Backpacking Mexico 2019: Everything You Need To Know!

This is your ultimate guide to backpacking Mexico complete with tips, tricks and an awesome Mexico itinerary to help you with your trip!
backpacking mexico
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Our Experience Backpacking Mexico

Please note this backpacking Mexico guide is focused on the Yucatan Peninsula, Quintana Roo, Chipas areas. Other areas are included for reference in the suggested itinerary routes, but we have not personally visited other areas than the states listed above.

The reason we only visited these areas is because it’s a perfect introduction to Mexico and you get to see a variety of different sides to Mexico when you’ve got time restraints, plus if you want to backpack Central America in general, then this Mexico route will set you up perfectly for backpacking Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

As part of our backpacking Central America itinerary, we found ourselves visiting Mexico. I loved everything about Mexico, from it’s fantastic food, wonderful sights, relaxing beaches, great people, and the best margaritas, it was truly an experience I’ll never forget.

And since I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface with Mexico, I will definitely be returning in the future. It was truly one of the best backpacking destinations I’ve visited so far.

There is a stark contrast between the “tourist” Mexico, which I consider to be the resorts of the coastal towns, and rural Mexico, which is much more authentic, and better [in my opinion], but I’ll take you through all aspects of Mexico.

We spent a total of 22 days in beautiful Mexico and below I take you through all the cool things to do in Mexico including sample itineraries, practical information and basically everything you need to know about backpacking Mexico.

Since we were there just under 3 weeks, I guess this will be a three week backpacking trip in Mexico, with some other sample itineraries which will be a little longer and shorter.

So, if you’re planning a trip to Mexico, sit back, grab a coffee, and let’s get right to it with your ultimate guide to backpacking Mexico!

Quick Things To Learn About ...

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Safety

At the time of our travels in 2019, certain areas of Mexico are safe and others are not. The tourist areas have had threats, but in general security is high. Rural Mexico and Mexico City are higher risk, but monitor travel advice websites and new sources for advice. Word of mouth from locals and other travellers is also good. Take normal precautions, such as hiding money and expensive items and avoid getting drunk alone at night.

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Travel vaccines

Make sure you have Hepatitis A & B, and Typhoid. Optionals are Yellow Fever and Rabies. Zika is present so take precautions. Speak with a travel doctor before backpacking Mexico.

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Sim Cards

There are a few companies offering good coverage in Mexico. These include TelCel and Movistar. Both are super cheap. You don’t need your passport to buy either. But you’ll find decent WiFi across Mexico too.

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ATMs

In the tourist traps of Cancun and Mexico, there are “tourist” atms which charge crazy fees for withdrawals. Opt for local bank ATMs. We use Revolut and Monzo for the best exchange rates and free withdrawals.

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History

It was first populated more than 13,000 years ago and had a complex range of indigenous people, including the Mayans before being conquered by the Spanish in the 16th century. It gained independence in 1810. The drug war in Mexico is well known and still present. This has resulted in a lot of crime and death throughout the country.

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Tipping

It’s customary to tip 10% in Mexico, double check that it hasn’t already been added to the bill (this is usually done in resorts).

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Currency

Currency in Mexico is Mexican Peso, but if you are visiting the coastal resorts primarily, such as Playa Del Carmen, Cancun and Tulum, then you will find they all take US dollars (with a terrible exchange rate).

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Partying

Oh, Mexicans love to party! You’ll find countless opportunities to drink beer, tequila and Margaritas, especially in the resorts of Cancun and Playa Del Carmen. Personally Canun was my favourite for partying.

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Malaria Risk

Risk of Malaria is low but present throughout the year in some rural areas of Mexico. Low risk is present in the state of Chiapas, and very low risk in Quintana Roo, Sinaloa, Durango and the Yucatan Peninsula. Use deet and cover up to minimise risk. If you are backpacking Central America in general, then we recommend anti-malarials.

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Religion

The dominant religion in Mexico is Christianity which accounts for around 85% of the population. There is often a unique blend of Mayan and Christianity too. Watch out for religious public holidays which can pop up without you knowing.

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Language

The official languages in Mexico include Spanish, and Mayan. Plenty of tourist towns speak English, but it’s always fun to speak Spanish. Hola is hello, Gracias is thank you and por favor is please!

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Power Sockets

Mexico uses Type A and Type B sockets. So American appliances will be fine.

Best places to visit In mexico

Mexico is bursting with amazing places to visit, but to help narrow it down, I will list the most beautiful places in Mexico to visit.

So, if you’re wondering “where are the best places to visit in Mexico?”, then keep reading...

Playa Del Carmen

Playa Del Carmen is one of the popular “holiday” spots in Mexico thanks to its beautiful beaches, cheap cocktails, buzzing nightlife and fun things to do.

I really liked Playa Del Carmen. It’s got a really cool strip of bars and restaurants called “Fifth Avenue” that’s super fun in the evenings.

If you’re a solo backpacker, then get yourself on a pub crawl and get ready to meet lots of other people!

It’s also a great spot for families and couples, so in general it’s a good place to go backpacking in Mexico.

