backpacking mexico

This page is my overview of backpacking Mexico, covering the country, some tips, general things to know, transport and accommodation options, general costs and my experience of the country. 

I’m guessing most people think of Mexico and think Aztec and Mayan ruins, Chichen Itza, Cancun and tequila. Maybe it’s American students going wild on spring break or old dusty western style towns full of bandits and gun slingers or drug cartels or the infamous El Chapo…

…Well, Yeah, you’re right, they do have all that but let me tell you there is so much more to this country. Mexico is a huge shiny jewel for backpackers, it’s just one of those countries that has a sprinkling of everything and you can’t help but fall in love with it. What tickles your fancy? …Amazing food? Incredible landscape? Pristine beaches? A Journey into history? Adventure? A vast wilderness? Dense jungles?

Everything you are looking for in a budget backpacking trip; you will find it in Mexico. From start to finish it amazed me everyday. There are some countries you can travel to once and say you’ve been there and done it all. Mexico is the opposite, I spent nearly 3 months traveling through Mexico and still don’t feel like I’ve scratched the surface.

A few tips:

  • It’s good to learn some basic Spanish before getting there.
  • Forget trying to find a burrito (I found out Burritos as we know them were an American invention)
  • Taco’s sold on street stalls will become a staple of your diet, especially if your on a tight budget.
  • Mezcal is drunk more than Tequila and Mexicans don’t drop lime into their corona; Who knew!
  • Prepare for fucking long journeys – Mexico is huge.
  • Mexico is generally cheap but touristy places like parts of Mexico City, Cancun and Chitchen Itza are grossly overpriced.
  • Even if you are not a wrestling fan, try and see a lucha-libre event (High flying wrestlers behind masks)
  • Book overnight buses a few days in advance to get a cheaper price.
  • If you’re wanting to see ruins and temples, the lesser known one like Palenque are better and cheaper.
  • Mexicans in general are awesome people and very friendly unless you’re American.
  • Mexico has so many hidden gems and natural beauty’s, always talk to other backpackers and see what they’ve found. 
  • Try and get out to Canoutes and sink holes, if you’ve never seen them before they are amazing; You can dive and swim in some. 
  • When Mexicans say ‘Gringo’ –  They are only referring to Americans.
  • Playa Del Carmen is a much better party option for travelers on a tight budget – Cancun charge American prices. 

 

Some things to be wary of:

  • Although Mexicans are friendly, petty crime is rife in certain areas but not generally dangerous unless you go into cartel territory. Keep on your guard, don’t make yourself a target by acting like a tourist.
  • Cartels do run through the north towards the border so be careful and take precautions if going that far up.
  • Keep your belongings safe and hidden, do not flaunt that you are a tourist.
  • Be extra careful on the Metro in Mexico City – A fellow traveler I was with got pick-pocketed as we got off the train because he wasn’t being vigilant. (Stole his phone and wallet.)
  • Keep your belongings safe and close on bus journeys, although I never had any problems, I heard many horror stories from people who left there bags lying around on long bus-journeys. Most backpacker thefts are done on over-night bus journeys. You just have to keep your wits about you.
  • Armed Police will regularly board buses, don’t be alarmed, 9 times out of 10 they don’t even look at travelers, if they do they will just check your ID and hand it back.
  • When on the Pacific coast waves in the sea can reach huge swells, if you’r not a strong swimmer be careful.
  • Some of the more famous attractions of Mexico will charge you over the odds.
  • It is massively overpriced in Cancun – You will feel like you’ve left Mexico and stepped into the USA.

Basic things to know:

Language spoken: Spanish

Is English spoken: Yes

Currency: Mexican Peso

Backpacking in Mexico is – Fair

To check live rates click here XE.com

Visa options:

British Tourists don’t need a Visa, however we do get issued with Tourist cards at airports with a rough idea of length of stay.

Keep hold of these cards as you will need them when leaving the country. If you lose the card you will get fined when leaving the country (It’s a big dent in your budget when you have to pay a fine)

For more info on this check  GOV.UKhttps://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/mexico/entry-requirements

To check your nationalities Visa requirements check here CIBTVisas

Things to know when budgeting for Mexico:

backpacking mexico

The prices in Mexico vary depending where you are, for Example Mexico city is generally cheap except for the city center as it’s a hot tourist area but once you’re out of the city it becomes even cheaper. The Yucatan is generally the most expensive part of Mexico as its a favorite holiday destination for Americans. So when you’re backpacking Mexico you will have to juggle your budget depending where you are For example: There were days I could get by only spending $10-15 but then other days I could end up spending $30-$40.

Mexico was my first stop whilst traveling Central America so it took me a few days to get my bearings budget wise, to figure out where I could save on expenses.

Accommodation/transport:

The two main expense’s backpacking Mexico will be accommodation and transport. Just like every country you should shop around for accommodation, you will find cheap options but it’s a constant expense. With Mexico being such a huge country, far bigger than I realized and due to it’s mountainous terrain there a huge amount of traveling. Transport costs will eat at you, you should take overnight buses to save on a night’s rent. In mexico it’s a good idea to book your bus a few days before hand as prices are generally more expensive on the day.

