The Baja: Tecate to Cabo San Lucas.
The Baja was not what we were expecting at all. We imagined it to be flat, sandy and lined with beaches. It’s actually a mountainous landscape with very long drives in between places of interest, with enormous cacti fields. Some pretty towns line the road to El Arco on the southernmost tip of the Baja. Most notable are: San Ignacio, a small village with a pretty plaza and great vistas from the Jesuit Mission; Todos Santos, where we were fortunate enough to see the release of 100 sea turtles; and Cabo San Lucas, where the majority of tourists aim for on the Baja (very Americanised). The Baja doesn’t make the highlights list for us, but it’s ideal for that ‘surfing, beach hopping, catch-your-own-fish’ lifestyle. Mossies were a bit of an irritant here, so it’s time to purchase that insect repellent.
The North: Topoloblampo –The Copper Canyon – Mexico City
There is a lot of driving involved with this area on roads that are not particularly good. It’s mostly pot-holed highways or twisty, narrow, steep inclines around mountains. It’s not a journey for the faint hearted and it’s a good days driving from Alamos to the waterfall. Consider whether the drive is worth it before heading off. There aren’t many highlights in this area, but the ones they do have to offer are pretty epic ie the Copper Canyon. Despite the issues with the whole prison ordeal, we actually enjoyed around the Creel area. Once we hit Mazatlan, things started looking up for us. We both said we’d go back to Puerta Vallarta, as it has that balance between touristy, loads to do, but you can easily escape the grounds and have a beach to yourself. Obviously, the cave beach pictures speak for themselves. The towns between Vallarta and Mexico City have the prettiest plazas in Mexico for us and it’d be a crime not to go to Tequilla in the country where the drink originates. Apart from Vallarta and Mazatlan, mossies weren’t really an issue in this area due to high elevation.
Central: Mexico City – Palenque
This is the point where the roads got better, although that’s a loose term. We found, in general the further south you go, there’s more toll roads and less pot-holes, although the awful topes remain. Mexico City isn’t the easiest to drive around, so make sure you have a decent sat-nav (see our Driving the Americas page) and it’s not during the restriction days (see our Mexico City blog note on this). Mexico City isn’t as unsafe as people make it out to be and it’s surprisingly pretty and interesting to wander around in. It goes without saying that the Xochimilco canal and Teo ruins are must-dos. Oaxaca is apparently the best place for Day of the Dead festivities and it didn’t disappoint. If you aren’t here for that time of the year, it’s still a good base for doing the numerous excursions within an hour of the city, including the Monte Alban ruins and the frozen waterfall. Also note, that we found the food through this section of Mexico particularly varied and tasty. See blog notes. Again, regarding the mossie situation, the jungle areas are rife, even in the day. Apart from that, look at the elevation on your sat-nav for an indication of if it’s likely to be a mossie zone. We found anything above 500 metres wasn’t a problem.
Yutcan Peninsula: Palenque – Cheutamel
Palenque was our favourite ruins in Mexico and set within the jungle. Go to the nearby free waterfalls for a tourist-free cool down. Chichen Itza was a tad under-whelming for us, but as stated within the blog, if this had been our first we might have been blown away. Still, it’s on the Seven Wonders of the World list. Miss it? Not a chance. Cancun isn’t a must-go-to place, but it offers a lot within its reach. If you’re just heading here for a few weeks holiday, we’d recommend Akumal or Player Carmen to stay. In general this section is the most touristy part of Mexico, but for good reason. This area has its fair share of mayan ruins, a vast network of Cenotes worth visiting, and golden beaches. Mossies come out to play in this area as you hit more watery areas and back to 0m elevation. Deet up around 5pm.
MEXICO IN GENERAL
Besides our highlights and lowlights listed, there’s a few things we noticed about Mexico as a whole. Firstly, the people. Unfortunately, we found majority of people (90%) were just after money and saw us as an easy meal-ticket. We spoke to lots of American expats who all mentioned incidences in Mexico of being screwed over the police or robbed by taxi drivers. We didn’t think Mexico was a dangerous country as such, but there’s no denying the corruption and complete discrimination against foreigners. If you don’t look Hispanic, be prepared to be ripped off. Always ask for the price first and don’t hesitate in slashing their stated price to at least half. We spent 34 days in Mexico, but we reckon you’d need a few months to do a good job and do the north properly and along the pacific coast. However, it did in parts get a bit samey for us, so it pays to be flexible and move on when you're over a place.
Read the relevant advice on each section above regarding the mosquito situation, as it’s very elevation dependent. Citronella products don’t work here. We used chloroquin, as it’s cheap for long term use and for importantly, it’s effective in this country. Read medical advice about each of the side effects and also base your decision on cost against duration, if you’re on a budget/travelling for a awhile.
Good road network.
The food - good, varied and cheap.
The scenery, which I think one can only be appreciated driving over land independently. The differences in terrain are massive.
Mexican people's sense of humour and their help with car issues.
Todas Santos (in the Baja Sur California).
Xochimilico canal - we liked all the weird stuff. If you want to see the quirky side of Mexico, do the 4 hour trip.
All of the colonial cities/town plazas.
Vallarta's cave beach.
Day of the Dead festival in Oaxaca.
Palenque ruins and surrounding jungle/waterfalls.
Tulum ruins and surrounding beaches along the town's coast.
Akamal - snorkelling with seven sea turtles and rays.
Climate - we may have been lucky/good time of the year, but temperatures were fairly consistent and a comfortable late 20s Celsius. NB Mexico has many towns and roads at high elevation, so it can get chilly at night, like in Creel. Along the Baja, mainly through the desert, as you'd expect the heat did get too intense for us at times. Expect short showers of rain a few times a day in/around Cancun too , as this is apparently common all year round.
The topes (speed bumps) - barely noticeable to the eye and sometimes in ridiculous places. NB They seem to be worse further north you go.
The corrupt officials. I think the blog notes explain this one.
Mexican drivers - never been to a country with such inconsiderate drivers.
Night driving (especially along the Baja's narrow roads) tends to be worse.
The check-points (especially along the Baja and north Mexico).
Country Number 1 on our Overland Central America expedition. Check out our entire route here.