Cancun on a Budget

January 1, 1970

by Tahnee Shanks

 Cancun, Mexico, Quintana Roo.

I have currently been living in Cancun for over a year now and still to this day it takes my breathe away from its mesmerising crystal clear waters to its beautiful white sandy beaches. Im sure you’ve all seen the Corona comercials on t.v. the beautiful women drinking beer on the beach with the palm trees in the background. Seems like a dream, Right? Well, Its my reality! I fell in love with not only Cancun but the entire state of Quintana Roo. I was only meant to stay for a few days and that was over a year ago. The reason being is it has such a diversity of different things that can be enjoyed by all travellers younge and old from snorkeling on the reef, hiking up mayan pyramids to swimming in cenotes (underground rivers).
The mayan culture is one of the most fascinating and historical, its is one of the oldest recorded. Did you know? They were the first to be able to read the astrology and astronomy of the stars and they even have their own Mayan calender. They were one of the first known civilisations to perform open heart surgery. They also performed their own sacred sacrificial  rituals to their gods such as the virgin sacrifices and played tradition ball games where decapitation was the reward to the winning team. What is really unbelievable is how they managed to build these immaculate pyramids without the use of modern machinery, when you see it yourself you will be amazed and impressed.

Cancun is so much more than what some people believe it to be ” The Party Capital” of Central America, attracting mass amounts of young travellers here for nothing more than to drink, party and go wild, which is the case during the month of March (Spring break) and possibly December (new years). So if this is really something you would like to avoid, I recommend not to travel during these months. If your not that interested in the big city then the Rivieria Maya is very accomadating for nature lovers and the more sechulded traveler. It is a long strip of coastland that runs from Cancun all they way down to Tulum, emerged amongst inlets, beaches and rivers of the jungle.

Arriving by Plane

Once you have finnished all the “fun” at the airport, go outside of the terminal once you are out the front ask someone or look for a sign that says (ADO bus – Cancun) becareful there is also an (ADO – Playa del carmen) right next to it so make sure your in the right line. It will cost roughly $60 pesos per person, It will take you directly to downtown Cancun at the main bus terminal. ( all buses and combis departing from Cancun will leave from this terminal).

Arriving by Bus

 Great!! you’ve already saved some money!! Now the ADO has free WIFI so easy enough to find the direction of your accomadation. There are lots of hostels near the centre of town so you will not be walking more than 5 to 20 mins and that will be only if your stopping and asking for prices. Most are between $150 to $300 pesos per person per night, depending on your preference, if you pay more most places include a basic breakfast, air con and shared or private rooms. If you don’t really care and are looking for the most basic accomadation. “Hostel Kankun” charges between $90 and $120 per night, unless you want to stay for a longer period of time, they charged me $70 pesos per night that was based on a minimum of 8 days. It is by far the cheapest accomadation in town unless you are couch surfing, which is another option.


Getting Around

To make things easy, Lets split Cancun into 2 areas! The hotel zone and downtown.  There are regular buses that go from downtown to the hotel zone, (where the beaches and tourists are) does not matter which side of town you are in all buses with the number 1 and 2 all go to the hotel zone you will pay $10.50 pesos. ( if you pay in u.s dollars you will not get change) be careful the bus drivers will not tell you! For all other buses and combis travelling throughout the city it will only cost $8 pesos. Note: there will many locals hustling on the buses for money some play music, sell food or even people dressed in costumes none the less it can make the bus ride more enjoyable or less which ever your preference.

My favourite beaches would be a choice from Playa Delfines ( away from the hotels, has palapas for shade, tourist beach with a cancun sign overlooking the water so pictures area must), Playa Forum ( In the heart of the city, near lots of shops and bars.) And Playa Tortugas (Locals beach with bungee jumping and boat access to the isla mujeres). Cancun has over 18 miles of beaches so you will have many to choose from while on vacation, Just ask the bus driver and he will call out your destination upon arrival. What’s unique about the beaches in mexico you will always find locals selling food, jewellery, souvenirs and even doughnuts on the beach for a low cost.

Cancun’s Nightlife

The nightlife is pretty impressive however can break the bank, Coco Bingo is a crowd favourite with live shows and Skitz through out the night such as The Mask, Cher, Queen, Michael Jackson and even Spiderman makes an appearance through out the night, you can get pictures with these impersonators for tips as they will be standing on each street corner around the clubs. The entrance is around $100 USD but it is all inclusive and a night full of fun. Mandela is a bar right in front of the beach offering live d.j’s, a swimming pool and beach beds that can be enjoyed all day and night. Most clubs will have a cover charge but usually they will offer some sort of drinks package with the fee. If partying is not something your into I recommend even for one night take a walk through the main street after dark, its very entertaining with live shows, performers, artist and musicians so its definitely worth experiencing. The cancun skyline is amazing sitting on the beach under the stars or perhaps check it out in  the 360 degree scenic tower near the bridge.


 Downtown is quite fun especially at the local places, if you want to experience a real Mexican shopping market there are a couple different options: “Mercado Venty – ocho” (Mercado 28)  has over 500 mini stores selling things from traditional Mexican souvenirs, clothing, tequila, sombreros, local cuisine just to name a few. It can get a little overwhelming after a while as every person will me calling out to you to visit there store especially if they see your a tourist, but you can definitely practice your haggling skills. TIP: buses will try to drop you off at a big pink building with “Plaza 28” on the front, its more of a tourist trap as it sells the same kinda stuff for more money so do be careful with this. “Mercado venty-tres (Mercado 23)  is a mini version of Mercado 28 except with alot less tourists, better if you want to shop with the locals. The “Crucero” is a corner on Lopez portillo one of the main streets in Cancun, route 1 bus will stop here. If you cross the street heading towards the shopping mall you will be walking alongside many local shops where you can find all different kind of souvenirs and cheap electronics from dvds, phones, tablets, computers, games and many different accesories. Every Saturday night and Sunday morning the locals have a  market called “Tiangues” where you can buy really cheap things such as imported clothing, craft stalls and food stands, you will not find many tourists here and it is just an experience in its self shopping with all the locals.

