Mexico City: Day One – Centro Historico

We’re back, people!  Sorry it’s been so long since you’ve heard from us!  We’ve mostly been living it up in sunny San Diego, saving money for our next big trip.  One perk of SoCal life though, is the chance to jet into México cheaply and easily!  Coming up are some tales of our recent trip to México City!

We literally ran out of work around 11pm the night of our flight, rushing to cross the border.  Delta Airport Parking is a convenient place to park on the US side if you’re going to the Tijuana International Airport.  It’s only seven dollars a day and they will drive you to/from the border 24 hours a day.  A $12 taxi ride took us to the aeropuerto.  Then we had to get $25 tourist visas to go past the border zone.  They don’t check if you have them on the way there, but do on the way back.  The visas last for six months so hopefully we can use them again.  Airport security was different.  “WE DONT HAVE TO TAKE OFF OUR SHOES!?!?!”  ¡Viva México!!!

Since our flight left at 12am and lasted about three hours, it was still dark when we made our way towards the Metro.  Conveniently located right by the airport and taking you all over the city, the Metro is a cheap and efficient way to get around.  We grabbed some churros and easily navigated the subway to the Roma, a hip neighborhood where Jaime, our CouchSurfing host lived.  The architecture was cool, eclectic and Spanish with crooked walls from many, many earthquakes.   Our host was a great tour guide as we searched for early morning food.  We ate lamb tacos and tamales with mole.  We talked about food.  Life was good.

Getting some energy after eating, we let our guide go off to work and walked several miles to the Centro Historico, home to beautiful government buildings, museums, and many cool bars and restaurants.  Walking was really nice; its our favorite way to enjoy a new city.

Art at the central palace.

Murals inside the Palacio Nacional

Downtown DF

Templo Mayor

As I said, there are a lot of awesome places to eat and drink in the Centro Historico.  One awesome place we found was an old cantina, La Faena, which served dual functions as both a bar and a bullfighting museum.  Notice the very complicated matador-themed crown molding.  The best thing about cantinas is that with every drink you order you get some free food.  The more you drink, the better the food!  We started off with some bar nuts here, and after a few rounds were given amazing bean tacos!

Cantina/Bullfighting Museum

Cantina/Bullfighting Museum

I ate grasshoppers.

Obviously there are some mixed feelings on the eating of bugs issue.

Obviously there are some mixed feelings on the eating of bugs issue.

Pulque.  It’s a lightly alcoholic drink made from the sap of the agave plant and flavored with various fruits.  Super thick and milky and not for us.  The bar was awesome though.

One of many places to grab a glass of pulque around downtown Mexico City.

Las Risas, one of many places to grab a glass of pulque around downtown Mexico City.

Eventually, all the food and walking, plus the effects of being up all night caught up to us and we took the long walk home to crash for a nap at Jaime’s house.  The rest of the night involved some more relaxed wanderings around the neighborhood.

Coming up next: our trip to the pyramids!

Spanish by the Sea in Bocas del Toro, Panama

Naked Tiger Hostel in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Baja, México Financial Summary

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Exchange Rate: $1=approximately 12 Mexican pesos

Total Money Spent: $1387

Total Days: 9

Per Person Per Day: $77

Wow!  Obviously, that’s quite a lot compared to our previous travel budgets!  However, this was our honeymoon, so we spent a lot more willingly then we did when we were penniless backpackers without jobs!

Transportation is almost all gas, since we were driving.  Gas costs about $3.80 per gallon in Baja right now.  The roads are so curvy and hilly that you don’t get very good gas mileage though.

We also had only one free place to stay on this trip.  If we had had more time to plan, I would’ve tried harder to book hostel reviews or find Couchsurfing hosts, but we just didn’t have the time, what with planning a wedding and all!  Our Cabo hotel we found on Living Social, and it was a great deal.  Other places we managed to find campsites or hotel rooms for $15-30.

You can definitely do Baja cheaper, if you take buses and camp and don’t go out as much.  We had a great honeymoon and feel pretty content with the bang we got for our buck.

Baja México – Observations and Advice

When you cross the border into Mexico, all of the stresses and worries of hectic United States living evaporate, leaving you instantly refreshed and rejuvenated.  Do you stay feeling so awesome after hitting your first pothole, the first American tourist that flies past you over 100mph, the first time soldiers with machine guns are digging through your car?  Here is a quick recap of problems, suggestions, annoyances, and misconceptions so you know what to expect on your road trip through Baja, Mexico.

-If you drive into Mexico your car insurance is no longer valid.  You can buy Mexican insurance at the border and there are several different options.  Since we have an old dumpy car, we got the cheapest available plan, $6 per day which would at least keep us out of prison in the event of a fender bender.  No one ever asked if we had this or not and I think a lot of travelers skip it. I wouldn’t take my chances.

-To travel south of Ensenada, tourists are supposed to get a card from immigration for $25 each.  We got them but this was also probably unnecessary, as no one once looked at our passports.  One soldier at a checkpoint did ask for my passport once but I told him “No tengo (I don’t have it)” and handed him my California driver’s license without a problem.

-Everyone told us to keep a $20 bill in a visible spot in the car.  Apparently $20 is “the fine” if the Federales (Mexican federal police, notoriously corrupt) stop you.  We were also advised to never give them your passport because to get it back you’ll have to pay much more than $20.  We never had any encounters with the Federales.

