MEX-BEL-GUA Travel Itinerary Advice

Old Jul 20th, 2022, 06:18 AM
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MEX-BEL-GUA Travel Itinerary Advice

Hello!
I hope you're keeping well. First time poster on Fodor's here! Looking forward to hearing your ideas on this subject.

I'd like some advice regarding an upcoming trip to Mexico-Belize-Guatemala commencing in January 2023. I'll post my planned itinerary below, with questions in bold.
First off, I will be travelling with my wife, we've been lucky enough to have travelled various occasions before (Morocco, Peru, Cuba, Sri Lanka & India) so are used to travel (though we haven't travelled since the start of the COVID pandemic). We enjoy a nice mix of things, while not feeling particularly like a tourist, hate the feeling of being corralled into places like chattel and treated like just one other person of many. I enjoy learning history & culture of a place, while my wife prefers taking pictures, local markets. Both enjoy good food. The beach is nice, but prefer hammocky chill-out places rather than being a sardine in the sand in party central. Both of us speak Spanish (my wife as her mother tongue) and English (my mother tongue).
We have flights booked into Mexico City, but no flight out, we're free for about a month +/-

Anyway, planned itinerary below:
Day 1: Arrival MEXICO CITY 11AM, chillout, explore city. Overnight in Mexico City.
Day 2: Teotihuacán day trip. Is this easy enough to book the day before in the city with a good company? Is it relatively easy to get there on public transport and hire a guide when we're there? In PM, Lucha Libre Show @ Arena México (This day is a Tuesday so there should be shows on). Overnight in Mexico City.
Day 3: Museo Nacional de Antropología during day, Ballet Folklórico in Palacio Bellas Artes in PM. Overnight, nightbus to OAXACA.
Day 4: Arrival OAXACA in AM. Chillout, explore city, markets. Maybe a street food tour in PM? Overnight Oaxaca.
Day 5: Traditional Food Cooking Class? Overnight Oaxaca.
Day 6: Monte Albán. Overnight, nightbus to Puerto Escondido.
Day 7: Arrival PUERTO ESCONDIDO in AM: Chillout, maybe take a surf lesson or diving? Overnight Puerto Escondido.
Day 8:Chillout-. Overnight, night bus to San Cristobál de las Casas.
Day 9: Arrival AM SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS. Explore city. Overnight San Cristobál.
Day 10: Tour to some Mayan Villages? Overnight San Cristobál.
Day 11: Start getting a bit murky here. We want to move onto PALENQUE, unsure of the best move. Is it feasable to leave early in AM on bus to PALENQUE, see ruins (I guess this would be during midday sun though) and head in evening to next destination? Or is it better to head to PALENQUE TOWN this day at a normal time, stay in a hotel overnight (anything to do in the town?) and then see ruins early on morning of day 12, before heading to next destination?
Day 12: See above.
Day 13: MÉRIDA. Uxmal/Kabah in PM. Overnight Mérida. Neglecting Ruta Pu'uc while in Mérida, as I feel maybe it'll get quite easy to get "Mayaned out" and bored of pyramids and temples perhaps (more for my wife than for me). But maybe it's worth doing it over some over Uxmal/Kabah??
Day 14: MÉRIDA.. Explore city. Overnight Mérida.
Day 15: MÉRIDA.Cooking Class, food tour in PM. Overnight Mérida.
Day 16: Early AM bus to CHICHEN ITZÁ. Ruins of Chichén Itzá as early as possible so not to hit the heat. Easy enough to get a guide at the gates? PM Bus onto Valladolid, explore city. Chillout. Overnight Valladolid.
Day 17: Am Bus to TULUM. Are there any spots maybe just outside the town which is as I mentioned above? Hammocky laid back kinda place, maybe with a few good eateries locally? Overnight Tulum.
Day 18: TULUM. Chillout. Maybe do ruins early in AM if feel up to it? Overnight TULUM.
Day 19: AM Bus to LAGUNA BACALAR. ????? Chillout, Overnight LAGUNA.
Day 20: Day trip to CALAKMUL from Laguna. I'm aware it's a drive, how accesible is this from LB? Is Calakmul overkill having visited the previous spots (Teotihuacán, Monte Albán, Palenque, Uxmal, Chichen Itzá, Tulum), or should I take one of the previous out of the itinerary in order to visit Calakmul (the size and fact that it's away from the tourist traps is what is alluring to me). Overnight LAGUNA
Day 21: Early AM, bus to Chetumal. Best way to enter Belize here? Ideally want to go straight to one of the Cayes for a few days R&R. Can you get a boat in this (post) pandemic world, or should we go to Belize City and then grab a boat from there? Overnight Caye.
Day 22: ONE OF THE CAYES. Which is best? Ambergris or Caulker? Just want to chill for a bit, maybe do some diving (Shark Ray Alley accesible from both cayes?) Overnight Caye.
Day 23: Caye. Chillout. Overnight Caye.
Day 24: Early AM Boat to Belize City and tranfer to San Ignacio. Explore & Overnight San Ignacio.
Day 25: SAN IGNACIO. Interested in doing some Mayan Sites. Namely Xunantunich, Caracol / Actun Tunichil Muknal. Overnight San Ignacio.
Day 26: SAN IGNACIO. Interested in doing some Mayan Sites. Namely Xunantunich, Caracol / Actun Tunichil Muknal. Overnight San Ignacio.
Day 27: AM Bus into GUATEMALA. TIKAL, explore ruins, sunset. Overnight outside TIKAL. Is the little campsite still open?
Day 28: Sunrise TIKAL, head to Flores. Explore town. Overnight bus to Guatemala City.
Day 29: On arrival in GUATEMALA CITY, Bus to ANTIGUA. Explore city. Overnight ANTIGUA.
Day 30: Bus to Lake Atitlán. Chill & Explore. Overnight in TOWN BY LAKE (Recomendations?)
Day 31: Possible to Hike a volcano in a day?. OVERNIGHT TOWN BY LAKE.
Day 32: AM bus to CHICHICASTENANGO. If my calculations are correct, this day should be Thursday 23rd February. Is the Market worth the trip? Bus in PM to Guatemala City. Depart.

