How to Travel in the Yucatán Peninsula on a Budget

How to Travel in the Yucatán Peninsula on a Budget

I want this Latin America trip to last as long a possible, so I’m keeping a close eye on my daily budget. I’ve always traveled cheaply, but now that I’m not working as an English teacher like I did in Spain, it’s more important than ever to stay on top of my bank balance. Mexico is an affordable country for backpacking and I was able to have an incredible time while spending approximately $30 a day for two weeks.

Here’s how to travel in the Yucatán Peninsula on a Budget:

Accommodation

Green Monkey Hostel, Bacalar

Green Monkey Hostel, Bacalar

The price of accommodation in the Yucatán Peninsula is quite affordable compared to other beachside destinations like Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast. A bunk bed in a hostel dorm room can be reserved for about $10-16 a night. Many hostels also offer camping options in which you can pitch your own tent or sleep in one of the hostel’s tents. This is a great option if your budget is on the tighter end.

For those less enthused about sleeping in hostel dorms (I hear you, after staying in about 100, I get sick of them too), reserving a private room for two people on Airbnb can cost about $10 a night per person.

Tulum

This little room behind a house in Tulum was one of my favorite places to stay!

In two weeks, I spent an average of $12.25 per night for accommodation in the Yucatán.

Pro tip: seek out accommodation with breakfast included! Your belly and wallet will both be happier!

Transportation

The ADO bus is a great way to get around the Yucatán. One-way trips cost about $12, sometimes more depending on the distance. The buses are air-conditioned, play English movies dubbed in Spanish, and are very comfortable. The second-class buses are operated by Oriente, but tickets can usually be purchased at the ADO kiosk. These buses probably don’t have air conditioning, but they’re still more comfortable than the local chicken buses if you continue south to Belize and Guatemala.

For shorter distances, colectivos (shared taxi vans) are the way to go. From Playa del Carmen to Tulum, my colectivo ride cost $3. Although it can take longer to arrive at the destination because the shared van makes many pickups and drop-offs along the way, it’s so much more affordable to travel via colectivo. You might be in a van full of locals, but it’s safe. This is the way everyone gets around in Mexico.

In two weeks, I paid an average of $5.13 a day on transportation, although I didn’t use transportation every day. Longer bus routes like Cancún to Valladolid, Valladolid to Playa del Carmen, Playa del Carmen to Tulum, and Tulum to Bacalar cost about $12 each.

Food

Tacos in Bacalar

If you’re adventurous enough to eat at local restaurants or street food, you can eat well and cheaply in the Yucatán. Some of the best tacos I had were $0.50 each!

Street food is cheaper and much better than the food you’ll find in restaurants. I had terrible fajitas in a restaurant and delicious poc-chuc and panuchos on the street – and I didn’t even know what those things were before I ate them!

Poc-chuc in Mexico

Poc-chuc: looks questionable, tastes incredible

Don’t forget the option of doing a little DIY cooking at your hostel/guesthouse/apartment rental kitchen! I actually have been doing this for the first time ever on this trip. Normally, I’m all for eating the local food in the country I’m in. Food is a huge part of getting to know a country. Bottom line: unless maybe you’re in Japan, you’re not going to learn anything about the culture of a country by cooking Ramen noodles in the hostel kitchen. However, paying for every meal can take out a decent chunk of a daily budget, so it’s not a bad idea to save some pesos and cook at least one meal at “home”.

In two weeks, I spent an average of $6 a day on food (and that’s rounding up). The food was some of the best I’ve had in Latin America, too!

Activities

Chichén Itzá

This is where things can get pricey. Any type of excursion usually means an outflow of cash that will put a dent in your daily budget. Snorkeling in Cenote Dos Ojos near Tulum cost $60 for a half-day tour, but it was so worth it. Entrance to the Mayan ruins cost about $14 at Chichén Itzá (though cheaper in some places like Cobá, where it was about $5 for entry).

