How to Budget For a Road Trip Through Mainland Mexico
What things cost in Mainland Mexico and what to expect on your road trip
I left San Diego, CA with a 4×4 SUV, a backpack filled with surf bikinis, three boards strapped to the roof and a hope for a better way of life. I started my road trip through mainland Mexico planning to spend 100 days driving to the southern border. But I ended up staying nine months! Here is everything I learned about how to budget for a road trip through mainland Mexico.
First you need to select a vehicle. I highly recommend a four-wheel drive with higher ground clearance. Also, don’t go too new as you will be a target. I had a 2002 Honda CRV which was perfect. I also love the Honda Element because all the seats come out and the inside is all rubber panels which clean easily. The square shape makes it perfect for board storage and car camping. My CRV cost me around $3,500 USD plus surf racks and 4 new tires for a total of about $4,000.
Next, you have to consider maintenance and mechanical issues. This is the single biggest unknown in the budget. Luckily labor is very cheap but parts can be very expensive and take a long time to get from the States. Another reason to get an older vehicle is that many mechanics don’t know how to work on newer cars with computers and complicated electrical systems. I budgeted about $350/month for maintenance and this turned out to be about right. My transmission went out so that was a big one. Hopefully, you will spend less but just in case this is a good number to go with.
Gasoline in Mexico is about $1USD per liter at the time of publication. That’s about $4.40 per gallon. You will be driving mex-200 which is curvy and steep, plus dirt roads. Don’t count on good fuel economy. Then again you will have plenty of days parked in front of the break when your car doesn’t move. It worked out to about $100-$150 USD per month for me. (3-4 fill ups).
Most surf breaks are used to traveling surfing and will allow you to string up a hammock or sleep in your car for about $5 USD/ per night. Generally, you get the use of a toilet and a shower with your camping fee, but not always.
Being a single female traveling alone I felt much safer and more comfortable renting a cabaña. Again, most surf breaks have cabaña rentals. Don’t expect much. A thatched roof (that might leak), a wooden bed, a fan, a place to charge your phone and a door that locks. The shower will likely be shared. Plan to spend from $10-$15 per night for a cabaãna.
Hotels vary greatly in quality. Sometimes they aren’t much more than a cabaña but the difference is that the shower is in your room and generally you will have tiles floors and the option for AC. Obviously, if you are staying in a city you can find something of high quality. Hotels run from $20 per night and up.
There are a lot of backpacker towns along the Mainland Mexico surf circuit. Here you will find dorm-style accommodations for $10-$20 per night.
I mostly stayed in cabañas and cheap hotels with a little camping here and there. Planning $10-$15 per night was about right. I budgeted $400/month for lodging.
Food and Drink
Restaurants in Mexico are amazing! A cheep plate runs about $2.50 and a big meal at a nice restaurant might cost you $15. Generally, a middle of the road meal with a beer or a cold coconut will run $5-$6. I ate out three meals per day most days. I would pull out a 500 peso note ($25 USD) each morning and I generally didn’t spend all of it. That included buying cold drinks and snacks. Beers are about $1, coconuts are about $1.50. Most people tip 10% but it’s always nice to be more generous when you can.
If you are camping or at a hostel, you can always stock up in the major city and bring food with you. I found I didn’t save a ton of money this way and the restaurants were so good it was way more fun to eat out.
Beers is cheap but anything else gets pricey. Wine is about $4-$5 per glass and cocktails are around the same. If you are buying beer at a store it will be about $1 for a domestic beer. In a club or nice restaurant, it could be $2 per beer.
No matter how I cut it, I always ended up spending $350 per month on food plus another $100 on coconuts and beer for a total of $450/month.
Well, I break a lot of boards so I budgeted high for this. Boards are comparable to American prices but often hard to find exactly what you need. Also with beach breaks and point breaks, big waves and small, I found my quiver was changing a lot. I recommend bringing your own. Fortunately, repairs are cheap. A small ding might cost $5 and a large one $25. A broken board will run you from $40-$90 to repair.
My monthly surfboard budget was $150 for repairs and new boards.
Make sure you also take a good first aid kit with you. Check out our comprehensive surf packing list of what we recommend.
Stuff comes up. Maybe you need a new Bluetooth speaker or you adopt a street dog and have to buy worming treatments. Maybe you want to hire a surf guide to take you to a secret spot (about $25/per day and well worth it!) or perhaps you hire a boat to get off the beaten path (from $20-$50 per person depending on how many people in the boat). I always planned on $200/month for incidentals.
All in all that comes out to be about $1700/per month for a road trip through mainland Mexico, not including the initial investment into the vehicle. This is budgeting on the high side. After some time I settled down in Puerto Escondido and was able to keep a monthly budget closer to $1200/month when I wasn’t adventuring around so much. My monthly rent there was just $300 for an oceanview studio steps to Zicatela beach. Don’t forget any bills you still need to pay from back home like your cell phone, credit cards etc.
I hope this guide helps you plan your trip. If I’ve forgotten anything please leave it in the comments.