If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you’ll know that I’ve talked about wanting to go to Mexico for some time now. Back in January, I announced that we were going to Mexico, and presented out intended itinerary. Indeed, we went to most places in that post, but our actual route turned out a little differently than planned, so here’s a look at our Mexico itinerary over 10 weeks, where we stayed, what to pack, what we would do differently and how you can do it too!
We landed in Cancun in the Yucatán Peninsula and flew out of Guadalajara in Jalisco state and overall we visited 11 different places in our total time of 74 days in Mexico from mid January to the end of March 2017.
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Tulum: 3 nights
Our first stop after landing in Cancún was Tulum. We took our time to adjust from jet lag and mostly spent our time there wandering around town, checking out the street art, eating and visiting the ruins. Given that it was our first stop in Mexico, three nights felt about right for this, otherwise I reckon two would’ve been plenty.
#Tulum is of course famous for its Mayan ruins. It was one of the Empire's busiest port cities, and I actually came here about 15 years ago with my family, but I almost didn't recognise it, as it's changed quite a lot, with much of the complex cordoned off to the public, and visitors funneled through rather narrow walkways. The ruins are, nonetheless, quite impressive and the views out to sea by the Temple to the Wind are quite spectacular. Considering it only costs Mex$70 (€3), I don't think it's a bad deal! Check out the live link in the bio for a full guide to what to see, do and eat in Tulum. #samandzabinmexico #tulummexico #tulumruins #tulumlife #ruinasdetulum #vegantravel
Tulum was an easy introduction to Mexico for us, as it is very tourist-friendly and the town is easily walkable. Though they are touristy, the ruins were a definite highlight and are a good reason to visit in themselves, even if just as a day trip.
Where to stay in Tulum
We rented a small house with Airbnb in a residential area near downtown Tulum. There are of course many great hotel options in Tulum, including the Secret Garden Tulum Hotel for an excellent budget option, Coco Hacienda Tulum for something midrange but still in town and Prana Boutique Hotel if you want to be by the beach and feel like splurging!
Getting there and away
To leave, we took a bus with ADO to Mérida which took around 4 hours. This same service goes via Valladolid, so you could also make a stop there on the way. From Tulum there are also direct services to Playa del Carmen, Cancún and intermediate stops on the coast to the north as well as routes to Bacalar, Chetumal and onwards to Belize to the south. Cancún International Airport is 120km to the north and has connections all over Mexico, the Americas and Europe.
Read more about Tulum
Mérida: 4 nights
Having lived in the original Mérida in Spain, I was excited to visit its namesake in Mexico. We spent our time there enjoying the vibrant atmosphere, colonial architecture and art scene as well as discovering the highlights of vegan Mérida. I would definitely have stayed longer than four nights if I’d known how cool this city was: next time, maybe a week.
Another great surprise in #Mérida was stumbling across the @fundaciondeartistas, a non-profit organisation dedicated to connecting artists and the public. Their location in the historical centre of town is super cool, with several galleries surrounding a central courtyard that also has a café and regularly puts on performances of various kinds. Definitely worth a visit if you come to Mérida! #samandzabinmexico #merida #meridamexico #fundaciondeartistas #arteenyucatan #yucatan #yucatanmexico
Where to stay in Mérida
We stayed at the fantastic Luz en Yucatán, a boutique hotel in the historical centre of town, with large comfortable beds and great showers within easy walking distance of many of the main attractions.
Getting there and away
Leaving Mérida, we took an overnight bus with ADO to Palenque, which took about 6 hours. It wasn’t especially comfortable, and I would avoid doing it again. From Mérida, buses also go to Campeche, Ciudad del Carmen and many other destinations to the south and west. Manuel Crescencio Rejón International Airport is still within the city limits of Mérida and has flights to many Mexican and North American destinations.
Read more about Mérida
Palenque: 3 nights
Having decided to skip perhaps the most famous ruins on the Yucatán peninsula at Chichen Itzá, we instead opted to visit the lesser known ones at Palenque in Chiapas. We stayed in the modern town of the same name, and also visited some nearby waterfalls, and having three nights there in total felt just right to do all of those things and not feel rushed.