I personally loved all the beautiful beaches on offer and you can check out my whole post about them here.

backpacking playa del carmen

Tulum

Tulum is another beach side destination on the rise. It’s still a lot quieter than its counterparts (Cancun and Playa Del Carmen), but it’s actually being built at such a quick rate that it will eventually be bigger than Cancun.

Tulum is filled with great cenotes (land that has fallen away to create a pool that you can swim in!), beautiful Mayan ruins by the sea, great restaurants and stunning beaches.

The only downfall about Tulum is the expensive taxi rides. There is no way around it, but the taxis cost around $20 for a 10 minute drive.

Another cool thing about Tulum is all the quirky and cute hotels on offer. You can stay in some absolutely beautiful properties.

Brad and I stayed at the Alea Tulum which is a fairly new property, but it’s across the road from a cenote and it’s a beachfront property with stunning views...what more could you want!?

You can read about our stay here.

tulum mexico

Cancun

Ah Cancun, the man-made city built for tourism. Cancun is home to the best beaches in Mexico (in my humble opinion).

The water is beautifully blue and it’s clear as day. It’s also warm which makes it perfect for swimming in.

Cancun itself is a proper tourist town with massive hotels, resorts, super clubs, and much much more.

You can stay in Cancun Downtown and get the R1 bus into Cancun Hotel Zona for less than $1, or you can stay in the Hotel Zona.

Personally, I think staying in the Hotel Zona is the best choice because you’re so close to the beach and all the great things to do.

And you can’t possibly go to Cancun and not make a stop at the famous CoCo Bongo club (more on that later!)

If you do wish to stay in Cancun Downtown, there is still lots going on, from live music, markets and more.

It really depends on what you want. We stayed in the Selina Hotel Zone property which had a fantastic swimming pool and in a good location.

We stayed in both a private double room and a dorm room, and out of the two, I preferred the double room.

Hotel stays in the Hotel Zona area are much more expensive, but the Selina is reasonably priced!

Read Also: The top things to do in Cancun

cancun nightlife

Palenque

Okay, let’s step away from the “tourist” Mexico and get deep into real Mexico which will give you a chance to see the authentic side of backpacking Mexico.

Palenque is actually my favourite place in Mexico (so far) and it’s located in Chiapas state.

It’s a laid back town which acts as a base to explore the Palenque ruins (some of the best Mayan ruins in my opinion), and some fantastic nearby waterfalls.

What I love even more about Palenque is that it’s super cheap. We headed out for dinner and drinks and spent less than $10 each for 3 dishes, and 3 cocktails each!

I’d say you could easily spend 3 nights in Palenque and never get bored. You can also do day trips to San Cristobal if you don’t plan on going that far on your backpacking Mexico trip.

You can find out all you need to know about great things to do in Palenque in my backpacking Palenque guide here.

[PS, if you’re doing the coastal route through Mexico, then this is where you can get into Guatemala at ease)

waterfalls at palenque

Valladolid

Ah, Valladolid. Another of the best places in Mexico to see. It’s located on the Yucatan Peninsula and it’s a charming town filled with amazing cenotes.

It’s actually the king/queen of cenotes.

But, the town itself is super charming with brilliant restaurants, charming coffee shops, unique sights and much more.

It’s also a great base if you want to visit nearby Chichen Itza.

The best way to get around Valladolid is via moped and there is one company in which you can rent from in town called "Scooter Valladolid".

Also, there is a time zone change in Valladolid from Chiapas and Quintana Roo, so remember to double check if you’re getting buses in Mexico. (We almost missed ours).

You need about 2-3 nights in Valladolid to really experience everything and make sure you visit all the amazing cenotes that surround you.

But to find out more about the best things to do in Valladolid as part of backpacking Mexico, then check out my in depth guide.

valladolid

Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza is probably one of the most famous things to do in Mexico and it’s always part of a backpacking Mexico itinerary.

Actually, out of all the Mayan ruins I’ve seen across Central America, this was my least favourite.

Not that the temple isn’t impressive, but I think the ridiculous entrance fee is what bothered me. This year it went from around $10 to $25 dollars in the last year...I don’t believe it’s worth that price.

You can actually stay right next to the archaeological site if you wish, or you can stay in Valladolid and commute from there.

Some people also choose to go on day trips direct from Cancun or Playa Del Carmen.

San Cristobal

San Cristobal is located in the state of Chiapas and it’s known for its beautiful and well preserved colonial style architecture.

It’s also well known for it’s amazing markets and if you need to find souvenirs then you’ll find everything you need here.

This is a great town to take a walking tour which typically takes 3 hours to see the whole town. There are some stunning places to be seen and I wish we did get the chance to visit here.

But it’s on my list for the next Mexican itinerary we plan. If you’ve been then you can comment your recommendations below and I can pop them in!

Mexico City

The capital of Mexico is Mexico City and Bradley and I were only in Mexico City for a stopover, so we didn’t get to explore.

However, it’s again on my list of places to visit in Mexico for our next trip and I know for a fact that lots of people love it. We met 4 or 5 backpackers on our trip who said how great Mexico City was.

Isla Holbox

Last but not least on our list of places to visit in Mexico for your backpacking Mexico adventure is Isla Holbox. This is an island located in the north of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, in Quintana Roo State.

