Help with planing for Mexico and Central America

Feb 14th, 2018, 11:44 PM
  #21  
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Join Date: May 2004
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Thanks for the input. It helps a lot in the decision making process. We are booked with house/pet sitting projects through until Oct so may look at autumn in Japan, South Korea or Taiwan for a month or so (supposed to be a great time) and defer Mexico, Guatemala and possibly Panama until mid Feb when the weather is more clement!

Glover - I googled the quetzal. It is indeed magnificent. May have to seek it out!
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Aug 23rd, 2018, 05:31 AM
  #22  
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Well after much vacillating and changing of plans, British airways made me an offer I couldn’t refuse and I have now booked tickets from LHR to Mexico City, out on 7 Nov and back on 10 Dec. just over a month thistle but we plan to return early next year to explore more of Mexico and some of Central America

I created a first draft of an itinerary which looks something like this:

Mexico City 4
Puebla/Cholula 3
Oaxaca 6
San Cristóbal de las Casas 4
Palenque 3 (Yaxchilan)
Campeche 1
Merida 5 (explore Chichen Itzá, Uxmal, Ruta Puuc etc.)
SPARE 5 (maybe Cozumel for diving, Tulum??)
Mexico City 2

The numbers are all nights in each location on the basis that 2 nights = 1 full day.

The SPARE 5 days at the end could be spent diving possibly from Cozumel. Although from what I read, I am pretty sure we are not going to like Cancun or Playa del Carmen which seem to be all about big AI resorts and an wondering whether Cozumel is similar. Other thoughts include a brief foray into Guatemala, extending our time in the Yucatan (perhaps Tulum).

To save time and backtracking, I think we would fly back to Mexico City from wherever we end up

Any thoughts, suggestions (or a reality check on) the time spent and the route would be much appreciated as would any suggestions for accommodation (circa $50 pn), food (from street food to places with tablecloths!) and especially, not to be missed favourite sights and general tips.

Thanks in advance. The suggestions and advice you guys have provided so far has been so helpful and really appreciated
crellston is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2018, 10:06 AM
  #23  
 
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I recently decided to spend several months in Mexico beginning mid-Oct. My plan consists so far of a OW ticket and 2 weeks accommodation booked in San Cristobal so I may very well still be there when you arrive, Crellston, if you're meetup-with-a-stranger sort of people.
MmePerdu is online now  
Aug 23rd, 2018, 02:23 PM
  #24  
 
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Random thoughts.
The highway between San Cris and Palenque has had its share of problems lately, so some caution is in order. Many tourists that travel to Palenque from San Cris theses days do it via Tuxtla. Which is too bad as the falls at Misol-ha and Agua Azul are worthy of a visit.
Speaking of falls, El Chiflon near Comitan is well worth a visit if you're into waterfalls.
You'll probably figure it out, but the only flights (at least right now) between Oaxaca and Tuxtla routes through MEX. If you were considering flying that rather long leg.
baldone is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2018, 03:00 PM
  #25  
 
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My 2 cents is that 6 days is too much for Oaxaca unless you plan to go to every single craft village in the surrounding area. I think 4 nights is plenty there.

And I think you can easily spend 10-12 days in Mexico City and not run out of things to do, especially if you go to Teotihuacan or other places within two hours away as day trips. I've gone twice in the last two years, total of ten days, and still haven't managed to do everything that we wanted to. It's one of the world's great cities. And the food, I could go on and on about the dining scene.

The Merida and surrounds could pick up another day to do places like Ixmal. Not sure if you're planning to do all from Merida. Some of the sites are quite a ways away. And don't miss Ek Balam. Different from the other ruins and not crowded, at least 10 years ago when I went.

Have a great trip.
traveler318 is online now  
Aug 23rd, 2018, 03:47 PM
  #26  
kja
 
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You might consider adding Valladolid, perhaps shifting some time from Merida to that city. Valladolid is absolutely charming, IMO, and at least when I was there, less touristed. Valladolid is a great base for Chichen Itza, Ek’ Balam (with its extraordinary frieze), and the beautiful Cenotes Dzitnup (Samula and Xkeken). If you spend a few nights in Valladolid, you might consider El Meson del Marques – it might more expensive than you hope, but it is a lovely place.

And note that Uxmal and the Rutu Puuc are a bit much for a day trip from Merida. You might consider an overnight in / near Santa Elena. I enjoyed the Flycatcher Inn, which still gets great reviews; the Pickled Onion is another alternative.

