Help us plan our vacation in Mexico
January 27, 2011 2:55 PM   Subscribe

Help us plan our vacation in Mexico

Mrs Maninsuit and I are planning a vacation. We live in Toronto, and have a friend who can put us up for a few days in Mexico City, around Feb 18 or so.

What we are hoping to do is have a trip with a few days (3 or 4) in Mexico City and a few days (maybe 3) somewhere more relaxing – ideally by the ocean.

Our budget is limited, so we’re trying to do this not-too-expensively.

We are thinking something like this 9-or-10 day trip.
- Fly from Toronto to Mexico City
- Spend 3-4 days in Mexico City at our friend’s
- Take a bus to somewhere not too far, hopefully where there is a beach, where we can chill out (Veracruz? Acapulco? Somewhere else?)
- Spend maybe 3 days at the beach place in a hotel
- Fly back from the beach place to Toronto

A couple of questions:

1) Does that basic plan make sense? Is there some better way to structure our trip? It might be a bit cheaper to fly in/out of Mexico City, but it seems like it would create a lot of extra travel to/from the beach part of the trip.

2) Any recommendations for the undecided beach location? We hope for somewhere not too hard to get to from Mexico city. About us: We mostly want a relaxed time: hang out on the beach and read, maybe some really casual snorkeling, maybe go for walks or bike rides. We don’t really mind if things are a bit touristy, as long as we aren’t kept up by noisy partying. We aren’t terribly seasoned travelers, and neither of us speaks Spanish.
posted by ManInSuit to Travel & Transportation around Mexico (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: (ps: I suppose We are not *totally* committed to the 2nd location being on the ocean. Maybe somewhere else quiet/beautiful could work. Though we do, in general, like the ocean a lot...)
posted by ManInSuit at 3:07 PM on January 27, 2011

If you want quiet beach style stuff, you'd do worse than Zihuantanejo, which is a bit north of Acapulco. We were there last year for a wedding and had a great time. Wikitravel info. Most of our party stayed in a large-ish rented house way at the end of the Playa La Ropa. We stayed in a condo on the hill overlooking same, and found some great deals on VRBO.
posted by jquinby at 3:11 PM on January 27, 2011

Cancun would be perfect. Fantastic beaches, great restaurants, inexpensive. Easy air connections. I am a group travel agent and just returned from running a program for 150 people in Cancun - they all loved it.

Lots of clubs and restaurants if you're into that but if not, you can just stay near the hotel and enjoy the amazing beach.

We don't do individual travel at our company, so I can't help you book anything, but feel free to email me if you have any questions - I'd be happy to help if I can.
posted by kdern at 3:15 PM on January 27, 2011

Response by poster: kdern - Cancun seemed appealing but possibly a bit too far from Mexico City. It seems too far to go by any means than air. And the hassle and expense of an extra plane leg of the trip feels high: It looks like one-way tickets from MEX to CUN run typically around $225 or so. That extra $450 might push us a bit beyond what we're hoping to spend. (and my gut feeling, possibly incorrect, is that a plane trip, no matter how short, still introduces more hassle and risk of delays than a medium-short bus trip). But maybe there's a way to do it that I'm overlooking... It does sound like the more desirable locations are around there...
posted by ManInSuit at 3:20 PM on January 27, 2011

You'll spend about $40 on a very nice bus from Mexico City to Veracruz and it takes about four hours. The Pacific coast has nicer beaches and will be a little further way. Generally, your plan is totally workable. The bus network is way better than that in the U.S. It's a big country though.
posted by chrchr at 3:50 PM on January 27, 2011

San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato are great little cities. A bus trip should take about 4 hours from Mexico City if I recall correctly. They are both beautiful colonial cities and everyone I know who has gone there love them. That said, they are not terribly quiet, but super-charming nevertheless.

I lived in San Miguel for an extended period and have traveled there numerous times. If you want any information on it, Memail me.
posted by murrey at 3:57 PM on January 27, 2011

Oh, other places that are quiet/beautiful include Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende and, to a lesser extent Cuernavaca. They're all 17th century silver mining towns way up in the mountains with beautiful old buildings and twisty, narrow cobblestone alleys for streets. San Miguel is popular with U.S. expats. Cuernavaca, the setting for Lowery's "Under The Volcano" is nearest Mexico City and, from what I understand, it can be a little posh. I spent a few days in Guanajuato and it was breathtaking and amazing.
posted by chrchr at 4:20 PM on January 27, 2011

I always recommend Zihuatanejo in these threads. It's a beach town on the Pacific coast, laid back, not too touristy, and lovely.
posted by matildaben at 5:03 PM on January 27, 2011

For beaches within easy busing distance of Mexico City, really your only options are the Acapulco (5 hours) or Veracruz areas (5 1/2 hours). Google suggests snorkeling in either of those locations is doable. I've never been to Veracruz, but I don't think it's quite the white-sand-beach paradise that you get on the Yucatán/Caribbean coast. It's a port city. There should be pleasant places north and south of there, though. I detst Acapulco. But just north is a tiny-ish place called Pie de la Cuesta, and I go there often when I need to escape the bustle of Mexico City. I have always stayed at Villa Nirvana, which is excellent. It has a pool, which is important (scary, scary waves make the ocean unswimmable for most). More upscale and pricier is Vayma. You could stay there, but might be better off saving your money and strolling down there to enjoy the deck restaurant/bar at sundown. There's a lagoon behind the town where you can take eco-tours.

