A roadtrip through Mexico’s most beautiful towns and cities (by bus)

A roadtrip through Mexico's most beautiful towns and citiesA roadtrip through Mexico’s most beautiful towns and cities

When people think “Mexico” what usually comes to mind are beaches. What they don’t know is that the greatest beauty of the country is inland, among the mountain ranges that dominate much of the interior.

Not only are the cities and towns that I cover below beautiful, they are blessed by a temperate climate that never sees extreme highs or lows due to the high altitudes. Winters are never cold, summers never too hot. I’ve been to San Miguel de Allende in July and it was actually a relief from the hot and humid temperatures in Montreal.

Another thing you should know is that bus transportation in Mexico is fantastic (much better than in Canada or the US). Among the best bus lines are ETN, Primera Plus and ADO which I’ll refer to in this post. You’ll have reclinable seats, your own entertainment screens, AC, power outlets and onboard toilets (a man and a woman’s toilet). They’ll even give you a sandwich and a drink. It’s like first class on a plane. So there’s no need to rent a car – the road trip that I describe below is actually best done by bus.

bus service in Mexico

 

The towns and cities that I list below are my favorite places in the country. I’ve also tried to vary up this itinerary with a mix of large cities and small towns. Just know that all are beautiful and interesting in different ways.

A roadtrip through Mexico's most beautiful towns and cities (by bus)

 

Guadalajara

Guadajara is our starting point. It is Mexico’s 2nd largest city and you can fly direct there from many US destinations (without having to transfer in Mexico City).

Guadalajara. A roadtrip through Mexico's most beautiful towns and cities

Guadalajara has a very attractive, very walkable city center – most of the attractions are in a concentrated area connected by a series of pedestrian-only plazas and parks. You’ll see churches, fountains and museums.

Guadalajara sign.

Highlights include Guadalajara Cathedral (one of Mexico’s oldest and largest Cathedrals), the “Rotunda of Illustrious Men“, Plaza de Liberacion, the Degollado Theatre, Plaza Tapatio, the Cabañas Cultural Institute (which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and the Templo Expiatorio del Santísimo Sacramento. The above can be done in a day. If you have a bit more time, take the double decker Hop On Hop off bus to see sites outside the center. I cover that in detail on my post: Why you should go to Guadalajara

Hop On Hop Off bus in Guadalajara

Where to Stay: The Hotel Casino Plaza. One of the nicest hotels I’ve stayed at in Mexico.

How long to stay: I would give Guadalajara 2 days.

Where to Eat: Restaurant la Fonda de San Miguel Arcangel. Nice atmosphere and great Margaritas.

Next: Patzcuaro. You can get from Guadalajara to Patzcuaro with Primera Plus. The bus ride takes 5 hrs, 20 minutes.

 

 

Patzcuaro

After Guadalajara, you’ll love the small town of Patzcuaro.

Located in the state of Michoacán, Patzcuaro is one of 83 “Pueblo Magicos” (Magical Towns) designated by Mexico’s Tourism department.

Patzcuaro views. A roadtrip through Mexico’s most beautiful towns and cities

Patzcuaro is what many traditionalists would envision Mexico to be: a small town with churches, porticos, handicrafts (Patzcuaro is famous for its textiles), and a main square where you’ll be serenaded by mariachis. Patzcuaro is also known for the uniformity of the colors of its buildings: all white and red with stylized lettering describing the nature of the businesses inside.

girl on pony in pretty Patzcuaro Mexico

The area around Patzcuaro is very interesting. The most popular highlight is the 40 meter statue of rebel leader Jose Maria Morelos on the island of Janitzio (on Lake Patzcuaro). The town of Tzintzuntzan has Mesoamerican pyramids, old churches and a fantastic Franciscan convent recently visited by the Queen of Denmark. You also have towns around Patzcuaro that specialize in textiles, mask making, copper work and basket weaving. Many people come to this region for its handicrafts.

main square in Patzcuaro. A roadtrip through Mexico’s most beautiful towns and cities

See more here: The Pueblo Magico Town of Patzcuaro, Michoacán.

