Backpacking Mexico: Ultimate Budget Travel Guide 2024

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Backpacking Mexico is on the bucket list of many backpackers around the world and for good reason.

Mexico is an incredible place to backpack. There are so many things to see, do and EAT!

But you may have some questions before you start out.

I’m a full-time backpacker and to help you plan your trip, I have created this ultimate guide with everything you could possibly need to know before heading out to Mexico to begin your backpacking journey.

So let’s jump right into it!

Why you should backpack Mexico

There are countless reasons to backpack Mexico, too many to list. But if you are reading this post, you are most likely already considering the trip, right? Here are 5 top reasons to explore this wonderful country on a budget.

  • The culture: Mexico has such a strong and unique culture and there’s truly nothing like experiencing it for yourself. As a backpacker, you want to seek out new cultural experiences and Mexico is the perfect place to do so.
  • The food: One of the biggest selling points for backpacking Mexico is the food. Mexican cuisine is absolutely delicious and getting to eat it every single day is a blessing – even if it takes your stomach a few days to adapt!
  • It’s affordable: Although it’s not quite as cheap as some of the countries in Central America, Mexico is still super affordable which makes it really easy to travel on a budget. Street food, hostels and transport are all at a low cost.
  • The landscapes: In my opinion, Mexico is one of the most naturally beautiful countries in the whole world. And there’s such a contrast in landscapes to explore too. From beaches to rainforests, Mexico has it all.
  • Party lifestyle: Whether it’s a festival or simply a night out, no one does a party like they do in Mexico. There are so many bars and clubs across the country that provide great nights out, and if you’re lucky enough to catch a festival, you’ll never forget it.

Plus, Mexico is considered one of the best countries if you’re starting out and need to learn how to budget travel. Practice makes perfect!

A picture of a street in Mexico.

As I said, there are too many reasons to list why you should backpack Mexico, but hopefully, these 5 reasons have given you an idea of what Mexico has to offer. And throughout this post, there will be more reasons to visit Mexico dotted among the tips and tricks 🙂

Is backpacking Mexico safe?

Yes, backpacking in Mexico is safe. Unfortunately, Mexico has a reputation in some countries for being unsafe and dangerous, but this is not the case.

There is an extensive backpacking network in Mexico making up part of the Gringo Trail, so you are not alone as a backpacker and there are hundreds if not thousands backpacking at the same time as you. Strength in numbers!

Of course, you should always take personal safety very seriously. And like anywhere in the world, there are parts of cities and towns to avoid. But as long as you use common sense, you should have no safety concerns backpacking Mexico.

A picture of Chichen Itza, one of the must-see sights when backpacking Mexico.

How long does backpacking Mexico take?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the “how long” question, it completely depends on you, how you like to travel, and how long you can afford to spend in Mexico in terms of both time and money.

Some people may stay for one week, some people 6 months. Everyone is different.

But generally speaking, most people choose to spend at least a month backpacking Mexico, sometimes two months.

Spending less than a month in Mexico won’t allow you to get a true flavour of what is on offer, and you will likely miss out on a lot of things. But if you can’t stay for a month, I would still encourage you to go! You just might not get to go everywhere you want to.

A picture of a beach in Mexico.

How much does backpacking Mexico cost?

Again, this depends on you as an individual and how strictly you keep yourself to your budget. But on average, a typical backpacker’s budget comes in at around $45 USD per day. Or $1350 for a month of backpacking in Mexico.

This is how a typical daily budget is broken down…

This is a rough average for each day. Obviously, you will not travel or do an activity every day. This is a daily average over the course of a month.

As I said, it’s down to you. It’s definitely possible to spend less than this, as low as $35 per day if you are on an ultra-shoestring budget. But on the other hand, if you are on a flashpacking budget, you can easily spend more than this too.

What currency do they use in Mexico?

The official name of the currency in Mexico is the Mexican Nuevo Peso. But you’ll hear it being called just “Pesos“. A lot of places will accept USD, but the conversion rates won’t be great so it’s always best to pay in pesos.