The ruins at #Palenque in #Chiapas are really very impressive! So nice that they aren't so busy with tourists too, and there's lots of space to roam around, several temples and pyramids to visit, many of which you can climb, unlike at other Mayan ruin sites in Mexico like Chichen Itzá. Like at Tulum, entry is only M$70 and it's easy to get to the site from town with a colectivo. If you go, turn up early though, because come 11am, it's bloody hot! #samandzabinmexico #palenquemexico #palenqueruins #ruinasmayas #ruinasdepalenque
Where to stay in Palenque
We stayed at the Hotel Maya Rue in downtown Palenque which had comfortable beds and a convenient (but not necessarily quietest) location for a reasonable price. There are plenty of other options such as the well-liked Hotel Maya Tulipanes in a quieter area of town (where we had excellent massages) or Hotel Paraíso Inn for something much more luxurious and closer to the ruins than the town.
Getting there and away
Palenque has direct bus connections to most other cities in Chiapas as well as to neighbouring states. As with much of southern Mexico, the main operator is ADO. The closest airport to Palenque is Carlos Rovirosa Pérez International Airport, 130km to the west near the city of Villahermosa, to which ADO runs direct bus services from Palenque. From there, you can fly to a small selection of Mexican cities as well as across the boarder to Texas.
Read more about Palenque
San Cristobal de las Casas: 4 nights
The beautiful but chilly colonial town of San Cristobal de las Casas was our second stop in Chiapas and definitely worth it. Firmly established on the gringo trail, this town certainly doesn’t lack charm despite the large tourist presence. We found several nice cafés to work from as well as plenty of vegan eats. Spendings four nights there was just about right for us, but if we’d wanted to make any day trips from the town, I would’ve wanted to stay longer.
We got genuinely cold in San Cristobal de las Casas. Don’t be fooled by the sunny skies: bring a jacket if you plan to visit!
Where to stay in San Cristobal de las Casas
We stayed at the peaceful and reasonably priced Parador Margarita, a few blocks from the downtown area on a quiet street with large rooms and comfortable beds. The wifi was not great and our room was cold due to lack of sunlight, but staff were friendly, breakfasts were included and easily veganisable and there was free water. Other options in town include La Garita Cabañas for a popular hostel or Casa Lum for something a bit fancy if you want to splurge.
Getting there and away
The only time we flew within Mexico was when we left San Cristobal de las Casas for Oaxaca. There are direct buses, but they go overnight and take 12 hours, something we didn’t fancy repeating after our experience travelling overnight from Mérida to Palenque. Instead, we took a direct shuttle to Tuxtla Gutiérrez Airport and flew to Oaxaca with Aeromexico in an hour and twenty minutes. Compared to bus travel, this was quite expensive, though we did leave it to the last minute to book the tickets.
Read more about San Cristobal de las Casas
- Digital Nomad Guide to San Cristobal de las Casas
- Guide to Eating Vegan in San Cristobal de las Casas
Oaxaca: 7 nights
We visited Oaxaca for the colonial charm and the art scene, both in the free museums and on the streets. Though the entire state of Oaxaca is known around the country for its distinctive cuisine, we didn’t find it especially vegan-friendly. A highlight though was eating at Calabacitas Tiernas, which serves all organic and locally sourced produce with many tasty vegan options. Attached to a lovely independent bookshop with occasional film screenings, it made for a nice place to relax. Otherwise, we wandered around the pedestrian streets, hung out in the pleasant squares and drank coffee and hot chocolate at Café Brújula. A week felt like a good amount of time to explore the city fully while also giving us time to concentrate on our work.
One thing we loved about Oaxaca City was how many free art museums there are. So of course, we made it our business to check them out and find the best ones. The Museo de Pintores Oaxaqueños (Museum of Oaxacan Painters) was definitely a highlight with a great mix of beautiful architecture and well curated collection in a range of styles.⠀ #oaxaca #oaxacamexico #oaxacacity #museodepintoresoaxaqueños #portraitfrombehind #art #samandzabinmexico
Where to stay in Oaxaca
We stayed in a really cool Airbnb place a few kilometres outside of the downtown area in a converted factory full of art, but not in the most convenient location. In town, there are plenty of great options such as Casa Oaxaca, a luxurious colonial manor that has been meticulously converted into a boutique hotel, Las Mariposas Eco-Hotel & Studios, a good mid-range option in town, or Hostal de las Américas for a highly rated dorm room.
