Roadtrip from Oaxaca City to the Coast

We really wanted to rent a car and drive to the coast, so after getting screwed by Europcar we went to Alamo. We had car rental insurance from our credit card company and had proof that they covered car rentals in Mexico. But this concept doesn’t seem to exist in Mexico. Multiple car rental companies wanted us to have a specific document that no one would give us. And when we asked where to obtain this document, no one could or would tell us. I would advice others not to believe the cheap rental car prices that are advertised for Oaxaca as the insurance is not included in the price advertised. A six day rental at Alamo was $200USD. We wanted to be on our own schedule and while the rental car was not cheap, the cost was offset, for us, by the five nights in Oaxaca City that were free on hotel points (thanks Holiday Inn).
We were nervous to take the bus after hearing so many horror stories of people getting sick and it being such a long drive up and down mountain sides (hence paying for the expensive rental car). But in hindsight, and after being on the twisty-turny mountain road all the way to the coast and back (and with all of the other experiences that I have had with twisty-turny mountain roads), I don’t think that we needed to have a rental car. The roads were not as treacherous as people had suggested. While it was a long drive, around 5.5 hours each way, the roads were in good condition and there was not a lot of traffic. If you do drive yourself, definitely beware of all of the topes (speed bumps) that are not always marked on the roads. Also, the buses that make the trip to and from the coast are the smaller colectivo-sized buses that only seat about 14 people not the massive tour buses that I would have expected.
The first stop on our roadtrip was Monte Alban which was lovely. It was also a lot larger than we expected so it was wonderful to be able to take our time and not feel rushed.
We then drove to the ruins at Yagul. These were just as interesting and informative (both sites have informational plaques in Spanish, English, and a local language). Yagul was completely empty when we arrive and it was lovely to have the place to ourselves. At $65MXN per person, it wasn’t much cheaper than Monte Alban ($70MXN), but still a great stop to make.
The ruins of Yagul.
We stayed the night in Mitla so that we could get to Hierve del Agua early the next morning. We found a few hotels in town including a brand new place called Hotel Carmelita. We had a double room with a private bath, hot water, tv, and wifi for $500MXN a night. The staff was very helpful and friendly. We asked for a dinner recommendation and were pointed towards a restaurant on the main square. We had a mole dish which was very tasty and the best chile rellano I’ve ever had. Our total bill for two entrees and one mezcal was $220MXN with tip.
The next morning we drove to Hierve del Agua. We paid the local entrance fee of $10MXN per person and then paid the federal entrance fee of $25MXN per person. Check out this blog for more information on driving there.
Once we parked, we hiked down for 20 minutes to the pools of sulfery water. We then hiked around to the top of the other petrified waterfall, the one in most of the photos. The path was mostly made of stone steps and was not difficult. It probably took us 25 minutes to get there and the views along the way were definitely worth it. There are free changing rooms as well as bathrooms ($3MXN) near the pools. If you can get there on your own, I would recommend getting there early. It opens at 9a.m. and from what we heard, the tour buses start arriving around 1p.m.
A view of the pools.
Hierve del Agua
A view from below on one of the hiking trails.
We left Hierve del Agua and headed south. Because we were getting a late start, we decided to stop somewhere along the road for the night. With a little bit of research we found a place which was just perfect for us; La Puesta del Sol. They have a little collection of bungalows and rooms for rent just a one-minute drive outside the town San Juan del Pacifico. The room we stayed in was nice and cozy with satellite TV, hot water, breakfast, and a lovely view of the mountains. Wifi was extra and we opted to be off the grid for the night. At $400MXN for the night, we couldn’t have been happier.
Along the road to the coast, there were a lot of small hotels and posadas that are not listed on the internet. I felt confident that if we couldn’t get a room at La Puesta del Sol, we could have found a room somewhere else along the way.
For our first night on the coast, we stayed in Zipolite. When we arrived, we parked in town and walked up and down the beach price-checking a handful of different hotels. We found prices ranging from $200MXN to $1200MXN and finally settled on Hotel El Paraiso which was $500MXN per night which included a private bathroom, hot water, wifi, parking, and a balcony that overlooked the ocean. It was definitely the best option for us.
The view from our balcony.
The beach was clean and not overcrowded while we were there. But be warned, or informed, that Zipolite is a nude beach.
The next morning we drove down the coast to the town of Mazunte. We had booked a room at Posada Ziga Playa for two nights. It was definitely the nicest place we stayed on the trip ($1000MXN per night) and our room included a private terrace with a hammock. But in hindsight, I think I would have rather stayed somewhere that was not as upscale but had beach chairs and umbrellas down on the beach (as Posada Ziga Playa had neither of these). Also, the hotel is situated up on a small hill so you have to walk up and down stairs to get to the beach.
My advice while visiting this part of the Pacific Ocean in Mexico is to be careful when swimming in the water. When we first checked into our hotel in Zipolite, we were given a full briefing of the undercurrent and the water conditions that day. And I’m thankful that they took the time to warn us. After our first slightly treacherous day in the ocean, my husband walked up and down the beach to find a less rough spot to swim in. We lined ourselves up with a few large rocks about two hundred meters out into the water. These rocks were able to break up most of the waves coming in and therefore the current and waves were not as forceful.
The view from a hiking trail starting on the western edge of Mazunte.
While in Mazunte, we went to the turtle sanctuary which was very interesting though there didn’t seem to be an option for a guided tour. And while we enjoyed looking at a lot of different turtles, we did not learn very much. But for $32MXN per person, it was a nice little outing. We also went out for dinner and drinks in town a few times including a great little Italian place called Alessandro’s where I was able to get a $9USD steak that was delicious. We also came across a handful of small bars and restaurants that had live music and offered two for one drink specials.
After a few lovely days at the beach, we made the long drive back to Oaxaca City starting out early in the morning. Traffic was light which was a blessing on the winding roads. I was concerned that we would have to pay a lot of tolls to and from the coast but we really only drove on one toll road near Mitla. My suggestion would be that if you are going to rent a car know that everything will take longer than you expect. Also, I would not recommend driving at night due to the twisting roads and all of the speed bumps. Finally, the gas stations we went to did not take credit card but there was always a gas station attendant to pump the gasoline for you.
Roadtrip from Oaxaca City to the Coast

