We’re Saving Over $800 on Our Trip to Mexico… Here’s the Plan

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We’re Saving Over $800 on Our Trip to Mexico… Here’s the Plan

Moving back to the U.S. from Boquete, Panama next spring is going to be bittersweet. But we’re excited about our new adventures to come… starting with a trip to Mexico on the way back!

It’s still hard for us to grasp that we’re not locked into doing the “normal” type of vacations anymore. Since we’re early-retired and Faith’s homeschooling, we have the ability to slow travel or just make up new paths in life on the fly.

In this case, that’s exactly what we decided to do. We could have just went right back to Ohio from Panama, but we have that flexibility to make some other choices.

That said, we’re not making it rain over here either. We still need to be selective in what we do and how we do it. We’re adding on an additional $900 in costs to get back to Ohio because we’re taking a trip to Mexico along the way. However, we still found a way to save over $800 over what it would have been otherwise.

And that’s what this post is about today. I’ll tell you about our plans for the trip to Mexico and how we decided to change things up to save some good money!

What’s this trip to Mexico about anyway?

Initially, when we decided to move back to Ohio, we were going to leave in May of 2022. That’s because we want to be in town for a family event around that time. But after we thought about it some more, I suggested that we leave in mid -April instead and take a little vacation in Mexico along the way. I wanted to check out a place called Lake Chapala that I’ve mentioned previously.

There are two reasons we went down the path of taking a trip to Lake Chapala on the way back:

  1. I’ve heard some good things from folks here in Boquete about the Chapala area. Good weather, low cost of living, a nice community, a lot of ex-pats, etc. I don’t know much about the area, but maybe this could even be a future place to live at some point down the line.
  2. Because we can. We don’t have to get back to jobs or anything and Faith is still being homeschooled, so why not?

So, that’s where Lake Chapala came from. Lisa then suggested that we do an all-inclusive resort in Cancún after that for a few days. She mentioned that Southwest flies out of Cancún International Airport to Cleveland so we could use our frequent flier miles to then fly back to Cleveland for free.

See, she knows I like that word “free” so she led with that, of course. Regardless, we determined that it wouldn’t be too cost-prohibitive and it would be worth the extra fun to go there as well.

With that said, we could have saved some good money by just skipping Mexico altogether and flying right back to Ohio. Here’s what that would have looked like…

Moving back to U.S. directlyCostxExtended Cost
Flight: David (DAV) to Tocumen (PTY)$100.003$300.00
Shuttle from PTY to hotel (tip)$3.001$3.00
Hotel: 1 night in Panama City$100.001$100.00
Shuttle from hotel (tip) to PTY$3.001$3.00
Flight: Tocumen (PTY) to Cleveland (CLE)$350.003$1,050.00
Total Cost:$1,456.00

But, how boring would that have been?!

So, we’re going to get some playtime in along the way instead.

If you’ve been following along with our plans, we’ll be moving out of Boquete, Panama in mid-April of 2022. The game plan is to stay in the Lake Chapala area for a little over a week and then stay at an all-inclusive resort in Cancun. After that, we’ll fly back to the Cleveland area.

Trip to Mexico Part 1: Lake Chapala (Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico)

We’ve already booked the lodging in the Lake Chapala/Jalisco area in a gated community called La Floresta in Ajijic. We secured a 2-bedroom, 2-bath condo for $436.28 for 8 nights through Airbnb… how’s that for a good deal!

The property we booked offers free cancellation as well so we can let it go if we decide on something else down the line.

Trip to Mexico Part 2: Cancún

And then there’s Cancún…

Our timing should be pretty good for this stay. We should be getting there after spring break but before summer break starts. I’d imagine that it’s never very quiet there, but hopefully, it’ll be a little less busy than it has the potential to be.

We booked an all-inclusive resort called Crown Paradise Club Cancun that seemed to be what we were looking for while still in our price range. We’ll be staying there for 3 nights, all-inclusive, for a total cost of $694.63 for the three of us. That price sounds too good to be true for an all-inclusive, but hopefully, that’s not the case. It was a deal we got through a Groupon special and the reviews seem really good.

