Hasta luego Mexico: you're a gem.

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North America » Mexico
March 6th 2019
Published: March 10th 2019
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Even having local chums - very kind, fun and generous local chums - living in Guadalajara (we'd crashed a party they were hosting in Oaxaca) we hadn't particularly wanted to visit. Guadalajara is a great mass of humanity without - to our knowledge - much in the way of sights or must-dos. Plus, it being mid-week, there was no way we were going to impose ourselves on said new friends, although it was mighty tempting... they certainly know how to party.

Our presence in Mexico's second city was purely for financial reasons, it being far cheaper to fly from there to La Paz in Baja California than to take our much preferred route of multiple buses and a ferry. However, we are delighted to relate that it is perfectly charming. Getting from the airport to downtown was both easy and cheap - the most reasonably priced places to stay are invariably near a city's Centro Historico.... downtown. Lost on the ground, just ask for the Catedral de xxxx (insert city) and you'll rarely be far off the mark.

Anyway, on traipsing up Av. 16th de Septiembre towards the cathedral...

- And here I need to deviate: the Mexicans are very partial to naming their streets by historically important dates of months - Avs. 5 de Mayo, 12 de Octubre, 20 de Noviembre; Calles 5 de Febreo, 1 de Marzo, 28 de Agosto are all also very popular. Indeed, I need to look out for examples of the remaining months and maybe investigate quite why these dates are memorable. That said, almost every city (and town for that matter) appears to share a limited pool of road names. Is there anywhere in Mexico without a Juarez, Madero, Hidalgo, Regina, Colon, Independencia, Garcia, Allende, Morelos, Constitucion or the previously mentioned Noviembre or Septiembre? -

...... with a hostel in mind, we were accosted by a smiley old man, an old man bearing an official touristico badge. He spoke minimal English and our Spanish is.... still.... Nevertheless, it sounded as though he was asking how he might be of aid to us. This was - apparently, to our ears - a totally gratis service. Did we have a place to stay? Could he recommend somewhere? Recommend away he did, amidst our constant stream of "por favor, moy economico". Eventually he named a hotel (a hotel!) that, he assured us (?), would drop its price for a private room with bathroom from 570p to 450p. This was less than our two targeted dorm beds and so off we tootled, with the cheery little Daniel in tow. On arrival and having checked out a room, the female receptionist initially stated 700p, then (following our raised brows) - what was obviously the going rate - 570p. I looked to our little man and shrugged, shaking my head. He gave her a staccato speil that was totally lost on us and suddenly we were given a "promotional" rate of... 450p. He asked not for a tip and simply bowed, his touristico service having been performed. We shook his hand, thanked him for his kind aid, and headed off to our hotel room. Funnily enough, on our return from eating at the mercado, we once again encountered him loitering in search of tourists in need. Bless him and Guadalajara's welcoming approach to tourists.

Guadalajara's big mercado (those with food stalls therein are typically the most budget-friendly places to eat) is a backpackers' foody heaven. Sadly we were unable to source the local speciality, birria (goat/lamb stew), but we did sample excellent torta ahogadas (literally 'drowned sandwich') that are a chilli-sauce-soaked pork roll, the sauce having a hefty infusion of red wine as its base. Boozy sandwiches consumed we wandered over to Marachi plaza, imagining it to be filled with the spangly-besuited bands competing for your attention. Whilst there were multiple troupes present - determined by their differing dazzling attire - only one was performing: harassing patrons at some fancy eatery, the rest merely lounging around. It being beer-o'clock we headed back - via the nearest Oxxo - to the hotel's courtyard. Enroute we discovered Guad's take on the pelican crossing: rather than the appearance of a dull stationary green man indicating that it is safe to cross, here there is a boldly striding individual who progressively increases their pace until, just prior to the lights changing colour, they are sprinting for their life. We delayed beer consumption to chortle at a few repetitions.

