Yucatan Mexico Travel Guide: Things To Do, Costs, Travel Tips

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Budget Travel in Mexico

Mexico Travel Guide & Budget Travel Tips

Budget Travel Guides

Is it possible to travel Mexico on a budget? Learn how much it costs to backpack through Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula — along with my favorite travel tips, things to do, and more.

Travel Guide: Mexico (2018)

First off, Mexico is huge. It’s difficult to write a budget travel guide generalizing the entire country. It’s simply too diverse. This guide focuses on the Yucatan for now, as it’s the region I’m most familiar with.

Mexico has suffered from a reputation of being unsafe due to the drug war in certain parts of the country, but I can say with confidence that the Yucatan is plenty safe for tourists.

Media outlets tend to only report on sensational news coming from Mexico, so many people assume the whole country is a dangerous place.

But Mexico is VERY big, and just because there’s violence in some areas does not mean the whole country is a danger zone. Some major American cities have very high crime rates too, but that doesn’t mean they’re unsafe for travelers.

Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula has something for everyone. White sand beaches, ancient Mayan ruins, deep jungle wilderness, excellent food, and fabulous scuba diving make it a great vacation destination.

There are many wonderful reasons to visit Mexico for your next vacation.

Mexico Travel Tips

Chichen Itza Maya Ruins

Traveling To Mexico

While knowledge of Spanish will obviously be a huge benefit, it’s not absolutely needed to travel in Mexico. I was initially a bit worried about my lack of Spanish when I visited for the first time, and surely it was frustrating to communicate, but it wasn’t impossible.

I carried a small Spanish phrasebook that covered the basics which worked fine. These days my basic grasp of Spanish is all I need to get around and make myself understood for simple situations.

For the most part, the people I’ve met here in Mexico were all incredibly friendly, hard-working, patient and generous individuals. Complete strangers frequently offered to help me with directions, interpret bus announcements, or take me out for drinks and show me around.

Cozumel Mexico

Island of Cozumel

Budget Travel In Mexico

Mexico is generally very affordable, but due to it’s popularity and location, the Yucatan is slightly more expensive than other parts of Mexico that receive less tourism.

Budget travelers can survive on around $30 – $40 USD per day.

Mexico’s currency is Mexican Peso ($ – same symbol as the dollar sign) and it translates to 16 – 18 MXN for $1 USD. While US dollars are widely accepted and even available for withdrawal at some ATMs, it’s recommended you convert your money to pesos as the conversion rate is lower.

My Mexico Travel Budget




Please use these numbers as general guidelines only. Remember, everyone travels differently. Your personal travel budget in Mexico may vary.

When I spent 36 days traveling through Mexico in 2011, I spent a total of $995 for an average of $27 USD per day.

This was possible by staying in hostels, camping, using public transportation, eating cheaply, and avoiding organized tours as much as possible.

READ MORE: Travel Banking Tips

Mexico Travel Ideas

Dzitnup Cenote

Where To Stay In Mexico

Mexico’s Yucatan offers 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 heading to Cancun, Tulum or Playa del Carmen, but they can be 5 times higher during high season and major holidays, such as Spring break and Christmas.

Here are some examples to help you plan according to your budget.

READ MORE: How To Find Cheap Hotels

Fresh Fish Mexico

Fresh Fish for Lunch

Eating Mexican Food!

Mexico has one of the most delicious cuisines in the world. In fact, Mexican food has been added added to the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity List by UNESCO.

Many people think that Mexican food is basically just tacos, nachos and burritos, but it’s actually hard to find burritos in the Yucatan as they’re more American and popular only in the northern parts of the country.

While tacos are the most popular, Mexican cuisine is very diverse.

You can get tacos on every street corner for as little as $1 for a meat taco and $1.20 for a seafood one. You can easily be full after eating three tacos, so dinner with a side of guacamole would cost you about $5.

However, if you’re looking for a sit-down dinner you can pay $1 or $2 more to have a waiter deliver your tacos and drinks to the table.

If you’re bored of tacos, try quesadillas and sopes. Quesadilla is a wheat tortilla filled with cheese and other stuffing, folded in half and then cooked on a griddle. Sope is round shaped and slightly thicker, topped with refried black beans and crumbled cheese, lettuce and cream.

Another tasty food option in the Yucatan is ceviche, a mix of fresh seafood cured in citrus juice and spiced with garlic and chili peppers, usually eaten with totopos (Mexican nachos). Ceviche usually costs between $4 – $10.

