(Editor’s note: This post was written with 2017 prices.)
U.S. dollars buy more in Mexico than in Guatemala. This price check on groceries illustrates that fact.
Prices in San Cristobal, Mexico, are generally much lower than our last stop in Antigua, Guatemala. Rent through Airbnb, grocery bills, and local transportation, for example, all cost less.
Our rent in Antigua was about $750 a month. It was a small one bedroom bungalow home in a private courtyard setting with every kitchen appliance we needed, endless hot water, free drinking water, plus a smart TV and excellent wifi. It was located right in town – within walking distance to everything Antigua has to offer, including one of the only parks in town that offered a view of all three volcanoes. The price was after the monthly discount, in the slower summer rainy season. We loved our place, and would stay there again.
Our rent in San Cristobal is just over $600. For retirees on a budget, that’s a substantial savings. It’s a one bedroom apartment (with no door on the bedroom), well-equipped kitchen, a private outdoor patio, okay wifi, a lot of hot water, free drinking water, and a fireplace for cold nights. It’s located in the Guadalupe church neighborhood, about six blocks from one of the tourist streets, about nine blocks to the town square, and about nine blocks to the local market in another direction. The price is after the monthly discount, and we are enjoying it here.
A tuk tuk ride in Antigua was about $2 to go across the small city on what would be a 20 minute walk. A taxi cab ride in San Cristobal is about $2.25 to across a larger city on what could easily be a 50 minute walk.
However, comparing Airbnb rent prices, and tuk tuk rides to taxi service, in two different countries, is not the best indicator on the overall cost of living. There are too many variables that go into pricing: foreign real estate values, peak times for fares, etc.
But with grocery prices, there is less wiggle room for variables. So, we created a list of grocery prices to illustrate how much further dollars go in Mexico. Most of our meals are at home, and we have been on many supermarket trips since we started this early retirement adventure a couple of years ago.
The price list below uses 7.3 Guatemalan quetzales to the dollar, which has long been the exchange rate, and 17.5 Mexican pesos to the dollar, which has fluctuated over the last year, but that’s what the rate is as of this writing.
The trend we’ve seen in our travels between the two countries is that prices overall are lower in Mexico. We’ve already give rent and rides as examples.
The specific examples used below also come from Antigua, Guatemala, and San Cristobal, Mexico, except for gas prices, which are national averages. Interestingly enough, gas is the only item on this list that is cheaper in Guatemala.
Guatemala: $3 per gallon
Mexico: $3.74 per gallon
(*Note, Mexico deregulated its gasoline market in early 2017, and prices have fluctuated greatly. This site here may help you determine more current pricing, on average, nationwide.)
Guatemala: $1.91 per liter
Mexico: $.80 per liter
Guatemala: $.14 each
Mexico: $.02 each
Vegetables at the main local market, not a grocery store:
Guatemala: $5 bought: 12 roma tomatoes; 4 medium-sized onions; 1 green pepper; 1 hot pepper; 1 bunch of broccoli; 1 pound of green beans
Mexico: $5 bought: 3 avocados; 20 small tomatoes; 3 large onions; 3 sweet peppers – one orange, one red, one yellow; 3 medium-hot peppers; 3 giant cucumbers; 1 pound of green beans; 2 giant heads of broccoli; 3 zucchinis.
(*Note, Antigua’s market was visited in June, San Cristobal’s in July, so time of year and geography play roles in availability and price. Also, we know we get the gringo price.)
Yogurt, no sugar added, 900 gram container (nearly two pounds)
Guatemala: $3.28 (cheapest brand available)
Cheese, gouda, per 1.1 pounds
Corn chips, plain, for salsa dipping, pound bag:
Guatemala: $1.09, when it can be found
Mexico: $.34, available everywhere
Guatemala: $.47 per 12-ounce can, at the grocery store; $1.20 per 16-ounce can (minimum) at convenience stores
Mexico: $.42 per 12-ounce can, at the grocery store; $.74 per 16-ounce can at convenience stores on sale
Guatemala: $2.50 per pound for packaged boneless, skinless chicken breast
Mexico: $1.85 for just over a pound of packaged boneless, skinless chicken breast
A note about where to shop. Most locals do not shop in grocery stores, but at specific locations such as carnecerias (butchers), bakeries, local markets, small farms, and street carts. Prices are dramatically lower in these neighborhood places, but Americans who are not well-traveled may be shocked at presentations and sanitation, especially at local butcher shops or the meat sections of local markets.
Raw meat hangs from hooks, or carcasses are spread out on counters. Often the meat is covered with flies. Watch where you step, because blood runs on the ground. Often there is no refrigeration in sight, and no obvious place for butchers and clerks to wash their hands.
My husband and I both had food-borne problems in the past and today tend to shy away from local butcher shops and meat sections at local markets. I stopped eating meat a long time ago, and I can hardly walk through areas with a lot of animal carcasses. I will avoid it most of the time, but some markets have meat mixed in with other goods, so it’s impossible to avoid.
Despite how this looks to most casual travelers, humans have eaten food from these kinds of places for thousands of years, and our species has survived.
We have enjoyed living and shopping in both Mexico and Guatemala. If we were going to stay in a location, we would chose Mexico over Guatemala, simply because it’s more affordable. But at this point, we’ll be living in Mexico for six months before we go explore another country, because there is more of the world we want to see. (But we do love Mexico for many other reasons as well! I’ve previously written about those reasons here.)
It’s worth noting that Guatemala is more affordable than other places. When we were there, we noticed almost all packaged goods made in that country (which were most goods) have distribution notices that state products made in Guatemala are shipped to the other Central American countries.
Bottom line: both countries are less expensive that most supermarkets and specialty shops in the U.S., with Mexican grocery prices beating out Guatemala prices as the cheapest.
Although the exact examples in the list above are from just two cities, we have been to many more places in each country. As budget travelers, we record every dollar we spend. Based on our recorded total expenses in other cities in each country, the trend in the list above holds true: Mexican prices, overall, are simply lower.