It’s time for the second installment of “What it Costs to Cruise in Mexico”!
I introduced this series last month, when I shared our costs for January 2018. But if you’re new to Particular Harbor (welcome!), here’s a quick rundown: During the first three months of cruising in our brand new boat, we spent a couple weeks in budget-busting Los Cabos and were still spending money to outfit the boat. Both factors drove our costs up. But once the new year rolled around, those upfront costs and expensive destinations were (mostly) behind us. We watched our spending settle down to levels that we hoped would be more representative of the cruising lifestyle we want to live longer-term.
It sure felt a lot cheaper to be living in Mexico on our boat, but the ways we spend money while traveling full-time are way different from our life back on land: We pay for marina slips by the night instead of monthly rent. We go grocery shopping every two weeks instead of stopping by the store every few days. We can go several days without spending a dime, but then decide to hire a private guide for an inland tour. Previously that sort of thing was a vacation-only splurge for us, when we were eager to pay for novel experiences in the limited days we had to travel. Now, traveling full-time means this type of expense is something we consider regularly when we arrive in a new destination.
So how is it all adding up? And the big question: Is this level of spending sustainable long-term for us? Are we depleting the “cruising kitty” faster than we can refill it? (Okay, I just wanted an excuse to use the term “cruising kitty” there. Oops, I did it again! For the land lubbers reading, this is a common term cruisers use to describe the pot of money that funds their lifestyle. Not to be confused with our cruising cats Chase and Guinnivere.)
Anyway, to figure all this out, John and I have been tracking every peso we spent since the beginning of the year. Our goals were to:
- Reflect on our spending, look for opportunities to be more frugal, and see how we felt when we saw the numbers added up.
- Show all of you how we spend our money while cruising and living in Mexico!
In February we covered 542 miles, leaving Barra de Navidad (one of our favorite destinations) and stopping in Santiago, Zihuatenajo, Acapulco, and Huatulco.
Total spent: $2,071 U.S. Dollars
Whoa, a whopping thousand dollars cheaper than January! Major budget victory. Here’s a closer look at how that happened, starting with a shocking decrease in one of our spending categories.
(And for the sticklers, we used the February 15 exchange rate of 18.5 Mexican Pesos to 1 U.S. Dollar)
Boat parts and maintenance: $0
Yes, you read that correctly. Not an error. Our February destinations didn’t have much to offer in the way of marine supplies or services, and we were able to do some basic work ourselves (cleaning the bottom, washing the boat, routine engine maintenance, etc). Plus, the boat is in generally good shape. Bam! Zero dollars. We’re putting this one in the record books.
Meals and drinks: $756.77
Last month, eating and drinking off the boat was our biggest expense. Zihuatenajo has some great restaurants, and we enjoyed a few of them. The anchorage in Zihua gave us easy access to a bustling downtown area, so we went ashore daily for coffee, lunch, dinner… and sometimes a combination of the three!
We made a few trips to the supermarkets in Zihua and Huatulco in preparation for leaving Mexico. And we took advantage of a beverage delivery service in Zihua, where people people often spend a month or more at anchor. (It’s a fabulous destination, but there’s no marina.) A local couple took advantage of the captive market to start a business delivering all the essentials to boats at anchor: laundry, fuel, water, and beverages. We had loads of drinks delivered right to the boat, and it was awesome not schlepping everything ourselves. Fees and tips for this type of service are much more reasonable in Mexico than the U.S., so we really don’t think twice when considering the convenience.
Did we mention there’s virtually no wind in Southern Mexico? With the exception of a few hours here and there, we used the iron genny… we unfurled the liquid sail… we put the hammer down… In other words, we used the engine. Having to motor on a passage really dampens our spirits, even though these were the conditions we expected.
Ironically, further south has too much wind right now. Central America is just on the tail end of “Papagayo” season, where 30–40-knot winds accelerate through low-lying gaps in the isthmus separating the Caribbean from the Pacific. Fortunately, as the Trade Winds die in the Caribbean, so do the Papagayos. By the time we are further south, the worst of the Papagayo winds should be over (we hope).
New category! In February we traded unexpected medical expenses (remember that snafu?) for visits to Xihuacan ruins, waterfalls, mountains, a cooking class, a coffee farm, and even a movie. Good trade, yeah? Until February, the coastal cities and bays had plenty of easy options to fill our time: a hike or a walk on the beach, or a bus ride to the city center in a more urban stop like Mazatlan. As we move further south, the coastal destinations for sailboats start to become more rural. There’s still plenty to see and do, it’s just a little further away. We could rent a car or take ourselves on a self-guided bus trip, but we wouldn’t fully appreciate the area or see the hidden gems without a local tour guide. So, that expense has been added to the mix, and so far we’ve been happy about it. Like everything else in Mexico, the cost is reasonable and the value has been high.
Marina docking fees: $120.56
In February we spent only four nights in a marina, compared to 11 in January. Another score for the cruising kitty! Staying out of marinas is the easiest way to save money, and save we did! Big time. Not only did we spend just a few nights on a dock in Huatulco, but it was the cheapest marina yet. Of course, we got what we paid for—there was no electricity, we had to string three hoses together to reach the closest source of water to wash boat, and the fuel dock was not designed with sailboats in mind. We also stayed on a mooring ball for a few nights in Acapulco. That was cheap, too: only $11 per night.
Phone and Internet: $89.42
Our Google Project Fi plan is still working well. They recently adjusted their rate structure, which is mostly good. Monthly data fees are now capped at $100 (which is great!), but each device (we have two on our plan) is throttled after you use 15 GB. Like we mentioned, we’ve already given up on streaming video, so now we are just conserving a bit more to stay below the throttling threshold.
This cost was almost entirely the dinghy valet in Zihua. That’s right, a dinghy valet! Another “service” that cropped up in this anchor-only destination. For a 10-peso “tip” each way, a group of locals helps cruisers land their dinghies and watch over the fleet while we’re ashore. We could have done without this service, but it wasn’t really optional. Win some, lose some.
I couldn’t find a category for a few miscellaneous expenses that are still included in the grand total. We bought some school supplies and delivered them in El Salvador ($25). We splurged on new hot pads for the galley ($1.62 at a discount store). And we both found haircuts in Zihua for a grand total of $13.50. Yes, that’s for both!
And that’s it for February’s expenses. I predict this will be one of our least-costly months. So far in March, we’re spending most nights in a marina, but we are saving in other ways like not eating ashore as much. We’ll see (together!) how it all shakes out.
The longer we track our spending, the more excited I get about this series. It’s an opportunity to pause and reflect on the previous month, revisiting the experiences we had and the lessons we learned. Only five months into this journey, we are still in a phase where each month, heck, each week, we are finding our groove in the midst of new places, new people, and new challenges. And in writing these posts for you, we are able to share what we did through the lens of what it all costs. I like mixing the excitement of full-time travel with the mundane details like laundry and haircuts, because that’s the reality of the cruising life. Not every day is an adventure. (Although we could argue it takes a certain amount of courage to have your hair cut for $5 by someone who barely speaks English.)
Just like on land, where your money goes is a direct reflection of your priorities. So we’ll see how we balance our spending when we visit more expensive places like Costa Rica. For now though, we have left Mexico behind and we’re enjoying our time in El Salvador. We can’t wait to report back (soon!) on just how great this tiny country is.