3 Weeks in Mexico: Guanajuato, San Miguel, Querétaro, Mexico City, Puebla, Morelia, Pátzcuaro (2016)

In spring 2016, after four weeks of Spanish school in Guanajuato, Mexico, I spent three weeks visiting San Miguel de Allende, Querétaro, Mexico City, Puebla, Morelia, and Pátzcuaro.

Itinerary

DayDaytimeSleep
Fly to LeónGuanajuato
Guanajuato - Four weeks of language studyGuanajuato
1Bus to San Miguel de AllendeSan Miguel de Allende
2San Miguel de AllendeSan Miguel de Allende
3San Miguel de AllendeSan Miguel de Allende
4Bus to QuerétaroQuerétaro
5QuerétaroQuerétaro
6Day trip - TequisquiapanQuerétaro
7Bus to Mexico CityMexico City
8Mexico CityMexico City
9Mexico CityMexico City
10Mexico CityMexico City
11Bus to PueblaPuebla
12PueblaPuebla
13PueblaPuebla
14PueblaPuebla
15Bus to MoreliaMorelia
16MoreliaMorelia
17MoreliaMorelia
18Bus to PátzcuaroPátzcuaro
19PátzcuaroPátzcuaro
20Bus then taxi to Morelia airport for flight back to US

Central Mexico Highlights

Timing

The burning of Judas, Easter Sunday, San Miguel de Allende

The burning of Judas, Easter Sunday, San Miguel de Allende

Viernes Santo (Good Friday) procession in Guanajuato, Mexico

Viernes Santo (Good Friday) procession in Guanajuato

March and April are excellent months to visit central Mexico; jacarandas are in bloom and temperatures are pleasantly warm during the day and cool at night. This time features the color and pageantry of Semana Santa in the colonial towns of Guanajuato and San Miguel. Since Easter is peak travel season, hotel prices go up and it’s wise to make reservations in advance for popular Holy Week destinations like San Miguel.

Safety

Unfortunately, safety needs to be considered as part of any Mexico trip. I checked the U.S. State Department’s travel warning list and avoided areas with a travel advisory.

I only took long-distance buses during the day to reduce the chance of robbery, and always left my valuables like passport and laptop locked in a portable travel safe in the hotel room. I also took Uber instead of street taxis wherever available since it’s considered safer.

Transportation

Getting There and Away: I flew to León from the States using frequent flyer miles. León airport is about half an hour by taxi from Guanajuato. On my return, I used miles again to fly out of Morelia airport back to the States. American Airlines miles flights to Mexico are a bargain at only 12,500 one-way, the same as domestic flights within the States.

Getting Around: Mexico’s bus system is excellent. Mexican students get a 50-percent discount on bus travel during holiday periods, so I used the student ID from my language school in Guanajuato to get half off luxury bus travel during the two-week Easter holidays.

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.

My Uber driver in Mexico City got hopelessly lost going from the historic center to the Terminal Oriente, a major bus station. Uber did refund most of the fare.

My Uber driver in Mexico City got hopelessly lost going from the historic center to the Terminal Oriente, a major bus station. Uber did refund most of the fare.

Uber does seem to be experiencing some growing pains. In Mexico City, I twice had drivers who got lost and took much longer than estimated to reach the destination, with resulting higher fares. I don’t think these drivers were deliberately trying to increase the fare because they seemed genuinely stressed.

Fortunately, Uber’s customer service is excellent. When they received my reviews and comments, they immediately credited me a partial refund of my fare based on what the cost should have been.

Accommodation

Courtyard of my Airbnb in Mexico City. It was specially decorated for the filming of a novela, Simplemente María, that was taking place during my stay.

Courtyard of my Airbnb in Mexico City. It was specially decorated for the filming of a novela, Simplemente María, that was taking place during my stay.

My preference is to always make reservations online so I have a written record in email. Unfortunately, Mexican hotels are often not reliable about answering email and are notorious for losing reservations.

To avoid these issues, I used Airbnb wherever possible. Good Airbnb hosts are great communicators and I liked being able to pay for my accommodations in advance using my credit card. I only stay in Airbnbs with stellar reviews, and a couple of the cities I visited, Morelia and Pátzcuaro, didn’t have high-quality Airbnb listings, so I stayed in budget hotels instead I found through the Lonely Planet guide and TripAdvisor. In general, I paid US$15-30 for a private room, usually with private bath.

Cozy Airbnb at the Casa de los Chefs in Querétaro, Mexico

Cozy Airbnb at the Casa de los Chefs in Querétaro

The wonderful Posada Mandala in Pátzcuaro, Mexico

The wonderful Posada Mandala in Pátzcuaro, sadly now closed.

SIM card and apps

I bought a local SIM card for my Android phone from the main Telcel office in Guanajuato. Getting local cell service was an interesting introduction to Mexican bureaucracy. Normally, when I buy a SIM in another country, a single clerk dispatches the entire transaction in less than 10 minutes.

