Mexico on a Budget (Travel Guide 2019)

Cactus garden in Oaxaca seen when Planning a trip to Mexico on a budget cover

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MEXICO TRAVEL GUIDE CONTENTS

Are you planning a trip to Mexico? This gigantic Mexico guide tells you everything you need to know about travel to Mexico on a budget. It includes a packing list, safety tips, foods to try, where to go and how to find the best beaches.

Mexico is the land of margaritas and mariachi! What’s more exciting than snoozing on a beach, drinking $1 margaritas encompassed by sunshine, sombreros, and serenades? Or walking the busy streets at a festival in Oaxaca surrounded by giant paper mache skeletons?

Vamos! Let’s go! I’m stoked to share my best tips and tricks with you in this travel guide to Mexico and teach you how to max out on the Mexico fun! Whether you are just daydreaming or planning a trip to Mexico, grab a pen and a poncho and let’s get going.

PLANNING A TRIP TO MEXICO ON A BUDGET

If you are planning a trip to Mexico and you’ve never been before, you will surely have a number of questions about the country. We aim to answer every single question you might have about Mexico so you’ll feel totally on top of everything before you go. Even if you’ve been to Mexico before, you’ll be sure to find golden nuggets of information sure to make your travel around the country is easier.

The biggest concern for many is the question of ‘is Mexico Safe?’ Simply, Mexico is safer than you think, but you should know how to avoid trouble too. We talk more about all of this in the section below.

Make sure you pack medicine for upset stomachs. Whether you drank one too many margaritas or just had a burrito that didn’t sit well with you… it’s always better to be safe than sorry! We also go into packing essentials for Mexico below as well.

What You Need to Know When Planning a Trip to Mexico

Language – The language spoken in Mexico is Spanish, which sounds like a DUH moment, but hey, let’s be extra clear here. Most of the tourist hotspots are filled with people who can speak English.

On the other hand, my friend who is from Mexico says that throughout the country, probably only 40% of the population speaks English, just depends on how touristy you go. So it never hurts to brush up on some handy Spanish phrases. (See below, friends!)

Visa – It’s always a good idea to check up on Mexico visa requirements – for that matter, any country’s visa requirements before traveling.

If you’re from the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, Japan, or any country in the Schengen, you won’t need a visa to visit Mexico. You just need to present your passport and fill out an immigration form at the airport and viola – you’re in!

If you happen to not be from one of the countries mentioned above, or if you want to do a little extra reading, you can find everything you need by clicking here.

Currency – Mexico is the land of pesos (MXN). Currently, 1 USD is roughly 19 MXN pesos, and 1 Euro is approximately 21.25 MXN pesos. The rates do fluctuate though, so it’s best to check a currency calculator.

There are awesome free apps out there; just go to the App Store and pick your poison. With such good Mexican currency conversions, it’s super easy to do Mexico on a budget. Although, you can also live large and do luxury for a lot less than you would in many other destinations!

ATMs – There is only one free ATM in Mexico to my knowledge. Citibank ATMs are only free if you have a Citibank account too. Other than that, most of the ATM fees are only around 80 pesos, so it’s really not too bad!

Also, most popular tourist places accept cards, so if your credit card doesn’t have foreign transaction fees – swipe that puppy and get spending!

Safety – Be careful of credit card scammers. Don’t let anyone take your card and walk away with it. I know some places we put our card in our bill and let the waiter ferry it away! But no, keep that card close at hand and don’t let it be whisked away to be copied down somewhere else. Avoid using debit cards that are directly linked to your bank account, stick to credit cards.

There are places in Mexico that do have high crime rates, so be a safe and smart traveler and don’t wander alone at night through sketchy alleyways. Don’t carry all your valuables with you either, stash some money or an extra credit card in a different spot than the rest, just in case the worst happens! Stay in groups at night and use your common sense.

LGBT RightsLGBT rights in Mexico are pretty good and progressive; same-sex marriage is legal in 14 states, and there has been sexual orientation protection countrywide since 2003. I do want to mention that Puerto Vallarta has a fabulous gay scene. The city has lots of bars and hotels geared towards the community.

If you’re not too far off the beaten path in Mexico – in the rural and perhaps more old school areas – I’d say that there really isn’t much discrimination for people in the LGBT community who decide to travel and visit Mexico.

Electricity – I’ve never experienced a power outage in Mexico. In rural areas, they may lose power sometimes, but for every place I’ve been, power has never been an issue. Even running water hasn’t been an issue! The tourism industry in Mexico is massive, so they want to keep the tourists happy – electricity and running water are musts, right?

