In this guide, I explain how to visit Mexico City on a budget of less than $20 per day. I outline a budget for accommodation, food, activities, airfare, and everything you need to explore Mexico’s beautiful capital city on a budget. I’ll also share some money-saving tips to help you stay within budget.
I ended up spending a month in Mexico City. While traveling, the constant packing up and moving gets old after a while. To give myself a break, I like to settle in one city for a couple of weeks to a month. This gives me the opportunity to relax and really get to know a particular place. For this kind of trip, the bigger the city, the better. For my last trip, I chose Mexico City.
Why Mexico City?
As one of the largest cities in the world, Mexico City has something for everyone including world-class cuisine, incredible historic sites, and amazing culture. It’s also surprisingly affordable. As you’re about to see, everything from food to public transportation, to accommodation can be had on even the tightest of travel budgets. From a safety perspective, Mexico City is one of the more secure cities in the country. As an added bonus, airfare from the US is pretty cheap. All of these features make Mexico City the perfect place to explore for less than $20 per day.
Table of Contents- Mexico City on a Budget
- Budget Accommodation in Mexico City
- Food Budget
- Transportation Budget
- Airfare to Mexico City
- Entertainment and Activities Budget
- Places to Watch your Budget in Mexico City
- Mexico City Budget Example
- Final Thoughts
Accommodation Budget in Mexico City
I’ll start off by talking about the biggest expense of the trip: booking a place to stay. Luckily, accommodation in Mexico City is surprisingly affordable. Having said that, in order to stay within our $20 per day budget, the accommodation has to be pretty basic. Ideally, you will limit your accommodation budget to around $10 per night max. You have two options for low-cost accommodation in Mexico City:
1. Stay in a Hostel
When choosing a hostel, you want to to look for a place with a kitchen. You will have to do a bit of cooking to stay within budget. You also want a place that is centrally located. Walking is great exercise and helps cut transportation cost.
Most hostels in Mexico City go for about $8 per night. For this price, you will get a kitchen, wifi, free drinking water, and a comfortable bed in a central neighborhood.
- Hospedaje La Colonial is the cheapest hostel in the city at around $3 per night. This place is well located for the price. It is very basic and probably not the most comfortable option.
- Mexiqui Zocalo is a solid option in the $8 range. This place has an excellent location and receives great reviews. They also have a kitchen.
2. Book an Airbnb
If sleeping in a dorm doesn’t appeal to you, you may get lucky and find a deal on an Airbnb. In my opinion, this is the best option if you’re staying for one week or longer. This is what I did.
I recommend you look for a place with a kitchen, wifi, and central location. You should also be within walking distance of a metro station. There are plenty of suitable options available in the $50-75 per week price range.
I got lucky and found a room for $100 for a whole month near the Polanco neighborhood. The guy was offering a major discount for guests staying a month or more. The apartment had a full kitchen, tv, hot water, and even a balcony. I shared the space with two other guys. In my opinion, this was much more comfortable and relaxing than staying in a hostel dorm.
Food Budget in Mexico City
This is one part of the trip where it will be difficult to stay on budget. Mexican cuisine is world-class. While out walking around the city, you pass by dozens of food stands, each serving up amazing tastes from all over the country. It’s difficult to pass by.
To stay on budget, the goal is to spend $5 per day or less on food. This is manageable if you’re willing to pass up a few taco stands and cook for yourself. Admittedly, you’ll have to have a bit of discipline to stay on budget.
During my month in Mexico City, I spent about $120 on food. This included everything I bought at the grocery store to cook and all of my street food meals. I’m pretty frugal so I would say $150 would be a bit more realistic for most people.
The first thing I did after getting settled into my Airbnb was going grocery shopping. I stocked up on healthy, low-cost foods that I could cook myself. Some cheap foods to stock up on include:
- Refried Beans
Other Ways to Cut Your Food Budget in Mexico City
To save on fruits and veggies, visit a street stand. I ate avocado pretty much every day. Pineapple, mango, and papaya are affordable as well. In Mexico, these expensive fruits cost less than a quarter of what they do back home. For example, I was buying myself half a papaya every day for around $0.50.