Isla Holbox Mexico

Horseback Riding in Isla Holbox

Transportation In Mexico

Mexico offers many forms of transportation, from low cost airlines to buses, public minibuses, taxis, and rental cars. Traveling around the Yucatan is generally very easy and cheap.

Budget Airlines

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.


If you’re on a tight budget, you might want to use a colectivo to get around. These shared minibuses/vans connect different towns, and you simply hop in with other riders, tell the driver where you want to get out, and pay once you reach your destination. The price varies based on distance, but an hour long ride costs about $4.


When traveling longer distances between cities, a comfortable option is to use Mexico’s fantastic ADO Bus System. Buses have AC, a toilet, reclinable seats, and Spanish language movies. They are faster & more comfortable than colectivos for long distances. An hour long trip costs about $12.


Taxi drivers in Mexico generally don’t have meters, so ask the price before you get in. Local rides within a city or town should cost between $1 – $2. It will be a bit more expensive to hail cabs from bus stations or tourist areas.

Car Rentals

Pre-booking a car rental in Mexico online through a site like Orbitz with insurance will cost you about $30 per day. Many of the best roads in Mexico might be toll roads and you’ll be expected to pay a fee to travel with a private vehicle.

READ MORE: How To Find Cheap Flights

Visa Requirements

US citizens and most EU passport holders can pick up a tourist visa on arrival that allows you to remain in Mexico for up to 180 days. Simply fill out the tourist card given to you on your flight, and remember to save the 2nd half in your passport, as you’ll need it to leave the country.

Howler Monkey Mexico

Howler Monkeys in Campeche

Things To Do In Mexico

Beach Sunbathing

Sunbathing on a gorgeous Mexican beach is one activity you can’t miss while visiting the Yucatan Peninsula. There are tons of beaches to choose from, most offering additional water sports like parasailing, reef snorkeling, windsurfing, or jet-skiing. Some of the best beaches are located in Tulum, Cozumel, and Isla Holbox.

Visit Mayan Ruins

One of the most popular activities in Mexico is to visit ancient Mayan ruins. While Chichen Itza is the most popular, there are many other interesting archeological sites you can explore in Mexico. The Mayan Ruins of Coba are one of my favorites, along with the jungle ruins of Calakmul and the ancient ocean city of Tulum.

Swim In Cenotes

The Yucatan has one of the world’s largest underground river systems, riddled with over 6000 limestone sinkholes and caves called cenotes. Swimming in a cenote is a wonderful way to cool off on a hot day.

Each cenote is different, some are inhabited by colorful fish, others with platforms to jump from or even ziplines! Most are privately owned by local families, and they usually charge a small entrance fee around $5.

Scuba Diving

The island of Cozumel, just 30 minutes by ferry from Playa del Carmen, has some of the best scuba diving in the Caribbean. A single tank dive costs around $50 – $60. In the winter, diving with bull sharks is possible.

For a truly unique diving experience, cavern diving through dark underground cenote cave systems can’t be beat.

Temazcal Saunas

Want to relax a bit? Consider an ‘ancient Mayan’ healing session at a pre-Hispanic sweat lodge. Temazcal steam baths have been used for both healing and ritual purposes for thousands of years. The ceremony is meant to clean, purify, detox and heal your entire body.

Exploring Nature

There are many nature reserves in the Yucatan where you can go birdwatching, like around Rio Lagartos. Another option would be kayaking among crocodiles in Sian Ka’an Biosphere or hanging out with flamingos at the crazy pink lake in Las Coloradas.

Lake Bacalar Mexico

Kayaking Lake Bacalar

Budget Travel Tips

Staying in dorms at backpacking hostels and traveling by 2nd class bus or public collectivos instead of taxis can save you a lot of money.

If you want to spend less money on food, consider eating at taco stands instead of dining at restaurants. It might not be a Michelin star dinner, but I guarantee they’ll be tasty and safe. Keep an eye out for stands with the most people, they’re usually the best.

If you’re flying from the US, book a domestic flight to San Diego, then cross the border to Tijuana and fly low-cost Mexican carrier to Cancun or Merida in order to avoid international fees. Mexican airlines are safe, comfortable and much better than US budget carries like Spirit or Frontier.