Thanks for sticking with me for so long to read this.
Other questions: As you can read, in our first week we're taking a few nightbuses. What is the standard of these in Mexico? Taken a few over the years in various different countries and it's a real mixed bag.
Am I missing anything big on my itinerary, anything overlooked? Is it even any good, or should I go back to the drawing board?

I'm a planner so around about at this point I start booking hotels and buses if I can, otherwise I get stressed out.
Anything else that maybe I've overlooked?

Thanks so much for your time and for any advice you can offer to me.
Best, - T
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Old Jul 20th, 2022, 05:20 PM
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Well, T. Sorry I didn’t stick with you, it’s asking a lot. After the first several locations, for someone who doesn’t feel like a tourist & keeps writing chillout, that isn’t anything like what I’d call a chill itinerary. Two whole days in Mexico City, wow, 2 more in Oaxaca which is what 2-3 nights will get you. Then even less in SC de las Casas? I didn’t get any further as it all seems such a waste of these beautiful places. I suggest going back to the drawing board, cutting locations, doubling or tripling at least the time you allot to what’s left. That’s the best I can do & suspect what’s here is what you do so you’ll be doing it.

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Old Jul 20th, 2022, 07:57 PM
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Hi reptilo_92–

A few thoughts:

1. The boats are running from Chetumal to Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker in Belize, just one a day though. I went to Caulker and liked it but can’t compare to San Pedro as I only saw Ambergris from the Caulker-Chetumal ferry.
2. You mention wanting to chill out but frankly so much looks rushed and exhausting to me. And I’m one who has pushed myself pretty hard by bus in that part of the world. An example to add to mmeperdu of something that seems rushed and exhausting: spending only part of a day in amazing Antigua Guatemala, after a long bus ride from Flores the previous day and leaving for Atitlan the next day.
3. San Cristobal de las Casas to Palenque may not be as quick as you might think looking at a map. I went from Tuxtla Gutiérrez to Palenque by ADO in 2019–a 7 hour journey that had to pass through Villahermosa to use main highways and avoid blockades I understand?
4. Bus travel is more reliable in my experience than in the States say but can take longer than you think, sometimes due to traffic and occasionally political unrest—wise to give yourself some wiggle room.

