Traveling to Cabo San Lucas is a blast if you’re looking to vacation in Mexico. They have everything you might want to do on a vacation, including fishing, sailing, snorkeling, dolphins, ATV’s, yacht cruises, and camels. You name it and they most likely have it.
But, once you get in tourist areas like Cabo San Lucas, pricing and formalities start to change drastically from places off the beach. Resorts can be expensive when not only buying food and drink, but scheduling excursions as well.
In this article, I am going to lay out our recent experience with our July 2023 trip. Hopefully, some of these tips will help you navigate the ins and outs of Cabo, so you can make your dollar stretch as far as possible.
Paying for Goods and Services in Cabo
Exchanging Dollars to Pesos at the Airport
When you first get off your plane in Cabo, you will see many visitors stopping at the local bank exchange to get pesos to spend on their trip. I often wondered why so many people were doing this at the airport, so I looked into it and found out why.
The bank exchange at the airport in Mexico is going to give you a higher exchange rate between the dollar and peso than if you were to exchange at your resort. One US dollar was being exchanged at a little over 17 pesos at the airport, while the resorts were offering a little over 15 pesos. Exchanging at the airport gives you around 10-15% more buying power.
Know Your Credit Card Exchange Rate and Fees
Before you travel to Mexico, it would be wise to ask your credit card company a few questions. The first question to ask is if they charge a foreign transaction fee on purchases you make in Mexico. Make sure to travel with a credit card that does not charge a fee.
The next question for your credit card company is if they give you the full exchange rate when you charge pesos to your credit card in Mexico. The reason this is important is that most restaurants in high tourist areas like Cabo have a lower exchange rate than what your bank is most likely offering.
So, when your waiter asks if you would like the bill in dollars or pesos, you could be paying 10% more for your meal if you request dollars. If you choose to charge in pesos, your credit card company does the exchange on their end and all you will see is dollars on your statement at the full exchange rate.
Your dollar will go further if you charge in pesos at most restaurants and bars.
Book Cabo Adventures Online
We booked several excursions with Cabo Adventures during our stay in Cabo. Because we didn’t know any better, we booked them at our resort at Casa Dorada, which was convenient and the staff was extremely helpful. But, just like anything in life, hindsight is always much clearer as you learn the lay of the land.
Booking our snorkeling and sunset sailing trips at our resort ended up costing us about 25-30% more than if we booked them online at the Cabo Adventures website. By scheduling and paying for your excursions directly online, you can cut out the middleman and save.
Booking online also allows you to request roundtrip transportation to the marina, which was $10 per person. We enjoyed paying for the transportation in advance, especially after we arrived back at night off the sunset sailing cruise. Having safe transportation via the Cabo Adventures shuttle was one less thing to worry about.
Watch Out For 16% VAT Tax
Mexico passed legislation that increased the VAT Tax (Value Added Tax) to 16%. I don’t know for sure if this is charged everywhere, but in the “Cabo Tourism Bubble” it is definitely charged.
When eating out in Cabo San Lucas, some establishments will have the 16% VAT tax already included in their price, while others will add it at the end. This is usually stated on the menu. If the 16% tax is listed separately, make sure not to tip on that additional amount.
In our experience, establishments that included the 16% tax in their prices were typically located off the beach or lacked a beach view. These places will have lower prices overall to draw tourists away from the beach to their restaurants and shops.
Tipping in Mexico
Tipping in the United States has gotten out of hand. The price of meals has doubled anywhere you go, and the first option for tipping at many restaurants is 20 or 22%. If meal prices have doubled, wouldn’t your 15% tip of the final amount be double as well?
In Mexico, 10% is considered a good tip for meals and drinks. If your service was spectacular, and you want to tip more, 15% is a great tip. The cost of food and drinks in Cabo by the beach has increased substantially, like what we are seeing in the United States. Tipping amounts increase as well because they are based on a percentage.
