RVs in Mexico
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RV Trip Reports

RV Adventures in Mexico

with Reta & Dick

by Reta & Dick Bray

Published: January 2001

On, January 4, 2001 we took off from our home on Mexico’s Lake Chapala, for a 3 month trip. We have a '97 Dodge V-10 pickup with an extended cab (our dogs have to ride somewhere) and a '98 Hitchiker 5th wheel trailer. Is a 29 1/2ft fifth wheel (with slide-out) an ideal RV for Mexico? Probably not, but we already had it from our previous extended travels in the U.S. & Canada, so decided to go for it and see what happens. We rented our house out, loaded up the trailer, and drove off with our 2 active dogs (one well-traveled, one a rescue we’d only had 2 months).

Other than a leisurely 12-day drive last April down the Pacific coast to Chapala, this trip is our first RV travel in Mexico. I should mention that Dick, having been born in South America, is fluent in Spanish, and mine is coming along, though still needing lots of work. Dick’s Spanish enables us to meet and talk with Mexicans wherever we go, certainly adding to the pleasures of traveling.

En route to Patzcuaro, our first stop, we were a bit dismayed to find that on the Hwy. 15 cuota (tollway) we were charged the maximum amount, the same as a semi-tractor & double trailer combo! This was despite saying that we had only 4 axles (at 3 different toll booths), and should have paid far less. On other cuota highways later, we were charged a lesser amount based on the number of axles, so it seemed like gouging the tourist to us.

We spent five days at the very pleasant RV park just outside Patzcuaro (El Pozo, 90 pesos a night). Alberto, the owner, is helpful and welcoming. There were a few other travelers, but the park was far from full. Part of the fun is exchanging information with other travelers about where to stay in different places, problems encountered, and favorite spots. We find we learn something from just about everyone we talk with, though everyone’s experiences are different. It‘s also fun to see what kind of rig seems best for travel in Mexico. Friends we made here have a 22‘ very lightweight travel trailer in which they live & travel full-time. They envied the comforts and space of our trailer, but everything seems to be a compromise. Less space/comforts -- easier to drive on the road; more space -- more comfort when parked, but more of a pain to drive around. Though we unhitch our truck, even that, a full-sized Dodge pick-up, is big for narrow roads and small parking spots.

Our previous trip to Patzcuaro was in summer 1997. On this visit, the town looked better and fresher, with less of the “decayed elegance” mentioned by some of the travel guides. The grand Basilica, in restoration in 1997, is now completely restored. Patzcuaro is a lovely place to visit, especially mid-week, when crowds are smaller, though it is a thriving, busy town at all times.

We connected in Patzcuaro with a young man, Paco, and his family, who we’d met on our last visit. He took care of a street dog for us, which is a rather long story. At that time Paco was newly married and he and his very pretty wife were expecting their first child. First we tried finding his house, but he no longer lived there. Since everyone knows everyone in this town, we were able to track down where he moved, and where he works. Now their little girl is 3, and there‘s a new 3 month old baby brother. We took them out to lunch and enjoyed spending an afternoon with them.

The morning we left, we were surprised to see Paco drive up just minutes before leaving with a plate of flan for us. They have an invitation to visit us in Chapala, perhaps this summer.

A day trip to Santa Clara del Cobre was a treat. The drive up through the pine forests with mountain vistas all around was worth the trip (beautiful!), and the copper ware was a bonus. Some of the artisans are true artist. We admired some of the fabulous, large pieces, which take six weeks or more to make and cost around $500. Of course, there are pieces in every price range, and smaller vases and bowls can be had for less than 100 pesos. Though we were in Santa Clara del Cobre on a Saturday, we were one of only two non-Mexican tourist couples we saw; there were a few Mexican tourists, but not at all crowded.

From Patzcuaro, we headed towards Valle de Bravo (in the state of Mexico), via the libre (free) Hwy. 15. This is a beautiful, though winding, drive through wonderful mountain country (Mil Cumbres), with thick pine forests. It felt like Oregon, at times. Very little traffic until we reached the cities of Ciudad Hidalgo and Zitacuaro. A long drive on a misty day, which included some unseasonable rain & even a bit of hail. Our only driving problems were on the Periferico (ring road) on the south side of Morelia -- lots of traffic, overhanging branches in the right lane (we’re 11+ ft. tall), and no sign for our turn towards Mil Cumbres.

Embarcadero Laumase at Valle de Bravo

Dick‘s father (now 89) worked in Mexico City for 6 months around 1960, and had told us his fond memories of the lake and town at Valle de Bravo, one of his weekend escapes. Though he‘d heard it was quite built-up since he was there, he asked us to look Valle de Bravo over and take some photos for him.

The RV/campground we found (thanks to the Churches‘ book, Traveler’s Guide to Mexican Camping) is actually a boat storage facility with a large, grassy area right on the lake. No hook-ups, but restrooms and showers are available for 100 pesos a night. We had a wonderful, unobstructed view of the lake and surrounding pine-covered mountains. Augustin, the owner, was most helpful, and offered to drive Dick through the town to show him an alternate way out with the trailer. His advice was much appreciated - we were able to leave town on a different road, not back-tracking, and avoid the high pass near Toluca.