Bacalar, Mexico

When I read about Bacalar and it’s beautiful lake, I was intrigued and beyond excited to spend some time there. I wasn’t sure if it would stand up to my expectations but it did and I’m thankful that I gave it the chance. I found Bacalar described as a “cottage town” for vacationing Mexicans. While we did come across other travelers from the U.S. and Canada, our numbers were limited. Spanish is definitely necessary to visit this town. The guides we hired and a few taxi drivers spoke English but for the most part, Spanish is the language for most transactions.

We stayed at Casita Carolina which is only a few blocks from the center of town. This small  property has a handful of room options that range from two small trailers ($300 MXN and $350 MXN) to a large palapa style room ($700 MXN) which sleeps four. The staff was very helpful though only the caretaker spoke English.

We stayed one night in the Scamp. It was a tight fit, but for $350MXN per night, it was a great deal.
We stayed one night in the Scamp. It was a tight fit, but for $350MXN per night, it was a great deal.

While in Bacalar, we took a half-day tour of the lake with a man named Amir. He tended to visit a handful of the hotels and hostels in the morning looking to round up 6-8 people for a tour starting around noon. While he was not the only person offering a tour like this in town, we were very happy with the experience we had with him. The tour included stops along the lake including snorkeling in one of the cenotes, swimming in shallow water near mud which is rich in sulfur (great for your skin), and swimming/snorkeling in “the rapids” which is a canal with a light current much like a lazy river. At $400 MXN per person, this tour was one of our favorite activities while in Bacalar.

Lake Bacalar in all it's
Lake Bacalar in all it’s beauty.

