10 Vacations in Mexico for Less Than $100 a Day
Our neighbor to the south has so much more to offer than guacamole, margaritas, and all-inclusive resorts. Mexico is rich in ancient culture, stunning natural landscapes, world-class gastronomy, and cutting-edge art. The dollar is at historic highs against the Mexican peso, which means lots of deals for Americans traveling south of the border. This roundup of Mexican getaways for less than $100 a day has something for everyone, from the foodie to the artist to the historian to the beach bum.
Recognized as the culinary capital of Mexico, Oaxaca is irresistible to anyone interested in food and drink. It's the birthplace of mezcal, the agave-based ancestor of tequila, and mole, the family of rich sauces found throughout the country. The city of Oaxaca is home to many artists, with a thriving gallery scene in the center of town. Accommodations can be found for about $25 a night for a private room, breakfast included. A tour of one of the nearby tourist sites, such as the incredible Monte Alban, costs about $20, including transportation to and from the city. Strolling through the city's main market is entertainment in itself, offering a dazzling array of colors, scents, and sounds. An extravagant lunch of mole and tortillas costs about $15, and dinner at one of the many restaurants is about $20. A trip to a mezcaleria for a taste of the traditional spirit starts at $5 a glass and a late-night snack of tlayuda (a Mexican pizza) is another $5. Even after dining out and seeing some tourist sites, it's a challenge to spend more than $100 a day in Oaxaca.
Just 80 miles east of Mexico City, Puebla is known for impressive architecture, which tells the story of the European settlement and influence. The colonial-era city is home to arguably the country's most beautiful churches. A prime example is the Rosary Chapel, a baroque masterpiece covered with gold leaf, where entrance is free. Accommodations just blocks from the zocalo (central square) can be found for $25 a night, including breakfast. Nearby tourist attractions include the Cantona archaeological ruins, the site of the largest city in ancient Mesoamerica. Tours in English (about $35 a person) leave from the city center. The food is another attraction in Puebla, home to many local specialties, including the cemita, a delicious and filling sandwich found all over town for about $5. For dinner, plan to spend about $25 for a full meal at a restaurant and try the Pueblan version of mole made with chocolate. Use your remaining budget to have a beer or two ($3 each) at one of the clubs in the thriving nightlife scene downtown.
This quiet and relaxing town is a nice option for a stress-free getaway. Home to several art schools, the city at times feels like an international art fair, with art lovers gathering in the town square each morning and evening for drinks and conversation. Hotel rooms are reasonable at about $60 for two, including a generous breakfast spread. An average meal with non-alcoholic drinks is $15, and much less for delicious street food such as tacos, corn on the cob, and roasted chickpeas. During the day, visit the many galleries to take in the local art, and enjoy free entrance to stunning Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel church, an unusual, pink neo-gothic structure. A handful of small bars in town serve cocktails or tequila for about $5 each, and enjoying the quiet and serene calm of San Miguel de Allende in the evening is free.
An old silver mining town built on a series on steep hills, Guanajuato is filled with winding staircases and small plazas, creating a beautiful mosaic of colorful buildings that bring to mind an Escher painting. One of the highlights for visitors is a walking tour that leaves nightly from the zocalo, offered in both Spanish and English for $20. The tour begins with a salute from a mariachi band and winds through alleys and staircases that bring the history of the town alive. The tour includes a visit to the callejon del beso, or "alley of the kiss," where kissing your true love brings 15 years of good luck. A visit to the Valenciana silver mine provides a lesson in economic history and includes a bonus stop at an elaborately decorated church nearby, all for $3. Restaurant meals are an average of $12 and generally include three courses. Look for cajeta, a delicious Mexican caramel, for dessert. Accommodations are the biggest expense in Guanajuato. A standard hotel with breakfast included starts at about $60 a night.