Transportation in Cabo
If you are flying into the Los Cabos International Airport, you will most likely need transportation to your resort. Uber’s transportation cost us around $48 for two people to travel from Casa Dorada to the airport. Our experience with Uber in Mexico was great, and we would definitely do it again if traveling by ourselves.
If you are traveling with one or two more couples, you can schedule with Cabo Airport Shuttle, which can accommodate you with a large SUV that will sit up to six people. The driver will show up with beer, soda, and waters iced down for you to enjoy.
Booking your transportation online will be cheaper than directly through a driver you have used in the past. Our driver quoted us $190 for six people, when the online price was $148 for six people. This means the driver pocketed $42 right off the top, plus any tip you provided.
These are the types of things you need to watch out for when traveling anywhere. Because the internet makes information so available today, using it to your advantage to double-check pricing is a no-brainer.
Eat Away From The Beach to Save Money
If it’s your first time to Cabo, of course, you will most likely eat somewhere on the beach. Enjoying a nice seafood dinner while overlooking the rocks in Cabo is hard to beat. But, if you are looking to keep expenses down, try some restaurants away from the beach.
For example, the breakfast buffet at Casa Dorada was $50 per person. The last time we visited, the breakfast buffet was closer to around $30 a person, so inflation has definitely trickled down to resorts in Mexico. A quick walk outside our resort about a block away yielded a great breakfast with coffee for around $10 with tip.
Once you lose the view of the beach or the rocks in Cabo, prices can fall dramatically, but it doesn’t mean the quality of the food has to. Cabo San Lucas has many outstanding restaurants near the most popular resorts. A quick 3-5min walk can save you lots of money while enjoying wonderful food and service.
The reviews on Google Maps are a good reference to start with and seemed to be really accurate while we were traveling. The Roasted Grill & Bar is where we found the Roasted Octopus and the experience overall was fantastic. You will find the pace is slower and everything is more reasonable when you eat at restaurants off the beach.
Get Some Groceries on The First Day
Drink prices have skyrocketed in Cabo as compared to our previous visits. Regular margaritas on the beach were going for around $18 each, plus they hit you with the 16% tax, and you still need to provide a tip as well. All said and done, you could be paying over $21 for a regular margarita. Ouch!
Buying beer on the beach was no different. A bucket of six Pacifico beers was going for $66. That is $11 for a can of beer!! While I don’t consider myself a cheap person, I do not like the feeling of being gouged.
Our hotel room at Casa Dorada had a refrigerator and a full kitchen, so we quickly adapted. Across the street was a small market that sold six packs of Modelo beer for $10 and bottles of tequila for $20. The difference in prices is staggering.
The same can be said for coffee. Buying a regular cup of coffee at the resort will cost you $6 a cup, and a pot is closer to $20 with tip. Spending a little time at a market buying some groceries on your first day could save you anywhere from $500-$1000 dollars on a seven-day trip.
Ask the Hotel to Remove all the Snacks and Beverages in Your Room
What most people don’t know or ever think about is the snacks, sodas, and alcohol in your hotel room can be removed by request. Most rooms will have candy and hard liquor sitting out on a table, while the refrigerator is full of sodas.
If you intend to use the refrigerator for the items you purchase, having all this stuff removed will give you more room and prevent you from drinking the wrong item. The items you purchase at a local market to stock your room will be about 1/5 of the price compared to the minibar pricing.
These mini bar items in the room are expensive. Regular candy sells for $6, a can of beer is $11, and bottles of water are $6-$8 each. Having these mini bar items removed will prevent the kids from getting into expensive snacks and remove temptation for anyone else who gets the munchies in the middle of the night.
Some Resorts Don’t Allow Yeti Cups
Because drink prices are so high, many tourists will try to mix a drink in their room and take it down to the pool or beach at their resort in a Yeti style cup. While this is a great idea, and it can save you lots of money, many resorts have caught on to this and are no longer allowing Yeti style cups in designated areas where there is drink service.
One way around this is to mix vodka or tequila in a juice or sports drink bottle. There will probably come a time when no outside food or drink is allowed anywhere at the resort where drink service is available. Until then, a little mixer with juice can save you hundreds of dollars.