We’ve never been to Cancún before so we’re going strictly off of our small bit of internet research. I couldn’t tell you if the resort or even the location is good, but I guess we’ll find out!

It’s got 4 pools, the beach, water slides, 6 restaurants, bars, family activities including zip-lining and rock climbing, and a bunch of other stuff. So far so good!

We booked this with free cancellation as well. We saw a very similar deal on this resort offered through Costco travel. When we get back to the U.S., if the price still makes sense, we might purchase a Costco membership, buy it through them, and then cancel the Groupon deal.

Why? Because the Costco deal, even with the $60 cost of a membership, would be about the same price but also included a $26 Costco gift card, a $50 resort credit per room, and transportation to and from the airport… those are some worthwhile perks!

So tell me more about this $800+ savings?


When we first started mapping things out for our move back to the U.S., including our trip to Mexico, this is what our numbers looked like:

Stopping in Mexico (Taking a flight)CostxExtended Cost
Flight: David (DAV) to Tocumen (PTY)$100.003$300.00
Hotel: 1 night in Panama City$100.001$100.00
Flight: Tocumen (PTY) to Guadalajara (GDL)$442.003$1,326.00
Taxi from GDL to Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico$35.001$35.00
Lodging: 8 nights in Ajijic (Lake Chapala)$436.281$436.28
Lodging: 3 nights all-inclusive in Cancun$35.001$35.00
Flight: Guadalajara (GDL) to Cancun (CUN)$34.003$102.00
Lodging: 3 nights all-inclusive in Cancun$694.631$694.63
Flight: Cancun (CUN) to Cleveland (CLE)$57.233$171.69
Total Cost:$3,200.60

Now, we already knew that the price tag would be a little high for this trip because we’re cramming a lot in… but that’s still a lot of dough!

So how can we make it less expensive? I’ve already mentioned that we might be able to find a cheaper place in Ajijic (Lake Chapala), but we’re still only looking right now, so we’ll just call that icing on the cake if that happens.

Instead, my wife Lisa came through for us (I love it when she does that!).

She did some digging of her own and learned that the flight from Tocumen Airport (PTY) in Panama City to Guadalajara Airport (GDL) was pricey (Guadalajara’s the airport nearest to Chapala). As I write this, it’s floating at around $1,326 for the three of us.

And don’t forget that logistically, we’d first be heading in the wrong direction! We’d have to go east from Boquete to get to Panama City instead of just heading northwest to Mexico. So we’d also have the cost of that first flight from David (a city about 45 minutes from us) to Panama City… another $300 total for the three of us.

After pounding on the keyboard like something out of the Matrix, Lisa determined that we could take the bus from David, Panama to San José, Costa Rica. We could then fly out of Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) to Guadalajara Airport (GDL).

The total cost for the bus ride should be no more than $30 each. The total cost for the flight from Costa Rica to Mexico for the three of us… $705.

We’ll have to spend the night in San José, Costa Rica, but we’d have to do that in Panama City, too. So that part’s a wash.

But, Jim, a bus ride from Panama to Costa Rica? That’s gotta be like, like, well…

Let me stop you right there – it’ll likely take around 9 hours. How do I know that? Because we’ve done it before. We took this same bus ride on our way back from a cruise in 2019 (except from Costa Rica to Panama) and it wasn’t bad at all. It was an adventure, but it was comfortable, and a good opportunity to look around and enjoy the landscapes. Plus we got to be in Costa Rica a little bit, which is a place we’d never been to before.

That bus ride saved us thousands of dollars back then and it’s set to be the key to saving us some big money again. Here’s the pricing of the trip with the bus to Costa Rica and flying from there to Mexico instead of going to Panama City first:

Stopping in Mexico (Taking the Bus to Costa Rica)CostxExtended Cost
Bus: David, Panama to San Jose, Costa Rica$30.003$90.00
Taxi from San Jose bus terminal to hotel$5.001$5.00
Hotel: 1 night in San Jose$73.001$73.00
Taxi from hotel to San Jose airport (SJO)$10.001$10.00
Flight: San Jose (SJO) to Guadalajara (GDL)$235.003$705.00
Taxi from GDL to Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico$35.001$35.00
Lodging: 8 nights in Ajijic (Lake Chapala)$436.281$436.28
Taxi from Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico to GDL$35.001$35.00
Flight: Guadalajara (GDL) to Cancun (CUN)$34.003$102.00
Lodging: 3 nights all-inclusive in Cancun$694.631$694.63
Flight: Cancun (CUN) to Cleveland (CLE)$57.233$171.69
Total Cost:$2,357.60

Our trip cost goes from $3,200.60 to $2,357.60… that’s a savings of $843!

But, Jim, I gotta interrupt – why the bus? Isn’t your time more valuable than the $843 you guys will be saving?

Fair enough. But there are three things I have to say…

  1. What’s our hurry? We’re retired!
  2. I’ll likely end up writing an entire blog post on the ride – that’s time well spent in my opinion.
  3. We kinda liked it last time. It’s beautiful driving through Panama and Costa Rica. Plus, it’s fun and a cool little adventure.

So why not do it again to save us some big bucks? $843 to be exact!

Yeah, I know – awesome, right?

Everything we’ve booked so far for this trip to Mexico has been refundable. Because we’re living in a unique time, we have no idea what the short-term future holds. The pandemic can be closer to an end next year or some weird strain could shut down the countries and businesses again. Life’s interesting, ain’t it?

So we haven’t booked our flights yet but we’ll likely do that sometime in December. We’ll also probably get our bus tickets to Costa Rica at the bus terminal on our next trip to David in a few weeks.

Some things may change as we get closer, but I’m looking forward to what we’ve put together on this. It was going to cost us about $1,500 to move back to the U.S. regardless. Adding another $900 to the trip for almost two weeks in Mexico beforehand for the three of us doesn’t sound too bad either.

That’s the plan, folks! We’re going to miss Boquete, but I’m also looking forward to our new adventures to come… starting with this trip to Mexico!

UPDATE 09/26/21: We were able to get just shy of $700 in travel reimbursement for our flight from Costa Rica to Mexico through our Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. Travel rewards to the rescue again! You can check out that card as well as other cards we love on my Recommended Credit Cards page.

Plan well, take action, and live your best life!

Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

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12 thoughts on “We’re Saving Over $800 on Our Trip to Mexico… Here’s the Plan”

    1. Well, keep in mind that’s because we’ll use our frequent flier miles for that portion of the trip. Unfortunately, though, we’ll still have to pay U.S. tax and the TUA (Mexico’s airport tax), which is where that number comes from. So it’s definitely a bargain flight price in general, but it’s not really a free flight like the airlines claim you get. 🙂

    1. Hi Alex – I don’t think there are any big challenges in entering the country. My understanding is that the medical insurance requirement is no longer in place. Other than that, there will be an exit tax of $29 each when flying out. That should be included in the price of our airline ticket when we book it.

  1. You guys are a pro at this travel hacking thing now. Awesome!
    I suggest you spend at least a day in the old town.
    Here is my post from a few years ago. The food is a lot better and it’s more fun to mingle with the locals at Mercado 28 and Parque de las Palapas.
    Although, it’s hard to get away from the all-inclusive resort once you check in. It’s too comfortable. Maybe you can spend a couple of nights in the old town first like we did.

    1. We were just talking about if we’ll stray off the resort to check out more of the area. We’ll definitely get a good opportunity to explore the local culture while in Ajijic, but with only a few days in Cancun, our time will be a little more limited. I’ll check out your post though for some ideas if we make it happen! 🙂

  2. According to Jackie Lange today’s email the 180 days stay in Panama is back:
    “…Tourists Can Stay 180 Days If…
    A few weeks ago, Panama announced that tourists could only stay in Panama for 90 days. Previously, they were allowed to stay for 180 days. There was a lot of pushback, so Panama changed the rule to allow United States citizens and Canadian tourists to stay in Panama for 180 days…”

    1. Thanks, Alex – I was reading about the walk-back on the tourism rule for the US and Canada yesterday. It’s great news! Of course, things change here at the drop of a hat – we’ll see if that ends up sticking over the long run. 🙂

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