My experiences backpacking Mexico, which covered most of the main archaeological sites. Along the way, I visited Teotihuacan, Palenque, Monte Alban and more!
Backpacking Mexico 2005
I took a look at this travel blog post about backpacking Mexico again in 2017. The first thing that I realised, is that this must have been the very first travel blog post I ever wrote! The second thing, is I realised my writing style has changed over time. I was left with a choice. I could rewrite the post, or perhaps just tidy it up a little. I've decided to take the latter approach, as I actually found it interesting reading back on my backpacking Mexico experiences. For example, I had completely forgotten that my backpack didn't turn up! Here then, are my mainly unedited experiences backpacking Mexico in 2005. For a more updated version of things to see when backpacking Mexico, check this out – what to see when visiting Mexico.
The journey to Mexico
Buenos tardes!! My trip started at Great Doddington Working Mens Club, where I had to enjoy/endure a Bush Pigs gig whilst waiting for a lift to the airport. After they had finished playing to an incredible cross section of the gene puddle, I helped my brother pack up, and at 01.00 am we were on our way to the airport. I managed to grab a couple of hours sleep in the waiting hall, and then booked in for 05.15. Caught the plane to Madrid and then the connecting one to Mexico City with no major hassles.
The 13 hour flight was a bit boring, with far too few food breaks for my liking, but you can't have it all!! Breezed through customs, and then waited for my luggage. And waited. And waited. You know how every time you wait for your luggage, you have this nagging suspicion it is never going to come, followed by the joy of seeing it trundle along? Well, I just didn't get to feel the joy this time! Seems that some bright spark had decided to send it on to Barcelona for me. There wasn't much that anyone could do about it, so I filled in the forms, and headed into the main airport arrivals section with the promise that my backpack would be delivered to the hotel the next day.
Getting from Mexico City Airport to the Centre
In Mexico city airport, there are two stands from which to book a taxi :- pro taxis and one marked authorisad taxi, so I went with that one, and it cost 125 pesos to the hotel. Hotel Isabel is a very big old place, with tall ceilings and large, spacious rooms. I'd prebooked a single room with bathroom for five nights at 200 pesos which is pretty good value for a capital city. Ok, there are cheaper places, but sometimes its a false economy to book somewhere dirt cheap for the first few days. It's much better for me to get over jet lag and into the swing of things in my own space and at my own time.
So, quick list of the stuff I had with me. Toothbrush and toothpaste, laptop, and camera. Bugger. Luckily, the room had towels and soap, so that solved my immediate problems, but I had no fresh clothes, and I'd already been in mine for over 36 hours. Hold on, what's that at the bottom of my hand luggage… Lynx deodorant!! You beauty!! With the power of lynx, I'd be able to keep the same clothes on for days!!!..and then I fell asleep.
First Full Day In Mexico
Day 2. Nice breakfast at the hotel, and wandered into the zocola (the main square in Mexican cities). Made a telephone call to check on my backpack, and they said it might be with me the following day. Oh well. At the Zocola, I bought a two day pass for the tourist bus, which does a route of all the major sites. A word of warning. If your backpack containing your sunblock and aftersun is lost, and you have no hair, don´t ride on an open top bus for three hours, else you might go a touch red!! Had lunch, bought a razor blade, decided to veg. Did a lot of thinking about what to do if the rucksack was permanently lost, and was saved the worse case scenario when it arrived later in the evening. Oh, after-sun and clean pants!!!
Sightseeing in Mexico City
Day3 First stop was the Templo Mayor, practically the only Aztec ruin left within Mexico city itself. I won´t say that it was the most outstanding site that I've ever visited, but it was interesting all the same. The museum showed just how completely the conquistadors levelled the Aztec empire.
Back onto the tourist bus, and I saw a demonstration being carried out by a thousand men in their swimming trunks. Not quite sure what that one was all about, and quite frankly I was a bit worried to ask! Got dropped off at the Museo Nacional de Antroplogia, and spent a fair few hours wandering around it. Its an amazing museum, which focuses on the major meso-american civilisation and cultures. A must see, and I recommend hiring the electronic guide to get a bit more out of it.
