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My Route Through Mexico – pt 2 Central Mexico and the Pacific Coast

Lash at Grand Velas - Nuevo VallartaMy Route Through Mexico – pt 2 Central Mexico and the Pacific Coast

In 2016 & 2017 I spent a whopping 14 months exploring the large, diverse country of Mexico.

When I first entered Mexico in late Jan, 2016, traveling up from Belize into Yucatan Peninsula, I loosely planned to stay about 1 month then head on to Cuba and other Caribbean islands. Little did I suspect how wonderful Mexico would prove to be! (Let alone that I would spend more than an entire year of my life exploring it)

But once I entered Yucatan, I quickly discovered that Mexico is huge, diverse, filled with beautiful natural places and equally gorgeous historic towns and cities. What’s more, it’s safe, clean, tranquil, laid-back and offers both modern life and rural escapes. I was hooked in no time!

LashWorldTour at waterfall cenote - Yucatan - Mexico

Here I am at a cenote with a high waterfall cascading down from its rim

I loved Yucatan so much that I ended up exploring the peninsula for nearly 3 months then returning a couple months later and staying the remaining 6 months of 2016 exploring more of Yucatan and eastern Mexico.

After a long Christmas/New Year’s Vacation (2016/2017) with family in Florida, I decided to return to Mexico yet again, this time to explore the country’s vast central highlands and extensive Pacific Coast. Nearly every place I visited in Mexico, including towns, cities, beaches and other spots, I greatly enjoyed. The exceptions were Guadalajara, Mazatlan and Manzanillo, the latter two horrible, over-developed, ugly coastal cities in my opinion. 

On the other hand, my absolute favorite towns were Guanajuato, Zacatecas and Patzcuaro. My favorite beaches were San Blas, Punta Mita, Barra de Navidad, Cuyutlan, Maruata, Faro de Bucerias, Zipolite, Mazunte and Puerto Escondido (the latter three, in Oaxaca State, I actually visited in 2016 during my first trip through Mexico).

famous Basilica Colegiata Nuestra Senora de Guanajuato

famous Basilica Colegiata Nuestra Senora de Guanajuato

In any event, since I’ve visited so many places in Mexico, and at my brother’s suggestion, I’ve decided to map my travel routes through Mexico and make brief notes highlighting each place I visited. Perhaps it will inspire you to explore Mexico too, and maybe give you a full or partial itinerary.

To check out my first Mexican travels, in Yucatan and eastern Mexico, see my next upcoming article. For central Mexico and the Pacific coast, read on.

As an overview, I made a 5-month loop starting in Mexico City, heading west through the central highlands til I hit the Pacific coast at Mazatlan. Then I headed down the Pacific Coast until I turned inland through Michoacan state and back to Mexico City.

Map of my route in Central Mexico

Phase One – Mexico City

To start this 5-month exploration, I flew into huge Mexico City on February 19, 2017. I stayed there two full weeks, visiting amazing world-class museums, admiring beautiful architecture and eating abundant street food and baked goods.

For more about Mexico City, check out these articles:

Introduction to Mexico City

9 Surprising Facts About Mexico City

10-100 Free Things to do in Mexico City

Gueretaro at nightPhase Two – Central Highland Historic Towns and Cities

From Mexico City I headed slowly westward, visiting a series of gorgeous historic towns and cities in central Mexico. Each has beautiful architecture, lovely plazas, art & entertainment, and fantastic museums.

However, each town also has its own particular character and usually one or two very special, unique museums. For instance, Guanajuato has its famous Mummy Museum, Queretaro has the fascinating Calendars Museum, Aquascalientes has the Museum of Death, and Zacatecas has not one, but three, amazing world-class art museums.

