Guide: Mexico

mexicofanGuide: Mexico

Guaymas—Obregon
Driving Time: 1.40 hours
Kilometers: 125
Miles: 78
Hwy: 15

This stretch of highway extends into the mountains utilizing a road in good condition. The driving is straightforward without too much confusion. Once you leave Guaymas follow the signs for Obregon and Navojoa.

While I was driving along this section I was really tired and thus I pulled off to the side of the road, in the middle of a mud pit, for some shuteye. I slept for about three hours, after which I was awoken by the federal highway police.

They said something indecipherable over the intercom and sounded their siren until I popped my head out of a window of my truck.

I waived, smiled and said, “buenos dias.” After several minutes of debate between the officers, they must have decided that it was too early to get dirty for some propina, they drove off, my luck was finally changing.

Learned Lessons

In retrospect, stopping in deserted areas is probably not too safe.

Though in a long journey there are times when Mr. Sandman will not cooperate with the personal desire to continue driving.

Therefore when you stop for a sojourner always stop at a gas station, restaurant or other luminous and populated location.

Special Directions

Going through Guaymas, turn right at the intersection before town and follow the signs to Obregon.

If you miss the turn go directly through town and follow the coast through the port and industrial area. You will eventually encounter the road leading to Obregon.

This is a bad road and goes through a nasty neighborhood and thus travel via the first road is recommended, although the second road is passable.

Obregon—Mazatlan (see map)
Driving Time: 8 hours
Kilometers: 668
Miles: 415
Hwy: 15

I had some bad vibes on this road.

I stopped at what appeared to be a federal inspection station, (some of the upper states have inspection roadblocks when entering or leaving the state—however, I didn’t run across any in the lower states after Puerto Vallarta), two men looking somewhat official came to my passenger-side door and opened it.

After some introductions one of the two men opened the glove compartment and started rummaging around.

By this time I realized that this so-called official was not so official, thus I ended the conversation.

However, this individual had already taken my flashlight and was thanking me for the regalo (present). I noticed that the other gentlemen standing around all had guns strapped to their sides, for this reason I gave the so-called present without objection.

As a side note, the toll road before Mazatlan is the best road of the entire trip and also the most expensive. Most tolls in Mexico cost between $2 and $4. However, this road cost $20. There is talk that this road is full of banditos because of the remoteness of the area.

You have the option of a free road. Turn left before the toll road at Guamuchil, thus bypassing the toll road.

This takes you through a much more populated area then the pay road, although it takes longer, it is considered safer.

Learned Lessons

Sometimes you can be overcautious. At no other time did anyone of official status approach my vehicle from the passenger side.

Most, if not all, federal officers will have some kind of identification or a distinguishable uniform. Use caution and common sense and never pull over unless solicited by an official.

Special Directions

When you enter Mazatlan head toward the coast and you will find both camping and hotel facilities.

Most hotels have guarded parking, notwithstanding, always take your valuables into your room with you. You might want to stay a day or two here, the beach is beautiful and the night life is especially good. Upon leaving follow the signs for Puerto Vallarta. You have a long day ahead so plan to rest well the night before your departure.

Mazatlan—Puerta Vallarta (see map)
Driving Time: 8 hours
Kilometers: 462
Miles: 287
Hwy: CA 15 & CA 200

Do not take the coastal road to Puerto Vallarta, it is the worst road of the entire trip.

There is a fork in the road about half way between Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta, stay on the road to Tepic and proceed to Puerto Vallarta via this route.

I asked one of the highway police which was the shorter route at the fork in the road and the officer said that the coastal route was shorter.

He failed to mention that there are about one hundred speed bumps and potholes.

The coastal route is about 100k shorter, however the roads are horrible and you pass through about 25 small towns. You are better off going to Tepic and than on to Puerto Vallarta. Note that just before Puerto Vallarta the time changes from Mountain Time to Central Time, add one hour.

Puerto Vallarta is a great town, you might want to take a short break here.

Next to the restaurant La Pachanga is a guarded place for your vehicle and your belongings.

You want to keep your eye out for places that offer board for vehicles as you enter these cities, in Mexico they are called pension para coche.

Sometimes you can find a hotel that has gated storage or enclosures for your vehicle, but if you can’t find a hotel there are usually gated lots that provide security for holding vehicles during the evening.

