Backpack Mexico in 2023 with this three week itinerary for Mexico! From the best beaches in Oaxaca to the cutest colonial towns - Including everything you need to know about buses in Mexico.
If you’re like me and you like a jam-packed schedule but you’re also travelling on a budget, this backpacking Mexico itinerary is perfect for you. If you want to keep your backpacking Mexico budget small, travelling with night buses is a great option because you get the transfer and you save one night of accommodation.
Buses are a convenient option to travel Mexico. But be warned: Distances are long and you oftentimes spend more than 10 hours on the bus travelling from one city to the next.
ADO is by far the best choice when it comes to night buses. ADO and their sister companies OCC and AU have a well-developed network. Additionally, you can find all schedules online. The seats are extremely comfortable and every bus comes with a toilet.
If you opt for the premium buses (GL or Platino), the seats will recline very far and you have a footrest. In the back of the bus, you will find a separate men’s and women’s toilet. Every passenger gets a drink and headphones.
Which brings me to the one downside of ADO bus travel: If you don’t opt for the premium buses which have plugs for headphones, you will most likely be the victim of constant noisy Mexican movies.
Don’t forget to bring earplugs and a sleeping mask! And warm clothes because the AC means serious business!
I never felt unsafe as a female solo traveller. You have to show your passport to enter the bus. A short video clip of every passenger is taken before the trip. The driver’s cabin is locked off from the main cabin so nobody can enter without effort.
The bus stations are mostly close to the centre, well lit and populated - even at night.
Concerning COVID: Every (Mexican) passenger wears their mask diligently. Sanitizer is readily available. In fact so readily that I once had to leave the bus for it to be sanitized midway.
Nowadays, you don’t have to go to the counter to buy your bus tickets. You can easily buy them online. If your foreign credit card is not accepted, you can also pay with PayPal.
Prices range from 100MXN (5$) for very short trips to 1000MXN (50$) for long overnight journeys. It’s not a bargain but it’s better for the environment than flying. Plus it’s definitely the cheaper option if you travel with luggage.
Pro tip: The earlier you book, the lower the price!
I did aim for a 30$ budget. Full disclosure: I didn’t make it. I pretty much ended up spending 40$ per day. Here’s what I paid:
As I travelled quite fast, I did some kind of activity or had some kind of transfer almost every day. That seriously raised my daily budget but on the other hand, I got to see and do a lot of things in a very short time.
Our first trip to Mexico lasted only two weeks and that was not nearly enough. So I decided to stay longer this time. Even in three weeks, you can only scratch the surface of this vast and diverse country.
The vibrant capital of Mexico has a lot to offer. Find everything from food to culture!
As you can see in our in-depth Mexico City guide, the Mexican capital really blew me away. Allow for at least four days to explore the historic centre, Roma Norte and La Condesa, Coyoacan and Xochimilco, Teotihuacan as well as the many museum and food options!
Don’t skip Oaxaca City on your way to Oaxaca’s beautiful beaches!
Oaxaca is the undisputed food capital of Mexico and rightly so. The “city of seven moles” delivered on its promise of tasty food. Spend one day wandering the colourful streets - Barrio de Jalatlaco is one of the best areas to see street art if you ask us.
In Oaxaca, you don’t need fancy restaurants - just hit the markets.
If you only do one day trip, we recommend Monte Alban. This Zapotec site is an easy bus ride away from the centre (we have indicated on the map where the bus leaves). Up on a hill, it amazes with 360° views. Additionally, it is significantly less crowded than other archaeological sites in Mexico.
Another popular day trip is Hierve el Agua. It’s best to reach it with a tour, especially if you only have a limited amount of time. The “petrified” waterfalls get mixed reviews. You can theoretically swim in them but the water is often uninviting and cold.
ADO, ADO GL, ADO Platino, and AU buses run all throughout the day and night from various bus stations in Mexico City. It’s super easy.
Puerto Escondido used to be an off-the-beaten-path hippie town. These times are over. Nowadays it’s a hub for party hungry tourists and digital nomads. And the nightlife is exactly the charm of Puerto Escondido: Don’t miss a great night out in La Punta or Zicatela. The distances in Puerto Escondido are quite long so it’s often better to take a colectivo during the day and a taxi at night.
Of course, you can hit the beach during the day but with its strong waves and currents, it’s not really swimmable.
Famous activities in the area are the Baby Turtle Release Centre at Playa Bacocho, bioluminescence tours at Laguna Manialtepec, as well as whale and dolphin watching tours.
As of 2022, one ADO GL and one OCC night bus leave from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido. The price difference is minimal so you might as well treat yourself for the over 10-hour long trip.
Mazunte has preserved a lot of Puerto Escondido’s former hippie charm. The sea is swimmable here but the nightlife is not as ample.
Besides hitting the beach, the only “real” activity in town is hiking to Punta Cometa for sunset. Additionally, you can try many things like yoga, meditation, or ecstatic dance. My highlight of the trip was the Temazcal ritual, especially as I didn’t make it to mushroom capital San Jose Del Pacifico...
As this is not a night bus trip you will arrive on the same day you left. First, you have to take the local bus to the spot indicated on the map. From there, you can take a colectivo to Mazunte. Buses in the direction of Pochutla should leave every hour during the day.
If you only come for the highlight of Huatulco, its seven bays, one full day is enough.
The standard boat tours are all pretty much the same: You get a snorkel stop at Chachacual and a lunch stop at Maguey. You can just book it in town and it shouldn’t cost you more than 15$ (2022). If you want to treat yourself, you can charter a private boat to see the other bays but in case you’re not travelling with a group that is probably not within your budget if you’re reading this article.