Electrical Sockets – The Mexico plugs and sockets are type A and B. For you electricity savvy humans out there, the standard voltage is 127 V, and the standard frequency is 60 Hz. That means if you’re from the USA, you don’t need a travel adapter in Mexico. If you’re from the UK, you definitely will need an adapter and converter!

Annoyances in Mexico

For all the first-timers to Mexico, be prepared to meet many locals trying to sell you trinkets. There’s a never-ending wave of people always trying to sell you something. It can be a little overwhelming, but just buckle down and plow ahead, dears! I will usually say a stern but respectful “no, thank you” if someone tries to sell me something directly.

If you are doing a road trip around Mexico (which I highly recommend, by the way) you may encounter roadblocks in some areas. Around the Yucatan Peninsula, the people blocking the roads simply want a coin or two of your spare change before letting you through. However, in some areas, the roadblocks are due to civil protests and could be dangerous. Please research your routes using my guide or joining a Facebook Group and asking for the latest information.

Transportation in Mexico

Bus – Depending on location, there are local buses without air conditioning for a handful of pesos. There are also luxury tourist buses that are definitely my favorite way to travel! I love traveling by bus when backpacking Mexico because you avoid baggage craziness and stress – and you get to see more of the country that way. Also, sometimes, you get the best travel stories on buses – like people bringing chickens along for the ride. You never know what will happen!

The bigger bus companies that operate across Mexico are ADO, Primera Plus, Estrella de Oro, Omnibus de Mexico, and ETN. The easiest way to book long distance buses is to head to your nearest bus terminal a day or two in advance.

Colectivo – This is one of my favorite ways to travel Mexico. A colectivo is usually a minivan that acts as a bus picking people up at the terminals and along the road. They are usually extremely cheap and super fast. Just ask your hotel about the route you want to take or do a quick google search.

Taxi/Uber – If you feel like spending a little extra, taxis are plentiful in tourist hotspots and start from 16 MXN pesos (0.85 c USD). Uber is slightly cheaper and operates in 30 cities across Mexico.

Airplane – Mexico does have a handful of budget airlines, like Avolar, Azteca, Click, Interjet, Viva Aerobus, and Volaris. You can get stoked about super cheap fares, but as always with budget airlines, beware of the crazy baggage fees and requirements!

I use a combination of Skyscanner and Google Flights to find the lowest possible flight prices. You’ll be surprised about how cheap some of the internal flights within Mexico can get!

Car Hire – Renting a car in Mexico is super easy. It’s generally the same as it is anywhere else in the world. I highly recommend hiring a car to get between towns along the Riviera Maya and other places on the Yucatan Peninsula.

To rent a car in Mexico, you have to be 21 years old or over (max 75 years old) and have held your license for a minimum of two years. Drivers under 25 may incur a young driver surcharge. These guidelines may vary between rental suppliers though. I always use CarRentals.com to find the lowest prices. Make sure you read my post on driving around Mexico to get tips on covering your butt when hiring a car in Mexico.

Subway – Mexico City and Guadalajara have great subway systems, and I highly recommend using them. They are cheap, fast and convenient. You can get a one-way ticket to most places in the city for 5 MXN pesos (0.25 c USD).

Mexico City truck Planning a trip to Mexico on a budget

USEFUL PHRASES IN MEXICO

The language they speak in Mexico isn’t Mexican, it’s Spanish. So if there are Mexican words and phrases, they’re all slang terms heard only in Mexico. It’s a great idea for travelers to learn a few key Spanish phrases when planning a trip to Mexico.

Plus, it is always fun to make new local friends and show off your knowledge of the local Mexican phrases or impress a waiter, so I have included a few of my favorite Mexican slang words below.

Spanish is a pretty universal language, so you’ve probably picked up a few words here and there through osmosis. Just in case you haven’t, let’s cover the bases with a few key words and phrases!

Spanish

Hola – Hello
Cómo estás? – How are you?
Bien, ¿y tú? – Good, how about you?
Si – Yes
No – No
Yo quiero, yo no quiero – I want, I don’t want
Dónde está…? – Where is…?
Cuánto cuesta? – How much does it cost?
Tienes…? – Do you have…?
Yo tengo, yo no tengo – I have, I don’t have
Yo entiendo, yo no entiendo – I understand, I don’t understand
¿Entiende? – Do you understand?
El baño – The bathroom
Agua – Water

Mexican Slang

Güey – Mate/dude
Gringo – A person from the USA
¿Qué onda? – What’s up?
Buena Onda – Cool
No manches – No way
Baboso – Dumb/stupid
Órale – Right on/cool
Chingon – stud/bad-ass/macho man
Chela – Beer
Culo – Butt/ass
Mamacita – An attractive woman

Mexican family cooking for Reasons to love Mexico

BEST BOOKING RESOURCES FOR MEXICO TRAVEL

The following is a list of the best booking agencies for Mexico travel planning. I use these companies over and over again when I travel to Mexico and I have found they consistently have the best prices and great services. Most even have their own apps which make the booking process even easier.