Activities:

Activities and tours will vary in costs to how popular they are with American tourists, for example visiting the so called world wonder ‘Chichen Itza’ was stupidly overpriced and for me the least worthwhile temple ruins I saw. Temple ruins in Palenque and Tulum which cost next to nothing were so much more worthwhile and I got more for my money.

Food/drinks:

Food and drinks are generally inexpensive outside of western style restaurants. Look for street venders, taco stands, pizza slices, or visit the markets and local restaurants. Ask for “menu del dia” which is the menu of the day and normally come with a starter soup, a main dish and a drink  which is by far the cheapest option and most filling. Buying local beers cost pennies compared to imported beers and spirits. Tequila and mezcal come in different price ranges, the cheaper the nastier they are. Also if you’re a smoker like me then buying cigarettes from the pop up venders is a lot cheaper than buying from stores.

As you can see I haven’t gone into specific pricing, as prices always change and information becomes irrelevant. However if you are looking to compare live prices here is a couple of good sites for live comparisons to help you: numbeo and expatisan.

Getting around:

There are plenty of options to get you around but you should be prepared for long arduous journeys. Mexico is huge, and due to the terrain through the country, places that look close on a map can take hours to get to. Although there are highways and developed roads, just the sheer length of time it takes to one place to another can take it’s toll and is probably the hardest part of traveling Mexico.

It’s wise to chose to travel overnight to so you save on rent. Overnight buses are generally the most common way to get around, budget overnight buses are very basic and can turn into a nightmare, mid-range (1st class but still quite cheap) offer more comfort and some coaches will actually give you a free meal on board during the journey. Granted some will be more basic than others but it’s a free meal. To give you an idea, one journey I got just biscuits and a bottle of water, others I got given a small meal like I was on a flight and I once even got fed a McDonald’s. It’s best to try and book your ticket in advance, especially to popular destinations but there are some companies you can just turn up to the terminal and buy a ticket on the spot.

If you’re traveling locally during the day, for the cheapest options, ‘Collectivos (Shared mini van transport)  and chicken bus (old American school buses converted into public buses, an adventure in it-self) are your best options.

Another thing you should be prepared for, and this is throughout Central and South America is armed police boarding the bus to check ID’s of passengers. This is more aimed at locals that shouldn’t be on the bus the police largely ignore the travelers but there might be the odd time they check yours too.

Transport options:

Local:

Buses – The bigger cities have a good network of buses to get you around locally.

Metro – Very easy to navigate and very cheap. (Run within major cities like Mexico City)

Chicken buses – Old American School buses converted into local public buses. (Don’t be surprised to see livestock on these)

‘Colectivos’ – Mini-vans that wait until the are filled up and run certain routes.

Taxi – Expensive and not always metered (If not on the meter negotiate price before getting in.)

Nationally:

Bus/Coach – Mainly used for trans-country journeys, TICA-bus, ADO, are popular (and serve you food)

Private shuttle mini vans – buy a ticket and hop on at a terminal to your destination, pretty cheap and safe.

Flying – Mexico has domestic airlines and is possible to fly around if you can afford it.

Renting cars – Is possible if you have an international licence. Just be careful for crazy Mexican drivers.

Popular tour Companies:

Intrepid travel.

Eco travel Mexico.

Bamba experience.

Lots of tour companies available in Mexico.

Accommodation:

With Mexico geared towards tourism much more than I anticipated there are plenty of options to chose from. Most backpacker hostels are reasonably priced, with dorm rooms and private rooms available. You will find quite a range of hostels on booking sites like Hostel world and booking.com but you will find a wider range of hostels walking around as a lot of them wont advertise on booking sites.

  • Hostels – Mix of dorm and private rooms, range from quite to party hostels – great social hubs to meet other backpackers.
  • Budget hotels – Reasonably priced but not always in the best condition.
  • Love hotels – Rent rooms out for the amount of time you want to be there. (They are what they are)
  • Air BnB – Becoming quite popular in Central and South America.
  • Couchsurfing – Stay with locals and experience Mexico from a different perspective.
  • Workaways – Exchange a bed for work with locals or in a community.
  • Camping – camp under the stars on the beaches or in national parks.

My overview of Backpacking Mexico:

I have to say backpacking Mexico was just so much more than I anticipated it to be. I won’t lie, it blew me away, I fell in love with it and it rose to one of my favorite countries I’ve backpacked. The three months I spent there, was no where near enough, I feel like I have only scratched the surface; I need to go back and explore and see much more. I don’t want to make it sound fluffy but I can’t help it, apart from Cancun nothing can put me off backpacking Mexico again. Yes, I did get fed up of eating taco’s by the end of the trip but that’s no biggie. In my eyes the country is amazing, the people are friendly and welcoming and there is just so much to see and do.

Mexico was the first stop on my Central America trip, I walked in only being able to say ‘Olla’, ‘Ce, and ‘cepasa’ I left Mexico 3 months later with a general grasp of Latin Spanish. I had witnessed some amazing places, discovered so many hidden gems, felt the charm and warmth of incredible people and left with a huge respect for Mexico and Mexicans.

