Mexico Backpacking Travel Guide

Itineraries, top places to visit, and tips for backpacking around Mexico

Mexico is often associated with spring-breaking holidays and all-in beach resorts in Cancún or Cabo. These typical tourist enclaves are filled with hotels, clubs, spas and malls all catering to gringos flying in directly without venturing anywhere else.

But there is, of course, so much more to Mexico.

If you’re seeking a mix of culture, nature, and adventure, you’re in the right place. I loved how varied the country can be, with landscapes ranging from dense jungles in the south to snow-capped mountains and deserts with cacti in the north. And if you’d like to spend time on a beach that isn’t so commercialised as Cancún, there are plenty of beaches with a more laidback atmosphere.

Mexico’s sheer size can be daunting when planning a trip. The country is bigger than all of Central America to its south combined. When I first opened a Lonely Planet guide to Mexico, which is already several inches thick, it began by listing not just the usual top 10 but a whopping 40 top things to do. Clearly, you can spend much time here without even scratching the surface.

Mexico backpacking regions

That said, a popular backpacking route runs essentially from Mexico City to the Yucatán Peninsula. It’s an easy itinerary to follow and also combines pretty well with other countries like Belize or Guatemala, if that’s something you want to do. It covers some touristy bits of Mexico but will give you a great combo of culture/food focused Oaxaca, budget friendly Chiapas, and the beach-life focused Yucatán.

I followed the popular route a few years back, though I also had the pleasure of poking around a few other parts of Mexico. On a road trip following the Pan-American Highway, I explored much of the Pacific coast. I also went north from Mexico City, up to Guadalajara and as far north as Chihuahua.

While I can’t claim to have seen or done everything, I’ll share a few tips here based on my experiences.

Going to the Yucatán?

Don’t miss our latest in-depth guide to the Yucatán Peninsula!


Where to go in Mexico

Yucatán & Oaxaca: main backpacker trail

Mexico Yucatán and Oaxaca travel map

The established backpacker trail runs through the regions south of the capital and through the Yucatán peninsula (on the map, that’s Mexico’s pointy bit in the east). Most backpackers will start their journey in either Mexico City or Cancún, as their airports are the most well-connected internationally.

While of course not everyone travels exactly the same way, many do inevitably hit up the same places. Towns that are firmly on the backpacker circuit include Oaxaca, San Christobal de las Casas, Puerto Escondido, Palenque, Merida and Tulum (amongst others).

A church in San Cristobal de Las Casas

The Yucatán peninsula is one of the most touristy regions. Places like Cancún and Playa Del Carmen are highly commercialized; expect beach promenades with souvenir shops, air-conditioned shops and over-priced restaurants, water activities like banana boat racing, and many bars and clubs. These places do still see their fair share of independent travellers, and you only need to check into a backpacker hostel to meet them. Nearby places that are a bit more laidback include the Cozumel or Holbox islands.

Thanks to being near one of the largest reef systems in the world, there are tons of snorkelling and scuba diving opportunities around the entire region. Another cool thing to do is to explore the inland cave systems known as cenotes. The mangroves and wetlands of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve are another highlight.

Long-term travellers, perhaps following the so-called ‘Gringo Trail’ through Central America, will usually make their way to Belize and northern Guatemala from the Yucatán region, or cross into southern Guatemala from San Cristobal.

Northern route: Copper Canyon and Baja California

northern Mexico backpacking route

This path is not as well-trodden but can make for a highly rewarding adventure.

Start in Mexico City and make your way up to Mexico’s second largest city Guadalajara – a great place to stroll around markets and plazas or to visit museums. You can then make a trip to Puerto Vallarta, a beach destination that’s somewhat upscale but with enough budget accommodation as well. Mazatlan is full of big hotels on one end of its bay, but has a pleasant old town on the other that seemed popular with surfers and expats. Mazatlan has a ferry connection to Baja California (La Paz) where you will find many spots for diving, surfing and swimming with whale sharks.

The true highlight of this route is the train from Los Mochis through the Copper Canyon – a jaw-dropping system of canyons that is by some measures bigger than the Grand Canyon in the US. You can spend some time hiking in this area as well, possibly using the quiet mountain town of Creel as your base. From Chihuahua, you can backtrack back to Mexico City (I flew back and then resumed travelling south from the capital).

If you start your journey in the US, it seems you could take this route north to south, then continue onto the main Mexico/Gringo trail. Do keep in mind however that cities north of Chihuahua (e.g. Tijuana and Cuidad Juarez) are known for drugs-related violence and are reportedly not as safe. You may find that Chihuahua City is already rough around the edges—I was slightly less comfortable around these parts than elsewhere in Mexico, but that might have just been subjective.

If you usually stay in hostels, I should mention there are plenty in Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta, just a couple in Mazatlan, but then very few or none along the rest of the route. Creel has many smaller guesthouses with private rooms.

Accommodation in Mexico

Enjoying your trip is as much about where you’re staying as where you’re going. Fortunately, you’re spoiled for choice in Mexico. To find the best hotels or hostels, you can read my tips for finding the best budget accommodation.

All of the popular places have good hostels. Outside of the big tourist resorts, smaller hotels and guesthouses can offer great value for money. Along the Gringo trail you could just wing it and show up to places without a reservation, but to secure the best accommodation it’s best to book ahead either before or during your trip.