Booking Flights to Mexico

Skyscanner – I love the ability on their website to search by month. You can then get an overview of the cheapest flights within the whole month on a calendar layout so you don’t have to manually look at each day separately. I always use Skyscanner to plan my flights.

Google Flights – Another good flight search option. If you hit the grid button during your search you can see a layout similar to Skyscanner with a whole month view. I always check Google Flights to see if they have different or cheaper options to Skyscanner.

Booking Accommodation in Mexico

Booking.com – Are always my first option when searching for accommodation. They consistently have the best prices, a lot of the time their prices are even lower than walking in off the street! Trust me we tried doing that several times. Plus they have great loyalty discounts, so after you have used them a few times you will see those amazing discounts pop up. If you aren’t already signed up to Booking, here’s $25 off your first stay.

Hotels Combined – I have used Hotels Combined a lot as a hotel booking comparison site, usually to check that Booking really did have the lowest prices. Sometimes they have a larger range, but most of the time they will just prove to you that Booking.com was actually the cheapest.

Airbnb – If you prefer the comfort of staying in a home when you travel or like the idea of living with local people, Airbnb is a great alternative. I use them a lot when I travel, especially for long stays where I would like access to a kitchen. If you are not already signed up to Airbnb, here’s $30+ off your first stay.

Hostelworld – The best booking website for hostels out there. They have a huge number of hostels listed with a great interface. They are easy to use and cheap.

Couchsurfing – This is a website that puts you in contact with local people at your destination and you can stay in their home (couch or spare room) for free. The intention is that you then offer your couch to other surfers once you are able to. The idea of it can be scary for some but I have surfed all over the world and have made very strong positive connections with local people that I would not have otherwise met.

Booking Tours in Mexico

Get Your Guide – This website a search interface for a large range of local tours offered in your destination. Whether you want to hire a guide to take you to cenotes or show you around some ancient ruins, Get Your Guide is the best place to look.

Viator – Viator is the tour booking company associated with TripAdvisor. If you prefer using TripAdvisor while planning a trip to Mexico, Viator can help you book those experiences.

Booking Transport around Mexico

CarRental.com – My go-to for booking rental cars. They compare between most rental companies and give you the lowest possible price.

Uber – Uber is like booking a taxi, but with a local person in their own car. The entire process is organized through the app and the rating and tracking system keeps you safe. You can even share your trip live with someone at home if you are worried about safety. They also have an UberPool option where the driver will pick up other passengers along the way that essentially makes your trip cheaper since you share the costs. Uber is only available in some states, so check the app once you are there.

Bla Bla Car – Do you need to get from A to B but don’t want to take a bus? Consider booking a rideshare with Bla Bla Car. It’s like UberPool but for longer distances and it’s cheaper. The driver simply places their route within the app a few days before the trip and then passengers buy seats on the trip. In Mexico, I found Bla Bla Car to be even cheaper than the buses on some routes.

ADO – This is the main tourist bus company that serves roughly the eastern half of the country. Anyone can book buses using their website, however, if you don’t speak Spanish you may find the navigation a little difficult. You can also book ADO buses at the bus terminals and in most tour offices.

Travel Insurance

World Nomads – The best travel insurance for long term travel which covers medical and property. They are also great because you can insure yourself once you are already overseas, which most companies do not offer.

SafetyWing – Another backpacker favorite and are often cheaper than World Nomads. However, they only offer travel medical insurance at this time.

Clements – This is more expat insurance than traveler insurance as you need an overseas address. They offer really good coverage for personal property, especially for items that aren’t fully covered by your general travel insurance.

MEXICO BUDGET COMPARISON

It’s easy to travel to Mexico on a budget. Street food is incredibly cheap and even food in local eateries is shockingly budget-friendly. Accommodation is going to be one of your largest expenses in Mexico, but as long as you use the websites I recommend above, you’ll be able to find some really good deals on hotels. If you are doing Mexico on a strict budget, I recommend limiting the number of different places you visit, to save on travel. But catching colectivos and buses will keep your costs down too if you do need to travel to different areas.

Here is a quick overview of the type of prices involved with calculating your Mexico budget. It shows expected costs for backpackers, mid-range and luxury travelers for comparison.