Here are the conversion rates with other currencies as of January 2024.

£1 GBP21.61 MXN
$1 USD17.01 MXN
€1 EUR18.63 MXN

As always, it’s a good idea to have a travel-friendly card like Revolut which allows you to spend money in foreign currencies without huge exchange fees from your bank!

What language do they speak in Mexico?

The official language in Mexico is Spanish, with most of the population speaking it as their first language. Many people forget that Mexico is in North America because of the main language being Spanish. Although some people, especially younger generations, will speak English, it’s best to pick up some common phrases to help you get by while backpacking.

Not only does it help you out, but the locals will really appreciate the effort you make, and it allows you to have basic conversations with them. That’s half the fun of backpacking right? Getting to meet new people from all around the world.

I personally use DuoLingo and have managed to get my Spanish up to a decent level where I can have a conversation and can get the gist of what they’re saying to me. Whether Spanish speakers understand me is a different story haha!

A picture of Espanol written on a chalkboard.

Do you need a visa to backpack Mexico?

Most nationalities can visit Mexico without a visa and can stay for up to 180 days visa-free. There doesn’t seem to be much consistency in this matter and the number of days you are given seems to vary from immigration officer to immigration officer. If they ask how long you are staying, I personally would add on an extra few days just to give yourself a bit of flexibility.

Of course, it’s important to check if you need a visa through the official sources as it may depend on which country’s passport you hold. But most nationalities do not need a visa.

A picture of my passport which I used while backpacking Mexico.

Do you need travel insurance to backpack Mexico?

Travel insurance is not a legal requirement to get entry into Mexico- it’s not compulsory. But like it is when visiting any country, it’s strongly recommended. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

The backpacker mentality and the “save money at all costs” attitude has led to way too many GoFundMes over the years and way too many hospital bills in the thousands.

That’s why I suggest having travel insurance for every trip. I always use SafetyWing as it covers insurance in multiple countries, which is perfect for the backpacker lifestyle.

A picture of me standing in front of the departures board before backpacking Mexico.

Do you need any vaccinations to backpack Mexico?

There are no vaccines required to get into Mexico, they don’t require a yellow fever certificate for example. It’s just recommended that you are up to date with the common vaccines such as those for Tetinis, Polio, etc.

But there aren’t any specific vaccines that you need to get for backpacking Mexico, which is good news if you aren’t the biggest fan of injections like me!

When to backpack Mexico

There’s never a bad time to backpack Mexico, and no matter when you go during the year, you are going to have an amazing trip. Throughout the year there are lots of different festivals in Mexico, so there’ll likely be something on during your time in the country.

That being said, the best time to backpack Mexico is between December and March because it is the dry season. This means that the weather is the best and the temperatures are the highest. No one wants to lie on a gorgeous beach in the rain, right?

It also avoids the months between June and August when tourism is at its highest, meaning you will avoid the crowds who flock to Mexico in these months. As is always the case with budget travel, it’s never a bad idea to travel in the off-season to save money.

A picture of a Mexican sunset.

How to get to Mexico

The best way to get to Mexico depends on where you are starting from. If you are in the US, Belize or Guatemala, you can enter Mexico by crossing a land border. It might be easier to just fly though.

And that’s the best way to get to Mexico, to fly. Whether you are backpacking Brazil, coming from Europe or making the trip all the way from Australia, the best way to get to Mexico is by flying.

Naturally, flight prices also depend on where you are coming from. Flights from the States to Mexico can be found pretty cheaply using Skyscanner for $100-150 if you can be flexible with your flying dates. Remember to always use Skyscanner to get the cheapest flight deals.

If you are coming from Europe, you can expect to pay at least €400 or so. From Europe, it takes approximately 10 hours to reach Mexico.

A picture taken from the inside of a plane.

How to travel while in Mexico

Getting around Mexico is super easy, and budget-friendly too! There are loads of local buses and long buses which can help you get around a town or city, and the whole country.