It’s a backpacker hub thanks to its beautiful waters, stunning beaches, ample drinking opportunities and much more.

It’s super easy to get there via ADO bus from both Cancun and Playa Del Carmen. This will take you to the port and you can get a boat over to the island!

There are also lots of accommodation offers, but they are a little on the pricey side and I think that’s because they’re on an island.

Our 10 favourite things to do in Mexico

There are hundreds of amazing fun things to do in Mexico and if I listed them all, I’d be here forever, so I’ve founded up the highlights of our trip and conducted them into a list of the top 10 things to do on a backpacking Mexico adventure.

1. Visit the beautiful beaches in Playa Del Carmen

As I mentioned above, I think Playa Del Carmen is home to some of the best beaches in all of Mexico.

What’s great about them is they’re clean, the water is clear and blue, and there is so much opportunity for snorkelling, watersports and swimming.

There are also some brilliant beach clubs located along the front and you can pay a set fee (not overly expensive) and use that towards food and drink all day whilst you relax on the beach front= perfection.

There is also lots of opportunities for beach massages, so basically if you love fun in the sun and you want to relax, then the beaches of Playa Del Carmen will not disappoint you.

beaches in playa del carmen

2. Party at Coco Bongo

The world famous Coco Bongo is inspired by the same club that was in the movie “The Mask” (iconic Jim Carrey). Anyway, this is a sort of half club, half show experience.

You pay a set amount and you get entrance and unlimited drinks all night. The basic package will get you a spot on the dance floor and free drinks, or you can upgrade to “gold” (which Bradley and I did) and you get a seat at the top along with “premium” drinks.

It’s around $120 and you get 7-8 shows featuring The Mask, Moulin Rouge, Queen tribute, Michael Jackson tribute and many more.

Then the in between moments are filled with classic 70s, 80s and 90s pop!

It’s a really good night and if you go gold, you have a waiter who brings your drinks to you all night so you don’t have to wait at the bar.

We had a fantastic night and think it was totally worth the money. Also, if you book online you get 5% off, BUT if you want to return for another night, they give you more than 50% off, so it’s an excuse to go again (or give the code to a friend! lol)

There are two Coco Bongo clubs in Mexico, one in Cancun and one in Playa Del Carmen.

The Cancun version is the original and the biggest and it’s the one Brad and I went to, but they both offer the exact same thing.

[PS, it’s also cheaper by around $10-20 if you go on a weekday rather than a weekend]

What I will warn you is that, it’s a little sleazy. They have wind machines that basically go off if a girl is standing over it, and it’s all on a big screen.

Yes, I don’t agree with that, but also, everyone is well aware of what’s going to happen when they stand there. So if you take offence easily, then you probably will be offended.

fun at coco bongo cancun

3. Explore the Palenque ruins of Mexico

The Palenque Ruins are amazing and they’re the cheapest ruins we visited in Mexico, and probably all of Central America.

It’s only 75 pesos entrance (approx $4) and you have full access to some amazing ruins, which aren’t overly busy.

They are beautiful and you can climb up and within them, which is cool. The great thing is that the ruins are dotted all over the place in the forest/jungle and you can spot some just covered by leaves and trees.

You can take a picture of the big map on the entrance to plan your route.

I suggest bringing a picnic as there are lots of nice places to sit. You’ll also find yourself walking through some beautiful waterfalls, which are an added bonus to the day.

There is lots of opportunity to buy souvenirs as people selling the same crap are everywhere.

You can do the ruins via a tour from the main town and combine it with a waterfall tour (AMAZING waterfalls), or you can easily go on your own, which I’ve talked about in my backpacking Palenque guide.

palenque ruins

4. Visit the Tulum ruins

Another one of the best things to do in Mexico is the Tulum Ruins. They’re completely different from the Palenque ruins, so you won’t feel like you’re seeing the same thing twice.

Actually the Tulum ruins are located on the beachfront, which means they have a stunning backdrop.

They are also cheap to visit at 65 pesos each and I think these ruins were very picturesque.

You should bring your swimming costume as you’ll have the chance to swim in the sea via a “secret beach” only accessed via the ruins.

We visited around 3pm when the weather was “cooler” and we got stuck in a downpour of rain and had to hide under a tree for about an hour...it was an adventure, then our bike got a flat tyre so we couldn’t ride it back to our hotel and instead had to pay $25 for a 10 minute taxi drive…

Even that was a challenge as no one wanted to take our bikes! Haha

At the ruins there is a package on offer that’s around $20 that takes you snorkelling too, so if you want the chance to see some fish, then this is a fair deal.

We thought about doing it, but since we arrived so late (classic Brad and Caz), we didn’t have enough time left.

tulum ruins

5. Eat traditional Mexican food

I simply had to put this on my list of great things to do in Mexico.

Basically, I've been obsessed with Mexican food all my life and Bradley and I make a lot of Mexican food at home, so when I knew I was going to Mexico, I could not wait to eat all the food I could.

It didn’t disappoint, the food in Mexico is amazing. I loved the fresh, (cheap) tacos, yummy enchiladas, guacamole and of course I’ve developed a love (cough addiction cough) to margaritas.