Matildaben's recommendation of Zihuatanejo is excellent. It's about 8-10 hours by bus from Mexico City, depending on factors that will be outside your control. Has international airport.

If you're willing to spend 13-14 hours on the bus, then you could go to either Bahías de Huatulco, Oaxaca state, or Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco. Both have airports with international flights. Of the two, I'd recommend Huatulco. Several lovely towns to choose from: Zipolite is particularly nice and relatively easy for non-Spanish speakers. El Alquimista is a great place to have a romantic dinner/drink on the cove, or stay several nights. On the main street in town is the best Indian restaurant in the country, run by a Scottish-Canadian chef who spent years in India and his Mexican wife. I can't remember the name of it, but it's not hard to find. Other popular towns are San Agustinillo, quiet but hard to swim at times because of strong/dangerous surf. (See Pie de la Cuesta, above.) There's also Mazunte, which is a nice walk from San Agustinillo but a little too backpacker for me. If you go to either San Agustinillo or Mazunte, take the walk to Punta Cometa, a gorgeous cliff spot above the sea that many say holds spiritual power.

Puerto Vallarta is much more developed, more of a city. Lots more tourists, lots bigger hotels. Very big with gay travelers (as well as snowbirds). Not too far to the south is San Patricio-Melaque, which I've heard good things about.

A bus to Cancun is 24 hours.

If no beach, the suggestions from others about the lovely mountain towns within five hours or so from the capital are good ones. You might be bored in Taxco after two days. San Miguel de Allende is full of gringo tourists and expats, which has effects both good (very well kept up, interesting international cuisine) and bad (feels like Disneyland at times). Guanajuato is spectacular, there's no other way to put it. I stayed here, and it rocked. Morelia and Pátzcuaro are true gems, and it's easy to see both of these on one trip. Personally I'm not a fan of Cuernavaca. Not as attractive, kinda busy and loud.

MeMail me if you want more details on anything or have further questions.
posted by donpedro at 5:20 PM on January 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

2nding Guanajuato. Went there this past summer and though it's not by the beach, it's a colonial, gorgeous, relaxing little town with plenty of views not far from Mexico City via bus.
posted by goodnight moon at 5:33 PM on January 27, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks! These suggestions are all super-helpful!

We will consider a gorgeous colonial town, but the pull of the Ocean is strong. I'm curious - so many people seem to hate Acapulco. What's bad about it?
posted by ManInSuit at 5:38 PM on January 27, 2011

Acapulco was in its prime about 20 years ago. Now it's not that nice. Also there have been some violent incidents recently.
posted by clearlydemon at 5:51 PM on January 27, 2011

Speaking for myself, I find Acapulco tacky, overdone, overcrowded and not in the least bit relaxing. Hard to enjoy a book at the beach when you're being approached every 30 seconds by a vendor. It's more about trashy nightclubs and Señor Frogs than tranquil mom-and-pop palapas. But it's a question of taste -- and obviously many, many people do like it. Otherwise it wouldn't be so crowded.

And yeah, what clearlydemon said.
posted by donpedro at 5:54 PM on January 27, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks! Good to know about Acapulco. We don't mind tousity, but trashy nightclubs and binge drinking are not our speed. I think that may be moot, since some web searches suggest that there are few if any cheap one-way flights from Acapulco to Toronto. Veracruz, on the other hand, seems to have such flights. Is it less gross than Acapulco?
posted by ManInSuit at 6:02 PM on January 27, 2011

Response by poster: (tousity = touristy) grr...
posted by ManInSuit at 6:31 PM on January 27, 2011

Nthing San Miguel (where I will be getting married soon!) and Guanajuato.
posted by Admira at 7:09 PM on January 27, 2011

Sorry, never been to Veracruz. For what it's worth, my Lonely Planet describes the city's beaches as "grimy." Has other good things to say about it as a city. I'm a huge fan of the "jarocho" folk musical tradition there. I know people who have gone to beaches they love to the south of the city, but I can't remember which -- and poking around on maps doesn't immediately turn up anything that sounds familiar.
posted by donpedro at 7:18 PM on January 27, 2011

Acapulco was in its prime about 20 years ago. Now it's not that nice. Also there have been some violent incidents recently.