I spent about two months town-hopping westward. I wrote one article about most of these amazing towns, and two articles on Guanajuato, my favorite town of them all. Read more on those towns here:

Queretaro

San Miguel de Allende

Guanajuato

Guanajuato’s Mummy Museum

Guadalajara
Tequila – small town where Tequila was – and still is – created

Aquascalientes – small historic city with Museum of Death

San Luis Potosi

Zacatecas

Maruata beach - Michoacan - Mexico

Maruata beach – Michoacan – Mexico

Phase Three – Mexico’s Central Pacific Coast

After Zacatecas I finally reached Mexico’s Pacific coast at Mazatlan. From there I headed slowly southward & eastward along the coast for 2 ½ months, mostly hanging out at various gorgeous beaches, as well as camping at one small lake and visiting a few historic towns. Of course, I’ve written about most of my coastal destinations too. Find them here:

Mazatlan

San Blas Beach

Punta Mita Cape

Puerto Vallarta – coming soon!

Barra de Navidad Bay – coming soon!
Manzanillo

Cuyutlan Beach

Colima – small colonial town with great food and bakeries

Beach Hopping in Michoacan State – coming soon!

Los Chorros falls - Michoacan statePhase Four – Interior Michoacan State

After camping at gorgeous, little-developed beaches in Michoacan for two full weeks, I finally headed inland, on a slow route back to Mexico City. I spent two weeks visiting three lovely cities in Michoacan: Uruapan, Patzcuaro and Morelia. In addition, from Uruapan I visited the world’s youngest volcano, Mt. Paricutin.

Eventually I reached Morelia city, where my great Mexican friends, Iza and Jose, took me on two full day road trips through Michoacan state to visit the amazing waterfalls in a gorge called Los Chorros and to a huge, astounding natural spring lined by giant trees, called Camecuaro.

I haven’t written about any of these places yet, but hopefully I’ll find the time because all these towns and natural places are absolutely wonderful and well-worth visiting. Meanwhile, here are the names of the places again:

Uruapan – small colonial town famous for its national park (IN town!), coffee & avocados

Patzcuaro – adorable small colonial town & center of the indigenous Purepichan people

Volcan Pericutin – the world’s youngest volcano!

Los Chorros – canyon & extensive waterfalls

Camecuaro – natural springs & giant trees

Morelia – another gorgeous historic city full of elaborate churches, plazas and colonial buildings

Mexico City - Zocalo plaza and Municipal Cathedral

Mexico City – Zocalo plaza and Municipal Cathedral – view from my hotel

Phase Five – Mexico City and my departure from Mexico

More than five months after I landed in Mexico City back in February, I returned briefly to the sprawling capital city. This time I was primarily just preparing to depart Mexico. And having explored the city’s historic heart in great depth the first time around, in July I simply re-visited a few of my absolute favorite buildings and streets.

On July 27th, after only three days in the city, I took a flight to Guatemala to re-visit my two favorite places there: the beautiful colonial town of Antigua and stunning Lake Atitlan.

And so my long, enjoyable explorations of wonderful, diverse Mexico came to an abrupt end.

But there’s a very good chance I’ll be back one day! Despite over 14 months of travel around the country, I still have yet to visit the wild Baja Peninsula, the high dry northern desert states, the Copper Canyon by train, mystic Real de Catorce, and much of Mexico’s extensive Pacific coast. And, I just may end up living in Mexico one day after my world travels are completed.

So instead of “Adios Mexico,” I’ll leave it at, “Hasta luego.” See you next time around!

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Historic church in Patzcuaro

Historic church in Patzcuaro

Following is a brief synopsis of each destination I visited, to give you the main idea of each place

Central Mexico Highlands Towns and Cities

Mexico City

One of the biggest cities in the world, Mexico City’s large historic center is the place to stay and explore. In contrast to what you might think, Mexico City’s historic center and other famous places are generally quite safe. It’s well worth visiting for its gorgeous and varied historic buildings, diverse museums and interesting day trip options. This is a city for architecture and museum lovers.

I visited more than 20 great museums in two weeks. My favorites were Chapultepec Castle Museum and Tamayo Museum (modern art), both situated in vast Chapultepec Park. Most amazing buildings include Bellas Artes and the national post office building.

Historic aqueduct in Gueretaro - MexicoQueretaro

This small, gorgeous historic city is immaculately clean, full of beautiful buildings and charming stone plazas. Of note is its Calendars Museum, which has an extensive exhibition explaining different calendar systems throughout history, around the world, as well as a huge collection of calendars from various decades of Mexican history. Fascinating!