For independent hotels, guesthouses or beach bungalows, has the most listings. For hostels, be sure to search on Hostelworld. I’ve also highlighted a few great hostels below:

Rossco Backpackers Hostel San Cristobal de las Casas Homely hostel in the mountain town of San Cristobal. Great place to meet people thanks to the bonfire in the courtyard.
Mama’s Home Tulum My favorite hostel in Tulum. Dorms and private rooms. Rent a bicycle to get to the beach. Mama makes a free delicious breakfast every morning.
Hostel Rio Playa Playa Del Carmen Located close to the beach, and has a pool as well.
Hostel Che Playa Del Carmen Somewhat of a party hostel, with a rooftop bar. A good place to go if you want to make friends and go out in Playa del Carmen.
Mexico City Hostel Mexico City Big, spacious hostel with modern facilities. Just a few minutes walk from the main square.
Hostel Hospedarte Guadalajara Centro Guadalajara Nice, bright hostel in Mexico’s second city Guadalajara. Very central.
Nomadas Merida Fun hostel with a cozy maze of different areas/dorms. Free breakfast, and fun daily activities such as salsa dancing.
browse mexico hostels »

Some of the highlights in Mexico

With such a big country it’s difficult to offer a complete list of highlights. To help you start off your trip research, here are just a few of the best places to visit and top things to do in Mexico.

Ride the Pacific Railway through the Copper Canyon

Wowza! The Copper Canyon (Barrancas del Cobre) will blow you away with its scale, especially when you stand on one of the vertigo-inducing cliffs.

The Copper Canyon viewed from Divisadero

The canyon can be seen from the comfort of the Chihuahua al Pacifico Railway line, which runs for 12 hours all the way through the canyon region. The views are at times stunning. You can get off at Divisadero and after a brief walk get an expansive vista.

The canyon is so big that at its bottom the climate can be almost tropical (as opposed to the desert climate at the top). Take a bus to Urique or Batopilas to get down into the lower areas.

Check out my photo impressions of riding the Pacific Railway and visiting the Copper Canyon.


The Pacific Railway, on the way to Copper Canyon

Hike or mountain bike the valleys around Creel

The town of Creel, in the middle of the Copper Canyon region, is a good base for hikes in the area – don’t miss the Mesa to the immediate east of town which has lots of beautiful rock formations and various other sights (a great way to explore this area is by renting a mountain bike).

The Valley of the Monks near Creel

Experience the bustle of Mexico City

With 12 million inhabitants, Mexico City is a bit of a beast. Some of the outer neighborhoods may not be that safe or worthwhile for a tourist, but it’s a fascinating city with strong contrasts. In the main area around Zócalo main plaza, be sure to visit some of the countless museums, churches and historical buildings. A few blocks from the main plaza is La Lagunilla, a massive street market that’s well worth a stroll (beware of pickpockets).

Many day trips and tours depart from Mexico City including seeing Lucha Libre shows, trips to the town of Tequila (birthplace of… you guessed it) and the ruins of Teotihuacan.


Enjoy the incredible food

Mexico is a food paradise. You can get kinds of tacos from street vendors for next to nothing, and they’re guaranteed to be delicious. Be sure to try the tamales. And Chilaquiles. Or try the tropical fruits with chili powder on top (an odd but tasty combination). For breakfast, have some huevos rancheros. The list goes on! If you are in Oaxaca state, you must try the legendary ‘moles’.

Smell the fresh mountain air in San Cristobal

San Cristobal de Las Casas is a charming mountain town with lovely churches, markets and squares. In nearby Mayan villages in the surrounding mountains you can observe some traditional cultures. There’s also the Sumidero river canyon that you can take a boat down, which makes for a decent day trip.

Go to the nearby indigenous village of San Juan Chamula. You will find a church there where catholic and pagan rituals have been mixed in unusual ways; you may be lucky and see a live chicken getting ritually sacrificed at an altar in what is ostensibly still a catholic church. (This is perhaps not for the squeamish, but I thought it was fascinating.)

The Cañón del Sumidero near San Cristobal

The Cañón del Sumidero near San Cristobal

Snorkel or dive the cenotes in the Yucatán

The Yucatán peninsula is home to countless underground sinkholes, caverns and caves that stretch for countless of miles. Many of these so-called cenotes have been made accessible for swimming or scuba diving.

Dos Ojos near Tulum is a fantastic cavern that you can dive through if you have a basic Open Water certification. You will see beautiful sunbeams crossing past stalagmites from openings in the cavern roof. Angelita is another stunning cenote: it has a mystical layer of hydrogen sulfate that looks like a foggy cloud with various logs and branches passing through it—essentially, it looks like a planet in a sci-fi movie.

See Mayan ruins in the middle of a jungle

I like the Mayan archeological site of Palenque, where the ruins are tucked in among jungle-clad hills. Palenque is not as over-the-top as Chichen Itza with much fewer souvenir vendors and without the tourist entertainers. Stay in one of the jungle huts in El Panchan (near the park entrance) to wake up in the morning to the sound of howler monkeys. Don Muchos in El Panchan is the main place for entertainment including late-night salsa dancing.