AccommodationFoodTransportAttractionsAv. Daily Cost
Backpacker200 MXN ($10 USD)86 MXN ($4.50 USD)100 MXN ($5 USD)300 MXN ($15 USD)570 MXN ($30 USD)
Mid-Range600 MXN ($30 USD)200 MXN ($10 USD)150 MXN ($8 USD)300 MXN ($15 USD)1,000 MXN ($52 USD)
Luxury1,7000 MXN ($90 USD)550 MXN ($29 USD)500 MXN ($26 USD)1,000 MXN ($52 USD)3, 000 MXN ($155 USD)

BEST SEASONS IN MEXICO

The weather in Mexico isn’t just sun, sun, sun. Mexico is a huge country and it isn’t sunshine everywhere all day. From snowy mountains to arid deserts, Mexico has it all. However, if you’re heading to the coast, it is balmy and pleasant year-round. But there is a rainy season too that you should be aware of. Generally, the rainy season is May through September/October.

Mexico is also at risk of hurricanes; nothing wrecks a vacation like a natural disaster. June through November is hurricane season, so check the weather forecasts and precautions. If you’re not hitting up the coastline, Google to find the weather details for each region by month. My favorite month to hit up the beaches in Mexico in November, right after the rainy season. Gotta love warm days and cool nights!

Riviera Maya weather – The Riviera Maya covers the area between Cancun and Tulum. It includes Isla Mujeres, Playa del Carmen, and Cozumel Island. Spring (March to June) is the best time to go to the Riviera Maya because it’s warm and sunny with just a few showers occasionally. Rainy/hurricane season is from May to September and although the Riviera Maya does not usually get hurricanes but the area can still get bad tropical storms.

If possible, avoid places in the Riviera Maya during July and August and the period from mid-December to early January since they are big tourist months.

Puerto Vallarta weather – Want to go to Puerto Vallarta? High tourist season is November to March. If you’re looking for a super good deal, hotel rates go way down (sometimes by 40%!) in July and October. You can expect college partiers and rain in July, so October is my favorite month!

Mexico City weather – In Mexico City, rain hits in May and continues to fall on vacationers until halfway through October. I recommend going in November because it won’t be too hot or too rainy; if you time it right, you can even participate in the infamous Day of the Dead celebrations!

Cabo San Lucas weather – If Cabo San Lucas is calling your name, you definitely want to plan a trip during February and March, when the Pacific Gray Whales migrate from the Arctic to mate and give birth off the shores of Cabo. Talk about a once in a lifetime experience to witness!

Our top 10 reasons you’ll love Mexico! From the beautiful colors of Mexico, to strong Mexican culture and aesthetic. Fiestas, food and Day of the Dead. This is our Mexico bucket list full of culture and colours!
🇲🇽 💃 🌮 🌵 #Mexico #Food #CwC #photography #tips

WHAT TO PACK FOR MEXICO

When deciding what to pack for Mexico, where you are going will definitely influence what you pack. Because Mexico is utterly huge with loads of different biomes and temperatures take a look at my gigantic packing list for helpful advice on packing for Mexico.

Below, I’ll list some items you might forget to bring to Mexico. but first, let’s talk about the ideal type of backpack for Mexico travel.

THE BEST BACKPACK FOR MEXICO
 

Osprey Sojourn Hybrid Wheeled Backpack

A backpack crossed with a suitcase! The Osprey hybrid backpack is easily the best backpack I have ever owned. The functionality is perfect. I rarely need to use the Osprey Sojourn as an actual backpack, but when I do it’s easy to set up and works perfectly. But for most of the travel, I use it as a rolling suitcase which saves my back and means I can put heavier things in it without worrying about whether I’ll be able to carry it. This is the best multifunctional luggage that is perfect for traveling Mexico.

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

Packing for Mexico: Don’t Forget These Items

Here’s a list of all of the items you might easily forget when packing for Mexico. Click this link for a full comprehensive packing guide.

The colours of Mexico for Reasons to love Mexico

BEST THINGS TO DO IN MEXICO

Other than the obvious activities in Mexico like sunbaking on the beach, getting a massage or drinking a margarita, these are the best things to do in Mexico.

Swim in a Cool Cenote

Just what is a cenote you ask? It’s a natural sinkhole that occurs when a cave ceiling collapses and exposes the groundwater underneath. There are thousands of them all over the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, with a majority of them concentrated around Tulum, Bacalar, Valladolid, and Merida. The Yucatan Peninsula is like a giant sponge made of limestone, with cenotes all over the area. The cenotes were sacred to the Ancient Mayan people and it is understood that it is only because of these cenotes that their civilization was able to advance the way it did.

If you are interested in visiting a cenote somewhere in the Yucatan Peninsula, be sure to read my huge guides that help you find cenotes closest to your destination. These are the cenote guides I have: Tulum Cenotes | Riviera Maya Cenotes | Valladolid Cenotes.

