Having spent the last weeks in smaller towns and mid sized ( more easily driveable ) Mexican cities, the size of Guadalajara was immediately overwhelming. Never had we been so relieved to find our accommodation and safely settle in for the night ( or the whole weekend as it turned out). Given it is Mexico’s 2nd biggest city we deliberated for some time before finally deciding to drive in. Going right downtown meant practically all the sights would be within walking distance and the added benefit was that we could stay at what is by far Guadalajara’s most popular overland “campground”. I emphasize campground because Guadalajara really does not have a campground in the traditional sense ( vehicle camping not being as entrenched in Mexico as it is in Canada, the US, Europe or Australia ). The location of choice is in fact a commercial parking lot which allows multi-day stays, has 24 hour security, and whose owner has taken a liking to overland travellers; they are welcomed with open arms. Complete with fast wi-fi, a bathroom and friendly staff it is also located in a quiet, upscale area, right downtown and near all the sights; what more does one need – some overlanders stay there weeks !
We enjoyed it for the weekend and also enjoyed Guadalajara’s sights – there’s a lively entertainment area close by and a great selection of restaurants; just a great vibe in this city very popular with fashionable young Mexicans. The forecast gloomy weather never materialized so our run of great weather continued on.
Until we had bumped into Andreas, our German friend, in Durango, the city of Guanajuato ( our next stop ) was not even on our radar. Although we knew it was a central location in the Mexican revolution and thus steeped in local history, our plans were to leave Guadalajara and go straight to San Miguel de Allende. Since Guanajuato was more or less en route plans were quickly changed and, after a brief swing south of Guadalajara to check out Lake Chapala and Ajijic, we turned east towards Guanajuato.
Getting there was half the fun – while Lois generally navigates very effectively, her mixing of “Guanajuato” with “Guantanamo” ( as in the American military base in Cuba ) had our trusty Google Map getting a little confused – hey, what do you mean we can’t drive to Guantanamo ? A city of 185,000 and capital of the state by the same name, Guanajuato is built on a hillside and “blessed” with extremely narrow roads, low clearance tunnels and poorly marked one-way streets. Even more challenging to drive in than Guadalajara, most don’t even attempt to drive through the city. Let’s just say I would not want to be driving anything bigger than we are driving ! It was one more time where we really appreciated having a smaller, more maneuverable vehicle – eventually we found our cliffside campground. Another highly popular “campsite” on the overland trail, the views certainly made getting there worthwhile. Another atypical spot, it’s really more a level backyard in a large cliffside house but it came replete with spotless showers and toilets, level parking and power and water on site. It would have been on our top 3 on the trip so far were it not for the cacophony of barking neighbourhood dogs the likes of which we have never experienced before and hope never to experience in future ! Torture for sleeping !
Barking dogs aside, Guanajuato is unquestionably one of the prettiest of the Mexican cities we have visited, and is designated a UNESCO world heritage site for its important history and colonial architecture. It’s got to be about as classically Mexican as you can get. The city also lent itself to doing all sightseeing on foot – gotta love the smaller cities ! On our last day, “Victor”, a younger ( to us anyway ! ) American pulled into the campground in his Toyota 4Runner kitted out with all the usual overlanding gear. Turns out he is on pretty much the same journey as us – from his home in San Francisco he had travelled north to the Arctic, turned around and is on his way south to Tierra Del Fuego at the bottom of South America ( with plans for Africa after that ) – needless to say many notes were compared and tips shared between us !
Thirty four years ago, honeymooning around Europe, we met a well travelled Brit who spoke about his time in Mexico in the 70’s. We could not recall all the places he listed as “must sees” but one stuck with us all these years – San Miguel de Allende ( or SMA as it is often abbreviated here ). Finally, all these years later, it was the next stop on our travels – based on his glowing reviews we had high expectations. Like Guanajuato, it played a pivotal role in Mexico’s revolution and ultimate independence from Spain in the 1820’s – the two cities are not only close geographically, they share many other features and SMA is also a UNESCO world heritage city.
As our British friend did, there is good reason people fall in love with this place and equally good reason why an incredibly large number of “gringo expats” choose to make this place home – it just has so much to offer. Not just another Pueblo Magico, though it is one of those, it offers history, beauty, year round great weather and just a very cosmopolitan vibe. Like Guanajuato, it’s elevation at over 6,000 feet keeps it free of the extremely high temperatures, oppressive humidity and potentially malarial mosquitoes. Great restaurants, an eclectic artsy feel and some of the most traditionallly Mexican cobblestone streets we have seen so far. Something else we had both noticed about the folks in this part of Mexico, or more specifically had started to notice in Guadalajara, Guanajuato and also San Miguel – was their style. Dressed more fashionably and with, in some cases, a style sense on par with the French or Italians, whether it be chic university students scurrying around on Vespa scooters, elderly scarf-clad retired men sipping coffees in a cafe or proud parents dressing up small kids; it was definitely noticeable.
Another popular stop on the overland route south ( or north ) it also offers probably one of the best, and best located, campgrounds in Mexico. Somewhat pretentiously called “The San Miguel RV Park and Tennis Club”, the facilities were fantastic and included two beautiful clay tennis courts. A real oasis in the city. SMA was also the first place on our trip so far where we have met more than one other overlander; beside us was a German couple in a massive M.A.N. custom built overland truck ( heading to South America ) and across from us another German couple in a Toyota “Troopy” ( as we call them in Oz ) – Ule and Ute had traversed the Sahara multiple times, travelled Africa extensively over the past 10 years and were now retired and following the same route as us, albeit at a somewhat slower pace. We enjoyed their company while in SMA and shared some invaluable information with each other.
