"Where can I camp in Mexico? Is it easy to find free places? Is it safe?"
Where to camp overnight in Mexico was one of our biggest concerns before we decided to enter the country with our DIY camper van. Are there many RV campgrounds in Mexico? How much do they cost? Is it safe to sleep for free? We had so many questions and finding comprehensive information on where to sleep safely in Mexico when on a budget was difficult.
But after 15 months exploring all of Mexico in our camper van, we decided to put together everything we’ve learned about camping overnight in this country. We usually pay to sleep, but have also slept for free numerous times.
If you’re interested to learn more about all the many different types of places you can camp overnight in Mexico, keep reading!
The Best Camping Information Smartphone App
Most of the places where we camp overnight in Mexico are located in the iOverlander app.
If you are planning a road trip through Mexico, this app is a must.
Price Range: 100-350 Pesos/night (5-18 USD)
Best For: Safe, affordable overnight parking
For security, convenience, and peace of mind, we pay to camp much more often than we did in the USA and Canada. Roughly 70% of the time we are paying to sleep at an official campground.
Most campgrounds in Mexico usually cost between 100-200 Pesos ($5-$10) per night but some of the newer and nicer RV parks can get up to 350 pesos ($18) per night.
“Any advice when staying at Mexican campgrounds?”
Ask For The Price First
In Mexico, it’s important to ask for the nightly price before you decide to sleep there. Prices can be flexible depending on how many people are camping, whether or not you need electricity/water, or even how desperate you look.
Specifically, it’s important to confirm the following:
- How much is the nightly rate?
- Is the nightly rate a per/person amount? Or inclusive of everyone?
- Does the price include electricity? (Sometimes they charge extra for that)
In our case, inquiring about the nightly rate is the first question I ask the campground owner the moment I get out of my vehicle.
Check The Facility First
Before paying any money, we like to check the campground first. Specifically, we look for:
- Cleanliness of the toilet & shower rooms.
- Does the shower have hot water? Decent water pressure?
- Ant/mosquito/sand fly infestations.
- Is the campground regularly cleaned & maintained?
If the campground isn’t up to your standards, you can either leave or negotiate for a lower price.
Ask nicely and be reasonable when you negotiate the price.
Family-owned campgrounds can be flexible if you ask nicely. But more established campgrounds may be more firm on their prices.
Don't Pay for Multiple Nights In the Beginning
Many official campgrounds have a daily, weekly, and even a monthly rate. Although once you’ve paid, you will almost never get your money back. So be careful before handing over large sums of money to pay for the weekly or monthly amount.
Even if we are planning to stay for a while, we almost always way the daily rate for the first night.
That way we’re able to see the real conditions of campground facilities, the employees, and the surrounding neighborhood.
- Is the facility cleaned regularly?
- Is the shower acceptable?
- Is it a convenient distance from downtown?
- Are the staff and guest friendly?
We usually start paying for multiple nights if and when we are satisfied with the campground services. Otherwise, we move on.
Price Range: 300-700 Pesos/night (15-35 USD)
Best For: Simply passing through & AC for hot nights
The ‘Auto Hotel’ is a drive-in hotel usually found just outside cities and towns along the highway. These hotels usually pricier than most campgrounds, but if you are doing a long drive and just looking for a safe place to sleep for the night, these hotels are great, affordable options.
Most auto hotels offer a convenient drive-in option and there are usually no height restrictions to enter the property. So for those with bigger RVs and overlanding rigs can usually park their vehicles without any parking stress.
We’ve used auto hotels a number of times during the summer in Mexico when we really need good hot water showers and AC a night.
Go Back: Van Life Mexico Guide
Price Range: 150-300 Pesos/person/night (7-15 USD)
Best For: Central urban location and clean facilities
Many hostels in Mexico are usually cheaper than in the U.S, and are clean with modern amenities.
We’ve actually never slept IN a hostel, but we’ve parked in the hostel parking lot and slept in our own camper van while using the hostel bathroom and kitchen facilities. You can oftentimes get better rates by sleeping in your own vehicle instead of a room.
Prices to only use the shower, toilet, and wifi can range rom 40-100 pesos/night.
If a particular hostel doesn’t have a parking lot, it’s common to also simply park your rig just outside on the street side.
