When I agreed to a three-month motorcycle journey through Mexico, I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into. Sure, I had done week-long trips through Colorado, where I live part-time, on a comfy Harley. But rough roads, tools for all types of repairs, and a wardrobe spanning a wide range of temperatures—all on a BMW touring bike—have been a whole new ballgame. And, so far, it’s been a blast!
Departing from Key West, Florida, where I live the other part of the year, meant Gary and I spent almost a week on the road before crossing into Mexico at Nuevo Laredo. We bought this BMW specifically for the trip knowing that the Harley’s low clearance wouldn’t handle the topes (speed bumps) that are ubiquitous on Mexican roads.
After months of preparation and well-meaning family warnings of cartel danger, we have been sailing along for almost three weeks now feeling welcomed and safe everywhere we turn. Motorcycle riding in a foreign country has both its advantages and challenges. It’s an incredibly flexible way to travel as I book our lodging just a day or two in advance, allowing us to change plans at any time. But it’s work. Soft bags must be unstrapped and brought inside every night, and finding secure parking is a must; the latter is not always an easy task.
Once we passed the 150-mile mark beyond the border, it began to feel like another country and not a Mexican version of Texas. This total immersion into local culture could not have been more evident than in Xilitla, one of the many Pueblos Magicos scattered throughout the country. This hilltop village, about 275 miles northeast of Mexico City, offered a big dose of local color with traditional Sunday dancing in the town square, an unexpected surrealist sculpture garden (Las Pozas), a healing ceremony for Gary and I, and a B&B where guests are greeted with a tasting of the local liquor. Definitely a find!
Traveling through this region meant navigating the Sierra Madre mountain range which was no piece of cake. A 200-mile trip would take eight or nine hours. Oh, how we had underestimated how much ground could comfortably be covered in a day. Did I say “comfortably”? Riding two-up on an adventure bike means no squirming and leaning forward going up steep hills to counter the rear luggage weight. But hey, it’s part of the adventure.
Heading further south, the terrain finally leveled out as we came to one of Mexico’s many archeological gems, Teotihuacan. While most visit these ruins as a day trip from Mexico City, we opted to stay right in the little town of San Juan Teotihuacan. This allowed us to beat the heat and the crowds by sightseeing early in the day, but we also got to dine by candlelight in a cave restaurant, La Gruta. Though our Spanish is less than pequeno, it didn’t stop us from chatting with high schoolers in the tiny town square or attempting to order from a local woman with a verbal lunch menu. Something definitely got lost in translation one day because I really wouldn’t have ordered the pig trotters (feet).
City life was next as we continued south to Puebla, a city that has plenty of two things we love—great architecture and amazing food. This ended up being a four-night stop because there was so much to do and so many fine restaurants to try. Everything was walking distance within the historic Centro; a weekend antique market, cathedral-hopping, a wide variety of museums, a book fair with traditional dancing, and lots of strolling, admiring the craftsmanship and design of buildings on every corner. But there was a practical side to this stop too. Two weeks’ worth of laundry had to be reckoned with, new glasses and contact lenses purchased, then there were the haircuts and pedicures. Check!
Any preconceived ideas we might have had about Mexico vanished after week one. The food is way more interesting than anything I’ve seen offered in the U.S. as Mexican cuisine. The flavors are more complex and sophisticated—from the finest restaurants to street snacks—and it’s always good value. As is the lodging. We spend $20 to $40 a night for a straightforward, clean room in the center of town, with parking, and often with a light breakfast. That hardly covers our happy hour drinks in Key West.
I’m new to this motorcycle thing. I love there not being anything between me and what’s out there. Your line of vision is so wide and the smells are so vivid (not always a good thing). I like traveling with some spontaneity. One night here? Well, maybe two if it looks like a cool town. It may not be for everyone, but it works for me.
Donna Shields, MS, RDN was bit by wanderlust some 30 years ago and is still on the road. With numerous worldwide home exchanges under her belt, she splits her time between Key West and Colorado while not gallivanting elsewhere.
Years as a food and nutrition writer means she’s always sniffing out the good eats and seeking the next hidden gem of a town to visit. Her recent 10,000-mile motorcycle trip through Mexico led to a new travel blog, Open Mind Adventure. She’s out to prove that over 60 doesn’t mean the adventure is over.
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