Your Backpacking Mexico Itinerary: Best Places for Backpacking in Mexico

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Backpacking in Mexico: if you’re looking for a backpacking Mexico itinerary, then let us help. After five years on the road, our travel in Mexico has been some of the most fun and fascinating we’ve had. And safe. Yes, backpacking in Mexico is safe and easy in most of the country— with kids, with friends, or on your own. Really! If you’re looking for some places to start your backpacking Mexico travel itinerary, let us help you get started.

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Your Backpacking Mexico Itinerary

After nearly two years in Mexico, we’re starting to realize that we’re just scratching the surface of this country. There are so many more Mexican travel opportunities this country has to offer. In this post, I’m going to detail some of the best places to travel in Mexico and some Mexico travel tips. Whether you’re backpacking Mexico, on a Mexico road trip or looking for something more luxurious, you will find some great Mexico travel tips here. Let’s get started.

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Why Backpacking in Mexico?

_chichen itza. Backpacking in the Yucatan peninsula

First, let’s answer the question: why should you consider backpacking in Mexico? What makes travel in Mexico special? There are many reasons. Whether you’re traveling with a backpack and a budget or a suitcase and a credit card — I think you should consider a Mexico travel itinerary.

Mexico Travel is For EVERYONE

I often write about Mexico travel from a family travel perspective, because that’s what I do now, mostly. But before marriage and family, my wife and I were backpackers, too. We still are. And nearly everything I recommend on this blog is the same things that I would recommend to gap-year travelers, luxury travelers and family travelers alike.

Our kids do nearly everything with us. Whether it’s canyoning in Spain or wandering the streets of Kyoto. Whether it’s scuba diving in Borneo or staying in luxury villas in Indonesia. Our family enjoys it all. With that in mind, when I write about exploring Mexico, I am certain that no matter what your travel style, you will find something for you here. Luxury travel in Mexico. Shoestring budget travel in Mexico. Long-term travel or two weeks in Mexico, it’s here if you want it.

We’ve lived for long periods in Japan, Malaysia, and Spain, and have traveled in even more countries. Yet Mexico is one of the best places we’ve traveled yet. Let me explain why backpacking Mexico is such a great option.

Great Food, Wonderful People, Amazing Culture

_tostada 3 Eat Mexico Culinary Tours: Mexico City Walking Tours for Foodies

Any discussion about backpacking Mexico should start with these three. Firstly, backpacking Mexico allows you to do a deep-dive into its delectable culinary past, present, and future. From street food to traditional mesoamerican dishes to Michelin stars, Mexico has a unique food scene that could take a lifetime to fully digest.

The people we’ve met along during our travel in Mexico have also made a huge impact on our stay. Unfortunately, the press in the United States and other countries often paint the entire nation of Mexico as criminals. I cannot stress enough just how false this is. In general, Mexican people are warm, humble and friendly. Sure, like any decent traveler, you need to use street smarts in large urban areas like when backpacking Mexico City or in tourist towns like Cancun. But the further you get from these places, the more mellow and welcoming it gets.

Backpacking Mexico also provides amazing cultural opportunities. Whether it’s exploring the hundreds of museums and galleries of Mexico City or watching an ancient Mayan sport come to life, backpacking Mexico opens doors to a remarkably rich and diverse culture.

Mexico is HUGE and Geographically Diverse

I remember the first few times that I visited Mexico. For some reason, I thought the entire country looked like a roadrunner cartoon. You know what I mean: red cliffs, tumbleweeds, and cacti. Maybe a rattlesnake here and there.

I was wrong.

Sure, a lot of the area near the US/Mexico border is sand and scrub brush. However, Mexico is a HUGE place. In fact, you can fit much of Europe — and then some — inside its borders. You have amazing beaches and wildlife on the Oaxacan coast. Then you have the cultured high-altitude interior of the country like Guanajuato City.

Altitude plays a large role here, really. For example, almost the entire Yucatan Peninsula is at sea level. Its crystal-blue waters can be enjoyed almost year-round. In contrast, I started writing this post on a crisp July evening in San Miguel de Allende (a.k.a. SMA). Here in SMA, we’re around 300 meters higher than Denver, the “mile-high city.” Mexico City, the country’s capital, is even higher. Don’t show up here in December in shorts and flip-flops.