I’ve already mentioned Bela’s for San Cristobal de las Casas (outstanding!). In Palenque, the Hotel Xibalba worked for me, and I liked staying in that part of town (La Canada).

Tulum can be nice, particularly if you want to spend any time in the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve. Another alternative to Cozumel: Puerto Morelos, although I must admit that 5 days there would be too much for me.

Here’s a link to my ancient report on the restaurants I patronized while in the Yucatan and Chiapas. If you find any ideas there, be sure to check them against more current commentaries!
Restaurant notes – the Yucatan peninsula and Chiapas

I wonder if traveler318 meant Izamal?
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Aug 23rd, 2018, 03:49 PM
  #27  
 
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Originally Posted by traveler318 View Post
My 2 cents is that 6 days is too much for Oaxaca unless you plan to go to every single craft village in the surrounding area. I think 4 nights is plenty there.
Having been twice to Oaxaca, once 3 weeks then a month, you can anticipate my taking issue with that statement. There are different sorts of travelers as we all know, among them the list kind and the hanging out kind, I of the latter. So Oaxaca is for me an excellent place to linger for as long as one has the time. I recommend not cutting it short.
MmePerdu is online now  
Aug 23rd, 2018, 05:51 PM
  #28  
 
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I echo mmeperdu's comments. Especially regarding the OP's comment that 2 nights=1 full day, so 6 nights in Oaxaca would be 4 full days. Oaxaca, after CDMX, I think is the #1 destination in all of Mexico.
baldone is offline  
Aug 24th, 2018, 08:50 AM
  #29  
 
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Agree with some of the others that there’s no such thing as too long in Oaxaca. Such a walkable City. Nice museums. Concerts. Great food. Why not go to every craft village? All are interesting. And intrepid Crellston May want to do some of hiking avalable in nearby mts. Those trips can be arranged in town. Stay in indigenous villages up there, hike with guide, etc. we enjoyed one of those. We have stayed in several areas of Oaxaca over years, but our fav is the Jalatlaco neighborhood. Stayed often at the cheap and friendly Casa Arnel, though am wondering if it hasn’t gone downhill looking at recent reviews. Old part of city, cobblestone streets. Beautiful old church there with festivals going on. Some nice little cafes there now.

yes! Why not venture into Guatemala? We loved it. Agree you wouldn’t like Cancun/Playa. Merida is wonderful.
glover is offline  
Aug 24th, 2018, 09:34 AM
  #30  
 
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Speaking of hiking, given good timing, there’s a group called Hoofing It in Oaxaca that organizes group hikes for the cost of transportation in small buses into the mountains & around the craft villages during the winter season. Some are overnights, some, those in which I participated, are day trips. It was fun, a congenial group and I recommend them, well organized and designed for a variety of fitness levels. Read more here: Hoofing It In Oaxaca | Weekly Hikes for Adventurous Folks
MmePerdu is online now  
Aug 25th, 2018, 12:37 AM
  #31  
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Many, many thanks for all your comments and suggestions? Your help is really appreciated.

MmePerdu - we are most definitely "meetup-with-a-stranger sort of people" and have met up with quite a few Fodors members over the years. It would be great to meet up if our dates coincide. I well send you a pm when our dates are finalised.
Hoofing it in Oaxaca sounds interesting. I will check it out.

Traveler138 - I get your point but to put it into context, we travel more or less permanently, usually on 6 month plus trips. To say that we travel slow is a major understatement and like to stay the odd week or even month in one place, every so often just to chill and reorganise. Our original plan was to stay a month as part of a longer trip. This one is is just a taster for next year. Your comments re time in Mexico City are noted. I may well add a few more days at teh end of this trip.

KJA - as always, your attention to detail is exceptionally helpful. I do like the look of Vallalodid and may well change plans for the Yucatán province. Many thanks for the food and accomodation suggestions. We are considering not diving on this trip so may redirect the $200 per day savIng into nicer accommodation. Still unsure re Tulum but would like a little time at the beach, if only for the seafood.

GLOVER - would have a hard time persuading my wife not to visit every single craft village. She is already talking of Christmas shopping there. I fear our resolve to travel with carryon only may well fly out the window on this trip. Anyone know what the postal service I’d like in Mexico?? I am hoping to do a lot of hiking around Oaxaca and overnight Homestays is something that had not occurred to me, so thanks for the idea.