Mayan ruins of Palenque

But… Chichen Itza is so-so

The Mayan temples of Chichen Itza get hyped as one of Mexico’s main tourist sights, but I have a suspicion it’s mainly famous because it’s so close Cancún where most of the tourists are based. With souvenir vendors everywhere, costumed ‘Mayans’ for photo ops, and even a freaking laser light show (!), Chichen Itza can quickly feel like a Mickey Mouse experience. I should say that I’ve met people who went in the very early morning, and who did have a more quiet experience at the site, so if you’re intending to go it’s perhaps best to go at the crack of dawn.

If you want to see temples at a huge scale though, you might be better off going to the ruins of Teotihuacan near Mexico City. I also enjoyed visiting the ruins of Palenque, which are not as busy and surrounded by lush jungle. Better yet, visit Tikal in Guatemala for arguably the most impressive Mayal ruins anywhere.

Teotihuacan near Mexico City

Travel safety in Mexico

Mexico has become deeply associated with drugs-related crime and violence, but keep in mind that these issues are concentrated in specific areas and that they take place in the criminal underworld. It typically has little to do with tourists. Realistically, the safety issues you might face in Mexico are not all that different from other countries.

When I tell people I travelled through Mexico, the reaction I get is most often “cool! What was your favorite place?” But sometimes I’ll meet an American and their jaw will just drop when I tell them I went to Mexico and didn’t just stay in a resort, but actually explored the country. They look at me as if I must have truly lost the will to live.

Of course, anyone who’s actually travelled in Mexico will know that painting the whole country with one brush is ridiculously ill-informed. If all you hear of Mexico is negative reports on cable news, your perspective is going to be pretty skewed. A utopia it certainly isn’t, but visiting Mexico as a tourist is truly not that big of a deal.

Objective information on this topic can be hard to find, but if you’re curious, the Global Peace Index keeps a separate (and very handy) Mexico Peace Index. You may wish to select the ‘Violent Crime’ filter for a more relevant picture.

As you’ll see, the south-east parts of the country are the least troubled by crime, which includes the typical Mexico City to Yucatan trail. The map will also show you that Guerrero state has seen the most problems in recent years, so you may wish to steer clear. Then again, this is mostly due to the problems in Acapulco city. I stayed in Zihuatanejo in Guerrero state and it was absolutely lovely and I felt 100% safe there. (The only areas where I felt less at ease were closer to the US border: I went as north as Chihuahua City but then went back down.)

For a reassuring state-by-state take on this topic, you can also read this excellent post: Is Mexico Safe? From Someone Who’s Been at Indiana Jo.

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Get travel insurance and you’ll be covered for medical expenses, theft, personal liability, cancellation, and more. I recommend World Nomads, which offer flexible insurance for independent travellers with 24-hour worldwide assistance. (Here’s why you should get travel insurance.)

Get a quote at world nomads »

Near the town of Creel in northern Mexico

Cost of travelling in Mexico

Mexico is  inexpensive by US or Western European standards, with basic hotel rooms starting at about $25 and dorm beds in hostels usually around half that price. Inexpensive food is easy to find in part due to Mexico’s fantastic street food culture.

That said, as a developed middle-income economy, Mexico is also not as inexpensive as, say, Southeast Asia, the Balkans, or countries like Nicaragua and Guatemala (just to name a few ultra-cheap backpacker favorites). While the transportation network is excellent, bus travel can get expensive especially considering some of the distances involved. To give one example, a 7-hour bus from Mexico City to Oaxaca can cost around $40 US, which could be two days worth of travel budget in a country like Nicaragua. Of course, this is not a problem if you budget appropriately and have the necessary funds.

  • A budget private room will typically cost 300 pesos ($23) though you’ll sometimes find them for 200 in less touristy places ($15).
  • Hostel dorm beds will typically cost around 120 – 180 (or $9 to $15 – more expensive in cities and near Cancún). The lowest I had was around $5 in San Christobal.
  • 40 – 50 pesos (around $4) for a solid breakfast or lunch.
  • 6 – 12 pesos for a taco ($0.50 – $1.00), with prices depending on where you are. 3 or 4 tacos can fill you up pretty well.
  • A rule of thumb for bus travel is that it costs about $5 for every hour travelled.
In early November, don't miss Day of the Dead. Even the dogs get in costume!

If you’re in Mexico in early November, don’t miss Day of the Dead. Even the dogs turn spooky!

Language issues

English is not widely spoken in Mexico, though basic English is reasonably common in bigger cities, and in the most touristy regions such as the Yucatán. Learning some phrases in Spanish is nevertheless a good idea! If travelling Mexico and/or Central America for a while, it may pay off to dig in and learn some Spanish. See also: 5 Ways to Learn Some Spanish.

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  1. Samuel Reply May 1, 2018 at 4:02 am

    Hi Marek,

    Firstly, thanks so much for all of this information!
    My partner and I are travelling Mexico for about 3 weeks in June. We have 3 and a half months total travelling all through central america and finishing by sailing from panama to colombia!

    I was wondering if you could give me some good ideas or itinerary for our Mexico part of our adventure as it is our first stop so we kind of need to have it planned. Especially because we are making a little side stop in Havana and will be flying there and back from Cancun, so we need to have those tickets booked before we get there in order for visas! Which makes timing in each place fairly crucial!

    My rough idea was land in Mexico City (4 days) Oaxaca (3 days) San Cristo (2 days) Palenque (2 days) Palenque to Campeche (1 day) and Campeche to Playa Del Carmen (3 days) and in that area we could see chitchen iza and cancun etc, before flying to Havana for a few nights and then returning to Cancun.. From there I was thinking to go down to Coast and spend about 4 days in Tulum before entering into Belize and on we go!

