Happy New Year everybody!
As you know I’m on the Riviera Maya in Mexico once again. I am a lucky dog! And boy have I been living large, lots of tacos Al Pastor and fun on the beach.
Looks yummy, right?
But in case you think all I do is lounge on the beach and east tacos all day I wanted to share our stops along the route south so that anybody who wants to go… knows how to get to paradise.
We crossed the border at Laredo, TX using the Columbia Bridge. We personally think this is the easiest and safest crossing, but another option would be Nogales, which is just south of Tucson, AZ.
Choosing between these two crossings is often a matter of where you’re going and where you’re coming from. If you’re heading to the West Coast of Mexico from the Southwest US you should cross at Nogales and then go south on the 15D south. If you are coming from the East Coast of the US you can take the Laredo crossing for either the Yucatan Peninsula or the West Coast of Mexico. We take toll roads all the way (or cuotas as they are called in Mexico and are designated with the letter D after the highway number). The money is worth it for the condition of the roads and safety (please visit my earlier posts “South of the Border part 1 and 2” for more details about driving in Mexico and other stops along the these two routes).
After crossing the border in Laredo you take the 85D to the 40D (the bypass around Monterrey) then you head south on the 57D to Matehuela. This is a one day drive from Laredo and gets you way south and away from any border issues. The Las Palmas Hotel and RV Park in Matehuela is a popular overnight spot for most travelers heading south. From there it is an easy drive to San Miguel de Allende in the mountains where we stayed for a few days to break up the trip.
Two art schools were established in San Miguel in the 1940’s, changing the future of this beautiful colonial town. After World War Two, US veterans were allowed to study abroad on the G.I. Bill and the Instituto AllendeEscuela and the de Bellas Artes in SMA attracted many. Artists and writers started flocking here and many of the veterans who studied came back to retire. San Miguel is now a world famous cultural center with an ex-pat population hovering around 10%.
The La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel is the neo-Gothic church that dominates the skyline.
The cobblestone streets in the historic center are fun to explore.
From San Miguel we continued south on the 57 D and exited onto the Arco Norte, which is a fabulous bypass road north of and around Mexico City. When it ends you hang a left onto the 150D to Puebla, arriving in just one day from SMA. Puebla is one of the five most important colonial cities in Mexico.
Like San Miguel it’s a World Heritage Site with tons of historical and cultural value. I will spare you the details but the food, the art, and the culture are all fabulous (you can Google it). The markets are also fun to explore!
Puebla and it’s suburb of Cholula sit in the valley of the Trans-Mexican volcanic belt with beautiful views of the nearby volcanoes. The only RV park in the area, Trailer Park Las Americas, is located in Cholula.
Within walking distance of Las Americas is the Nuestra Señora de los Remedios sanctuary which sits atop the Great Pyramid.
Though it looks like a hill, underneath is the largest pyramid base in the Americas, four times the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza. It has been overgrown for centuries but the south side has been somewhat excavated so you can wander through some tunnels. From the top you can see four different volcanoes.
The town of Cholula.
And some local entertainers.
From Puebla we took the 150D east, a road that winds through the mountains and plummets some 8000 ft to the balmy Gulf Coast region of Mexico. Do not leave Puebla before 8am because you don’t want to get caught in the fog on this crazy but well engineered road that seems to descend from the heavens. Once at sea level you hang a right on the 145D.
The 145D is not my favorite cuota, though they work on it all the time, half is usually good and half is covered in huge pot holes. After Acayucan we take the 180D towards Villahermosa to overnight in the “Balneario” RV Park which means water park (real name Recreativo El Gordo y San Pancho, but the sign says Balneario) at around K 158. Unfortunately there was too much construction this year to do the necessary retorno so we stayed at a Pemex gas station #9107. Staying at a Pemex is SOP in Mexico as there aren’t always RV parks nearby. There is usually a guard that you tip to keep an eye out but this particular Pemex was a bonafide trailer park for all the truckers. They charged us 100 pesos and gave us a nice spot complete with grass right out our door.
If you were heading straight to the Riviera Maya you would turn on the 186 outside Villahermosa heading towards Escarcega (you can stop in Palenque to see my favorite Mayan ruins). In Escargeca you stay on the 186 heading towards Chetumal. Just outside of Chetumal you go north on the 307 to either Tulum, Playa Del Carmen or Cancun. Or you could go north from Escarcega to see Campeche, and Merida before heading east to Cancun. It takes 5 days to arrive in Playa Del Carmen from the border if you only overnight along the way.
But we decided to take a side trip north from Villahermosa to see Isla Aquada, a tiny fishing village on the Gulf Coast. We stayed at the Freedom Shores RV park and had a great view. Excited about having more stone crab claws, which they served in the park’s restaurant, we scoured the local fish stores in the area but couldn’t find a single one.
We were going to head north to Merida to visit all the wonderful Mayan ruins in the vicinity but circumstances with the cuota (teacher’s strike demonstration) and the heat (best to explore the Yucatan in the winter) convinced us to head straight for the Riviera Maya and its cool ocean breezes.
And then we arrived in Paradise…