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!