    Sorry if that is confusing, I hope it makes sense! I would love to see what you think or have any ideas at all on that!? Researching this part of the trip is making me crazy!

    Thanks !

    • Marek Reply May 4, 2018 at 10:44 am

      Hey Samuel. That sounds like a neat plan actually. It’s certainly nice to start with plenty of time in Mexico City / Oaxaca. Your route seems cool – I did something roughly similar on my second trip through Mexico (which also included a trip to Cuba).

  2. Amy Reply March 22, 2018 at 8:15 pm

    Really interesting and rounded post. Mexico is definitely on my list.

    • Samuel Reply May 7, 2018 at 10:55 pm

      Fantastic! Thanks for the reply Marek 🙂 Do you have any other advice for the rest of our trip or any itinerary we should look at?

      Thanks again

  3. Katja Reply January 6, 2018 at 8:17 pm

    I loved this guide, it was the first I read and helped me get over all the negative news about mexico. I kept coming back to your great advice throughout my visit of this amazing country, so a huge thank you for inspiration!
    Also, I love your maps, they are beautiful. I am trying to make my own for an album, do you mind spilling the secret on how you made them?

    • Marek Reply January 11, 2018 at 3:21 pm

      Hi Katja. Thanks for the kind words and I’m so glad it eased your nerves! I created the maps myself using vector image editing software. Sadly I haven’t found any easy ways to make this type of map.

  4. Gerd E Reply October 10, 2017 at 1:08 am

    Great article, and I like your website!

    I live near Los Angeles and I love to drive down into Mexico frequently, on long roadtrips. So far I’ve made it as far as Puebla and Acapulco, but next trip I’m going to go at least as far down as Guatemala (which I visited already in 2012, but I flew there).

    I discovered an excellent and fascinating part of Mexico on a previous trip that nobody (other than Mexicans) seems to know about! It’s called Huasteca. Stunning waterfalls and beautiful turquoise pools, fascinating towns up in the hills, a great kind of food I’d never had before. Even the local music was good. I was in the area for several days before I spotted another gringo. The feel of the landscape is more Southeast Asia than North America. And almost ZERO TOURISTS. There was one cool little mountain town I stopped in, surrounded by clouds and karst cliffs, I thought I was in Laos or Guilin. I can’t wait to go back.

    • Marek Reply October 11, 2017 at 4:15 pm

      Hadn’t heard of this yet but your description has me hugely intrigued! (Love the comparisons with Laos and Guilin… beautiful places). Very cool, I’ll need to follow your advice when I’m in Mexico next time 🙂

      • Gerd E Reply October 11, 2017 at 5:27 pm

        Yes, I hope you do! I think you’d enjoy that area.

        Just as a sample, do a Google image search for Xilitla. A funky little town built on top of a mountain, with bright pastel-colored buildings (there’s a seven-story hotel in the center of town that’s bright pink and yellow), and a surreal park-like area nearby built by some crazy English guy several decades ago.

        Also, not too far from the Huasteca area is the amazing town of Real de Catorce. You have to drive through a mile-long single-lane tunnel through a mountain to get there, and once you come out of the tunnel, it’s like you’ve gone back to the 1600s. The town is incredible!

        Again, great site, I have it bookmarked.

  5. Julia Reply August 5, 2017 at 9:33 pm

    Was pleased to find this info! Very detailed and confirmed some of my thoughts. I am planning to go from Belize through Mexico, wanting to visit Merida, Mexico city, and Jalisco, with friends to visit and stay with at those locations, getting there safely and effectively in whats on my mind. So currently trying to figure out my route and plans. Thanks for posting your insight!
    If your ever in Belize, CA Check out the SOUL Project in San Ignacio..Its an Art Bar, super relaxed and welcoming. A great place for back packers, and travelers since there is a Hostel upstairs.

  6. Holly Reply August 2, 2017 at 9:00 pm

    Hi- I am looking for an official guide that can accompany us through chichen itza, palenque, coba. We’ve been in the area several times before and are looking for detailed explanations. The person should have a degree in archaeology or be quite knowledgeable in the area. It is for myself and my husband only. Any suggestions?

  7. Fletch Reply June 6, 2017 at 4:43 pm

    Hola Marek,
    Thanks for the great info.
    I’m a senior who like independant travel and will go to Mexico in September. Do you think I can do The Gringo trail, Mexico City and then then the route to Oaxaca and San Cristibol etc. in a two month or so time frame with out being rushed.

    • Marek Reply June 8, 2017 at 11:18 am

      Yes I think 2 months is great for that route, you’ll be able to hit up all the key places without rushing…

  8. Sara Reply January 31, 2017 at 8:47 pm

    Thanks for the info, my boyfriend and I are just booking flights for a 3 week trip in May and want to do Cancun to Mexico City route. Do you think this route is possible in 3 weeks and with a £1,000 budget. We’re both pretty used to budget hotel rooms and street food 🙂


    • Marek Reply January 31, 2017 at 11:15 pm

      Yeah that should be do-able 🙂

  9. E Smith Reply January 30, 2017 at 11:36 pm

    Hi Marek, thanks for the advice I’m going to mexico south coast next month! I was wondering what are the costs of hiring mopeds/scooters around mexico? And are there plenty of places to rent from?