If you have a newer vehicle, or you are carrying a lot of nice things that you don’t want to lose, always find a secure place for your car otherwise you may have nothing to return to in the morning.

Pay the extra $10 or $20 for vehicle storage, it’s worth it!

Learned Lessons

Don’t take the coastal route to Puerto Vallarta.

Follow the signs to Tepic and then proceed on to Puerto Vallarta. At Tepic the road splits from CA 15 to CA 200.

From this point on you want to use CA 200 as a reference. Some travelers have reported that they follow the road to Tepic and then proceed on to Guadalajara.

From Guadalajara they choose one of the several routes that empties on to the coast, CA 80, CA 110 or CA 37.

By the time you navigate your way through Guadalajara and drive back to the coast your driving time would be close to the same, besides, you don’t want to miss Puerta Vallarta and the surrounding areas because they are undeniably magnificent.

Special Directions

When you first arrive in Puerto Vallarta you will encounter high rises, these are the major resorts.

Don’t panic!

Follow the road straight to the central part of town and to the less expensive hotels.

When leaving the city head south along the beach, next to the bus station turn right and follow the signs to Colima.

Puerta Vallarta—Ixtapa & Zihuatangjo
Driving Time: 12 hours
Kilometers: 651
Miles: 405
Hwy: CA 200

This potion of the trip is the most beautiful, the most dangerous, and entails the longest and most demanding driving.

Dangerous because you are traveling through the mountains of Michoacan and the roads wind, twist and turn for the majority of the trip.

You can expect your average speed to be between 40 and 50 miles per hour for the entire journey. Don’t drive any faster!

There are animals, potholes and speed bumps galore.

Nevertheless, you will see some of the most awe inspiring coastline of the entire voyage, the beaches are radiant, powerful and peaceful and never seem to end.

This trip took me 12 hours with stops to use the bathroom and fill my gas tank only.

I drove the last three hours of the trip in the dark. There are dangerous curves and extremely deep potholes that sneak up on you at night.

If you have to drive at night, proceed with great caution.

Zihuatanejo is a relaxing coastal town with pleasant people, smiling faces and good food. Find a hotel with night security and good visibility.

Enjoy the town and the beautiful bay, you deserve a break after the long drive from PV. Ixtapa is an expensive resort town located about 2k north of Zihuatanejo, its worth the hike or taxi ride to check out the beaches and night life.

About 1k outside of Ixtapa you will encounter a separation for Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo.

If you are a high roller, take the road to the right into Ixtapa. Budget travelers should continue south along the main route another 5k into Zihuatanejo.

At some point when you enter town you will need to exit the main throughway that runs through Zihuatanejo.

Turn right and follow one of the several side roads down the hill which will take you to the beach.

If you encounter a small traffic circle veer right at the second exit and this takes you directly to the coast.

There is an assortment of hotels situated near the ocean at economical prices.

Learned Lessons

This is an extremely long trip, but Zihuatenejo is an exquisitely beautiful town and it is a great place to hang for a few days.

If you plan to make the long trip get an early start and fill your gas tank at every possible location.

The city of Tecoman has several forks in the road, take the road to Playa Azul—not Pascuales. If you find yourself in Pascuales you have made a wrong turn in Tecoman, go back to Tecoman and find your way to Playa Azul.

Special Directions

The road is confusing after the first toll road. Stay on the road to Colima and exit the toll road at Tecoman. Always use the CA 200 sign as a reference and guide.

Follow the cities and signs with the CA 200 reference and you won’t get lost. In Tecoman take the road to Playa Azul, not Pascuales.

Ixtapa & Zihuatangjo—Acapulco
Driving Time: 4 hours
Kilometers: 290
Miles: 180
Hwy: CA 200

Leaving Zihuatanejo proceed up the hill out of town on to the main throughway. Follow the signs to Acapulco, you’re still on CA 200. Going into Acapulco is a nightmare.

The roads are horrible, the traffic is horrendous and there are literally thousands of people crammed into this coastal town.

Nevertheless, there are many things to do and an endless amount of sun, fun and adventure.

Getting out of Acapulco is an art in itself. Pay close attention to these directions or you will get lost. Head south and up the hill, if you are near the beach you must drive up, up and away.