Having, pre-dawn, navigated our way to the airport we approached the VivaAerobus counter with a certain amount of trepidation: would our packs weigh-in at under 15kg? Hell, we'd spent the previous evening slicing ancient redundant padlocks - the keys long lost - off the rucksacks using our "chain" saw (part of Marlene and Jeff's survival pack) in an effort to shed a few more ounces. This airline is definitely Mexico's cheapest, but it is notorious for its strict money extracting caveats. Ooppps, mine clocked in at 15.3kg although, fortunately, passing on my winter gloves and balaclava (we will, at some point, be in less clement climes) to Ali's, left us both at a safe 14.8kg. Then, as we sat smugly at the departure gate playing some crib, staff members appeared with what appeared to be mobile electronic scales. Yes, sure enough, everyone had to queue up and have their hand luggage weighed. Ours were fine, but a sizable number were less fortunate and we witnessed one individual handing over several thousand pesos, some three times what we'd paid for the actual flight.

On arrival La Paz was hot, very hot. Walking across the tarmac to the terminal in the vicious midday sun and viscous humidity felt like walking through soup. Having gathered our packs we asked for directions to the bus stop. To our horror we were informed that there were none. OK, maybe not from within the airport, but if we walked to the main road surely we could flag down a bus or collectivo? No, there are no buses or collectivos, only taxi's, the fare being 295p for the 9km into town. In disbelief and disgust I announced that we'd jolly well be walking. Ali reminded me that we were without water, that it was scorching, that we were each carrying 20 kilos, errrr... and that it was 9km of uncertain terrain. Fortunately it was flat, unfortunately the highway provided zero shade. Nevertheless we covered the first 3km in good time and then chanced upon a drive-through bottle shop that did actually have some water available amidst the tempting array of chilled beers, whilst the proprietor informed that we could catch a bus right there. As we waited a car pulled up and I was just about to moan that he was blocking our visibility of the approaching traffic when... he offered us a lift. Very gratefully, but somewhat guiltily - we were drenched in sweat - Daniel (either a very common name in Mexico, or the name given to all good Samaritans) cruised us into town and along the great stretch of the Malacon looking out over the milky turquoise Sea of Cortez.

Heading inland, almost immediately we spotted Pension California, a lovely old-school backpackers' with rooms facing out onto a shady, plant-laden central courtyard. Family run it has been in operation since the 80's and mum showed us to a massive room that suited us just fine. We'd expected to be trawling the streets yet had lucked out at our first enquiry. Even better, directly outside the hostel is the most amazing fish taco stand; really, this place is a local legend. And so it should be. Ali was delighted that wheat rather than corn tacos could be requested and then she spied the help-yourself accompanying salad/salsa bar. Given its proximity, California inhabitants tend to bring out an empty plate from the hostel, stock up and return. It is heavenly, healthy bliss. There again, I did observe the stand's owners blanche at Ali's idea of what should constitute gratis sides; still, we were bloody regular customers.

Regardless, we were only in town for one purpose: to swim with those most docile yet largest of fish, the whale shark. We had expected to pay handsomely for this privilege (admittedly we had already - in just getting here) and yet a stroll along the Malacon threw up several operations whose prices were a third of what we had expected. One friendly guy offered an amazing discount if we were prepared to depart imminently to make up the numbers on a boat (see footnotes for restrictions and advice on shark-friendly practices). We weren't, but returning an hour later, and following some swift negotiations, we agreed upon the same rate for several days hence - when the wind was forecast to have dropped and hence visibility improved.

Whilst waiting for our aquatic encounter we, largely, lounged around the hostel as it greeted a steady stream of new arrivals, many of them (Viks/Rich/Simon this sounds like your idea of nirvana) having just completed the Baja Divide, a gruelling 1673 mile bike ride between the Pacific Ocean (starting in San Diego) and the Sea of Cortez that criss-crosses numerous mountain ranges. Unlike the transient cyclists there were several long stayers in residence and among these were some serious characters including dope-snipping, photographic goddess Meagan and too-trusting-for-his-own-wallet Bob. Although of particular note was an older lady with an obvious penchant for reconstructive surgery who confided that she was a white witch. A goodly sorceress she might be but that hadn't stopped her trying to knock off an ex-partner by way of a pin-stuck and buried effigy. Quite convinced of her success, especially as a portentous bat had appeared post-ceremony, she was most aggrieved to discover - via Facebook - that he was alive and well, chilling on a Caribbean island. She had since taken a different tack and had apparently been consulting her contacts on 'the other side'. Yes, she was somewhat eccentric but she was also rather sweet; she let rip with the best guffaws after a suck on her pipe, and never has my stroganoff (bastardised as it was) received such lavish praise.