Xcanche Cenote - Best Valladolid Cenotes
Xcanche Cenote near Valladolid

Explore The Reef by Scuba Diving

There are absolutely fantastic scuba diving opportunities in Mexico. If scuba diving isn’t your cup of tea, snorkeling is a must. It’s pretty inexpensive to rent gear, so enjoy exploring the marine world at budget prices. I especially loved scuba diving with the manta rays at Socorro Island. Mind-blowing! Or, I’ve heard that at Isla San Pedro you can see baby sea lions. Apparently, 400 sea lions call San Pedro their home.

If you’re headed to the Riviera Maya, there is amazing scuba diving off Cancun, Cozumel Island, and Isla Mujeres. Cozumel is best for reef diving while Isla Mujeres boasts a shipwreck and an underwater museum.

Museo between Isla Mujeres and Cancun

Swim with the Fish While Snorkeling

There is pretty awesome snorkeling off the entire coast of Mexico. If you’re in the water with a mask and snorkel, the chances are you’ll see something very cool. The best snorkeling spot is in Isla Mujeres, which is offshore from Cancun. Here, you can snorkel with hundreds of whale sharks! They are generally around from June to September each year. That’s definitely a Mexico bucket list item!

Highly recommended is the snorkeling in the cenotes near Playa del Carmen and Tulum. Cenote Azul is bountiful with rocks and freshwater fish, and Casa Cenote is closely connected to the sea, so is filled with some very interesting brackish-water fish like cichlids and giant tarpon.

Casa cenote from a drone for Planning a trip to Mexico on a budget cover
Casa Cenote from a drone

Learn to Surf

If you’re feeling adventurous and want to try something new, or maybe you’re already a pro, why not go surfing! With 5,797 miles (9,330 km) of gorgeous coastline, grab a surfboard and go! And a little tip for those surfers who like empty waters, the further south you venture in Mexico, the more empty the beaches are of tourists and other surfers.

Puerto Escondido is perhaps Mexico’s most famous surfing spot. You can easily find surfing lessons on beaches in this town for as little as 500 MXN ($30 USD) per hour for a one-on-one lesson.

Marvel at Ancient Temples, Pyramids, and Ruins

Hiking an ancient Aztec or Mayan ruin should be on your Mexico bucket list! When you travel to Mexico, don’t leave out the ruins. Make sure you visit some of the ancient architectural gems of Mexico. Teotihuacan is probably the most well-known pyramid in Mexico, and for good reason. It was built around 200-450 AD by the Aztecs and is still in incredible condition.

The Nohoch Mul pyramid in Coba is also dazzling; it’s the tallest Mayan pyramid in the Yucatan Peninsula and offers stunning views of the jungle. It’s only 120 steps high, which doesn’t sound like a Fitbit goal or anything, but my oh my those steps are steep! It’s well worth it for the experience and views.

Teotihuacan pyramid ruins for Planning a trip to Mexico on a budget
Teotihuacan Ruins in Mexico City

Dig Deep into Museums in Mexico City

Personally, I love Mexico City’s urban vibes and cool, modern architecture – plus, it’s mega affordable. If you’re in Mexico City, definitely hit up as many museums as you can. Mexico City actually has more museums than any other city in the whole wide world. My favorite is the Frida Kahlo House. What an artist, what a woman!

Bellas Artes Mexico City for Planning a trip to Mexico on a budget
Museo de Bellas Artes Mexico City

Lap Up All the Mexican Food

My favorite thing to do in Mexico is to hunt down the best tacos! Crunch and munch down on salty and salsa-filled goodness. I’m seriously getting cravings right now. Don’t expect American-style tacos when you arrive, either. These bad boys are filled with carne asada, cochinita, adobada, chorizo, fish, shrimp, or marlin tacos. Don’t worry, you can diet later.

Revel in Architecture Walks and Tours

I love the diverse architecture in Mexico, so not taking the time to walk around and explore the cities you visit is simply inexcusable! The pink quarry stone buildings in Morelia, Michoacan are jaw-dropping. So are the cities of San Cristobal de las Casas and Oaxaca City that are known for their beautiful colonial buildings. There are stunning cathedrals sprinkled through the entire country too that are not to be missed.

San Cristobal de las Casas houses for Planning a trip to Mexico on a budget
San Cristobal de las Casas houses

Become Thrilled by Lucha Libre

Maybe wrestling isn’t your thing, I get it. But Lucha Libre is critical to Mexican culture and those masked Luchadores are iconic, come on! Instead of chilling on a Friday night with a book, go to a Lucha Libre match and bask in the machismo glory!

Fly High With Parasailing

If you’re planning a trip to Mexico, you’re probably keen on getting in the water. Enjoy those sea activities to the fullest! But if you’re just a little wary of surfing or scuba diving, definitely go parasailing. There are tons of spots that offer parasailing, from Cancun to Playa del Carmen.

