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A Mexican traveler's money-saving tips
Headed to Mexico on a budget? Then you're headed to the right place. In my experience, Mexican businesses and their employees are some of the friendliest and most service oriented people I've met, so you should take advantage of the freebies they're usually willing to offer to visitors. A couple of years ago I started exploring the country of my ancestors, usually with a friend for company. Here are a few of the money saving tips I learned during my travels to Mexico City, Monterrey, and San Luis Potosi.
Take advantage of the free rides some nice restaurants will offer you back to your hotel
My friend and I discovered this service in Mexico City late one night after dinner and drinks at an Argentine steakhouse. We asked our server if the restaurant could call a cab, and instead he offered us the use of the restaurant's car and driver. We gave the driver a reasonable tip and saved ourselves the cost of a cab fare. This service isn't available at every restaurant, but all you have to do is ask to find out.
Don't be afraid of street food
Sure, we splurged at that Argentine restaurant, but my friend and I also ate a lot of our meals on the side of the road, where you can get a hearty, delicious, and inexpensive meal at a food cart. Believe me, it was not easy convincing my friend that street food is safe and delicious. In San Luis Potosi, I finally convinced him to try a street vendor's gorditas, which are fat tortillas that are split open and stuffed with meats and cheeses. When we were headed home, he admitted it was the best meal he had the entire trip, and it only cost us a couple of dollars!
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They're everywhere, especially in Monterrey and Mexico City. I couldn't believe how many museums are gratis, while I pay to get into most museums in the U.S. These attractions are a great way to learn more about the local history and culture. You might be approached by a museum guide, but you probably don't need to hire one. Most of the Mexican museums I've been to are visitor friendly, with written explanations in Spanish and English for each exhibit. A word of caution: get there early. Some museums in Mexico close as early as 4pm.
Grab a free city map and guide instead of buying one
Some cities, including San Luis Potosi and Monterrey, have great tourist information centers. San Luis Potosi has one in the town square, and Monterrey has a couple of them in the bus station. Just ask for the oficina de turismo. It shouldn't be too hard to find one, and they offer free maps and attraction guides in English, handed out by friendly greeters.
Skip the overpriced hotel breakfast
Many hotels in Mexico offer breakfast, but if it isn't free, then skip it. The one time I ate at a hotel the food was okay, but overpriced and not so traditionally Mexican. Instead, I suggest hitting the streets to find a panaderia, a bakery where you can buy pan dulce, or traditional Mexican sweet bread. Throw in a cup of Mexican hot chocolate or coffee and you've got a quick, inexpensive breakfast. Yum!
Use public transportation instead of a taxi whenever possible
When we visited Mexico City, we decided to take a day trip to Xochimilco, a borough of the city that's known for its series of canals that tourists and locals travel by boat. We could have taken a cab, but we were told it would cost us around $30. Instead we took the light rail train, which connects to the city's metro system. It took us a little longer to get to Xochimilco, but we took in the landscape along the way, and it cost us less than $5 round trip.
Book your flight through a Mexican airline
Okay, this tip isn't for everyone, but if, like me, you live in South Texas or another area near the border, this could work. When I was headed to Mexico City, I had a friend drop me off at an airport near the border in Reynosa, Mexico. If you don't have anyone to drive you into Mexico, take a taxi or a bus to the airport. My plane ticket from Reynosa to Mexico City cost less than $300 on Mexicana, a reputable airline. Compared to the fares I found on several U.S. airlines, that saved me at least $200.
Shop around for a cash exchange rate
Casas de cambio, or cash exchange houses, are everywhere. Especially in tourist hot spots, you should look around for the best rate. Use an exchange house instead of a bank and you'll be out of there with your cash more quickly and easily.