Oh, and here's a funny thing: one individual, a Canadian, was in La Paz as........ a dental tourist. Straight up, he was here to have some bridge work done on a troublesome molar. Apparently the standard of dentistry down Baja way isn't to be sniffed at whilst, not surprisingly, such work is markedly cheaper than up north - even factoring in travel and accommodation. Fancy that.

The whale shark team were, and it is not a word I use often, awesome. Our diminutive guide Lapita made herself very clear: if the rules were not followed to the letter then Mike (the skipper - not remotely diminutive) would have you out of the water in a shot. The well-being of the sharks are her priority, period.

Currently there were estimated to be in excess of a hundred sharks present in the area and whilst we saw maybe eight we entered the water with but two. Once in the water rule number one is to never touch a shark; number two, never place yourself in the shark's path (you'd give them indigestion); three, now hard to break as buoyant wet suits are compulsory, is never dive beneath the shark. These are, in theory, easy to abide by until you factor in that the sharks are here because of the dense plankton and that even on our beautifully sunny, windless day, snorkelling visibility was probably less than ten feet. Personally I stuck to Lapita like a remora: mostly, literally, in physical contact with her, constantly aware of her hand signals indicating where we should be placed, when we could swim alongside the shark and when we needed to move away. Yet, even with the very best intentions, at one point I still found myself directly above the fish and within seconds of its dorsal fin catching me up, not something either of us wanted. Unlike from the boat, in the water you were never able to see a shark in its entirety, but being within several feet of its monstrous head or watching as its huge mass cruised by was still pretty trippy. I don't know if more swimming pool-like visibility is possible in other hot-spots such as Mexico's Holbock (Caribbean side of Mexico: May-July), the southern Belizean Cayes (May-June) or the Philippines (December-May)? There again, the adults might be found in clearer, less food-rich waters than the juveniles, because that's what we were swimming with: juveniles, a mere 5-8 metres in length; mum and dad may easily surpass 10m.

La Paz doesn't really have a beach, the sea reaching almost to the concrete of the Malacon from which numerous jetties project, whilst the far side of the Bay of La Paz hosts some very ugly new builds. It is hugely touristy and as a town has little to entice. That said, if you have money and, ideally, independent transport then the south of Baja does have many spectacular sights and activities (amidst the American hoards). Close by lies the island of Espiritu Santo with its sea lion population (more swim-with opportunities) and blue-footed boobies, but public transportation costs and tour prices for destinations further afield are simply out of the realm of the backpacker.

So, with another spoon full removed from the bucket, we left Mexico's mighty peninsula. Our next planned excursion had been to travel the Copper Canyon railway to Chihuahua in the north, but having seen Margie's excellent - yet still not totally selling - photographs, and given the cost (particularly of the planned hiking on a mid-route stop-over at Creel), we lept hugely eastwards to the state of Chiapas and Tuxla, our next true destination being San Christobal de las Casas.

We didn't head to Tuxla blindly - we always research the next few potential stops - and so we knew we would face "The Tuxla Trap". The aforementioned is a tight backpackers' "Catch-22". Approaching from a distance, flying into Tuxla is the budget way to enter Chiapas (no cheap flights go direct to San Christobal and long haul bus prices don't even come close to flying) and yet on arriving, once again, the airport conspires to vex. Tuxla itself is meant to be an extremely pleasant town and one that we were not loath to visit, but it is situated 35km from its airport and..... of course.... there are no buses going into town, only taxis - at a Heimlich necessitating price. San Christobal lies far further afield from either Tuxla's airport or Tuxla itself. Only expensive buses depart from the airport to San Cristobal (still markedly cheaper than that bloody taxi), yet if you did suffer the humiliating taxi ride then you could proceed onwards for a pittance by collectivo. Unable to swallow our pride/support extortion, prior to landing we'd already sold our souls to ADO (the bus). Yet, on arrival, a minor (very minor) miracle: a new service had just been established - a somewhat more reasonable collectivo minibus that now runs from the airport to San Christobal. It seems that Tuxla is simply not that keen on hosting visitors (of limited means)...