There's Acapulco Diamante south of the main city that is nicer but to me it is pretty meh. After my first trip to ACA I likened it to if 1970s Miami and 1970s Las Vegas had a baby. There's lots of clubs that stay open all night and some decent beaches in town. There's a really chill beach just north of Acapulco called Pie de la Cuesta. I stayed in a place just a few meters from the beach for $30 a night. Clean room (no TV/Phone/class in the windows--just a screen or AC -- and it can be hot+muggy). But I totally loved the relaxed vibe. There was a cooler in the area where they served breakfast that had beer and sodas in it. You put your room number (there were only 8 rooms) on the notepad and a little tic for each time you take a drink and settle when you get out. Unlike the Hyatt's $4 chelas, the fee here was 10 pesos. Then about 20 meters from there, you'd get a lounger or hammock under a palapa and just relax. A kid from the hotel would come out and see if you needed more drinks, or he'd run over to a restaurant down the street. Just typing this makes me want to go back.

I've not been to Veracruz but a friend is from there. It has a rich history and isn't overrun with American and Canadian tourists (I consider that a plus). There's less of a beach Cancun/Cabo vibe for sure.

I like Huatulco and Puerto Escondido in Oaxaca state on the Pacific. Great beaches relaxing. Last I checked the only flights to Pto Escondido were from Mexico City and so that cuts a lot of Americans from going there because they like nonstops from the US. Huatulco does get a flight a day in from Houston on Continental. If you saw the movie "Y Tú Mamá Tambien" the secret beach they were going to was in Huatulco .

Puerto Vallarta is good too but you'll get more norteamericanos there. It gets a lot of cruise ships and lots of American tourists. I like staying in the Zona Romantico with in more mom&pop places.

I can appreciate your budget constraints and since it is just you and me talking here, you might want to check out VivaAerobus. It is a no frills airline in Mexico that is a partnership between a major bus line and Europe's EasyJet. So it is no frills. You pay extra for everything -- even using a credit card to buy a ticket, or to use cash to buy tickets at the airport. The seats are crammed together and it is just like the a bus in the air. But the staff are nice and the planes aren't new but are in good shape. Depending on when you are flying round trip MEX-PVR tickets are around 1200 pesos ($100) if you don't check baggage. They also list flights to Huatulco but in my little checking just now don't know when service starts.

Volaris is another Mexican airline that will be cheaper than the Mexicana or AeroMexico.

A lot of times my trips to Mexico was flying into Mexico City (or Monterrey or Guadalajara) and then take a local carrier to my final destination. Turns out much cheaper than taking the big international carriers the whole way. If you can get a cheap YYZ to anywhere in Mexico, consider seeing if you can get to Mexico City on another carrier.

The bus lines are great and often more comfortable than flying on US airlines. You get a 1st class, lujo or ejecutivo ticket and it is a newish Volvo or Mercedes. There's bad movies on the TV. And nice stewardesses the will bring you a soda or coffee. The tickets are just a few bucks more than first class and tend to be direct. The cheaper lines and classes are also better than Greyhound but they seem to stop every 5km. The downside is it takes a lot of time. If you're going on cities on a good autopista they're hauling along at 80km/h but in the smaller towns they get slower.

If you decide not to hit the beach, you could go north to San Miguel. Or south to Cuernavaca and tthen take a day trip to Taxco. You really can't go wrong in the interior.

One least note: Back in the day if you came to Mexico and kept to the touristy places, you didn't need to change your dollars (well, you did if they're Canadian). But now there's a $100 max on what businesses can take in dollars. And businesses need to get a permit to take dollars. So now it is a lot like Niagra Falls, ON now where some places will take dollars but everyone takes Canadian. So when you're in Mexico just use pesos.
posted by birdherder at 11:50 PM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Shit. Didn't preview and didn't see that donpedro mentioned the hotel in Pie De La Cuesta. And he talks about Taxco and Huatulco.

Still look at using the lower cost Mexican carriers to keep your vacation more than being on a bus. If remember correctly the flight from Mexico City to Puerto Escondido is a little over an hour versus a long long time on a bus. The trouble is getting there on the ground because you either go down the coast from Acapulco which is gorgeous scenery but the going is around 40km/h. The other route is do Cd Oaxaca which is a decent road. But the trip from Oaxaca to the ocean takes forever. Which means flying to Oaxaca won't save time unless you hitch a ride a ride on a 4 seater airplane for more than your ticket to Cd Oaxaca.
posted by birdherder at 12:03 AM on January 28, 2011

Response by poster: In the end - the sense I got from this thread (and others elsewher on the green) was that the really nice beach stuff in Mexico isn't really bus-able from Mexico City. So... we decided to splurge, more than my original question suggested we wanted to do: We did four days in Mexico city, and four days in Tulum (with one day in between taken up largely by travel: Flying from MEX to CUN, and then a car to Tulum.). It was a little more than we originally intended, but was super-nice and fun.
posted by ManInSuit at 2:23 PM on March 6, 2011

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