You can also save by adapting your diet a bit. Eat local alternatives. For example, instead of a loaf of bread, you can buy delicious, fresh tortillas from a tortilla shop. These cost next to nothing and are available in every neighborhood.
For meat, I bought a whole rotisserie chicken about once per week and made it last for a few meals. Oftentimes on Sundays, there was a small street fair where I could get a whole chicken, salsa, and tortillas for less than $5.
Of course, I did overspend on a couple of food items. I splurged on my favorite food, pizza, on a few occasions. I also drank too much coke. For whatever reason, I just crave it when I travel. I never really drink soda at home but Mexican Coke just tastes so good.
Mexico City Food Budget Tip: Pack yourself a lunch or some snacks so you’re not so tempted to always eat out while sightseeing
If you have food with you, you’re less likely to spend money buying more. While out and about sightseeing in the city, I would treat myself to a taco or a gordita for lunch then eat some fruit, chips, tortillas, etc. that I brought with me to make the meal more substantial. When I went on a day trip, like to Teotihuacan for example, I packed myself a full lunch and ate it in the park. I actually sat on top of one of the pyramids and made myself some tortillas with refried beans and avocado. Eating out every day just isn’t possible on our $20 daily budget.
Overall, I ate pretty well in Mexico City. I didn’t have to watch my budget too much. If I was on an ultra low budget, I could have only cooked for myself and kept my food budget below $100 pretty easily. Mexican grocery stores are pretty affordable and offer an excellent selection.
Transportation Around Mexico City on a Budget
To stay within our $20 per day budget, we can’t take taxis and Ubers everywhere we want to go. Luckily, Mexico City is easy to get around on a budget. You have three cheap transportation options available:
Mexico City Metro
One of Mexico City’s greatest features is its extensive metro system. It’s cheap, safe, fast, and reliable. You can travel across the city for only 5 pesos (about 25 cents). Even if you make a round trip metro ride every day of your trip, you’ll only spend about 70 pesos ($3.68) per week.
Stations are conveniently located all over the city. You can go pretty much anywhere by metro. When booking your accommodation, make sure you’re not more than a few blocks from a station. You’ll be going there often.
Walking in Mexico City
My favorite way to get around the city is simply on foot. Mexico City is surprisingly walkable. From where I stayed near Polanco, I easily walked to Chapultepec Park as well as some of the more popular downtown neighborhoods like La Condesa and Roma. Sidewalks are well kept and drivers seemed to be pretty considerate of pedestrians.
Overall, Mexico City is a pretty safe place to walk. In touristy and crowded areas, you can walk without worry at all hours of the day or night. Police presence is high. In rougher areas outside of the city center, you should limit your walking to daylight hours only. Pickpocketing and petty theft are much more common than violent crimes like mugging and robbery.
Cycling in Mexico City
Another popular option for getting around is by bicycle. Mexico City is very bike friendly. Most major streets have bike lanes. There is a city bicycle sharing program that you can sign up for with locations all over downtown. You can also rent a bike for an afternoon to explore the city.
Bicycle touring is quickly becoming my favorite methods of travel. Mexico is an excellent country to travel by bicycle.
How to Find Low-Cost Airfare to Mexico City
One of the biggest expenses of the trip is the flight. Of course, this cost varies depending on where you start. I paid around $120 for my round trip ticket to Mexico City. Here’s how.
The cheapest way to fly to Mexico City is to cross the northern border on foot and fly from Tijuana airport (TIJ). This saves you money in a couple of ways:
- You’re not paying US airport taxes- Because you aren’t transiting through any US airports, you avoid the expensive taxes. Mexican airport taxes are lower.
- You can take advantage of Mexican budget airlines- Some of these airlines don’t fly in the US. You can find some really low-cost flights if you shop around a bit.
Flying out of Tijuana airport is easy and convenient. In fact, if you have safety concerns about Tijuana, you don’t even need to enter the city to use the airport. They built a terminal with a skywalk across the border called Cross Border Xpress.
For my complete, step-by-step guide, check out my article: How to Fly Out of Tijuana Airport and Use the Cross Border Xpress.