Ask anyone who has travelled only

Photo by Lutz
in Mexico's Yukatan Peninsula and Chiapas (read most young American visitors: meow) and San Christobal is known, and loved, primarily for two things: its beauty and its friendly prices. Beautiful, yes, with its cobbled streets, pastel-coloured houses and dreamy light, but it is still outshone by other even more stunning places; cheap, yes - well, for accommodation at least, if you're prepared to seek it out. Actually the latter point is not entirely true because maybe the best value for money hostel was.... da da daaaaaa... listed in Lonely Planet. It just took us a while to "find" it as we presumed this would no longer be the case. Immediately we doff our hats to Denis and Adriana of Le Gite del Sol for not having pillaged their exalted fame and for still providing a very decent service at a fair rate. Bizarrely he charged us more for our walk-in custom than if we'd booked on-line. On discovering this Ali had a gentle word and he readily refunded the difference. In almost three months in Mexico this was our first LP-listed digs. We did find three or four marginally cheaper hostels dotted around town, but none of these included breakfast. If you have some spare shekels then there are some amazing boutique hotels and there is also a very cool, dorm-only, Aussie-run hostel called Panda that would be fantastic for solo travellers.

Anyway, there are a lot of tourists here - it is Chiapas after-all - but equally there are far more indigenous peoples than further west and north; those women wearing hefty shaggy black skirts made from some type of wool - they must be sweating their pants off - being particularly noticeable. The huge Mercado to the north of town is a veritable maze. Sadly it has no eateries, but it does have several hidden stalls selling a range of cigarettes at a mere 10p a pack. The Gold City variety (ah hum, the packets state for duty free sale only) were excellent and the very happy lady proprietor closed-up for the day when we returned and bought four cartons.

As per the whole of Mexico - as witnessed by us - San Christobal de las Casas has an abundance of street art, some of it really rather good.

On the way to Palenque there are two attractions of note: amidst steaming jungle the powerful water cascades at Aqua Azul crash over eroded limestone and link dozens of eerily turquoise pools; and, relatively nearby, the 35m Misol-Ha waterfall, behind which there is a walkable ledge, plunges into a seemingly isolated pool, surrounded by lush tropical vegetation. You can swim at both sites, although on our visits the drizzly overcast day didn't inspire a dip.

And a note here: the further east we travel the more we are encountering rain - indeed, that was our third time in three months (hardly Manchester admittedly). Of course it's a little unfair not to expect a tad of precipitation in a rainforest.

It has to be said that the journey wasn't a long one, although the condition of the roads (many unsealed) and - this is country wide - the number of sleeping policemen conspired to make it seem so. Indeed speed calming measures, notably bumps, ramps, and swathes of hemispherical projections are everywhere. On these poor roads they are surely not required; indeed given that much of the route is known for Zapatistas-linked security issues (traffic proceeds in convoy in these parts after dark) the periodic 5mph limp over such obstacles surely only encourages unwanted interactions.

Palenque itself is famous for its neighbouring Mayan temples and their setting, they being enshrouded by some truly stunning ancient jungle. In all honesty I was more impressed with the environ than the stones and that without the promised acoustic accompaniment of howler monkeys or any sightings of preening toucans.

Just shy of the ruins, set within said dense rainforest lies El Panchan that LP describes as "a legendary travelers' hangout".... "home to a bohemian bunch of Mexican and foreign residents and wanderers". However, now, the chilled hippy scene has slid precipitously from free love to money grabbing greed. The encampment's primary eatery now charges a 10 percent service charge for everything, even a beer. That said, you now also get to "enjoy" live music during your dining experience in the wilderness. Give it a wide berth.

Palenque town itself is unremarkable and the LP recommended hostels (grudgingly.... some of them quite inviting) were either full or expensive in the extreme, even for dorms. And then, right in the centre of town on a solo recce I, finally, sighted a toucan.... Posada Hotel Toucan to be precise. I doubt if a foreigner has ever stayed there before (the young girl in reception was certainly startled when I appeared before her), but I returned to Ali and the packs with a beam on my face: "half the price of anywhere thus far for... a private double with bath and balcony". Having set off on our sightseeing/journey at 4 a.m. a sundowner on our balcony was surely in order. Striding into the nearest Oxxo something seemed amiss. Yes there were refrigerators but... my heart froze.... they contained only soft drinks. A dry town, surely not? Emerging in a state of panic we ran straight into two men unloading a truck full of beer - for a pub. In our broken Spanish we implored: where, pub aside, might we procure such libations? Their reply of "Oxxo" only raised our stress levels further as we pointed to the adjoining Oxxo and cried "No cervesa, no cervesa". Ha, they chuckled, that Oxxo adjoins the plaza, an alcohol-free zone (never seen that before), the one round the corner will serve you well. Gods be praised it did.