While San Miguel’s “sights” were easily seen in a day, we took the opportunity to simply relax here, shop, explore the many cobblestone back streets, sample the great restaurants, replenish our supplies, enjoy the company of our new overlanding friends and do some long overdue vehicle cleaning . Next stop – the hustle and bustle of Mexico City.
PS: Try as I might it is generally impossible to find Wi-Fi that is is fast enough to upload all the blog images in the same full resolution in which I shoot them. They should be reasonably clear on a small screen – just don’t enlarge them ! If anyone out there has the technical savvy to help me address the issue, please comment !
Wonderful stuff, Jeff. Enjoying every minute of your trip. Keep them coming..
Glad you are enjoying ! The past week has just been an assault on the senses – so much to see and do – it’s a stunning part of Mexico !
Seems like you’ve had a perfect stretch of weather!
Hi Chris ,
Well, of late certainly, but much of southern Baja was simply too hot and too humid ( you don’t see that in the pictures of course !!! ). It’s amazing what a 6,000 feet change in elevation does…..it is perfect here but looks like we have some rain ahead. Considering we are travelling in their off season, the run we have had has been remarkable – fingers crossed it continues ?
Hi to all !
Nice to hear from you! Great pictures!
Safe travels and look forward to reading your next update.
Hi Lois and Jeff.
You two really have the recipe to life while the rest of us arent’ quite getting it. lol…
I’m hooked and totally enjoying your blog.
Your travels are certainly bringing back memories of my “Overlander” trips across Mexico as a child with my parents. Some of your points of interest and campgrounds look very familiar to me.
Your stories and photos are really exceptional. I can’t wait to hear about the next stop!
The Woods, K & L.
Great to hear from you and keep the feedback coming – we love hearing from folks! I can understand you would definitely be appreciating some of the places and comments having been down this road ( so to speak ) yourself ! Hey, come to think of it , what’s stopping you guys from coming down hear and joining us ??? We are meeting the most fascinating people who are doing the most amazing things – makes us feel like weekend tourists !!!!
Just arrived in Mexico City ( outside it anyway )…..after Guadalajara we decided ‘bussing’ in might be best ha ha ha…….20 million people here !!!! More on that next week…???.
What great pictures and information! You guys should have a U-Tube Chanel or write a book! You are missing the cold front we are getting her in Kelowna. (snow on Coquihalla this weekend).
Stay safe in the big city ahead.
Well, when you a tapestry like the colonial towns in Mexico to work with, colorful pictures are pretty easy !
We are not missing the colder weather back home at all lol ! Still high up here ( just arrrived in Mex City ) so while days are warm, nights are cooler ( good for sleeping ?).
Love hearing from you guys, keep the comments coming ! Regards to all
Lo and Jeff
Sounds like you’re now traveling on a similar path to ours last year except in reverse. We traveled from CDMX to SMA, then Chapala/Ajijic (Ah-HEE-Heek… love that name!) and Guadalajara (a quick glimpse only). From there we went to the coast and eventually flew home.
CDMX, I believe you’ve been there before… it is an amazing city. We really enjoyed the Ho/Ho bus as a great overview of the city (try to avoid rush hour),. There is so much to see and do there. We were there for a total of six days. Must sees: Museum of Anthropology (very beautiful and big, allow at least a couple hours or more depending on your interest in Mexican and human history), then take a stroll along the Av. Paseo de la Reforma for 4-5 km to get a real experience of downtown CDMX. You will see the large Plaza Suites building in which we experienced an earthquake on the top floor. Take a Uber (best way to get around, better and safer than cabs). Don’t miss the Historic Center or the Pyramids (Uber to North bus station, then bus. There is a major bus station in each quadrant of the city.),
Good tips, all……most we have seen before. Ironically we are staying in the north, just outside CDMX at a great campground right. Beside Teotihuacan pyramids- it’s a short walk and we are going there today…looking forward to it !!!! Tomorrow in CDMX proper.
I forgot to mention a wonderful side trip from CDMX… our local friends took us to their large, spectacular weekend retreat in a town called Valle de Bravo about two hours west of the city. We spent three days there with their family, then as they had to return to the city, they generously allowed us to stay there for another three days with a vehicle included.
It is a very beautiful area with a large lake and amazing hillside views. It is very upscale area where wealthy Mexicans go to escape the city. it is off the beaten track for non-Mexican tourists. Nearby is a mountain area where the monarch butterflies migrate to escape the cold up north. That’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in my life! I don’t know if the butterflies are there at this time of the year though.
Thanks for the tip! We did follow up on Alejandro’s restaurant but this one we will have to miss…..we have committed to being in Oaxaca at a set date with other folks so would not have time for a Mex City side tour. We’ve been to Mex City twice before so not planning to spend much time there this go around.
The Monarch butterflies would have been cool – will see it’s can catch it elsewhere !
Too bad. Maybe next time.
Your tight schedule reminds me of when we were in Thailand and had to leave (went to Malaysia) because we could only stay for 60 days on the second part of our double-entry visa. We went back to Thailand a few days early to go to a wedding with you guys! Remember? ? When we tried to fly out of Bangkok 63 days later, we got a big hassle and fine for overstaying our visa. The person we got our visas from said it wouldn’t be a problem. Ha!
Our schedule is generally pretty loose but with CDMX we had committed to being in Oaxaca which pushed us a bit while there.
The only real schedule we have to work to is weather – in a trip of this duration it is literally impossible to spend as much time as one would like everywhere you go and still end up having great weather all the time. Too much time ‘here’ and we catch rainy season or oppressive heat/humidity ‘there’ The seasons come and go – can’t be summer everywhere all the time lol !
I understand what you are saying and it’s obvious from your blog that you are “playing it by ear”. I should have said ‘temporary’ tight schedule ?.
Ha ha ha – we always keep it flexible !