beaches. Head inland for more culture, cuisine, nature, and history — and much lower prices.
If you’re on a budget then the places to avoid are generally the party destinations and resort towns like Cabo and Cancun, where they will often charge American prices.
But even alternative beach locations such as Puerto Escondido and Holbox will give you excellent value and let you bask in the Mexican sun with far fewer worries about your overall spending.
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Posted NOV 21, 2023