The next morning we found a tiny
open-fronted, step-down-into place, painted entirely in yellow (we've had good luck with yellow eateries) that we stopped in for coffee and breakfast. Both were excellent. Our bus didn't leave for another seven hours so we hung in the risky shade - there were malign pigeons with seemingly dicey bowels everywhere - of the local plaza whilst our friendly Toucan hotel minded the packs. Knowing we had a twelve hour journey ahead of us, and maybe no food opportunities, we returned to no-name yellow place for a "linner" (lunch/dinner: copyright Lutz, of whom more later) just prior to heading to the bus terminal. Mum - we know she was mum as on re-entry we were rapidly introduced to her mum, grandma - was delighted to see us again. Indeed as we ordered some burritos she questioned, having clocked the packs, where we were headed. Our answer of Tulum initiated mild hysteria. We sat dumbfounded as mum and grandma alternated between rapid (totally incomprehensible) gushing monologues and, in turn, disappeared from the restaurant only to return with an increasing pile of food/ items to be cooked. Our burritos did arrive, and they were good, but they were difficult to concentrate on as the ladies continued to fly in all directions and we struggled to comprehend what on earth was transpiring. Then, finally, a large package including the most scrumptious smelling - just made - empanadas was placed before us, complete with a cryptic address. It seemed we were to take the parcel to Tulum and approach the antiquities site and.... stand there shouting Abell, for this was the name of brother/son (a guide) whom they'd not seen in a long time and who would very much appreciate some home-cooked food. Of course we agreed to undertake the task, even though we hadn't planned on going anywhere near the ruins, some 5km outside of Tulum. We did suggest that their plan sounded a bit hit-and-miss. Ali was also desperate to communicate that both our names were also A. Bell - who'd have thought, but that only confused matters further. Did he not have a telephone that we could call him on? Yes he did, why hadn't they thought of that, to which mum rushed off again to find said number. Eventually, with time now pressing, we set off amidst hugs, kisses and some very cheap burritos; and, with cellphone number in hand, now far more confident we might actually succeed in our mission. It was all quite bizarre and yet very endearing that they had placed their trust in us, complete strangers... But the aroma coming from those empanadas...

Very early the next morning saw us, knackered, sitting on our packs outside our targeted hostel, Pueblo Magico. It doesn't open until seven and, regardless, check-in wasn't officially until something like midday. Annoyingly Tulum chooses not to erect street names and we weren't, having traipsed all over town in the pre-dawn dark trying to find the place, in the best frames of mind. Then, with first light, we failed to find anywhere affordable to score coffee. I announced that the place was a shit hole. Shortly thereafter a local lady arrived on a bicycle and let herself into the premises. She was closely followed by a man who looked quizzically at us, bade us "buenos dias" but also disappeared inside. Ali was not impressed and strode in to introduce herself. It turned out that the man, Raphael (Rapha), was the owner and that he'd thought we were merely waiting for someone. He called me in, brewed coffee and then insisted that he cook us breakfast (that was never charged). Now that's a welcome to a hostel; indeed, we'd no sooner finished our gratis eggs rancheros than we were handed our room key. And some hostel it proved to be: amazing staff, Rapha himself is a diamond; a stunning airy dorm topped with a towering palapa; dynamite private rooms; wonderful - included - breakfasts; and a seemingly endless stream of gregarious guests.

We explained the parcel conundrum to Rapha and the fact that Ali's phone is unable to actually make calls - its abilities limited to WhatsApp/internet only. Extremely kindly he was immediately on the case and later that afternoon a very grateful Abell arrived to collect his booty, including all - we do feel rather proud of this - of the empanadas. It was quite heartwarming all-round.

