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.
|Fly to León||Guanajuato|
|Guanajuato - Four weeks of language study||Guanajuato|
|1||Bus to San Miguel de Allende||San Miguel de Allende|
|2||San Miguel de Allende||San Miguel de Allende|
|3||San Miguel de Allende||San Miguel de Allende|
|4||Bus to Querétaro||Querétaro|
|6||Day trip - Tequisquiapan||Querétaro|
|7||Bus to Mexico City||Mexico City|
|8||Mexico City||Mexico City|
|9||Mexico City||Mexico City|
|10||Mexico City||Mexico City|
|11||Bus to Puebla||Puebla|
|15||Bus to Morelia||Morelia|
|18||Bus to Pátzcuaro||Pátzcuaro|
|20||Bus then taxi to Morelia airport for flight back to US|
Central Mexico Highlights
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Wait in line to speak to a receptionist and explain what I need.
- Receptionist directs me to a clerk behind the counter. Clerk informs me I need to buy a SIM first.
- 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.
- 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.
- Pay cashier for plan and take the receipt back to first clerk.
- 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.
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.
San Miguel de Allende
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.
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.
Eat Mexico tours cost more than the competition but the quality of the experience made it worth it for me.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!