I am not an expert on the subject of living in Mexico – yet. But, time spent already on the ground in the two consecutive years of extended visit, I think I already have gathered many important information as to the approximate cost of living there. And I’ll start with Cancun.
I am seriously researching how to long stay in Mexico, so, I do not take for granted details of living expenses involved. With my limited Spanish, I was able to gather important information on accommodation, nice restaurants, locals’ market, how to go to a certain place, etc. Small stuff of info that is necessary as a basic steps on living like a local in the country.
(Tip: Don’t be afraid to talk to locals even if you speak “broken” Spanish. Mexicans are forgiving of your errors in speaking their language. The most you will get is a laugh but they will correct you if you ask it.)
This post is my own take on the cost of living in Cancun. And I would like to note that this is not comprehensive. Rather, it is my initial research result and I’m writing this based on my own spending habit, that means, my results may not be applicable to the next person reading this. I’m open to discussion, though. So, let’s start off…..
Accommodation is varied in Cancun. There are expensive as well as cheap ones. You may choose to stay at the expensive side, which is the Hotel Zone – an area most spring breakers and tourist choose to stay at. Or, like me, you can choose to stay closer to Cancun Centro to try to live as a local and further stretch your dollars.
I never want to stay at the Hotel Zone area because I always wanted to stay where the locals are and it has been my practice whenever I travel. My thinking is that, the more locally connected I am, the more unique my experience will be and my expenses on the low. Works for me everytime but be cautioned that, being frugal like me is not for everybody.
So, for my first venture in Mexico, I stayed at Los Caracoles Bed & Breakfast – close to Cancun Centro. I believe, I paid $28/night for 1 person and $51/night for 3 persons per room. It is a house set close to some small but beautiful parks just after Avenida Nader, East of the ADO bus station. I also found some other cheap accommodations in Cancun from AirBnB.
But if you are thinking of longer stays, it might be better to set foot first in Cancun, take the bus to Centro, pick & stay a few days in budget hotels closeby or at the B&B mentioned and then go around the area where you intend to locate to search for “se renta” advertisements posted on buildings, apartments and houses. Or check the local newspapers.
I was able to find a 1 bedroom place near Mercado 23 unfurnished for 3500 Pesos per month. That’s approximately US$350. The owner wants a minimum of 6 months contract, and I think I’d be able to get it for 3 months but I didn’t push because I was just researching. I was able to do this with just a little bit of Spanish – it was funny combining hand gestures while trying to express what you want.
Food is cheap in Cancun, specially if you will cook or if you go where the locals go. At Mercado 23, you can get all the ingredients you will need – meat, fish, vegetables or tortillas for very cheap. The first time I tried to have fish at that market, I was able to lunch on fried tilapia with tortillas for about US$2.50, cheap as cheap can be. The food stalls at the market, though, I think are a rip-off. I can get a better and cheaper meal at Las Palapas Park or some nearby small tiendas. There are also locally owned fancy restaurants who have very reasonably priced Mexican dishes. Four that I’ve tried are Los Abuelos, Pescaditos, 100% Natural and La Troje.
Pescaditos has a live band playing when I was there, so, I guess that is a regular gig in that restaurant. Too bad, I don’t know where their locations are because I took a cab when I ate there. There are also familiar West franchises like Subway and Macdonalds, if you crave for our fastfood joints.
In the Hotel Zone, go to La Isla to eat. It’s the best place to have lunch or dinner if you’re tired of hotel food. They have Thai, Italian, Starbucks, Planet Hollywood, etc. Expect to pay gringo prices, though.
My set budget for food per day is about US$20 for myself. I don’t always spend that much everyday because sometimes I have left-over meals to eat. But if I have extra money left before my return home, I always indulge myself to a locals’ restaurant like those mentioned above, in order to experience having authentic dishes that’s not available at the gringo joint, La Isla. It will cost about 80 – 250 pesos per meal, which is very reasonable.
The transportation system is what I love most about Cancun. I love to travel around. And Cancun’s neighboring attractions and destinations can be easily reached by bus. You don’t really need a car in Cancun.
You can get to Merida, Valladolid, Chichen Itza or even as far away south to the country of Belize just by hopping on a bus. It is a very cheap way of reaching far away destinations which is not possible to do back in the Philippines.
To go to the beach, I always go where the locals go – Playa Tortugas, Playa Langosta or Playa Delfines, which are all at the Hotel Zone. The cost to go there and back – US$2 (as of January 2014 at 9.50 Pesos each way) and only takes 10 minutes from Centro Cancun.
Like I mentioned above, if you are a beach lover, it will not cost you much to enjoy a swim. It does not even cost a lot to take a cab if you’re in a hurry or wants to avoid the crowded bus (US$2.50 – US$3).
In my case, I really love to explore and I love wandering around the Yucatan – to lay eyes on and to capture in images her most beautiful and wondrous spots. Essentially, this is where most of my budget goes. So, if you’re idea of fun is similar to mine, be ready to spend more than your living expenses budget because even though transportation is cheap in Cancun, entrance fee in many places of interest, like Chichen Itza or Tulum ruins, are gringo-priced.
Also, if you travel afar from your Cancun address, bus or taxi fare adds up and so does the need to sometimes stay overnight in hotels.
My budget per week if my intention was just to be in Cancun is something like (in USD): $140 for food, $210 for accommodation, $100 for additional expenses (assuming I’m going to Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen, Isla Mujeres, Parque Kabah once in a week only but also including multiple beach time at the Hotel Zone), $10 for laundry, I buy my emergency medical insurance before going so that was taken care of. That’s a total of $460 per week.
Add that up to my airfare of about $420, goes like $880 only. If that’s not a cheap vacation, I don’t know what a cheap vacation is anymore! I spend a lot more than that every time I am in the Philippines and I don’t even have to pay for accommodation most of the time!
I have to admit, though, that the budget above was from my second time in Cancun because I already have an idea of the city. During my first time there, I spent a lot, lot more than that because I was overwhelmed finding out how much there was to discover in Cancun and the neighboring Riviera Maya. And also because I have not learnt some tips from locals yet. As soon as my first time was over, my lists of to-do next time and other references is 5 pages long, back-to-back.
So, there you are, my first post on living expenses in Cancun. If you live in the US or Canada and are like me who is going on an extended or short holidays or considering a winter-long stay, Mexico is our closest and cheapest option. The country is not just a sun and sand destination but has a lot more to offer in terms of what travelbugs look for in a destination – culture, nature, food, adventure, hidden wonders, etc.
(Images from Flickr and Wikimedia under Creative Commons license)