Best wishes

Daniel
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Old Jul 21st, 2022, 06:46 AM
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If you don't want to be in tourist crowds, why are you going to Chichen Itza and Tulum? I would certainly sub in Uxmal for those two and skip that heavily touristed part of the Yucatan. You may need to add in time for transfers that you are not considering. While there are buses to some places, since your wife is fluent and there are two of you, why not rent a car from Merida or Villahermosa and do a loop? There are two hotels about a mile outside of the Uxmal park that are reasonably priced. We stayed at Uxmal Resort Maya.

For Palenque we stayed at Mision Palenque, I don't remember anything special in the town although outside of town we went to the Aluxes Ecopark. We came in by road from the east via 186 and out to Villahermosa.

Agree with above comments re pacing and long bus rides.

Last edited by mlgb; Jul 21st, 2022 at 07:17 AM.
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Old Jul 21st, 2022, 07:13 AM
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I think you are rushed too.

The bus from Mexico City to Oaxaca takes about six hours and passes through what I thought to be interesting scenery -- the forest outside the city, the volcano Pico de Orizaba, the desert -- be a pity to miss it.

Teotihuacan can be reached by public transportation or an easily arranged tour.

Kabah is part of the Ruta Puuc which is still little visited. It's a relief after some of the more crowded sites.

I stayed on Ambergris Caye. You can reach Shark Ray Alley from there. Personally I preferred the snorkeling at Mexico Rocks.

​​​​​​​Afraid I can'r help with most of your itinerary, but I would suggest slowing down and editing out some places. I never thought it would be possible for me to tire of visiting ruins, but it happened to me after about ten days in Turkey.

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Old Jul 21st, 2022, 07:23 AM
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It would also be a pity to miss Puebla and the nearby sights at Cholula. (I still can't pronounce Tonantzintla)

After spending more nights in Mexico City day bus one way CDMX to Puebla, spend a few nights, then bus Puebla to Oaxaca. Fly Oaxaca to Merida ( there are inexpensive nonstops) when it is time to do the Mayan sites.

Some Puebla photos. Oaxaca is not the only region known for mole.

Checking in from Puebla

Last edited by mlgb; Jul 21st, 2022 at 07:38 AM.
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Old Jul 21st, 2022, 11:51 AM
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Tulum is not a cheap backpacker kind of place. Less expensive lodgings will be in the pueblo (you will need a taxi or bike to the beach road, the bus does not run there), prices are sky high and it is full of the Instagram crowd and there is a lot of crime since several different cartels have been fighting for control.
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Old Jul 21st, 2022, 03:40 PM
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RE Balcalar and Calakmul. We actually stayed in Chicanna Ecovillage Resort for Calakmul for two nights. It's a good idea to go to Calakmul early. Bacalar was wonderful we stopped for a few hours but it would have been nice to stay over.

I'm not sure how you do it without a vehicle, I guess a tour?
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Old Jul 21st, 2022, 08:29 PM
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Your statement "We enjoy a nice mix of things, while not feeling particularly like a tourist, hate the feeling of being corralled into places like chattel and treated like just one other person of many. I enjoy learning history & culture of a place" and your itinerary as posted are mutually exclusive. It's all pretty much the tourist trail. Imo as a México resident. Agree with the others. All of whom are seasoned travelers of the region. Way. Too. Much. Your described itinerary won't allow you to even scratch the surface of the history & culture(s) of the places you've mentioned. It's the type of itinerary that IG "influencers" or bloggers do so they can post pictures but never really experience the culture of a city or of a people. Or get to know some locals. Or the food. Eliminate? Belize & Guatemala. Sin animo de ofender, your itinerary sounds positively...excruciating.
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Old Jul 23rd, 2022, 03:42 PM
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You have 32 days, which is a nice long time for a trip. Lucky you! Still, as everyone else has mentioned, this looks exhausting and the opposite of a "chill" trip. I’m struck by the number of overnight bus journeys you want to do. You know your comfort needs. But really? You want to attend an evening performance of the Ballet Folklorico and then hop on an all-night bus to Oaxaca? You want to take an all-night bus to Puerto Escondido and then take a surfing lesson or go diving in the morning? From there, is there even a bus that would take you to San Cristobal in a single night?
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Old Jul 25th, 2022, 10:04 PM
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Yes, fewer places and longer time

