Mexico has somehow gained a reputation for only catering to all-inclusive resort goers, or for being too dangerous for independent travel. Neither of which is true. Backpacking Mexico is a trip you’ll never forget.
Sure, Cabo San Lucas, Cancun, Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan are popular with people on a one week holiday, and yes, there are some very dangerous areas in the country.
But once you’re on the ground and are actually backpacking Mexico, you’ll see that this country has a lot to offer adventurers, history lovers, culture-seekers, food enthusiasts and independent travellers!
Nick and I have spent more than 8 months travelling around Mexico and have never once had an issue with crime, or felt unsafe (except for a little bit in Manzanillo).
Backpacking is definitely the best way to see the country — there are so many amazing places to visit in Mexico! This is one of the world’s best travel destinations.
Here are my top 10 reasons why you should go backpacking in Mexico.
Table of Contents
1. Affordable Costs in Mexico
*As of April 2020, the rate is: $1 USD = 24 MXN
One of the things that backpackers think about most when choosing a country to visit is the cost of travel.
Mexico may not be as cheap of a destination as Asia or some parts of Central America, but it is definitely affordable.
Whether you’re on a strict budget, or if you consider yourself more of a midrange backpacker, this country has you covered.
If you don’t mind travelling in the off-season, you’ll find even better value for money outside of the peak November to March season.
For budget backpackers, you can get by on very little here. Although, you’ll have to forego some comforts. Camping on the beaches (especially on the Pacific Coast) is possible, plus, it’s fun and free.
Dorm beds cost around 150 pesos per person, while double private rooms go for 450 – 600 pesos.
Typical Mexican snack food is very cheap – tacos, quesadillas, sopes, tortas, tostadas, etc. can all be had in small restaurants or on the street for 7 – 20 pesos each. A sit-down meal plate of food will set you back 50 – 150 pesos.
When backpacking Mexico, you won’t be complaining about the cost of food whatsoever — or the taste.
Transportation is what eats the budget in Mexico.
Because of the hefty tolls on many of the highways, buses charge around $7 – $10 / hour. If you book the same day, or go for second class (when available) the cost can be much less.
Hitch-hiking is another way to get around, and it’s free. There are also a few low-cost domestic airlines, which frequently have discounts.
A daily budget for a couple in Mexico would vary from around $20 USD/day (camping, hitch-hiking, cooking for yourself, eating street food) to $70 USD/day or more.
At $70/day, you’ll be able to enjoy sit-down meals in restaurants, comfortable buses, private double rooms and the occasional activity.
Of course, the slower you travel, the lower your costs in Mexico will be.
2. Value For Money
When backpacking, you sometimes come across a country that is cheap to travel in, and your purchases are really affordable…but what that tends to mean is that things are lacking in quality.
You’re not spending much, but you’re not getting much either.
Other times, you end up spending a fortune on accommodation, food and activities (Africa!) and the value for money just isn’t there.
One of the great things about Mexico is that you get more bang for your buck than in most other parts around the world.
Rooms may be around $40 a night for a double room (vs. $20 in Thailand), but you get a private bathroom with hot water shower, the room is clean, the beds and pillows are comfortable, there’s air-conditioning, breakfast is included, there’s furniture in the room, etc.
Whereas in Thailand, you’ll probably have a shared bathroom, small room, no breakfast, springy bed and just a fan.
Buses can cost quite a bit when backpacking in Mexico, even by North American standards, but the 1st class seats are large and comfortable and they recline with a nice leg rest.
There’s a/c on the buses, a light lunch is provided, they travel directly without any stops, there’s a bathroom on board and (here’s the best part) there’s wi-fi on the bus.
The buses in Mexico are of great value for money.
The food is excellent in Mexico and whether you’re having a cheap street meal, or a nice plate of food at a restaurant, you’ll be happy with the portion sizes and flavour.
Meals are large and good quality ingredients are used in the preparation, you won’t likely find any random bits of meat in your taco.
All of the food is excellent quality, sanitation standards are high (except for maybe a few taco stands) and the bang for your buck is incredible.
- Culinary Mayhem: A Market Tour in Mexico City
- Exploring the Culinary Side of Guanajuato – An Awesome Street Food Tour
- Mexican Food: 16 Must-Try Meals in The Yucatan
- Tasting The Town With Vallarta Food Tours
3. The Amazing Hostels in Mexico
If you’re backpacking Mexico and aren’t camping, then you’ll most likely be staying in a hostel. Luckily, Mexico has some of the best hostels… ever.
After 6 months of backpacking Mexico, we can honestly say that as a whole, the hostels were fantastic.
The rooms in Mexico are clean and come with basic amenities that you sometimes don’t expect from hostels in other countries, such as soap in the bathroom, hot water showers, bath towels and daily cleaning of your room.