Baldone - your on the ground experience an knowledge is invaluable. Thanks for the heads up on travel between Oaxaca and San Christobal. Any suggestions as to how to best achieve this safely? Bus company recommendations

Whilst we fully intend to travel by public transport most places, I am wondering whether a rental car might be a viable option for the Yucatan? I have heard conflict reports. Some highly recommending it, others point out, hassles with police, traffic laws and insurance issues. Any thoughts or experiences?

Finally, i am assuming that, unless we venture into Guatemala for a few days, that Merida is the most logical place from where to return to Mexico City?
crellston is offline  
Aug 25th, 2018, 08:04 AM
  #32  
kja
 
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I spent 3 weeks in the Yucatan and Chiapas, and happily used public transportation for all of my travels with the exception of 3 days when I had a car rental. My route: Puerto Morelos, Tulum, Valladolid, Izamal, Merida, the Ruta Puuc, Celestun, Campeche, Calakmul, Palenque, San Cristobal de las Casas, and Tuxtla Guttierez. The main reason I used a rental for a few days was because I wanted to be able to see the Ruta Puuc more thoroughly than was then possible with public transportation. As noted above, it's hard to see in a single day and -- at least at that time -- the only option that didn't involve a rental car was a one-day bus tour with a group out of Merida. IIRC, the rate I had was for a minimum of 3 days, so I also used the car to go to Celestun. That worked very well for me. If you do decide to rent a car for any part of your time there, definitely do your research on the insurance issues and traffic laws!

To return to Mexico City: Merida or Cancun.
kja is offline  
Aug 25th, 2018, 02:34 PM
  #33  
 
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ADO is the bus line you'll want from Oaxaca to San Cristobal. Overnight routes only. It's about 11 hours. Generally regarded as safe.
For your return trip to CDMX, check fares with Interjet and Volaris. I think I recently saw a MID/MEX fare for under $50 US.
baldone is offline  
Aug 27th, 2018, 11:15 PM
  #34  
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Thanks for the info baldone. I will check out the schedules for ADO. Is it ok to book just a few days out or do I need to allow more time than that? I will book the flight as soon as I have nailed my general route.-

KJA I see what you mean about the insurance issues on rental cars. CDW & PL cost twice the rental rate! Might be cheaper to hire a taxi as and when..
crellston is offline  
Aug 31st, 2018, 10:10 PM
  #35  
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My itinerary is finally coming together but I am struggling with the Chiapas/Yucatan section in the middle. The itinerary so far is:
6nts Mexico City
3 nts Puebla
7 nts Oaxaca
11 nights ??????
3 nts Guanajuato
2 nts Mexico City

I had originally planned to visit San Cristóbal, Palenque and Merida / Valladolid in those spare 11 nights, but as that would involve two overnight bus journeys, I feel that would be pushing it. I am now thinking of dropping Palenque and splitting the time 5 nights Merida/Valladolid and 4 San Cristóbal, (we would likely have two half days extra in the latter because of bus times).

Does this make sense, or am I missing a trick?The only direct flight I can find to Guanajuato is from Merida so we would need to stay there on our last night in the Yucatan.

Is this the right balance of time between SC and the Yucatan?

Should I try to squeeze in Palenque for 2 nights/ 1 full day en route?

Merida or Valladolid as a base for Yucatan or split our time between the two?

We do travel slower than most and will likely return to Mexico next year.

Any thoughts or opinions would be most welcome.
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Aug 31st, 2018, 10:58 PM
  #36  
kja
 
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To each his/her own, of course, but FWIW:

I thought the ruins of Palenque among the most stunning I saw in the area, and thought a very full day just barely sufficient to see its highlights. And -- as a lover of waterfalls -- I'm very glad I gave myself a day for them, too.

Merida is grander and, at least when I was there, much more touristed, than Valladolid. Think (very roughly) of Merida as more like Lima, and Valladolid more like Ayacucho or Arequipa (if with much less extremes differences between them). I enjoyed Merida, but with the exception of its magnificent (but very small) archeological museum, I enjoyed it more for it's weekend festivities than for the city itself. (Which isn't to say that I didn't find things to enjoy there -- I did!) And Merida is the gateway to the magnificent Uxmal and the Ruta Puuc, which I personally far preferred to Chichen Itza. JMO. Valladolid had a much more authentic feel to me, at least when I was there (2008). There wasn't much to see in the city itself, although I found more than enough to keep me happily engaged for a day. Valladolid is -- as I think i already mentioned -- a great base for Ek' Balam (which has friezes unlike any you are likely to see in any of the other places you plan to visit), Chichen Itza, and the some of the most beautiful cenotes in the Yucatan (and BTW, the Yucatan is not a particularly scenic area -- much of it is flat arid area occasionally adorned by scrub palms).