-Watch out for potholes!  We hit some bad ones but were lucky enough to not blow any tires.   Some of the worst we spotted had to be more than a foot deep.  No recovery after hitting that.  Also, there are a lot of unmarked speed bumps.  If you were driving the speed limit these wouldn’t be a problem.  However, you won’t be driving the speed limit.

-Don’t run out of gas!  Most Baja maps show you which towns have gas stations.  There are some very long stretches without and you’ll need a full tank!  Plan wisely, or you’ll end up stranded!

-No one drives the speed limit.  If the sign said “40 km per hour” I tried not to exceed 40 miles per hour.

-People hassle you to buy tours and souvenirs, especially in Tijuana and Cabo San Lucas.  Just say “No gracias,” firmly and continue like they aren’t there.   If you make eye contact you will never be left alone.

-Drugs will be offered to you all the time (especially if you have dreadlocks or other hippie-ish characteristics).  Rarely do tourists ever have a problem in México unless they are looking for that stuff.  It’s a great way to get robbed, kidnapped, or jailed.  The booze is cheap and legal!  Stick with that.

-There are about eight military checkpoints (different from the Federales) along the way.  Headed south we were searched at two of the checkpoints.  Northward we were searched at all but one stop.  We always hid our money but at times we forgot to put away the bribe $20 bill.  The soldiers never took it or anything else and were always pretty polite.  Just don’t bring anything into the country that you don’t want found.

Waiting in line at one of many military checkpoints.

Waiting in line at one of many military checkpoints.

-When you’re eating and drinking you should tip around 15%.  Nothing is expensive so don’t get cheap on people.

-The tap water is safe to consume in some places.  Ask the locals!

Mexico is a lot of fun, and actually really easy to travel in.  Don’t let the scary news reports keep you away from a good time.  We hope this helps!

The Long Way Back

Pristine beaches near Mulegé on the drive back north

Pristine beaches near Mulegé on the drive back north

Randomly browsing the Internet while sitting in our Cabo hotel, Zach happened upon a news report concerning Hurricane Erick!  Although Baja rarely gets hit by hurricanes, apparently Erick was headed right towards us.  Forecasters were predicting it would hit the whole peninsula and even cause storms in San Diego!  This turned out to be false, as weather reports often do, but nevertheless, we felt the pressure was on to “get while the gettin’s good!”  We definitely did not want to get stuck on a washed-out road in the crazy desert during a hurricane/flash flood!

Sadly, due to our desire to stay in front of the hurricane, we only got to see one more town on our trip.  Mulegé, a quiet small town on the Sea of Cortez, didn’t have a lot going on.  It was a nice change from the bigger cities though.  The nearby coastline boasts some of the most gorgeous beaches we’ve ever seen and we wished we had more time to hang out and do some kayaking.  Whenever we go back to Baja, we’ll definitely head straight here!

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The second day’s drive was pretty tedious.  We did get hit with some rain on windy mountain roads, but nothing too bad.  Because we were heading north and because of the recent election in Baja Norte, the military was patrolling in force, and we got stopped and searched at each of the five checkpoints we passed.  Nevertheless, we managed to survive a record-breaking 18 hour day in the car and pulled up at our casa just before midnight.  We’re sad that the trip is over, but it won’t be our last excursion into México!

Stay tuned for some Baja travel tips and a budget summary!

We Got Cabo-ed!

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Medano Beach, Cabo San Lucas

The ultimate destination on our grand Mexican road trip was of course, the very end of the Baja Penninsula, Cabo San Lucas!  Famous as a raucous spring break destination, Cabo brings to mind images of unruly American teenagers pouring tequila down each others throats on the beach.  Not exactly our scene.  However, we had to see it.

Drinking margaritas at Sammy Hagar's world famous "Cabo Wabo" bar.

Drinking margaritas at Sammy Hagar’s world famous “Cabo Wabo” bar.

Thanks to Living Social we scored a great deal on a really nice suite in a beachfront hotel outside of town, Marbella Suites en La Playa.  It was the nicest place we’ve ever paid for and being there for four nights made the trip really feel like a honeymoon!  Normally we’re very “get up and go” travelers, but after all the stress and activity of wedding planning, we found ourselves craving a typical, relaxed vacation for the first time ever.  So, relax we did!  Our stay involved a lot of pool time, reading, watching movies, and hanging out with another couple we befriended.  It was exactly what we needed!

Pool at our hotel

Pool at Marbella

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Romantic dinner on the beach

We did get out for some surfing a couple times (waves too big for us!), explored downtown Cabo (it really is the Las Vegas of Mexico), and found the best taco shop in the history of the world!  Asi y Asado had the greatest selection of taco bases (vegetarian, every kind of fish, beef, chicken, etc.) and the biggest toppings bar we’d ever seen!  We’d each order two tacos and then pile them high with condiments, still unable to try everything!  SO GOOD.

Colorful mural at our favorite taco place

Colorful mural at our favorite taco place

Help!  My taco is too stuffed!

Help! My taco is too stuffed!

Stunning beaches, an abundance of activities, and outrageous parties make Cabo a great destination if you want it all.  I don’t think we need to go back anytime soon, but we definitely had a blast!

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Sunset over the end of the penninsula

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