    • Marek Reply January 31, 2017 at 9:31 pm

      I saw plenty of places to rent from in Tulum, Playa del Carmen, etc. Can’t remember in other places but doubt it’s difficult to find. Not sure about prices though!

  10. Rosanne Reply January 24, 2017 at 11:07 pm

    Great information Marek!
    I was searching the web but couldn’t find the answer for the following: I read i would need a return ticket in order to get a visitors permit if i enter mexico by plane but i would like to travel further by land. Do you know if it would be a problem to enter mexico by plane but leave it by boat (from Chetumal to Belize)?
    And which sights do you recommend when i travel form Cancun to Chetumal?

    • Marek Reply January 25, 2017 at 10:16 am

      Hey Rosanne, this is no problem. I did exactly this myself. Tulum and the Costa Maya are interesting stops along the way, and there are also various cenotes (cave systems) inland between cancun and chetumal that are cool locations for a swim, dive, or snorkel.

  11. Rebecca Reply January 21, 2017 at 8:57 pm

    Hey there Marek!

    Really great articles, I love your blog!
    Just one quick question; how much time you’d recommend for the Northern Route? Do you think 3 weeks is enough time?

    Many thanks in advance and best regards,

    • Marek Reply January 22, 2017 at 5:41 pm

      Hey Rebecca. Yeah you can do it in 2 weeks (or less if you reduce the number of stops), so 3 weeks should give you plenty of time.

  12. Neha Reply December 8, 2016 at 4:22 am

    Hi ~ I’m planning a trip the coming weeks and I was wondering, how does the bus situation work? Like is there a bus from to and from each city you mentioned above (Oaxaca, San Christobal de las Casas, Puerto Escondido, Palenque, Merida and Tulum)? Is there any way of seeing the bus schedules before I go?

    • Marek Reply December 8, 2016 at 2:00 pm

      Yes, you can count on there being multiple bus companies serving all these routes. I’m not sure if there’s a unified website with timetables – I usually looked this info up locally! The bus stations often have a central hallway with loads of little ticket booths of different bus companies, and signs with the destinations and departure times.

  13. Jess Reply December 5, 2016 at 3:29 pm

    Hi! I’m planning a 3 month trip to Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Costa Rica at the end of this month, and wonder whether you’d advise getting the Rabies jab!? Thanks in advance!

    • Marek Reply December 5, 2016 at 3:51 pm

      Hey Jess. I’m-not-a-doctor-but: the probability of getting it is very low, the vaccination is relatively expensive, and it doesn’t give full protection anyway. There’s generally no need for it unless you’re going to be handling animals (as a vet or biologist) or maybe if you’re going to spend all your time in remote jungles or in bat caves.

  14. [email protected] Reply November 28, 2016 at 5:17 pm

    Great article ! So many incredible places. But you could also add San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato. Amazing towns– beautiful and really peaceful.

  15. [email protected] Reply November 28, 2016 at 5:10 pm

    Great article! So many incredible places. But you could also add San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato. Amazing towns–beautiful and really peaceful.

  16. Isaac Reply August 30, 2016 at 8:21 pm

    Is January a good time to travel to Mazatlan?

    • Marek Reply September 3, 2016 at 9:31 am

      Jan has mild weather and not much rain. As good a time as any!

  17. Heitor Reply July 11, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    What is the best month to travel to Mexico?
    I was planning to visit during October.

    • Marek Reply July 26, 2016 at 12:34 pm

      I’ve been to Mexico in October and while I had some rain (it’s the tail end of the rainy season), most days were sunny.

  18. Charlie Marchant Reply June 27, 2016 at 11:58 pm

    Marek, this blog post has been so useful in planning our initial travels around the Yucatan! We took a lot of your advice on here and your place summaries really do a great job of reflecting the vibe of each of the places. We weren’t fond of Cancun or Playa del Carmen, but we got into Tulum’s more laid-back vibe.

    I do have to disagree with you on Chichen Itza though! We thought Chichen Itza was really impressive, absolutely incredible ruins. That said though, we went really early and were the first ones there when the ruins opened for the day. It made a real difference because it’s cooler in the morning and we basically had the place to ourselves. When we left at 11am, it was scorching hot and absolutely manic. There were floods of tourists at the entrance, thousands of stall holders waving things at you, balloons etc. We avoided all that and only saw it on exit, but I guess your experience must’ve hit the peak of all of that hullabaloo!

    • Marek Reply June 29, 2016 at 11:11 am

      Hey Charlie. Yeah, I went there around mid-day which has surely colored my experiences! Good to know it’s different in the morning–many who read this will probably want to know that too, so thanks for sharing 🙂

  19. Chiara Reply May 21, 2016 at 8:00 am

    Hey Marek! Your Page is cool and very Useful,Too! I am planning on Doing a backpackingtrip in Mexiko this Summer. Do you think ist is realistic to Cover up the Yucatan and Oxaca Route plus the northern Route in 4 weeks or is that Too tight? And what do you think Would that cost?
    Thanks in advance!

    • Marek Reply June 3, 2016 at 6:58 pm

      Yes I think you can do that in 4 weeks. If you stay in hostels, eat local food, take buses, etc. you might spend around €1000 (*very* rough estimate)

  20. Debbie Vorachen Reply May 11, 2016 at 8:05 pm

    Great information! How would I’ve loved to contribute to this piece of work 🙂
    As an anthropologist who writes about Mexico on I am sure there would be some useful information.