When we weren’t enjoying the lake, we were eating all the delicious food we could find and it was plentiful. There are a few restaurants on the zocalo (town square) that were more geared toward tourists; menus were offered in English and Spanish and the prices were higher than in the rest of town. We ate an early lunch at one of these restaurants and for a plate of three tacos and huevos al gusto (eggs with ham, rice, and beans), we paid a total of $130MXN. And while the food was tasty, we had a similar meal at a restaurant off the the zocalo and paid around $75MXN. The two restaurants we enjoyed the most where on the same block. El Socio is open for breakfast and lunch and the other one (name unknown), two doors down, is open for lunch and dinner. Each restaurant is on either side of Toto Blue Boutique Hotel. Both restaurants are basic in their options, the service was friendly, and some basic Spanish is needed.

We also wanted to visit some of the Mayan ruins near Bacalar. There are three sites within a 1.5 hour drive from Bacalar; Kohunlich, Dzibanche, and Kinichna. The caretaker at Casita Carolina, Kim, said she had a line on a bilingual guide. She said that he charged $500 MXN per person but this did not include transportation. It would be up to us to negotiate a price for a taxi or private driver for the trip. We had heard that most taxis would drive you around all day for $600 MXN but had also heard it could be as much as $1000 MXN. We thought this sounded a bit high so we went next door to the Green Monkey hostel and asked about their tour options. A man, whose name I can’t remember, said they offered a half day tour to three of the ruins and were quoted the $400 MXN which included the entrance fees for all three sites (approximately $55 MXN for Kohunlich and $67 MXN for both Dzibanche and Kinichna) as well as transportation. We double and triple checked that we got all of this right and when we were satisfied that there were no extra fees, we locked down the plan for the following day. When we arrived the next morning, the only surprise that awaited us was the transportation situation. My husband and I, along with the guide and three other people would be squeezing into a 1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. We shouldn’t have been surprised but were and got a good laugh out of the situation. It worked out fine in the end. We had a great time touring the countryside, visiting the ruins, and barely making it over the speedbumps in our lowrider.


We also asked around and researched the possibility of taking a colectivo out to the ruins. What we found was that you could get about halfway there which means you would still need to negotiate with a taxi to get to the remote ruins. The bright side to this lack of public transportation is there were few visitors at the ruins when we were there. At all three sites, we were one of two small groups visiting. You can actually focus on the awe inspiring history that is in front of you.

Bacalar, Mexico

Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico

We visited the ruins and were pleasantly surprised at how well preserved and expansive they were. We were also surprised that we were allowed to climb up most of the ruins. 
The cost to get in is nominal but know that outside of the ruins, everything gets pretty expensive compared to the other areas of Chiapas we visited. In the restaurants near the hotel area of town, entrees start at around $100 MXN. We stayed at the Chablis Hotel which was fine but at $60 USD a night, it was standard for the area but still more than I would have liked to spend. We ate in the gringo area a few times but also went into town across the bridge and ate at some of the small restaurants there. They were much less expensive, about $12 MXN per taco. 
If I were to retake this trip and were on an even tighter budget, I would have taken one of the tours from San Cristobal to Palenque to see the ruins and visit Miso-Ha and Aqua Azul in one day. We took the bus from San Cristobal to Palenque for $112 MXN, then took a colectivo to and from the ruins for a total of $80 MXN, the two entrance fees for the ruins (one for the park, one for the ruins) for $87 MXN, a tour that took us to Misol-Ha and Aqual Azul for $150 MXN, and finally the bus ticket back to San Cristobal for $176 MXN. So all of this comes out to $605 MXN per person. There were tours from San Cristobal that included Palenque, Miso-Ha, and Aqual Azul for $450-600 MXN. I think by staying in Palenque for three nights (so that we would have two full days to visit the ruins and the waterfalls), we actually spent more money than if we would have just crammed it all into one day. But at least we could take our time at the ruins and have time to relax. I guess that’s the trade off.
Misol-Ha waterfall
Agua Azul waterfall
Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico