Six Ways to Travel Mexico on the Cheap - Page 2

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Fresh Fruit at a Mercado in Mexico
Fresh fruit at a mercado in Mexico  (iStockphoto)

Think locally, act locally
To avoid steep prices at the massive international resorts, find the smaller, locally owned hotels and inns. You won’t wallow in over-the-top luxury, but you’ll have all the comforts you need, as well as personal service, at a price that still feels like Mexico. Major destinations also have an array of hostels, but quality is all over the map—get recommendations or inspect the place before you set down your bags. If your dream vacation is an all-inclusive resort with 24-hour room service and margaritas delivered to your beach bed, look into discounted air-hotel packages (for example,, Apple Vacations, and similar sites), especially during high season south of the border.,, and other Mexican companies offer wider selections including less expensive properties.

Better by bus
Nothing will bust a budget faster than reserving a car for $15 a day and learning at the rental counter that Mexico’s mandatory insurance will bring it to $45. The best budget transportation strategy is to use the country’s exemplary bus network to travel between destinations south of the border. In most towns, you can easily get around on foot and supplement your day with inexpensive taxi rides. For day trips, you can usually hire a taxi by the hour or day for less than the cost of renting a car. In areas such as the Yucatán that are especially suited to driving, cluster your activities so you can rent a car for just a day or two—renting in town also avoids the higher airport rates.

Let’s do lunch
For fresh, home-cooked meals that are almost embarrassingly cheap, head for the central mercado (market) or follow the locals to the best sidewalk food stands. Restaurants where working people eat often offer a multicourse comida corrida or menu del día for just a few pesos. When the latest, greatest destination restaurant crosses your radar, go for lunch, when the same dishes cost less, or share an entrée—even the fanciest restaurants are gracious about splitting a serving. Keep in mind that local specialties are almost always the least expensive items on the menu. Seafood is the big “gotcha”; if you can do without, your wallet will thank you.

Money matters
Big tourist destinations aren’t doing you any favors by accepting dollars. At the time of writing, the official exchange rate was 12.9 pesos to the dollar. On that rate, you should expect between 12 and 12.5 pesos at banks and casas de cambio (exchange houses). You’ll be lucky to get 11 or 11.5 pesos from hotels and merchants. Use a credit card wherever you can when trying to travel in Mexico on the cheap; you’ll get your bank’s rate which, even when their fees are subtracted, yields more than you’ll get on the street. When you need pesos, an ATM is your best bet. You’ll pay fewer fees using a debit card than a credit card.

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