Tulum itself is not what it once was - the magnificent turquoise (there is no getting around this adjective as aquatic colouration in these parts is simply that) sea and powder fine sands are now choked with a plague of sargasm (that's a reddish-orange seaweed not, sadly, ironic ecstacy) that positively stinks. Our hearts (almost) went out to those poor rich peeps in their fancy beachside hotels - no doubt booked from afar - who were tied to the location... Nevertheless, the area does have a wealth of cenotes: oasis-like, limestone-eroded, pools within the bush.

On our visit to two neighbouring examples (Crystal and Escondido), having walked several kilometres along the south-heading highway to get there, we handed over a 500 pesos note for the combined 240p entry fee. Our wristbands applied, Ali was handed 260 pesos in change, the notes of which I tucked away safely in the day pack as she loitered with the 10p coin in the flat of her hand. The absent-minded gate keeper apologised profusely and passed Ali another 250 pesos... We had just been paid 10 pesos to enter. It being a state run site rather than a mom and pop operation we stayed schtum, to our discredit... and no doubt bad karma. The two sites lie either side of the highway but are linked by submerged subterranean passages and there were numerous trainee cave divers in evidence. We swam, snorkelled and, at one, jumped repeatedly from the elevated platform. On emerging from the water I was approached by a twenty-something Argentinian girl who insisted on showing some action photos she'd taken of me. As Ali and I complied she informed us that we had very fine bodies, really... very fine bodies. And... there was no caveat of for people your age; I've always had a soft spot for the Argies.

Meanwhile back at Magico we were having a merry old time. Up on the roof terrace there was a nightly drunken assembly. Aussies M&M had been joined by two sets of Germans, notably the endearing computer whizz Lutz with his enigmatic wit and the lovely ever smiling Caro, alongside fellow stoic Brit Paddy and two charming Frenchies, Isobel (actually Chilean by birth) and Blue (in full: Blueberry - his parents obviously being cruel old hippies). Rapha kept threatening to go fishing and I, in return, kept dropping hints as to my desire to join him, although such a jaunt never came to fruition. Our host, it has to be said, was rather sweet on Ali and she was notably restrained in not twisting him excessively around her little finger. The collective was simply one of those rarish gentle stops where everything and everyone merely gels and the whole hostel, inexplicably, wonderfully, feels like family. Great job Rapha!

And as Paddy scorched his back, staying for free in exchange for sanding down the upper terrace walls - Rapha plans to have them street-arted, like the stunning examples in the kitchen - we pushed on towards the Belizean border at Chetumal. Here we met, and stayed with, Madi (aka catwoman, without the black leotard), an elder lady whose hostel is named "Pause"... a play upon "paws" as all her profits go into her rescue centre for cats. Crazilly, in our two day stay, Ali became involved in a "rescue"... A stray wild kitten wandered into the grounds, was tracked back to its miserable lair and, eventually, lifted to a life of pampered security. It has to be said that Madi (actually Belizean) is a total font of knowledge on Belize, if... if.... you ask a direct question, otherwise she is quite prone to heading off on a tangent. Bless her, looking after her now mute mother suffering from advanced Alzheimer's, she does love a good chat. Incredibly for a family orientated society like Mexico there is almost zero aid for carers such as Madi.... not that this stops her dropping into the local government-run hospital twice a week to hand out her donations of food and coffee. She really is a kind, selfless lady.

Us being us, the day before departure for Belize we checked out, physically, where the cheapest transport options left from. This necessitated a 10 pesos collectivo into town where we searched for the Belizean bus stand (old battered, now painted blue, American school buses that run between the two countries). It wasn't where we thought. Some questions on the ground and we trekked up to the old ADO terminal, nope, apparently the information was correct a week ago, but it had since closed. Closed. A week ago! We headed back to Maddy for a conflab. With this new information she came up trumps and a new, even cheaper option, was proposed: we'd take a collectivo into town, another to the border, walk the two kilometres across to Belize, grab yet another collectivo and from the town of Corozal we'd grab the direct chicken bus to Sarteneja. Sorted, maybe...

Our last preparations saw us trying to offset the inevitable costs of Belize. Thus we headed to Chedraui supermarket to acquire a large jar of coffee and, more essentially, budget bottles of rum and vodka that were decanted into old water bottles. Fortunately we were still in possession of several hundred cigarettes c/o the San Christobal market. At least we had the necessities covered.