Spot Sea Turtles Nesting and Hatching

Sea turtles are fiercely protected in Mexico and Mexican waters, and this pays off for visitors. At Akumal, you can swim with huge sea turtles who go there to much on the seagrass. You can help let go baby turtles during the summer months around Cancun, Isla Mujeres, and Tulum. You can see turtles mating at almost any time of year in the waters around Puerto Escondido, Huatulco and Oaxaca in general. Because of this, there are a few places that support letting free baby turtles for a small fee in these areas.

Want to know how you can see turtles nest and hatch in Mexico, read my turtle spotting guide.

Releasing baby turtles at Playa Bacocho for Best Beaches in Oaxaca Mexico
Baby turtle liberation in Puerto Escondido

Go on an Adventurous Road Trip

Mexico is a great country to take a road trip in. Car rental is super cheap and if you plan to drive from the USA into Mexico, the process is quite simple and straight-forward. If you hire a car to do a Yucatan Peninsula road trip around the Riviera Maya and beyond, the roads are flat and easy. Coming from the USA you can see the spectacular coastline of Baja California. Feeling a bit more adventurous? Why not do a Mexico City to Oaxaca road trip to delve right into Central Mexican culture.

Want to know more about driving in Mexico as well as read about 5 different but equally awesome Mexican road trips? Read my Mexico road trip guide.

Cactus reserve for driving in Mexico road trip planner

HOLIDAYS AND FESTIVALS IN MEXICO

Day of the Dead (Dia de Los Muertos)

It’s hard to imagine Mexico without thinking of the colorful skull decorations and orange carnations of the Day of the Dead celebration. A two-day Mexican celebration each year on November 1 and 2, Dia de Muertos is a vibrant festival in which families remember and celebrate lost loved ones.

But there’s much more to Dia de los Muertos than you could ever read about in a book and taking part in local Mexican celebrations is an intimate and authentic way of traveling Mexico. To learn about how you can do Dia de los Muertos in Oaxaca, read my guide: How to do Day of the Dead the Mexican way.

Carnival

Did you know that Mexico also has its own Carnival? In late February or early March, Mexico celebrates Carnival in true Mexican style – with colorful parades and lots of music and dancing. I recommend going to Carnival in La Paz or Veracruz, but I’m sure the whole country does Carnival the right way!

The Folk Dance Festival

It’s worth mentioning the Guelaguetza Dance Festival in Oaxaca, Guelaguetza. This traditional dance folk festival takes place each year in the middle of July. It’s filled with all the best Mexico’s indigenous tribes have to offer, from traditional dancing to native bands and gorgeous handicrafts – time to stock up on the souvenirs!

The Guadalajara International Film Festival

Another Mexican festival I want to plant a seed in your head about attending is Guadalajara’s International Film Festival. It’s usually in March and is a wonderful nine-day festival to see some of Latin America’s emerging filmmakers.

Day of the dead in Panteon Xoxo oaxaca - Day of the Dead Oaxaca - Dia de los Muertos Oaxaca
Day of the Dead in Oaxaca City

MEXICAN TRADITIONS

The Afternoon Siesta

Sometimes, it’s nice to be a nap queen (or king). In Mexico, it’s a daily part of the routine to nap it up in the afternoon right after lunch. Snuggle up on the couch after a burrito and treat yourself to an authentic Mexican tradition – siestas!

Mariachi Music

Oh, mariachi! The tradition of mariachi music dates back to the 18th century and is a crucial part of Mexico’s music history. A small group of musicians, mostly playing string instruments, wear traditional “charro” costumes. Catching a mariachi show is a must of visiting Mexico. Listening on Spotify doesn’t count, guys.

El Grito

This is my favorite of all the Mexican traditions. In many Mexican songs, but especially in mariachi music, you will hear a distinctive yell, interjected with a passion that speaks to the soul. It is a sort of “aaaaaaayeeeee” or “ahhhhhaahaaa” sound that represents a long, drawn-out laugh, or sometimes the wail of a mournful cry.

This yell is called a ‘grito’ and is an internationally recognized behavior in Mexican culture. Music isn’t the only place reserved for a ‘grito’ though. Mexican people practice and perfect their own special ‘grito’ from a young age and grito competitions between family members at gatherings are commonplace.

The Quinceañera

This is an important celebration in Mexico as it marks the passage from a girl into a woman on her 15th birthday. The fiesta is generally as expensive as the means of the family will allow. Usually, the day will involve the daughter dressing up in elaborate clothing, going to mass, cutting a giant cake and a party with friends and family.

Often, entire streets will be shut off unauthorized by family members while neighbors and passers-by are invited to join in on sharing food and drinks. If you are ever invited to a quinceañera, take up the offer. The parties are often wild and a true example of Latin-American culture.