Getting there and away
Oaxaca is well connected to most of Mexico, with many direct services operating from the modern bus terminal. Direct buses to Mexico City take around 6 hours. We travelled with ADO Platino (their premium brand) for the smooth, non-stop journey to the capital. Oaxaca International Airport is just to the south of town and has flights to a handful of Mexican cities and the United States.
Read more about Oaxaca
Mexico City: 30 nights
We decided to spend almost half of our time in Mexico in the capital for a couple of reasons: we like big cities, I’d heard it had an amazing vegan scene, and we wanted somewhere we could slow down from travelling and get work done. In these ways, Mexico City certainly served us well, and though there were things I didn’t enjoy about the city, I’m definitely glad to have gone and got to know it. When we weren’t working in cafés, we spent a time wandering around the different neighbourhoods, eating all the vegan food, checking out the street art and visiting a few museums. Even though we were there a whole month, there were certainly things we didn’t see (or eat) that I would like to. I’d definitely go back!
We visited Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City the other day, which is the only castle in North America to have been the residence of a sovereign. The contrast between the 18th century architecture of the castle and the modern skyscrapers of the city is quite striking. This is the view you get down Paseo Reforma from the main, east-facing terrace of the castle grounds. Oh, and I have new glasses! 🤓 #samandzabinmexico #mexicocity #mexico #cdmx #chapultepec #chapultepeccastle #castillochapultepec #castillodechapultepec #paseoreforma #queertravel #gaytravel #gayscruff #gayscruffy #gaysinglasses #gaybeard #gayotter #orangeglasses
Where to stay in Mexico City
Since we were there for an entire month, we rented a one bedroom apartment through Airbnb in the neighbourhood of San Miguel Chapultepec. If you’re not visiting for as long and would prefer a hotel, picking an area of the city to stay in is the first decision. Check out my guide to the neighbourhoods of Mexico City for recommendations for specific hotels.
Getting there and away
Being the capital, you can get pretty much anywhere in Mexico from Mexico City by overland transport. Which bus station you’ll use to leave or arrive into the city will depend on where you’re coming from or going to and which bus company you’re using. This article gives a nice overview of all the options. There is only one airport, the Mexico City International Airport which has flights all over the country and the Americas and beyond, with many US and Canadian and some European cities being served with direct flights. Check the destinations served around the world here.
Read more about Mexico City
- Impressions of Mexico City
- Guide to Eating Vegan in Mexico City
- Digital Nomad Café Guide to Mexico City
- Guide to Mexico City’s Neighbourhoods
- Street Artists of Mexico City
- How Much Does it Cost to Live in Mexico City for a Month?
- Visiting La Condesa and Roma in Mexico City
San Miguel de Allende: 2 nights
Our time in San Miguel de Allende was pure relaxation and indulgence. The town is beautiful (often considered the most beautiful in all of Mexico) but quite small so we didn’t find a whole lot to do, but still enjoyed wandering around the picturesque streets, rummaging through the handicrafts market, hanging out in the surprisingly lovely library, watching the gorgeous sunsets and of course eating. For me, two nights was just enough time to do all of this without getting bored there.
Where to stay in San Miguel de Allende
We stayed at the Casa Primavera Boutique & Spa, which was a bit outside of the centre of San Miguel de Allende but offered a very convenient free shuttle service. The rooms were large and comfortable and the hotel had a pool. If you’d prefer to stay in downtown San Miguel de Allende, try the Casa Colibri Terra for some luxury and lots of little extras or the Alcatraz Hostal for a cheap but stylish hostel option.
Getting there and away
San Miguel de Allende is about 4 hours northwest of Mexico City and served by a couple of bus companies, but we found Primera Plus to be the nicest: note however, that their online booking system does not accept non-Mexican cards, though that is not made clear anywhere on their site. The closest airport to San Miguel de Allende is Querétaro Intercontinental Airport, 86km to the southeast which flies to a few places around Mexico and the United States.
Read more about San Miguel de Allende
Guanajuato: 5 nights
This very special in central Mexico was definitely a highlight of our time there. We spent our days wandering through the labyrinth of winding, hilly streets, working in cafés, eating delicious food, going on hikes and taking in the sights. It’s hard to put your finger on why Guanajuato feels as delightful as it does, and it certainly had a European vibe, but I could easily have stayed longer than five nights, though I felt it was enough to enjoy most of what the city has to offer.