I had 3 nights -- almost 3 days -- in San Cristobal de las Casas, and saw everything I wanted to see in that time, but only by keeping very busy. I think you know that I travel hard, so you'll have to decide whether the extra time is worth it given what you want to see/experience while there. Do consider a full day tour of the surrounding villages. If you are there for market day, give it a chunk of time -- and do consider timing your visit to allow time at its weekly market! A full day would, IMO, be sufficient for the rest of the city's major sites -- but maybe things have changed since I visited.

If you are sure you will return, then you might shortchange any of the places with airports, as those are the ones most easily revisited -- but I'm sure you know that.

Hope that helps!

Last edited by kja; Aug 31st, 2018 at 11:02 PM. Reason: to clarify the time I spend in San Cristobal de las Casas
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Aug 31st, 2018, 11:19 PM
  #37  
kja
 
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MAJOR clarification!

I didn't mean to suggest that Merida has anything that approaches Lima's wealth of museums or other sties of interest! Nor does Merida approach the cosmopolitan character of Lima. I was thinking of a sense of one-time wealth, and completely overgeneralized. So sorry! Maybe think of Trujillo, but with lots of tourism-oriented activities?
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Sep 8th, 2018, 12:03 AM
  #38  
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Thanks very much for the detail kja. After much vacillating, I have dedicided not to make a decision (if that makes any sort of sense!). As this is a short trip for us I wanted to plan everything in advance, but that is not really how we are comfortable travelling.

I have decided to keep the first part our trip as is: México city, Puebla, Oaxaca. Add 3-4 days to Guanajuato at the end which should leave us with 11-12 days free in the middle.

I have decided to exclude Yucatán on this trip as I realised that BA fly to Cancun so that would be a more logical/ easy route for us to travel down through Central America early next year.

Options I have shortlisted for that 11 days are to:

1. Spend more time around Oaxaca hiking and staying around some of the villages out of town.
2. Continue on to San Cristobal and Palenque spending a few days apiece and fly back to MC and add San Miguel de Allende to that area.
3. Follow baldone’s suggestion for travel via Veracruz/Oaxaca but in reverse.

It is slowly coming together. All I need now is for Carlos Santana to announce a gig in Mexico City on our last night and we are set!

PS We are flying with BA and just found out that I booked the flights 12 hours before the hackers got into their systems to steal the data of 440k passenger. Good news - my card is safe! Bad news - they are paying out piles compensation so I am guessing the chance of an upgrade is close to zero ..

MmePerdu - would love to meet up if we do make it to San Cristobal. It looks like we would likely be there around 23/4 November for 3-4 days. If that fits in with your time there. I could pm you nearer the time once we know our plans
crellston is offline  
Sep 8th, 2018, 12:12 AM
  #39  
kja
 
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Deferring the Yucatan makes a lot of sense to me -- you were, IMO, trying to do too much (don't we all try to do that?) and so making a clear cut with an eye to the future can be a healthy choice.

I'm sure you'll have a great trip! And if you opt for #2, I'll continue to comment -- I haven't yet visited the other places your are considering (but hope to do so one day).
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Sep 23rd, 2018, 04:01 AM
  #40  
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After much vacillating I have now finalised our itinerary. Arriving in Mexico City on 7 Nov we will spend our time as follows:

Mexico City 6nts
Zacatecas 3
Guanajuato 3
Puebla 5
San Cristóbal de Los Casas 7
Oaxaca 7
Mexico City 1

With the exception of flying from MEX to SCDLC we will travel everywhere by bus.


Our extended time in Oaxaca and San Cristóbal will enable us to explore out into the surrounding villages and maybe even include a trip to Palenque. Although that may wait until next year when we return to cover the Yucatán.

As we will likely have friends with us for part of that trip we will also probably include Morelia and Pátzcuaro in Michoacan, Veracruz as well as a return to MEX which I am confident we are shortchanging!

MmePerdu, if you happen to read this, our dates in SCDLC will be 24 Nov to 1 Dec would love meet up if our dates coincide. I will try and work out how to message you.

Thanks everyone for your help. This is a short trip for us and planning has been a lot more difficult than our usual method of making it up as we go. It has certainly concentrated the mind on the detail!

I have already noted the suggestions you have made, but if anyone has any more suggestions on places to eat, things to do, not to miss sights etc. at any of the locations we are visiting, I would love to hear them.
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