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Your guide to backpacking Mexico: tips, places to visit and more

Embark on an affordable adventure with our guide to backpacking Mexico! Uncover top spots, itineraries, tips and dive into vibrant Mexican culture.

8min

backpacking Mexico

Backpacking Mexico is an adventure waiting to happen. Yet, for many travelers, the thought of backpacking this vibrant country can be daunting.

The fear of unknown terrains and cultures. The challenge of budgeting and planning a trip in unfamiliar territory. But let's get real here...

If you're not daring, if you don't step out into the world, you'll never experience the magic that is backpacking Mexico!

Suggested reading: Solo trip to Mexico: a complete guide for safety and fun.


Girl with a candle in traditional "Dia de muertos" celebration

Reasons to go backpacking in Mexico

If you're seeking a thrilling experience with gorgeous natural surroundings, fascinating past, and dynamic culture that won't empty your wallet, then adding Mexico to your list backpacking bucket list, should be considered.

Mexico's diverse geography offers something for every type of traveler. The country is home to stunning beaches perfect for sunbathing or surfing along both its Pacific and Caribbean coasts.

Unique cenotes (underground sinkholes filled with crystal-clear water) are also a must-visit.

Inland regions boast lush jungles teeming with wildlife and towering mountains offering challenging hikes with rewarding views at their peaks. UNESCO World Heritage Sites sprinkle across the country reflecting thousands of years worth of civilization from ancient Mayan cities like Chichen Itza and Teotihuacan to colonial towns distinguished as "Pueblos Mágicos" (Magical Towns).

No trip would be complete without indulging in traditional Mexican cuisine. Tacos al pastor, chiles en nogada or mole poblano will tantalize your taste buds while street food stalls offer quick bites like elote (corn on the cob) or tamales wrapped in corn husks.

The local culture adds another layer of richness to this travel experience.

Friendly locals who welcome visitors into their communities provide insights into traditions such as Dia de los Muertos (Day of Dead), Mariachi music performances or Lucha Libre wrestling matches which cannot be found elsewhere.

Lastly, affordability makes Mexico an attractive destination especially for young travelers working within tight budgets. 


Women and men dressed in traditional style dancing

Best destinations for backpacking Mexico

Mexico, a land of diverse landscapes and rich culture, offers countless opportunities for adventurous backpackers.

From bustling cities to serene beaches, here are a list of 10 of the best destinations you should consider when planning your backpacking trip to Mexico:

Ciudad de Mexico (Mexico City)

Everything should start from the heart of the adventure. Mexico City, the capital of the country, is where more cultures collide and the folklore is felt at its best. 

With its vibrant street life, historic landmarks like Frida Kahlo's Blue House, and mouthwatering cuisine at every corner - it's a cultural feast.

Playa del Carmen

Known for its palm-lined beaches and coral reefs. This coastal resort town in Quintana Roo also boasts lively nightlife along pedestrian-only Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue), and is the best place from where to visit UNESCO World Heritage site Chichen Itza.

"Playa" is a also very popular destination among digital nomads. Read here What you need to know about being digital nomad in Mexico.

Tulum

This town located less than 2 hours away from Playa del Carmen is famous for its well-preserved ruins of an ancient Mayan port city perched on cliffs overlooking the Caribbean Sea, and for stunning beaches.

Don't miss out on exploring Tulum's stunning cenotes either.

Keep reading: Tulum vs. Cancun: which one to choose.


Woman backpacking Mexico taking a picture in Tulum

Cancun

While known as a popular tourist hotspot with all-inclusive resorts galore; Cancun still has plenty to offer independent travelers including pristine white sand beaches and easy access to explore nearby Isla Mujeres by ferry.

Cozumel

This island off Yucatan Peninsula charms visitors with world-class diving spots thanks to Mesoamerican Reef - second largest barrier reef system globally after Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

Merida

Merida is a neat city. It is that daughter of the family that proclaims itself the most intelligent, orderly and clean. It is this reputation that makes it a very pleasant city to visit. 

It is so peculiar that it is disputed in many articles as the city with the best architecture, culture, even as the best city in Mexico. You just need to come and see it to judge for yourself.

Valladolid

The charming colonial town of Valladolid deserves attention too. Its pastel-hued buildings make a perfect backdrop while strolling around the central square.

For those who are tired of the hustle and bustle of the cities, is a good alternative only a two hours drive from Merida. Valladolid is a great base fro exploring the natural sorroundings of the area, including many magical cenotes.

San Cristobal de las Casas

Onwards from there lies San Cristobal de las Casas, nestled high up Chiapas Highlands offering cool respite amidst indigenous cultures and colonial architecture.

In essence, you could spend hours walking the cobblestone streets of San Cristobal and you would not get tired. 

Laguna Bacalar

Then we have Laguna Bacalar aka "Lake Seven Colors" due to enchantingly varying blue hues making any boat ride or kayaking trip an unforgettable experience.

Sayulita

Lastly but certainly not least, Sayulita beckons surf enthusiasts with its bohemian vibe plus thriving arts and crafts scene sure to captivate anyone who visits.

Therefore, these places have been chosen as the best destinations for backpacking through Mexico due to their distinctiveness, but of course there are many more exciting places in this extensive country to consider, like San Miguel de Allende, Oaxaca City, Guadalajara, Puebla, and Palenque.