Where to stay in Guanajuato
We rented a spacious apartment through Airbnb that was up on a hill with great views just a ten minute walk from the centre of town. In town there are many other options, though, including the beautiful Casona de Don Lucas right in the heart of town or El Hostalito for a popular dorm option with a shared kitchen.
Getting there and away
The bus station serving Guanajuato is actually some 8km to the south in Marfil, and really the only way to get between there and the town is by taxi, which should cost around M$60. From the Central de Autobuses de Guanajuato, there are direct services to San Miguel de Allende, León, Guadalajara, Mexico City and many other places in central and northern Mexico. Around 32km to the west is Guanajuato International Airport, which offers domestic flights only and has direct connections to a dozen airports around the country. M$280
Read more about Guanajuato
León: an afternoon
We stopped off in León on our way from Guanajuato to Guadalajara and basically just had lunch there. We wandered around the very unique central square a little and got the distinct impression that this was a place that not many tourists visited, mostly due to how locals were looking at us with bemusement carrying our backpacks. For lunch, we lucked on this super cute fully vegan place, Tomeiro, with all kinds of yummy vegan comfort food. In addition to this excellent bean burger, we also had a very satisfying plate of nachos with wonderfully umami vegan cheese sauce. I was happy to pass through León and don’t feel I missed much by not staying overnight. Plus, this way, it broke up the bus journey to Guadalajara from Guanajuato a bit.
Between Guanajuato and Guadalajara, we stopped off at León (still in Guanajuato state) just to have lunch and lucked upon @tomeiro_leon, a really lovely, fully vegan snack place. We had some cheesy nachos and this great bean burger, with obligatory avocado. The staff were super friendly and excited about having foreigners visit and I loved the "vegan is the new black" sign you can just about see in the background. #samandzabinmexico #vegantravel #mexicovegano #veganmexico #whatveganseat #veganfoodshare #veganburger #burgerporn #tomeiro #leonmexico #leon_gto #veganisthenewblack #alltheavocado
Where to stay in León
Since it does not receive a lot of tourists, León unsurprisingly doesn’t have a lot of good hotel options. We did not stay there ourselves, so cannot recommend anywhere in particular, but there are several decent, functional options such as the modern and comfortable Eco Express Hotel Poliforum or the Hotel San Francisco for something with a bit more character.
Getting there and away
The bus station in León is just a short taxi ride from the historical centre of town and is also connected to the city’s metrobus system. We went with Primera Plus for our trip to Guadalajara, which took around 4 hours. There are also connections from León to all around Guanajuato state and further. Guanajuato International Airport is 30km to the south east.
Ajijic: 3 nights
Known as a hotspot for retirees, I found Ajijic to be quite lovely and a nice place to take a break from some of the more hectic parts of Mexico we’d travelled in. We spent most of our time there just relaxing, going for walks, sitting in cafés and admiring the beautiful lake sunsets. I found three nights just about right for this, though two would’ve been fine too.
Lake Chapala offered some of the most spectacular sunsets we experienced in Mexico. Every evening we stayed in Ajijic, I made sure we went down to the water around 7pm to see the sky change as the sun faded away and the cool relief of night was upon us again. So beautiful! #samandzabinmexico #ajijic #jalisco #lagochapala #lakechapala #sunset #lake #lakesunset #orangesky
Where to stay in Ajijic
We stayed at the expansive but comfortable Hotel Danza del Sol, a 15 minute walk from the centre of Ajijic. The room we had was enormous, and there was even a fully equipped kitchen. Despite being a large hotel with many rooms, it was very quiet and the staff were friendly. More central to the town itself, there is the colourful and affordable Ajijic Plaza Suites or the Hacienda del Lago for something quite luxurious.
Getting there and away
You will almost certainly arrive in Ajijic from Guadalajara, which is easy to do by bus. The 55km journey takes between 1 and 1.5 hours depending on the service you take and buses leave hourly from Guadalajara’s Central Vieja in the centre of town. Guadalajara International Airport is roughly half way between Ajijic and Guadalajara and has many connections all over North America.