Where to Stay: Hotel Casa Encantada. A beautiful hotel where I stayed with my mom. You can contact Victoria (she’s the owner) directly at this email: encantada.reservations@outlook.com. Tell her I recommended the hotel and she’ll give you a 10% discount.

How long to stay: I would give Patzcuaro (and area) 2 days.

NextMorelia. You can get there by Primera Plus in just over an hour.

 

 

Morelia

I’ll admit that Morelia isn’t my favorite city. BUT it has some very impressive highlights and it’s worth a stop (besides which it’s on the road between Patzcuaro and the next destination on this list).

Morelia. A roadtrip through Mexico’s most beautiful towns and cities

Must See’s include Morelia Cathedral, Santuario de Guadalupe (wow!), the Morelia Aquaduct (located right next to Santuario de Guadalupe), Clavijero Palace, The Church of Santa Rosa de Lima, Casa de la Cultura and Carmen church.

Santuario de Guadalupe, Morelia, Mexico

Where to Stay: Hotel Mesón de los Remedios. Very nice hotel, reasonable prices, great location.

How long to stay: I would give Morelia 1 day.

Next: Guanajuato. You can get there by Primera Plus in just over 3 hours.

 

 

Guanajuato

Not only is Guanajuato one of Mexico’s most beautiful towns (maybe the most beautiful?) but it might be one of the prettiest towns in the world.

Views of Guanajuato. A roadtrip through Mexico’s most beautiful towns and cities

It’s not a big place and you can see it all in one full day (although I would recommend 2). You’ll see lots of colourful churches and streets, an incredible university building (Guanajuato is a lively University town), and you can go up to the Pipila statue where you’ll have incredible views of the town and surroundings. Just getting into Guanajuato is an experience – you’ll have to take a taxi from the bus station which will bring you through old mining tunnels (Guanajuato was a rich city in the 1800’s because of silver mining).

buildings in Guanajuato Mexico

church in Guanajuato Mexico

Don’t miss Guanajuato.

Where to Stay: the very charming and very affordable Casa de Pita.

How long to stay: I would give Guanajuato 2 full days.

Next: San Miguel de Allende. ETN and Primera Plus will get you there in 90 minutes.

 

 

San Miguel de Allende

Another incredibly beautiful town.

San Miguel de Allende is a popular place. You’ll find lots of fancy restaurants, upscale accommodation and nice bars. Mexicans love to come here for the weekend.

San Miguel de Allende. A roadtrip through Mexico’s most beautiful towns and cities

Highlights include the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel (San Miguel’s very distinctive church) and the colourful streets, churches and historical buildings of the center. I cover San Miguel in detail in this post: 10 things to See and Do in San Miguel de Allende. And the Best of the Best.

Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, San Miguel de Allende

A roadtrip through Mexico’s most beautiful towns and cities

Just like Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende is an absolute “Must See”

Where to Stay: I have many recommendations in the link I’ve attached above (hotels and restaurants). But if you’re looking for something charming and affordable I recommend the Hotel Posada Maria Louisa.

How long to stay: I would give San Miguel de Allende 3 full days.

Next: Mexico City. ETN and Primera Plus will get you to the Northern terminal (Terminal Central de Autobuses del Norte) in 5 hours.

 

 

Mexico City

Big, bustling Mexico City. A city I both love and hate (I love it for its sights, neighborhoods and parks. I hate it as a whole because of its traffic, noise and never-ending sprawl).