And so we bid hasta luego to Mexico. Rarely has a country that was little anticipated surprised so magnificently. There is an incredible array of stunning towns and cities, a myriad of sites to visit and activities to do; the food is excellent; prices are reasonable; but, without doubt, its biggest treasure are its people who are kind, helpful and extraordinarily welcoming to visitors. If I were to write Links from a theme: the most welcoming countries. afresh Mexico would certainly make the cut. We hadn't intended on staying for more than a couple of weeks and yet now leaving, after in excess of eleven, we still crave more. A return is assured.


From Guadalajara's main bus terminus local buses - including the 616 - head to Centro Historico (45 mins) - 7 pesos - we got off at the foot of 16th de Septiembre.

Without aid from a Daniel we'd recommend Hostel Lit (just off to the right of Av. 16th Septiembre as it starts to become pedestrianised): 100p dorm, 400p for a double, both incl. breakfast; big roof terrace; excellent kitchen for guest usage. It was in the process of renovation and will be spanking when complete. It is also directly in front of the stop for the red bus to the airport, no. 176. These start running at 5a.m. and take about 40 mins. It drops you on the main road under a pedestrian walkway (just past all the car rental places). From there it is a 5 min. walk to the terminals.

As previously mentioned the cheapest internal flights in Mexico are through VivaAerobus. It has three classes: "light" for 10kg carry-on only (beware they are very strict on size and weight); basic (you also get a 15kg, one bag, check-in) and Premiere (?) for 20 or 25kg (?) check-in. Do not exceed these weights as there are hefty fines. Most people reckon that the airline Volaris is also reasonable. If you can book 4+ days in advance prices are much better.

There is no public transport from La Paz airport to town (9km away), only expensive taxis (395p). You can walk 3km along the road and pick up a bus from the drive-through bottle shop there, or try hitching?

Pension California (29 Santos Degollado, by junction of Madero and Revolucion): big private room with bathroom 360p, but 10%!d(MISSING)iscount if you stay for 5+ days (if you ask for it). Basic guest kitchen. Ask for hot water - showers - 5 mins before requiring. Fish taco stand outside is exceptional, nice bakery around the corner (market opposite for veg/meat) and a reasonably-ish priced Japanese restaurant down towards the sea (Degollado or Lerdo de Tejada?).

Cheapest beer in La Paz is still Oxxo (2x1.2L bottles: 55p for two), although they no longer give your bottle depoit money back - still well worth the savings if you swap them out a few times. There is a Chedraui (big supermarket) 10 mins walk away and another supermarket further up Madero (has a big model cow on the roof) with the best deals on spirits.

100p round trip to Balandra beach (with its stone arch) by bus from terminal on the Malacon.

Whale shark tours: we'd recommend Carlos Guevara Avalos - his stand is right next to the La Paz sign on the Malacon (through Baja Discovery tours). He asks 800p, but took us for 700p ($35); many other shop-based operations want as much as $95. Carlos provides wet suits, if you do not wear one then you must - by law - enter the water in a life-jacket. Expensive operations provide real no additional extras in terms of access to the sharks as all boats are forced to comply with strict rules. La Paz VIP tours does provide photos/videos, although most trips out have people with underwater cameras who'll typically - we hope - pass on their footage to you. There is no reason to pay higher fees. Indeed some operations still attempt to flaunt rules (over populate boats) and don't have skippers/guides anything like as shark-respecting as those associated with Carlos. See below:

Boats are restrictively licenced (limited numbers), their behaviour strongly regulated and compliance strictly enforced - we witnessed one boat being marshalled back to port where the owners would face a crippling fine. Our guide Lapita had radioed through that she was unhappy at the approach of another distant boat - it was moving above the accepted crawl - and no doubt they would imminently be called to account. No more that ten boats are allowed within the sharks grazing zone, perhaps one mile square; no more than ten people may be on a boat and fewer than five of these can be in the water at any time point; whilst the total amount of time a boat's clients may be in the water with the sharks is set at thirty minutes.

"Tuxla trap" prices: Tuxla airport to San Christobal by collectivo minibus 180p (was 240p), takes an hour and dropped near ADO bus terminal from which it is easy walk to the centre of town; Tuxla airport to Tuxla = 300p by taxi and collectivo from Tuxla to San Christobal = 50p.

San Christobal Hostels:

- Le Gite del Sol: 82 Francisco I. Madero; double = 216p with shared bath; 325 / with private bath, both with breakfast.