Cenote seen from above with girl in a platform

Best itineraries for backpacking Mexico

If you're planning a trip to Mexico, having an itinerary can make your journey smoother and more enjoyable.

The beauty of backpacking in Mexico is that there's so much diversity across the country, making every day a new adventure.

A one-week backpacking itinerary

Kick off your week-long exploration with two days soaking up the vibrant culture in Mexico City. You could spend hours exploring the historic city center or visiting sites like Chapultepec Castle and Frida Kahlo's house museum.

Your next stop could be San Cristobal de las Casas, a colonial-era city known for its stunning architecture and colorful streetscapes.

End your week long trip heading to Playa del Carmen and nearby Tulum for serious beach time and nightlife.

Alternatively, you can leave the Riviera Maya and San Cristobal de las Casas for another trip and explore San Miguel de Allende, Puerto Vallarta and Sayulita which are closer to Ciudad de Mexico.

Two-weeks backpacking Mexico itinerary

With one more week on your itinerary, you can dedicate more time to explore Yucatan Peninsula, adding Cancun, Isla Mujeres and Valladolid with the nearby cenotes to the trip.

If opting for the alernative one-week backpacking itinerary, the cities of Puebla and Guadalajara are really interesting destinations to explore.

A month long epic adventure through Mexico

We've saved the best for last. This comprehensive month-long itinerary gives ample time to explore all the major destinations mentioned above, plus a few extra gems thrown into the mix.

After spending the initial couple of weeks in a similar fashion to the previous plan, now you have the luxury of extending your stay in each place, getting to know local communities better, maybe even picking up Spanish along the way?

After San Cristobal de las Casas, why not consider spending a couple of days exploring beatiful Merida?

Towards the end of the month, perhaps indulge in a little beach hopping down the Riviera Maya coastline from Cancun through Tulum - the perfect way to wind down after a busy travel schedule, soaking up the sun in crystal clear Caribbean waters, sipping a margarita in hand... sounds like a dream, right?

So whether you're opting for a quick whistle-stop tour or languishing at a leisurely pace over several weeks, these suggested itineraries serve as a great starting point for creating your own personalized route, tailor-made to suit your individual preferences and budget constraints.


Guy backpacking Mexico in famous Hidden Beach of Islas Marietas

Practical tips for your trip to Mexico

Safety in Mexico

Mexico is generally secure for visitors, but as with any destination, it's essential to remain alert. Avoid going to isolated places after dark and be mindful of your belongings. 

Scams can be a nuisance in very touristy destinations, but try not to lose your temper and negotiate as best as possible when you feel that are trying to rip you off. 

Solo female travelers should take extra precautions such as dressing modestly to avoid unwanted attention.

For detailed information we suggest you to read the article Is Mexico safe to visit?

When to visit Mexico

Mexico enjoys a moderate and enjoyable climate year round. When you should visit Mexico really depends on what part of the country you want to visit, but it'll be mostly fine if you come anytime of the year.

The only exception is if you are visiting the Riviera Maya, it would be wise to avoid Hurricane Season (August and September)

Getting around

Moving around via bus is quite comfortable and safe in Mexico. Most bus companies have apps that are easy to use and buy bus tickets with on the go. The prices are very affordable and the buses are spacious and easy to fall asleep in.

National flights are surprisingly cheap in Mexico and even cheaper if you buy them in advance. If you want to travel Mexico on a budget, your best bets are low-cost airlines Volaris, Viva Aerobus andInterjet.

Renting a car in Mexico can be a headache, but once you have it, it's pretty great. Make sure you take extra money for the deposits that the car rental companies sometimes has for.

Communication

Although English is widely spoken in major cities like Mexico City and tourist destinations such as the Riviera Maya, a basic understanding of Spanish will go a long way when communicating with locals, especially outside tourist hotspots.

Read this guide about learning Spanish in Mexico for tips on picking up the second most spoken language in the world.


Girl looking at historic ruins in Mexico

Backpacking in Mexico with free accommodation

Yep, as you have just read... you can travel around Mexico and have unforgettable local experiences without spending a dime in accommodation. How's that possible?

Work-exchange programs are the answer. You can find hundreds of volunteering opportunities in Mexico, from NGOs to hostelsholistic centers, permaculture projects and more! 

All you need to do is to subscribe to the Worldpackers Community for free and start saving your favorite volunteer positions until you are ready to get verified.

This is not only a way to save money while traveling, but also have a cultural immersion by living with locals, meet other like-minded volunteers, and make a positive impact by helping local projects.

These are some volunteering opportunities in Mexico that you could apply right now:


Group of volunteers from a holistic center in Mexico

The backpacking Mexico journey will take you through stunning beaches, cenotes, jungles and mountains; each destination with its unique charm.

Your itinerary can be as flexible as your spirit desires. A sojourn of a week or even a month could scarcely give you a glimpse into the wonders this nation has to proffer.

Safety should always be paramount, but don't let it deter you from experiencing the local food scene or engaging with locals - they're part of the allure!

If you like these tips, follow Worldpackers social media to keep up with the news: we are on Instagram and Tiktok.



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