What do I need to know before bike touring in Mexico?
November 26, 2009 8:04 PM   Subscribe

My friend and I are planning to bike tour in Mexico for around three months early next year. What should we know going in to keep ourselves safe given the current drug war problems in the country?

Basically, I'm wondering what two gringos with some but by no means fluent Spanish should know ahead of time to keep from getting into trouble. Are there areas of Mexico we should totally avoid? (Our route isn't totally planned yet and we obviously can't cover a huge portion of the country in our timeframe, so if there are places it would simply be dangerous to be, we can easily avoid them...)
posted by lhputtgrass to Travel & Transportation around Mexico (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Forget the drug wars, those are localized and sporadic and not directed at gringo tourists at all. A more pertinent danger you face is many miles of roads with little shoulder and muchos overladen trucks and busses roaring by.

Where have you been in Mexico before planning this trip?
posted by telstar at 8:22 PM on November 26, 2009

I'd stay away from Ciudad Juarez. At best, it'd be pretty bleak.

I've heard that the Yucutan is great for foreign travelers-- friendly, safe, beautiful.
posted by oinopaponton at 8:39 PM on November 26, 2009

No advice but I'm wondering if it would be helpful if people know if you are going on a bicycle or a motorcycle?
posted by sully75 at 9:24 PM on November 26, 2009

Stay out of the border cites. Blow right past, and don't stop for anything. Besides that you'll probably be all right.
posted by sanka at 9:40 PM on November 26, 2009

I talk with people who frequently go in and out of Mexico, and as far as the drug violence, they all say the same thing: Keep your nose out of any sort of cartel business and you'll be fine. The drug wars aren't random acts of violence, but targeted killings.
posted by azpenguin at 10:06 PM on November 26, 2009

This is true, but you don't want to be anywhere near anyplace where automatic gunfight is going down. Blow through border cities.
posted by sanka at 10:44 PM on November 26, 2009

Easy on the mescal. Some of the local seedier sorts feed off watching young backpackers and tourists get wasted on it, follow them out, and proceed to relieve them of any possessions they might have with them.
posted by mannequito at 11:01 PM on November 26, 2009

I went on a bike trip in Mexico many years ago. I loved it!

Get the People's Guide to Mexico . It's awesome; not so much of a 'where to go guide' as a what to expect from Mexico guide... and it's well written and humorous.

Don't worry about the roads. Stay visible (bright colours) and you'll be fine. I found the only shitty drivers to be Gringos in Motorhomes... the locals are used to slow moving traffic and gave us respect and room.

Take tools and parts, you may not be able to get them in some parts of Mexico.

I spoke no Spanish when I arrived, but I was fluent in French and picked up sufficient Spanish to get by.

The only areas I'd avoid are border towns, the Northern Deserts (unless you are looking for lots of really dry, really empty landscapes... with very infrequent sources of food and water) and the resort towns.

Mexico and Mexicans, by and large, are amazing. I love it there. I highly recommend the central highlands of Zacatecas, Guanajuato and Michoacan.

Yeah!! Have an awesome trip!

Oh.. BTW, I find SoCal far more dangerous than almost anywhere in Mexico.
posted by Sustainable Chiles at 11:19 PM on November 26, 2009

i second michoacan, perfect for biking!!
posted by freddymetz at 11:46 PM on November 26, 2009

I'd also recommend Michoacan. It is a gorgeous part of Mexico - tropical, very traditional with both quaint little Indian towns alongside beautiful colonial ones. This couple just biked through Michoacan in Jan-March of this year.

What should we know going in to keep ourselves safe given the current drug war problems in the country?

Mostly pay attention to your instincts. As others have pointed out there is still a lot of drug related violence going on but it is inter-gang warfare for the most part.

In Michoacan, there's La Familia, for example, but as you can see from that article, they are basically like an Italian-style Mafia - there's no reason an average biker tourist should cross their path.

My family is from Michoacan and like many Mexican families it is huge (we're talking hundreds and hundreds of people) The only gossip I've heard of family members getting involved in anything drug-related were those family members whom it seems were destined to get into some sort of trouble anyways. I've heard no rumors of random violence.

You will see occasional groups of soldiers on the roads with scary looking machine guns. These are mainly federal troops sent in by the President. Michoacan is his home state, you see, and he is determined to root out the drug cartels.

Anyways, I'll be in Michoacan next month to visit family. We're taking a trip to the Monarch Butterfly sanctuary as well, which I've never been to. I'll update this thread if the situation in Michoacan has changed in any significant way.
posted by vacapinta at 2:52 AM on November 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

You would learn a lot from reading the tour journals at CrazyGuyOnABike, which in spite of its name is one of the best sources of information on bike touring. Thousands of people have posted tour journals as they travel the world. The forums are active, too.
posted by conrad53 at 7:18 PM on November 27, 2009

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