Very interesting night tours of the city recount historic incidents in Queretero’s past, led by guides dressed in fancy period costumes.

cobble-stone street in San Miguel de Allende - MexicoSan Miguel de Allende

This small hilly historic town has developed quite an amazing reputation in recent years. Just this year it was dubbed ‘The #1 Best City in the World’ by a major travel magazine. I strongly disagree with that nomination myself, but it is a pretty, charming town.

It’s extremely popular with Mexican high society with all its very high-end boutique hotels, Michelan dining, fashion & art events and galleries. It’s also a haven for international writers and artists. As a result, San Miguel is always crowded, noisy and congested. Finding accommodation and navigating the streets can be a real problem, especially on weekends and holidays & during its many exclusive events.

I liked the town’s architecture, cobble stone streets, galleries and gorgeous hotels. However, I was put off by the crowds (many of them quite snobby), noise and congestion. There are many other Mexican towns with equally stunning architecture but without the problems found in San Miguel. But it does have its many admirers.

one of Guanajuato's many tunnel roads downtown

one of Guanajuato’s many tunnel roads downtown

Guanajuato

This unique town is set in a steep ravine, with winding roads, misshapen plazas, gorgeous architecture and hills rising up all around. Along with Zacatecas, Guanajuato has my vote as Mexico’s best city.

It has many unique features including the amazing & famous Mummy Museum, the Don Quixote Museum, historic Silver Mines and nightly street entertainment in its main plazas. It’s a center for arts and music, with major universities situated in town and lots of aspiring young musicians & painters.

But perhaps most amazingly, it has several tunnel roads running right under the downtown streets and buildings, some entirely underground, some open-aired which you can view from bridges and higher roadways. It’s like an old Medieval town. I just loved Guanajuato.

Hostel Hospedarte - Guadalajara

Hostel Hospedarte – Guadalajara

Guadalajara

Guadalajara is huge, sprawling, incredibly crowded, noisy city full of traffic jams and modern stores. It has very little remaining historic architecture, as most of it was torn down to widen city roads and build massive empty plazas. So I didn’t care for this city much. Surprisingly, most other travelers I’ve met seem to like it there.

However, I readily admit that the huge historic building, Instituto Cultural de Cabanas, had one of the very best and most extensive exhibitions of modern art I’ve seen in all of Mexico. Read my views on Guadalajara here.

beautiful countryside with agave fields near Tequila

beautiful countryside with agave fields near Tequila

Tequila

This small historic town just west of Guadalajara is where the alcohol Tequila was created. The outskirts are surrounded by vast agave fields, the town center is quite charming and several Tequila producers offer guided tours of their distilleries, explaining the Tequila making process and giving out samples.

This makes a great day trip from Guadalajara (though it’s a horrible 3-4 hour trip in each direction, even though it’s only 50 km / 35 miles away) Better to spend the night, in my opinion.

Lash at Museo de los Muertos - Aguascalientes

Lash at Museo de los Muertos – Aguascalientes

Aquascalientes

Aquascalientes is hemmed-in by miles and miles of industrial sprawl in every direction, so getting into its core historic center isn’t the most pleasant experience. The city’s remaining historic heart is small but quite stunning, with several noteworthy buildings: a church built of golden stone that practically glows in sunlight and a government building with an absolutely stunning interior.

Also worth visiting is the Museo de los Muertos – Museum of Death – full of Mexico’s artistic skulls, skeletons and the history of beliefs about death among indigenous Mexican tribes, their Spanish conquerors and subsequent generations of Mexicans.

San Luis Potosi

This is another small city with a beautiful historic center, considerably larger than Aquascalientes and with four distinct plazas. It’s most famous for its impressive annual Catholic Silent Procession, held on Good Friday during Semana Santa – Easter – holidays.

Unique noteworthy museums include the Centro de los Artes & Museum, set in an amazingly restored, huge former stone prison; and Federico Silva Museum, primarily showcasing modern sculptures.

