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How to Travel to Cancun on a Budget (2024)

how to travel to cancun on a budget
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Cancun is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, with over 30 million visitors every year. It’s no wonder. With its white sandy beaches, turquoise blue water, and laid-back vibes, a vacation to Cancun is what dreams are made of.
If you’re looking to visit Cancun on a budget, don’t fret! It’s totally doable – in fact, you’ll be surprised just how far a small budget will get you. Don’t believe me? Keep reading for our best tips on how we save money in this resort destination where you could easily go through money like water.

Us on our recent Cancún vacation – it was one of the best trips ever!
Us on our recent Cancún vacation – it was one of the best trips ever!

Sleeping on a Budget

Cancun and the Mayan Riviera may be known for posh, all-inclusive resorts, but there are plenty of affordable budget accommodations available too – you just need to know where to look!

Stay in Downtown Cancun or Puerto Juarez If you’re on a budget, you don’t want to stay in Cancun’s beachfront “Hotel Zone.” This is where you’ll find the all-inclusive and 5-star resorts that aren’t exactly budget-friendly. Instead, book your accommodations in Downtown Cancun or Puerto Juarez – they’re much more affordable and have plenty of charm that you won’t get anywhere else. Plus, they’re only a 20-minute drive from the Hotel Zone so you can easily visit by bus or taxi if you’re interested in checking out the hotel strip for yourself.

Consider shared accommodation – Hostels are the most budget-conscious option, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be nice. There are tons of really clean hostels in Cancun with all the amenities you could want, like pools, games, restaurants, and bars.

Airbnb is another great budget option – particularly rooms in a shared living space. Many home or apartment owners rent their spare bedrooms on Airbnb for much cheaper than the cost of a budget hotel room. You get the privacy of your own room and the convenience of a kitchen (to cook and save even more money) at a seriously affordable price – win-win!

If your budget is in more of the $30-$80 range, there’s no shortage of great private hotel rooms in Downtown Cancun or Puerto Juarez that you can find on Booking.com.

Eating on a Budget

If you’re looking to save money, eating cheaply in Cancun is no problem – especially if you’re staying in Downtown Cancun or in Puerto Juarez.

Take to the streets – Mexican street food is a whole experience in itself. Not only is it one of the cheapest ways to eat in Cancun, but it’s also a cultural experience too! You’ll find Mexican specialties like elote (Mexican street corn), tacos, churros, and tortas (hot sandwiches). And let’s not forget the Yucatan icons like cochinita pibil (Yucatecan barbecued pork) and marquesitas (crispy crepes). Take a street food tour or check out the local parks for some of the most popular street food vendors!

Eat at “comida corridas” – Usually only open for lunch, comida corridas, which literally translates to “fast food,” is far from the American fast food you’re familiar with. These are usually 3-4 course meals, including fresh fruit water that are very popular with Mexico’s working class during their lunch breaks. You get a soup, a main course with a side, and a dessert for $5-$8. It’s my favorite option for an affordable, quick, and healthy lunch!

Shop at the markets – There are also plenty of supermarkets and produce markets to purchase your own food. If you stay at an Airbnb or hostel with a kitchen, you can save money by cooking at least a few meals for yourself. Fresh fruit is much less expensive and even more delicious in Mexico than in other countries, plus, visiting the markets is always a fun cultural experience! Some of my favorite fruits to get when they’re in season are oranges (or freshly squeezed orange juice!), passion fruit, and lychees.

Things to Do in Cancun on a Budget

One of the cheapest things to do in Cancun is also one of the most popular – head to the beach! With miles of beautiful coastline, Cancun has no shortage of beaches with picturesque ocean views and breezy palm trees. The sunny and warm weather makes almost every day a perfect day at the beach in Cancun – swoon.

Many resorts have day passes that you can purchase to access their restrooms, loungers, and pool areas – this is an excellent option for saving some money while still getting a taste of luxury. There are free public beaches in Cancun as well. Playa Tortugas (Turtle Beach) is a small but pretty public beach close to downtown in the Zona Hotelera, and Playa Delfines (Dolphin Beach) is a beautiful beach in the Hotel Zone that isn’t surrounded by towering resorts.

Isla Mujeres

Another option for an inexpensive excursion from Cancun is to visit Isla Mujeres, a small island 17 kilometers off the coast of Cancun. The ferry to Isla costs 300 pesos round-trip (about $17 US), and it leaves from Puerto Juarez, just a few minutes from Downtown Cancun. You’ll find Isla has a laid-back vibe compared to Cancun, with incredible beaches and snorkeling. Playa Norte is the most popular beach on the island and is free and open to the public. You can stay at a hotel on the island or just make it a day trip from your stay in Cancun.

Markets

If you plan to spend time in downtown Cancun, another inexpensive option for something to do in Cancun is to visit the markets. The most famous are Mercado 28 and Mercado 23. You can often find fresh produce, artisan crafts, and delicious snacks mixed in with souvenirs and knick-knacks. The markets are often busy and active, making them a wonderful place to people-watch as well. You don’t need to be shopping to enjoy the mercados – grab an ice cream from a cart or stall and stroll through the bustling and colorful market.

Explore on Foot

After visiting the markets, take a self-guided walking tour of the city’s murals. Many murals all over the city highlight the diverse nature of the Yucatan and the Mayan culture of the area. Parque Las Palapas is a sprawling park in downtown Cancun that features live music, cultural fairs, and street performances. Stop by while strolling the city to catch a free show.

Cenotes

Throughout the Yucatan peninsula are freshwater swimming holes known as cenotes . While there aren’t any right near Cancun, you can reach many within an hour or less drive. If you are able to rent a car or catch a ride in a collectivo (the cheapest and most adventurous option), you can enjoy an incredible day at the cenotes for very little money. The closest cenotes will be near Puerto Morelos and usually cost between $5 and $15 USD to visit.

Money Saving Tips

Travel during the off-season – Avoid the busiest seasons, which often correspond with the highest airline and hotel prices. Spring break usually means a huge influx of tourists (Mexican and foreigners) to Cancun between early March and mid-March. Traveling during March or just before or after may mean paying more. Consider visiting Cancun during the off-season (June to October) or shoulder seasons (April-May and November to mid-December) to save on airplane tickets, lodging, and excursions.

Take public transportation – Private taxis and shuttles are available everywhere, but you will pay considerably more for this option. Instead, opt for the bus or collectivos. Although they’re not glamorous, they’re inexpensive and go all over the city and can be an exciting way to experience Mexico beyond the touristy resorts. Bus tickets between downtown Cancun and the Zona Hotelera usually cost about 10 pesos or 50 cents.

Use pesos, not US dollars – By paying in pesos, you can avoid credit card fees and fluctuating conversion rates. You’ll also likely get better deals on purchases because the local businesses prefer pesos.

Conclusion

An unforgettable trip to Cancun doesn’t have to mean spending thousands at luxury resorts, it can also mean an inexpensive and incredible vacation if you know how to travel on a budget. By choosing to stay at less-expensive accommodations and enjoying free or cheaper activities like walking the markets and visiting the beach, you can still have an amazing Cancun vacation on a budget.

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