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.
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!
We rented a car for $60 US a day for 3 days (including insurance and a one way drop off fee) and drove from Oaxaca city over the mountain pass to the Oaxacan coast. You can do it in a day but it’s a bit gruelling so we broke up the trip with a night in San Jose del Pacifico. A super twisty road but gorgeous views of cloud frosted valleys below was very rewarding.
We stayed in mellow, hippie vibe Mazunte for a couple nights before driving to Puerto Escondido to return the car.
There are several small cove beaches and one very long beach to explore in Puerto Escondido. We stayed in a small apartment with a pool at the quieter north west end and had the choice of walking to beaches, restaurants and bars or taking a taxi to the long, busier beach.
Then we took a two hour air conditioned taxi back down the coast to our new favorite beach spot, Huatulco. We made ‘home base’ the town of La Crucecita and rented a scooter for 8 days so we could explore all the bays we could possibly drive to. Parque Nacional Huatulco prevents you from driving to every bay but a snorkel charter can get you there.
There are 9 bays and over 30 beaches to explore in Huatulco with clear waters and tropical fish. Since we travel light we don’t pack actual snorkel gear. We just have one pair of goggles that we share and we know how to float!
After plenty of sunshine, sunscreen, cervezas, micheladas, margaritas, too much food and a flat tire on our scooter it was time to head back to the mountains! We bought tickets at $37 US pp for an eight hour overnight bus to San Cristobal de las Casas in the state of Chiapas. Woo hoo!
Churches in Oaxaca are like Starbucks in Seattle. There’s one on every corner. I spotted six while sipping a smoky tasting mezcal margarita on a rooftop bar overlooking Templo de Santo Domingo Guzman. Each church has its own unique color scheme, adding to the overall charm of Oaxaca. We found Oaxaca to have a mellow vibe with sweet, helpful people even though it’s a city of over 300,000 souls.
Oaxaca is famous for several things including cheese, chocolate, mezcal and seven different moles. The most complex mole is negro mole with up to 27 ingredients and takes half a day or more to make a batch.
A half hour bus ride for 80 pesos ($4 US) takes you to Monte Alban. A World Heritage site that was the capital of the Zapotec civilization where you can walk among pyramids, tombs, temples and ball courts over 2,500 years old.
Another fun day adventure was taking a colectivo out to a mezcal farm for 80 pesos ($4 US). It was a 45 minute drive out to the semi-desert country. We had to pass through a Covid checkpoint where our temperature was taken, we had to get out of the car and the car handles were sprayed with disinfectant and our hands were cleaned with sanitizer.
At the mezcal farm we learned there are hundreds of types of agave but mezcal is typically made from 12 varieties. You can buy a bottle made from a single varietal or blends, similar to wine. Tequila is made from one type of agave only, the Weber Blue agave. For mezcal it takes 7 to 15 years depending on the species for the plant to mature and form a pina at the heart. The pina is charred then chopped up and crushed by a stone wheel pulled by a horse to create a mash. We tasted this mash and it was sweet, similar to sugar cane.
Then the mash was cooked in copper kettles over a wood fire to distill it, then distilled a second time. The mezcal can be consumed in one month or aged up to 4 years. After our tour we had the pleasure of tasting at least a dozen single plant and blended mezcals.
After our stay in Oaxaca city we rented a car and drove the gnarly twisting road towards the coast and our destination of Mazunte. Half way to the coast we stopped and spent the night in San Jose del Pacifico at 8,000 feet and saw this gorgeous sunset! That night we enjoyed a wood fire in a private cabin while dreaming of the beach…..our next destination.
Morning breaks with a cacophony of sound. Flocks of green parrots screech as they fly from tree to tree. Roosters compete for loudest morning greeting. Chachalaca birds cackle and a small dog barks. The Sonic propane truck plays its cheery song. Quietly the air conditioner hums beneath it all at a comfortable 22′ C. I open my eyes to see the burnt orange tiles of the arched ceiling above me. Some of the bricks are crumbling from water damage and little piles of dust have accumulated on the floor in the night. Turning my head I see the lavender sky brightening to light blue through the shaggy palapa roof of our rooftop penthouse airbnb. Soon the clanging and banging sounds of construction will begin next door with the tinny sounds of Mexican radio filtered throughout. Good morning Sayulita!
Our research told us that Sayulita would be a more subdued version of itself due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. We arrived on August 31st and even though there is evidence of disease prevention in town the beach and streets are buzzing with activity. Restaurant employees are wearing masks, as well as hotel staff and store employees. Some tourists are wearing masks but the majority are not. There are square matts at entrances to wipe your feet on with I’m assuming antibacterial liquid and many places have hand sanitizer on tables and at entrances. Some restaurants are checking temperatures before allowing patrons to enter.
Besides that life is ‘normal’ here. There are tables with umbrellas in the sand. Surfers in the water. Vendors selling hats, dresses, sunglasses, toys, sculptures, jewelry, cuban cigars, massages and hair braiding. We got a couple one hour massages for $20 US that were excellent. The sun is hot, humidity high and water is warm. Bath tub warm but I really enjoy it. I can stay in for a long time just bobbing up and down watching the pelicans and frigates fly over head and crash into the water to catch fish. It’s very soothing to let my gaze wander over the brightly colored umbrellas dotting the dark sand with the palapa roofed restaurants and hotels behind them. Colorful spanish styled villas with arched windows climb the surrounding hills.
At the south end of the beach the fishing boats lay in the sand. It’s fun to watch the gulls, frigates and blackbirds swoop down to snatch up discarded fish carcasses in a churning circle that almost seems choreographed. The fishermen use their trucks to pull the boats to the waters edge as well as pull them out.
Playa los Muertos is a smaller beach just a short walk south of Sayulita. You can either walk around the rocky point or take the road that first winds around some fancy rental homes and then through a colorful cemetery.
A longer hike (about 30-40 minutes) up some hills and through the jungle takes you to secluded Playa Carricitos. With hardly another soul in sight this beach is a quiet get away from the main Sayulita Beach. Along the way you’ll see skinks on the ground, parrots in the trees, and hear hundreds of tropical birds that are hidden in the deep foliage. Palm trees, strangler figs, tamarind and the giant parota tree are just a few of the species competing for sunlight.
Downtown is hopping at night with drum circles and fire dancers in the streets, break dancers in the square, and the general hub bub of tourists driving golf carts and children and dogs running about.
We enjoyed a relaxing two weeks in this bohemian surf town with not much to do but surf, drink, shop and eat. The nightlife was entertaining, but we really enjoyed sitting in our patio furniture and listening to everything going on in town. There was modern DJ music, Mexican music, families singing, drum circles drumming, lightning flashing and occasionally….thunder booming. We’ll be back!