San Miguel de Allende is a beautiful high desert city in north central Mexico. Located in the state of Guanajuato, it’s just an hour and a half bus ride from Leon.
Great restaurants everywhere, beautiful parks and plazas. The only downside is that it’s known to be one of the most expensive cities in Mexico.
The best time to visit is during the week because an influx of young, wealthy Mexican tourists come to party on the weekend. Saturday night was like spring break with loud singing emanating from bars, lines out the door at restaurants and large crowds of semi naked young ladies taking selfies.
The rest of the week is more mellow and it’s easy to spend a day visiting the park, window shopping and just enjoying a stroll down gorgeous streets in perfect short sleeve weather.
Tolantongo Hot Springs are located in the state of Hidalgo, Mexico. This awesome complex has caves, waterfalls, a warm blue river, dozens of cascading infinity pools down a mountain side and zip lines (for an additional cost). There are hotels, restaurants, bars, tiendas, and camping areas for a more budget stay. Entry tickets for the day are $7.50 US per person.
There are two halves of the resort. On the ‘Grutas’ side you’ll find the big waterfall, a huge cave, a tunnel, the long blue river, and camping areas.
The ‘Paraiso’ side has the small warm infinity pools on the mountain side, a suspension bridge, a tunnel, and zip lines.
Travel Tip: Bring lots of cash! All those restaurants, bars and tiendas are cash only, and your room is too. Plus you have to buy entry tickets for both your arrival day and your departure day in order to get a room. So for us to stay 2 nights we had to buy 3 days of entry tickets. For our departure we caught the 7:30 AM bus and they refunded us for the last day we didn’t use.
If you like hot springs this is a ‘Must See’ in Mexico!
Palenque is one of the must see ruins in the Mayan world. It’s not as grand as Tikal, Guatemala, or with as large of a pyramid at Chitzen Itza in the Yucatan. But it’s location, setting and history make it a jewel. Misty green hills teeming with rushing creeks surround the ruins at Palenque. Howler monkeys provide their ghostly barks in the distance as you reflect on the civilization as it once was. It is located in the state of Chiapas, the southern most state in Mexico.
How we got there from Guatamala
We arrived after a long day traveling from Tikal, Guatemala. The route included a little known border crossing at El Ceibo in the very northwest corner of the Peten district of Guatemala. We crossed through slash and burn farming areas that border hundreds of square miles of jungle. Many other Mayan sites are presumed to be undiscovered. Because we were the only foreigners at the time, it took about an hour to get through the border. A more comfortable ride sounded nice today so we chose private transportation. We had a driver in a car on the Guatemalan side connecting to a mini van on the Mexican side. Door to door($50 p\p, 6 hrs.). You could use the local transportation with about 5 transfers ($20 p\p, 10 hrs.).
The Jungle Lodge
The town of Palenque is not terribly attractive. We opted for one of the jungle lodges that are scattered along the 3 mile stretch out towards the ruins. This provides you with cabana style accommodations while enjoying the jungle and wildlife. We stayed at Kim Balam that had a nice dipping pool and restaurant.
Bridges crisscrossed a stream that lead to different areas of the hotel. Peacocks and other little critters (like giant short haired guinea pigs) wandered about. Eerie growls are heard from the Howler monkeys in the distance or sometimes right overhead!
Cascadas Roberto Barrios
Our first day in the area we decided to head out to one of the several waterfalls located an hour or so away. Cascadas Roberto Barrios was the choice. We were blown away with the beautiful milky blue waters that flowed over hundreds of tiered pools. Cliff jumping, natural slides, rope swings, swimming behind waterfalls, you name it, picture perfect moments. You can book a tour at your hotel ($15) or use local transportation from the market for half price and stay as long as you like.
Tikal was the largest city in the Mayan world. An ancient city that took a thousand years to build and dates back to 200 A.D. It’s six square miles of paths through the wet, sticky hot jungle. We spent six and a half hours seeing the sights, and we didn’t see everything, so plan accordingly.
We felt like we had the place to ourselves because of Covid. The only sounds we heard as we walked were tropical birds and howler monkeys making their eerie horror movie sounds. Occasionally hard round fruits would fall onto the path, bitten by spider monkeys in the canopy above.
There are some workers there, quietly digging the giant pyramids out of the jungle that covers them. Several sites have not yet been excavated at all and just appear to be large hills covered in towering trees and vegetation.
We spent one night at The Jungle Lodge which is right at the entrance. This was a nice treat after walking and climbing stairs all day with a pool, restaurant and bar but it’s pretty expensive ($100 US per night). Another option is to stay in the beautiful island town of Flores, an hour and a half away on lake Peten Itza. We had a great hotel with a pool and several choices of restaurants within walking distance for just $55 US. We stayed there the night before we went to Tikal.