  21. Eric Krol Reply April 12, 2016 at 4:15 am

    Hi Marek,

    Do you think it would be worth while to rent a car, considering that the prices are very cheap as little as $7/day and even lower. Also, how are the road conditions as compared to Canada or the United States? Or, would it just make much more sense to take the bus from place to place. Just to give you an idea, I plan on travelling the Yucatan with a couple of my friends going from Cancun to Merida to Campeche to Tulum and back to Cancun. Any info would be great!


    • Marek Reply April 12, 2016 at 10:21 am

      I suppose there are pros and cons to both. 🙂 Rent a car and you can depart for your next destination whenever, so you have more freedom and never waste any time. Going by bus can give you less hassle and can be less tiring. If you’re going with friends then maybe sharing a car is more fun.

      The roads in Mexico range from excellent (often these are toll roads) to kind of bad (country roads with lots of poorly marked speed bumps and occasional potholes). Nothing too challenging though so long as you pay attention. In countries like Honduras I often felt like I was off-roading it whereas in Mexico the roads are at least reasonably well maintained.

      BTW be sure to check if that $7/day includes insurance or if there are other gotchas. They’ve gotten me with that kind of stuff before 🙂

      • Eric Krol Reply April 21, 2016 at 6:24 am

        Thanks a bunch! Also, some people have been telling me that rental cars are often targeted by criminals and gangs because of noticeable rental car license plates. Is this at all true?


        • Marek Reply June 3, 2016 at 9:39 pm

          Hmm, could be. I’m not sure if I have good info on that!

  22. Michael Reply April 9, 2016 at 2:40 pm

    Thanks for answering the majority of the questions I had in a simple no BS way. Mucho Grasias

  23. sarah.g Reply March 31, 2016 at 9:48 pm

    Firstly thanks for a great post! Really helpful & made me even more excited.
    I’m a student planning my first trip on my own, for a month in August this year,
    I was wondering, if you had any idea how much money i’d need for this trip (happy to skimp on hostels to save money to do more things!)
    And also, what would you say were the best airports to fly in and then out of? I was thinking maybe in to guatemala and then back from cancun?
    Any help would be absolutely brilliant !!

    • Marek Reply April 1, 2016 at 11:58 am

      It’s hard to give cost estimates as everyone travels in a different style, but I’d say count on roughly 1000 USD a month staying in hostels / eating locally / etc. That said Guatemala is quite a bit cheaper than Mexico.

      If you can find a flight to Guatemala City, that could work really well. It’s not as well connected as Cancun though.

      • sarah.g Reply April 1, 2016 at 8:32 pm

        Thank so much for the quick reply!! That was what I was kind of thinking so that’s great 🙂

  24. Amy Trumpeter Reply March 15, 2016 at 2:09 pm

    Thanks so much for this great summary of Mexico for backpackers. It’s on my list and I would definitely like to check out Tulum.

  25. Anais Reply March 10, 2016 at 11:09 pm

    I plan on going to Mexico City this summer. Are there any cool hiking spots, or lakes, etc that you recommend?

  26. Sara Reply January 30, 2016 at 11:55 pm

    Hi Mark, great post! very helpful. Please could you provide the link to Omnibus as several websites are coming up and we are not sure which one is the legitimate one.
    We are also hoping for advice on the following: We will have 2 weeks in Mexico. we will arrive in Mexico city and plan to explore there for about 4-5 days. We then want to go to see the Copper Canyon and are thinking of getting a flight or bus to Chihuahua and jump on the el chepe train from there. We hope to spend about 2 days in the Copper Canyon with some time in Creel. We then want to go to Cancun airport, and from there explore the Riveria and hit the beaches in the last week. Our problem is the travel in between the regions (Mexico City – Chihuaha – Copper Canyon – Cancun). Do you think this itinerary is realistic for 2 weeks. Also, from the Copper Canyon, can we catch a flight to Cancun (thereby saving us the trip of geoing back to Chihuahua). We really want to keep travel in between places to the minimum :S thanks so much!

    • Marek Reply February 6, 2016 at 5:25 pm

      There are some direct flights between Chihuahua and Cancun, so you could look into that. It’ll be a tight schedule, but possible if you fly…

  27. Eva Reply January 6, 2016 at 9:19 am

    Hello Marek, my name is Eva and I’m a photographer, I was born in Mexico City but raised in NYC, I haven’t been in Mexico Since I was a child, I saw your post and I thought it was very interesting, anyways resently I lost one of the main reasons why I wanted to go back to Mexico, and I made a promise to that person, We was gonna go backpacking around Mexico, meaning stop at every state, now I know that might seem impossible and a bit crazy but just out of curiosity how much you think I’ll probably spend and how long do you think it will take me to make that trip??

    • Marek Reply January 6, 2016 at 3:47 pm

      It’s hard to say without more specific details, but it sounds like a very ambitious idea. With 31 states, even assuming you only spend 3 days in each state (which would already be a super crazy exhausting schedule) that’s 93 days already. I would probably let go of the arbitrary goals (like X miles travelled or X states seen) and focus on the experiences you want to have. Some states are much more interesting to a visitor than others after all.

  28. Claudio Reply December 25, 2015 at 7:09 pm

    as mexican living in Chiapas I have to say that it’s a great post! I just wanna point out that Tequila is near Guadalajara not Mexico City.