The forests and waterfalls that I saw in parts of Veracruz look like something out of Lord of the Rings. Then in the Yucatan Peninsula, there are white-sand beaches and luxury resorts. A short drive away are caves and underground pools that look straight out of Indiana Jones. Head to the high desert of Guanajuato, and you ride horses through canyons that look like Arizona. Once you start backpacking Mexico, you’ll never run out of new places to discover.

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It’s Culturally Diverse

_mexican culture dresses mexican festivals.

Backpack through Mexico and you will find a wide variety of people and cultures. For example, did you know that there are around 68 languages and 350 dialects spoken in Mexico? There are 16 unique languages spoken in Oaxaca alone!

Further, each region of Mexico has its own customs, music, clothing, and cuisine. For example, in the Yucatan Peninsula, you will meet the descendants of the Mayan empire. Spanish is their second language. Their first language? Mayan, of course. This cultural heritage also manifests itself in the food, the clothing and more. Even the sports they play!

It’s Great Value for Money

Debating between backpacking Mexico or backpacking Europe? Your dollars, euros, and yen will go much further backpacking in Mexico than in, say, Paris, Rome, or Ibiza.

Sure, if you’re on a shoestring, you can still do budget backpacking in Mexico. Yet for many of you, there may be opportunities to stay in a nicer place and/or eat a nicer meal if backpacking in Mexico rather than Singapore or Switzerland. Backpacking Mexico may leave some financial space even take an extra food tour, book an extra cooking class or some other creative experience.

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Is Mexico Safe? Is Backpacking in Mexico Safe?

_flower seller is mexico safe?

Why should you consider backpacking Mexico at all? Isn’t Mexico just one big hellhole run by drug cartels? The news tells me it’s nothing but murder and mayhem down there, right?


Yes, Mexico the country has some serious problems. As do many countries. There are drugs and crime in Mexico. True. But here’s the thing: it’s not everywhere. In fact, the crime rate in many of the places I recommend may be lower than in your hometown. Seriously. If you don’t believe me, simply Google something like “crime rate in Mexico vs the USA” and see for yourself. The rates are always fluctuating, so I hesitate to link to a specific source at the moment, but just look for yourself.  Many other American cities — including my hometown of Atlanta — have double the homicide rate of Mexico City.

Mexico isn’t Perfect

To be clear, there is terrible crime happening in Mexico. There is poverty. There are drug cartels and very dangerous places in Mexico. But guess what? You’re not going to visit those places. I am not leading you to those small patches of the country that are truly dangerous for travelers like you and me. And keep in mind that most of the violence is cartel-related. It is gangsters killing gangsters far from populated areas. Is Mexico safe? Relatively, yes. 

Most of Mexico is safe, but there are places I wouldn’t go. Most of the United States is “safe” but there are places I wouldn’t go. If there was a shooting in New Orleans, would you tell people not to go to the USA? Or not to go to New Orleans? At all? Ever?

Look, I travel with a teen boy and a tween girl. In places like Merida and San Miguel de Allende, I let the boy hang out with his friends until midnight or after on the weekends. And he often walks home. In places like Playa del Carmen and Mexico City, my daughter and I go out for dinner at 10 pm…and I’m not worried for my life.

Seriously, Mexico is safer than the media make it out to be.

But of course, we urge you to use caution and watch yourself whenever you’re traveling anywhere. You should have travel insurance, and you should follow the basic rules of travel safety.

Why Buy Travel Insurance  Here’s Why

Our 14 Tips for Choosing Travel Insurance  

Getting Around Mexico: Backpacking in Mexico Itinerary

getting around mexico.

When backpacking through Mexico, you will have lots of transportation to choose from. Which is best for you depends on where you are. Backpacking Mexico offers a variety of methods for getting around. here’s our take on it.


If you want to cover long distances while backpacking Mexico, then you’ll either shell out for smaller flights or you’ll be taking buses. We recommend the buses. Many of the major bus companies in Mexico have clean, modern vehicles with large comfortable seats. Buying tickets is easy and getting from place to place is safe and comfortable.

City Buses

We’ve taken local city buses in Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico City, Merida and various other places in the Yucatan Peninsula. These are safe and much cheaper than a taxi. That said, in general, I do not recommend taking public buses late at night.

When using municipal buses, major stops on that bus’s route will be written on the windshield. It could take the form of a supermarket, landmark or specific area of town. Therefore, if you know that your guesthouse in near one of these places, then you can jump on. Sometimes, you can simply wave down the bus and ask the driver directly.

City-to-City Buses

_Bus Interior personal movie screens. From Mexico City to San Miguel de Allende

When backpacking in Guanajuato State or from Mexico City, we recommend using ETN and Primera Plus. Both are luxury liners and feel more like boarding a plane. For example, there are reclining seats, personal video screens, and USB charging stations (also metal detectors before boarding in major cities). The only difference? These seats really recline and are much more spacious and comfortable.

For the Yucatan, we used the ADO bus company. The ADO buses we took were less luxurious but clean and professional. They did not have personal screens. Instead, they had 3-4 screens on each side of the bus playing a movie — often loud and always in Spanish of course. This is playing whether you like it or not. If you want to block this out to rest or concentrate, bring an eye mask, earplugs, headphones or whatever you need.


Like AirAsia in the Southeast Asian Region, Mexico has its own LCC (Low-cost Carriers). The tickets are often much cheaper than major airlines, but keep in mind that they are no frills. More importantly, they often also charge for every little thing. Unless you’re backpacking Mexico with a carry-on only, then expect the ticket price to increase.

That said, out of all the Mexico LCC we have used, we have had very good experiences so far with InterJet. Look it up if you’re interested and you’ll see what I mean. InterJet generally costs a little more than the other LCCs, but often much less than the main carriers. That said, for the right price (and when I travel carry-on only), I’ll take just about any airline.

Taxis, Collectivos, and Rideshare Apps

colectivo. Best Things to Do in Playa del Carmen Mexico

In many parts of Mexico, getting a ride is fairly easy if you’re in a populated area. Here are a few tips for finding a ride when planning your backpacking Mexico itinerary.


Taxis in smaller towns like Guanajuato City, San Miguel de Allende, and Puerto Escondido are fairly easy. You can ask a shop or restaurant to call one for you, or just wave them down on the street. Cities of this size usually have a fixed price if it’s within the city limits. For example, at the time of writing, a taxi in any of the three cities mentioned above is going to be around 40 to 70 pesos (USD $2 to $3.50). And that’s if you’re going down the street or across town.

Taxis in the Yucatan can be trickier. For example, Merida is a relatively large city (over 1 million people), so rates fluctuate. Places like Cancun and Playa del Carmen are tourist towns so there will always be a driver out there ready to take advantage of you. Don’t do it. Make sure the meter’s running or you’ve agreed on a price before you get in. It’s always important to confirm the fare before you get in. Always. And if the rate sounds like too much, smile, say “no gracias,” and walk on.

Taxis in Mexico City

Taxis in Mexico City are also fairly good and professional in our experience. That said, we recommend that you never hail one off the street. Have a hotel, restaurant or shop call one for you. There are some opportunists out there driving taxis in Mexico City who may not be who they say they are. By having someone call a taxi, they will be registered and official drivers.

There have been a few times over the years where Keiko and/or I have been in a shady taxi situation. It hasn’t happened while traveling in Mexico yet. That said, there have been a few rides in Vietnam and Indonesia where I used my phone as a safety backup.

Let me explain. Before I get in the taxi, I go around the back of the car and snap a shot of the license tag. Then maybe even a shot of his ID if it’s in the window and isn’t too intrusive. I want him to see me do this. The next thing I do is call someone (or fake like I’m calling). Now the driver thinks that someone’s expecting me. This is not really necessary in most situations. Especially if you’re getting in official cabs at the airport or at a bus terminal. But if you ever feel the need, then that’s how I do it.


A colectivo is basically a shared taxi that usually takes the form of a minivan. Colectivos can be much cheaper than a taxi. We used colectivos in the Yucatan a lot, and occasionally in Oaxaca. In fact, one colectivo in Puerto Escondido took us straight to our favorite hotel from the airport. Often a colectivo’s destinations on the driver’s route in the window.

Ride-Sharing Apps in Mexico

Many people backpacking through Mexico want to know if they can use Uber. The answer is yes and no. The use and legality of ride-sharing apps in Mexico is presently in flux, and each part of the country is different. For example, when we were in Merida, both Uber and local ride-sharing app Cabify worked well, whereas in Playa del Carmen, neither did.

We’ve used Uber a lot in San Miguel de Allende and Mexico City, but with differing results. In San Miguel de Allende, there just aren’t enough cars so it can take a while for one to show up. In contrast, we’ve had great results using Uber when backpacking Mexico City. There are loads of cars, so the wait isn’t long, and every driver we’ve had was prompt and professional.

People have different opinions on Uber and other ride-sharing apps for travel. Therefore, I should say that I am no expert and you must use your own judgment when using ride-share apps when backpacking in Mexico.

Best Places for a Backpacking Mexico Itinerary

Things to Do in San Miguel de Allende with Kids - Mexico Family Travel

Ok, enough with the overview, now let’s get into the specifics. Here are some of the best places for a backpacking Mexico itinerary. These are just a few, of course. If you’re really considering backpacking through Mexico or any other Mexico travel, these are a good start but not the only great Mexico destinations. I’m sure that I can add much more to this list, and if you’ve backpacked in Mexico and have suggestions, let me know in the comments.

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If you’re backpacking in Mexico and looking for food, culture, and diversity, then look no further than Oaxaca State. The state of Oaxaca (pronounced “Wah-Ha-Kah”) has a little of everything. Oaxaca City has beautiful buildings, exceptional food & cafes and a thriving art scene. In the south, you have incredible beaches, vibrant wildlife opportunities, and a laid-back surfer vibe.

Oaxaca City

Known for its culinary and artistic sensibilities, Oaxaca city is for those backpacking Mexico in search of culture. Cafes and galleries are found in abundance here. Not far away you have impressive Mesoamerican ruins and a petrified waterfall (yes, you read that right)

Puerto Escondido / Zicatela / Zipolite

Things to Do in Puerto Escondido — Fun Things to Do in Oaxaca, Mexico Turtle release Turtle sanctuary

One of our favorite places in Mexico is Puerto Escondido, a small and sleepy town on the Oaxacan coast. The beaches are beautiful and feel fairly local. A short walk/drive away are the beaches of Playa Zicatela, where you’ll find surfing and sea turtles. Drive 90 minutes west and you’ll enter Playa Zipolite and Mazunte.

These sleepy towns definitely lean hard on their hippie/surfer-dude roots. Yet the town has a range of accommodation and some damn fine restaurants, too. One of our favorite things to do here was releasing baby sea turtles into the ocean. The lagoons here are full of sea life and wildlife as well. There are even some great chances to swim with bioluminescence if that’s your thing.

Please note: Oaxaca City and Puerto Escondido are separated by a very long, very hilly and very curvy two-lane road. We have never ridden this road because everyone we know who has said it was awful. Slow, steep, dangerous and motion-sickness-inducing-kind of awful. The flight (small planes) take a little over an hour. The car/bus ride can be between 6 to 10 hours. Just sayin’. Put Puerto Escondido on your Mexico itinerary, but consider flying to get there. 

GUANAJUATO (San Miguel de Allende & Guanajuato City)

Things to Do in San Miguel de Allende with Kids - Mexico Family Travel

Close to the geographical center of the country, the state of Guanajuato is an amazing place to explore. So much so that we’ve spent close to nearly a year and a half here and are considering more. Home to two UNESCO Heritage Sites (both Guanajuato City and San Miguel) you can expect history and beauty to merge in both.A must for your Mexico itinerary.

You’re far from the waves in Guanajuato. This is technically high dessert: it rarely rains except for around 4-5 weeks around June. And at around 2,000 meters above sea level — over 250 meters higher than Denver — the weather is nice and sunny all year long. The culture, history and picturesque quality of the region make it a must for anyone backpacking in Mexico.

Guanajuato City

guanajuato Things to Do in Guanajuato City - Guanajuato Mexico Travel Tips

The pride of early Spanish colonists, Guanajuato City was once the largest exporter of silver in the world. Much of that silver helped build the town into the beautiful UNESCO Heritage City it is today. The cobblestone streets and sidewalk cafes look straight out of Spain or Italy. Yet one look up the hillsides at the multicolor houses reminds you that you’re in Latin America.

This is Diego Rivera’s hometown. It’s also a college town. These two aspects help inform the youthful and artistic energy you feel here. A must on your Mexico itinerary for romantics and fans of the movie “Coco,” (Pixar came here for inspiration.)

San Miguel de Allende

Things to Do in San Miguel de Allende with Kids - Mexico Family Travel

Voted “best small city in the world” two years in a row, San Miguel de Allende (a.k.a. SMA) is another UNESCO town with loads of fun and potential in store. SMA has long been home to snowbirds and other aging expats, and for good reason. The weather and the city itself are beautiful year-round. The wealth of restaurants, cafes and activities are hard to match. In addition, the local festivals are some of the most frequent and interesting I’ve ever seen.

MEXICO CITY_Museo Jumex Soumaya Museum Things to Do in Mexico City with Kids — Mexico City Travel Blog

If you’re backpacking in Mexico, you definitely cannot forget the capital. Huge, historic and dynamic, Mexico City is one of the most interesting metropolises in the world. No matter what you travel for — food, art, history, nightlife, architecture, music. etc — backpacking in Mexico City will have something for you.

There are around 150 museums sprinkled across the city. Mexico City also has the largest (and arguably one of the most beautiful and enjoyable) city parks in the world. There are stunning buildings and amazing street food. There are Aztec ruins and cutting-edge contemporary art galleries.

Some of my favorite parts of the city are the tree-lined avenues of the Roma, Condesa, and Juarez neighborhoods. Here you’ll find great cafes, restaurants and ice cream parlors, with plenty of hipster shops along the way. Super safe, super cool areas. Whether you’re backpacking Mexico City for two weeks or two months, give yourself some time here.

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Things to Do in Merida with Kids (or Without Them) governor's palace

When it comes to backpacking around Mexico, many would say that I’ve saved the best for last. Out of all the places for backpacking in Mexico, I’d probably recommend backpacking in the Yucatan Peninsula first.

First of all, it’s one of the closest places for many North Americans (at least east-coasters) to reach. Same for Europeans. Secondly, the Yucatan Peninsula is one of the safest places in Mexico. In fact, the Yucatan is safer than most of the United States. Don’t believe me? Look it up, and skip right by any negative articles you see on fancy Cancun resorts because we’re not going there. It’s also the easiest to navigate by rental car.

If you’re thinking of a Mexico road trip, then this is a great place for it. The roads are flat and (fairly) well-marked. Just look out for speed bumps. They are everywhere in cities and towns. Even on long, open straightaway roads between cities, speedbumps show up just as you’re entering and exiting small towns. Sometimes unpainted or poorly marked. We love driving in Mexico and Mexico road trips, but we have two rules for driving in Mexico:

  • Don’t drive long distances at night (hard to see potholes and farm animals that wander onto the road), and
  • Watch out for unmarked speed bumps (they’ll destroy your car’s suspension)

The Yucatan offers some amazing things for anyone backpacking in Mexico. What does it offer? Here are just a few:

Mayan Ruins and Museums


The Mayan empire included most of the Yucatan Peninsula. It also included parts of Belize and Guatemala. Some of the most impressive Mayan ruins in Mexico (and in the world) are right here in the Yucatan Peninsula. If you’re backpacking in Mexico, then make sure to spend some time learning about the Mayan empire and its influence.

Chichen Itza is the most famous of the lot. And it is amazing — but there are loads of other great Mayan ruins in the Yucatan to add to your Mexico itinerary. And they’re not that hard to reach using tours, public buses or car rental. Our personal favorite Mayan ruins in Mexico are at Uxmal. There are fewer people and you can still climb the pyramid. Also, there’s a pretty interesting Chocolate Museum across the road.

Speaking of Museums, head to Merida, the cultural capital of the Yucatan. Backpacking Mexico and looking to learn about the Mayan Empire? One of the best Mayan museum in the world on the subject is here.

Charming Colonial Towns & Haciendas

valladolid. Best Things to Do in Playa del Carmen Mexico

If you’re backpacking through the Yucatan, then chill in its lovely Spanish colonial towns. Sleepy little Izamal is painted completely yellow and white. For many backpacking in Mexico, the town of Valladolid is just a place on the way to the Chichen Itza Mayan ruins. But it’s much more. There are great places to eat, colorful avenues and lovely zocalo (city square). There’s even a cenote (freshwater pool, more on these later) right in the middle of town. Add some time in your Mexico itinerary to wander around Valladolid before or after you visit Chichen Itza.

