Mexico is often known as a destination solely for beach-goers and spring breakers. This preconception could not be more wrong. Sure, you’ve got an abundance of coastal resort towns to choose from, but Mexico is so much more than just that. Before my latest six month jaunt through Mexico, I had been to Mexico six times. Despite those many trips, I had barely dipped my toes into the diverse experiences that Mexico has to offer. Mexico might be one of the best countries for people who want to dive into the world of backpacking.
Beyond its abundance of natural wonders, historical sites, and magical villages, Mexico simply has an excellent infrastructure for travelers. And no, I’m not just talking about those resort towns that are seemingly artificially built just for drunk Americans. Traveling in Mexico is easier than most people think. Even for an inexperienced traveler, Mexico is pretty easy to figure out. There are dozens of destinations that are already well-worn by the Gringo Trail. If you’re nervous about traveling through Mexico, start there. Stay at hostels, meet people, and find your footing. Once you get more comfortable, you’ll quickly realize just how perfect of a backpacking destination Mexico is.
Let me tell you why.
Mexico Is A Huge Country With A Lot To See And Do
Let’s start with why you should even want to go to Mexico in the first place. So many travelers brush Mexico off as just as a beach destination, but Mexico is so much more. You have snow-capped peaks, vast deserts, dense jungles, stunning waterfalls, sprawling urban jungles, and quaint villages all over the country. Mexico is a country that has it all, yet often gets reduced to an overpriced beach destination. It would take years to cover everything that Mexico has to offer.
Sure, I could talk about how Mexico is a great budget-friendly destination with great tourist infrastructure and public transportation, but above all, Mexico is simply somewhere you should want to go. Seriously, the varied cultured and landscapes of this country will blow your mind.
In the span of a week, my friend and I went from an 18,000 foot tall mountain (the 7th tallest in the Americas) to the vast desert biosphere of Tehuacan-Cuicatlan. We made it to the serene mountains of San Jose del Pacifico then to the quiet beaches of Mazunte. You can find yourself in the bustling metropolises of Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey, then retreat to a quieter mountain town like San Cristobal, Taxco, or Guanajuato. Mexico is incredible, and that alone should be enough to convince you to explore this country beyond its manufactured resort towns.
Mexico Is A Cultural and Historical Powerhouse
The diverse cultures of Mexico are among the most interesting and most exciting in the world. Sure, everyone knows about the Aztecs and the Mayans, but Mexico’s history goes much, much deeper. Many of those various cultures still exist today, with millions of indigenous people still calling Mexico home. It’s possible to still experience vibrant traditions and festivals that date back hundreds and hundreds of years. Local dialects are still widely practiced. Artisanal talents and traditions like weaving and ceramics are still passed down from generation to generation. The Mexican people are much more diverse than just tacos and tequila.
I’ve heard some people say that going to Mexico hardly counts as leaving the United States. Those people could not be more wrong. Sure, places like Cancun’s Zona Hotelera are just over-commercialized extensions of America, but the people who delve deeper into Mexico’s culture will be treated to an experience of a lifetime. A country as large as Mexico has few rivals when it comes to its variety of cultures, indigenous tribes, and age-old traditions that continue to exist.
Mexico Is A Budget-Friendly Destination Perfect For Long-Term Travel
While the touristy beach resorts of Mexico will drain your bank account in a matter of days, backpacking through Mexico’s more local destinations is extremely affordable. A hostel would cost you about $10 a night, if not even less. I stayed at a hostel in San Cristobal for $8 a night, with breakfast and dinner included every night, and bottomless cocktails included twice a week. I’ve even found hostels going for as low as $3 a night. In more expensive destinations like Europe and the U.S., I’ll often grocery shop and cook my own meals.
In Mexico, even eating out can be affordable. Street food is a budget-friendly way to fill up. More often than not, street food is absolutely delicious. It’s a huge part of Mexico’s culture. It’s not just cheap eats, it is usually pretty damn good. When you can get street tacos for $.50 each, your trip can stretch out a lot longer. Compare that to your typical $15-20 meal in Europe and Mexico becomes an even more attractive destination for budget backpackers.