24 Hours Parking Lot
Price Range: 100-250 Pesos/night (5-12 USD)
Best For: Cheap, central urban location. Big vehicle friendly
Urban parking lots are a great resource when exploring Mexico’s urban areas when there are no campgrounds nearby. Many urban parking lots will have an hourly rate, daily rate, and a cheaper overnight rate.
These parking lots are usually staffed 24/7 for security and include a gate, which they will lock after 10-11pm. You can ask for a gate key if you think you will be out late.
And oftentimes, these parking lots will come with a basic bathroom (but no shower). Toilet cleanliness can vary, but don’t expect too much.
We were able to stay 2 weeks in Mexico City thanks to these 24 hour parking lots.
Price Range: Free
Best For: When simply passing through
Just like in the U.S, it’s possible to camp overnight in Mexico at major gas stations. Large, traveler friendly gas stations are often found along the main highways all throughout Mexico.
And just like in U.S, these gas stations often have toilets (and sometimes showers!) available and convenience stores nearby with food.
The downside is that gas stations are usually loud, even at night. So prepare for a sub-standard sleeping experience.
Before sleeping at a Mexican gas station, it’s important to ask the gas station attendant for permission. This way, they’ll know your intentions and will keep an eye out for your vehicle throughout the night.
Price Range: Free
Best For: Cheap overnight option
“Is it safe to park on the street in Mexico?”
We often get asked this question and so far we’ve never had a safety issue when parking on the streets.
Although we have been asked to leave certain places in the past, but in terms of safety, we’ve never had a problem.
We even feel safer parking overnight in parts of Mexico than in the USA.
We’ve learned that parking on the street in bigger cities is much easier than parking in rural areas or quiet neighborhoods. Cities are more anonymous and there are many transport vehicles like ours so we can usually blend in quite easily.
Ask The Police When you are in small towns
In the suburbs and rural areas, locals are very aware of what is going on in the streets. If there are unfamiliar people or vehicles, they notice it right away.
Therefore a big white van like ours stands out a lot, and, to some, it looks like a kidnap van. We actually had a security guard drive up to us because a neighbor was concerned about our vehicle.
Although the security guard was professional and friendly, he told u s we couldn’t sleep at that location and guided us to another acceptable location.
In small towns, the local police have the most power. And though it may sound intimidating, local police are usually very kind to tourists. If the police know you are planning to overnight in their town, they may allow you to park next to the police station or can point to you other safe areas to park at.
Restaurant Parking Lot
Price Range: Free, but whatever you paid for your meal
Best For: Cheap overnight option in local areas
If you eat at a local restaurant that has a bit of adjacent land where you could park your vehicle, you can ask the restaurant owner if it’s OK to park overnight.
Though it’s not guaranteed they will agree, chances are they likely will allow you to camp overnight for free since you are a paying customer at their restaurant.
Most rural areas in Mexico are usually very kind, safe, and welcoming. So if you’re parked overnight at a restaurant, the owner might even let you use their toilet or shower.
Tourist Site Parking Lot
Price Range: Free, but whatever you paid for your entrance ticket
Best For: Visiting busy tourist sites the next day
Overnight camping at tourist site parking lots in Mexico are usually informal overnight options. But if there is a security guard on-site, you can ask the guard if it’s allowed to park overnight in order to visit the tourist site the next morning.
We’ve done this at at archeological sites and waterfall sites.
This is a great solution if you are visiting a popular spot. Parking overnight at the tourist site ensures you can visit the site early enough before it gets too crowded later in the day.
Price Range: Free
Best For: Free parking when visiting urban areas
Just like in U.S, it’s sometimes possible to overnight park at Walmart stores in Mexico.
There is usually a security company responsible for overseeing the parking lot, so it’s smart to seek out a security guard to ask for permission in advance.
Choose Safety Wherever You Decide To Camp Overnight In Mexico
With all the different options to camp overnight in Mexico, it can seem a bit overwhelming.
But the most important thing to take into account when choosing your overnight spot is safety. If you’re at a parking lot, or a gas station, or even a campsite and the area is giving your bad vibes, just leave. We’ve done this several times where we’ve arrived at a supposed overnight spot but decided to drive out because we didn’t feel safe.
The majority of the time, however, we’ve had little-to-no issues when overnight parking in Mexico. We do end up paying much more often for secure parking than we would in the USA and Canada, but for us, the peace of mind is worth it.
Go Back: Van Life In Mexico Guide