Personally, I think the more “local” a place is, the better the food. But you really can’t go wrong, the food is both delicious and well priced.

6. Discover waterfalls in Chiapas

You can take a waterfall tour from Palenque for around 300 pesos, which is about $15 which includes you’re entrance to waterfalls and your transport there and back. Not too bad.

You’ll get to visit some really cool waterfalls, and the first one,Misol-Ha, you can swim in! It’s a towering waterfall and it’s pretty epic. You can also fly drones here so get ready to get some cool shots.

The second waterfall you visit is called Agua Azul and it’s spectacular. It’s like cascades of different waterfalls and there are so many beautiful pools, in stunning blue colours. It’s a very picturesque waterfall with the chance to swim too.

This was my favourite and it takes a lot for me to be impressed by waterfalls nowadays (I’ve seen so many), but this one did.

The area in which it is also has lots of little restaurants where you can chill and Brad and I had 3 empanadas for 20 pesos each (less than $1) and vodka and orange juice for less than $2, which was fun.

Fun moment...when we visited, the heavens opened and it was torrential rain, for the whole.damn.time. Note to self: check the weather forecast.

So, we didn’t fly our drone, and we didn’t get to swim in the second one, which was super annoying because it looked so amazing, but the vodka helped us get over the pain.

Also, I lost a memory card the day after, which had all my photos of the waterfall, including a lot of my photos from Laos and Vietnam that I hadn’t yet transferred onto my hard drive, so I was pretty bummed about that, BUT lesson learnt, I transfer more often now.

Kind of made that sound like a disaster day, but if you go when the sun is shining, it will be even better haha

This is definitely one of the best things to see in Mexico!

waterfall tour palenque

7. Visit Cenote Suytun and other cenotes in Valladolid

So if you’ve been on Instagram searching travel related hashtags, then the chances are, you’ve seen this cenote.

Instagram is exactly where I saw it,and I saved the picture and knew I had to visit once I started backpacking Mexico.

So, Cenote Suytun is truly as beautiful in person as it is in the pictures. It’s under a cave and a little platform has been created so you can walk out onto it where a beam of light shoots through.

This does make for a pretty picture, but if you want to avoid the crowds, then go when it first opens at 8 am which is what Bradley and I did and we got some cool pictures.

You can swim here, but there are big black fish, so no thank you.

There are also lots of other cenotes in the area, like lots and lots and you could spend two whole days going to them all, but I’ve spoken about them all in my Cenote Suytun post which will tell you all you need to know about visiting there and other nearby cenotes in Valladolid.

cenote suytun

8. Visit Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza (as mentioned before) is probably one of the most famous attractions in all of Mexico.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful, and if you’re only going to be visited just one Mayan site on your backpacking Mexico itinerary, then this should definitely be a go to place.

My only problem is the touristification of it: it’s overpriced, and honestly, it’s just one big “market” with people selling overpriced stuff. Rows and rows and rows, then more rows of people. It takes away from the experience for me….

But, it’s still an impressive temple!

If you want to avoid the mass crowds, then I suggest going super early which you can do if you have your own transport (car or moped), or you take an organised tour that leaves super early.

PS, do NOT buy your souvenirs here. They charge about $20 for something that costs $1 to make, and if you do buy it, then you just ruin it for the rest of us who don’t want to be ripped off so obviously.

If you’re in Cancun, there is a massive supermarket there, (super modern), and it has all the same stuff for less than $2-3, so buy your souvenirs there and thank me later.

9. Have fun at Venture Park

Brad and I are big kids at heart. If we find a waterpark, or amusement park, then you’ll probably find us there.

The great thing about Ventura Park in Cancun is that it’s both a waterpark, amusement park and then some!

You can go race go-karts, do ziplining, try your hand at some scary VR and so much more.

Oh, and it’s $30 for all entrance…..for everything, including transport there and back, and unlimited food all day ...oh and you can add on unlimited alcoholic drinks package for $7 more...trust me, margaritas all day in the sun whilst you’re bobbing along the lazy river...is super fun.

We did the lazy river and got off at each bar, so we essentially bar hopped the lazy river= awesome.

The entrance is always 50% off when you book online 5 days in advance...but top tip: we booked 2 days in advance, and we messaged the live chat team and asked if we could get the 50% discount, and it was no problem, plus they gave us the drinks package at half price too.

So, basically you’ll always get 50% off, just message them online :)

It’s such a fun day out, and you start your day around 10 and finish at 5! We had such a brilliant day.

It’s a small park in comparison to massive famous waterparks, but there is enough to keep busy, and all the ziplining is such fun.

You can also do bungee jump and bungee swing, (we did the bungee swing), and that’s included in the price. In the UK, these are super expensive, so for $30, I was VERY happy!

Food was decent too, the only extras you need to pay for is your locker, if you want one.

This is the website.

venutar park canun

10. Experience epic sunsets in Cancun

The sunsets in Cancun are out of this world. Stunning pinks, oranges and reds take over the sky, and there are so many great sunset spots.

You can sit in the water, sit on the beach with an ice bucket of beers and some music, or sit on one of the many restaurants that are beachfront.

Either way, it’s going to be pretty epic.