Luckily for me, I was living in Tijuana at the time I made this trip so there was no additional transportation cost. As I was writing this article, I just did a search for flights from Tijuana to Mexico City and found a round trip ticket for $108 on AirMexico. There are deals to be had if you are flexible with your dates.
I recognize that most people reading this don’t live in Southern California so there will be additional cost in flying to Mexico City. If you shop around, there are deals to be had from major airports all over the US and Canada. You can even find affordable flights from Europe occasionally but you won’t be able to keep your budget below $20 per day when inducing the flight, unfortunately.
Entertainment and Activities: The Best Things to do in Mexico City on a Budget
As the largest city in North America, Mexico City offers entertainment options for everyone. The city contains some of the best museums, parks, and archaeological sites in the country. Luckily, almost all of the major tourist attractions are accessible on our $20 per day budget. Entry fees are fairly reasonable. If this is your first visit to Mexico City, there are a few sites that you shouldn’t miss including:
Museo Nacional de Antropologia (National Anthropology Museum)
This is one of the world’s great museums. Here, you learn about the history of Mexico from the time humans first arrived until the present. The pre-Columbian history is particularly fascinating. Learn about the famous Maya and Aztec civilizations. The museum houses thousands of artifacts organized by region. This allows for an interesting look into what life was like in different parts of Mexico throughout the years. The museum takes about half a day properly explore
Entry costs 70 pesos (about $3.70) for general admission
This magnificent archaeological site is located just 25 kilometers from Mexico City. It is home to some of the largest world’s largest ancient pyramids. At its peak, the city reached a population of around 150,000 which would have made it the America’s largest city before the arrival of Columbus. A visit here makes for an excellent day trip from Mexico City.
Many travel agencies throughout the city sell tours to the site for around 700 pesos (about $37). While this is doable on our budget, you can easily visit the ruins by bus without an organized tour for about 1/4 of that price. The trip is easy and allows you to visit the site on your own time rather than being rushed around on a tour.
How to Visit Teotihuacan by Bus Without a Tour for Less Than $10
- Make your way to Terminal del Norte bus station. You can easily access the station by metro line 5.
- Once you’re inside the station, head toward gate 8. You’ll see a kiosk selling tickets to Teotihuacan. The sign may also say piramides (pyramids). Round trip tickets cost 100 pesos (about $5.30) and have an open return so you can spend as much time at the site as you like. The last bus leaves at 18:00.
- After you buy your ticket, head to the gate indicated on the ticket and find your bus. Buses leave every half hour so you won’t have to wait very long. The bus may already be boarding when you arrive. If you bought a round trip ticket, make sure you don’t lose it so you can prove that you’ve already paid the return fare.
- Enjoy the ride. It takes about an hour to travel from Mexico City to Teotihuacan. Maybe a bit longer with traffic.
- The bus drops you off just outside the entry gate. Entry to the site costs 75 pesos (about $4). You can pay with cash or credit card.
- When you’re ready to leave, exit the site from the same place that you entered and head back to where the bus dropped you off. It’s easy to find. There is only one street outside the gate. You may have to wait up to 30 minutes for the next bus to arrive.
- Show the driver your ticket and board the bus. Enjoy the ride back to Mexico City. You’ll be dropped back off at Terminal del Norte. From here, you can easily take the metro back to your hostel or Airbnb.
Budget Tip: Bring lunch, plenty of water, and sunscreen. There is no shade and food and drink options are limited. Be prepared.
Bosque de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Park)
This beautiful 1695 acre park located in central Mexico City is one of the largest city parks in the world. Many of the city’s most popular sites are located in and around the park including:
- Chapultepec Castle
- The anthropological museum
- Chapultepec Lake
- Chapultepec Zoo
- A multitude of monuments and fountains.
A series of trails wind through the park among the trees. These are great for walking, running, or cycling. The park is free to visit. Most of the sites listed above cost 50-70 pesos each to visit ($2.60-$3.70).
One of the world’s largest plazas, Zocalo, is the heart of Mexico City. This same site has been used as the town square since the times of the Aztecs. Zocalo and the surrounding area are packed with interesting sites and activities. Within walking distance of Zocalo you will find:
- Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral- The city’s largest and most famous cathedral.
- Templo Mayor- A sacred Aztec site.
