Mexico has long been a popular place for a budget-friendly vacation, but it can also be quite pricey in places like Cabo and Cancun. If you’re looking for an experience that goes beyond those luxury resorts, you’ll find many fabulous destinations where your dollar stretches a lot farther. And, this country offers so much more than lounging around the pool and sipping margaritas. These cheap vacation spots, in particular, offer some of the best travel values around, and many offer the chance to enjoy a more authentic slice of Mexican life.
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Loreto, Baja California Sur
The town of Loreto is the oldest settlement in Baja offering lots for history enthusiasts, including prehistoric cave paintings in the Sierra de la Gigantas and a centuries-old church. Enjoy an authentic Mexican feel with colorful traditions and a rich heritage along with access to gorgeous beaches, bays and uninhabited islands that provide the opportunity for snorkeling, swimming, kayaking, sailing or simply soaking up the warmth of the sun. Around Bahia de Loreto National Park you can watch for whales and dolphins right from the shore. All that and three-star hotels start at just $50 a night.
If you’re interested in learning about the indigenous peoples of Mexico and want to enjoy low room rates that start at under $15 a night, look no further than Oaxaca City. Here you can get a good glimpse of day-to-day life in the country’s southern region and enjoy incredible street food too. The exotic state of Oaxaca is one of Mexico’s top culinary destinations, nicknamed the “land of the seven moles,” for its legendary and complex sauces made with dozens of ingredients, often including chocolate. The city is filled with colorful colonial architecture, and also offers plenty of unique and well-priced artesanias selling handicrafts.
The quiet fishing village of Puerto Escondido lies hidden away on the Pacific coast in the state of Oaxaca and is home to one of the most picturesque beaches in the region. It’s a place that’s remained mostly under the radar, with the exception of those who come here to surf the famous beach break known as the Mexican Pipeline, keeping room rates especially affordable, starting at under $40 a night. Even if you don’t surf, the experience here is all about the beach, though you’ll also find an authentic Mexican culture and a bustling outdoor food market. The east side of the bay is known for its cheap eats and inexpensive hostels.
The “Pearl of the Pacific” is a popular resort town with 11 miles of boardwalk for scenic strolls along the sea, and with massive waves, it draws lots of surfers too. The city has a rich history, magnificent architecture, many fascinating museums and renowned nightlife in the district called Zona Dorada (Golden Zone). For those looking for a resort kind of experience without the high price, Mazatlan is an ideal pick with three-star room rates starting at $70 a night.
La Paz, Baja California Sur
The capital of Baja California Sur is often overlooked but this colorful city with a name that translates to “the peace,” boasts 340 days of sunshine a year and stunning beaches that rival those found on the Caribbean coast. Look forward to strolls along the Malecon (seafront promenade) which is lined with a wide range of tasty eateries and interesting shops, and discovering some of the country’s most beautiful beaches, like Balandra, just a 20-minute drive from downtown. La Paz is also a popular departure point for whale watching, swimming with whale sharks, snorkeling with sea lions, fishing trips and other excursions. All this and three-star hotels start at just $50 per night.
Xilitla is surrounded by lush jungle terrain filled with swimming holes and waterfalls, but the biggest allure is the once-abandoned garden of English artist Edward James, declared a national cultural heritage site in 2012. The beautiful garden known as Las Pozas, or The Pools, is made up of turquoise springs and waterfalls with spiral staircases leading to nowhere, decorated columns, bridges and other sculptures. During the spring, it’s filled with butterflies. Rooms here start as low as $17 a night.
Sayulita is a beautiful and affordable beach town that’s popular for surfing and other water sports. Restaurants here offer fresh, delicious seafood and hotels start at $15 a night. Look forward to a low-key, bohemian vibe, unspoiled stretches of sand and rustic eateries on the beach. If you’ve never tried surfing before, this is a good place to learn as the bay has a nice break ideal for beginners, and both lessons and boards are inexpensive and readily available.
Cholula is located next to the larger city of Puebla, but it offers a far better value for vacationers looking for fun on a budget. Enjoy a hopping nightlife scene and all sorts of attractions, including the pre-Hispanic Tepanapa Pyramid, the widest pyramid ever built. Visitors can climb to the top and even travel through tunnels underneath. A stay here also makes a great base for visiting the fascinating nearby villages of Tonantzintla and Acatepec.
Pátzcuaro is a small colonial town that offers a fabulous slice of “real” Mexico, with plenty of high-value rooms to be found at under $100 a night. Situated on the edge of Lake Patzcuaro at over 7,000 feet above sea level, it’s filled with terracotta-tiled roofs, red-and-white adobe walls and narrow cobbled streets. Unlike the nearby Spanish-founded settlement of Morelia, it was established in the early 14th-century as part of the Tarascan empire, two centuries before the conquistadors arrived. The vast lake it sits along is home to five islands, including Isla Janitzio which can be reached via a short boat trip. It serves as the spiritual and cultural center for the indigenous Purepecha people.
Playa del Carmen is one of the more touristy places to visit as it’s relatively close to Cancun International Airport, but it makes a great destination for those who want to enjoy a beach resort area without high prices. Look forward to endless palm trees, coral reefs, nightclubs and restaurants, as well as enjoy activities like swimming, snorkeling and diving. Surprisingly, there are lots of three-star hotels near those powdery white sands that can be had for under $100 per night – some as low as $40 a night.