Mexico

Posted by James Anderton on Feb 19th, 2019


Skip to Quick Facts

Beautiful mountains, high altitude plateaus, boundless deserts, big cities, quaint villages, picturesque beaches...there is something for everyone in Mexico. Add to that the amazing food, vibrant culture, cheap living and warm people then it all makes for a great country to cycle. You could easily spend 6 months exploring this vast country by bike. I spent a couple of months cycling from south to north on my way to Alaska and it was one of the highlights of my trip.

Volcano Popocat├ępetl near Puebla on the way to Mexico city

Volcano Popocat├ępetl near Puebla on the way to Mexico city

Sadly the first thing anyone asks me about my time in Mexico is how safe is it. We've all heard stories about crime in Mexico. A lot of it is nonsense. The fact is you are 3 more times likely to be a victim of crime in the US than in Mexico. I encountered no problems. Mexicans are funny, welcoming and extremely helpful. One time on the Altiplano a guy in a car pulled over and told me he was part of the cycling community around here. He was staying in the next town and invited me for dinner. When I showed up half the town's cycling community had turned up to greet me. I slept on someone's sofa and the next day a few of the cyclists joined me for the first 50km out of town. There was the guy who when seeing my Manchester United shorts ran into his house and came out with both the Home and Away Manchester United shirts. He insisted I take them both. I tried to refuse his generosity but he looked upset and I ended up taking the away kit. Still got it. I stayed in an AirBnb apartment and had a chat with the lady who lived next door. When I told her I was cycling to Canada she brought me over breakfast and dinner every day insisting that I must eat. A man saw that the leather on my saddle was falling apart and improvised me a small cushion cover to place on top of my saddle that i still ride to this day. One time a lady flagged me down and tried to give me money which is always a little embarrassing. I must have looked like a hobo. Thought I was looking quite sharp. I'd washed all my clothes only a fortnight before. I was also given free tacos on countless occasions.

Does that mean everyone in Mexico is awesome? Of course not. El Chapo for one. Does it mean there's no crime in Mexico? Of course not but you can be in the wrong place in the wrong time anywhere on this planet. There's no point worrying about it. There is very little crime in Mexico geared towards tourists. The crime in Mexico is very much about drug running and if you stay away from that, then there is very little risk of getting in trouble. There are genuine cases. There was the tragic case last year of the two cycling tourers murdered near Chiapas which was a big shock to the cycling community. I wouldn't go wandering around some of the cities aimlessly after dark but I never do that anyway. I'm always in bed by 9. A healthy habit I've picked up from all the camping. The only concession I made was to check a map for the danger hot spots in Mexico before I arrived. They all seemed to be dotted around either coast. I didn't have to alter my intended route at all as I was always planning on heading through the mountains in the middle of the country.

People of Mexico enjoying festivities

Mexicans love a good fiesta. You won't fail to stumble across a few cycling through the country

I always seek out the mountains wherever I go. It always makes for the most interesting cycling and I love the rural life up in the hills. It is also an excellent idea in Mexico because of the heat. The temperatures at sea level in Mexico can be brutal. I cycled there in winter and the heat was still stifling in the valleys. I dread to think what it would be like in the Mexican summer. After dropping down from the mountain tourist town of San Cristobal I endured a couple of days suffering in the heat. I decided to get back up into the mountains as soon as possible. The mountain road to Oaxaca from Tehuantepec was one of my favourite roads in Mexico. It is an extremely dry part of the world. Water is scarce. There is no grass, the trees are wretched, the soil is coarse and hopelessly poor. Everything is burnt up by the sun but the mountains give off a remote, stark beauty. Nothing lives here, the peace is absolute, the traffic is light and the road winds wonderfully all the way to Oaxaca.

Mountains near Oaxaca Mexico

The road to Oaxaca

Another great area for cycling is the Sierra Gorda mountains north east of Mexico City. Here you will find proper climbing. Often you will descend to the valley at 200m altitude and climb back up to above 2000m. The back roads are mostly paved and take you through quaint authentic Mexican villages. Tiny hamlets consisting of two or three crooked cobblestone streets. The men go about on horseback in cowboy hats the effect only tainted by the swigging from coca-cola bottles instead of rusty canteens. The road you want to take is the back road that goes via Lago Metztitlan and then the back road via Pisaflores. The only shame is the mountains don't go on long enough and I soon found myself on a high altitude desert.