Read more about Ajijic
Guadalajara: 12 nights
We actually visited Guadalajara twice during our time in Mexico: for just three nights before going to Ajijic and then nine night after coming back and before leaving the country. For me, it was a highlight of Mexico and had a lot of the things I liked about Mexico City but with nicer weather and without the crowds and terrible traffic. It’s also a manageably sized city meaning getting around is relatively easy. We spent our time there mostly eating the vegan things, working in cool cafés, checking out some art and hanging out with friends. Given that we were working quite a lot while there, I definitely feel we could’ve spent longer there and not got bored.
One of the most unexpected places we visited in Guadalajara was the Mirador de Huentitan in the far northern edge of the city, which @christian.eac kindly took us to see. The city ends, there's a park and then suddenly you're confronted with the view across this massive canyon! Apparently Björk (one of my favourite musical artists) once played a concert at the amphitheatre pictured here, because, well, of course she did: look at that view! Such a lovely place! #samandzabinmexico #guadalajara #guadalajaramx #gdl #gdlmx #jalisco #mexico #mirador
Where to stay in Guadalajara
We stayed at the fabulous La Fe Hotel and Arts in downtown Guadalajara. A boutique hotel with just a handful of rooms, friendly staff and a nice, peaceful vibe, it’s the ideal place to stay in Guadalajara.
Getting there and away
Guadalajara has two main bus stations: the Central Vieja in the centre of town which serves nearby towns and several places around Jalisco state and the Nuevo Central Camionera which is actually about 12km to the east of town in Tlaquepaque and serves as the arrival and departure point for intercity buses from Guadalajara. Guadalajara International Airport is 20km to the south of the city and has flights to many Mexican and US cities as well as a few other North American destinations.
Read more about Guadalajara
What to pack for Mexico
For this Mexico itinerary, we made sure to pack layers so that we had enough to keep us warm in the colder places at high altitude we visited in Mexico, but even still I was sometimes cold, especially in San Cristobal de las Casas. Zab’s amazing Arc’teryx Atom saved the day a few times, though when I stole it from him to warm up! Despite being so thin, it does an amazing job of keeping your body heat inside that you warm up almost instantly after putting it on.
We travelled the whole time with our 32 and 40 litre backpacks which carried everything we travelled with. I have a Deuter ACT Trail 32 in bright red with a blue rain cover, though that model no longer seems to exist: it is however very similar to the Deuter ACT Trail Pro 34, while Zab has an Osprey Farpoint 40 Rucksack. We are very happy with both of these and definitely wouldn’t travel with anything bigger. For a much more in depth guide for how to travel with carry-on luggage only, check out our friend Erin‘s ebook, The Carry-On Traveller: The Ultimate Guide to Packing Light.
Places we didn’t go
There are several places we didn’t visit in Mexico that we would have liked to but decided not to because of time restraints and the fact that we like to travel slowly and see fewer places rather than try to cram everything in. In the Yucatán Peninsula in particular, there were multiple places we skipped that are popular with backpackers and digital nomads in the region such as Playa del Carmen, Isla Holbox, Valladolid, Chichen Itza, Chetumal and Bacalar.
There were also a couple of places we could have visited as (half) day trips from places we did stop such as the Sumidero Canyon from San Cristobal de las Casas and Hierve el Agua from Oaxaca. Of course, from Mexico City we also could’ve visited many of the towns and ancient sites surrounding the metropolitan area including Teotihuacan, Puebla, Toluca or Cuernavaca, to name a few, but in fact we didn’t leave the city once.
Tourists look tiny as they climb the Pyramid of the Sun at the ancient city of Teotihuacan. Though the Aztecs lived here, the city was built more than 1000 years earlier by unknown people around the year 200. Pyramid of the Sun is 217 feet tall, making it one of the tallest pyramids in the world. #pyramidofthesun #teotihuacan #mexicocityphotooftheday
Even though it was part of our original plan, we didn’t end up visiting the Pacific coast at all. We made this decision mostly due to time and money restrains since we would have been visiting around spring break when there are many visitors from the United States, meaning hotels put up their prices and there was much less availability. If we were to go back, we may stop in Puerto Escondido in Oaxaca state and at a few places along the Riviera Nayarit such as Puerto Vallarta, Sayulita and San Pancho.
I personally don’t regret not having visited any of these places, as I felt that our time in Mexico was well spent. But if I were to go back, I might consider adding some of these into my next Mexico itinerary.
This is a map showing the route we took travelling through Mexico.
Have you been to Mexico? Which places would you like to visit if you haven’t?