In October 2017 I flew into Mexico City and then spent two weeks in Puebla taking Spanish classes, followed by eight days exploring the state of Veracruz.
|1||Fly to Mexico City from US||Mexico City|
|2||Mexico City||Mexico City|
|3||Mexico City||Mexico City|
|4||Mexico City||Mexico City|
|5||Bus to Puebla||Puebla|
|6-19||Puebla - 2 weeks of language study; Day trips to Tlaxcala and Atlixco||Puebla|
|20||Bus to Xalapa||Xalapa|
|23||Bus to Tlacotalpan||Tlacotalpan|
|25||Bus to Veracruz||Veracruz|
|28||Fly back to US from Veracruz|
I timed my visit to avoid central Mexico’s rainy season, which falls in summer and early autumn. But my primary reason for coming in October and November was for Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead), which I had never experienced in Mexico. I wasn’t disappointed. This incredible celebration features some of the most beautiful, moving traditions and displays of folk art I have ever seen.
These days, between drug-related violence and devastating earthquakes, Mexico receives more than its share of bad press. However, I believe travelers who do their homework can still safely enjoy this incredible destination.
When planning my Mexico trips I check the U.S. State Department’s travel warning list and avoid areas with a travel advisory. I only take long-distance buses during the day to reduce the chance of robbery, and always leave my valuables like passport and laptop locked in a portable travel safe in the hotel room. I take Uber instead of street taxis whenever possible since it’s safer. If Uber isn’t available, like in the state of Veracruz, I research recommended radio taxi companies and save their number to my contacts for when I need a taxi.
The devastating September 2017 earthquake struck a few weeks before my trip to Mexico City and Puebla. Many friends asked if I planned to cancel, but since major earthquakes are a relatively rare event I felt one was unlikely to reoccur during my stay. The affected regions also desperately need tourism revenue to rebuild, so the best way to help is to visit.
I stayed in La Condesa in Mexico City, one of the areas hardest hit by the quake. However, the streets were full of life, and apart from memorials to the victims in La Condesa’s lovely parks and a couple of heavily damaged or collapsed buildings, few traces of the disaster remained.
In Puebla, the destruction of the quake was more evident, especially in smaller towns closer to the epicenter. Unfortunately, many historic structures in Puebla and surrounding communities were damaged and temporarily closed. It broke my heart to see those gorgeous buildings cordoned off with yellow tape.
However, the Mexican people’s resilient spirit is inspiring. The rebuilding process has already begun to reopen these emblematic treasures to the public. And Puebla still boasts such a wealth of attractions that I never felt a lack of things to see and do.
Getting There and Away – I flew to Mexico City from the States using American Airlines frequent flyer miles. American Airlines off-peak rewards flights to Mexico are a bargain at only 12,500 one-way, the same as domestic flights within the US. On my return, I used United miles to fly out of Veracruz airport back to the States. As usual, United is not as generous with its flight awards as American, but the convenience of not having to backtrack to Mexico City or Puebla made it worth it.
Getting Around – Mexico’s long-distance bus system is excellent and economical. I prefer first-class service with ADO or Primera Plus, but sometimes for shorter routes only second-class buses are available. Also, I’m excited to report that historic train service is scheduled to resume between Mexico City and Veracruz via Morelos, Puebla, and Tlaxcala in 2019! (link in Spanish)
Uber in Mexico – Uber is now available in a number of cities in Mexico. The cars are much newer and nicer than traditional taxis. More importantly, they actually have seat belts in back and are considered much safer than street taxis. Uber recently almost pulled out of Puebla over a regulation dispute, but fortunately it was resolved and the ride service remains available.
Airbnb provides incredible accommodation bargains as well as the opportunity to experience life from a local perspective. I also like being able to pay with a credit card, since many budget hotels in Mexico are cash only. To avoid unpleasant surprises, I look for Airbnbs with Superhosts and stellar reviews.
Unfortunately, smaller towns in Mexico often don’t have suitable Airbnb listings, so I stay in budget hotels instead I find through the Lonely Planet guide and TripAdvisor. In general on this trip, I paid US$15-30 for a private room with bath.