Piñatas

I’ve whacked a good few piñatas in my day. I’m sure you have too! All the coolest elementary school birthday parties, had them right? Well, in Mexico it isn’t a fiesta without a piñata. Apparently, the ancient Aztecs had a similar tradition involving clay pots. It is also thought that the tradition also has Chinese origins.

Family Focus

Most of the traditions of Mexico are focused around family. Mexico is a country renowned for its bright, vibrant fiestas and religious celebrations that place family right in the center. I love how family-focused the culture and traditions of Mexico are. They have such beautiful rituals and practices of honoring the members of their family with food, fun, and festivities.

In fact, there are almost innumerable holidays and traditions in Mexico that bring families together to celebrate their connection. You’re fortunate if you get invited to a family’s holiday celebration. If you do receive the honor, make sure you bring flowers and gifts as a sign of appreciation.

Want to read more about Mexican traditions that are endemic to Mexico and make the country so special, take a look at my post; Reasons to Love Mexico.

Mexican dancers for Reasons to love Mexico

WHAT TO EAT IN MEXICO

Oozy Tacos

Delicious oozy meat covered in luscious sauces, pickled onion and coriander. Yum! There are so many types of amazing tacos but my favorites are always ones that involve marinated and slow-cooked meats. For me, Cochinita Pibil is the best, slow-cooked underground with citrus. Al Pastor is a close second, is based on shawarma spit-grilled meat brought by Lebanese immigrants to Mexico. It is best paired with jalapeño cream. Google the best tacos in your area and go exploring!

Flavorful Mole

Besides delighting in tacos, make sure you try the crazy umami flavors of mole. There are, in fact, three states that claim to be the original home of mole. If you have never heard of mole, it’s a rich sauce that has 20 or more ingredients including chocolate. Each mole will taste a little different because each family’s or restaurant’s recipe is usually passed down for generations.

Tasty Tamales

What to eat in Mexico? Don’t forget to gobble down some tamales. I can practically still taste them. Please go out and eat a tamale or two for me! The genesis of tamales was actually from the ancient Aztec, Mayan, and Inca tribes, who needed portable food to take into battle. Wrapped like a present in either corn husks or banana leaves, these pocket-sized cornmeal blankets, stuffed with vegetables and meats, is pure yumminess.

PLACES TO GO IN MEXICO

These are the best places to go in Mexico, ranked for their strong culture, amazing beaches or awesome activities and how cute the actual township is.

Tulum

Tulum is home to some of the best preserved 1,000-year-old Mayan ruins, that have the Caribbean ocean in the background. Talk about astounding… Tulum is also home to some mind-blowing cenotes that you can explore by either snorkeling or scuba diving (an adventure I highly recommend, if you are game enough). Tulum is just 90 minutes south of Cancun and has incredible white sand beaches and really impressive jungle-immersed hotels and restaurants which are what makes this place so special.

AguaTulum Ruins for Planning a trip to Mexico on a budget

Isla Cozumel

Indeed, Cozumel Island with its gorgeous turquoise waters and perfectly powdery sands are exactly what I can’t get enough of! It is crowded though, but this small island has so much to offer. The shallow reefs are glorious, especially for scuba diving. There are fun tours you can do like a jeep safari with reef snorkeling. But I also recommend watching the underwater magic unfold through a glass-bottom boat tour.

Cozumel Island from a drone for Planning a trip to Mexico on a budget

Mexico City

Mexico City is the museum hot-spot, remember? Plus, it’s also got mega-awesome street art! Pretty much the whole country has lots of amazing street artists throwing up their art all over the city, but Mexico City is a great place to explore and appreciate. In the central part of Mexico City known as the Zocalo, there’s basically a mural around every corner! There are also organized street food and art tours if you want to find a group! For more information, read my Mexico City guide.

CozumMexico City Templo de Meyor for Planning a trip to Mexico on a budget

Oaxaca

Oaxaca state and Oaxaca City are both seriously awesome places to go in Mexico. They are full of Mexican culture, art, and biodiversity. Plus Oaxaca boasts some of the best beaches in Mexico, don’t believe me? Read my Oaxaca beaches post, featuring beaches in Puerto Escondido, Huatulco, and Chacahua.

Oaxaca is one of the poorest states in Mexico, so this means that travel in this state is extremely cheap. In Oaxaca City, you will also have the chance to encounter a strong art scene (have you ever heard of alebrijes?) as well as the gorgeous cobblestone streets and colorful buildings that all your Mexico dreams are made of. I very much recommend a popular day tour from Oaxaca City to an impressive petrified waterfall, that stops at the archeological zone of Mitla as well as a mezcal factory and a textile workshop.