- Torre Latinoamericana- Mexico City’s tallest skyscrapers. Visit the observation deck on top for a spectacular view of the city.
- Secretaría de Educación Pública- Home of the beautiful Diego Rivera murals.
- Several walking streets- This area is very touristy. You can buy souvenirs, enjoy some ice cream, or grab a bit to eat at one of the nearby restaurants.
Museo de Frida Kahlo
This is the famous ‘Casa Azul’ where the 20th century artist Frida Kahlo lived her life from birth until death. She lived in this house with her husband Diego Rivera. Here, you can view some of her famous works and get a peek into her day to day life. This is one of the most popular museums in Mexico City. It is very well done.
General admission tickets cost 250 pesos (about $13.25). This is one of the more expensive museums in the city but it’s well worth a visit in my opinion.
Note: The museum is closed on Mondays for some reason. I found this out the hard way. I just happened to go on Monday without checking first. A couple of days later I returned.
El Palacio de Bellas Artes
This is Mexico City’s cultural center. This venue hosts some of the biggest events in the city including music, dance, opera, and theater. Here, you will also find an exhibit of fine art paintings, murals, and photographs. The building itself is a work of art. It is built in the Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles.
General admission costs 70 pesos (about $3.70).
This interesting neighborhood located in the south of the city was built on the shore of Lake Xochimilco. The neighborhood is known for its system of canals, man-made islands, and unique colorful boats. Xochimilco was declared a World Heritage site in 1987. This is an interesting place to spend an afternoon, enjoy a meal, and have a few drinks.
Located in the neighborhood of Polanco, Museo Soumaya is Mexico’s most visited art museum. Here, you can view work ranging from pre-Columbian sculptures to modern art. The museum operates as a non-profit and is funded by billionaire, Carlos Slim. The best part is, entrance is free.
El Angel de la Independencia
This massive monument located in downtown commemorates Mexico’s war for independence. It is located in the center of a roundabout on one of Mexico City’s busiest streets Paseo de la Reforma. Recently, El Angel has become a popular place to gather for celebrations.
I found this monument particularly impressive. It’s free to visit. To view it up close, you have to run across a very busy, multi-lane roundabout. There is no pedestrian crossing. The best way to do this is to just wait for the light to turn red and make a run for it. Traffic is always heavy here. Be careful when crossing.
Places to Watch Your Budget in Mexico City
While Mexico City is surprisingly affordable, $20 per day is not a lot to live on. There are a few areas where you’ll have to cut back in order to stay within this tight budget.
- Going out and drinking- This is where you can easily go over budget if you’re not careful. You could fairly easily spend $100 on a night at the bar without thinking and just like that, you’ve blown your budget for the next few days. To stay within budget, you must limit your drinking. I bought a few beers to enjoy with my hosts in the Airbnb and went out for a couple of drinks a couple of times. If you’re a heavy drinker, plan for a higher budget. You can buy a 6 pack of domestic beers for around 70 pesos. A single beer in a decent bar costs about the same.
- Food- To make this trip possible on $20 per day, you must prepare most of your own meals. Even street tacos add up if you eat them every day. Your goal is to spend about $5 per day on food. This is easy if you cook simple, low-cost meals. Of course, you’ll want to enjoy some authentic Mexican food too. Expect to spend around $5 for a couple of tacos and a soda at a roadside taco stand.
- Sightseeing- Our $20 per day budget is a bit limiting. Pick and choose the sites that you don’t want to miss and see them first. If you have room left in your budget, you can enjoy some of the less important sites. Of course, if you’re staying long term like a month or more, you can see pretty much all of the city’s sites on this budget.
- Transportation- On this budget, your only options are the metro and walking. Luckily Mexico City metro tickets only cost 5 pesos one way. Taxis and Uber are fairly affordable but you’ll have to limit their use if you want to stay within budget.
- Scams- As with any big city, you have to keep an eye out for scams. While unlikely, falling for a scam could break your budget pretty quickly. For a list of scams to look out for, check out my guide: 19 Common Travel Scams and How They Work and How to Avoid Them.
For more helpful budgeting tips, check out my Guide to Ultra Low Budget Travel on $10 Per Day.