Originally Posted by reptilo_92 View Post
Hello!
I hope you're keeping well. First time poster on Fodor's here! Looking forward to hearing your ideas on this subject.

I'd like some advice regarding an upcoming trip to Mexico-Belize-Guatemala commencing in January 2023. I'll post my planned itinerary below, with questions in bold.
First off, I will be travelling with my wife, we've been lucky enough to have travelled various occasions before (Morocco, Peru, Cuba, Sri Lanka & India) so are used to travel (though we haven't travelled since the start of the COVID pandemic). We enjoy a nice mix of things, while not feeling particularly like a tourist, hate the feeling of being corralled into places like chattel and treated like just one other person of many. I enjoy learning history & culture of a place, while my wife prefers taking pictures, local markets. Both enjoy good food. The beach is nice, but prefer hammocky chill-out places rather than being a sardine in the sand in party central. Both of us speak Spanish (my wife as her mother tongue) and English (my mother tongue).
We have flights booked into Mexico City, but no flight out, we're free for about a month +/-

Anyway, planned itinerary below:
Day 1: Arrival MEXICO CITY 11AM, chillout, explore city. Overnight in Mexico City.
Day 2: Teotihuacán day trip. Is this easy enough to book the day before in the city with a good company? Is it relatively easy to get there on public transport and hire a guide when we're there? In PM, Lucha Libre Show @ Arena México (This day is a Tuesday so there should be shows on). Overnight in Mexico City.
Day 3: Museo Nacional de Antropología during day, Ballet Folklórico in Palacio Bellas Artes in PM. Overnight, nightbus to OAXACA.
Day 4: Arrival OAXACA in AM. Chillout, explore city, markets. Maybe a street food tour in PM? Overnight Oaxaca.
Day 5: Traditional Food Cooking Class? Overnight Oaxaca.
Day 6: Monte Albán. Overnight, nightbus to Puerto Escondido.
Day 7: Arrival PUERTO ESCONDIDO in AM: Chillout, maybe take a surf lesson or diving? Overnight Puerto Escondido.
Day 8:Chillout-. Overnight, night bus to San Cristobál de las Casas.
Day 9: Arrival AM SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS. Explore city. Overnight San Cristobál.
Day 10: Tour to some Mayan Villages? Overnight San Cristobál.
Day 11: Start getting a bit murky here. We want to move onto PALENQUE, unsure of the best move. Is it feasable to leave early in AM on bus to PALENQUE, see ruins (I guess this would be during midday sun though) and head in evening to next destination? Or is it better to head to PALENQUE TOWN this day at a normal time, stay in a hotel overnight (anything to do in the town?) and then see ruins early on morning of day 12, before heading to next destination?
Day 12: See above.
Day 13: MÉRIDA. Uxmal/Kabah in PM. Overnight Mérida. Neglecting Ruta Pu'uc while in Mérida, as I feel maybe it'll get quite easy to get "Mayaned out" and bored of pyramids and temples perhaps (more for my wife than for me). But maybe it's worth doing it over some over Uxmal/Kabah??
Day 14: MÉRIDA.. Explore city. Overnight Mérida.
Day 15: MÉRIDA.Cooking Class, food tour in PM. Overnight Mérida.
Day 16: Early AM bus to CHICHEN ITZÁ. Ruins of Chichén Itzá as early as possible so not to hit the heat. Easy enough to get a guide at the gates? PM Bus onto Valladolid, explore city. Chillout. Overnight Valladolid.
Day 17: Am Bus to TULUM. Are there any spots maybe just outside the town which is as I mentioned above? Hammocky laid back kinda place, maybe with a few good eateries locally? Overnight Tulum.
Day 18: TULUM. Chillout. Maybe do ruins early in AM if feel up to it? Overnight TULUM.
Day 19: AM Bus to LAGUNA BACALAR. ????? Chillout, Overnight LAGUNA.
Day 20: Day trip to CALAKMUL from Laguna. I'm aware it's a drive, how accesible is this from LB? Is Calakmul overkill having visited the previous spots (Teotihuacán, Monte Albán, Palenque, Uxmal, Chichen Itzá, Tulum), or should I take one of the previous out of the itinerary in order to visit Calakmul (the size and fact that it's away from the tourist traps is what is alluring to me). Overnight LAGUNA
Day 21: Early AM, bus to Chetumal. Best way to enter Belize here? Ideally want to go straight to one of the Cayes for a few days R&R. Can you get a boat in this (post) pandemic world, or should we go to Belize City and then grab a boat from there? Overnight Caye.
Day 22: ONE OF THE CAYES. Which is best? Ambergris or Caulker? Just want to chill for a bit, maybe do some diving (Shark Ray Alley accesible from both cayes?) Overnight Caye.
Day 23: Caye. Chillout. Overnight Caye.
Day 24: Early AM Boat to Belize City and tranfer to San Ignacio. Explore & Overnight San Ignacio.
Day 25: SAN IGNACIO. Interested in doing some Mayan Sites. Namely Xunantunich, Caracol / Actun Tunichil Muknal. Overnight San Ignacio.
Day 26: SAN IGNACIO. Interested in doing some Mayan Sites. Namely Xunantunich, Caracol / Actun Tunichil Muknal. Overnight San Ignacio.
Day 27: AM Bus into GUATEMALA. TIKAL, explore ruins, sunset. Overnight outside TIKAL. Is the little campsite still open?
Day 28: Sunrise TIKAL, head to Flores. Explore town. Overnight bus to Guatemala City.
Day 29: On arrival in GUATEMALA CITY, Bus to ANTIGUA. Explore city. Overnight ANTIGUA.
Day 30: Bus to Lake Atitlán. Chill & Explore. Overnight in TOWN BY LAKE (Recomendations?)
Day 31: Possible to Hike a volcano in a day?. OVERNIGHT TOWN BY LAKE.
Day 32: AM bus to CHICHICASTENANGO. If my calculations are correct, this day should be Thursday 23rd February. Is the Market worth the trip? Bus in PM to Guatemala City. Depart.