Follow the signs for Mexico 95, this is the road to Mexico City and your passage to freedom. Once you work your way through the myriad of confusion you will come to an expressway that dissects the city. Get on the expressway and follow it south, follow any signs that display Mexico 95.

Eventually you will see a sign for Pinotepa National, noted Pinotepa N. on the sign. Follow this road, this is the one you want for CA 200. Follow the signs to Pinotepa and then on to Puerto Escondido.

Learned Lessons

If you miss the original turn for Pinotepa National you can make a U-turn and backtrack to Pinotepa. The U-turn is about 2k past the original turn, there is a sign, so don’t panic. Grab lunch somewhere in Acapulco and fill your gas tank, it’s 8 more hours to Puerto Escondido.

Special Directions

Head south and up the hill, if you are near the beach you must drive up, up and away. Follow the signs for Mexico 95, this is the road to Mexico City and your passage to freedom.

Once you work your way through the myriad of confusion you will come to an expressway that dissects the city. Get on the expressway and follow it south, follow any signs that display Mexico 95.

Eventually you will see a sign for Pinotepa National, noted Pinotepa N. on the sign. Follow this road, this is the one you want for CA 200. Follow the signs to Pinotepa and then on to Puerto Escondido.

Acapulco-Pinotepa Nacional-Puerto Escondido
Driving Time: 8 hours
Kilometers: 389
Miles: 242
Hwy: CA 200

Okay, your on your way to Pinotepa National.

When you first leave Acapulco the sensation is one of confusion as to whether your have chosen the correct road because there are no signs and you will pass through several small towns.

Yet if you turned off the main highway and followed the Pinotepa N. sign you have nothing to fear except for the fact that the roads are wicked for several hours after Acapulco, but after Pinotepa they improve greatly.

This is a straightforward drive, about 8 hours with lots of potholes.

Please be careful if you drive at night, read about my nocturnal adventure in the Learned Lessons section.

Hotel & Eats

In Pinotepa Nacional there is the Motel Carmona right at the entrance to the city. The place is always full and the big doors are shut tight until the morning.

There is a cafeteria located at the motel.

Time permitting, walk downtown and spend some time in the central part of the city, it is largly inhabited by indigenous Indians and it is a fantastic place to pass the time.

Puerto Escondido

PE is a great coastal town and those with some extra time might want to check out the gorgeous beach at Puerto Angel, about 45k south of Puerto Escondido.

These are some of the most beautiful beaches in southern Mexico.

If your not a strong swimmer you’ll want to be extra cautious while swimming at Puerto Escondido.

The surf is strong and the undercurrents are intensely powerful, it is know as the Mexican Pipeline.

This is a popular surf location, I urge you to spend some time here whether you surf or not, it is a truly magical locale.

Hotel & Eats

Puerto Escondido has may nice hotels and restaurants, just look around and you won’t go wrong.

When you first enter town you will come across may roadside hotels.

Learned Lessons

Use extra precaution, you’re now in the state of Oaxaca.

Just outside of Pinotepa National I was followed for several miles, the car behind me shone an extremely bright spotlight at my vehicle as I left the town.

Needless to say, I was concerned that I was in danger, it was 11:00 p.m. on a Friday night and I was in the heart of Oaxaca driving alone.

My Toyota pickup reached elevated speeds and made perilous corners that I thought were only possible in a small sports car.

Well, the Gods were good to me on this evening.

The car following me had a stroke of bad luck after several miles and thankfully something rendered the car useless.

In my rear-view mirror I saw smoke spouting from the “bad guys” engine compartment.

I can honestly report that I didn’t travel at night for the remainder of the trip!

A Fork In The Road

At Puerto Escondido you may follow the coast to the Guatemalan border or you may enter from the mountains near San Cristobal de Las Casas.

If you are not returning with your vehicle to North America you must travel to the border entry points at Talisman or Cd. Hidalgo in order to process your Mexican vehicle paperwork.

Special Directions

Fill your tanks in Acapulco, I almost ran out of gas before I made it to Pinotepa Nacional and I had an eighteen gallon tank.

This particular area has almost no regular gasoline stations, be forewarned.

For those that are desperate for gasoline, there are private enterprises along the route which will fill up a gasoline container at a cost 50% higher than normal.

