Drive to Mexico? When I proposed a trip to Mexico by car during Christmas break, my husband, Peter, looked at me as if I’d gone bonkers. “Do you know how far Mexico is?” he asked.
“Yes, it’s just below Texas,” I answered with a shrug. “It’s as close as Canada, right?” Well, not quite, as it turns out. We can get to Canada in a day, but Mexico is more like three days’ drive. Due to school schedules, our son Ross, 14, and I ended up flying to San Antonio (OK, I admit, I was happy to skip the long drive), where we met Peter and Jasper, our 20-year-old, who had driven—yep—two and a half days to get to Texas.
Our trip proved to be a big adventure, a chance to see what Mexico was really like—from the cities to the highways to the rugged mountains that march like soldiers through Mexico’s interior.
I know what you’re thinking. Is it safe to drive in Mexico? Absolutely. Not only that, Mexico has good roads in much of the country. The truth is Mexico is stunning. It offers rich culture, ideal weather, and an inexpensive cost of living. And it’s so close—relatively speaking, that is.
Ride the Range in Lagos de Moreno
Stay in an Authentic Hacienda.
After a night in Monterrey, a thriving city about four hours south of the Texas border, Peter, our sons, and I continued south into Mexico’s heartland. The four-lane highway we traveled on was a direct link from Nuevo Laredo, Texas, to Mexico City and wasn’t very different from our interstates.
Tolls were a frequent interruption to highway travel and, at about $10 a pop, can add up quickly, but we decided the tolls were worth the money once we found ourselves on the secondary road from San Luis Potosi heading west to Lagos de Moreno. Two lanes, big trucks, and slow going. Nevertheless, the countryside we passed was beautiful: stark mountains, lush valleys, and windswept prairies.
Our first stop was at a hacienda in Lagos de Moreno, where we’d stayed the previous year and met a lovely couple, Pancho and Lena, who offer horseback riding packages to tourists wanting to ride the range. One of the reasons we planned this trip was to show Jasper and Ross this unique side of Mexico, where cowboys still rustle cattle and unending blue skies stretch across a vast landscape.
We only planned one night at the hacienda, and it was everything we hoped it would be: a sunset horseback ride along undulating sandy trails followed by a dinner of peacock stew (tastes like chicken) and homemade tortillas to sop up the juices.
The next morning we hiked with the boys under eucalyptus trees, played fetch with the resident dogs, and then said farewell to Pancho and Lena, promising to return for a longer visit next time.
Surf’s Up—Way Up in Manzanillo
Affordable Condo Rentals + Fabulous Weather
We headed south past Guadalajara and drove about five hours to the Pacific coast, where we’d arranged to rent a condo in Manzanillo, a busy coastal town that attracts lots of Mexican tourists and a scattered few Americans. We’d considered including Puerto Vallarta on the itinerary but decided to plan something a little mellower.
Manzanillo proved to be a good choice. Our hilltop condo overlooked the bay, and from our outdoor terrace, we enjoyed stunning views of the Pacific and picturesque sunsets every night.
Most nights we cooked in the kitchen—Mexican food, what else?—and ate out on the terrace as soft winds blew from the Pacific and the moon danced across the sky.
During the day we headed to the beach. Both boys had brought their surfboards, anticipating chest-high Pacific surf, and that’s what they got. Peter and I sat in comfy beach chairs, drinking cold bottles of Negro Modelo, and watched Jasper and Ross riding the waves while around us Mexican families frolicked in the surf. What a life!
One night we went out to eat at a taco place our condo owner had recommended. “Look for the smiley face on the main drag,” he said. We found Happy Taco or Sunset Taco, I forget what it was called, and feasted like kings on the sidewalk tables for only a few dollars.
The flavorful, slow-roasted beef, tender and juicy, oozed from giant tortillas served with a condiment tray brimming with chiles, guacamole, and three or four different sauces. Right beside us a woman cooked the homemade tortillas, and when Peter decided to take a couple photos, a smiling Mexican family said, “Take our photo, too!”
Everyone we met was friendly and kind, happy to see visitors supporting the local economy.
Chapala: Stunning Lakeside Setting
“It Looks Like Switzerland Without the Snow.”
The weather was surprisingly hot and humid in Manzanillo, considering it was December, but folks we met said it’s like that year round. Some retirees choose to live on Mexico’s coast, but I like the mild climate south of Guadalajara—in Lake Chapala, where we may end up retiring one day.
Chapala was our next stop, so we said goodbye to our cozy condo and headed inland again, a three hour-drive to a part of Mexico that I think looks like Switzerland, but without the snow.
Sometimes when you go back to a place the second time, the luster is gone and you wonder what appealed to you so much the first time. Happily, that wasn’t the case with Lake Chapala.
During this visit, our second to the area, I grew to love Chapala even more. It’s authentic and has a lot of soul, two qualities a place has to have to enable one to lead a meaningful life, I think.
This region of Mexico combines culture with fabulous weather, a ridiculously low cost of living, lots to do, and plenty of interesting people to meet. Our visit this time was brief, but it was long enough for me to start dreaming about the life I want to live one day when Peter and I are empty-nesters and can retire and run away to Mexico.
Wanna come? I already know of one Virginia Beach couple who took my advice and headed down to Mexico, dog and cats in tow, to retire in a cozy villa they bought for under a hundred grand not far from Lake Chapala.
Peter and I are a few years off from retirement, but it’s nice to know we have a place in mind that’s not too far, relatively speaking, where it’s easier to live life in the moment. Even Jasper and Ross could see how appealing the lifestyle is south of the border. What’s not to like?
We’re not ready to go house-hunting yet, but that day will come. In the meantime, we’ll sing James Taylor’s song and dream about our next visit. “Oh, Mexico / It sounds so sweet with the sun sinking low / Moon’s so bright like to light up the night / Make everything all right.”
All You Need to Know
Follow These Tips for an Amazing Family Vacation in Mexico
Mexico Travel information
For a comprehensive look at all Mexico has to offer—from coast to coast—go to www.visitmexico.com.
Trail Riding Packages in Mexico
Explore Mexico’s Heartland on horseback. Visit www.cabalgataslashaciendas.com for packages and rates.
Hit the Beach in Manzanillo
Discover tips and ideas for a memorable stay on the Pacific Coast of Mexico at www.visitmexico.com/en/main-destinations/colima/manzanillo.
Discover Lake Chapala
There’s a lot to see in the Mexican State of Jalisco including Lake Chapala and Guadalajara. Find out more at www.visitmexico.com/en/main-destinations/jalisco