READ MORE: Best Travel Tips After 7 Years Traveling

Off The Beaten Path

While the majority of tourists go to Isla Mujeres, locals prefer to visit the more quiet Isla Holbox for a day or two. The island is surrounded by blue waters and the shallow lagoon separating it from the mainland attracts migrating flamingos, pelicans and whale sharks (from June to September).

There are no cars allowed on Holbox, only golf carts which are also used as taxis. The island is a great place to relax in a hammock, eat fresh lobster pizza, or ride horses on the beach.

Best Time To Visit Mexico

When is the best time to visit Mexico? Well, Mexico has one of the world’s most diverse weather systems and simply cannot be defined into spring, summer, autumn and winter due to the different elevations and landscapes.

The cheapest time to visit the Yucatan Peninsula is during the off-season between June and November, as it’s very hot and accommodation prices are significantly lower.

During the high season of December to March, prices increase up to 5 times, and your accommodation should be booked at least a few weeks in advance, to make sure you get something good.

Challenges In Mexico

In tourist destinations such as Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum you might get scammed by some taxi drivers, even if you speak perfect Spanish. Walking further away from busy bus stations or main roads should help you land a cheaper cab. Always ask the price before getting in.

The weather in Yucatan changes a lot and there are thunderstorms regardless of the season. If you’re planning some sightseeing make sure you check the weather forecast beforehand.

Certain parts of Mexico have problems with drug cartels, however, the Yucatan is very safe in this regard. You can always ask your hotel or hostel which areas to avoid.

READ MORE: 15 Common Travel Scams

Internet & Cell Phone Service

There are four main cell phone providers: Iusacell, AT&T, Movistar and Telcel. Telcel is the most expensive, but it has the best coverage.

Getting a Mexican SIM card is easy – they are sold at cell phone stores, Sanborn’s shops, or even at Oxxo (Mexican convenience store similar to 7-11). SIM cards cost 150 pesos (about $12) and include 75 pesos of credit for calls and texting.

READ MORE: International Cell Phone Service

Travel Tips For Mexico

There are certain places where product prices are fixed and non-negotiable (like chain stores), but you can haggle for the price of souvenirs almost everywhere else. Don’t be afraid to walk away either… often that’s when a shopkeeper will give you his lowest price.

Mexico Travel Photography

Mexico Travel Photography

Click Here For More Travel Photos From Mexico

Adventures From Mexico

Planning to travel to Mexico soon? Browse all my blog posts from Mexico to get ideas & recommendations for your own travel adventures there.

Suggested Books & Movies

The Maya: Ancient Peoples & Places – A detailed review of Mayan civilization through the ages based on today’s knowledge. (Book)

Six Bad Things – Hank is living off the map in Mexico with a bagful of cash that the Russian mafia wants back and many, many secrets. (Book)

Frida – Story of the handicapped Mexican painter, portraying her recovery from injury, love affairs and artistic vocation. (Movie)

Amores Perros – Interwoven tales about a young man in love, a perfume spokeswoman and her lover, and a scruffy vagrant. (Movie)

Lonely Planet Mexico – A travel guide to Mexico that includes history, advice, things to do, and places to stay. (Guidebook)

Enjoy Your Trip!

If you can survive the occasional cold shower or a broken down bus, Mexico will reward you with beautiful tropical beaches, historic Mayan ruins, and some of the best food on the planet.

Mexico is one of the best values for your money in adventure travel! ★

Traveling To Mexico Soon?

Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a big fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance here.

Book A Flight: Learn how I find the cheapest airline flights
Rent A Car: RentalCars.com is a great site for comparing car prices
Find A Hotel: My tips for booking affordable accommodation
Protect Your Stuff: WorldNomads.com can insure your trip & gear

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Budget Travel Guide & Tips For Mexico. More at ExpertVagabond.com
Budget Travel Guide & Tips For Mexico. More at ExpertVagabond.com

Have any travel questions or tips about Mexico? Other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

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  1. Mexico is the best for sure. Cheap delicious food, beautiful destinations, lovely people (excluding the cartel ;)) & lively holidays (Halloween).

    Don’t be scared.Go

    1. Yes, and I wouldn’t worry too much about those warnings. The cartels have been down there for years. They don’t attack tourists — mostly each other. Headlines can be shocking, but it’s a lot like gangs in the United States. People are shot in NYC every day, but that doesn’t stop tourists from visiting NYC.