A roadtrip through Mexico’s most beautiful towns and cities

Take the Hop On Hop Off Turibus to get acquainted with the city. You’ll be very impressed by some of the neighborhoods in Mexico City. Absolute Musts: the Metropolitan Cathedral (the largest cathedral in the Americas) and the Zocalo (main square. Mexico City’s zocalo is one of the largest in the world), Palacio de Bellas Artes, the National Palace, the Latinoamericana tower (for great views), and a walk along historic Avenue Francisco Madero. Outside the center, the National Museum of Anthropology is incredible and an absolute must (it is located in Chapultepec park which is full of museums as well as a zoo). Very popular is the historic neighbourhood of Coyoacán where you’ll find the Frida Kahlo Museum (in a blue building called “La Casa Azul”).

Metropolitan Cathedral, Mexico City

Torre Latinoamericana, Mexico City

 

Posts
2 Days in Mexico City (and why I was incredibly impressed)
Things to See and Do in Mexico City Part 2.

Where to Stay: A very affordable and central option is Hotel Castropol in the Centro Historico (it’s a 3 star hotel). A bit more upscale is Hotel Cathedral (4 stars) which is a great value option.

How long to stay: It depends on how much you like big cities. I would personally give Mexico City 3 days.

Next: Puebla. Take the ADO bus from the TAPO terminal or the airport in Mexico city. It will take 2 hours to get to Puebla. You should get out at the 4 Poniente bus terminal (which is closer to downtown than the main bus station know as CAPU).

 

 

Puebla

Puebla is a beautiful city that I consider one of Mexico’s highlights. It’s a rich city and unlike the cities that follow in this post (which feel indigenous) Puebla feels European. You could easily think yourself somewhere in Spain.

A roadtrip through Mexico’s most beautiful towns and cities

Highlights include a huge main square (zocalo)and Cathedral (Puebla Cathedral), beautiful churches and colourful buildings. Puebla’s buildings are famously decorated with talavera tiles, a colourfully-glazed ceramic originally brought to Mexico from Spain (These tiles are called azulejos and can be found on fountains, patios, the facades of homes, churches and other buildings in Puebla). The Amparo Museum is a highlight, a beautiful modern building with one of the largest pre-Hispanic art collections of any museum in Mexico. Also, make sure to visit nearby Cholula.

azulejos in Puebla Mexico

Much more detail: 7 things to See and Do in Surprisingly Puebla

Where to Stay: at the excellent Meson Sacristia de la Compañia Hotel Boutique.

How long to stay: I would give Puebla 3 full days (including Cholula).

Next: Oaxaca. Take the bus from the main CAPU station (Centro de Autobuses Puebla). ADO is the best bus line to take. It’ll take about 5 hours to Oaxaca  – a spectacular trip through rugged mountain scenery.

 

 

Oaxaca

Southern Mexico is very different than what you see up north. Oaxaca state has one of the highest indigenous populations in Mexico with over 50% speaking languages other than Spanish. You’ll see the culture reflected in clothing, cuisine, arts, and handicrafts. It (along with Chiapas further south) are unique and reflect a different side of Mexico.

A roadtrip through Mexico’s most beautiful towns and cities

Oaxaca is colourful and vibrant. It has great churches (Santo Domingo church is one of the most beautiful churches in Mexico) and a pretty city center. Just outside the city is Monte Alban, one of the most impressive archaeological sites in Mexico (and my personal favorite). Oaxaca also has great food (it is the home of ‘mole’) and is known for its chocolate and coffee.

dressed up in Oaxaca

A roadtrip through Mexico’s most beautiful towns and cities


Posts

Colors. One of many reasons to visit Oaxaca
Why you should visit Oaxaca (despite a few things…)

Where to Stay: Parador del Dominico which was excellent with a perfect location in the center.

Where to eat: Zandunga is an excellent restaurant. Go to Mayordomo for chocolate.

How long to stay: I would give Oaxaca 3 full days (including a half day for Monte Alban).

Next: San Cristobal de las Casas. Of all the bus trips mentioned in this post this is the longest. ADO has luxury buses doing this overnight trip (they have 4 buses every evening leaving Oaxaca between 7pm and 10:30 pm) arriving 11 hours later in San Cristobal.