Thanks for sticking with me for so long to read this.
Other questions: As you can read, in our first week we're taking a few nightbuses. What is the standard of these in Mexico? Taken a few over the years in various different countries and it's a real mixed bag.
Am I missing anything big on my itinerary, anything overlooked? Is it even any good, or should I go back to the drawing board?

I'm a planner so around about at this point I start booking hotels and buses if I can, otherwise I get stressed out.
Anything else that maybe I've overlooked?

Thanks so much for your time and for any advice you can offer to me.
Best, - T

Hi,
I agree with everybody else: Slow down and enjoy every place better. A few suggestions: First: Keep Uxmal (not crowded, and very impressive) and skip Chichen Itza (way too crowded, and most are there on day trip from Cancun. You are lucky enough to experience pyramids, etc in Uxmal). We stayed at the lovely resort right across the road — great pool! Consider Campeche before Uxmal, a fun town.

Second: Spend another day in Mexico City. At least. It’s not just a jumping off place for yet another pyramids day trip. (Yes you’re doing too many ruins. One is enough for most people. You’re doing what 8?) There’s a million things to do here (Frida’s house, the canals, some arty neighborhoods), including eat.

Third: In Bacalar, spend the afternoon on a boat in the lagoon. The water is beautiful, but you won’t really appreciate it unless you’re on it. We stayed at Hotel Makaaba, a chill smallish eco-hotel close to everything.

Fourth: Skip Tulum. No reason to go there. Spend a day in Valladolid, which is super cool and has a great cenote right in the middle of town, a beautiful historic area to wander around, and a terrific folk art museum in an impressive mansion that’s a don’t-miss.