Of course, our favorite colonial town in the Yucatan is Merida. This is the cultural capital of the Yucatan, and it’s much larger than Izamal or Valladolid. There are fancy malls and gentrified areas for when you’re in need of a decent coffee, a massive supermarket or a movie theater. Yet the downtown area of Merida retains its magical colonial charm. Merida has loads of cultural events year-round. So no matter when you’re backpacking in Mexico, you’ll find something to do.

Then there are the haciendas of the Yucatan. For over 200 years, Spanish merchants became rich in the Yucatan growing henequén, an agave plant whose fibers made early rope. In fact, the merchants and farmers called henequén”green gold.” These henequén plantation owners became ridiculously rich. Their massive estates — called haciendas — became ever more luxurious. The rope made from henequén was used on boats, buildings and everywhere else until the early 1900s. When newer, cheaper rope-making methods emerged, most haciendas went bust. Some remain ruins today. Yet many others are now refurbished as hotels, restaurants, and other beautiful event spaces.

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The Cenotes

The Best Cenotes in Mexico - Swimming in the Yucatan Peninsula

We’ve spent close to two years in different parts of Mexico. Our favorite thing to do in Mexico? Cenotes.

What’s a cenote? Cenotes are part of an underground network of freshwater rivers and swimming holes that run under the Yucatan Peninsula. Some look like extravagant pools in the tropics. Others are completely underground, surrounded by stalactites and stalagmites.

The water is clean, clear and fresh. It’s the perfect remedy for the Yucatan’s hot and humid weather. If you’re backpacking through Mexico and in the Yucatan, there will be dozens of cenotes to choose from. Maybe more, depending on how you get around. Cenotes near Playa del Carmen and Tulum can be reached by public transportation or a short taxi ride. Once you delve into the interior, hiring a car helps. However, there are still many tours that backpackers in Mexico can utilize without needing their own wheels.


Dance at Santa Lucia Things to Do in Merida with Kids (or Without Them)

Anyone backpacking the Yucatan Peninsula should consider spending time in Merida. Far from the white-sand beaches and glitzy resorts of the Riviera Maya, Merida moves at its own pace. It is the cultural heart of the Yucatan. If you’re backpacking Mexico in search of authentic Mexican cultures, then visit Merida. And visit soon, as it’s growing (and changing) fast. We liked Merida so much that we stayed for three months.

Merida’s event calendar is full of public dance performances, traditional Mayan activities and more. There are free public events many times weekly, as well as museums and cultural centers to visit. Merida also puts you close to many incredible cenotes and our favorite Mayan ruins in Mexico.

Anyone backpacking in the Yucatan needs to take the weather into consideration. From June to September, the heat and humidity levels can be too much for some travelers. For others, it just makes a dip in the cenotes that much nicer.

The Riviera Maya

_cancun riviera maya. Backpacking in Mexico. Backpacking Mexico Itinerary

The easternmost state of the Yucatan Peninsula is called Quintana Roo. This is where you will find the most beautiful beaches in Mexico, and some of the most amazing food and places to stay on the Yucatan Peninsula.

Honestly: the beaches of Quintana Roo (a.k.a. “the Riviera Maya,” the east side of the Yucatan) are some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. They’re easy to reach and offer a variety of services and accommodation for all budget levels. If you’re a beach lover and backpacking in Mexico, then you’ll definitely want to visit the Riviera Maya.


Okay, not my favorite beach town in Mexico, but it’s likely where you’ll fly in to and it’s worth a walk around. Most people backpacking in Mexico will probably head south soon after. That said, Cancun is also near the launching point for Holbox and Isla Mujeres, two charming little islands in the Gulf of Mexico. If you want a chill on a tiny island, these are for you. If you want to swim up close to whale sharks, then this is where you want on your Mexico itinerary. 

Playa del Carmen

_5th Avenue. Best Hotels in Playa del Carmen - Best Resorts in Playa del Carmen

If you’re backpacking in Mexico and looking for a party, this might be the town for you. This is where the cruise ships come in and there is plenty of partying here to accommodate those coming ashore. If that’s not your thing, don’t let it put you off the entire town. The strip is very touristy but has an energy all its own. The beaches are quite nice here, as are the restaurant options. From street tacos to fine dining, Playa del Carmen has it all.