The lake at Valle de Bravo has only been there about 50 years (there‘s a dam somewhere), but the effect is of an alpine lake nestled in a valley with wooded mountains all around. The town, much older, is quite attractive, hilly, with

Valle de Bravo

narrow streets. There were a number of fancy-looking shops - all these and many restaurants were closed mid-week, reflecting the nature of this town as a weekend get-away from Mexico City. Not once did we see even one boat out on the lake, but I‘m guessing that summer weekends would be pretty hectic.

After consulting with Augustin and his son (who trailers boats to Acapulco for clients) about the quality of the various roads, we left this lovely spot heading east on a secondary road, then north to the outskirts of Toluca, before heading south, around the volcano, and then turning north to Cuernavaca. We were warned about the roads which looked inviting on the map (much shorter distance); apparently they are in poor repair (lots of potholes), and/or are steep and very curvy.

As we approached Cuernavaca, we took a wrong turn and ended up driving straight into the busy city streets. With a rig our size, it is not always a simple matter to reverse direction. Fortunately a Pemex gas station appeared on the left, and though disobeying a “no left turn” sign, we were able to get turned around.
Not too much later we arrived at Trailer Park Diamonte (130 pesos a night), an unusual place since it is mostly filled with permanents -- many types of RVs are used as weekend and vacation homes for the Mexico City crowd. The permanent area is very well tended and nicely landscaped; the temporary area however is not at all attractive and is just off a major highway (95). Sites for our size rig were quite tight, though manageable.

That evening two fifth wheels came in, both considerably larger than we are; instead of backing into a space, which wouldn’t have been possible given their length, they simply parked horizontally in the road, hooking up to adjacent electrical outlets. Fortunately the temporary area was practically empty. There is a good tennis court, and swimming pools. We were looking forward to playing some tennis, but unfortunately I came down with some kind of upper respiratory bug, so that was out. We would not stay at this RV park again, but rather would choose one of the campgrounds further out of town.

The next day Dick took a taxi into the centro of Cuernavaca, and spent some time wandering around, visiting a museum, and taking a few photos with our new digital camera. I was resting in the trailer all day, so did not see anything of the city. Dick reported that he was disappointed in the city, and did not find it as attractive as many other places we‘ve been. One of his taxi drivers, an older man who has lived here all his life, told him that back in the 60‘s the town had about 25,000 people; now it’s nearing half a million. Growth has been very rapid, particularly after the 1985 Mexico City earthquake when apparently many people relocated to Cuernavaca.

One morning at dawn I was out with the dogs, and a Canadian man told me it was an exceptionally clear morning and that Popo was visible by walking up the hill. Indeed it was, with smoke coming out; its recent activity had quieted down during the previous two weeks. The Canadian, who had been here 2 months taking a language course, said the views had been spectacular and there was a considerable amount of ash falling during the eruption. During the day, at least while we were here, the air pollution completely blocked out a view of the volcano. After leaving Cuernavaca we also got good views of the volcano further south.

From Cuernavaca, we headed towards Oaxaca. rather than taking the cuota, however, we opted for the libre (Mexico 190). Between Cuernavaca and Izucar de Matamoros the driving was very slow, with at least 65 topes (speed bumps) in about 75 miles. It took us over 3 hours for that section. After that though, the libre road was great, little traffic, towns far apart, clear, clean air and good views.

Balneario, Tamazulapan

Again, thanks to the Churches‘ book (otherwise we wouldn‘t have guessed it was here), we stopped for the night at a balneario (swimming area, often hot springs, though these were cool water springs). Over a mile of rough road (slow going) and we found the place, arriving on a Saturday about 5:00 p.m.

There is a huge and quite deep pool (plus a smaller, shallow pool) fed by water bubbling up from a spring. The camping accommodations consist of a big field, and they apparently don’t get too many travelers stopping here (most travelers are on the faster cuota). The facility is completely fenced. Once it closed at 6:00 p.m., we were there by ourselves with the night watchman. The dogs had a wonderful time in this many acre field, where it was fine for them to run. The cost (including use of the pool) was 40 pesos, a deal, complete with friendly people.

We met some people with a travel trailer who had driven the entire distance in one day - Cuernavaca to Oaxaca - and it took them over 11 hours. This balneario in the town of Tamazulapan made the perfect stop with about 3 hours left the next day to reach Oaxaca.

That‘s it for our travels up until January 14. Our next post will include Oaxaca, where we‘ve had a wonderful time. If anyone has any suggestions for our future travels or comments, please e-mail us at chapala22@yahoo.com. The general itinerary from here is San Cristobal de las Casas, Palenque, Campeche, Merida, the Caribbean coast, Villahermosa, Veracruz, Pachuca, Queretaro, then back to Chapala.

•Reta and Dick Bray will be sending us regular Trip Reports. Check Reta & Dick's Homepage for their latest adventures and Trip Map

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