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:
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!