Zacatecas at nightZacatecas

On equal footing with Guanajuato for awesomeness, Zacatecas is my favorite small city in Mexico. Its beautiful historic center is full of golden stone buildings that are illuminated at night, creating a fairy tale setting. The city parks are especially lush and beautiful.

It has three world-class art museums that shouldn’t be missed: Museo Pedro Coronel, with a priceless collection of the world’s greatest artists (think Picasso, Dali, Monet); Museo Rafael Coronel, set in an old monastery and displaying over 3000 Mexican masks, among other collections; and Museo Manuel Figuerez, set in an old prison and showcasing amazing modern art and sculptures.

The historic Eden Mine, one of Mexico’s largest silver mines, makes a very educational, impressive tour. The Mina Club Bar, inside the actual mine, is the only one of its kind in the world, apparently.

Finally, La Bufa lookout point looms over the city, providing amazing views and short hikes in the forested hills.

Mexico’s Central Pacific Coast

Mazatlan

Mazatlan is a lower-to-middle-class family resort destination, where a series of tall, ugly cement hotel buildings line an otherwise gorgeous beach, and a traffic-clogged highway lined by chain restaurants, bars and souvenir stalls, runs just behind the hotels, one block inland. It’s a mess. One of the worst places I visited in Mexico.

Read my views on Mazatlan here.

my cabana at San Blas - on the left

my cabana at San Blas – on the left

San Blas

This mainly surfing beach with dark volcanic sand is situated about three hours south of Mazatlan and one hour from the state capital of Tepic. There’s a tiny town about 10 minutes walk from the beach. One end of the beach has a series of huge, open-aired seafood restaurants on the sand, while the rest of the beach is just backed by trees and distant mountains.

Quiet on weekdays, but jamming on weekends and holidays, when the restaurants play loud music or have live bands playing. Two restaurants have a few thatched bungalows for rent at the front of their establishments.

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Lake Santa Maria del Oro

This is a small lake set in the mountains about one hour from the city of Tepic. I camped there two nights, hiked around the lake twice, swam, ate in open-aired wood & thatch restaurants over-looking the lake.

Fairly tranquil during the week when there aren’t any Mexican holidays. Noisy and bustling at weekends and vacations.

beaches at Punta Mita

beaches at Punta Mita

Punta Mita

This is a triangular cape that struts out into the Pacific Ocean about one hour north of famous Puerto Vallarta. Most of the cape is completely closed off to the public as it’s a privately-owned property with two ultra-high-end resorts, a golf course and a few private homes on it.

The tiny town of Punta de Mita, sits at the entrance to the private land and is mostly a scruffy, dirty village. But beautiful beaches stretch southward from the edge of town and make great spots for undisturbed walks, suntanning and swimming. The only other people around are surfers. One of my favorite places in Mexico.

Lash at Casa Velas Resort

Lash at Casa Velas Resort

Nuevo Vallarta

This is an upscale, exclusive stretch of beachfront resorts situated about one hour north of Puerto Vallarta and just south of Punta Mita. It’s actually very nice since it’s so well-groomed, quiet and isolated.

I ended up spending a full week commuting there daily from nearby Bucerias because I had to review 12 stunning resort properties. I was invited to dine at four of them and stayed overnight at the most exclusive of them all – Grand Velas. As a result, I greatly greatly enjoyed Nuevo Vallarta. (Clearly not a place for budget travelers though)

charming Vallarta Architecture

charming Vallarta Architecture

Puerto Vallarta

This is one of Mexico’s most famous, most visited long-standing resort areas. I thought I was going to hate it.

But it turns out that PV is actually quite charming! It’s a real Mexican town, not just built from scratch for tourists, and it has a wonderful unique style of architecture, dubbed Vallarta style.

It has a stunning location, backed by forested mountains that plunge right into the ocean; Mexico’s nicest seaside walkway (malecon); several little neighborhoods with charming cafes, restaurants and bars; and even a small river and island in the middle of town. Puerto Vallarta is A-ok with me!

