The Segmental Info System

Smart Spending

Budgeting before you leave for your Mexican Caribbean vacation can help to make every dollar go farther

Photo credit: © Rauf Ashrafov |

A vacation in the Mexican Caribbean is a priceless experience. Wise travelers anticipate the cost of their trip before leaving home to ensure that they spend their time enjoying the gorgeous weather, picturesque scenery, and colorful culture - not worrying about money. A little advance planning can go a long way toward making your vacation relaxing and carefree.

Lodging, transportation, and dining are obvious expenses, but smaller costs such as shopping for duty-free luxuries, hospitality taxes, and gratuities should not be forgotten when planning the financial aspect of a vacation.


The peak tourist season runs from mid-November to May, and prices during this time reflect the increased demand for lodging. Because there are so many different types of lodging available along the Mexican Caribbean, you should have no problem finding something to fit both your travel needs and your budget. Comfortable guesthouses start around $60(USD) per night, while nightly rates at posh, all-inclusive resorts may go as high as $600(USD) during the peak season. Travelers should note that these estimates do not include taxes and service fees.

Visitors should also bear in mind that the services and amenities offered by a hotel are generally reflected in the room rate. More expensive, all-inclusive resorts will accommodate guests with meals, activities, and a knowledgeable concierge staff, while some of the more moderately priced lodgings may provide only a standard hotel room. Vacationers should always be mindful of the amenities a specific hotel offers before reserving a room.

Money-conscious travelers should consider traveling during the off-season of June through October. Visitors often find great deals on accommodations during these months. Lodging rates are considerably lower, and many of the most popular tourist areas are free of their peak-season congestion.

Daily Spending

Dining will represent one of the largest expenses in any budget, although a wide range of prices makes accurate budgeting difficult. At many of the small local eateries, $10(USD) per person is a fairly good estimate for a meal; eating at an upscale restaurant can run as high as $50(USD) per person. Of course, exploring sights farther away from the busy, tourist-populated coast will bring vacationers to still smaller restaurants, where $5(USD) may be a more accurate estimate.

The safest financial bet is to plan how many meals you plan to eat at the more expensive establishments and budget accordingly. Breakfast and lunch generally cost less than dinner. Here's a great travel budget tip: if you'd like to try a high-class establishment but can't afford to go there for dinner, try lunch instead.

When eating at any restaurant, tipping the wait staff is very important. Some establishments will add a service charge to your check as a gratuity for the kitchen staff and the server. Many do not, however. If this charge does not appear on the bill, the American standard of tipping between 15 percent and 20 percent of the total bill is a good rule of thumb, but feel free to tip more or less based on the quality of service.

A well-planned budget will also include transportation costs. Most travelers do not limit themselves to just one mode of transport, so an accurate budget should allow for several options.

Taxis are a great option for getting from place to place because the prices tend to be good and the convenience is invaluable. Oftentimes, cabdrivers are willing to wait for vacationers while they explore the Mayan ruins or do some shopping in Cancún. Drivers will also make arrangements with travelers to meet up again at a certain time, ensuring that visitors are not inconvenienced by a long wait. Rates vary from town to town, but are almost always less expensive than a rental car.

One thing that taxis cannot accommodate however, is independence. Travelers eager to get off the beaten path and experience the Mexican Caribbean on their own find that rental cars are reasonably priced, starting at around $40(USD) a day. Insurance and gasoline costs must be factored into a rental car budget, of course, but many people find that the spontaneity this option affords greatly outweighs the economic factors.

Buses and "collectivos" are two other popular options for getting around the region. Many different bus lines enable travelers to tailor their trips, ensuring convenience and efficiency for both quick trips in town and longer commutes through the countryside. Rates and schedules will vary greatly depending on the type of bus and the destination. Generally, buses are the least expensive way to travel and afford visitors a great opportunity to see the local area.

Remember to include money for leisure transportation in your budget. This category includes ferry trips to the island of Cozumel, as well as bicycles and mopeds. The ferry costs $1(USD) each way, making it easy to estimate how much it will cost to tour that area, even if you plan several trips. Bikes and mopeds, on the other hand, are available for daily and weekly rentals. Weekly rentals are usually a better rate than renting by the day. Settling on an itinerary beforehand will help with sticking to a budgeting once in Mexico.

Vacationers hoping to take advantage of the area's shops, museums, and nightspots should incorporate souvenir costs, admission prices, and cover charges into their financial planning.

Visitors should also bear in mind that their daily spending might fluctuate greatly, and that a day or two of shopping will probably comprise a higher percentage of their budget than the inevitable time spent soaking up sun and scenery on the beautiful beaches.


The island of Cozumel is well known for its duty-free shopping, and vacationers from all over the world take advantage of the reduced price of luxury items such as perfume and crystal. Of course, regional crafts are also featured prominently in these stores and the high-quality local goods have gained in popularity with travelers. Among them, handmade jewelry and authentic Mexican salsas are particularly notable.

Shoppers should be aware that leaving the country with some of these items may require them to pay extra when going through customs. Americans are permitted to return with $800(USD) worth of untaxed goods and one liter of alcohol per person. A tax of 4 percent is added to the value of all items exceeding the duty-free limit. Canadian citizens are allowed to return with $750(USD) in merchandise and 40 ounces of liquor as long as they have been traveling outside the country for more than seven days. Holidaymakers from Britain may return with about $275(USD) worth of merchandise and one liter of alcohol per person. All other international visitors are advised to contact their own travel commissions or embassies to determine the applicable regulations.


Travelers departing from Cancún Airport are subject to an international departure tax of $48(USD) per person. This charge is often included in the price of the plane ticket; otherwise, it must be paid in cash at the airport. Check with your travel agent before leaving to find out if this charge has already been taken care of in order to avoid any unpleasant surprises.

Mexico is home to an international value-added tax (IVA) of 15 percent which is applied to all goods and services, although this charge is usually included in the quoted price. The only way to be certain, however, is to ask the shopkeeper or server - do not feel shy about doing so.

Hospitality tax in the Mexican Caribbean is about 2 percent of the total bill and will be assessed upon check-out. A 10 percent service fee - to take the place of tipping maids, bellhops, and wait staff - is also likely to appear. Not all hotel bills will include the service fee, however, and travelers should review the bill carefully to determine whether additional tipping is necessary.

Travelers who anticipate their financial needs before leaving home enjoy the assurance of accounting for every aspect of their vacation. Budgeting allows visitors to plan their activities without worrying about running out of money.


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