A Nomad's Guide to Accommodation and Getting Around Mexico

Hacienda or cabaña? Bus, plane, or rental car? Shafik Meghji helps you navigate the choices.

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Photo © Getty Images / Danita Delimont

Where to Stay in Mexico

From boutique hotels to all-inclusive resorts, beachside cabins to jungle lodges, backpacker hostels to homestays, Mexico has accommodation options for every budget. Demand for rooms – and rates – are at their highest in the peak season (roughly December-April, with spikes at Christmas, New Year and Easter), July-August in the beach resorts, on national holidays and during local fiestas.

Hotels

Budget hotels often have shared bathrooms, while mid-range ones are almost always en suite and come with TVs and often a/c. Top-end hotels range from global chains to all-inclusive resorts. Boutique hotels and B&Bs are increasingly popular and are often the most appealing places to stay. Posadas (inns), paradors, and casa de huéspedes (both guesthouses) are generally small-scale, often family-run budget or mid-range hotels. Expect to pay around US $25-50 ($507-1,015 MXN) per night for a double/twin in a budget hotel, around US $50-100 ($1,015-2,030 MXN) in a mid-range establishment, and US $100+ ($2,030+ MXN) at the top end.

Hostels

Widespread in cities and tourist destinations, hostels are ideal for budget, independent and solo travelers. Standards of cleanliness, security and facilities vary widely, but the best have bright, spacious dorms/private rooms, ample communal areas and kitchens, and offer plenty of activities. A dorm bed costs US $5.50-20 ($10- 405 MXN) a night.

Airbnbs

Airbnb is increasingly popular, with properties in all the major tourist destinations. They’re particularly good for families and groups.

Homestays

Staying with a local is a great way to really get under the country’s skin. Many hosts offer a family-style atmosphere, home-cooked meals, and even local tours.

Haciendas

Many of Mexico’s haciendas – colonial-era rural estates – have been turned into atmospheric, high-end hotels. The Yucatán Peninsula has arguably the finest range of haciendas, some of them located on the fringes of the region’s Maya ruins. I once spent a memorable night in a jungle-shrouded, sixteenth-century hacienda that housed the pioneering archeologists who excavated Chichén Itzá.

Cabañas

Popular on the coast, cabañas are literally “cabins”, though in practice the term is often used to refer to a beach hut. At the most basic end, expect dirt floors, no electricity, and little more than a bed; at the opposite end of the scale, cabañas can resemble luxury apartments.

Beach cabañas in Tulum. Photo credit: Getty Images / MB Photography

Camping

Organized campsites are in short supply and those that exist tend to be aimed at travelers with campervans/RVs, rather than tents – for the latter, expect to pay US $3-15 ($60-305 MXN) a night. Many hostels will also let you camp – or sleep in a hammock (either your own or one rented for a small fee) under a covered shelter – in their grounds. Camping on beaches and in the countryside is not advisable as robberies (or worse) are a serious risk.

Jungle Lodges

Jungle lodges offer the chance to get away from it all for a few days. Many are akin to luxury boutique hotels, though others are more rustic affairs. Although generally in the wilderness, some are just a short drive from major tourist resorts. The best have a genuine ecotourism focus, using renewable energy, minimizing waste, and avoiding single-use plastics.

Getting Around Mexico

Traveling around Mexico is generally good value, straightforward, and relatively comfortable, though sometimes time-consuming. There are frequent connections between the cities, big towns, and main tourist resorts. In more remote rural areas by contrast, long waits and delays are not uncommon if you’re relying on public transport.

Buses

There are two main classes of long-distance buses: first (primera) and second (segunda). The former are quicker, more expensive and more comfortable, with a/c, video screens, toilets, and reserved seating. Segunda services vary dramatically: some are almost as comfortable as primera vehicles; others are rickety, smoke-belching rust buckets – one segunda service I took in rural Chiapas broke down three times on a single journey. They are also generally slower, avoiding the faster toll (cuota) roads and stopping regularly.

Bus travel is inexpensive: for example, a first-class ticket for the 4.25hr journey between Cancún and Mérida costs around US $21 ($425 MXN). Segunda services tend to be 10 to 30% cheaper.

Unfortunately, buses are sometimes held up and passengers robbed. Primera buses tend to be safer, as they stick the main roads. Whichever bus you choose, it’s safer to travel during the day, rather than at night.

Local buses in Mérida. Photo credit: Getty Images / Tramino

Domestic Flights

Mexico spans almost 760,000mi2 (2 million km2), so flying can save you a huge amount of time and effort. Fares are relatively good value, especially on the busiest routes: the one-hour flight from Mexico City to Tijuana, for example, costs US $75-100 ($1,521-2030 MXN). Aeromexico is the main carrier, but budget airlines like Interjet, Aeromar, and Volaris are often better value.

Rental Cars

Hiring a car gives you an incredible amount of freedom: you can travel at your own pace and visit destinations poorly served by public transport. If there are two or more of you, it’s also very good value: rental cars typically cost from US $50-60 (1,015-1,217 MXN) per day. But driving in Mexico can be challenging, particularly in the cities, and road traffic death rates are high. Crime is another serious issue. Car jackings, violent robberies, and illegal roadblocks are big problems in some parts of the country, notably the northwest. Avoid traveling at night and use toll roads whenever possible.

Trains

Mexico’s rail network is extremely limited, but there are a couple of spectacular journeys, notably in the Copper Canyon.

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