Side note: If you plan to get an Uber in Mexico, make sure you are aware of the situation in Mexico with Uber drivers.

Longer buses are known as “camiones” in the Mexican Spanish dialect and they will make up the majority of your travel in Mexico. The quality of the buses varies and there’s no real way of knowing what you’re going to get. It’s just a matter of luck!

For reference, a ticket for Merida to Cancun – a journey taking over 4 hours – will cost you around $20 USD, so it’s not too expensive. Cancun in general isn’t expensive. Assuming you stay at each destination for a couple of days, your transport expenses work out quite cheaply per day.

A picture of a bus in Mexico.

What to Bring to Mexico

There are things that are essential to pack for any backpacking trip, and there are some things that are specifically useful or helpful to have for backpacking Mexico. Here are some items you should consider adding to your packing list before heading out.

  • Filtered water bottle: You should never drink tap water in Mexico straight out of the tap. It’s not safe to do so. You can, however, get a reusable water bottle such as those from Lifestraw with a filter that makes the water safe to drink. It means you don’t have to keep buying single-use bottles of water.
  • Insect repellent: There are tons of bugs and flying insects in Mexico that will eat you alive and annoy the life out of you, so make sure you have a spray or lotion to put on your skin to keep them away from you.
  • Waterproof camera or waterproof phone bag: The chances of you snorkelling or doing some form of activity in the water in Mexico are pretty high, so make sure you have a way to capture the moment even in the water.
  • Sunscreen: Okay, it sounds obvious, but I have seen way too many backpackers looking like red raw lobsters while backpacking Mexico! Protect your skin and your health and make sure you have sunscreen on.
  • A small towel: As I said, there are lots of opportunities to get in the sea or lakes for swimming and other water activities, make sure you have a small towel that you can take out with you to dry off.
  • Plastic bag: And you’ll need somewhere to put your wet swimwear. Plastic bags are one of the best backpacking hacks I know, they come in so useful in such a wide variety of situations.

Backpacking Mexico Top Tips

Some backpackers like to go into a country blind, with no research and a positive attitude that things will work out fine. Other backpackers prefer to research their trip and find out some things that are worth knowing beforehand. If you’re reading this post, you are most likely the second kind of backpacker. So here are 7 top tips to help your trip go smoothly.

Don’t drink the tap water: I know I just said it above but in case you skimmed over the packing list, do not drink the tap water in Mexico. It isn’t safe to drink and will likely make you ill. Your stomach will probably take a few days to adjust to the Mexican food, the last thing you want is extra trips to the toilet because you drank dodgy tap water!

Try your hand at Couchsurfing: Couchsurfing is pretty popular in parts of Mexico, and it’s a great way to score some free accommodation, as well as make a new friend and get a locals’ view of a destination. You can read my Couchsurfing review for more info.

Toilets with an “M” are not for males: Do not make the same mistake that many male backpackers make when heading to Mexico (or other Spanish-speaking countries). “Woman” in Spanish is “Mujer”. “Man” is “Hombre”. So for the restrooms, M is for females and H is for males.

Have an outbound flight booked: If you are staying in Mexico for more than a few weeks, the immigration officer may ask to see your outbound flight details to prove you are leaving the country. They’ve gotten pretty strict at giving out the 180 days without a visa. If you haven’t got a flight booked, you can rent one with Onward Ticket.

Toilet paper goes in the bin: Yep, that’s right. If you haven’t backpacked Southeast Asia or the Americas before, you may be shocked to learn that toilet paper isn’t flushed down the toilet. Instead, it goes in the small bathroom bin. Use common sense though and fold it up!

Always pay in Pesos: Although it is possible to pay in US Dollars in the more touristy parts of Mexico, the exchange rate will not be great, so it’s always a good idea to pay in Pesos.

Don’t plan too strictly: I always encourage backpackers to have loose plans for their trips, but this is especially the case in Mexico. Timekeeping is very laid-back and casual, so don’t expect things to run on time. That bus you need to arrive bang on time? It’s probably going to be late. So don’t cram your schedule too tightly, you need to account for delays.