Don’t Get Bottled Water at Dinner Unless You Know the Price
At many of the nice restaurants in Cabo, the pace is quick. Waiters are full of energy and looking to please, so they can make a decent living. With all this excitement at the table, the first question you’re going to be asked is if you want water. Be careful how you answer here.
On our first night in Cabo, we ate at the Office Restaurant on the beach. The waiter asked if we wanted water, and we said yes, like we always do in the United States. The next thing we know, there are six bottles of water on the table. Each bottle of water cost us $6 and by the time dinner was over we had eight waters on our bill.
We paid close to $50 just for water at dinner. This is crazy when you think about it. An American couple we met who now lives in Cabo full time told us to request filtered tap water at dinner. Most restaurants won’t charge for it.
Tip The Important People in the Beginning
The important people on a vacation are the ones that take care of you every day, and I’m not only speaking about bartenders. When on a beach vacation at a resort, there will be hotel staff that help you set up your lounge chair and umbrella throughout your stay.
Usually, it will be the same one or two guys helping you set up and adjust your umbrella throughout the day, and they hand out the hotel provided beach towels. You can approach the tip a few different ways, but having a set amount in your head for the duration is a good place to start.
Five to ten dollars a day is a good amount to tip someone who is watching your every move on the beach to make sure you’re comfortable and shaded. Your room will most likely have a dedicated housekeeper who makes sure your room is tidy and replenished. A little tip at the end of the week goes a long way in making sure they have a decent, livable wage.
It’s good to set these tips aside when you first start your vacation. If you wait until the end, you may be so tired of tipping that your generosity might fall to the wayside. You can choose to pay it in the beginning, split it up during the trip, or all at the end. I find a little every day while on the beach guarantees great service.
Ask Your Hotel for any Discount Cards for Food and Drink
You can learn a lot from people you meet on vacation. A couple we met mentioned to us that you can ask the front desk for a discount card for 30% off food and drinks. We were told it’s not a guarantee you will get a card, but occasionally, they are available, and it never hurts to ask.
Best Months to Go to Cabo
The best months to visit Cabo according to locals and experienced travelers is November through May. We have been told by experienced Cabo travelers that Thanksgiving week is very popular, and the beaches are crowded. I’m sure there are many snowbirds that come in to get away from the cold weather.
Most trips we have taken were in the July and August months and the temperatures were in the 90s. The sand is so hot it is hard to walk on barefoot. The hotel pools are hot around this time, so the Pacific water is the best place to cool off if your resort has a swimmable beach.
Check to See if Your Resort Has a Swimmable Beach
If you like getting in the ocean, you need to check with your resort to make sure they have a swimmable beach. Not all beach areas in front of resorts are swimmable due to heavy currents from the Pacific. Make sure to verify this if you want to swim in the ocean.
The Pacific Ocean is cold and very refreshing, especially in July and August when it’s hot. The cool ocean temperatures are what keep balance on the beach as you lay out over the hot sand. Being able to cool down with a quick dip makes all the difference in the world while relaxing on the beach.
Don’t Do the Timeshare Presentation
No matter which resort you stay at in Cabo, you most likely will be approached by a timeshare salesman asking you to attend a presentation. The salesmen are very nice and will offer you room credits or other perks to attend a 1 1/2 hour timeshare presentation at a different resort.
The company that approaches you may call their offer a vacation or travel club, but at the end of the day, it’s a timeshare. Do not attend any of these presentations unless you can handle extreme sales pressure. It is mentally exhausting sitting through these presentations, and you’re better off looking for travel deals when you’re actually ready to go somewhere.
It takes many visits to an area to finally get comfortable with the routine and learn the best ways to navigate the week. While it’s easy to spend a lot of money at the beginning of your vacation, it starts to get old as you get to the end of your vacation. Hopefully, the tips in this article will provide some insight that will help you on your next trip to Cabo San Lucas.