Mexico

 Jump to:     Matamoros   •   Jalisco   •   Yucatan & Quintana Roo   •   Mexico City   •   Oaxaca

Our first Foreign Service post was to Matamoros, Mexico, on the US-Mexico border, just south of Brownsville, Texas. While we were there, we had several opportunities to explore Mexico’s stunning scenery and rich culture. Though I am by no means a travel expert on Mexico, as there are a lot of places we didn’t have a chance to see, the following places and recommendations are based on our own experiences.

Matamoros

Although infamous for being a rough border town plagued by drug trafficking and violent crime, Matamoros has some brighter spots, and we managed to capture them during our time there. We weren’t able to see the area immediately surrounding Matamoros due to the threat of criminal activity on nearby highways and an imposed curfew. At this time, the State Department discourages travelers from visiting Matamoros and the entire Mexican state of Tamaulipas. Our hope is that one day soon, travel in this part of Mexico will once again be safe. Read more about our experiences in Matamoros.

Eat Matamoros: Matamoros has several good dining options. Visit my guide, A Taste of Matamoros, if ever you visit and are in search of a place to eat.

Run Matamoros: Due to the security restrictions in place during our tour in Matamoros, I ran primarily on the dirt path that runs adjacent to the Rio Grande River and the cinder track (0.4 mile) in Parque Olimpico. An alternative to these locales was to cross the border and run on the Historic Battlefield Trail (9 miles, paved and dotted with water fountains) in Brownsville, Texas.

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Jalisco

During our time in Mexico, M. had the opportunity to work for a month in Guadalajara, and I had the good fortune of being able to join him for a week and play tourist. I spent my days strolling through the city and its surrounding villages in the beautiful state of Jalisco.

As a city of eight million, Guadalajara’s lodging options are endless. From boutique hotels to large international chains, there is something to suit everyone’s taste and budget. Because M. was there on official business, we stayed at a hotel pre-determined by and contracted through the State Department on the north side of the city. Whatever you choose, I recommend setting your base in Guadalajara and taking day trips to the outlying areas.

Itinerary highlights and recommendations:

Days 1 and 2: Be sure to lace up your walking shoes before heading out, as there is a lot to see in Guadalajara (and I didn’t even some close to seeing it all)! Nibble on a pastry from one of the nearby pananderías as you walk around Guadalajara’s huge Plaza de la Liberación. Make sure to stop inside the cathedral, as it truly is gorgeous. Whether you like to shop or not, a walk through the Mercado Libertad is worth your time, if for no other reason than to see all of the handicrafts on display and the variety of things to eat from one of the many food stalls in the market. For a more comprehensive overview of Guadalajara’s history, spend some time at the Museo Regional de Guadalajara. Stroll through the greenery at the Parque Agua Azul, and see if you can catch some live music at the Plaza de los Mariachis.

Day 3: Take a taxi to Tlaquepaque (about 20 minutes southeast of Guadalajara) and meander up and down the streets of this quaint town filled with art galleries, craft shops, and museums. Prices tend to be more expensive here, so if you are looking for bargains, you might be better off holding on to your wallet until you can get to Tonalá. Tlaquepaque’s plaza is especially charming. The Museuo Regional de la Cerámica (ceramics museum) provides an interesting look at regional pottery and is free to enter.

Day 4: Visit Zapopan on the north side of Guadalajara (I was actually able to walk there from the Punto Sao Paolo neighborhood) and tour the Basilica of Our Lady of Zapopan and plaza in front of it. Of special interest to me was the Museo Huichol Wixarica de Zapopan, located on the north end of the basilica (on the far right side if you are facing the basilica’s front doors). This tiny museum documents the fascinating history and culture of the Huichol Indians of northern Jalisco and surrounding Mexican states. Huichol artwork is available for purchase in the museum’s gift shop.

