This article is part of our Internet and Phone Report series.
General Availability: Very High
Quality of Bandwidth: Like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. Quality and reliability is higher in internet cafes than in hotels.
Frequency of internet in hotels: Medium most places. High in touristy areas.
Frequency of internet in campgrounds: Zero in campgrounds. Medium in RV parks. High if there is a hotel associated with the camping/RV area.
Average cost to connect: Usually free. Places with fee usually charge around $10-20 pesos ($.75-1.50) per hour
Internet in Mexico is plentiful, but not reliable. If you need a steady connection, invest in a TelCel 3G modem (USB dongle). A powerful external wireless card with an antenna is also a good purchase, especially if you plan to stay in a lot of campgrounds. If you are going to setup a phone for making calls it doesn't cost much extra to add a data plan. I go into more depth about this in our article on Mexico SIM and internet via cell phones.
Although internet is easy to find, the quality is a mixed bag. In our two months crossing Mexico we had many instances when the internet failed us.
Bandwidth = 10kb/sec: The most frequent problem we ran into was super slow connections. Roughly 25% of the time, the internet was painfully slow. Like 1995 slow. Usually it came and went and with some patience we could eventually get our work done. However, if you have to make a scheduled conference call via VOIP or upload or download large files, you'd be out of luck.
Could not connect: In at least a half dozen hotels or campgrounds, one or all of us could not connect to the network. Or we could connect, but there was no data sent or received. Most of the time we could convince the owner to reset the router and things would pick up. Other times it was obviously necessary to call a technician and that usually meant resorting to a backup plan.
Too many users: In two locations we ran into the issue of too many users on one internet connection. We’d find that two of us could connect, but as soon as the third person logged on, someone else would get kicked off.
Poor signal strength: We discovered in the US and in Mexico that often wifi signals wouldn’t reach our campsite, or even the quiet corner of the restaurant. In Cabo San Lucas we purchased two USB powered external wireless cards. They work great when trying to pick up signals from a distance, and they also double as an extra wireless card. Occasionally we feared that the connection issues were the fault of our laptop's internal wireless cards. Having a spare removes that variable.
Hostels always have some type of internet. Most have managed to install wifi, even if the guidebook says internet only.
Hotels are a bit of a mix. Cheaper hotels in non-touristy areas will not likely have internet. Hotels that cost more than $700 pesos ($53 USD) a night will probably have internet. Hotels in touristy areas, like Cabo, Oaxaca, Merida, San Cristobal de las Casas and other big resort towns will all have internet.
Most campgrounds in Mexico are actually RV parks. There’s a lot more business to be had for RV’ers coming down from the US and Canada than from hobo tent campers like ourselves. Quite a few RV parks do have wifi. If the campground is part of a restaurant or a hotel it's more likely to have wifi. Although, this is not always true or reliable, more than once the internet was down or no longer available when we arrived.
The Traveler's Guide to Mexican Camping book by Terri and Mike Church is invaluable for determining where to camp and who has wifi. Although it’s a bit out of date, and many of the parks listed are closed, the wifi information is still the best you can find for camping.
Everywhere. Seriously. If the town is on the map, there will be an internet cafe. Be aware cafes in small towns are likely to close for siestas (just like all other shops in town). Touristy areas will have hundreds of internet cafes.
While there is no shortage of cafes, especially in mainland Mexico, not too many have internet. Bigger towns, like Oaxaca, Guadalajara, Puebla, and Merida will usually advertise internet access at coffee shops. But, unlike the USA, this is not the norm.
A 3G USB modem (dongle) was one of our best discoveries in Mexico. It was not too expensive and saved our butts more than once when the internet crapped out for one reason or another. There is a full article about Mexican cell phone and data plans here.