I recommend installing WhatsApp since it’s commonly used for messaging in Mexico.
Highlights of my Mexico City visit included taking in a lucha libre fight at Aréna México, visiting Mercado Jamaica with its colorful Día de Muertos offerings, and admiring the Blade Runner-like architecture of the stunning Biblioteca Vasconcelos.
Getting There from the Airport – I took Uber from the Mexico City airport to get to my Airbnb in La Condesa. I was anxious about this because I had read the chaotic traffic could make it difficult to get an Uber, but it was super easy. After arriving in Terminal 1, the Uber app directed me to go to Puerta (door) 6 or 7. There were fewer taxi queues at these doors, and it was easy to spot my Uber when it pulled up. It only took two minutes for my ride to arrive. I did see two charges from Uber, which initially concerned me, but the first charge was at the beginning of the ride to check the credit card worked in Mexico and was later reversed.
Mercado Jamaica is famed for its gorgeous flower market and Day of the Dead offerings. Eat Mexico, an excellent tour company, was offering a seasonal half-day tour of the market for about US $100 including tip. Since Mercado Jamaica is not in a dodgy area (unlike La Merced, which I visited in February with Eat Mexico), I decided to go on my own. I enjoyed wandering the massive market admiring the extravagant flower displays and colorful decorations and sweets for Día de Muertos.
Total cost of Mercado Jamaica self-guided tour: metro ticket plus huarache (classic fried Mexico City snack) plus half a liter of tepache (fermented pineapple drink) plus bathroom stop: MXN $45 or US $2.30. Not bad!
More Mexico City adventures:
Puebla is a colonial gem not to be missed. I spent two weeks there taking Spanish classes at the excellent Livit Immersion Center. I also took a lovely day trip to the nearby city of Tlaxcala.
From Puebla I took a direct bus to Xalapa. Highlights for me included the incredible anthropology museum as well as visits with some awesome local Couchsurfers to the coffee towns of Coatepec and Xico.
Tlacotalpan is a colorful river port on the Mexican Gulf Coast declared a Unesco World Heritage Site for its remarkably well-preserved colonial architecture.
Getting There – From Xalapa there are no direct buses to Tlacotalpan, so I took an ADO bus to Veracruz and then walked to the second-class bus terminal next to the ADO station to buy a ticket on a TRV bus to Tlacotalpan.
I spent two nights in Tlacotalpan, which possibly was overkill as there is just not that much to see and do. But I enjoyed wandering the picturesque streets at a relaxed pace, visiting its quirky museums, and sampling delicious fresh seafood on the riverfront.
I didn’t find the city of Veracruz that impressive. It probably didn’t help that I had a stomach bug while I was there. The centro is grimy and has a reputation for being dangerous.
However, as the oldest municipality in the Americas, Veracruz offers a wealth of fascinating history. I enjoyed visiting the old Spanish fort San Juan de Ulúa as well as a day trip to the former Spanish capital Antigua, now a sleepy village.
La Antigua’s sleepy charm belies its historic importance. It was founded as the capital of New Spain in the early 16th century by notoriously brutal Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortés. It was fascinating to explore remains from one of the very earliest Spanish settlements, including the second town hall and first Catholic church ever built in the Americas.
After sightseeing, I refueled with delicious seafood at the famed Las Delicias Marinas on La Antigua’s riverfront.
I had major difficulty figuring out how to visit Antigua from Veracruz by bus. In case you need to know, here’s how:
In Veracruz, go to the second-class bus station next door to the first-class ADO station and buy a ticket with AU to Antigua (MXN $29 one way). Take one of the AU buses with destination Cardel that leave every 10 minutes. The trip takes about 35 minutes; get off the bus immediately after passing the La Antigua toll booth. Cross the highway and it’s about a 10-minute walk to La Antigua’s main plaza. To return to Veracruz, the bus stop is exactly across the road from where you got off, just north of the toll booth.
Leaving Veracruz I took a taxi to the airport for my flight to Houston. Veracruz airport is small and the check-in and security processes were quick. Adiós, México lindo y querido. ¡Hasta pronto!