- Nikita: down to southwest of town near the river = 200p for a double with bath but no breakfast.

- El Hogar del Viajera hostel: 3 Merono has doubles for 200p w/o, 250 with, neither with breakfast.

- Hostel Posada la Casa di Gladys: also to southwest by river; really cute place, but double 300 w/o and no breakfast.

- Panda: on Real de Guadalupe; 200p for dorm (only has dorms) with breakfast and kitchen; cool setting and scene. Friendly Aussie owner.

Tourist food haunts are pricey but cheaper eats can be found near ADO/collectivo terminals. Cheap juice squeezers everywhere on the streets - 20p for large fresh orange juice.

Local shop just doors down from La Gite does same beer deals as Oxxo... and gives you your deposits back.

Cheapest way from San Christobal to Palenque is collectivo to Oco Singo (100p) and from there another collectivo (100p). It is an easy short walk into town from ADO terminal where collectivos stop.

La Gite does a tour going to Palenque that works out to be a reasonably priced way of getting there (400p) - includes stop-offs at Aqua Azul, Mesol-Ha and Palenque (all entrance fees included that equate to about 150+p). Tour/journey does start at 4a.m. though.... If you want to return to San Christobal you can for the same (no additional) price.

Hotel Posada Toucan in Palenque town is on Av. 5th de Mayo: private = 250p with bath and balcony.

Little yellow eatery is on Juarez, stretch between Aldama and Abasolo.

Palenque to Tulum (goes via Bacalar - many now hopping off here for the beautiful lake; and onto Cancun): if you can book in advance even ADO have special offers that can knock hefty amounts off the price (we got 540 cut to 330p). Please, go to the terminal to book, even registered outlets charge a commission.

Tulum - ADO terminal is right there on the main street... you can walk to wherever. Beware there are no clearly marked street names. As you might have guessed we'd highy recommend Pueblo Magico that is on Calle Orion, straight up from the main street by the touristy eatery with the big palapa.

Cheapest beer in Tulum is at a little shop called "Six" on the same side of the road as ADO terminal (Av. Tulum) heading towards
the beach turn-off (about 100m beyond the palapa joint). This is maybe the cheapest beer in Mexico: 2x1.2L for 54p.... and she gives your deposits back.. just remember to keep that receipt. Also in this direction are the two supermarkets: Aki (rubbish) and opposite this (turn right at the big crossroads - this is the road to the beach - and then 100yds down on the left) is Chedraui (great as per usual). In the opposite direction on Av. Tulum is a great, very cheap Taco place (it has two spit-roasters and red chairs outside). Heading straight up Av. Tulum, past the taco joint are the cenotes of Escondido and Crystal - you'll see the sign (it's maybe a 3km walk) - 120p entrance fee includes both.

Tulum has many more cenotes within walking/cycling distance... most are a bit pricier to enter.. although several are way more impressive.

Tulum to Chetumal: cheapest route is collectivo from the ones on the street, just past ADO bus terminal (same side of the road) = 170p (may involve a change of drivers mid-way, but not always). Alternatively, there is also a collectivo terminal - near that eatery with the big palapa - that costs 180p, direct. ADO buses charge 340p. All of these options pass through Bacalar.

Chetumal: Pause hostel sits opposite the American Mall (incl. Chedraui/Home Depot) and McDs = 326p (only 4 blocks from ADO terminal) for a double with shared bathroom and breakfast, plus a guest use kitchen and courtyard sitting area. Right by the ADO terminal is Manik Hostel, very nice with very helpful staff = 200p for dorm and 550p for double with bath (no breakfasts?). From both you can catch a collectivo (destination labelled Laganitas, stay on until the last stop) directly on the main road outside into town for 10p - just flag them down.

From Chetumal it is only 30 mins by bus back up to Bacalar if you want a recce prior to committing: on-line prices for accommodation do typically look steep, although we've yet to met anyone who has regretted going.

Additional photos below
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12th March 2019
Misol-Ha waterfall

The one that got away
We sadly missed out on Misol-Ha and Agua Azul waterfalls due to dicey sounding Zapatista activity in the surrounding area at the time :( Been loving your Mexican adventures, and travelling vicariously to the parts we haven't been to (yet). Safe onward travels :)

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