Tikal is truly amazing in size, height and grandeur. Add the feeling of being the original explorers finding these edifices hidden in the jungle and it’s an unforgettable experience. It’s a great time to visit!
We arrived to Antigua before our room was ready so we headed next door to Antigua Brewing Company. Climbing the stairs to the shady terrace we settled into a flight of six house brews. Taking the first sips we heard exclamations from fellow patrons and looking up saw ash spewing from the top of Fuego Volcano!
There is plenty to do, see and eat in Antigua! You can find international and regional restaurants, breweries, and wine bars, some built within old ruins. There are gorgeous cathedrals and ruins of majestic buildings that were part of the old capital of Guatemala before the big earthquake hit in 1773 and the capital was moved to Guatemala City.
You can spend hours just visiting the town square, feeding pigeons at the fountain and walking the colorful streets of Antigua.
A popular hike to Pacaya Volcano is currently closed due to the volcanic eruptions. We took a trip around the volcano to the other side where we waited until nightfall to get some good pictures. The lava flowing down with occasional loud explosions of ash and lava was pretty magnificent.
Traveling is fun, but after five weeks it’s nice to have a little R&R so we headed to Lake Atitlan. Because the small community of Santa Cruz de Lago is a great place for relaxing we splurged on a private home rental at Los Elementos for $55 a night.
The volcanoes were hidden by mist for the first couple days which made their unveiling quite spectacular when the sky finally cleared.
Many of the villages including Santa Cruz are only accessible by boat. You are let off at the main dock unless you can sweet talk (or pay) to be let off at a dock nearest to your accommodation. The lake front portion of Santa Cruz was about a mile long and getting around is solely on foot via boardwalks and paths meandering though tropical brush, in front of gorgeous villas, and up and down steps, across stone walls and so on. You pass romantic eateries, private homes and a slew of accommodations from upscale hotels and a few hippie hostels.
The expat community in Santa Cruz is remarkably welcoming. Alough it’s a quiet village we still found some nightly fun at a couple bars and even a rowdy game of pool.
You can catch a ‘lancha publico’ boat to visit any of the other villages around the lake by standing on the nearest dock and waving your arms. We visited San Pedro, known for its tightly winding streets and hippie vibe.
And of course swimming and kayaking are great ways to enjoy the beautiful lake!
Soaking in volcanic hot springs while watching hummingbirds and butterflies is a great way to relax. Fuentes Georginas is a ‘must do’ for any romantic or nature lover out there!
From Quetzaltenango we caught a bus for 7 quetzales ($1.00 US) each which brought us to Zunil. Then we got a camionetta (a pickup truck/taxi where you ride standing up in the back and there are metal bars to hold onto) for 25 quetzales each for the final 5 mile stretch up the steep valley to the hot springs.
You pay 60 quetzales ($7 US) to enter the site and get your ticket. Then we asked to rent a cabana for the night. We checked out 3 cabanas before we picked number 7. Number 1 was right next to reception and the restaurant (noisy) and smelled musty. Number 5 smelled like a porta potty. We picked number 7 because it just smelled like a fireplace (how romantic!). It wasn’t available until later so we carried our bags to the main pool and changed into our bathing suits in the changing/bathrooms. We felt secure leaving our bags on a bench within sight although lockers are available.
We soaked in the green hot spring water until we got hungry and then dried off with our sarongs (best universal pack item), grabbed our bags and walked back to the restaurant area at the front because the main restaurant next to the big pool is under renovation.
After an OK lunch with decent margaritas we checked into our private cabana. On Mondays the main pool is closed at 4 to drain and refill it. So we walked down to the smaller but hotter hot spring that is at the entrance to the resort.
We had dinner at the resort with a great view of the volcano. Sunset was amazing as clouds poured into the valley, billowing into shapes and making the volcano disappear and reappear.
Trouble in Paradise! That night Ian happily made our fire and lit candles to enjoy the ambiance. The wood was a bit green but he got it going. After some time passed smoke started rolling into the room. We’re pretty sure the chimney needs cleaning. We ended up opening the windows and doors and letting the smoke clear out. We enjoyed it while it lasted!
Todos Santos is a traditional indigenous village in the mountains at 8,000 feet. The local language is ‘Mam’ from the ancient Mayans but they also speak Spanish. We learned how to say ”How are you?” in Mam and most people seemed delighted. In the year 2000 a Japanese man and his Guatemalan bus driver were killed by an angry mob when visiting tourists where taking photos in the market. The locals believed they were there to steal children. We took extra care to be respectful!
Both the men and women wear traditional dress. This is one of the only remaining villages in Guatemala were the men still have traditional clothing. The men all wear red and white striped pants with a mostly white stripped shirt with cuffs and collars made of individual hand woven colorful patterns. The women wear multi colored dresses set on a black background and beautiful fringed aprons.