  2. Hi,
    Your article is very well written and very informative. Thank you so much! Most guidebooks say to avoid spring break but my only time to travel to Yucatan area is in March. I chose March 20 to 27. I am in my late 20s, I do not mind young crowd but is it really that bad? I am a bit scared but still planning to buy my ticket soon. Will I still be able to enjoy? Any tips?

  3. What is a good daily budget for Mexico City and the surrounding area when all your accommodations are paid for, and part of the trip is all inclusive? I will be in Mexico City for 3 days and in a small, remote village north of Mexico City. For the village part, my meals and accommodations are already paid for.

    1. Hey Karin, that just depends on what you plan to do. If most of your food and accommodation is covered, it can be very cheap. Or not. For example, getting around by collectivo might cost a few dollars. Taxis could cost $4-5 a ride. Renting a bike might cost $10. Just depends on how you decided to get around, and if you pick free activities over expensive ones.

  4. Great post! I’ve found that people forget about Mexico as an exotic location to travel through, however, it has been one of my absolute favorites.

    For people interested in long-term travel, you can take cooking, salsa or Spanish classes that are dirt-cheap! I highly recommend the ones in Oaxaca :)

  5. i would add for your readers not to forget that mexico has some amazing city life as well to sample more authentic culture than normally found in the beach cities. i’ve been in guadalajara for three years and spend about $1,500 per month living in the best part of the city and going out whenever i feel like it. if you can find a way to support yourself or have US income one can live very nicely here. i sure do : )

  6. Hi great post and pictures. I cannot believe my eye, Yucatan is beautiful. I am planning my trip now and would love to visit the cenotes. What time of the day would you recommend to visit cenotes? What time of the day did u visit Dzitnup Cenote in the Yucatan? Thanks XX.

    1. Hi Prithi! If you want to visit with the least amount of people, early morning on a weekday is best. Many cenotes open up around 9 or 10am. For Dzitnup, noon is a good time as that’s when the light beam shines down into the cave.

  7. Hello, thank you for your input on the Yucatan.
    I always wanted to travel that region including Quintana Roo and will finaly do it next year. Will get an older motorhome, 1985ish and hit the road with no end date with my best fury friend Chico! No big plans except avoiding the super touristy parts of the country.

  8. Fantastic post! I love Mexico. I visited this gorgeous country 2 years ago. When I was there I realized that people have wrong opinion for this fantastic place. I am so glad that you are on the same track! Greetings!

  9. Hi! I’m Andrew I’m 14 and I’m planning on going to Mexico for 8 weeks and love cooking and not eating fast food. I’m expecting 300$ usd will cover me for the time im i a group called amigos we go to Mexico and help out people and live in the community. i will be living with a host family so i expect i wont pay for every meal, but would like luxury of cash if I’m holding 300$usd how should or even should i hide it?

  10. Interesting read. As you mention every person will have their own budget and of course some may find it hard to believe that travel can be achieved on such a tight budget. I did it myself for four years through South America, another year through India and continued for several years in Mexico.
    Things have changed a lot in Mexico since your trip in 2010 and Mexico has been in the news a lot, generally not for good reasons. I have been in and out of Mexico since 2004 and in general have found it to be a very safe and special place to travel.
    I have travelled from Tijuana down the Baja and from West to East and Back over the years. One of my favourite trips was a 4 month drive from Los Mochis to Playa del Carmen, Zig-Zagging up and down as we crossed the country. There really is so much to see and do, plus so many places in Mexico to visit where you will not see another foreigner.
    Cabo San Lucas is probably the most expensive place in Mexico and yet still you can live relatively cheaply. I made the full time decision to make my home here in Cabo San Lucas in 2008, making a living helping other tourist stretch their budget further.
    Since becoming a father, I really love to get out and about travelling with my son and helping other parents who choose to do the same.

  11. A great post and cost rundown, Matthew! After 15 months of crisscrossing Mexico, my new book looks at Americans and Canadians who’ve chosen to avoid the big expat colonies in San Miguel de Allende and Lake Chapala. What they’ve found is both diverse and surprising. If you’re wondering what the expat experience is like, whether on the beach or in the colonial cities of the interior, you need to listen to this conversation. The book is called “Into the Heart of Mexico: Expatriates Find Themselves Off the Beaten Path”, and there is no other book like it.

