The Mexico breakdown

16 Mar

We spent a total of 4 months–from November 13, 2013 to March 12, 2014–stuffing our faces with tacos and churros and Modelo in Mexico. We started our Mexican journey in Tecate, Baja and ended in El Ceibo, Tabasco. Here’s a bit of a recap of our time in the country.

OVERALL COST
Everything was definitely cheaper in Mexico from groceries to fuel. In the 4 months here, we spent a total of $9,421 which came out to $2,355 a month. That was on average $1000 less a month than we were spending in the US. Now I understand why everyone heads south first. Your dollar definitely gets you much farther south of the border.

BORDER CROSSINGS
Since we entered and exited in small towns, our crossings were pretty uneventful, thankfully. In Baja, we were the only vehicle there and the woman barely looked inside the truck. Dogs were ignored. It took about 5 minutes to get our visas and stamps and pay the fee. We did the vehicle import in La Paz, Baja before we boarded the ferry to mainland Mexico. That was pretty painless as well, where all they needed was the vehicle title and info on the main driver.

Leaving Mexico, we opted for another small border town mainly because it was the shortest distance between where we were in Mexico (Palenque) to where we wanted to go in Guatemala (Tikal). I randomly found the border at El Ceibo while googling potential crossings. This border is pretty new, opened in 2009, and seemed pretty unvisited. The buildings were immaculate and had air conditioning!! It took the guy 10 minutes to cancel our vehicle imports for the truck and motorcycle and take pictures of the plates and VINs. After showing proof that we payed the fee entering the country, our passports were stamped and we were good to go.

Total on crossing the border: $159

SAFETY
The entire time we were in Mexico we felt 110% safe. Seriously. At the start of our trip, hell even before we left, everyone said not to drive through Mexico. But we, and all the other PamAm travelers we know, made it through without incident. The good aspects of a country are never newsworthy, only the bad. We came across both the local police (when we got stuck in the mud) and the federales (at random check points) and they were all nothing but nice and helpful. On one small beach, the local police came over just to introduce himself and tell us that he was patrolling the area if we needed anything. We did not encounter any roadblocks either. So everyone reading out there– as long as you are as cautious of your surroundings are you are normally, travel in Mexico is safe.

Total: $0

CAMPING
We camped for free more than half of our time in Mexico. Most of that was at a scenic random place we found. The other (small) part was on convenient quiet streets or outside new friends’ houses. The rest of the time we relied on the Church’s Guide to Camping in Mexico to find the ideal paid campsite. We did this typically in bigger cities where we’d be leaving the dogs all day and wanted a secure spot. I feel like we relied too heavily on the Church’s book and could have found just as nice of spots for free. But, a lot of times with these campsites, you’re paying for the security and piece of mind that you and your stuff are safe. We don’t hook up so we never used the electric or water that few of them offered. We did, however, always use the wifi when campsites had it. That was often worth the cost of staying there.

Total on camping: $499

FUEL
One fuel company runs the country, Pemex. Prices are fixed, which is really nice because we didn’t have to run from station to station finding the cheapest fuel. The stations are clean and equipped with a slew of attendants who eagerly want to pump. But the machines aren’t calibrated accurately so you never know if you’re actually getting a liter of fuel or less. Diesel cost us about $3.78 a gallon.

Total on fuel: $2,118

FOOD
I would say I cook about 80% of the time. All food here is really cheap. The produce is always super fresh and very very inexpensive. But it’s just as cheap to eat out. When we go out to eat, it’s usually to a cart on the street. Rarely will we actually sit down at a restaurant for a meal. In Baja, since we were typically in the middle of nowhere, we cooked practically every meal. Once we hit the mainland, we’d do lunch or snacks out and dinner in (we spent about the same on groceries in mainland as we did eating out). We spent $1,764.41 on groceries, $172 at bars (we didn’t do much bar hopping) and $1,286.93 on restaurants.

Total on food: $3,223.34

PHONE/INTERNET
Before we left the states, we had our iPhones unlocked and put them on seasonal standby (so we can keep our numbers/plan for when we return but pay a fraction of the regular plan price now). The day we crossed, I got a SIM card with Movistar. The service was cheap and sucked but you get what you pay for. The main Internet company in Mexico, Telcel, has much better coverage and is more expensive. I went with cheap Movistar because I’m cheap. It was fine for what it was. In smaller cities and on the beach, mainly in Baja, we didn’t have service but it forced us to disconnect. In bigger cities, I had slow, extended service. A few times I had 3G!

Many of the cafés, restaurants, and campgrounds have wifi so staying connected was easy and we probably could have done without the SIM card. But it did made things more convenient.

Total: $107.39 (less than a 1 month plan in the states)

DOGS
Thankfully, we’ve had no issues with Shae or Olivia. We didn’t take them to the vet before we got to Mexico for that silly USDA health certificate so we’re still traveling with their paperwork from our Key West vet. No one asked for their paperwork in Mexico.

We did run out of their fancy organic all natural American dog food in Guadalajara. A Petco had just opened a few weeks earlier (the first and only in Mexico) and we headed there to buy more food. A 40lb bag of almost as good quality dog food cost as much as it would have in the States. Apparently the price of dog food just increased at the start of the new year. We rode on the motorcycle with this insanely gigantic bag sandwiched between us. It was hilarious.

Total spent on the dogs: $85.86 for the bag of dog food

NOT TO MISS
Baja! But not the Cabos part of Baja. Bahia Concepcion and Todos Santos were our favorites. The state is lined with gorgeous beaches that are completely uninhabited and you can find a beach all to yourselves that has interesting rock formations and peaceful blue waters.

The mainland beaches were just as spectacular, La Manzanilla and Playa Zipolite, being a few of our favorites.

I am obsessed with the Monarch Butterfly Reserve. It was such an unbelievable site seeing millions of butterflies swarming the space before you. It was a trek to get there but so completely worth it.

Another favorite was Agua Azul, just south of Palenque. It was completely magical! Blue pools and waterfalls tucked into the jungle are as far as the eye can see.

WHAT WE’D DO DIFFERENTLY
We started the Mexico part of our trip filling our water tanks with purified water. This meant finding an agua purificado, which was always on a narrow one way street when we were coming from the opposite direction. It was cheap to fill our tanks–around $10 for 100 gallons, but got to be a hassle finding the places and then halting traffic and getting a long enough hose with the right fitting to make it happen. After 2 months, we just started filling up with whatever water was easily accessible, usually at a Pemex, and buying garafones of drinking water. It’s what we did in the states and works best. We shouldn’t have even bothered with the purified water system.

STRANGEST THING
The strangest thing we saw in Mexico was not people drinking juice from plastic bags with straws or magnifying mirrors sold on the side of the road. It was auto hotels or “no-tell hotel.” These hotels are in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by high concrete walls and have 2 car garages attached to each room. All this to aid in concealing elicit relations. They are everywhere! And so creepy!

BEST MEAL
San Miguel de Allende had the best food by far! Since there are so many gringos in town, there was an insane array of diverse cuisines. The best was a tie between the Italian Cafe Firenze and Argentinean La Virundela. Both were equally amazing!

Tacos were definitely a staple of our Mexican meals. The best fish/shrimp tacos were in Sayulita at the Real Fish Taco stand. The best taco-tacos we ate were found our last night in Mexico at a hole in the wall in downtown Palenque.

FOR YOUR OWN MEXICAN ADVENTURE
+ find a secluded beach
+ taste mezcal
+ listen to a mariachi band
+ eat as many churros as possible
+ participate in a turtle liberation, they happen in most coastal communities
+ explore and don’t be shy! Locals love sharing their favorite aspects of their towns

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