Puerto Escondido-San Cristobal de Las Casas
Driving Time: 8 hours
Kilometers: 647
Miles: 402
Hwy: CA 200 & CA 195

After leaving Puerto Escondido the roads are bad, in fact, from Puerto Escondido to San Cristobal de Las Casas they are extremely bad.

This is a confusing drive so follow these directions and your maps carefully.

You want to head for Salina Cruz and then for La Ventosa. At Salina Cruz the road changes to CA 185 for a short distance and then to CA 190, do not use CA 200 as a reference.

Most signs after Salina Cruz read both CA 185 and CA 190. The road forks at Tapanatepec, CA 190 leading to San Cristobal de Las Casas and CA 200 leading to the cities in the south: Tapachula, Ciudad Hidalgo and Talisman. For those traveling to San Critobal de Las Casas follow the signs to La Ventosa and then on to Tuxtla Guitierrez. After entering Tuxtla Gutierrez veer right and follow the signs to Chipa de Corzo and then to San Cristobal de Las Casas.

Learned Lessons

Be cautious driving through Chapias, you’re in the heartland of people that have been struggling to preserve their identity for years.

Before making the drive from Puerto Escondido pick up a newspaper or talk with a local Mexican to determine the present situation in the area. This region of Mexico is like no other, both politically and aesthetically. Pine trees, green forests and cool days permeate this stretch of Mexico.

However, the greatest asset of this territory is the people. Chiapas is home to a large population of indigenous people. It’s a wonderful place.

A Fork In The Road

At Puerto Escondido you may follow the coast to the Guatemalan border or you may enter from the mountains near San Cristobal de Las Casas.

If you are not returning with your vehicle to North America you must travel to the border entry points at Talisman or CD Hidalgo in order to process your Mexican vehicle paperwork.

Special Directions

Don’t forget that the road splits at Tapanatepec. If your heading towards the mountains your going the right way to San Cristobal de Las Casas.

Those following the coastal route are urged to follow the signs to Tapacula.

Puerto Escondido-Tapachula-Talisman or CD Hidalgo
Driving Time: 9 hours—2 hours from Tapachula to the borde
r

Those individuals driving the coastal route should drive south from Puerto Escondido toward Tehuantepec on CA 200.

You want to head for Salina Cruz and then for Juchitan and Arriaga. Stay on CA 200 and head for Tapachula and the border, see the map in next section. You can enter the border at Talisman or Cuidad Hidalgo. The drive along Highway 200 to Tapacula is picturesque. Beautiful scenic country, and an excellent road make this a pleasurable drive.

Learned Lessons

Sleep well the night before you cross the Guatemalan border, the officials have a reputation for complication, bureaucracy and indolence.

If possible cross the border in the morning and allow yourself most of the day to deal with the crossing. Tapachula is the last city before you cross into Guatemala and you will find several excellent economical hotels. If you arrive in

Tapachula late in the afternoon stay the night in Tapachula.

The reason is twofold. Primarily, you never know how long your border crossing will take and therefore you should avail yourself plenty of time.

Secondly, if you are delayed at the border until dark you will have to travel deep into Guatemala before finding accommodations for the evening. Consequently, if you are forced to drive in the evening you may encounter the military or other undesirables while driving.

Guatemala is not Mexico and the two countries have nothing in common.

There are far fewer tourists driving through Guatemala then Mexico and the possibility of encountering guerrillas is still probable—in this context the word guerrilla does not refer to the animal, it refers to the people with guns and lots of military-looking equipment.

A Fork In The Road

At Puerto Escondido you may follow the coast to the Guatemalan border or you may enter from the mountains near San Cristobal de Las Casas.

If you are not returning with your vehicle to North America you must travel to the border entry points at Talisman or CD Hidalgo in order to process your Mexican vehicle paperwork.

Special Directions

Continue south out of Tapacula to either Talisman or Ciudad Hidalgo, both are entry points into Guatemala.

Talisman is a smaller border crossing area with Ciudad Hidalgo being the major commercial entry point into Guatemala.

San Cristobal de Las Casas-Cuauhtemoc
Driving Time: 2.5 hours
Kilometers: 170
Miles: 106
Hwy: CA 190

Driving in San Cristobal de Las Casas is very agitating.

There are several hotels on the out-skirts of town and everything is within walking distance of the center. A good place to sleep is The Maya. As you enter town, The Maya is located about two blocks past the Pemex station on the left.