So this is just a fine selection of all my favourite things to do in Mexico. Of course there are many more to do, but these are my top choices!

Choosing your Mexico itinerary

Mexico is a BIG country, so when people ask us “where should I go in Mexico?” or “how long should I backpack Mexico?”, it’s often really hard to give a straight answer.

It depends on what you want and of course, how much time you can spare! So to help you decide, we’ve created 4 sets of itineraries based on the places we’ve been and a few more that we haven’t been. The 3 week itinerary is the itinerary we did, and the 4 week is the one we would have done had we had more time!

So, the question is, what are you looking for?

1 Week Mexico Itinerary ideas

If you’ve only got a week backpacking Mexico then I suggest you see the hotspots of the coast which are as follows:

Cancún> Isla Holbox> Playa Del Carmen> Tulum

Cancun: 2 nights: you can spend one night at the start and one night at the end of your trip if you’re flying in and out, but from there you can do a day trip to Chichen Itza if you wish.

Isla Holbox: 2 nights: this beautiful island is worth a stay with its beautiful blue waters and snorkel.

Playa Del Carmen: 2 nights: You can check out all the beaches.

Tulum: 1 nights: Tulum ruins and beautiful cenotes!

Total: 7 nights

2 Week mexico Itinerary ideas

Our Mexico travel itinerary went something like this and I felt we got to see lots of the best Mexico has to offer!

2 week backpacking mexico itinerary

Cancun: 4 nights: Spend 4 nights relaxing on the beach, heading to Ventura Park, snorkelling, visit nearby islands, seeing CoCo Bongo and much more.

Playa Del Carmen: 2 nights View the beautiful beach of Playa Del Carmen and try day excursions.

Valladolid: 3 nights: Explore the beautiful cenotes around the area, the lovely bars and restaurants and of course the famous Chichen Itza.

Tulum: 2 nights: Visit the beautiful cenotes in Tulum as well as the brilliant and beautiful Tulum ruins.

Palenque: 3 nights: Marvel at the amazing Palenque ruins then take a day trip exploring the stunning waterfalls in close proximity.

Fly home from Palenque to Cancun, then onwards, or even Mexico city and onwards, or cross over the border to Flores Guatemala.

One more night in Cancun or Mexico city for flying.

Total: 14 nights

3 Week Mexico Itinerary ideas

If you've got some extra time in Mexico, then follow this 3 week itinerary for Mexico to cover all basis and experience it all.

3 week backpacking mexico itinerary

Cancun: 4 nights: Spend 4 nights relaxing on the beach partying at CoCo Bongo, etc

Playa Del Carmen: 2 nights View the beautiful beaches of Playa Del Carmen.

Valladolid: 3 nights: Explore the amazing cenotes around the area via moped and visit the famous Chichen Itza and Coba via day trips.

Tulum: 2 nights: Visit the fantastic cenotes in Tulum as well as the brilliant and beautiful Tulum ruins.

Palenque: 3 nights: Marvel at the amazing Palenque ruins then take a day trip exploring the stunning waterfalls in close proximity.

San Cristobal: 3 nights: Take walking tours and embrace the beauty of this cute colonial town.

Mexico City: 3 nights: Be amazed by the chaos of Mexico city. Eat, drink, explore and party in the capital.

Total: 21 nights (including travel time)

4 Week Mexico Itinerary ideas

The 4 week itinerary will allow you to see a lot of the coast and some of rural Mexico. Basically for a 4 week itinerary, I suggest the exact same as the 3 week backpacking Mexico itinerary, but adding on these stops: Isla Holbox and Río Lagartos (which is the famous pink lake).

When is the best time to visit Mexico?

If you’re wondering when the best time to go to Mexico is, then it’s the dry season

The dry season of Mexico runs between December to April (which is why everyone flocks to the beaches during winter vacation in the UK and USA!)

There will be little rain and temperatures can hit around 30 degrees Celsius.

Of course, if you go out of season, then this will be the cheapest time to go to Mexico, but you may have to contend with bad weather.

We visited in January and the weather was excellent. There was the odd shower, and only one day of bad rain all day (Palenque at the waterfalls), but other than that, it was perfect weather!

blue waters in cancun

Backpacking Mexico: Sorting your Mexico visa

When it comes to sorting a visa for backpacking Mexico, you’ll be pleased to hear that it’s actually not that difficult for most people.

If you’re travelling on a UK or Irish passport, then you won’t need a visa beforehand, you will be granted a visa on arrival and you will need to fill in an immigration form which you will have to return when you leave Mexico.

So don’t lose it. If you do, you’ll have to pay $500 Mexican Pesos.

You can stay in Mexico up to 180 days, and yes you can leave and re-enter, because we did and had no issues.

The Departure Tax: Okay, there really is a lot of confusion over the departure tax. MOST airlines include it within the ticket, so you won’t have to notice it.

But apparently some don’t and when you leave the country via land border, they will demand a fee, which is around $25 US dollars.

Now, apparently you can pay this tax before hand at any bank. Either way, no one said anything about this when Bradley and I were there at the airport when they let us in, or otherwise.

So when we left Mexico to Flores, Guatemala, we were asked to pay a fee in cash.