A picture of a mountain in Mexico with the sun shining through some palm trees.

5 Best Things to Do in Mexico

It would be truly impossible to list everything there is to do in Mexico, particularly during a one-month or longer backpacking trip where you are going to explore the whole country. But to help you get a gist of what Mexico has to offer, here are 5 must-do things that no trip would be complete without.

1) Visit Chichen Itza: It wouldn’t be a list of the best things to do without Chichen Itza. The famous pyramid and Mayan ruins are an absolute must-visit when in Yucatán. It’s a fascinating day out, and it’s quite incredible to see a sight so popular in real life. When you think about how long ago it was built, it’s so impressive how well-preserved the pyramid is.

A picture of Chichen Itza, a backpacking Mexico must-do.

2) Enjoy the outdoors: There are endless opportunities to enjoy being outside in Mexico. Whether you are relaxing by the beach, swimming in a cenote, hiking up a volcano or trekking through a rainforest, there are so many different ways you can get active and explore the natural beauty that Mexico has to offer.

A picture of a Valley in Mexico with the clouds creating a moody scene.
Nevado de Toluca

3) See Tulum’s Mayan Ruins: As well as seeing Chichen Itza, a Mexican trip would not be complete without seeing the other most popular Mayan ruins found in Tulum. In my opinion, it’s as good as Pompeii in Italy. Walking through the city that once was is such a surreal experience and it’s one that’s more than worth doing.

A picture of the ruins in Tulum.

4) Eat tacos: It would be a sin to visit Mexico and not enjoy the local delicacy, tacos. Some backpackers might even eat them every single day! But you need to try them at least once. Even if you are a fussy eater like I was before I began travelling. There are so many different ingredients you can have, and the best bit is, they’re so cheap too.

A picture of a female hand holding a taco.

5) Watch a Lucha Libre fight: And again, it would be a shame to take a backpacking trip to Mexico without catching a Lucha Libre fight. If you’re a wrestling fan, you will know the Mexican way of wrestling is famous all around the world, and there’s no better place to see it than in Mexico itself. It’s soo entertaining and makes for a brilliant night out.

A picture of wrestling in Mexico. Another must-see while backpacking Mexico.

Backpacking Mexico Itinerary

Since the best amount of time to backpack Mexico is at least one month, I thought I would create the perfect one-month itinerary for backpacking Mexico. It ticks off all of the most popular backpacking hotspots as well as a few hidden gems along the way.

Like any itinerary, you should use this as a rough template and not take it as gospel. Everyone prefers different things and is looking for different experiences. So make sure to customise it to suit you and what you want out of your trip!

Week 1: Mexico City and Surroundings

  • Explore Mexico City’s historic centre, visiting landmarks like Zócalo, Metropolitan Cathedral, and National Palace.
  • Visit the Frida Kahlo Museum (Casa Azul) and learn about the life and art of the iconic painter.
  • Explore the ancient ruins of Teotihuacan, including the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon.
  • Take a day trip to the charming town of Taxco, known for its silver jewellery and colonial architecture.

📍 Budget Option- When staying in Mexico City, I recommend the Viajero CDMX Centro Hostel. It’s right in the heart of the city and is really good for meeting new people and making new friends. Book your stay by clicking here.

📍 Mid-Range Option- When staying in Mexico City, I recommend the Hostal Regina Down Town Mexico City for super affordable private rooms which are really nice too. Book your stay by clicking here.

Week 2: Riviera Maya and Yucatan Peninsula

  • Relax on the beautiful beaches of Cancun and enjoy water activities like snorkelling or diving in the Great Maya Reef.
  • Take a trip to Isla Mujeres and/or Isla Holbox, some of Mexico’s most stunning islands
  • Visit the ancient Mayan ruins of Tulum, situated on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea.
  • Explore the natural wonders of Xel-Ha and Xcaret, eco-archaeological parks offering even more opportunities for snorkelling, swimming, and cultural exhibits.
  • Take a day trip to Chichen Itza, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, and marvel at the El Castillo pyramid. It’s one of Mexico’s must-sees.
  • Swim in the stunning cenotes (natural sinkholes) in the Yucatan Peninsula, such as Ik Kil and Dos Ojos.
  • Visit Playa del Carmen for the most beautiful beaches in the world.

