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Self-drive Mexico: Colonial cities to Pacific coast

Self-drive Mexico: Colonial cities to Pacific coast:
Trip Dossier

This road trip takes you on the rugged highland colonial-cities loop, and on to the Pacific coast. You travel in a prvae car with your own driver and of course your point-to point itinerary is planned out for you.

Northwest of Mexico City are crumpled ranges of gnarled, humpy but starkly beautiful hills. Here, and in the bountiful valleys of the Bajío, Spanish colonists built fortunes from the mining of precious metals, especially silver, and a necklace of prosperous towns sprung up which share a heritage of baroque churches, leafy squares and pastel-washed houses.

Each has its own character: the university town Guanajuato, built in a narrow gorge, is a centre for music, theatre and dance, while Morelia shows off some of the grandest monumental colonial architecture. Querétaro is renowned for its impressive colonial aqueduct.

Continue for some beach time at a luxurious and utterly romantic first class resort, La Casa que Canta, on the glorious sands of the Pacific coast at Zihuatanejo.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Mexico City. Transfer to your hotel.

Day 2

Guided tour of the city and Teotihuacán pyramids.

Day 3

By road to Guanajuato via Querétaro.

Day 4

At leisure in Guanajuato.

Day 5

By road to Morelia via Pátzcuaro, 2 nights.

Day 6

At leisure in the Morelia region.

Day 7

By road to Zihuatanejo on the Pacific coast.

Days 8-11

At leisure on the beach. Optional activities and water sports.

Day 12

Transfer to the airport, fly to Mexico City to connect with international flight home.

Detailed itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Mexico City. Transfer to your hotel.
 
Mexico City

Your hotel is in the colonial heart, close to the central square. Mexico City, which was built on the site of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire, and it lies at 2,250m above sea level. Vast, chaotic and vibrant, this sprawling megalopolis of more than 20 million people has a multitude of attractions. If you have time during your stay here, we suggest you visit the world-class Museum of Anthropology, which exhibits remarkable, well-displayed expositions of Aztec artefacts alongside items from other ancient civilisations. It’s a fantastic introduction to the superb and sometimes grisly artistic achievements of Mexico’s early inhabitants.

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Mexico City

Day 2

Guided tour of the city and Teotihuacán pyramids.
 
Teotihuacan

The arrival of the Spanish conquistadores was seismic event in the story of the Aztec people. Their magnificent causewayed city was razed, and the invading Spaniards rebuilt it in their own tradition ̶ the development fuelled by silver mining. This is all reflected in the cultural vestiges apparent all over the modern-day city which you’ll see during your guided tour. Visit the zócalo, or main square, monumental Metropolitan Cathedral and National Palace with its murals by Diego Rivera. Stroll down elegant boulevards, or browse at a handicraft market.

Passing through the northern suburbs of the capital, you head into the countryside towards the megalithic archaeological site of Teotihuacán which dates back 2,000 years and was once one of the largest cities in the world. It is hugely influential in the historic narrative of modern Mexico and, although it had already been abandoned by the time of the Aztecs, even this great empire held it in awe. Soak up the history as you stroll along the imposing Avenue of the Dead, leading to the vast Pyramid of the Sun, and take the opportunity to climb its vertiginous, ancient steps for a panorama of the ruins and the surrounding countryside.

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Teotihuacan

Day 3

By road to Guanajuato via Querétaro.
 
Guanajuato

This is the day you meet your driver and car which will be your companions for 5 days. You'll be collected from your hotel and driven through the city outskirts on the bewildering road network in the busy capital and continue through the mountains to the first of a necklet of glorious colonial cities, each with a character of its own: Querétero, where you will pause your journey to explore. You'll have your first taste of the graceful Spanish baroque architecture of these locations, with some  monumental buildings situated on neat plazas. Later, continue to Guanajuato.

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Guanajuato

Day 4

At leisure in Guanajuato.
 
Guanajuato

This lively university town with a strong artistic bent – there are several theatres, museums and galleries - is a former silver-mining town set in a narrow arid canyon. Its asymmetric colonial mansions, cobbled lanes and flower-decked plazas are simply delightful. The  atmospheric city is built on the sides of the steep ravine: there isn’t enough flat land for roads and much of the traffic is channelled along underground roads which follow the routes of the old mine galleries.

Guanajuato also has several interesting museums and some splendid colonial churches. Your hotel is on the edge of town. You have a full day to explore; the centre is best discovered on foot.

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Guanajuato

Day 5

By road to Morelia via Pátzcuaro, 2 nights.
 
Morelia

The journey to Morelia takes approximately 3 hrs but you could extend that by visiting Morelia’s peaceful, colonial neighbour Patzcuaro.

Located in the Purépecha indian heartland, backed by rolling green hills, Pátzcuaro is undoubtedly one of Mexico's most picturesque towns characterised by  whitewashed stucco walls with red ochre shutters, dark tiled roofs, ramshackle cobbled streets, old churches and beautiful plazas. 

Morelia an elegant city with cobbled streets, a beautiful cathedral and lots of attractive colonial buildings, famed for their picturesque courtyards. Founded in 1541 as Valladolid, it was renamed in 1828 after its most famous resident José María Morelos, who was a key figure in Mexico's fight for independence. The city's main attractions are concentrated in the historical centre which, again, is best explored on foot.



