Our trip to Cancun has nothing to do with RVing. We only saw two RVs during the two weeks we were in Mexico. Neither of them were ours, and one of them was in storage (meaning, it was parked in a deserted parking lot and looked like it hadn’t been touched in a long time).
But you’ll cut us some slack, right? We figure RVers are an adventurous bunch who are interested in traveling everywhere, including internationally. And there was so much information we couldn’t find before we left, that we learned once we got to Cancun.
The most aggravating thing was that we had no idea what our daily expenses would be. What should we budget for meals, or for bus rides? Thank goodness for our bank teller in Tucson. When we told her how much we wanted to convert to pesos, she politely said, “You may not need that much.”
Before I get into the nickels and dimes, I should mention that we weren’t trying to do Mexico on the cheap. This was a trip we talked about for years, so we wanted to do it right and not have any regrets about things we didn’t pay to do. You could travel for less, comfortably, if you did things like find a less expensive AirBnB (that was smaller, or further from downtown), always take the bus instead of the taxi, and not splurge on meals. (Although, “splurging” on meals in Mexico is really tough to do, compared to what that means for us in the United States.)
Travel Expenses to and From Mexico
Plane tickets: $922.72
We purchased on tickets through Expedia. We saved by taking a red-eye flight with Frontier Airlines, but we wouldn’t fly Frontier again. There’s a reason their tickets are so cheap.
Baggage fees: $54.81
We paid 945 pesos ($54.81) for two bags on our return trip from Mexico. We would’ve paid $60 on our outbound trip, but that fee was refunded when my bag was lost.
Airport parking: $74.75
It’s overwhelming how expensive airport parking can be! A friend introduced us to GreenbeeParking.com, which worked out well for us and was much less expensive than the alternatives. Greenbee connects you with hotels near the airport that have agreed to allow parking there. You drop your vehicle off, then take an airport shuttle to your flight.
We parked at Howard Johnson Inn in Phoenix for the two weeks we were gone, with no problems. This parking option isn’t as secure (we were in an open, ungated lot), so definitely don’t leave any valuables in your vehicle.
Stateside food: $14.49
Get ready to compare this one fast food meal to our costs south of the border.
Travel expenses total: $1,066.77
AirBnB apartment: $628
We paid the equivalent of $45/night for a full apartment in downtown Cancun. It wasn’t large, but it had one bedroom, one bathroom, a fridge, a kitchen sink, two electric stove burners, a dining table, lightning-fast Internet and it was in an unbeatable location. We were one block from the grocery store, a couple blocks from Parque las Palapas and numerous eateries, and all the buses and taxis came by the end of our street.
This is not the Zona Hoteleria (“Hotel Zone”) experience that most tourists are looking for. There are no recognizable U.S. restaurants here; people speak broken English; and things aren’t as shiny. But the experience is real and the people are good. We ventured into the Hotel Zone twice during our trip, and we’re really glad we didn’t choose to stay there.
Food and Drink Expenses
Eating and drinking out: $489.61
Food was the bulk of our daily expense. We originally planned to eat at home to save money, but it ended up being cheaper to eat out! Here are some examples of what we paid for food:
- $7.54 (130 pesos) for four tacos and a non-alcoholic drink at a sit-down restaurant
- $1.45 (25 pesos) for a marquesita (crepe with Edam cheese and Nutella) at a food stand
- $1.74 (30 pesos) for two quesadillas
- $2.90 (50 pesos) for a vanilla latte at a corner cafe in Puerto Morelos
- $4.64 (80 pesos) for two-for-one margaritas during happy hour
We did have some more expensive meals. Our most expensive by far was 1,045 pesos ($60.61) at Rolandi’s, on the beautiful island of Isla Mujeres. This was an amazing meal for $60. One alcoholic drink, shrimp cocktail, delicious rib eye steak with grilled vegetables, and an entree of grilled shrimp.
Note for reference: $489.61 equates to roughly 8,442 pesos.
We loved having a Chedraui grocery store a couple blocks away. We made at least five evening trips to get pan (pastries and breads) for cena (a fourth meal of the day that Mexicans enjoy before bed). We got this fresh pan for the equivalent of $1.25:
For fresh produce, check out Mercado 28:
Food and drink expenses total: $509.27
Transportation Expenses in Mexico
At the beginning of our trip, we used taxis because we didn’t understand the bus system. Eventually, when we knew the system better, we often took a taxi anyway because it was low-cost, and we didn’t want to wait. If you’re staying downtown, take a taxi to get around downtown. If you want to go to the Hotel Zone, take a bus. Once you get out of downtown, into the Hotel Zone, the pricing goes up. We went from Tulum to Plaza Las Americas for 30 pesos ($1.74), and from Tulum to Puerto Juarez for 40 pesos ($2.32).
To get to Isla Mujeres, we took the Ultramar ferry, which departs every half hour. The cost is 146 pesos per person, round-trip ($8.47), and you can buy your tickets on-site.
In addition to taking the bus to the Hotel Zone and a few other places around town, we took two trips on an ADO bus. The first was to the charming fishing village of Puerto Morelos, which is about 40 minutes south of Cancun. The price was a whopping 48 pesos round-trip, for both of us. That’s $2.78!