First, take the colectivo to Pochutla. It’s easier to backtrack to San Antonio because you will spend less time on a bumpy road. From here, regular minibuses leave to Huatulco/La Crucecita (start point indicated on map).
Chiapas is Mexico’s cheapest state. Find cute colonial towns, amazing waterfalls, and Mayan ruins.
San Cristobal de las Casas is a cute colonial town with a serious hippie vibe. You can spend a while getting lost in the colourful streets with a lot of street art. Three pedestrian streets lead from the main square to the Guadalupe church with its amazing view, the market, and the Arco del Carmen. Don’t miss the market, where the people from the surrounding villages come to buy and sell their daily goods. It’s super interesting to see them in their traditional attire - in contrast to the main square they don’t wear it for the tourists here. Go and get lost in the market, which spans over several blocks and even features a unique section like the candle isle. Don’t miss the Plaza de la Paz in the evening when it turns into an open-air market.
Of the many day trips you can do from the El Chiflon waterfall to the Lagunas de Montebello, the Sumidero Canyon is my favourite. You can not only see the steep cliffs but also admire wildlife on a boat tour through the canyon. The boat stops at Chiapa de Corzo where you should leave the touristy dock behind and enjoy your lunch at the local market.
Currently, three night-buses are going from Huatulco to San Cristobal de las Casas. One of them is an ADO GL.
Of course, you shouldn’t miss the ruins. You don’t have to join a tour as you can easily reach the ruins by colectivo (from the spot indicated on the map). The ruins in the middle of the jungle are well worth a visit!
Of the many waterfalls in the Palenque area, Misol Ha and Agua Azul are the most noteworthy. Misol Ha is unique because you can walk behind the waterfall. Make sure to wear waterproof shoes. Follow the path to the end. You’ll find a guy in a cave entrance renting torches for 15MXN. Enter the cave and after one-minute walk, you’ll find an amazing waterfall in the cave.
Agua Azul is stunningly beautiful with its turquoise blue water that cascades down over a long stretch. Don’t expect it to be the most swimmable waterfall though. Actual pools are few and far between as the majority is not safe. Additionally, don’t expect it to be an untouched paradise as it’s packed with very aggressive vendors (in fact the most aggressive I’ve encountered in the whole country). It’s still totally worth a visit though!
If you want to be safe, take the night bus. It will not take the direct route as it’s supposedly frequented by bandits and instead make a huge detour all the way to Tabasco.
If you’re looking for an adventure (and you want to save time and money), take a transfer. The transfers stop at two waterfalls on the way - Misol Ha and Agua Azul - so you don’t have to backtrack from Palenque.
Yucatan is one of our favourite areas in Mexico. It shares all the beauty with Quintana Roo but without the crowds.
Merida is the beautiful capital of Yucatan. With its many colourful buildings and yummy street food it’s a perfect little stop along the way (or much more if you have more time). Don’t forget to try a marquesita, a traditional waffle with cheese and nutella - which is much more delicious than it sounds.
As you cannot fly in and out of Palenque, you have to take a bus. Why not take it to Yucatan’s capital Merida? Currently, two ADO night buses make the journey.
Valladolid with its food court, monastery, and Cenote Zaci is one of our favourite towns in Mexico.
Valladolid is the perfect vantage point for your trip to Chichen Itza. Although this wonder of the world is naturally very touristy, it is worth the hype in our opinion. It’s so much more than just the instagram famous big pyramid and it’s easy to spend a couple of hours.
Buses from Merida to Valladolid run more than once per hour during the day. From Valladolid it’s super easy to grab a colectivo to Chichen Itza.
Quintana Roo with Cancun and Playa del Carmen is probably the most famous region in Mexico. There are still places that are a little more off-the-beaten-path than others and we show you how to find them.
Holbox is the perfect place to relax and wind down.
There are many nice bars and cafes. If you’re feeling more active, you can check out the street art. Additionally, it’s a nice place to kayak - there’s even a bioluminescent lagoon.
It’s the perfect place to do yoga in the morning, hit the beach during the day, and go out at night.
A word of warning: If you’re looking for the instagram famous hammocks - they have been dismantled for conservation reasons.
In contrast to what you read online, there are currently no overnight buses from Valladolid to Isla Holbox. If you take the first bus in the morning, you will arrive in Chiquila at noon. From here, you can catch the ferry, which runs every 30 minutes during the day. The two companies are virtually the same - trust us as we caught one on the way to the island and the other on the way back. There are no cars on Holbox and the only taxis come in the shape of golf carts. They are pretty expensive so be prepared to pay or walk.
Have you even been to Mexico if you didn’t go to instagramable Tulum? Probably. Of course, you can stay at the beach and find all the instagram hotspots. But there’s also a different side to Tulum. In the centre, you can still find affordable Hostels and authentic street food. The Tulum ruins are a sight to see.
There are many cenotes in the area. If you’re on a budget and brave you can visit them by bicycle. You find many of them, like Gran Cenote, along the main highway. Go and explore them to your heart’s content.
There are three direct buses from Chiquila to Tulum.
It is still possible to spend less than 30$ a day in beach towns in Mexico! Travelbloggers share the cheapest Mexican beach towns with saving tips.
Unique things to do in Mexico City - introduced by a local. We showcase many non-touristy things to do in Mexico City - most of them for free.
A backpackers guide to Yucatan: How can you travel Mexico without a car? Which modes of public transport can you use? Which town is a good base to explore the Yucatan peninsula? How many days do you need in places like Valladolid, Tulum, or Bacalar? This two weeks Yucatan peninsula itinerary highlights the best beaches, the best Mayan ruins, and the best things to do in Yucatan and Quintana Roo.