Even living on a budget in Mexico is pretty comfortable. The $10 hostel rooms were some of the nicest I’ve stayed in. Street food is already pretty cheap which doesn’t force you to cook your own meals if you don’t have to. The variety of transportation options allows you a lot of flexibility. A major factor of seeing whether or not backpacking is right for you is if you can give up your usual vacation comforts to stretch your money out. Mexico is perfectly set up to introduce new travelers to backpacking. If you’re hoping to notch a long-term backpacking trip under your belt in the near future but have never backpacked before, Mexico is a great place to start.
Mexico’s Public Transportation is Cheap, Efficient, and Easy to Figure Out
Even if you don’t speak much Spanish, getting around in Mexico is as easy as it gets. Public transportation and intercity buses are affordable, frequent, and often pretty nice. Those long bus rides from city to city go by pretty quickly when the bus is comparable to flying first class. Lots of leg room, fully reclining seats, and personal entertainment devices? Those overnight buses blew away anything I’d experienced in South East Asia. They are also not that expensive. I’d estimate about $5 for every hour of travel, so a long overnight bus could cost $50, but shorter rides should be no more than $10-20.
And hey, buses aren’t the only option. If you’re willing to travel the local way, you can get some extremely cheap prices for the tradeoff of interesting bus rides and crazy drivers. A dollar or less can pretty much get you anywhere in town on a local bus, shared truck, or colectivo.
For Americans, Mexico is (geographically) Close to Home
Long-term travel and backpacking is not for everyone. However, I do encourage everyone to try it at least once. Venturing solo halfway across the world to somewhere hectic like Vietnam or India might not be the best idea if you just want to gently dip your feet into the backpacking world. Mexico is a perfect place because you would already have a basic familiarity with the culture and be able to find plenty of similarities to the U.S. You probably took some sort of Spanish classes when you were in school so you might already know enough to get by.
If worst comes to worst and you realize that you hate backpacking, a flight back to the U.S. ain’t a problem. The time zones are also very close to each other, so if you need to call home or chat with your friends, they’re always a phone call away. It may not seem like a big deal, but I’ve definitely had instances when I was halfway across the world and needed someone to talk to but couldn’t because of time zones. I have no doubt that you’ll fall in love with Mexico and backpacking, but there is some peace of mind when you know you could just fall back with a cheap flight back home if something happens.
Mexican People Are Among the Most Hospitable In The World
Imagine going to your grandma’s house and being welcomed by all the food, warmth, and affection that you could ask for. That’s Mexico. Mexico is your grandma’s house. While the Mexican people will generally mind their own business, if you need help, they will be there at the first sign of trouble to help out and do whatever needs to be done. I don’t think anyone has told me “I don’t know” here in Mexico. If you ask someone for help, advice, or recommendations, you will get an answer. If they don’t know, they will ask someone else until it becomes a community affair to help get you where you need to go.
If you find yourself in one of the smaller, less-touristy Mexican towns, this hospitality and warmth will be much more evident than any big touristy city. If you show respect and an effort to learn the languages and culture, you will be treated like a guest of honor. I’ve hitchhiked throughout the country. I’ve been welcomed into many people’s homes. Show respect to their country, and you will be treated with nothing but love.
Backpacking is one of the best adventures you can have. It is my favorite style of travel because it allows me to experience more of a country at a more relaxed pace. It stretches your money out and once you get good at managing your money, you might actually end up spending less money abroad than at home.
Although Mexico is often seen by Americans as a quick beach getaway rather than a long-term travel destination, I strongly believe that it is one of the best countries for backpackers. That goes for both newbies and backpacking vets. It is a country you cannot miss out on.
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My Complete Mexico Itinerary
Be sure to check out my complete Mexico backpacking itinerary, a jam-packed 68-page guide covering 30 of my favorite destinations in magical Mexico.
My Complete Mexico Backpacking Itinerary
By popular demand… Here is the complete itinerary for one of my favorite countries in the world, Mexico. In this 68-page guidebook, I cover 30 of my favorite Mexican destinations, including how to get to each city, where to stay, and the best things to do in each city. I also include tidbits of useful information like things to know before going to Mexico, as well as my favorite party destina…