In Mexico, even though I speak Spanish, getting mobile service was a convoluted process that involved three employees. The steps were as follows:

  1. Wait in line to speak to a receptionist and explain what I need.
  2. Receptionist directs me to a clerk behind the counter. Clerk informs me I need to buy a SIM first.
  3. Wait in line at payment counter to purchase SIM. I had my passport and local address with me in case anyone asked to see it, but no one did.
  4. Bring SIM back to first counter clerk. She explains the options for data plans. Choose the plan I want and go back to the payment counter to pay for it.
  5. Pay cashier for plan and take the receipt back to first clerk.
  6. Clerk installs SIM and activates the data plan.

I got a data-only plan since I planned to rarely use voice or text. (You can still use your account credit for voice or text if needed.) After the month was up, I added credit to my account at an OXXO, a ubiquitous convenience store chain, and bought another data plan.

I recommend installing WhatsApp since it’s commonly used for messaging in Mexico.

Guanajuato

Stunning view over Guanajuato from the El Pípila monument

Stunning view over Guanajuato from the El Pípila monument

I spent four weeks in Guanajuato taking language classes at Escuela Falcon. Guanajuato is visually stunning and has a lot of interesting sights. Día de las Flores is a celebration unique to Guanajuato the Friday before Palm Sunday.
Selling flowers on Día de las Flores, Guanajuato, Mexico

Selling flowers on Día de las Flores, Guanajuato

Incredible Easter egg crafts for Día de las Flores, Guanajuato. Made with hollow eggs filled with confetti.

Incredible Easter egg crafts for Día de las Flores, Guanajuato. Made with hollow eggs filled with confetti.

Dolores Hidalgo makes an excellent day trip from Guanajuato. I was lucky enough to catch the colorful celebrations on Palm Sunday. Be sure to try the unusually flavored nieves and ice creams for which Dolores Hidalgo is famous.

Palm crafts, Palm Sunday, Dolores Hidalgo, Mexico

Palm crafts, Palm Sunday, Dolores Hidalgo

Palm Sunday celebrations in Dolores Hidalgo, Mexico

Palm Sunday celebrations in Dolores Hidalgo

San Miguel de Allende

Street in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Street in San Miguel

From Guanajuato it’s an hour and fifteen minutes by bus to San Miguel. I was able to catch the burning of Judas ritual on Easter Sunday, in which life-size effigies of unpopular politicians and other celebrities are blown up in the main square.

Exploding effigy at the burning of Judas, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Exploding effigy at the burning of Judas, San Miguel

The head is all that remained of a Donald Trump effigy at the burning of Judas, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

The head is all that remained of a Donald Trump effigy at the burning of Judas, San Miguel

The Sanctuary of Atotonilco, known as the Sistine Chapel of Mexico, makes an interesting day trip from San Miguel de Allende.

The Sanctuary of Atotonilco, known as the Sistine Chapel of Mexico, makes an interesting day trip from San Miguel.

 San Miguel is pretty and has some worthwhile sights but the large population of retired extranjeros made me ready to leave town after a few days.

Querétaro

Museum of Arts, Querétaro, Mexico

Museum of Arts, Querétaro

Querétaro is pleasant and has enough sights to hold your interest for a day or two, but it pales in comparison with its showier neighbors San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato. I am generally easy to please and find something of interest everywhere I go, so I still really enjoyed it.

Ironically, my ability to find something of interest everywhere I go was severely challenged during my day trip to Tequisquiapan, a village about an hour outside Querétaro and the most boring Pueblo Mágico I have ever visited. After a few minutes spent visiting the church, lovely on the outside but plain inside, the only thing left to do was browse tacky souvenir markets. In desperation, I finally took a trolley tour in Spanish, which was reasonably entertaining.

Mexico City

Bellas Artes at night from the Torre Latinoamericana, Mexico City

Bellas Artes at night from the Torre Latinoamericana

View from the roof of the Catedral Metropolitana, Mexico City

View from the roof of the Catedral Metropolitana, Mexico City

Los Cocuyos, famous suadero taco stand in the centro histórico, Mexico City

Los Cocuyos, famous suadero taco stand in the centro histórico

The highlight of my stay in Mexico City was the street food tour I took with Eat Mexico. Four hours flew by as our little group of international travelers joked around together and noshed on food from about a dozen different vendors. Taking the tour helped me recognize common street foods like tamales and tacos de canasta and increased my confidence ordering from vendors during the remainder of my time in Mexico.

Eat Mexico tours cost more than the competition but the quality of the experience made it worth it for me.

Incredible pulpo (octopus) tostada, Mexico City street food tour

Incredible pulpo (octopus) tostada, Mexico City street food tour

Squash blossoms, Mexico City market

Squash blossoms, Mexico City market

Tlacoyo, Mexico City street food tour. Note the gory accident victim on the tabloid underneath.

Tlacoyo, Mexico City street food tour. Note the gory accident victim on the tabloid underneath.

Tacos de carnitas, Mexico City street food tour

Tacos de carnitas, Mexico City street food tour

Puebla

I took another outstanding Eat Mexico food tour in Puebla. A highlight was sampling huitlacoche, a corn fungus that’s considered a delicacy in Mexico.

Molote de huitlacoche. Huitlacoche is a fungus that grows on corn. Sounds disgusting but is absolutely delicious.