The capital of Mexico is the largest city in the Western hemisphere, with a metro-area population of 21.2 million people. One of the only still-occupied cities in the Americas founded by native Americans, the city's 16 sprawling boroughs are rich with history. The Aztecs were the first to colonize this area as Tenochtitlan in 1325, and visitors can learn all about the Aztecs and many other native groups at the world-renowned National Museum of Anthropology, where the entrance fee is just $5. A comfortable hotel nearby with breakfast included is $60 a night. While Mexico City is home to innovative cuisine and many high-end restaurants, those on a budget will delight in the delicious and inexpensive street food options. Tacos al pastor, made with spit roasted pork and pineapple, are a specialty of the city and a plateful makes a nice meal for $10. Other tasty street foods include tortas, tacos, burritos, and tamales, all filling and all $10 or less for a meal. The mezcal bar scene is particularly hot in Mexico City these days. A young, hip crowd parties late into the night, and $15 buys a couple of drinks.
This popular vacation spot is all about the gorgeous white-sand beaches on the Pacific Ocean. Hotel rooms in the old town within walking distance of the main attractions are available for as little as $30. The beach is free, as is the sprawling Malecon, the huge boardwalk featuring foods stalls, restaurants, shops, and fascinating sculptures. Meals in town average $20, including non-alcoholic drinks such as fresh juices and smoothies. Cheap but delicious Mexican beer adds just a few dollars more. With food and lodging so inexpensive, visitors will have money left over to spend at artisanal markets filled with crafts and regional specialties.
The capital of the state of Michoacán is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognized for its well-preserved colonial buildings and historic city center. Morelia's famous cathedral, built in 1669, features rose-colored stone, baroque paneling, a giant pipe organ, and precious works of silver. Entrance is free, as is the light and music show at the cathedral every Saturday night. The city is also home to the Museo de Casa Morelos, a museum dedicated to José Morelos, a leader of the Mexican War of Independence for whom the city is named; entrance is $3. A basic hotel with simple breakfast of chilaquiles and fruit included is $35 a night. Morelia is not particularly known for its street food, so other meals are best enjoyed at restaurants, with an average price of $10 to $15 for lunch and $25 to $35 for a fairly fancy three-course meal.
This unique and colorful city located in the jungle of the state of Oaxaca appeals to many adventurous, market-loving travelers. Simple accommodations with shower and bed in the city center start at $20 a night, and a breakfast of fresh tropical fruit and homemade tortillas is no more than $5. Brave eaters can try a bowl of iguana stew for lunch, along with a mug of champurrado, a thick chocolate and corn drink, all for $10. Dinner and drinks at a restaurant downtown runs about $20 a person. The city's sprawling market offers some of the most exotic fruits and vegetables in the world, along with local textiles and crafts. It's a good place to shop for a huipil, the traditional dress of Oaxaca, which can be found for less than $20, including alterations by a tailor. In the evening, $20 buys a few rounds of beer in one of the city's charming taverns.
The name of this small town on the Pacific translates as "hidden port," and it does feel like a secret getaway hidden between the jungle and the sea. With beautiful beaches and world-class surfing, it's an appealing destination for travelers looking for a slower pace. A clean hotel room near the main drag in walking distance to the beach is about $50 a night. The local seafood is fresh and delicious, with numerous cafés offering meals and fresh juice drinks for an average of $10. Surfing lessons are available at the many beachside huts, starting at $20. Even if all you want to do is soak up some tropical sun, Puerto Escondido is hard to beat for rest and recuperation.
Located in the southern state of Chiapas, Palenque is rich in pre-Columbian history and home to incredible Mayan ruins. Hotel rooms in town start at $35 and typically include breakfast. Most hotels provide transportation to the nearby archaeological zone for about $5. Entrance to the museum and the site costs $4, and tours in English cost as little as $10. It's easy to spend a full day at the ruins and work up an appetite to satisfy at one of the many restaurants that fuse southern Mexican cuisine with ancient Mayan touches. An average meal is just $15.