Cost of Living in Playa del Carmen

Dung beetle statues in Playa del Carmen

Let’s talk about the cost of living. When most people think of the cost of living in an area, they think about the prices of housing, vehicles, gas, taxes, restaurants, activities, medical needs, medications, clothing, and shoes. That is why it’s so crazy variable. If you own a car and eat out a lot, your cost-of-living comparison for different locations is going to differ significantly from someone like me who doesn’t own a car and eats mostly at home.

Eating in

Housing is another huge variable comparing costs. Consider not only the size of the place and how many bedrooms, but the location as well. You are going to pay more for a house with a pool by the beach than an apartment downtown. And if you move so far away from everything that you need a car, that added cost has to be taken into consideration. It’s very complex.

When I talk about the cost of living being so much less here in Playa del Carmen, I’m mostly talking about grocery store food. The reason is, I would never move to a place I couldn’t afford. I don’t own a car, I don’t own a house, I’m fairly healthy, and I don’t buy clothes or shoes that often. I’m just not that fashionable. So the fundamental difference from location to location for me is the cost of food… and alcohol. I don’t go out to restaurants all that often. If you go out for most of your meals, especially if you go anywhere near 5th Ave, you will pay similar prices to the United States. This is a tourist town, after all.

Making breakfast taco meat
Shredded chicken meat with onions and poblano peppers for breakfast tacos! Noms!

Homemade food in Playa del Carmen is cheap, cheap, cheap! Let me give you some examples in USD. Every morning, I have tacos for breakfast. A whole chicken costs about $6. Add in sautéed poblano peppers and onions because I love them. Then I top each taco with a fermented vinegar slaw with the best cabbage I have ever tasted. All the veggies cost about $7. Don’t forget the freshly made corn tortillas from the tortillaria for $1.50 per kilogram! A full kilogram of the best tortillas made fresh minutes before you pick them up!

Throw it into the pot

Now, I make up this big batch of shredded meat seasoned with achiote paste and a giant batch of the slaw ahead of time and store them separately in the fridge. I warm the tortillas up in the microwave inside a damp cloth. This allows me to have amazing breakfast tacos daily for about a week and a half for around $0.65 per serving. Which is crazy! And so delicious!

What do you do with the chicken bones you might ask? Well, I take those bones and toss them in the freezer. In a different bag, I add all the bits of veggies that didn’t make the cut (wink) while I was cooking. You know, the pepper seeds and stems, the ends of the onions and garlic, the core of the cabbage. Then once both bags are full, I make chicken stock and store it in the freezer. It’s like the bestest, thickest, collagen-rich broth you have ever had. For just about free! Waste nothing!

Now that I have chicken stock, it’s time to make Méxican Meatball Soup (aka: Sopa de Albóndigas)! All the onions and carrots and zucchini for this amazing meal cost around $3 and the ground pork costs about $4. The tortillas are so cheap I’m not even going to include that cost. The entire batch of amazingly hearty soup yields eight servings for around $0.88 per serving. And again, all the ends of the veggies go into a bag in the freezer for the next stock.

A little of this, a little of that

This is México, so you can’t get every ingredient you want. You might have to make some substitutions. I was looking for Kimchi in the store and couldn’t find it. However, I was able to get a friend from the States to mule me the unsubstitutable chili powder that is required to make Kimchi. Thanks, Friend! I substituted jicama for radishes and apples for pears, but other than that, I could find everything I needed to make great Kimchi at home (yes, my apartment smelled like Kimchi for a few days!).

Everything for the Kimchi cost around $6 and made three giant jars’ worth. So much Kimchi!!! With that, I’m able to make Kimchi Fried Rice. I used canned tuna because I’m a weirdo and I like it. Don’t judge me! It’s so good! Giant bag of rice for $8. Solid high quality tuna for $3. Onions and scallions and sesame seeds for around $2. Eggs for $0.18 each (I bring in an old carton and load up with however many eggs I want). Total for eight servings of Kimchi Fried Rice, around $9. Noms!

These are huaraches. Kind of like a Méxican pizza. Easy and delicious!

Remember that tortillaria I told you about earlier with the amazing and crazy cheap fresh corn tortillas? Well, they also sell ready-to-use hydrated masa harina (nixtamalized corn flour dough) for around $0.90 for a kilogram. Add some salt (and maybe some achiote paste if you’re so inclined), make little flat patties (about the size and shape as a flip-flop shoe bottom), and pan-fry them up to make the base for huaraches! Top with some homemade refried black beans, cheese of some sort, and stir-fried red bell peppers with poblano peppers. All sorts of noms!

Cheese is expensive… and delicious

The cheese is the deciding factor for the cost of huaraches. I like vegan cheeses which cost a lot… like $5 for a tiny square. You can get a medium round of cow-booby cheese for about the same price. In all, huaraches cost around $1.30 each. With the leftover harina, beans, and cheese, I like to make pupusas. You just mix some beans and cheese together, make six small balls with that, and surround each with wet masa harina. Then gently flatten the balls, being careful that the filling doesn’t squish out.

Pan-fry those goodness-filled hockey-pucks, top with some salsa and that slaw you have made-up for breakfast tacos, and noms, noms, noms! Probably costs around $1 a piece. You could make the salsa from scratch with fresh tomatillos and onions. Or be lazy and just buy it. There are so many options for salsas here! And a jar of the fancy stuff will run you around $4.

Migas!!! This egg scramble is so good! I topped it with leftover breakfast slaw.

I feel like if tortillas are so good and so crazy inexpensive, I should cook all kinds of things using them. Migas!!! Migas are a kind of egg scramble with tortilla pieces, onions, red bell peppers, and cheese. Look them up. So good! My vegan cheese jacks up the price on these. They cost around $1.40 per serving. Skip the cilantro, add some salsa, put it in a corn tortilla with more cheese… it will taco!

Salt, fat, acid, booze…

The other great thing to make with all those corn tortillas (an entire kilogram for $1.50! That is an enormous stack of tortillas!), is Tortilla Casserole (aka: Tortilla Lasagna). For this, I like to make my own salsa in the blender because you need a lot. Layer the bottom of a casserole baking pan with salsa, then tortillas, then homemade refried black-beans, then shreaded chicken, then cheese, and repeat layers until you fill the pan. Bake in the oven and serve with a bit of salsa on top. Noms! Makes around eight servings for about $2 per serving.

You might have noticed that I’m not including any seasonings in the cost of these foods. I brought seasonings with me when I moved here. Plus, the fruit stand just down the street has seasonings in bulk for like nothing. They have fresh-made achiote paste for a steal! If you were to buy all the seasonings in jars at the grocery store, that would add to the price of a meal. It all depends on the seasoning, how much you need for the recipe, and if you use that spice in other things.

Tortilla Casserole
This Tortilla Casserole turned out really well. Great for leftovers.

I’m also saving a boatload of money on alcohol here in México. You can get a large bottle of nice rum for about $12. The fancy mezcal runs around $16. And don’t forget tequila! That is around $15. Now, back in Seattle, I was spending $20 on a bottle of wine. That’s $5 per glass. Here I can make an amazing margarita or a fancy tamarind rum drink for around $1.50 per glass! I do miss wine, but I’m on a budget here… and I’m not sick of margaritas just yet!

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1 Comment

  1. This was awesome and now I’m hungry! Thank for sharing the food ideas and cost breakdowns. I Ike doing that too. Cheers 🙂

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