One of the best parts of traveling is getting to do cool things in cool places, so I don’t mind spending a few extra pesos on excursions and activities. These are the memories I’ll get to keep forever, so I don’t mind. If the price of an activity is over $100, then I’ll think it over a bit before pulling the trigger.

Tulum

Consider allowing for a little extra leeway here. It’s fun to rent a bicycle ($4 a day in Tulum) or kayak ($3 per hour in Bacalar, but you only really need an hour) every now and then!

It’s tough to calculate a reasonable average since I didn’t engage in costly activities every day, but the most I spent in the Yucatán was $60 for the snorkeling trip.


And another thing – if the idea of backpacking in Mexico is giving you a bad vibe, just give it a chance. I know the Yucatán Peninsula is part of the so-called “Gringo Trail” and is safer than other parts of Mexico might be, don’t let misconceptions about Mexico keep you from visiting a truly beautiful and exciting country. Now go on, check up on those flights to Cancún!

8 Comments

  1. October 26, 2015 / 5:59 pm

    I loved reading this post! Mexico is the only country I have traveled to, outside of my home country of Canada and areas of the USA, because I just love it so much and keep going back. I took my first solo backpacking trip to Mexico (Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Valladolid) this past spring and had the most amazing time. So much so, that I am going back in two weeks for a longer backpacking trip to explore more off the beaten path. Backpacking in the Yucatan was cheaper than I was expecting it to be and I found it to be very easy to find cheap places to eat that served the most delicious traditional food, and I never felt unsafe taking the local ADO buses or colectivos as a solo female. I agree with you about the activities and entrance fees for ruins and cenotes putting the biggest dent in your budget. But even as a budget traveler myself, I like to invest in memorable experiences. 🙂

    • October 30, 2015 / 9:00 pm

      Thanks, Brittany! The Yucatán is amazing, I’m so jealous you’re going back! Now I really want to go back and explore the rest of Mexico, too!

  2. November 26, 2015 / 4:44 pm

    Hey Lavi, your post brought up some nice memories for me. Me and my boyfriend backpacked Yucatan last winter and had a great time – so we are going back in a few months, this time for longer then two weeks 🙂
    Your food photos – are they taken in the taco place in Tulum very close to the main intersection? It looks like our favourite lunch buffet in Tulum!

    • November 27, 2015 / 11:27 am

      Hi Maya – it’s so awesome that you’re going back to the Yucatán! The food photos weren’t actually taken in Tulum, they were taken in Bacalar and near one of the cenotes near Valladolid. Where are you planning on going this time around?

  3. January 18, 2016 / 4:08 pm

    Hi, Lavi! Great post and very useful.
    Even if we travel a lot for more than 3 years, and we usually know our expenses, we always read articles like this one before budgeting our next trip. We just spend in Mexico-Yucatan area 14 days, including New Year`s Eve 2016 in Cancun. Altho it was touristy, busy and with higher prices in this period, we managed to spent 35$ per day/person, of course using public transport and eating from the street vendors and local restaurants. We loved Mexico and it is indeed safe!
    Here is our article, maybe it will be useful to other travelers:
    http://www.lovealwayssummer.com/two-weeks-in-high-season-in-yucatan-mexico-for-32e-per-day-pp-all-included/
    Safe travel!
    Anda from LoveAlwaysSummer

    • January 25, 2016 / 12:11 pm

      Hi Anda! I’m glad this post was helpful for you and your breakdown is really helpful, too! $35 per person is pretty good for New Years!

  4. November 4, 2016 / 9:26 am

    “And another thing – if the idea of backpacking in Mexico is giving you a bad vibe, just give it a chance. I know the Yucatán Peninsula is part of the so-called “Gringo Trail” and is safer than other parts of Mexico might be, don’t let misconceptions about Mexico keep you from visiting a truly beautiful and exciting country. Now go on, check up on those flights to Cancún!” Yessss! I’m so excited!!

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