We also took ADO to Merida to see Eric’s family. We went Platino, the most luxurious bus available, using the ADO app to get half-price round-trip tickets. (This is the Android version of the app, but there is an Apple version, too.) This cost $69.50 for both of us.
Transportation expenses total: $154.46
Entertainment and Activities Expenses
Chichen Itza and Xcaret: $365
We had two big sight-seeing days. Rather than planning our own transportation and all the little details, we bought package deals that including transportation, meals and some other expenses.
Chichen Itza is a Mayan archaeological site featuring the El Castillo temple, Great Ball Court and various other temples and ruins, dating back to approximately 750 AD. It’s well worth it to take a guided tour and learn about this amazing civilization.
Xcaret is a cross between Disney Land and an ocean-front aquarium…and so much more. If you’re new to Mexican culture, spend a day here to truly appreciate this country’s people and heritage. Eric had been telling me about Xcaret for years, and our Valentine’s Day visit ended up being my favorite part of our two-week trip.
We swam the underground river, snorkeled in the Caribbean, enjoyed an expansive International buffet, watched impressive shows with singing, dancing and horse acrobatics, took a boat ride down a river, and saw hundreds of sea turtles. It was awesome.
Where else can you get a one-hour massage and facial on the beach for only $26 (including tip)? Eric hooked this one up for me on Isla Mujeres, and I had to go back again the next week! Each one-hour session was 400 pesos.
Eric and his cousin Maco played some slots at the Royal Yak Casino, inside the Plaza las Americas mall.
We wanted to be generous with tips to musicians, dancers and tour guides. They all work hard, and we know most (if not all) of their income derives from tips. Two weeks of tipping everyone we could worked out to a mere 340 pesos, or $19.72.
It isn’t unusual for a Mexican construction worker to earn 100-200 for a full day’s labor. That’s only $5.80-11.60 USD. Puts our abundance into perspective, doesn’t it?
Beach club afternoon: $6.38
We stumbled on Pelicanos Beach Club during our visit to Puerto Morelos. We were able to rent two chaise lounges and an umbrella for 110 pesos ($6.38) and they didn’t care how long we stayed. We enjoyed our view of the Caribbean, took a dip in the waves, and ordered food and drinks all afternoon. This is the spot:
Entertainment expenses total: $471.72
Gifts and souvenirs: $82.82
We spent 1,428 pesos on souvenirs for ourselves and gifts for others. Be careful here because the vendors do take advantage of tourists. It’s your fault if you don’t know the value of your money! Know what the peso equates to when you visit, and use Spanish if you can.
Drop off your clothes at a lavandaria, where you’ll pay by the kilo. Our packet was 60 pesos ($3.48) and was ready the next day.
Essentials when luggage was lost: $153.58
My bag was left in Denver and didn’t make it to Cancun. The airline authorized me to buy “essentials” for the day, including beachwear.
My shopping experience was eye-opening. A pair of sandals, bathing suit, wrap and a few toiletries cost 2,648 pesos, or $153.38. Our family in Mexico told us clothes are expensive there, and our experience validated that claim. Relative to the cost of everything else, we spent a big amount here. (My bag did arrive eventually!)
Only a couple of days into our trip, we made an observation. There was hardly anyone begging for money anywhere. Instead, everyone was working and hustling, trying to sell something, from the young to the very old. This work ethic is a beautiful part of the Mexican culture.
After making this observation, Eric and I purposely looked for those who were begging. Because they were hard to find, and were always handicapped or elderly, we wanted to give to them.
Miscellaneous expenses total: $291.27
We took $500 USD and spent $365 of that. We exchanged $1,200.51 USD worth of pesos at our bank in Tucson, which equated to 20,700 pesos, and spent 19,355. With everything tallied, our total expenses for two weeks in Cancun and the surrounding Yucatan Peninsula were $3,121.49.
Thank you for the detailed list of ideas and costs for a ‘non-resort’ vacation. Just what I was looking for as we try to decide how feasible a trip for our family of 8 would be using airbnb and public transpo/car rentals. Thanks!!
@HomeschoolBytes:disqus, so kind of you to comment and let us know this article was useful to you! Hope you have an awesome trip–we sure did.
Thank you for all of the info. My family of 4 is headed out to Cancun soon. It will be a non resort trip and we’re staying in downtown as well. Quick question, is your per person cost divided by 2 or are there more of you…? i.e. kids.
*Edit. I think I just saw one of your social media posts where you mentioned there were 2 of you.
Yes, it was just my husband and me at the time!
Awesome! There will be 3 adults and our toddler and infant. We won’t get to do as much or stay as long but I think based on your estimates 800 to 1000 should be more than enough for 7 days considering 2 of those are airport days. Our Airbnb and flights are already paid for so we just need to pay for tours and meals. If you think that will be too many pesos let me know and I’ll leave more in small bill dollars. Appreciate the advice!
We spent less than $1,600 in two weeks for two adults, so your estimate sounds right. If I were you, I’d exchange the base amount I thought I would need, and take extra dollars just in case. You don’t want to come home with extra pesos that you have to exchange back–you’ll lose money that way for no reason.