We had no cash, and I refused to pay the fee, especially since we were going to return to Mexico after our time in Central America, for a flight back home.

Anyway, I explained this to the immigration officer, that we were coming back in 6 weeks, and he eventually just said okay…

And when we went to the airport, we were never asked for a fee, so I am unsure why we “had” to pay it at the land border…

If you’re travelling on a US passport, you can enter Mexico for up to 180 days visa free.

How Do You Get To Mexico?

There are a variety of ways to get to Mexico depending on where you are coming from.

If you are coming from the UK, you can fly with Thomson airways and Thomas cook for super cheap.

We flew with Thomas cook and the flight was direct, cheap and excellent (we flew premium economy on our return flight and I recommend paying the extra for the upgrade).

Actually, if you’re wondering how long does it take to get to Mexico via a direct flight: it’s about 10 hours.

You can check Skyscanner for the best prices on the web. We actually only booked 10 days before we left and still got a flight for under £200.

If you’re coming from the USA, you might be wondering, can you drive to Mexico, well yes! you have the option to drive to Mexico through San Diego, or other crossing parts, or of course you can get super cheap flights from Florida, Chicago and Boston. (less than $100).

Same applies to Canada!

If you’re backpacking Central America but have started from Panama/Costa Rica, then you can get flights and buses the whole way to Mexico City or Cancun.

They’re super long but doable. Tica bus is the company we use for all our long haul journeys throughout central america, and they pretty much dominate the bus scene. This is their website.

Basically Mexico is a super easy place to get into and out of which makes backpacking Mexico even more appealing.

VALLADOLID CENOTES

Getting around Mexico

Wondering how to get to Mexico? Don’t worry!

For backpackers, the best way to get around Mexico is via bus. Mexico bus routes are quite well established long haul bus situation, and each area of the country has one company that has a hold on them.

For example, in the states we visited, ADO bus are the main company and they are the company we used for our entire backpacking Mexico route.

You can’t book online as you need a Mexican credit card, but just head to an ADO bus station and book your tickets there. They take card which is handy.

We used ADO from Cancun all the way to Palenque (stops in between), and then to Valladolid, etc.

They are comfortable, average priced, and usually on time!

Flying

There are a lot of local airports in Mexico, so if you’re budget can stretch to it, then you can get around quicker by flying from place to place. You can get a flight to Palenque, Mexico City, Cancun, etc.

The further you book in advance, the better the deal.

Below I discuss the easiest way to get to each place based on our itinerary samples above: starting in Cancun.

Taxi

There is no uber in this part of Mexico (I know Mexico city has uber), but the taxis are expensive because they are owned privately. This is the case for Tulum and Playa Del Carmen, Cancun.

If you want to get around cheaply, then think like a local. Get the collectivos or local buses to get from place to place, and if you’re confused, simply ask a local for advice. They’re happy to help!

Rent a car

It’s SUPER cheap to rent a car in Mexico. When you book in advance you can get some for as little as $1 a day.

You need a credit card to rent, and Brad and I had only taken debit cards with us, so we couldn’t rent!

But I highly recommend driving, as you will get to see so much more of the country and you can make even more unique stops along the way.

Fuel is cheap too.

I was using Rental Cars for my searches!

GETTING FROM CANCUN TO PLAYA DEL CARMEN

The easiest way is to get a bus via the ADO station. It’s less than $8. If you wish, you can also get a shared taxi, which will likely be a little quicker.

GETTING FROM PLAYA DEL CARMEN TO TULUM

The same applies from Cancun to Tulum and Playa del carmen to Tulum. Get the ADO bus. There is only a couple of tours between these destinations, so if you wish and your budget can afford too, then get a taxi between them.

GETTING FROM CANCUN TO PALENQUE

You can get a direct bus from both Playa Del Carmen and Cancun. There are a few timing options, but I recommend the overnight bus that leaves around 6pm and gets you to Palenque for around 7am.

There are different price levels with ADO such as a basic fare, (no onboard toilet), a medium fare (toilet, plug sockets) and a luxury fare, which includes snacks, drinks, onboard entertainment etc.

We splashed out and did that, and it was freezing on board because of the strong air con and no blankets offered.

We actually did that in order to get a better sleep, but it didn’t work, so I’d just pay the middle rate!

GETTING FROM CANCUN TO VALLADOLID

You can get the ADO bus again which only takes about 2 hours. Or you can arrange a taxi transfer, or even drive yourself if you opted for the car for a few days.

If you have a car you can drive to Chichen Itza super early to beat the crowds.

GETTING FROM VALLADOLID TO CHICHEN ITZA

I thought I would quickly mention this, you can get to Chichen Itza from Valladolid via moped rental ($20 for 24 hours), or you can get the local mini buses (collectivo) from the bus station, which are only a couple of dollars.

Finding the best Accommodation in Mexico

If you’re worried about knowing where to stay in Mexico, then look no further.

You’ll be happy to hear that hotels in Mexico are plentiful and have something to suit every budget. We got to stay in some fantastic places.

Just a note, we always use booking.com to search for Mexico accommodation. We use them about 90% of the time and Airbnb the other 10%.