Day 5: Head out to Lake Chapala (about an hour’s drive from Guadalajara), where you can rent a boat (including a captain) and spend some time on the water. We hired a local driver for the day and enjoyed a freshly prepared seafood lunch on a small island in the middle of the lake. In the afternoon, we strolled up and down the cobblestone streets of nearby Ajijic. Home to many retired expats (mostly Canadian and American), Ajijic abounds with art and craft shops and tiny restaurants.

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Day 6: On a Thursday or Sunday, take the 35-minute drive/taxi ride to Tonalá, southeast of Guadalajara, several miles past Tlaquepaque. On these days, Tonalá’s outdoor market is the place to be. Visitors can browse through stall after stall of fresh nuts and produce, sweets, handmade crafts, tools, artwork, and just about everything else one could possibly want. Opportunities for good bargains are widespread in Tonalá. The market does get crowded, so I recommend visiting in the morning.

Eat Jalisco: Visit my restaurant guide, A Taste of Jalisco.

Run Guadalajara: Sitting at just over 5,000 feet, Guadalajara’s climate is about as ideal as can be for runners and outdoorsy types. High temperatures usually hover around 65-70 degrees most months of the year. The altitude might be an issue if you are not used to it, so take caution. My favorite running spot was the Parque Bosque Los Colomos, on the north side of the city, near Zapopan. With miles of trails and few people, you’d never know you are in a city of eight million. The trails have kilometer markers to help you measure your distance. For more “urban” running, check out the  pedestrian path that runs down the middle of Avenida Pablo Neruda.

 

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Yucatán and Quintana Roo

We managed to take a belated honeymoon in January 2014, visiting the Mayan ruins at Chichén Itzá, the town of Valledolid, and Tulum.

Travel itinerary: We flew to Cancún and spent the night at the Courtyard by Marriott Cancún Airport. With free shuttle service to and from the airport, this was an easy, comfortable option for us, as we arrived late in the evening and planned to leave the next morning. We rented a car from the airport and drove about two hours southwest to tour the ancient city of Chichén Itzá. We arrived early enough to beat the throngs of tour buses and had enough time to explore before it got really crowded. In the afternoon, we stopped to take a dip in one of the many cenotes that dot the Yucatán peninsula. Following our swim, we began the two hour drive east toward Tulum, stopping in Valledolid for dinner.

We spent most of our time in Tulum, swimming in the pristine water an enjoying beautiful stretches of uncrowded beach. Unlike some of the more popular destinations, like Playa del Carmen and Cancún, in Tulum it’s acceptable to have a seat and a drink or snack at any of the beach-side resorts, even if you are not staying there. On the main stretch of beach, there is no electricity. All of the boutique hotels, restaurants and shops that line the narrow road adjacent to the beach are run on solar power. If history is your thing, visit the Mayan ruins of Tulum which overlook the Gulf of Mexico.

Tulum ruins

The Mayan ruins of Tulum. Photo credit: M.

We ended our trip with a drive up the coast back to Cancún, stopping in Playa del Carmen for a couple of hours and deciding that Tulum is by far a better choice for a vacation if crowds are not your cup of tea.

Lodging recommendations: Posada Luna del Sur, located in the heart of Tulum, is cozy, clean, and affordable. Located just off of Tulum’s main drag, it is close to several restaurants and just a short drive from the beach. The friendly proprietor is an English-speaking expat and will be happy to provide information on tours, restaurants, and other things to see and do in Tulum. During peak seasons, room rates include a delicious homemade breakfast.

If staying on the beach is important to you, renting one of the cabanas at Coco Tulum provides the rustic experience of oceanside lodging. M. stayed here during an earlier trip to Tulum. Bathrooms are shared (though private bathroom options are available in the hotel’s tower rooms), and amenities are basic.

Eat Yucatán and Quintana Roo: Visit my dining guide, A Taste of the Yucatán, for some of my restaurant recommendations.

Run TulumFrom town, head east to Avenida Coba Sur, one of Tulum’s main roads. Turn right to head south on the footpath that runs along Coba Sur for a couple of miles. This easy-to-find, out-and-back course helped us keep fit during our stay. Tip: Wear a hat or sunglasses, as parts of the footpath have little to no shade.

