Ultimate Budget Backpacking Guide: Mexico
Many people who have visited Mexico were in awe of its culture and traditions. Their appreciation of the country is overwhelming. Many wonderful memories were built in this place, including my 2013 Christmas trip. You'll surely have one for the books as well as long as you take note of the following guidelines.
Places to Visit and Things to Do
Puerto Vallarta - This coastline is located in the Sierra Madre Mountains (a must-see tourist attraction) and full of outdoor activities. We loved taking pictures here because of the backdrop that was showcasing the perfection of nature. We were full of cultural cuisine and we experienced the art and music of Mexico. The sunset was one of the most beautiful I have ever seen in my life.
Isla Mujeres - What would a trip to Mexico be if you don't bask in the Mexican sun? The food was fresh and cheap as local fishermen were residents in this place. We did some snorkelling and diving. It was the kind of beach that gave you calm and tranquil feels as opposed to the spring-break kind of stress.
Tulum - If you want a taste of Mexican history, then Tulum is the place to be! It has untouched archaeological ruins, wildlife reserves and an endless beach. We were able to buy a lot of souvenirs from this place because craft makers are all over the place. My wife particularly enjoyed the limestone sinkholes.
Cozumel - You will get addicted to this place. When we went here, we had a difficult time leaving and if it was possible to spend most of our hours under the water, we would. Cozumel is famous for its crystal-clear waters and beautiful coral reefs. If you go here, you cannot skip snorkelling. And if I may add, my favorite part of this visit was the shrimp tacos served in the street!
Mazatlan - This is where we really enjoyed Mexican cuisine. There were a lot of fine dining situated in the area and we ate almost 5 times a day. There were ribs, platters, salads, drinks and a lot of spicy delicacies. The architecture is lovely as well.
Zihuatanejo - "An escape with a laid-back feel that is perfect for stressed people" is how I would describe it. There is a walking and biking trail that isn't so hard to walk or bike on because it is paved properly. You can try the ATV tours and horseback riding as well. The sunset would make you feel like you're in a movie.
Cabo San Lucas - This is where the party begins. Think "bar hopping" except beside the waters and the beautiful outdoors. We had one tequila shot too many! Locals really put their heart into making this place the go-to destination for Mexican night life.
Manzanillo - This place is a famous tourist spot since 1970. It is known as the Sailfish Capital of the world. If you want to go to the beach and you don't really know which place to visit, just go to Manzanillo because it has a lot of beautiful resorts that don't cost that much.
Palenque - Mayan ruins covered by jungle hills would give you the chills! You can sleep in the jungle huts situated in the area if you want. We tried it one night and we woke up to eh sound of monkeys. By night time, we were enjoying the late-night dancing. Those salsa classes I had a few years back finally was put to use.
Mexican Food and Drinks
Tex-Mex is like the In-and-Out of Mexico and can be found all over the country. Imagine a giant bowl of guacamole and chips that are really from Mexico! But of course, we had to try other traditional places and dishes as well. Never go for fast food chains unless deemed really necessary (like when we got out from the airport and was really hungry).
The snacks and street foods are a risk but you can pretty much tell if they are clean or not. So do snack on the streets at your own risk! I particularly loved the Anojitos which is perfect if you are a budget traveller. Antojitos include the classic quesadillas, tlayudes, tortas and tacos, pretty much traditional Mexican snacks. But to be honest, it feels a lot more fulfilling to bite on these munchies if they are cooked from where they originated. All the ingredients were fresh and traditional!
Don't go home without trying different enchiladas from various establishments. I remember eating one that had more than just chicken, onions and pepper. It also had melted cheese and green salsa. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. It's like pizza on a roll but even better!
For dessert, I was a first hesitant to try the spicy fruit platter because it sounded weird but it tasted like heaven. Flans were great and cheap as well; it was a soft custard topped with caramel. And don't forget the churros fried fresh to your request! The churros' dough is perfect and the chocolate dip is not that sweet; perfect for a person like me who wants a lot of chocolates in those churros.
Based on my observation, beer is the most popular alcoholic drink in Mexico. You can try out margaritas by the beach if you want but the beer is also the best for me. My wife enjoyed the tequila shots!
Choose the areas you visit carefully. Do your research and create an itinerary ahead of time. There are places in Mexico that suffer from high crime rates. These places are well-publicized online so you can check these out through the internet or in updated news sites. If you know someone you can trust that lives in Mexico, then go ahead and ask them the places you should visit and those you should avoid. It's better to be safe than sorry.
Opt to fly instead of drive to Mexico. The US-Mexico border makes driving unsafe. If you insist on going on a road trip, make sure you go for toll roads which cover road side assistance and some insurance. Most of all, avoid travelling by night. If it's your first time, don't forget to bring a map.
Vaccinations are a must for some diseases especially the kids. The risk of malaria has decreased overtime. Just be sure not to visit places that are affected with the illness. Also, be careful of what you eat and drink. The quality of water has improved in Mexico over the years but you are going to need to avoid tap water completely.
Money and Costs
Do travel with cash on hand in their currency. Do not use ATMs or credit cards affiliated with the UK or US because you might encounter problems. Plus, the stuff in Mexico is not that expensive so there's no necessity to swipe.
One meal costs around $4.00. You can already feel full with this price. A taco would cost you less than one dollar. $5.00 would cover an hour of travel but we opted to rent bicycles to most of the places we visited because we feel that it connects us more with the place. We stayed in a very cheap hotel that costs around $9.00 per night. The more expensive and classy ones would cost you somewhere from $20.00 to $30.00. Activities would cost you around $50.00. The entrance fee to the Mayan sites was $10.00 then add the food and accommodation, so that pretty much reaches $50.00.
Most employees earn less than the basic salary so do give tips. Tip taxi drivers as well especially if they help you unload luggage. I find it easy to tip taxi drivers in Mexico because they are friendly and they have such happy auras. If you see tip jars in restaurants, don't hesitate to drop a few greens in there, too.
I have a few money saving tips for all of you as well. Eat market foods - it's inexpensive but just make sure it's clean (I think I have to say it a lot of times just to avoid any sickness). Do travel off-season. Aside from the irritating holiday crowd, accommodation and lots of commodities are a lot cheaper during the off-season.
Mexico is full of color and culture. It is the kind of travel destination that compels you to talk to locals so you can really feel the pulp of the country's history. People are friendly (most of them) and the places are safe (if you do your research ahead of time). Travel with caution but don't hold back on the fun!
How was your backpacking experience in Mexico? Let us know in the comments.