We find they are the cheapest (they have a price promise, so the hotel direct won’t ever be cheaper) and you get a genius discount (15%), free breakfast on some rooms, late checkout, early check, and we’ve even had free sims and free bike rental!

So, if you’re looking for the number one way to find the best places to stay in Mexico, then I say Booking.com

If you want to book, I’ve listed the destination pages from the backpacking Mexico itineraries, but a quick heads up, if you book through any of these links we get a small commission.

This is at no extra cost to you at all, and it helps our website produce these awesome backpacking guides for you! So...thank you!

If you’ve never booked with booking.com before, you can use this link to get 10% off your first booking.

Of course there are other ways to book hotels and hostels in Mexico. Some alternatives are listed below.

I’ll also list where we stayed in Mexico for reference and we’ve written some blog posts on some of them.

magic blue boutique hotel

mexico travel guide: How to dress

If you’re wondering what to wear in Mexico, then I’ve got you covered.

Mexico is a Christian country, which means there isn’t any strict religious dress codes. Of course, walking around naked might be frowned upon (I’m sure that applies to any country), but you can wear swimwear, shorts etc with ease.

I personally recommend light clothing as it gets super warm. I’m talking cotton trousers, shorts and tops.

Bring sunglasses and when you are out on day trips, I recommend bringing a rain poncho with you in case you get wet by a random rain storm.

You can get the rain ponchos for less than $2.

In general the climate in Mexico is warm all throughout, but in some cases bring a light jacket if it gets colder in the evening.

What to pack for Mexico

This list certainly won’t have absolutely everything you need for a backpacking Mexico itinerary, but it should get you started on your packing list for Mexico.

As part of this packing list, to help you out, we’ve included links to Amazon to the products, where we will earn a small commission if you purchase via one of the links.

What you'll need
WHat We Recommend
Rucksack

Every backpacker needs a decent rucksack for backpacking Mexico. You can opt to take suitcases with you, but backpacker is far easier and much more convenient if you’re travelling to lots of different places in a country. We recommend Osprey rucksacks as they’re high quality and easy to open. Brad’s been using the same one for almost 4 years now. They do men and women backpacks.

Comfortable shoes

Do not skimp on high quality shoes when travelling. You’re going to be walking a lot. Personally I wear Skechers go walk and I’ve been using them for 3 years that they are perfect!

Hiking shoes

If you plan on doing a lot of hiking and adventurous activities, invest in a pair of good quality hiking shoes. You can hang them onto your rucksack.

Reef Flip flops

Brad LOVES these flip flops and I have to say they’re the best pair he has ever bought. They are high quality, comfortable and you can open beer bottles with them (oh yeah!). He uses them for the beach, walking up mountains, long walks, everything and they last long!

Jacket

As said before, it’s a good idea to have a light jacket for your evenings. Some places it can get a little chilly so this will make you more comfortable.

Long trousers

If you want to stay cool, then wear cool long trousers, these are good in the evening to help cover your legs from bug bites.

Cap

Keep your head protected from the intense sunshine!

Playsuits and dress (again, for the ladies)

Super lightweight and breathable means these are perfect for backpacking Mexico.

Deet

Certain areas of Mexico are prone to mosquitoes, so use deet to keep them at bay. I recommend at least 50% deet.

Suncream

Protect your skin. You still tan with sunscreen on! Get a high factor and note that it will be more expensive when you arrive to purchase, so it’s best to bring before you go backpacking Mexico.

high quality camera

You’re going to want to document your travels and if you want a camera that takes high quality pictures and super high quality videos, then I suggest the Canon G7x Mark II. It’s what we use for 80% of our pics and videos. Get a Go Pro for cool underwater pics.

International Travel Adaptor

It’s good to invest in a decent one which will work for a variety of different countries in the world.

What to read whilst backpacking Mexico

Mexico has a pretty interesting country with an interesting past, so if you’re interested in learning about the history then you can check out some books here.

Book
Why you should read it
Kindle Fire

When backpacking Mexico you’re not going to want to carry lots of books with you, so a kindle is a great way to read books on the go without extra weight. The Kindle Fire can double as a tablet which is good for checking emails, social media, watching Netflix, etc.

Blood & Fire: A History of Mexico

An interesting take on the history of Mexico and very highly rated!

Lonely Planet Mexico (Travel Guide)

Classic Lonely planet will give you lots of information on backpacking Mexico. It’s hard for a book to keep up-to-date, but it’s a good starter read. You usually find older editions in hostels.

The Rough Guide to Mexico

I prefer Rough Guides as they have some awesome travel itineraries in their books, so these are great for planning your trip.


Latin american phrase book

Spanish is spoken all across Mexico and central america (and south!) so it's super useful to learn a few phrases to help communicate with locals and haggle better.

The Mexico reader: politics, history and more

If you'd like to know more about Mexican politics, history and everything in between then this is a great book! 

Eating and Drinking in Mexico

Well, this is probably one of my favourite things to do in Mexico. The food and drink is out of this world.

Before I went to Mexico, I’ve always eaten Mexican food and actually Brad and I make it quite frequently back home...fresh guacamole is our thing.

So, I was super excited to eat food in Mexico, and it did not disappoint.