Barra de Navidad

Barra de Navidad is a small tourist village set on a large, gorgeous curved bay that’s lined by fluffy golden sand. The coast reaches northward with a series of stunning headlands. Sunsets are stunning. And immediately behind the little town is a huge freshwater lake, connected to the ocean via a narrow channel. Gorgeous!

beach umbrellas against firey sky - CuyutlanCuyutlan

Tiny, little-known Cuyutlan in Colilma state, is a seaside Mexican tourist village featuring a long string of open-aired thatched seafood restaurants on the sand and several distinctly Mexican hotels. The dark volcanic beach stretches indefinitely in both directions, straight as an arrow.

Amazingly, Cuyutlan is historically important. It makes salt. Most of Mexico’s salt, in fact.

It also has a great turtle conservation center and a large inland lagoon full of water birds and crocodiles that visitors can explore by guided boat. This was the easiest beach I visited during my whole trip, as I stayed in an actual hotel and could find food pretty easily any time of day.

Colima City

This charming little city about two hours inland from the coast, has a pretty city center, though no particularly great museums. Colima had the best food I ate in Mexico, second only to Puebla city. Nearby is even more adorably Comala town, with its entirely white buildings and cute plaza surrounded by famed tapas bars.

Maruata with stormy sky

Maruata with stormy sky

Michoacan Beaches

The Pacific coast at Michoacan state is full of mountains that plunge to the sea, rocky headlands, offshore rock pinnacles and dozens of little-developed curved beaches. There are also more developed beach towns like Playa Azul and Barra de Nextpa. But I skipped those and set out to explore the undeveloped beaches.

They were all beautiful and barely developed… But that did make for some travel difficulties. Getting to the beaches from the main highway was a chore. Finding food was difficult. Phone signals were nil and internet was hard to come by. Clearly if I wanted undeveloped in Michoacan, I had to deal with the actual Undeveloped hardships that go with it!

Sunset at Playa Las Brisas

Sunset at Playa Las Brisas

Playa Las Brisas

This beautiful grey-volcanic sand beach stretches for miles southward but comes abruptly to an end by rocky headlands at the north end. Little visited except on some weekends, this remote beach is inhabited by a family of sisters, each of whom have a thatched restaurant/bar on the sand near the north end.

Visitors can camp at any of the sister’s properties. There’s not much to do there except enjoy the sand, sea and sun.

Faro de Bucerias

Faro de Bucerias

Playa Faro de Bucerias

This gorgeous golden sand beach sits in a lovely curved bay with bright turquoise water, rocky headlands at either end and is backed by thatched palapas & restaurants run by indigenous Nahual people who own the land.

It’s great for camping and eating seafood with your feet in the sand. But be warned, this village has A LOT of children running around! It’s also extremely popular on weekends and holidays. Not the quietest ‘remote’ beach destination, as it turned out.

camping at Maruata Beach

camping at Maruata Beach

Playa Maurata

This gorgeous beach is generally considered the most beautiful in Michoacan state. It’s actually four beaches separated by rocky headlands, each with a different character. The main beach is inhabited by a Nahual village, with lots of thatched houses & restaurants right on the sand. But the other three beaches are much less inhabited, with just one or two discreet family houses per beach.

Strong ocean water is funneled between rocks & canyons, through crevices and around headlands, producing frothy roaring water, water sprays, surges and blowholes. Visitors can camp on the beaches, climb up headlands for incredible views and play in the water features. Outside the village beach, it’s a slice of paradise, to be sure.

Volcan Pericutin - the world's youngest volcano - near Uruapan - Mexico

Volcan Pericutin – the world’s youngest volcano – near Uruapan – Mexico

Inland Michoacan

Uruapan – small colonial town famous for its national park (IN town!), coffee & avocados

Patzcuaro – adorable small colonial town & center of the indigenous Purepichan people

Volcan Pericutin – the world’s youngest volcano!

Los Chorros – canyon & extensive waterfalls

Camecuaro – natural springs & giant trees

Morelia – another gorgeous historic city full of elaborate churches, plazas and colonial buildings

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So that sums up my 5-month explorations of central Mexico and the Pacific coast. I hope you’ll find some inspiration here to visit these wonderful destinations in one of my favorite countries in the world.

Onward ho! Central America, here I come…

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