Cycling the mountains of Mexico in the Sierra Gorda

Mountains of the Sierra Gorda a few days north east of Mexico city

The cycling isn't all great in Mexico. It is a big country and at times you will find yourself surrounded by nothingness up on the Altiplano. At times it was enjoyable, at times it was boring pedalling under a boundless blue sky far away from anyone and anything. You can see for miles in all directions. Immense, endless, fascinating in its monotony. The desert, the plains, and nothing more; in the distance an ancient barrow or a windmill . Solitary birds fly low over the indifferent landscape. After Hidalgo del Parral the Altiplano gave way to one of my favourite roads. The road began to undulate through wild west country. Like something out of a Cormac McCarthy novel. Towards Creel you enter pine forests alongside deep canyons and high mountains. The road occasionally approaching 3,000m. The traffic was minimal, the roads were excellent and it all made for a great week on the bike. It can get cold up here. You are far enough north to feel winter and the altitude made for some freezing nights in my tent. The clear skies encourage frost but the cycling during the day was perfect. I would cycle in the mornings in gloves and jacket and in the afternoons I'd be in shorts and t-shirt. The camping was fantastic under a million stars. Not many people cycle this route. The classic route for cycling through northern Mexico is down Baja California by the Pacific before getting a boat across to the mainland. I hear it's fantastic but I was frightened by the heat down at sea level and loved the remote alternative I took through the mountains in the north.

Cycling Mexico Copper Canyon near Creel

Copper Canyon near Creel

Finally after a week off in the city of Hermosillo I headed for the much talked about Mexican border at Nogales. Here i was surprised by a heavy dump of snow and plummeting temperatures. The night I arrived it was set to hit -11 degrees C. I can't camp in that so i sat it out on the border and waited for it to warm up a little. Nogales is a peaceful border town. No sign of the invasion Trump is so fond of shooting off about. What a waste of time it would be to build a wall here. The locals seem baffled by the prospect. Apparently there are more elderly Americans looking to retire over in Mexico than going the other way. All in all I loved Mexico. Not only is there a lot of excellent cycling but there was a wonderfully relaxed and calm attitude throughout the country. The people are generous and hospitable and the food is fantastic. You can easily cycle throughout Mexico on a shoestring budget without even trying. I somehow managed to cycle the length of the country without seeing the sea. Gives me a good excuse to return one day.

Capital:

Mexico City. Enormous. Surprisingly pleasant to cycle through even if it does go on and on. There are good cycle lanes in some areas of the city. A safe place and a nice climate as it is at an altitude of 2,300m. There is a ciclovia in the city every Sunday from 8am to 2pm where they close the roads to traffic and you can ride around the city in peace.

Cyclists ride along Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City during the Sunday ciclovia

Time to Go:

Winter is a great time to cycle in Mexico. It is the dry season. Blue skies pretty much every day and temperatures don't reach the soaring heights as they do in the summer. Nights can be quite cold up on the Altiplano but the days are perfect cycling weather. Brutally hot at sea level for the majority of the year.

Roads:

Mostly paved. The main roads come with a wide shoulder. The majority of the back roads are also paved and come with a small shoulder and very little traffic. There are also some dirt roads but they are eminently rideable. The paved back roads were my preference as they were always very quiet and with the long distances between water I didn't want to be held up too much on dirt roads.

Wild camping:

Easy. Mexico is a big country and there is a lot of space. A lot of land is fenced but easy to get round and very little chance of you being found and little chance of you being moved on if you were. Mexicans are very relaxed about these sort of things. There can be long stretches without water. I found camping gas in Mexico City here.

Wind

Mexico isn't a particularly windy country but up on the Altiplano you will be exposed to its full force. It can effect how long it will take you to cover any distances between water. Tends to come in off the Pacific more often than not.

Visa's:

Most countries get 180 days on arrival. You will need a photocopy of your passport. Make sure you keep the immigration form you fill out on arrival. You will need it when leaving the country.

Bicycle Shops:

Loads throughout Mexico of varying quality but in any sizeable town or city you will be able to find a bicycle shop selling quality parts. Note that there are ferreteria's everywhere (hardware stores) and they sell inner tubes but rarely anything above 26".

Casa de Ciclista:

I didn't visit one in Mexico but apparently there's a good one in Mexico city. Details here.

Food:

Amazing. Cheap. Tacos, Enchiladas, Tostadas, Mole, Chilaquiles. The whole country is one great cheap eat.

Costs:

I was surprised how cheap Mexico is. I found it cheaper than most of the Central American countries i cycled through. When camping i would rarely spend over $7/8 per day. Hotels can vary but you can easily find stays for $10 or less. There are the economic hotels for $5-7 with shared bathroom and no Wi-Fi. The normal hotels for $10-12 with private bathroom and flaky Wi-Fi. Then the nice hotels for $15-$20 with private bathroom and good Wi-Fi.

Tips:

Watch out for the topes (speed bumps). Every village has them and they can be quite hard to spot until it's too late. Some of them are quite nasty and if hurtling along might give you a bit of a shock.

Recommended Airbnb:

Great place in Hermosillo.

https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/29929523

Electricity:

Side of the road:

Right.