Visiting Teotihuacan Pyramids
Next day was Teotihuacan, and getting there via the Mexico city underground was an experience, especially during rush hour. It only turned into a rugby scrum twice down there, but my height advantage saw me through. Anyway…
At the height of its power and influence, Teotihuacan must have been the most imposing city in the Americas, with a population suggested to be anywhere between 80,000 and 200,000 people. It is doubtful whether those people would have lived in the religious area which we now know as Teotihuacan, but they would certainly have lived in the surrounding countryside and paid tribute to the centre.
Building the Teotihuacan Pyramids
Building started in the area as early as 600BC, and the pyramids which are now the sites dominating feature were likely to have been completed by 200AD. The Teotihuacan civilisation's influence can be seen in other sites , who would have been trading partners, located in what are now modern Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras.
As with all great civilisations though, decline was inevitable. Whether through over farming, climatic change, social upheaval, war or all those things, by the time of the Aztecs Teotihuacan was a ruin full of mystery. To them, it represented a holy place from a long forgotten era, shrouded in myth, and it was they who gave it the name Teotihuacan, or ‘The Place Where Men Became Gods’.
There was very little shade at Teotihuacan, but it was good to rest in what there was, and think that 2000 years ago some ancient builder took time out here too. I wonder if he knew what he was building, and that it would last for so long? After a while, it was time to move on and return to the hotel, although its splendour would always stay with me.
A bus to Oaxaca
The next day, it was time to continue the backpacking Mexico experience, and catch a bus to Oaxaca (pronounced oWhacka). Sweet, no worries. On arrival in the city, I jumped into a cab and went to Hostal Don Mario. It was a bit of a shambles, but the people there were friendly enough.
Thoughts on Monte Alban
Backpacking Mexico – San Christobel de la Casas
Got an overnight bus to San Christobel de la Casas, and managed to get some sleep, unlike one poor guy looked like he'd been tied to the bumper and dragged behind us for the twelve hour journey! Booked into a hotel opposite the bus station which had some parrots which kept wolf whistling. After a night in town, I then moved on to Palenque.
Arrived in Palenque town safe and sound, and decided to ignore the guide books, and find the cheapest place humanly possible just for the hell of it. And the winner is… 60 pesos a night.. about three quid. Bargain! At that price, there's nothing to complain about really, but lets just say that it wouldn't be to everybody's taste!!
Backpacking Mexico – On to Villahermosa
Uneventful bus journey to Merida, where I ate cakes and Immodium, and the film was some obscure Portuguese one with Spanish subtitles which my tiny brain found to be wholly confusing. On arrival, wandered over the road and booked into the shabbiest looking hotel for four nights for the sheer hell of it. The woman was a bit surprised that I wanted to rent it for the whole night and not just by the hour, but we managed to come to an agreement in the end. I’ve seen ALL sorts of bizarre goings on there, I can tell you!! Much better than TV.
Next day, I bought a bus ticket for the Ruta Puuc, which is a bus which visit’s a handful of minor sites. Who knows, you might be out here one day, so here’s where it goes..
30mins at Labnah
30 mins at Xlapak
30 mins at Syil
30 mins at Kabah
2 hours at Uxmal
I got to Tulum without any problems, and booked into a hotel near the bus station for a couple of nights. Tulum is divided into two parts, the town, which basically stretches out along the main road, and the beach resorts. Tulum ruins are down by the beach, and although everybody and the guide books says that it is only 2km from the village, they are definitely lying, as it’s a good 45 minute walk there and another 45 back.
The ruins themselves are interesting as it is practically the only Mayan trading port, and takes the form of a semi-fortress, with three walls and the sea its fourth. As a spectacle it was a little disappointing as there were no temples or monuments to speak of, but at least the exercise did me good!! A good couple of restaurants in the town as well, which was a bonus.
The border with Belize