  12. Love the photos and the breakdown. Like you noted, it really depends on where you are traveling about the safety. I love the Yucatan and it’s a pretty well developed region for tourism, as you sort of noted. I plan to head there this summer and take my nephew through a lot of the same towns and sites you did! :)

  13. This is such a great review, im traveling to mexico D.F in 2 days and I was so worried about my budget, since i’m traveling with a budget of $1000, im so glad i read this before going there, i feel so much better now!

  14. I have two favorite countries in architecture: Finland and Mexico. Mexican art is great pleasure!!! Mexico is also the origin country of chocolate, vanilla and tomatoes.

  15. Great report! I agree with you on so much of this, about living simpler, the blown out of proportion media coverage of central and south american countries and of course people will always make fun of you, especially when you look so different to them! All part of the amazing experiences of travel.
    We’re currently in Mexico DF, going to go through Oaxaca, Chiapas and then to the Yucatan. We only have a month unfortunately, as I know once I get to Playa del Carmen and other places I will want to stay a month in EACH place! At least we’ve already been in Mexico for 3 months now so we’ve already had the chance to experienced a lot! :)

    1. Hi guys,
      Thanks for the information so far. Steph, if you get this, I’m travelling through Mexico for 4 months from February, I was wondering what tips you could give. Along the lines of backpack size: would it be easier to buy larger gear like sleeping bags etc after I’ve landed in Mexico?

  16. I just got to the Yucatan and i’m very excited to be here. I also hope to report positive experiences when my 6 months here is done :-)

    1. Hey dude, thank you for sharing this great info.Great blog here:)What places were on your track and which you admire the most.I am planning my next trip there, till April from now :)
      If you could send me few more details( on e-mail) regarding my quests I will realy apreaciate it.I am running actualy best rated hostel in Croatia so will be glad to return favor :)
      Ivica, Dubrovnik Backpackers Club, Croatia

  17. Great report! I’m glad you have such a great time.

    We had 22 million visitors last year, and this year we are looking to increase that number. 97% of the people who travels to Mexico is willing to go back, and now you now why!

    México is a beautiful, rich, magnetic, diverse, colorful and unique country.

    Many places have different elements, some places have luxury accommodations, some have good food, some have good weather, some have art or History but what makes Mexico unique, is that in Mexico, you have all those elements combined in one place. You can go to one of the finest art galleries in the world, eat world class food, stay in world class hotels and get to see unique tourism destinations.

    What I think is most intriguing about Mexico is the Mexican culture and its people. We Mexicans embrace life, that is why we celebrate so much, we cherish our existence and kudos to life. We care about other people and are friendly because we love to share experiences and make friends, we have a lot of empathy but most importantly, we celebrate life.

    The Yucatán Península is one of the safest places in México. It is sad to see the reports on sensational news that the media insists on doing… and they do it only because they think it sells newspapers. Yucatán is about 2000 or more from the drug conflicts of the North, not going to Yucatán because of problems in Juárez is like saying that you are not willing to go to California because of a hurricane in N.Y.

    People in Yucatán are really calm, friendly, welcoming and kind… and what about the food? The food is a mix of Mayan and Spanish cuisine so it has a unique blend of elements, as well as history; every time you eat authentic Mexican cuisine you taste History.

    Great report and awesome pics man! I suggest you go to Mexico City on your next trip, you are going to love it.

  18. Hi Matt,
    I share most of your observations written here. However, I went in January, which is a peak season and I have to say that the place was overrun with US American tourists, mostly doing the resort and tour bus thing. This one couple told me that they were worried something would happen to them – and they didn’t even get out of the resort!

    Also, compared to central highlands, Yucatan had much more tourists and touts. But the common people are warm, hospitable and wonderful everywhere.

  19. Great posts and pictures. Actually your photos are incredible. What camera and lenses did you take with you. I am in the process of replacing my lenses through insurance because my camera bag was lost/stolen. You think you know what you would buy given the choice but when you have that choice opened up it becomes mind boggling.

  20. Matt, we'll miss your daily posts and pictures. Your insight and attitude are truly inspirational. We're glad you're back safe and sound and look forward to hearing about your adventures in great detail someday soon!!

  21. Loved reading about your thoughts and insights–can't wait to hear all about your trip, in great detail, when you come to NH!!

  22. Great synopsis of your trip. What a wonderful adventure you had. It was interesting to see the effects your trip had and your observations. Sharing your photos with everyone helped us to experience what you were seeing. Nicely done. PK