    • Marek Reply December 25, 2015 at 7:13 pm

      Good point, thanks!

  29. Teresa Reply December 13, 2015 at 10:47 pm

    Hey, Mexico is not central America. Mexico is part of North America. On the other hand, love your review

    • Marek Reply December 13, 2015 at 11:05 pm

      This is true. I actually never say that it is, though I guess the many times that I mention Central America makes it seem that way. From a travel perspective Mexico is often grouped with the Central American countries as they are so frequently combined in a trip.

      • [email protected] Reply July 18, 2016 at 9:46 pm

        Marek, look at any map, México is above ecuator line, Northern American countries are Canada, US and Mexico. If Mexico is often grouped with Central America is just a mistake, that you and other people who write articles should stop making, despite that, congrats!, great article by the way.

        • Marek Reply July 19, 2016 at 12:48 am

          I never say Mexico is in Central America. 🙂

  30. Trang Reply November 30, 2015 at 6:55 pm

    Hi Marek,

    What transportation would you recommend me to go from Mexico City to Guadalajara and so on further to the North? I found a bus service online but it is too expensive (825 persos per trip)…

    • Marek Reply December 3, 2015 at 10:31 pm

      That sounds perhaps a little high. Just did a quick search on the Omnibus company website where that trip is 571 pesos. Your best bet for a low price might be to just go to the bus station and compare prices… there are loads of bus companies in Mexico and not all of them have a good presence online. Not sure what to suggest other than buses though – maybe someone else has suggestions…

    • Aurora Reply April 11, 2016 at 1:38 am

      Sometimes you could find flights cheaper than taking the bus, specially between mayor cities like Mexico and Guadalajara. Look at the Vivaaerobus and Volaris websites. Just beware of the hidden fees.

  31. Nick Reply November 8, 2015 at 12:52 am

    Hola Marek,

    My wife and I are attending a wedding in Puerto Vallarta for a week and would like to spend a week either side travelling around. We will be flying from Brisbane Australia in and out LAX. We are active people and interested in culture and local food; could you recommend an intinerary for us? And suggested modes of transport?

    • Marek Reply November 23, 2015 at 10:43 pm

      If you like culture and food I’d probably head for Oaxaca as it’s one of the hotspots for cultural tourism. It might be a bit far away from your starting point though. Puebla near Mexico City is something to look into. The city of Guadalajara is also very nice (and underrated) and not far from Puerto Vallarta. Intercity buses in Mexico are generally comfortable and punctual, and can serve as your main mode of transportation.

  32. Noe Campos Reply March 1, 2015 at 7:35 pm

    Hi fellow travelers, if you are close to Mexico City you must add Tepoztlan to your list; It’s a beautiful town well known for an Aztec pyramid on the peak of a mountain, exotic ice-cream flavors made by townspeople and the birthplace of Quetzalcoatl the Aztec god. This town is consider as a “Pueblo Magico” a well hidden gem. This rustic town seems like got trapped back in time with their vintage, well preserved, streets, houses and cathedrals. The traditional food served in “el mercado” (food market) is amazing, not to mentions that its pretty cheap and clean. Some of the activities offer by this place are horse riding, zip lines, camping, rock climbing, a vast amount of hiking trails, biking, and one my favorites an underground volcanic trail connected to the Popocatepelt (volcano). During raining season which is during summer, you can appreciate countless waterfalls during your hike to the pyramid.
    You will fall in love with this place, the connection between nature and yourself is indescribable.
    The bus fare from Taxqueña ( Mexico City south central bus station) is roughly 110 pesos ($9). It takes about 1 hour and 10 minutes to get there, all by highway.
    Most of this activities are free. My advise would be to talk to the local people and they will tour you around town, people are really polite and willing to help others.
    I was born and raise in this town, I now reside in Florida but if you have any questions let me know. I usually go twice a year and if it happens that I’m there around that time I show you around. I also host travelers for free in my town’s house when I am there.
    Thank you.

    • Becky R Reply May 25, 2015 at 2:51 am

      Hey Noe, I am planning to visit Mexico beginning late June. Will you be around Mexico City then?

    • Jon K Reply July 21, 2015 at 5:22 am

      Hi Noe,

      Thank you for your comment. Your town sounds like a great place to visit. I am in Mexico for work and have a lot of time off. Can we connect?

  33. Mini Reply February 1, 2015 at 11:16 pm

    I would like to have definite, detailes suggestions about the best places to go in Mexico for a biking holiday in March, close to touristic sites for interesting and cultural activities and easy lodging, but close to roads safe enough to ride loops of about 100 km a day, with challenging topography at times (not all flat), some hills, some valleys, nice scenary, etc. Where is the best place for that?

    Could you give me suggestions or links to answer that question.

    Are there hotels or groups specialized in leading or guiding cyclists?

    • Marek Indietraveller Reply February 1, 2015 at 11:37 pm

      Not my specialty I’m afraid! Might want to try hitting up the Mexico forums on Lonely Planet – there’s bound to be someone with an answer.

    • ana alvarez Reply February 20, 2015 at 1:53 am

      there are some people going from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta by bike, stoping in San Sebastian del Oeste .
      try to google some of those words maybe something comes up .

