Are you planing a quick holiday? Maybe a visit somewhere close so you can get the most out of your time away? That is what my mother and I were looking for and in this 2 week backpacking guide for Central Mexico, I will share with you our itinerary for this wonderful part of Mexico!
Central Mexico is often overlooked for the resort filled Yucatan, which is home to well known places like Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Cozumel, but if you are a backpacker or avid traveler you will be wanting to see more than just vacationers in their pool. The areas of Jalisco and Guanajuato bring to you a true feeling of old Mexico. Here you can find traditional cultural, sweeping churches, bright colors, fresh tequila and mariachi music.
Your first stop, Puerto Vallarta is a resort town, I mean you are on vacation after all, but the difference with Puerto Vallarta is that you can avoid the resort area if you want to.
Located along the Pacific coast Puerto Vallarta is mostly an escape for retirees and expats alike, but luckily Puerto Vallarta is split into different zones and the avid traveler should look at staying near the Malecon. This is the old town of Puerto Vallarta, also known as the Romantic Zone. Here you can experience cobble streets while still enjoying some beach time.
Day 1 – Fly day, check in to your accommodation and explore around. Grab some great street food, a cerveza or two and enjoy a nice warm sunset on the beach.
Day 2 – Catch an early morning breakfast then make the steep but worth it hike up to the cross, known as the Mirador Cerro de La Cruz. Once you are done soaking in the views head down for lunch and wander the Malecon to selfie with some street art and visit the local vendors before you enjoy more beach time. Finish the day with a nice dinner and live music. If you have the energy you can grab some beer and salsa with Dias de Rumba or check out the bumping night scene.
Day 3 – Adventure time. Grab a local bus bound for Boca de Tomatlan. It is about a half hour ride and once there you can either bus to the botanical gardens, if plants and easy strolls are you thing or if you want more beach and sunshine, the coastal hike to Las Anima is definitely worth the exercise. If you don’t feel like hiking or you want to save time you can also higher a boat to get to the various beaches.
Day 4 – Bus day and check into your accommodation. It takes about 5 hours to travel from Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara via bus. There are plenty of daily buses on this route, every half hour or hourly, so finding one will not be an issue.
- Pro tip: Since this trip has a set schedule, I bought all of my bus tickets on my first day in Mexico. I booked everything at a Primera Plus office in Puerto Vallarta. I’ve rode with them before, they are great. You can purchase tickets either at their office, at most OXXO stores or even online via paypal. (Note that their website credit card option does not work for foreign cards.)
Guadalajara is Mexico’s second largest city with a population of over 5 million. Even though it is a sprawling metropolis it has some very unique areas with one of the best being Centro Historico.
Known as the birthplace of mariachi music, Guadalajara City has everything that you might be interested in, you can catch a Chivas football game, visit various museums, enjoy fantastic architecture and even see some amazing murals done by Jose Clemente Orozco.
Day 5 – Explore the Centro Historico area. There are tons of things to see around this area and the city provides historical markers with maps if you feel like wandering around! Make sure you at least visit the Instituto Cultural Cabanas, free on Tuesdays – Guadalajara Cathedral and Palace Jalisco, which is free if you only are going to see the Jose Clemente Orozco mural.
- Pro Tip: For great food wander down Coronilla street or continue your way west to the Americana zone for loads of bars and restaurants.
Day 6 – Time to unwind with some tequila, tequila, tequila! The city of Tequila is only 45 minutes away from Guadalajara so this is the perfect opportunity to snag a tour and learn how tequila is made! For more information check out my Tequila Tour post.
Day 7 – Bus day from Guadalajara to San Miguel de Allende. Takes around 5 hours and buses run every couple of hours depending on the company.
San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende is a well preserved colonial town known internationally for its art scene. San Miguel is a very cosmopolitan city, full of of small cafes, shops and galleries. There is a big expat presence in the city, with good reason, this place is magical.
Day 8 – Start with an early walk to the El Mirador, the lookout, where you can get a beautiful view of the whole city along with the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, which is the giant unmistakable pink cathedral and San Miguel’s most notable attraction.
- Pro tip: Make sure your walk includes a stroll past, Capilla Santa Cruz del Chorro and through the Parque Benito Juarez. To learn more read about my El Mirador walking trail.
Spend the afternoon enjoying the city’s various sites and shops before having a great dinner near the Jardin Allende park where you can see San Miguel’s majestic cathedral light up at night.
Day 9 – You can either relax and enjoy the city or grab a ride out to the Escondido Place, an indoor and outdoor spa, with thermal pools and natural hot springs. If you make it out that direction make sure to visit the Sanctuary of Atotonilco.
Another relaxing activity is to visit the Charco Del Ingenio botanical gardens. They provide a free ride Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 9:30 am from the Plaza Civica on the Mesones.
Day 10 – Bus from San Miguel de Allende to Guanajuato. It is an hour ride and buses leave SMA every hour or so depending on the company. This short ride will leave you with plenty of time to check into your accommodation and then spend the afternoon wandering around the Parroquia de Basilica area.
Enjoy sunset at El Pipila for a great view of the city. You can take the Funicular, a cable car up and down to save energy on hiking. After sunset spend the evening exploring this area.
Guanajuato is one of my favorite cities in Mexico, this town is full of color as you wander along narrow cobblestone streets. It has a rich history and well preserved colonial architecture. Guanajuato has a peaceful atmosphere and it is a young, bustling city being home to a regional university and well known weekend destination for local tourists.
Day 11 – Wake up early for a short bus ride to the Museo de las Momias, yeah the Mummy Museum!
After being creeped out by the mummies snag a taxi to the nearby town of Valanciana where you can learn more about Guanajuato’s rich history by visiting one of it’s largest silver mines. Before the mine tour it’s great to have a snack and some street food next to the Templo de San Cayetano Confesor. The inside of this church is beautiful and entry is free.
When you are done you can take the local bus back to the city center and spend the afternoon wandering around the Teatro Principal before joining a well known local tradition known as the Callejoneadas! This night walking tour is put on by the university students and is a fantastic musical experience.
Day 12 – Depending on how energetic you feel there are a few activities that you can choose from. You can take a bus or taxi to Christo Rey, the world’s second largest Jesus statue. Bus time takes over an hour each way and first you have to get to Guanajuato’s main bus station before transferring.
Or if you are feeling athletic you can hop on a local bus to the Presa de La Olla, a reservoir to cool off after this epic hike. From the Presa de La Olla you can either do a short hike up to El Faro and head back or you can continue on from El Faro to the peak of El Cerro de La Bufa and back into town.
Another less strenuous and peaceful activity is to wander the massive grounds of San Gabriel de Barrera. This old Hacienda, now turned museum is a perfect way to relax. The grounds are stunning and it is easy to access by local bus or taxi.
Day 13 – Bus day, time to head back to Guadalajara, the bus ride takes around 4 hours which gives you the perfect opportunity to rest before your flight home.
Day 14 – Fly home from Guadalajara.
- Pro Tip: Flying into this part of Mexico it was actually cheaper for my mom and I to book individual departure and return tickets. We flew into Puerto Vallarta and out of Guadalajara. By doing the trip this way, other than saving money on flights, we avoided having to take another 5 hour bus back to Puerto Vallarta which gave us an extra day sightseeing.
I hope you enjoyed this quick 2 week backpacking guide for central Mexico. This is a fantastic area to explore and one that will take you off of the tourist trail. I’ve been to this area twice now and both times I rarely saw any foreign tourists making it a great place to experience true Mexico. For more detailed information on some of these activities visit my Destination Mexico page.
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