Where to stay in Mexico
All-inclusive packages are very popular in large resorts such as Cancún, where pay-as-you-go tariffs are often referred to as 'European Plan'. The all-inclusive plans will typically include all meals, snacks, non-alcoholic and (domestic) alcoholic beverages - imported wines and spirits will cost extra. In terms of activities, non-motorised watersports are free, and planned entertainment is often provided in the evening. Spa treatments are usually extra. Some resorts are specifically family-oriented and others are adults-only.
Hotels in Mexico are plentiful, from humble guesthouses to large international chains. In between, there are numerous mid-priced establishments. Hotels in that category are usually clean and comfortable and may vary in style from strictly functional business blocks to lovingly restored historic edifices. Every hotel in Mexico is required to display officially approved rates for low and high season. Outside of the Christmas and Easter seasons, it is rarely necessary to book ahead, and many hotels, particularly in resort areas, offer substantial discounts. If you do make reservations, obtain confirmation of rates in writing or by e-mail.
Bed and breakfast
Bed and breakfasts in Mexico are becoming increasingly available in both cities and colonial towns and can be an attractive alternative for their personalised treatment and authentic atmosphere. They're often in historic homes and lavishly decorated with local fabrics, ceramics and art. They may be humble family-run establishments or posh inns with swimming pools. Breakfast is usually included in the room rate. For extensive listings, check www.bedandbreakfast.com/mexico.html.
Official campgrounds are generally designed for RV (recreational vehicle) travellers but you may pitch a tent at a reduced rate. Facilities are most easily found at beach resorts, in northern Mexico or other places that see visitors from the US. At low-key beaches it is often possible to pitch a tent on hotel grounds. For an unofficial list of RV parks in Mexico, consult Sanbachs (www.sanbachs.net/cgi-bin/mexico/mexicot.cgi).
Among the most pleasant and relaxing places to stay, cabañas are generally situated in natural surroundings, such as the Lacandón jungle of Chiapas, the isles of Lake Pátzcuaro in Michoacán, or atop Nevado de Toluca, a volcanic peak west of Mexico City. Built of wood and often managed by local communities, they vary widely in style, from rustic huts without electricity or bedding to cosy and comfortable bungalows with fireplaces, kitchens and hammocks strung on porches.
Nowhere near as extensive as in South American countries like Peru, hostels (usually with no age restrictions or membership requirements) here are however beginning to catch on, even in beach resorts where hotel chains have traditionally dominated.
As youth and budget travel thrive in Mexico, hostels keep popping up in major towns and along the principal backpacker trails. Many include guest kitchens and informal bars or cafés where travellers congregate. In addition to the 20 Hostelling International (HI)-affiliated branches, a spate of independent hostels offer lodging for budget travellers, without the membership requirements, in places like Mexico City, Oaxaca, San Cristóbal de las Casas and Campeche. Dormitories for four to 20 occupants with lockers and shared bathrooms are the norm, and there are usually a few private rooms available. Check www.hostelworld.com for a full selection with user reviews.
Often referred to as 'dude ranches', guest ranches are traditionally working cattle ranches or farms where visitors pay to be guests of the owner's family, and take part in day-to-day activities like rounding up horses and cattle. These days, many ranches are purely concerned with tourism and offer spa services, guides, cookery lessons and so on. Standards range from rustic with basic meals to luxury all-inclusive packages with gourmet meals.