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Self-drive Mexico: Colonial cities to Pacific coast

12 days from £2,706pp

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

Mexico, with its big landscapes and good modern network of paved roads, is ideal for independent exploration by self drive car hire. No more so than in the highland colonial-cities loop, and on the Pacific coast. Your hire car is provided and your point-to point itinerary planned out for you, with hotel reservations made in advance and maps provided.

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 the homely yet international little town of San Miguel de Allende is a magnet for artists. Morelia shows off some of the grandest monumental colonial architecture, and Querétaro is renowned for its impressive colonial aqueduct.

Continue for some beach time at Zihuatanejo on the glorious sands of the Pacific coast.

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

Your car is delivered, drive to Guanajuato via Querétaro, 2 nights.

Day 4

At leisure in Guanajuato.

Day 5

Drive to Morelia via Pátzcuaro, 2 nights.

Day 6

At leisure.

Day 7

Drive 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.
 
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.
 
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.

If you have time after or before the tour we suggest you visit the world-class Museum of Anthropology, exhibiting remarkable, well displayed Aztec artefacts alongside items from other ancient civilisations. There’s also a scale model of the lake-city Tenochtitlan. It’s a fantastic introduction to the superb and sometimes grisly artistic achievements of Mexico’s early inhabitants.

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

Your car is delivered, drive to Guanajuato via Querétaro, 2 nights.
 
This is the day you receive your hire car, a mid-sized Chevrolet Aveo (or similar) which will be your companion for 5 days. Other sizes of car are available but terms and conditions are subject to change.

The car is delivered to your hotel.

Our assistance will help make your departure from the city as straightforward as possible. The administrative processes in Mexico tend to take longer than you may be accustomed to but this is quite normal. Our agents will also provide you with a basic road map and useful information about the area highlights of your visit. A guide will escort you to the city outskirts so you can avoid travelling through the bewildering road network in the busy capital. You’ll have a briefing before you set off independently.

Drive to Guanajuato (5hrs approx).

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Guanajuato

Day 4

At leisure in 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. It’s fun driving here, especially if you like 3-dimensional chess: much of the traffic is channelled along underground roads that follow the routes of the old mine galleries.

The city is built on the sides of the steep ravine: there isn’t enough flat land for roads. 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

Drive to Morelia via Pátzcuaro, 2 nights.
 

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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Patzcuaro

Day 6

At leisure.
 

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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Morelia old town

Day 7

Drive to Zihuatanejo on the Pacific coast.
 
Drive to Zihuatanejo on the Pacific coast, 5hrs (355km) along a beautiful new highway. Drop off your car at the car rental office and settle in to the hotel on the beach. 
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Zihuatanejo

Days 8-11

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

Service throughout your hotel is extremely attentive and friendly. You have your own private palapa shelter on the beach where you will be visited by extremely attentive staff offering you complimentary iced drinks, or even to clean your sunglasses!

There are 4 swimming pools including a lap-pool and an infinity pool, 2 floodlit tennis courts, an art gallery, and a massage service. The restaurants offer both refined and casual dining. They deliver superb cuisine, though it isn’t cheap. 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 horse riding, water-skiing, deep-sea fishing and sailing. There are two 18-hole golf courses in the vicinity.

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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. 

For the car, additional Liability and Loss Damage Waiver (CDW without excess and inclusion of theft protection) is included as well as Personal Accident and Third Party insurance.

From 8 June 2015 new regulations will apply concerning the paper counterpart of UK driving licences. This may affect what is required by the rental company when you collect your car.Please check https://www.gov.uk/government/news/driving-licence-changes for further details.

Transport

Self-drive car, Chevrolet Aveo or similar with air-conditioning.

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 25 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 hire with assistance in Mexico City
• Accommodation as specified.
• Meals as specified.
• Excursions as specified, including entrance fees.

Not 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 and air transport within Latin America.
• Accommodation as specified.
• Meals as specified.
• Excursions as specified, including entrance fees.

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, and possibly some travellers’ cheques, though these are gradually falling out of use (American Express are the most widely accepted). 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 expected 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 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).

It is advisable to carry high visibility jackets (1 per person) in the car. You should also have a first-aid kit and ideally a warning triangle. Fill up with fuel at every opportunity, and don’t rely on your debit/credit card to buy it – keep a ready supply of cash.

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.

APIS and ESTA - important flight information:

ESTA - if flying to, or via, the USA you will need to fill in your application to ESTA online

This costs $14 per person, and must be done by you personally.

Passports must also be machine-readable (MRP). Avoid locking suitcases if transiting the USA, as their customs authorities retain the right to break into them.

APIS - Many countries now oblige airlines to provide additional information about passengers prior to the flight departure. This Advance Passenger Information (APIS) must be supplied to us promptly in order to issue tickets and avoid fare increases. We will provide the airlines with the relevant details if we are booking your international flights. If the information is not provided you may be denied boarding.

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