Fifth, I also was intrigued by Calakmul, but it seemed hard to get to even for us and we had a rental car (road-tripping the Yucatán). You really need to make sure of your arrangements to get there. It’s a drive.

Sixth: Food tour somewhere would be fun, I agree. We did it in Merida. From Merida there’s a 3-cenote day trip that was great, called Ruta something. You see (and swim in) three very different cenotes.

Seventh: Consider staying most places at least 2 nights, which gives you enough time (a day) to actually do something. I think at the pace you’re suggesting, especially taking buses, your wife is going to murder you by the end!







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Old Oct 27th, 2022, 09:38 PM
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This thread has been inactive for a few months even though the original poster's trip will not begin until January, 2023. So, I'll weigh in. It's great that reptilo_92 and his wife have a full month available for their trip.It's been my experience that I manage to both "chill out" and experience more of Mexico's culture when I slow down and visit far fewer destinations than this thread's original itinerary includes, spending considerably more time at each one. Don't try to simply check off destinations generated from a guidebook as quickly as possible. As others have suggested, consider spending the entire month in Mexico. Save Guatemala's highlands (where I have spent two weeks) and Belize (which I have not yet visited) for another trip.

Possessing limited numbers of pages, guidebooks inevitably focus attention on relatively few places where foreign visitors to a country congregate, ignoring many other extraordinary destinations that primarily serve domestic tourists, especially vacationing Mexican families. With their narrow focus guidebooks often effectively serve both inexperienced travelers and those who cannot speak a local language. But experienced travelers such as you and your wife, both of whom speak Spanish fluently, have many more great options. Not all fascinating places/experiences that can be had in Mexico are located along the 'gringo tourist trail' listed in your original itinerary. Many Spanish language web sites showcase attractive and interesting 'off the beaten path' places worth visiting in Mexico. And, I'll mention several of my own favorites in my next post.

Last edited by chrisdaniel0933; Oct 27th, 2022 at 10:29 PM.
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Old Oct 27th, 2022, 10:21 PM
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When visiting Mexico I especially like to relax in thermal waters located in scenic surroundings, to hear Native-American languages spoken as part of the everyday life of Indigenous people living in small mountain towns (not cities like Oaxaca or San Cristobal), and be present in towns or cities when special local festivities, such as patron saints days, are taking place.

I like the ejido (farmer cooperative) run, somewhat rustic, resort located in Tolantongo Canyon. Various hot springs flow out of the canyon walls (and also a cavern entrance) there. Tolantongo is accessible via public transportation four hours north of Mexico City, in the State of Hidalgo. You change conveyances in the interesting town of Ixmiquilpan. To avoid crowds and assure getting a room at Tolantongo, avoid going there during weekends or holidays. Stay in the canyon at least two nights.

I enjoy talking walks in scenic mountain areas, especially in places where Native-American languages are routinely spoken and other traditions remain strong. Puebla State's Sierra Norte is a great place to do this. The town of Cuetzalan (3 or 4 hour bus ride north from Puebla City) has lots of accommodations for eco-tourists and cultural tourists from coming there Mexican cities every weekend. I like to stay there at Hotel Taselotzin which is cooperatively operated by a group of local Nahuatl (and occasionally also Spanish) speaking women. I've spent seven days and nights based in Cuetzalan and not yet experienced everything that wonderful area offers.

I've not yet spent January (other than the month's first few days) in Mexico. When I do sometime, I look forward to the possibility of staying in the town of Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas (near Tuxtla Gutierrez , also accessible from San Cristobal) while some of the climatic parts of their "Fiesta Grande" take place. Their are many web sites about that celebration. In 2017 it began on January 8 and didn't conclude until Jan. 22. Other nearby attractions include Sumidero Canyon, a state anthropology museum in Tuxtla, and also a zoo in Tuxtla.

Last edited by chrisdaniel0933; Oct 27th, 2022 at 10:26 PM.
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Old Oct 28th, 2022, 08:54 AM
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Some of the Yucatan sites are worth visiting in that timeframe.
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