Got Spooked, but Luckily We Stayed
Our first night we wandered around until we got spooked by some drunks that followed us like zombies. Not many tourists have been through these parts lately and we were the ONLY foreigners in town. But the next day we had a great time getting to know locals that wanted to have a drink with us, or wanted to take our picture, or were just curious about who we are and where we came from.
Fun at Funky Museum
We visited a museum that was actually a family’s home and farm with a very small, dark and musty smelling collection of items. Some ranged from 2,000 years old! Our guide played some marimba music for us and sold Ian one of his shirts for a good price.
Very Small Ruins
A relatively short hike up and out of town leads to some ancient Mayan ruins which are mostly covered by earth and grass. On the way we stopped and chatted with a sheep herder boy with his sheep in a field of corn. We didn’t take his picture.
Bustling Market Day on Saturday
Saturday is market day, so we woke at 7 AM to the busy sounds of villagers selling and buying everything from shoes to live turkeys. We bought an individual sheet of Ibuprofen from a lady with a whole table of pills and medicines which had been dumped out of their boxes. People come from all the neighboring villages to sell and buy on market day.
Travel Tip: there are no colectivos or buses in Todos Santos on Sunday so plan accordingly. We had planned to leave on Sunday by colectivo but after waiting around a bit and asking questions we had to pay 125 quetzales for a taxi to take us up the dirt road half an hour to the main highway in order to flag down a colectivo (10 quetzales each) to Huehuetenango an hour away. You can see the price difference between taxis and local transportation!
From San Cristobal de las Cases we took a couple collectivos and a moto (the Mexican version of a tuk tuk or rickshaw) to El Chiflon Eco Park. The park had already closed at 5 when we arrived around 5:30 PM but they opened the gate to let our moto through and there was a man who rented us a cabana for 600 pesos ($30 US). The restaurant was closed so we dropped off our bags and had him call us another moto back out of the park to eat.
We set our alarm the next morning for 8:00 and had breakfast at the park’s onsite restaurant . We had the reception desk hold our bags and checked out then headed up the trail. Entrance was 25 pesos each. We stopped every chance we got to photograph the gorgeous opaque turquoise water.
There are five falls, each one beautiful. There are three zip lines, each one a different length and price if you want to zipline down. Be prepared for all the stone steps and very steep incline especially to see the top 2 waterfalls. Go early to beat the heat and most of the climb will be in the shade.
We made it all the way to the top and almost back to the entrance by 1:30 when we stopped for a much needed beer. After that we enjoyed swimming in the cold refreshing aqua pools below the falls.
We had lunch at the park restaurant where we saw iguanas and white throated magpie jays (see a pic of the magpie jay in my blog ‘Beautiful Beaches of Oaxaca Mexico’). Back on a collectivo headed to Comitan to spend the night before crossing the Guatemala border!
In the state of Chiapas in the south of Mexico is a delightful city that is a blend of Indigenous culture and modern sophistication. San Cristobal de las Casas offers plenty of International restaurants as well as local fare, wine bars, and even free tapas with your drink. Meanwhile there are colorful Indigenous locals weaving clothes in the shade and selling their wares both in the market and walking right up to you on the street.
Here are four things to do besides people watching while sipping wine or pox (the local corn liquor).
Explore Caves at Rio Arcotete
Take a taxi to Rio Arcotete just outside of town to the East. It should cost 100 pesos. Our driver tried to tell us it was 100 per person but we knew better and refused. It was only 100 on the return trip with a different driver.
Take a walk down to the river for a great photo opp and check out the cool cave you can explore.
Ride a Horse to an Indigenous Village
You can book a horseback ride to the indigenous village of San Juan Chamula from the tour companies all over the town center, but we got one through a hotel for just 250 pesos. It was a 3 hour deal with a 15 minute cab ride that dropped us off where the horses were waiting.
Then we arrived at the village and watched a procession leaving the church with guitar players, bottle rockets going off, and everyone in traditional dress. After that we paid 25 pesos each to enter the church and see the pine needle covered floor, statues of saints lining the walls and families gathered around hundreds of candles in rows praying. No cameras are allowed in the church.
Take a Hike and See Beautiful Orchids
Take a taxi out to Orquideas Moxviquil, a botanical garden with lots of orchids and a mile and a half hike in the woods to a small cave.
Take a Boat Ride Through a Canyon
Don’t miss a day trip to Sumidero Canyon for 340 pesos per person with https://jalapeno.tours. The speed boat ride through the steep limestone canyon is fantastic and you’ll see crocodiles, spider monkeys and tons of different birds.
We enjoyed San Cristobal so much that we extended our stay. It would be easy to spend months exploring this town and its surroundings!