The Long AnswerHow much money you should budget for Mexico travel often totally depends on where you're going. A non-urban location will be cheaper for many things -- for instance, locally made handicrafts will be far cheaper than in the city if you buy close to the source -- which is usually rural. Resort areas can be just as spendy as any US city, though lesser known beach areas like Tulum are cheaper than famous spots like Acapulco. How to do Mexico on a cheap travel budget? Let's first look at how to buy food for less than $10 per day in Mexico.
Buy Groceries and Eat Street FoodAssume that anything you like in the US, like Coke or McDonald's, is going to cost the same in Mexico -- don't count on eating and drinking the way you do in the US and saving any real money. If you eat local produce and are adventurous with street food, you can get by cheaply.
Large grocery stores exist in the cities, even small cities like Zihuatenejo, and some stuff, like bread, is a whole lot less expensive than in similar US stores.
Locally grown fruit anywhere in Mexico is cheap, but often especially cheap in mercados (open-stall community markets). An avocado in a Patzcuaro outdoor market is 3 cents; where I live in Colorado, an avocado is $1.39.
Street food is super cheap; stock your backpack with mercado-bought fruit and veggies for breakfast while having a terrific culinary adventure for main meals.
- Fifty cents for an ear of roasted corn from a street vendor is top dollar; you can get a tamale for 35 cents.
- You can buy a big plate of hot carbs for a buck in the mercados -- you just have to get off any city's beaten path, even by one block.
Use Local BusesIn-country transportation is cheap, provided you use local buses. Forty cents for an Acapulco bus down the main drag (fifty cents if it's air conditioned), for instance.
"Chicken" buses, thus named because they head to and from rural locales and sometimes host an animal or two (though livestock-on-bus sightings are not really as common as some travel guides would have you believe), are cheap and pretty safe. Stand by the side of the road or city street, looking into traffic, and raise an arm when you see a bus approaching -- it will probably pull over. You can usually get off by hailing the bus driver at any point along the bus's journey. The buses often run on a schedule; ask a local. The farther away from population centers you get, the farther apart buses will be (like hours or days), so ask someone, like a bartender or shop clerk, when the buses run in the area to which you're headed.
Cab costs vary, but assume about $1 per 10 miles. Negotiate the rate before you get in.
Booze Sticker ShockBeer and booze in Mexico aren't nearly as cheap as is usually assumed -- figure a buck or $1.50 for a beer in a bar. Bottles of booze are only about 10% less than they are in the US. Beer is perhaps two-thirds of the price in the US if bought in a grocery store.
Student Lodging CostsYou can camp on some beaches for free, but never assume that -- look for a house nearby and always think of safety. Camping on a beautiful Tulum beach with access to a bathroom is $3; a very nice hostel in Cancun with breakfast is, at most, about $15.
Total Student Travel Mexico BudgetWith the above examples, let's say you use two buses, have one beer in a bar, eat three meals a day on the street or in the mercado and buy a ton of avocados. Add some gourmet treats: assume one or two bucks for fresh fruit smoothies from a street stand. Figure $15 for lodging, and you're spending $25 per day in Mexico.
Figuring Out Mexico MoneyDrop the last digit, or the peso zero, for an extremely rough conversion (true exchange rate can change at any time). Using this formula, $1.00 is (very roughly) $10.00 pesos. Don't use this formula to budget -- it's an easy way to guess rough costs when you're shopping, though.
Sample Mexico BudgetSee a sample budget for one week on Mexico's Riviera Maya, including lodging in Cancun and Tulum, food, and sightseeing.
Mexico Travel Guides, Photos and FAQ's
Whet your appetite for sunny travel down south with these Mexico photos:
- Mexico Color
- Mexico Streets
- Mexico's People
- Mexico Street Food
- Acapulco Photos
- Puerto Vallarta Photos
- Rosarito Beach Photos