Local Food, Cheap Restaurants and Bars

If your staying around hostel Kankun then I assume your looking for really cheap local food, there is a place 2 blocks away called ” Las Palapas” it is where all the locals eat, they have live entertainment most nights, you can buy tacos, tortas, quesadillas, burritos, sopas. whatever local food you want you will find here, prices range from 15 to 60 pesos depending on how big the meal is ( trust me there huge).

Now if you want to try eating at a local taco stand just to get the full Mexican experience. Beware: You need to have a strong stomach take into consideration that the hygiene is definitely not up to the standards we are used back home. Dont pay anything under 12 Pesos for taco (as it may not be proper meat) if you do, take the test!  feed it to a street dog first, if they don’t eat it you then  know its bad! now with all that being said the tacos and tortas can be very tasty however its the aftermath that will be the problem!! Learn some basic Spanish “Donde esta el baño?” (Where is the toilet?) You will use this phrase a lot.

There are cheap and tasty restaraunts every where and the waiters will see you, before you see them, hustling all the tourists trying to get them to sit down at their tables and eat as you walking by. pretty much everywhere you can get a decent sized meal and a couple of beers for around $300 pesos and thats pushing it. Check out some local bars downtown such as  “Route 666” which is a bikers bar with live bands daily and a nice outdoor area, “Chiwas” is a restaurant / bar that offers 2 for 1 on beers and if it’s your birthday they’ll give you a free bottle as long as 5 people are with you and someone buys at least one meals. “Bichos” has pool tables and fooseball and offers 5 litre jugs with a plate of nachos for only $250 pesos.

Travelling out of Cancun

Depart from the ADO station, all buses will be more expensive than combi vans. When paying for you ticket tell the driver where your going, try to have the exact amount as they sometimes dont have change, otherwise they will charge the whole fair to the end of the line, when you may only be going half the distance.

Playa del Carmen: 1 hr 15 min, $34 pesos – combi / $55 pesos – bus
Tulum: 2.5 hrs, $70 pesos total – combi ( change at playa del Carmen )- direct bus $105 approx.
Isla Holbox – 3.5 hrs only 3 buses a day –  $ 115 pesos approx
Chitenitza – 3hr 15min, regular daily buses approx $90 pesos
Merida – 6 hrs – regular daily buses $280 pesos approx
Chetumal / Belize – 8 hrs, daily buses to border $300 pesos approx.

DIY Tours

The easiest and best way to find cheap tours is to shop around and ask the locals, preferably not the ones that work behind the the tour desks.To help save you money on tours, I’ve put together a list of things to help you budget and still be able to explor the same tourist areas for less!

  • Make your own way there – walk, pay for local combis and buses or even hitch hike.
  • If you a forced to take a taxi – share it with other travellers and split the cost.
    ( haggle with the drivers they will try to charge per person)
  • Pack a lunch – have extra water, fruits and something to eat because generally food is expensive at the tourist spots. Shop at local stores to get the best quality and price.
  • Dont forget sunscreen and bug spray if required. Buying it there will put you out of pocket.
  • Only pay entrance fee – say no to tours, generally you can find the information out by asking or listening in on other tour groups, there are usually alot depending how popular the place is.
  • Walk! Explor! Discover a place in your own way,you will appreciate it more and have amazing memories and stories that will last a lifetime.


All prices are what I have paid – they may change – haggling skills will help / don’t buy tours in town pay when you get there for cheaper prices.

  • Chiten Itza: $60 pesos entrance – tour $250 pesos includes meal and cenote entrance.
  • Tulum pyramids: $60 pesos entrance – including snorkeling tour $250 pesos
  • Coba: $50 pesos entrance – this is the only one you can hike up to the top of, the view is amazing.
  • Isla Holbox : swimming with whale sharks tour between March and September $1300 pesos all day include meal, equipment and snorkeling  tour.
  • Isla Mujeres day trip: $127 return trip for ferry, tour the island – hire a golf buggy $500 pesos till 6 pm can fit 4 to 5 people. Scooter rental $400  pesos 24 hrs 2 people. cheap food and drinks $500 pesos approximatly for the day for 2 people depending on your budget. take a camera and swimwear.

So this is just a little something I’ve put together based on my experience , to help make your arrival to Cancun as easy and stress free as possible, I hope you enjoyed my blog and stay tuned for more Travel Tips, Tricks and Local Treats.

Bienvenidos a Mexico!!


Tahnee Shanks

By Tahnee Shanks

I am a beginner Freelance writer, Aussie world traveller, vegetarian and animal lover, roaming free across the globe one country at a time. Back in Australia I was an assistant nurse looking after the elderly, it was such a rewarding career however I still felt there was something missing. The travel bug bit me in 2010 taking me on my first 18 month journey through Asia and parts of Europe volunteering and couch surfing my way across the country before returning back home where I saved for 2 yrs. My 2nd round the world trip took me to the Americas! so far I have been to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, the U.S and now Mexico. Cancun has been my home for over a year, i fell in love and am soon to start a family. Although I have future plans for a family the travel bug is not letting go any time soon.


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