Typically, breakfast will be included in the room price, and in the case of the hostel we stayed at in Mexico City, dinner was included. Wi-fi is always available in the hostel and oftentimes there will be a pool and a communal kitchen.
You’ll usually find an area for chilling out in a hammock or sunbed. Many of the hostels also have special events each night, such as live music, salsa lessons and cooking classes.
Here’s a list of some of the Top Rated Hostels around Mexico
Best Hostels in Cancun:
- Compare prices of all hostels in Cancun Booking.com
- Compare prices on guesthouses, hotels, resorts and more in Cancun on Booking.com
Best Hostels in Mexico City:
- Compare prices of all hostels in Mexico City on Booking.com
- Compare prices of guesthouses, hotels, resorts and more in Mexico City on Booking.com
Best Hostels in San Cristobal de las Casas:
- Compare prices of all hostels in San Cristobal de las Casas on Booking.com.
- Compare prices of hostels, guesthouses, hotels, resorts & more in San Cristobal on Booking.com
Best Hostels in Guadalajara:
- Compare prices of all hostels in Guadalajara on Booking.com
- Compare prices of all hostels, hotels, resorts & more in Guadalajara on Booking.com
Best Hostels in Guanajuato:
- Compare prices of all hostels in Guanajuato on Booking.com
- Compare prices of all hostels, hotels, boutiques, resorts & more on Booking.com
Best Hostel in Merida:
☞ Nomadas Hostel – 8.8/10 rating. This was our favourite hostel in Mexico because they offered so many FREE activities. Check out the latest price of Nomadas Hostel on Booking.com
- Compare prices of all hostels in Merida on Booking.com
- Compare prices of hostels, hotels, boutiques, resorts & more in Merida on Booking.com
Best Hostels in Playa del Carmen:
- Compare prices on all hostels in Playa del Carmen on Booking.com
- Compare prices on all hostels, hotels, boutiques, resorts & more in Playa del Carmen on Booking.com
Best Hostels in Puerto Escondido:
Losdeli Hostel in Puerto Escondido – Away from the busy beach area in a quiet, beautiful location. Close to the best swimming beaches, swimming pool, basic breakfast, communal kitchen, hammocks, friendly staff and good wi-fi.
Not interested in hostels? Here are some awesome mid-range hotels:
Hotel Catedral in Puerto Vallarta – Very affordable, clean, beautiful boutique building, awesome location, wi-fi and friendly staff. See our article here.
Hotel Las Palmas on Isla Mujeres – A range of rooms and costs, huge rooftop terrace, communal kitchen, small pool, hammocks, friendly owners, wi-fi and library. See our review here.
4. The Welcoming People
Mexicans are truly some of the most friendly people we’ve come across during our travels.
Tourists have taken over their beaches and towns and they still treat us like welcomed guests in their country.
Sure, tourism provides jobs, but Mexico has seen some mass tourism and for the most part, the local people aren’t jaded by the gringo invasion.
They’re always willing to help out with directions, they will try to speak with you on the bus. They’re patient when listening to your attempts at speaking Spanish and are kind.
When backpacking Mexico, expect to have some genuine experiences with the local people.
5. The Idyllic Beaches
There’s a reason why this is such a popular resort country, the beaches in Mexico are incredible.
Soft, white powdery sands and turquoise waters can be found on the Caribbean side, while on the Pacific side, there’s a wide range of deep blue waters and emerald coves with golden coloured sand.
The Gulf Coast has some great beaches as well, although they’re not as popular as the Pacific and the Caribbean. The beaches are idyllic and the perfect place for surfing, sailing, swimming, snorkelling…and sipping beers.
Isla Holbox, Isla Mujeres, Puerto Escondido, San Pancho, Puerto Vallarta and Mazunte are some good beach spots when backpacking Mexico.
6. The Delicious Food
Food is such a huge part of travel. It unites people, cultures and customs.
Being invited to someone’s home for a meal is such an honour and learning how various ingredients have evolved over the years to create a country’s cuisine is quite fascinating.
Mexico has one of the most famous cuisines in the world. In fact, Mexican food was recently added to the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list by UNESCO.
Many people think that Mexican food is basically just tacos, nachos and burritos.
When in reality, the cuisine in this country is very diverse and full of flavour (note: burritos aren’t Mexican at all, they were invented in the USA).
Each region has its own dishes, and even some cities have their specialities. The state of Oaxaca is known for its incredible mole sauces, chocolate and cheeses.
When in Jalisco State, make sure to try the birria, which is a stewed spicy goat/beef meat with onion and lime.
In Guadalajara, make sure to try the torta ahogada (Drowned Sandwich), which is a pork sandwich partially submerged in a spicy tomatoes sauce with onions. This is said to be the hangover cure!
Along any of the coastlines, opt for fresh seafood meals. Shrimp can be bought for a mere 150 pesos/kg from the local fishermen. In the Yucatan, there are numerous food options. You’ll have no problem eating your way through this country.