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Morelia

Day 6

At leisure in the Morelia region.
 
monarch butterflies

Day at leisure in Morelia. If visiting between October and March you might take an optional full-day private guided tour of the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary, 2 hours’ drive away. Millions of monarch butterflies arrive, turning the park bright orange - a spectacular sight. The butterflies breed there and their offspring eventually migrate north.

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monarch butterflies

Day 7

By road to Zihuatanejo on the Pacific coast.
 

You'll be driven to Zihuatanejo on the Pacific coast, 5hrs (355km) along a beautiful new highway. The hilly coastline is scalloped by pretty coves, each sheltering a shimmering beach. Settle in to your hotel right on one of the loveliest expanses of sands in the region, fringed by forests.

Days 8-11

At leisure on the beach. Optional activities and water sports.
 
la casa que canta

The floury-white ribbon of beach at Playa de Ropa, on Mexico's Pacific coast, sprinkled with shady coconut palms, is one of the ocean's most exquisite. Your accommodation, La Casa que Canta, is just steps away. Service throughout your hotel is extremely attentive and friendly. Here you will be cared for by extremely welcoming staff, who will pay attention to all your needs from meal choice to pillow menu. It couldn't be more romantic and intimate.

There's a swimming pool and spa offering traditional Mexican treatments. The restaurant delivers superb high quality cuisine. You might consider combining dining here with forays into town where there is a selection of regional and international places to eat. Activities that can be arranged include kayaking, diving, deep-sea fishing, a sunset cruise and yoga classes. There are two 18-hole golf courses in the vicinity.

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la casa que canta

Day 12

Transfer to the airport, fly to Mexico City to connect with international flight home.
 

Essential information

Insurance and documents

Travel insurance is essential. 

Details of our recommended policy can be found on our Travel Insurance page.   

Transport

Three domestic flights. Five days transport by private car and driver.

Accommodation

At all levels, we prefer smaller hotels with some local character, whether one of a local chain or independent. On the odd occasion where we use an international chain, we choose properties with some historic or unique features.

We have chosen properties oozing with character and colonial references, with a real Mexican feel. They are all first class but vary in style from the classy and luxurious to the cosy and homely. They all have excellent and convenient locations and excellent service and amenities.

Meals

Breakfast daily.

Guides

We carefully select our local partners, some of whom we have worked with for over 35 years. Their English-speaking guides understand the expectations of our clients very well, and are consistently singled out for praise by clients on their return.

Included excursions

• Guided city tour with Teotihuacán pyramids, Mexico City

Summary of nights

12 days, 11 nights: Mexico City 2; Guanajuato 2; Morelia 2; Zihuatanejo 5.

Included in the journey price

• Services of our team of experts in our London office.
• Services of Journey Latin America local representatives and guides.
• All land transfers.
• Car with driver.
• Accommodation as specified.
• Meals as specified.
• Excursions as specified, including entrance fees.

Not included in the journey price

• Tips and gratuities
• Meals other than specified.
• International flights to Latin America.
• Optional excursions.

Currency

The unit of currency in Mexico is the Mexican peso.

Daily spend

It is very difficult to give a guideline for essential expenses but a budget of around US$45 per day should cover the cost of meals not included in the holiday itinerary, drinks and the odd souvenir. Eat at the best restaurants and you will pay considerably more.

How to take it

Cash machines are available in all major cities and towns, and so taking a debit or credit card with a PIN number is the most convenient way of withdrawing money while on your trip, and in most shops and restaurants you can also pay by card. However, since cards can get lost, damaged, withheld or blocked, you should not rely exclusively on a card to access funds. Not all petrol stations accept cards.

We recommend that additionally you take a reasonable quantity of US dollars cash (no more than is covered by your insurance), which you can exchange into local currency. Dollar bills should be in good condition, soiled or torn bills may be refused. You can take sterling, but the exchange rate is not always competitive or even available, restricting the number of places where you can change money.

Tipping

Tips are welcomed and local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income.

Most service industry workers will expect a tip of some kind and so it is useful to have spare change for hotel porters, taxi drivers and the like. It is common to leave 10 - 12% in restaurants.

Tipping guidelines can be found in our Briefing Dossier.

Airport taxes

If you have purchased your flights through Journey Latin America, the international departure tax is usually included in the ticket.

Journey grade

There are no long days of uninterrupted travel on this trip. If you have a disability we should be aware of, please contact us. 

In the months of June to August the weather is extremely hot and humid. July to November there are chances of tropical storms or hurricanes hitting the region.

Climate

The highland colonial towns have a pleasant sunny climate all year round; with temperatures in the mid 20s°C. Most rain falls from May to August.  

Clothing and special equipment

For day-to-day wear you should take loose-fitting, breathable clothes. Comfortable shoes are important and sandals are useful. A sun hat, sun block and sunglasses are necessary, and you should take a light fleece for cool nights and a breathable/waterproof outer layer, as well as swimwear /beachwear, a towel, insect repellant and a torch. If you plan to go to good restaurants or out for evening entertainment, you might bring something a bit smarter as well (although formal attire will not be required).

Please get in touch with the office before departure if you have any doubts.

Vaccinations

Preventative vaccinations are recommended against the following:  tetanus; hepatitis A. You should consult your GP for specific requirements, including advice on yellow fever and malaria tablets.

You can also find helpful information on the Masta Travel Health website. 

Visas

Holders of a full British passport do not require a visa, although passports must be valid for at least 6 months after the trip begins. Anyone with a different nationality should enquire with us or check with the relevant consulate.

If flying to the US, or via the US you will need to fill in an online ESTA (visa waiver) application.

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