Take a ferry from Playa del Carmen to this beautiful isle for exceptional scuba and snorkeling opportunities. Anyone backpacking Mexico who wants to experience life on the edge of the Caribbean should come here.


A good reason for backpacking through Mexico — and specifically backpacking in the Yucatan — is to interact with wildlife. Whether it’s monkeys or whale sharks, the Yucatan has many opportunities to engage with wild creatures. In Akumal, it’s sea turtles. The area is often inundated with sea turtles, and if your timing is right, then you can swim next to them.


Tulum beach white sand Tulum for Kids — Things to Do in Tulum with Kids — Mexico Family Travel

Out of all the beach towns in the Yucatan Peninsula, Tulum is becoming one of the coolest for many backpackers in Mexico. Accommodation ranges from luxury villas with infinity pools to simple huts with a hammock. Bicycles are a common way to get around, and there is plenty of white sand and azure water to soak up the sun on.

Beaches of North and West Yucatan

_flamingoes in Celestun. Backpacking Mexico Itinerary

While Quintana Roo in the east may have the whitest sand and the bluest water, the beaches of northern and western Yucatan have their own charm. For those who want to venture past the postcard shores, then read on.

Rio Lagartos

There are two main reasons to put Rio Lagartos on your Mexico itinerary, and they both share the same color: pink. For one, this is where you can see one of the highest concentrations of flamingoes in North America. Rio Lagartos is also famous for La Playa de las Coloradas, a salt lake that is vibrant pink in the sunniest part of the day. Many people backpacking in Mexico come here for Instagram potential.


This sleepy beach town gets less sleepy around sunset as cruiser tourists and locals from nearby Merida show up to drink by the sand. The beach and water here are not as pristine as those found in the east, but it’s still a great little place to chill for a day. Travelers with a tight Mexico itinerary can easily skip.


On the western side of the peninsula through a dense mangrove jungle, you’ll drive a two-lane road to the Reserva de la Biosfera Ría Celestún. Here you’ll find even more flamingoes and other wildlife. Kayaking through the biosphere is an amazing experience. So is jumping into the natural cenotes and other swimming holes in the mangrove forest.

What’s On Your Mexico Itinerary?

Backpacking Mexico is an amazing experience, but we know that there are so many other places to see and things to do. Have you backpacked in Mexico? Where? Were you with friends, with family or on your own? What tips or advice would you give to fellow backpackers and family travelers?

Further Reading:


Backpacking Mexico Itinerary Backpacking in Mexico PIN 6

Backpacking Mexico Itinerary Backpacking in Mexico PIN 4

Backpacking Mexico Itinerary Backpacking in Mexico PIN 3

Backpacking Mexico Itinerary Backpacking in Mexico PIN 2

Backpacking Mexico Itinerary Backpacking in Mexico PIN 1

Disclaimer: This backpacking Mexico travel blog post contains affiliate links. That means that if you buy something or book a hotel using one of the links here, we might get a small commission. You pay nothing extra, so don’t worry. Also, everything you see here is just my personal opinion. I only recommend places, activities, and gear that I believe will genuinely help you get more out of backpacking in Mexico. And it’s far from complete! If you have any tips for backpacking in Oaxaca, backpacking in the Yucatan, backpacking in Guanajuato or backpacking in Mexico City, please let us know! And more destinations are welcomed. Where are the best places for backpack travel in Mexico? 


  1. Came across your site tonight and have been reading for a couple of hours. Lots of good content, thank you.

    Having frequently traveled before kids, I’ve researched this kind of family lifestyle for some time but have been self-hamstrung by the golden handcuffs of a great job in a cheap city. This year I finally committed to taking our family (two kids 4/6) down to SMA later this summer for four weeks of Spanish language school and general “away from home” experience. Serendipitous that your most recent post is from that same city. Wish you the best of luck.

    • Fantastic! Congratulations. SMA is a wonderful place, and there is a great community of local/non-local families here. If interested, look for SMA-related Facebook groups for families — good info posted there regularly. And I’ll be updating the SMA post soon, as well.