Definitely go on a food tour if you can while backpacking Mexico. You’ll learn so much about the history of the cuisine, how to make various dishes, and of course, eat a lot of great food.
7. The Excellent Activities
You’ll never be bored while backpacking through Mexico. No matter what you’re interested in, you’ll find it here.
The Pacific coast is an excellent spot for surfing and boogie boarding. You can rent a board for the day, or bring your own. During the winter months, you can go on whale and dolphin watching tours on the Pacific side.
However, if you want to save some cash, just keep an eye out and you’ll likely spot some whales from land.
Around Punta de Mita and San Pancho, it’s definitely possible to do some land-based whale watching. You can also witness baby turtles being released into the wild on many beaches around the country.
On the Caribbean side, sailing, snorkelling and just chilling out on the beach are the perfect past-times. Sailing might cost you a bit, but snorkel gear is cheap.
There are numerous cenotes in the Yucatan that you can explore, either independently for free (or a very small fee), or you can go on a tour.
Renting a bicycle in places like Tulum and Valladolid to explore the freshwater caverns yourself is a lot of fun. In fact, renting a bike anywhere is a great idea, and it won’t break your backpacking budget.
In the mountains, village treks are available, as are independent walks and volcano hiking.
Waterfalls, bird watching, river safaris, zip-lining, cave exploration are all on offer in Mexico.
8. The History and Ancient Ruins
Even if you’re not usually interested in museums and ancient sites, while you’re backpacking around Mexico, you’ll be blown away by the ancient ruins.
Chichen Itza, a Wonder Of The World, is just one of the many incredible Mayan sites you can see.
Visit the ruins set in the thick jungle of Palenque or the unique archaeological site at Uxmal. Climb the crumbling steps up to Coba, and wander through the impressive ancient city of Teotihuacan — an hour or so outside of Mexico City.
The relics of Tulum are set on a cliffside with incredible views over the Caribbean Sea. The swimming there is great as well so bring your bathing suit. Other nominations are Ek Balam and Dzibilchaltun.
No matter how many ancient sites you see, each one is unique and interesting in its own way.
9. The Festivals
It’s no secret that Mexicans love fiestas! Any excuse to get together with a group of friends and family, devour tasty food, turn up the tunes and light fireworks is welcome here.
There’s practically a festival in Mexico every week, so no matter which time of the year you decide to backpack Mexico, there will likely be a festival you can see, or partake in.
New Year’s Eve is a huge party, and you can expect a lot of fireworks — whether you’re on the beach or in the city! In July, you won’t want to miss the Guelaguetza Festival in Oaxaca which is filled with traditional culture, dance and dress.
But of course, the most popular festival in Mexico is Day of The Dead (Día de Muertos). Celebrated all across Mexico from October 31st – November 2nd, this colourful festival welcomes the dead back home. Mexico City and Oaxaca City are two great places to experience the festival.
10. World-Class Scuba Diving
Mexico’s coastline spans more than 9,000 km, and is home to several islands — it’s no surprise that the scuba diving here is awesome!
On the west coast, you’ll find the Sea of Cortez and the stunning Socorro Islands. This is where all of the liveaboards in Mexico are found. Swim with giant manta rays, or experience cage diving with great whites…if you dare.
On the east coast, you’ll find the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean. Here, you’ll find the popular diving destinations or Isla Mujeres and Cozumel. Some of the best diving in Mexico can be found here, including the amazing Banco Chincorro.
On top of the incredible ocean diving, Mexico offers a unique way to get under the surface. Try your hand at scuba diving in a cenote! This freshwater cave dive is not to be missed.
Scuba diving in Mexico may not be for those on a strict budget backpacking budget, but if you have the cash, it’s worth the splurge. It’ll cost you around $75 for 2 dives.
The more dives you do, the less it will cost. Diving in Mexico is more expensive here than in other parts of Central America and Asia, but the visibility, marine life, equipment and boats are top-notch.
Pack Your Backpack for Mexico!
Mexico offers the independent traveller nothing but adventure, excitement, and unique experiences.
But, if you’re not interested in being all that adventurous, there’s ample opportunity for beach-bumming and sipping Coronas in a hammock. Everything about this country speaks to backpackers, so pack your bags and book your flight, Mexico is waiting for you.
☞ SEE MORE MEXICO ARTICLES:
- Things To Do in Puerto Vallarta – 20 Cool Things You Won’t Want to Miss!
- Things To Do in Playa del Carmen – A List of The Top 21
- Things To Do in La Paz, Mexico – A List of The Top 21
- Things To Do in Cabo San Lucas – A List of The Top 21
- Things To Do in Guanajuato – A List of The Top 10
- Things To Do in San Pancho – A List of The Top 15
- Manzanillo Colima – The Ultimate Travel Guide
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