📍 Budget Option- When staying in Cancun, I recommend the Nomads Hotel Hostel & Rooftop Pool. The rooftop pool was a big enough selling point for me tbh but the whole hostel was lovely. Book your stay by clicking here.

📍 Mid-Range Option- When staying in Cancun, I recommend the Bed and Breakfast Pecarí, which again, offers really nice private rooms for a reasonable price that won’t destroy your budget. Book your stay by clicking here.

Week 3: Colonial Cities and Cultural Heritage

  • Discover the colonial city of Merida and explore its vibrant markets, historic buildings, and local cuisine.
  • Visit the archaeological site of Uxmal, known for its intricate Mayan architecture and the Pyramid of the Magician.
  • Explore the charming town of Valladolid, with its colourful streets and proximity to stunning cenotes like Cenote Suytun.
  • Experience the artistic and bohemian vibes of San Miguel de Allende, known for its architecture and art scene.
  • Visit Guanajuato, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its colourful alleyways, underground tunnels, and the iconic Callejón del Beso.

📍 Budget Option- When staying in Merida, I recommend the Hostal Boutique Casa Garza. It’s such a quaint little hostel and the street it is in is so picturesque. Book your stay by clicking here.

📍 Mid-Range Option- When staying in Merida, I recommend the Hotel Plaza by Kavia. Most rooms have a stunning terrace looking over the centre of Merida. Book your stay by clicking here.

Week 4: Pacific Coast and Baja California

  • Relax on the beaches of Puerto Vallarta and enjoy water sports, boat trips, or explore the charming Old Town.
  • Take a whale-watching tour in Los Cabos and enjoy the breathtaking coastal scenery.
  • Explore La Paz, the capital of Baja California Sur, known for its marine life, beaches, and vibrant Malecon.
  • Visit the iconic Arch of Cabo San Lucas, a natural rock formation at the tip of the Baja Peninsula.
  • End your trip by enjoying the vibrant nightlife and culinary scene in Mexico City.
A picture of a whale jumping out of the water. Whale watching is one of the most surreal things you can do while backpacking Mexico.

Backpacking Mexico: FAQ

Below are some questions related to backpacking Mexico along with my answers.

Can you backpack Mexico?

Yes, you can absolutely backpack Mexico. There is a great backpacking network across the country with loads of amazing and affordable hostels, opportunities to eat cheap street food and a transport network supporting travelling on a shoestring budget. It’s the perfect country for backpacking!

Is it expensive to backpack Mexico?

Not at all. There are lots of great hostels where you can get a cheap bed in a dorm room, there are street food markets all across the country where you can get food that tastes delicious for a fraction of the price in a restaurant, and the buses in Mexico are also really efficient and affordable too. So you can definitely backpack on a shoestring budget!

How much does backpacking Mexico cost daily?

The average backpacker’s budget in Mexico comes in at around $45 USD including accommodation, food, activities and transport. It’s super affordable. This works out at around $1350 USD each month.

Should I backpack in Mexico?

Yes! Mexico is an amazing country with so much to offer for any visitor. It’s jam-packed with culture, amazing landscapes and loads of things to see and do, and one of the biggest selling points for backpackers is how cheap it is. You can get by in Mexico as a backpacker for around $45 USD per day. Some people will do it even less!

Backpacking Mexico: The Wrap Up

And there you have it, a complete guide to backpacking in Mexico.

Hopefully, this guide has answered any questions you may have had before setting out on the trip of a lifetime.

Mexico is a country that words cannot describe, and anyone who gets to travel there extensively should consider themselves lucky!

So hopefully you enjoy backpacking Mexico. I am sure you will have the best time ever. 🙂