Finding a room is rarely difficult – in areas that are not overly touristy the inexpensive places to stay are usually concentrated around the main plaza (the zócalo), with others near the market, train station or bus station (or where the bus station used to be, before it moved to the outskirts of town). In bigger cities, there’s usually a relatively small area in which you’ll find the bulk of the less expensive possibilities. The more modern and expensive places often lie on the outskirts of towns, accessible only by car or taxi. The only times you’re likely to have big problems finding somewhere to stay are in coastal resorts over the peak Christmas season, at Easter, on Mexican holidays and almost anywhere during a local fiesta, when it’s well worth trying to reserve ahead.
Mexican hotels may describe themselves as anything from paradores, posadas and casas de huéspedes to plain hoteles, all terms that are used more or less interchangeably. A parador is totally unrelated to its top-end Spanish namesake, for example, and although in theory a casa de huéspedes means a small cheap place like a guesthouse, you won’t necessarily find this to be the case.
All rooms should have an official price displayed. A room with one double bed (cama matrimonial) is almost always cheaper than a room with two singles (doble or con dos camas), and most hotels have large “family” rooms with several beds, which are tremendous value for groups. In the big resorts, there are lots of apartments that sleep six or more and include cooking facilities, for yet more savings. A little gentle haggling rarely goes amiss, and many places will have some rooms that cost less, so just ask (“Tiene un cuarto mas barato?”).
Air conditioning (aire acondicionado) is a feature that inflates prices – it is frequently optional. Unless it’s very hot and humid, a room with a simple ceiling fan (ventilador) is generally fine. In winter, especially at altitude or in the desert, it will of course be heating rather than cooling that you want – if there isn’t any, make sure there’s enough bedding and ask for extra blankets if necessary.
When looking at a room, you should always check its insect proofing. Cockroaches and ants are common, and there’s not much you can do about them, but decent netting will keep mosquitoes out.
Campsites, hammocks and cabañas
Camping is easy enough if you are hiking in the backcountry, or happy simply to crash on a beach, but robberies are common, especially in places with a lot of tourists. There are very few organized campsites, and those that do exist are first and foremost trailer parks, not particularly pleasant to pitch tents in. Of course, if you have a van or RV you can use these or park just about anywhere else – there are a good number of facilities in the well-travelled areas, especially down the Pacific coast and Baja.
If you’re planning to do a lot of camping, an international camping card is a good investment, serving as useful ID and getting you discounts at member sites. A range is available online.
In a lot of less official campsites, you will be able to rent a hammock and a place to sling it for the same price as pitching a tent (around US$5–10/£4–8), maybe less, especially if you’re packing your own hammock (Mexico is a good place to buy these, especially in and around Mérida in the Yucatán).
Beach huts, or cabañas, are found at the more rustic, backpacker-oriented beach resorts, and sometimes inland. Usually just a wooden or palm-frond shack with a hammock slung up inside (or a place to sling your own), they are frequently without electricity, though as a resort gets more popular, they tend to transform into sturdier beach bungalows with modern conveniences and higher prices. At backwaters and beaches too untouristed even for cabañas, you should still be able to sling a hammock somewhere (probably the local bar or restaurant, where the palapa serves as shelter and shade).
There are numerous hostels in Mexico, mainly concentrated in the more touristy areas. Some eighteen are affiliated to Hostelling International; an HI card gets you a small discount, but is not essential. HI-affiliated hostels, however, are not necessarily better than non-affiliated ones, of which there are many.