Below are a few more photos from our trip.

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Mexico City

In August 2013, M. and I ran the Mexico City Marathon. While running the 1968 Olympic marathon course at nearly 8,000 feet above sea level was an experience not to be forgotten, we weren’t able to see much of Mexico City’s sights on that trip. So, we returned in May 2014 for a few days to take in the culture, history, and food of Mexico’s beautiful capital. A brief blog post that I wrote after our trip can be found here.

Lodging recommendation: Through TripAdvisor, M. found a private apartment (2 bedrooms, 2 baths) just two blocks from Parque Alameda and a few minutes’ walk from the city center. The apartment was clean, comfortable, and affordable. Amenities include a gym and swimming pool (make sure to wear a swim cap, or you’ll be asked to leave the pool as I was!). The proprietor, Bruce Pierce, is a wealth of information and will set you up with a private driver/tour guide at your request. We requested these services for our day trip to Teotihuacan, and our guide, Ricardo, was fantastic.

Itinerary highlights and recommendations:

Mexico City is huge. I am convinced you could spent two months there and still not see everything there is to see. With four days to explore, we didn’t even come close, but I can offer you a few highlights that should be must-sees on any itinerary, displayed as photo captions in the slideshow below.

Eat Mexico City: Visit my dining guide, A Taste of Mexico City.

Run Mexico City: If you’re really out for an adventure, the Mexico City Marathon is held each year at the end of August. For more casual running, we ran loops in and around Parque Alameda, as it was close to our hotel. For a more nature-filled experience, Chapultapec Park’s trails offer something for every runner. At 7,400+ feet above sea level, Mexico City offers wonderfully cool running temperatures, but at the cost of high altitude. Take extra good care while running if you are not used to it. Stay hydrated and stop running if you begin to feel dizzy.

 

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Oaxaca

In July 2014 we took a four-day trip to Oaxaca in southern Mexico. It was a wonderfully thoughtful and generous thank-you gift from the family that operates the school where I’ve been teaching for the last year, and was our last excursion during our tour in Mexico. We soaked in every moment, seeing a side of the country we hadn’t seen before and ultimately understanding why so many Mexicans maintain that Oaxaca is their favorite place in Mexico.

Lodging recommendation: El Diablo y La Sandia (translated literally, “The Devil and the Watermelon”) is a charming bed-and-breakfast just a few blocks from Oaxaca City’s zócalo, or city center. The proprietor, Maria, is originally from Guadalajara but lived in the UK for several years. She speaks fluent English and can offer information on just about anything you want to see and do in Oaxaca and the surrounding areas. Our private room with bathroom was cozy, clean, and affordable. Breakfast was delicious and fresh, featuring dishes native to Oaxaca. One of my favorite things about El Diablo y La Sandia was the “honest bar” in the common room. Guests can help themselves to snacks and drinks and record their name and room number in the booklet next to the bar to pay their bill upon check-out. The B&B also features a gift shop with locally produced crafts, toiletries, and mezcal.

Eat Oaxaca: Visit my dining guide, A Taste of Oaxaca.

Run Oaxaca: Oaxaca City sits at about 6,000 feet above sea level, creating mild temperatures and generally great running weather, especially in the mornings. From the main plaza in front of the cathedral, head west on Avenida de la Independencia and then north (turn right) on Díaz Ordaz. Díaz Ordaz turns into Calle Manuel S. Crespo. (Alternatively, head over to Calle Manuel S. Crespo from your hotel.) Continue north about 0.4 mile and on your left you will find the Escalareas del Fortín, a long and gradual climb up multiple staircases toward the Auditorio Guelaguetza (the large white-domed amphitheater overlooking the city). Use the underpass to cross the highway. Around the Auditorio are multiple running trails. This is a great route for some hill work. Enjoy the vistas of the city and its outskirts from the top. Take extra care to protect yourself from altitude sickness if you are not used to running at high altitude.

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