For the last several days I’ve been trying to understand why the Mexican portion of what is known as the Mayan Riviera is so expensive. In Monday’s post I complained that in Tulum we experienced some of the highest prices for some of the worst services we’ve seen anywhere in the world.
And while I can’t speak for the value proposition offered by the other popular Mexican coastal destinations we didn’t actually visit, a cursory look at prices elsewhere suggests the problem goes beyond Tulum. In Cancun, for example, the cheapest peak-season beach-front hotel we found charged 60% more than similar accommodations in South Beach, Miami.
That doesn’t seem right to me. I’m pretty sure the cost of living is quite a bit higher in Miami than it is anywhere in Mexico, especially now that the U.S. dollar buys nearly 18 pesos apiece. Why is a vacation to Cancun (and especially Tulum) so expensive?
Certainly part of the reason is that Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and other popular Mexican destinations get a fair amount of cruise ship traffic. That absolutely drives up prices. Of course that’s also true for other favorite ports of call like Santorini, Greece, and Dubrovnik, Croatia, where we experienced none of the same sticker shock. We actually spent less in those crowded European destinations than we did in Tulum.
Another possible answer is convenience, especially for relatively wealthy Americans who don’t generally like to travel. It’s only a four hour flight from frigid Chicago to sunny Cancun, meaning that you can go from winter coats to toplessly sipping margaritas on the beach in under six. I can certainly see the attraction.
It’s also true that Mexico ain’t South Beach. As much as development has homogenized large sections of the Mexican coast, it’s still easy enough to daytrip outside of resort areas where you can trek through the jungle, swim in underground caves, climb Mayan ruins, and otherwise experience things that are completely foreign to anything you’ll find in the U.S.
It’s easy for us to forget how appealing that combination of factors might be to someone trying to cram a lot of experiences into limited vacation days. If you’re strapped for time it’s understandable why you might be willing to pay a premium to get all of that in one convenient package.
But that still doesn’t completely answer the question. Belize offers all of those same ingredients, from beautiful turquoise water and crazy underground caves to monkey madness and Mayan ruins, but at a fraction of the cost. Which leaves the question, why is the Mexican Riviera so expensive?
I don’t have an answer, but I do have a conclusion. If you’re short on time and long on cash, by all means, visit Mexican beaches and have a great time. But if you have more time than cash, you can find less expensive and equally gorgeous beaches the world over. Better yet, skip the beach altogether and spend those days exploring Mexico’s interior where you can fully experience its unique history and culture at a price that makes sense.