 

 

San Cristobal de las Casas

San Cristobal de las Casas is in Chiapas, Mexico’s most southernly (and poorest) state. Arriving here is different than anyplace above. It is lush, green and mountainous and is Mexico’s principal coffee-growing area (in many ways it reminds me of the Eje Cafetero in Colombia which has exactly the same geography and climate).

San Cristobal de las Casas. A roadtrip through Mexico’s most beautiful towns and cities

San Cristobal de las Casas is a really pretty city that’s not unlike Oaxaca with its many churches (including the Cathedral of San Cristobal de las Casas), colourful streets and steep hills. It’s sleepy and authentic, with many small restaurants and cafés. You’ll see indigenous women, dressed in beautiful wool skirts and colourful shawls, selling textiles, arts and crafts. I don’t think there is anywhere in Mexico where you can buy the quality of textiles that you can find in San Cristobal.

San Cristobal de las Casas. A roadtrip through Mexico’s most beautiful towns and cities

pedestrian street in san cristobal de las casas, Mexico

I loved San Cristobal de las Casas. It’s a place you can stay for weeks, just chilling, exploring and drinking coffee. It just feels really authentic.

See my post here on San Cristobal de las Casas.

Where to Stay: Hotel Grand Maria(in a beautiful historic building in the center).

How long to stay: I would give San Cristobal de las Casas 3 full days.

 

 

San Cristobal de las Casas ends this Mexico road trip. From here you can take the bus or taxi to Tuxtla Gutiérrez (1 hour away) and fly out from there. Tuxtla Gutiérrez International Airport has frequent flights to Mexico City (major airlines being Aeromexico, Volaris and Interjet).

 

Do you have your own favorite town/city in Mexico to add to this list?

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San Miguel de Allende. Mexico roadtrip
Morelia. A roadtrip through Mexico's most beautiful towns and cities (by bus)
Puebla, on a roadtrip in Mexico

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9 Comments

  1. My visit to Mexico was all too brief. I would love to return and visit some of the places you mention here, they sound very authentic and characterful. I also love Mexican food. I did use the Ado buses when I visited and like you mentioned the buses are very comfortable and a good option for travelling around.

  2. On a recent trip my wife and I visited Guanajuato, San Miguel, and Querétaro. Guanajuato was the most interesting. When I was there I wondered how long it would take to get used to the celebratory noise that resounds off the valley walls nearly every night. San Miguel was just not our thing. Querétaro was so very comfortable. It is the place we would return (of the three) if we just wanted to chill.

    We love Mexico City. If you stay in a neighborhood like the Condesa, you can easily forget just how large the city is.

    I haven’t been to San Cristobal in over 20 years, but I still think about going back. Very enjoyable place.

    1. Thanks TJ. You might have felt about SMA the way I did the first time I visited. I called it Mexico-lite which I stand by. But with time I’ve gotten to really like the town, mostly because my mom has a nice place in the center and knows the best spots. And also, with our travel lifestyle I always like going back, it’s the closest thing to home these days.

      I only visited Queretaro once. It was nice but just didn’t love it (which might be because we had come from Guanajuato which had blown me away). I’ll have to give Queretaro another visit.

      Thanks for the comment TJ!

  3. Timely post! We just booked an Airbnb for a month in Mexico City this winter where we’ll work remotely. We visited for a few days a couple of years ago and just loved it! I now have some ideas for day trips. Thanks!

    1. Do yourself a favor and surprise your partner with a visit to the Hanky Panky speakeasy. It has a secret entrance and exit that are really fun. My wife’s facial expressions will be with me forever. Just make sure to call ahead (or reserve via Facebook I think) to get on “the list”.

    2. That’s exciting Deb. In what neighborhood will you be staying? I think Mexico City is a pretty exciting place and lots of great food.

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