  34. Jakob Gibbons Reply December 16, 2014 at 1:39 pm

    Ahhh this was detailed and awesome, exactly what I was looking for. Thanks for all the helpful info! Your description of the Copper Canyon has me reconsidering my travel route now…

  35. Indiana Jo Reply November 29, 2014 at 3:40 am

    Hey, thanks for the mention! Nice guide….oh, how I miss Mexico (and it’s only been a few months since I left!)

    • Marek Indietraveller Reply November 29, 2014 at 12:20 pm

      Mexico is amazing isn’t it? I miss it too. 🙂

  36. Tommy Reply June 13, 2014 at 11:11 pm

    Hi Marek, great website!
    I am hoping to spend about a month or so in and around Mexico. I was thinking of flying into Guatemala and flying out of Mexico city so I don’t really know how much I can fit in in that timeline. I’d love to see Belize as well but don’t think it is realistic given my time.
    Guanajuato was recommended to me as well which is a little north so out of my way. I’m just wondering what you think would be the best route. And how long will I have given the distance I will have to travel?

    • Marek Indietraveller Reply June 14, 2014 at 1:24 am

      Thanks Tommy. 1 month gives you a good amount of time and it makes sense to fly/in out of different airports. Guatemala is many a traveller’s favorite in Central America so you’re wise to include it! Here are my 2 cts:

      In Guatemala:
      – Stay in Antigua (I’d suggest 2 days)
      – San Pedro on Lake Atitlan (I’d suggest 4 days, it’s chilled out place, very beautiful)
      – Go north to Semuc Champey See:
      – See the ruins of Tikal (stay in Flores)

      These are basically the highlights of Guatemala in 1,5 weeks, maybe 2 if you take it a bit slower. Then you have two attractive options:

      1) Head north into Belize and stay there for a few days (many backpackers go to Caye Caulker and then take a boat to Mexico). Belize is fun as it’s got a very different Carribean vibe, though it’s an expensive country. Moving on, you can stay mainly in the Yucatan region of Mexico, which is good mainly for tropical beaches, partying, etc. and exploring the cenotes. You could fly out of Cancun.
      2) Or head west out of Guatemala into Mexico’s Chiapas region. There’s Palenque ruins (if you are not ruined-out by Tikal 🙂 and more cultural/food/hiking related things of interested in Chiapas and Oaxaca regions, which conveniently lead to Mexico City. San Cristobal is a cool place to go on this route as well (see my stuff above about the church in the indigenous village nearby) Puerto Escondido is a popular (low rise / non-resort type) beach place on the pacific side there.

      The best route probably depends on whether you want more beach/island time or more cultural experience in Mexico.

  37. IreneRdz Reply April 30, 2014 at 4:16 am

    To be honest, Monterrey, N.L. is such a beautiful place to visit, is in the north of Mexico, but not really in the border with USA, that’s like 3 hours driving, is a really big city with tons of amazing places to visit!
    Watch this video, i live here and this city is amazing!​com/watch?v=LIE6vUuP​ij0

    • Marek Indietraveller Reply May 1, 2014 at 2:14 pm

      That’s a great tip, thanks for sharing!

  38. John Wisdom Reply April 23, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    I have just booked a 3 week trip to Mexico starting and ending in Cancun. I want to go to Palenque and just wondered if 3 weeks would give me enough time to get up to the Copper Canyon and back?

    • Marek Indietraveller Reply April 23, 2014 at 11:38 pm

      It could take you a very long time from Cancun if travelling by bus. I started in Mexico City and it took me 4-5 days to work my way up to the north via Guadalajara, Mazatlan, etc. I then took a flight back down. It might be worth investigating if there’s a cheap return flight up north.

  39. giulio Reply March 21, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    2 weeks are enough to visit yucatan? What route would u suggest me? Its my first solo trip

    • Marek Indietraveller Reply March 21, 2014 at 4:59 pm

      2 weeks should be fine!

      For beaches I’d suggest Tulum or the islands near Cancun/Playa Del Carmen. Caves and cenotes are interesting to see. Despite it being so famous I wasn’t a big fan of the Chichen Itza ruins and I would suggest going to Palenque instead. An added plus is that you’ll see some jungles which is a different environment from the coast. You could consider going down a bit further to San Cristobal – this is in Chiapas and not Yucatan but could add some variety to your trip as well (it’s in the mountains with a different climate). Playa del Carmen and Cancun are hyper touristy love-it-or-hate-it places.

      Good luck and have fun on your first solo trip!

      • jeremy Reply January 16, 2015 at 7:38 am

        hola Marek

        thank you for the great article!
        can you give us any more info re: estimated costs and availability of cheap beach huts in Tulum and Palenque…?
        everything online looks expensive!
        is it possible to rent cabanas without reservations?
        or is everything booked months in advance?
        can we just show up?
        traveling with my wife and 4 year old daughter

        • Marek Indietraveller Reply January 16, 2015 at 2:15 pm

          Hola! Yeah Tulum on the beach itself is not super cheap. What myself and other budget travellers would do is stay in Tulum town, then rent bicycles and cycle 20 min to the beach. But that’s not as awesome as waking up in the morning at the beach itself.

          There’s rustic jungle huts in a small place called El Panchan near Palenque, and many hostels/guesthouses in Palenque town itself. If you’re outside of high season (they say high season is Dec till Easter) you could probably try just showing up. As I recall many of the El Panchan places didn’t take online reservations when I tried, though many in Palenque do.

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