Artisan textiles in Oaxaca for Reasons to love Mexico

Palenque

Palenque is a fantastic off-the-beaten-path destination in Mexico for two reasons: Palenque Ruins and cascades! Palenque Ruins are a mesmerizing set of ruins made even more special by the fact that you can climb on them (you can’t climb most ruins in Mexico). The Palenque Ruins are just as important historically as Chichen Itza, Uxmal, and Tikal, mainly for its extensive hieroglyphics that tell stories and show historical facts.

The Agua Azul Cascades is also a top-rated activity in Palenque. They are a series of bright blue waterfalls set amongst the rainforest that visitors can swim in. The natural waterpark is surely an adventure, and exploring the site in full will take an entire day.

Want to know more about Palenque? Read my full Chiapas Guide.

Agua Azul from a drone near Palenque for Planning a trip to Mexico on a budget

Yelapa

Okay, I want to let you in on a little secret gem in Mexico. It’s free of American chain restaurants and free of spring break students going wild. It’s the magical small beach town in Cabo Corrientes, Jalisco called Yelapa. It is one of my favorite places to go in Mexico. It’s very close to Puerto Vallarta, a city which I’ve already expressed my adoration for. And Yelapa is quite near to the world’s 7th largest bay – the Bahía de Banderas.

Puerto Vallarta

So, if I haven’t talked you into checking out Yelapa, definitely at least pop over and visit Puerto Vallarta. The beaches, scuba diving, and snorkeling opportunities there are endless. It’s also a little less westernized than places like Cancun and Cabo San Lucas, so I appreciate that I get more local Mexican vibes there. Plus you can do a tour to the famous Playa del Amor on the Marieta Islands – you’ve surely seen those stunning pictures of the secluded beach!

If you’re staying in Puerto Vallarta, try to avoid staying in the Nuevo side of town, which has become a bit too fancy and westernized. When traveling to Mexico, we want things safe and comfortable, but still want to feel like we’re in Mexico, right?

Mazunte

Close to Puerto Escondido and Huatulco, sits a small unassuming coastal town called Mazunte. It is somewhat of a secret meaning it is almost completely free of tourists during the off-season. It has just one main street lined with luxurious hotels that are budget friendly as well as some health food restaurants and a whole lot of yoga studios.

The beach is covered in gorgeous golden sands and if you are there during the summer you may even find the sand completely covered in turtles nesting in “arribadas”. Looking for more information on Mazunte? Read my things to do in Mazunte post.

Playa Mazunte - travel to oaxaca mexico - things to do in oaxaca

WHERE TO STAY IN MEXICO ON A BUDGET

Mexico is a huge country with lots of good accommodation to offer for any and every price range. Even those penny pinchers out there will be thrilled at the great budget options. Just remember to book your accommodation early, especially if you’re booking a popular hotel. Mexico can get really busy in high season, so book early and avoid disappointment!

LocationAccomodationPictureWhy Stay HerePrice
Cabo San LucasMayan Monkey HostelAmazing bar and spectacular pool!
CancunHostalito Mexican HostelCheap dorms and close to the city center that has a lot of charm
CozumelHotel Boutique Vista Del MarBeachside hotel that it still affordable!
CozumelBeds Friends HostelThis hostel is renowned for being super pristine clean and having great ambiance and atmosphere!
Isla MujeresPoc Na HostelSand garden with hammocks, sand volleyball court, and pool table! What a place!
Mexico City Mexico City HostelCheap and right next to the Zocalo, where all the awesome street art can be found!
OaxacaHostel Central OaxacaGreat location with chill vibes and they’re known for having an exceptionally kind staff!
Playa del CarmenSelina Playa del CarmenOn-site bar with an amazing rooftop and dorms for under $10.
Puerto VallartaLindo MarThere is snorkeling right off the beach, and they have an awesome little beachside restaurant. It is a bit on the luxurious side though.
Puerto VallartaLa Iguana de Oro VallartaHalf the price of Lindo Mar. And with a name like that, what’s not to love? The Gold Iguana of Vallarta. Classic. They have clean rooms and a great pool.
Puerto VallartaHostel VallartaPerfect for budget travelers who want a good spot to socialize and kick back with a cold beer.
TulumCasa Abanico TulumAn awesome location but slightly tucked away in a quieter area of Tulum.
YelapaHotel Casa Iguana MismaloyaAffordable with a tasty breakfast buffet included

I don’t know about you, but I sure could use some time kicking back on the beach with a good book and a margarita right now. Whether you are in winter weather and want to escape the cold, or you’re looking to learn to surf or attend a festival, there’s so much Mexico has to offer. Maybe it is time to plan a trip to Mexico after all…

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