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Indepedent Travel

Travel in Central Mexico

Far from the tourist-cluttered beach resorts, Mexico offers the culturally and socially inquisitive traveler a rewarding experience close to home at a reasonable price.

Traveling overland is a great option for those with a little time to spare and a desire to see Mexico. Spend 42 hours on a bus from the border and you’re sure to leave with a friend or two. Mexico’s intercity bus systems are cheap, fast, reliable, and plentiful. De lujo (deluxe) and Primavera Clase (first class) buses are as good, if not better, than buses in the U.S. Mexico City is the country’s biggest bus hub with connections to all major cities and borders.

Here are some sample fares and times from the U.S. border to the Mexican capital: Nuevo Laredo (15 hours, $44 with Tranportes del Norte), Cuidad Juarez/El Paso (26 hours, $64 with Futura), Tijuana (42 hours, $85 with Elite).

From Mexico City, it’s only a 5-hour ride ($15, Primera Plus) to the lakeside colonial town of Patzcuaro. Most known for its Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration, it’s also home to 17th century mansions, colorful markets, and peaceful plazas. Patzcuaro is an excellent base for exploring the lake and surrounding areas such as the island of Janitzio, the mask-making town of Tocuaro, and the small ruins near Ihuatizo and Las Yacatas. Hotel Los Escudos, Portal Hidalgo 72 (2-02-38), offers great rooms in a colonial mansion just off the Plaza Vasco de Quiroga for $25.

Three to four hours from the capital ($12, Primavera Plus and Herradura de Plata) is the colonial town of San Miguel de Allende, which makes a great base for exploring the surrounding towns of Guanajuato, Dolores Hidalgo, and Querataro. The Posada de las Monjas, Canal 37 (2-01-71), offers clean and comfortable rooms starting at $19 in a beautiful multistory former monastery.

Mexico’s second largest city, Guadalajara, lies just seven hours west of the capital ($25, Futura). Known as the nation’s “most Mexican city,” it’s bustling with music and mariachis, colonial churches, peaceful plazas, and beautiful suburbs without all the problems of the capital. It’s also a center for spectator sports such as bullfighting, cockfighting, rodeos, and futbol. Known for its music and crafts, it’s also near Mexico’s largest lake, Lago de Chapala. Hotel Jorge Alejandro, Hidalgo 656 (613-19-14) offers clean rooms with private baths starting at $16. It’s only a 5-hour run from Guadalajara to the Pacific resort of Puerto Vallarata ($18, Elite).

For those who want to push on even further, ADO makes the 24-hour run to Chetumal (on the Belizian border) for $45 while Cristobal Colon makes the 17-hour run to Tuxtla Guiterrez (eight hours from the Guatemalan border at Tapachula) for $5.