Breakfast tends to be some forms of beans, eggs, or even breakfast tacos. Lunch is tacos, quesadillas, Mexican bean soup is good, and dinner is more of the same but add on fresh guacamole and you’re sorted.

There are lots of different meats and flavours going on, so you’ll be spoilt for choice and find that everything tastes different even if it has the same name.

If you want to divert away from Mexican food, there are lots of other restaurants in Mexico that serve Italian, American and even Asian cuisine, so you’ll find something to suit everyone.

Obviously, the more rural you go, the less choice you will have.

mexico food

Useful online tools for Your Mexico trip

After spending almost 3 weeks backpacking Mexico, we found lots of useful tools that helped make our Mexico travel trip so much easier. Below we list some you might find useful.

Booking.Com: I’ve mentioned about how useful they are for finding cheap hotels in Mexico, but they also have an app which can be used offline which means once you book a hotel, it will be saved to the app and you can get the address for the taxi drivers!

You can also chat easily with the property through their in-app messaging system.

Google maps/Maps. Me: Personally we prefer google maps, both work offline (you download google maps online for it to work offline) and you can get from A to B even when you have no WiFi or data.

Skyscanner: We used Skyscanner to book all our flights! So if you’re wondering where to fly into Mexico they can help.

Mexico Budget: The cost of backpacking Mexico

I bet you’re now wondering, “how much is it going to cost to backpack Mexico?” and I will be totally honest with you.

Everything near the coast is more expensive, but there are ways to do it on the cheap, but once you hit the more authentic areas of Mexico such as Palenque, Valladolid, etc, it’s super cheap all the time.

But here are some figures to help you plan your Mexico backpacking budget.

When in the beachside resorts of Mexico, I think you should aim for a budget of around $50-60 a day. You could do it in less, and you could also do it with more. But this is an average.

When you’re backpacking the rest of Mexico, you could easily survive on a budget of $30-35 a day.

This is also assuming you are staying in a hotel room (double/twin room with aircon), eating out 2-3 times a day, having a few alcoholic drinks and doing tours and sights etc.

Obviously, if you don’t drink, are staying in a hostel dorm, cook your own meals and can live with just a fan, then things will be a lot cheaper...but that’s not how we travel!

Budget for food

Even in the most touristy areas you can find cheap food if you eat local. We found some great taco joints in Tulum and Playa Del Carmen that were super cheap and delicious.

But in comparison to UK prices, even restaurants in Playa Del Carmen, Tulum and Cancun are cheaper than London prices!

Plus alcohol is cheap in general. If you want to go super budget you can stick to meals from 7-Eleven, or fast food chains such as McDonalds.

Once you head inland, meals range around $3-4 which is pretty decent I’d say!

Budget for alcohol

Speaking of alcohol, Mexico is home to cheap tequila and beer. You can get 2-4-1 offers almost everywhere and even then it works out around $2 a drink.

You can easily find cheap drinks, and if all else fails, the 7-Elevens sell cheap alcohol too.

You can get vodka, wine, cider, beer, etc all throughout Mexico.

Budget for sights

Most sights inland cost on average $4-5 entrance.

Of course once you head to the tourist beach resorts, things get a little out of hand, so bare this in mind when creating a list of great things to do in Mexico!

I hope this helps clear up the cost of backpacking Mexico.

panelnque ruins

Drone laws in Mexico

Mexico drone laws are quite fair (As of 2019). Drones can be flown in Mexico, which is great, but there are restrictions on where.

If you want to fly your drones on beaches, you can, but make sure it isn’t busy, or better yet, fly from the resort you’re staying at.

You cannot fly your drone at Mayan ruins, and you’ll see countless signs stating that drones cannot be flown, so respect this.

Some places will allow you to fly a drone if you pay a fee, this can range from a couple of dollars to around $25 so it’s up to you to decide whether to pay it or not. This tends to be the case on “private property” where they know foreigners like to drone.

Tip: don’t drone in side cenotes, the caves interfere with the drone and A LOT of drones have died a death and dropped into the water. But we flew our drone fuss free in the places we wanted to.
If you want a great drone then we use the Mavic Pro which is super high quality and worth every penny. But if you want a drone that’s a little cheaper and smaller then the Spark is a good option.

drone shot mexico

Final thoughts and advice from our Mexico Itinerary

I honestly loved Mexico. Being there just made me want to return and see even more of the country.  I think it’s one of the best backpacking destinations in the world.

But I feel our route allowed us to see all the different aspects of what Mexico has to offer. From beautiful beaches, great food, Mayan ruins, stunning waterfalls and so much more.

We often get asked if Mexico is safe to travel, and I think yes. We never encountered any issues on our journey, but of course there is an active drug culture in Mexico so it’s important to firstly not get involved with drugs, and just keep an eye on the news.

There will be some towns in Mexico that are unable to travel, but again, monitoring the situation online will show you.

Just remember, no matter where you go in the world, absolutely everywhere has bad parts and good parts. But that shouldn’t be a reason not to go, just be aware and sensible and the chances are you will be absolutely fine.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this backpacking Mexico guide. Please comment below if you’ve been to Mexico, or are planning a trip to Mexico then comment below!

Happy travels

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