There are two big iron gates at the front, which are closed at night and avail excellent security for your vehicle.

Leaving San Cristobal de Las Casas, follow the signs for Comitan out of the city and on to Cuauhtemoc. Cuauhtemoc is located on the border of Mexico and Guatemala.

Fill your tanks at any gas station you come across. When you see the iron gate across the road you are at the Mexican—Guatemalan border.

Hotel & Eats

The Maya costs 80 pesos, has hot showers and friendly service. There are plenty of great restaurants in San Cristobal de Las Casas.

You are in for a gastronomic delight!

Learned Lessons

Those taking their vehicles out of Mexico and not returning to North America may not exit Mexico at Cuauhtemoc.

You are required to process your vehicle paperwork at either CD Hidalgo or Talisman.

However, those that are returning with their vehicles to North America can exit at Cuauhtemoc.

Tell the border official that you will be returning to Mexico before your entry permit expires.

Check your Mexican Entry Permit before leaving the country, most are valid for 6 months.

A Fork In The Road

At Puerto Escondido you may follow the coast to the Guatemalan border or you may enter from the mountains near San Cristobal de Las Casas. I

f you are not returning with your vehicle to North America you must travel to the border entry points at Talisman or CD Hidalgo in order to process your Mexican vehicle paperwork.

Special Directions

If you’re at Cuauhtemoc and you need to process your vehicle paperwork, head back towards Comitan and catch CA 211, follow the signs to Huixtla.

At Huixtla go south on CA 200 and cross the border at CD Hidalgo or Talisman.

Departing Mexico
Kilometers: 690—150k from Tapachula to the border
Miles: 428—106m from Tapachula to the border
Hwy: CA 200—Guatemalan Border

Aduana

Checking out of Mexico is easy. Present your paperwork to the guard at the guard station immediately before the border.

You won’t miss the border, there is an iron gate blocking your entry into Guatemala.

There are no signs, hence, just look for the gate.

This is a very informal border crossing compared to the others and is worth the extra couple of hours drive. When I arrived at the border I was the only car crossing, no lines and no hassles.

The Mexican official will check your papers, ask you the usual questions, take a quick look through your possessions and then let you proceed.

Servico International de Fumigacion

Before leaving Mexico the fumigation police will spray your vehicle with a horrid smelling chemical.

Of course there is a nominal service charge. You will need the fumigation certificate on the Guatemalan side of the border, don’t throw it away.

After fumigation, which takes about 5 minutes, you are permitted to enter Guatemala.

Currency Exchange at Border

There are always several black market currency exchangers located at the borders.

You can’t miss them because they are the only people holding large amounts of cash in plain view in Central America.

You may exchange only enough to get you through the border and on to the next town or you can exchange enough money for your whole trip.

If your plan is to travel through Guatemala directly to Honduras or El Salvador, it is best to change a sufficient amount of money for the complete day.

There is no need to spend time trying to find and exchange money just to save a few cents. The rates are usually lower at the border, but on the other hand it’s hassle free exchange.

Latin American banks complicate foreign money exchange and most take their time when exchanging gringo money.

Even though black market exchangers are illegal, officials won’t hassle you when you exchange money with the exchangers.

Returning To U.S.

When you return to the US—Mexico border, before you cross, go to the Mexican vehicle check point.

The officials will direct you to a Banjercito (Mexican Army Bank) office. Turn in your Temporary Import Permit and Vehicle Return Promise Agreement as well as your Tourist Card (FMT). Your vehicle security deposit will be returned or your bond agreement, depending on which method you used to enter. Of course you can just drive across without the formalities, and it’s the simplest thing to do.

But remember they do hold a bond on your vehicle.

To avoid problems, take care of this before leaving Mexico or it will come back and haunt you. If you sell your vehicle in Mexico or forget to clear your credit card security you will be charged the value of your vehicle.

What’s your credit card limit?

Special Directions

When you return to Mexico several of the forms you used to originally enter Mexico can be used for your return trip.

For example, the Tourist Card (FMT) and your vehicle security deposit allow multiple entries.

These documents can be used for your return trip without getting new ones.

If there is any doubt, check with the Mexican Consulate. You may purchase Mexican insurance for the return trip in Tapachula, located near the border.

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