Some of my highlights:

Mexico City.

Mexican people.

Lucha Libre wrestling.

Partying with Mexicans.

Finding hidden bars.

Learning basic Spanish.

Street food.

Teotihuacan ruins.

Mezcal.

Adventures on Chicken buses.

Oaxaca.

Local Coffee.

Random colorful street parades.

San cristobal.

Old Spanish colonial buildings.

Color and vibrancy of towns and settings.

Chasing Waterfalls in the jungle.

Puerto Escondido.

Palenque ruins.

Howler monkeys.

Sumidero canyon.

Discovering hidden sinkholes.

Playa Del Carmen.

Tulum.

The wildlife – All the types of Lizards.

Bacalar.

Some of my dislikes:

Hostel staff walking into my room in the middle of the night without reason – Did not like that, made me paranoid.

Not knowing enough Spanish.

Tour operators hounding me.

Long journeys.

Air con blasting in the middle of the night on buses to make it freezing, but not on during the day when it’s needed.

Finding out burritos as I knew them where an American invention; bubble burst a little. *sad face*

Merida.

Chichen Itza.

Cancun.

My Route Backpacking Mexico:

My trip started in Mexico city, across to Oaxaca, down to the Pacific coast before I made my way up to the Yucatan. From there I followed to coast around until Chetumal where I crossed over into Belize.

 

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29 Comments

  1. I love Mexico. I’ve only been to the coastal areas, but I would love to explore more of the country.

  2. You’ve literally answered every question I have about backpacking in Mexico. So much great information and advice! I’m not a huge wrestling fan, but I think a lucha-libre event would be awesome to see!

    • Hi, Thanks 😀 you really don’t have to be a wrestling fan for Lucha-Libre, it’s all about the atmosphere, how the crowd really get into it. It’s hard to explain but it’s like such a big thing and everybody gets involved..you have to experience it :D…Are you looking to go to Mexico soon?

  3. Great tips! I’d love to explore Mexico, I’ve only been to the northern tip. I have heard burritos aren’t the same over there, much like Indian food in the UK 🙂 Polly

  4. This is a great guide and gives a nice overview of the tourist zones vs. the local and authentic places. Sadly, I haven’t traveled enough through Mexico and reading this makes me want to visit again soon. Nice job!

  5. This is a phenomenal overview! Really backpacking Mexico is very high on my list! I’ve been a couple of times, but never really to dig in! I can’t wait to put this guide to use! Would you say for a couple it’s better to do private rooms in hostels or budget hotels?

    • Hi, thanks 😁 I live the place I wanna go back haha…you know I don’t thinknthe prices would vary that much between a private room in a hostels and a budget hotel…if you were to stay in a hostel it would be more sociable ..but then again it depends what you guys are looking for..but as for price i dont think there would be that much of a diff

    • Thank you so much, I hope you get to visit Mexico. I would say the highlights that really stand out are, Palenque ruins, Puerto Escondido and Tulum. I Just had a great time start to finish though, love that country 😀

  6. What a nice comprehensive guide with personal notes! This should come in handy for those planning a trip to Mexico. What’s with the hostel staff walking into the room in the middle of the night for no reason though? I know I’d become paranoid too if I were travelling alone.

    • You know I’ve stayed in so many hostels all over the world and it is the only time that has happened, it was just one member of staff and he did it a couple of times, I reported it and the manager said it was part of what night security do. I found this very odd, needless to say all valuables were locked away for the couple of nights I stayed there.

  7. These are some great tips! Knowing basic Spanish is essential when traveling Latin America because the citizens aren’t multilingual like Europe! We learned that recently in Peru so we were glad to have Spanish handy!

    • Thanks 😀 I won’t lie, my Spanish isn’t the best but just knowing the basic really did make a difference. You’re right in Latin America people have no need to be multilingual so it’s up to us travelers to try and learn some Spanish.

  8. Thanks for this detailed guide! Wish I read this before! I love Mexico. It’s my 3rd favorite country and I find Mexicans to be lovely people. Curious though, is their unfriendliness towards Americans just a new thing because of Trump or is there any other reason?

    • Haha funny enough it’s joint 3rd on my list too 😀 I love this country so much. From what I gather Mexicans have always had a thing with Americans from way back, I don’t think there is any real hatred just Americans don’t seem to have the best rep. A bit like us English with certain European countries and Australians with Bali. I just remember I was told I wasn’t classed as a ‘gringo’ as I’m a Brit only Americans are ‘gringos’ – There are a few different stories floating around as to why.

  9. Mexico has been on my bucket list ever since I can remember! The only reason I’ve not been there is because of all the stories I’ve heard about the crime there. Like you said, crime is rife, but you can be vigilant. As a solo female traveller though, is it something you’d recommend?

    • Crime is only rife in certain areas and it’s petty crime. For the majority of Mexico, it’s very safe unless you venture into Cartel land and that’s predominantly up north. However as travelers you’re given advice on the areas not to go. I have to say this country for me can’t be missed. You can’t help but fall in love with it and the people. Mexicans in general are so friendly and amazing people.

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