Molote de huitlacoche. Huitlacoche is a fungus that grows on corn. Sounds disgusting but is absolutely delicious.

Huitlacoche (corn fungus) for sale at the market, Puebla

Huitlacoche (corn fungus) for sale at the market, Puebla

Taco vendors, Puebla

Taco vendors, Puebla

My awesome guide on the Puebla food tour, Aleyn

My awesome guide on the Puebla food tour, Aleyn

Mole paste at the market, Puebla, Mexico

Mole paste at the market, Puebla

Delicious cemita (sandwich), Puebla food tour

Delicious cemita (sandwich), Puebla food tour

Locally made liqueur from a secret recipe, La Pasita, Puebla

Locally made liqueur from a secret recipe, La Pasita, Puebla

Mole sampler platter, Puebla, Mexico

Mole sampler platter, Puebla

I also visited Cholula, an adjacent university town that is more laid back than Puebla and makes a great day trip. I enjoyed exploring the archaeological zone, but most of all I loved visiting two spectacular indigenous churches, San Francisco Acatepec and Santa María Tonantzintla. I took an Uber to San Francisco Acatepec and from there it was about a half-hour walk to Santa María Tonantzintla. The elaborate interiors of these churches completely fascinated me, and I was lucky enough to catch a religious procession and special mass in progress at both churches.

San Francisco Acatepec, Cholula, Mexico

San Francisco Acatepec, Cholula

Elaborate interior, San Francisco Acatepec, Cholula

Elaborate interior, San Francisco Acatepec, Cholula

Procession bringing the Virgen de Juquila to San Francisco Acatepec for a special mass

Procession bringing the Virgen de Juquila to San Francisco Acatepec for a special mass

Virgen de Juquila, Cholula

Virgen de Juquila

Morelia

Morelia is off the gringo tourist trail. At first I didn’t find it as spectacular as Puebla or Guanajuato, but it grew on me after a couple of days. I think it would be a great place to study Spanish since it has so few tourists.

Morelia cathedral at night

Morelia cathedral at night

Danza de los Viejitos (Dance of the Old Men, mostly performed by children), Morelia, Mexico

Danza de los Viejitos (Dance of the Old Men, mostly performed by children), Morelia

Danza de los Viejitos, Morelia, Mexico

Danza de los Viejitos, Morelia

Pátzcuaro

Pátzcuaro has a magical, peaceful vibe, and cast a kind of spell on me. I stayed at the wonderful Posada Mandala, now sadly closed. I was here midweek and both the posada and Pátzcuaro were very peaceful. Supposedly things get much crazier on weekends and during holiday periods like Día de Muertos. I loved exploring Pátzcuaro and the surrounding villages like Tzintzuntzan.

Balcony, Posada Mandala, Pátzcuaro

Balcony, Posada Mandala, Pátzcuaro, which has sadly since closed.

Breakfast in Pátzcuaro: a corunda (triangular tamale) with crema and salsa and atole de chocolate, a very filling corn-based drink. All for 30 pesos (US$1.70).

Breakfast in Pátzcuaro: a corunda (triangular tamale) with crema and salsa and atole de chocolate, a very filling corn-based drink. All for 30 pesos (US$1.70).

Templo de La Compañía de Jesús, Pátzcuaro. In indigenous communities in Mexico, the saints are dressed in traditional indigenous costume.

Templo de La Compañía de Jesús, Pátzcuaro. In indigenous communities in Mexico, the saints are dressed in traditional indigenous costume.

I also visited Isla de Janitzio. I enjoyed the boat trip, visiting the cemetery that is a focus of Day of the Dead celebrations, and climbing the statue of Morelos. But overall I found the island pretty dirty and depressing.

Isla de Janitzio on Lake Pátzcuaro

Isla de Janitzio on Lake Pátzcuaro

Fisherman with traditional net, Lake Pátzcuaro. I think this guy was just posing for tips.

Fisherman with traditional net, Lake Pátzcuaro. I think this guy was just posing for tips.

Cemetery on Janitzio. One of the most famous places in Mexico to experience Day of the Dead celebrations.

Cemetery on Janitzio. One of the most famous places in Mexico to experience Day of the Dead celebrations.

From Pátzcuaro I returned to Morelia and then took a taxi to Morelia airport from the bus station for MX $200. Morelia airport is small and the check-in and security processes were quick. Adiós, México. ¡Hasta la próxima!

7 Comments on “3 Weeks in Mexico: Guanajuato, San Miguel, Querétaro, Mexico City, Puebla, Morelia, Pátzcuaro (2016)

  1. Awesome blog with so much wonderful information!! Love the pictures too!

  2. This is great! You have excellent photos and loved reading about your adventures. Lot’s of bus rides. You survived with great stories to tell.

  3. Outstanding pictures…. What an adventure. Thanks for sharing your journey. You make travel to Mexico sound very inviting.

    If you were not fluent in Spanish, would the trip been as nice?

    • Hi Roy, great to hear from you. I think you could get by in Mexico without Spanish, but off the tourist trail it would be a lot harder. For me, a big part of the fun is conversing with locals so I always recommend people try to get at least the basics down before coming. 🙂

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