Mexico City Budget Breakdown: Where your $20 Per Day Goes
As discussed above, your main expenses for this trip are the flight, food, accommodation, and entertainment. On this budget, you can splurge in one category. For example, if you don’t like to cook, you can put a larger portion of your budget toward food and eat out most meals while cutting back on everything else. If you want to see every single tourist site in the city, you could put $200 toward your entertainment budget and cut back everywhere else.
- Flight- You want to get this as cheap as possible. Budget airlines are all more or less the same quality-wise so you’re not gaining anything by buying a more expensive flight. If you shop around a bit, you can fly to Mexico for $120 or less round trip.
- Accommodation- On a tight budget, it is possible to find a room or a bed in a hostel dorm or Airbnb for $50 per week. More options are available in the $75 range. To stay on budget, you don’t want to go over about $75 per week on accommodation.
- Food- If you’re willing to cook, you can eat a healthy and filling diet on $5 per day. Probably less if you’re frugal. This doesn’t allow for much eating out though. While in Mexico, you want to enjoy the food. It’s world-class. I recommend budgeting about $40 per week for food. This way, you can enjoy the occasional street meal as well as a restaurant or two.
- Sightseeing- You can see all of the main sites in the city for around $50. This covers transport and entry fees. This includes Teotihuacan, El Museo de Antropologia, El Palacio de Bellas Artes, Chapultepec Castle, The Frida Kahlo Museum, and your choice of a couple more sites.
- Going out- This is the one place where your $20 per day won’t cover very much. If you shift your budget a bit, you could probably afford a couple of modest nights out. A beer costs $3-$6 depending on where in the city you go. On my trip, I really didn’t do any going out.
If you add up your Mexico City budget, you get:
$120 (flight) + $250 (accommodation) + $150 (food) + $50 (sightseeing) = $570 for a month
$570/30days= $19 per day
As you can see, it’s entirely possible to spend a month exploring and enjoying Mexico City for less than $20 per day including your flight. I do recognize that most people don’t live in Southern California so there will be an additional cost either in flying from where you are or visiting Tijuana for a cheap flight.
My Month in Mexico City Budget
- Flight- Tijuana to Mexico City for $120 on VivaAerobus
- Accommodation- $100 for a shared room near Poblado
- Food- $120
- Sightseeing- Around $50.
- Going out- About $40
As you can see, I came in considerably under budget. Mostly because I got lucky and found a really cheap place to stay for the month. I also spent a lot of time doing free things like walking around Chapultepec and just wandering around downtown.
Final Thoughts on Traveling to Mexico City for less than $20 Per Day
At the time that I made this trip, I was feeling kind of burned out from work and needed a break. I was looking for the cheapest flight to somewhere that I hadn’t been before and stumbled on Mexico City. I had always wanted to visit so I booked the ticket and went last minute. My goal for the trip was to spend as little money as possible while still enjoying the city. I feel that I achieved that goal.
This trip was different than other trips I’ve done. While traveling, I usually only spend 3-4 days in each destination then move on. While this gives me plenty of time to see the top sites, it’s not really enough to really get to know a place. Mexico City is a fascinating city to explore. It’s incredibly varied and diverse. It’s the kind of place that would take a lifetime to really get to know. I do feel that I got a pretty good taste after a month in the city
This trip has inspired me to travel slower and spend more time in certain destinations. I really like this one month one city mode of travel and plan to do more trips like this one in the future. I’m a fan of big cities. Something about the atmosphere is just impressive and exciting. Some cities that I’m considering spending a month in next are Nairobi, Manila, Kyiv, Buenos Aires, Bangkok, or Dakar.
Where would be your top destination to spend a month? Share your ideas in the comments below!
For more budgeting help, check out my guide: How to Make an Accurate Budget for Long Term Travel.
More Mexico Articles from Where The Road Forks
- Do I Need a Visa to Visit Mexico? The FMM Visitors Permit Explained
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- Living in Mexico: Pros and Cons After 1 Year as an Expat
- Travel Money Tips: Banking, Saving, and Avoiding Scams
- Healthcare in Mexico for Americans: Visiting a Clinic, Going to the Dentist, and Buying Prescriptions
- 25 Mexico Travel Tips