If someone had told me a year ago that we would be traveling independently on public buses along Central Mexico’s Independence Route, I would not have believed it. However, when my very specific itinerary did not appear among tour offerings, and driving was not appealing, the bus became the best option. We had misgivings about the wisdom of this choice, but overall our experience was positive, and I hope that this writing will dispel concerns others may have.
We are seasoned travelers and senior citizens, but this was our first adventure where we were dependent on public buses.
Cities along Mexico’s Independence Route are as rich in history as they once were in silver and gold. The three pearls of Colonial Mexico that we elected to explore were San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato and Zacatecas, and these cities were not chosen casually. Guanajuato and Zacatecas are designated World Heritage Sites by UNESCO, and San Miguel de Allende is a National Historic Monument.
The cities have much in common. All were once mining centers along the Silver Route, enriching Spanish rulers. And they all played important roles in Mexico’s struggle for independence many monuments and museums serve as reminders to a tumultuous past. Each city has beautifully preserved colonial buildings and churches, cobblestone or flagstone streets, shaded plazas with wrought-iron benches and gurgling fountains. These are pristine, tranquil and prosperous-looking places, and all three have impressive settings, located on mountain slopes.
On the Bus
Our itinerary, a roundtrip loop from Mexico City, went from San Miguel de Allende to Guanajuato and finally to Zacatecas. The total distance traveled was about 800 miles in eight days.
All travel was on Mexico’s well-run, economical bus system. The large number of bus companies surprised us, but the companies that best served our route were Primera Plus (www. primeraplus.com.mx) and Omnibus de Mexico (www.odm.com.mx).
Mexico Adventures LTC arranged our hotels and Mexico City transfers. A representative met us on arrival in Mexico City, escorted us to the airport bus-ticketing counter and assisted us in purchasing our first bus tickets.
As we arrived in each city, we purchased onward tickets with reserved seats. Over the trip, we had two lengthy rides (to and from Mexico City), as well as short rides between cities. All coaches were first class, modern, clean, safe and comfortable. They were air-conditioned and punctual. All had a restroom aboard and showed movies. The stations, likewise, were well maintained and accommodating. Our carry-on luggage was checked and placed below. (It is customary to give a small tip to baggage handlers.)
Arriving in cities, we took taxis to and from hotels. Taxi fares here are nominal, usually about $4. ATMs are readily available, and credit cards are generally accepted in restaurants and hotels. Restaurant options are extensive, and to narrow our choices, we asked the Tourist Bureau to recommend restaurants near our hotels. Meals were tasty and attractively served, and dinner for two with wine seldom exceeded $30.
At our time of travel in late March, we saw few Americans except in San Miguel de Allende. And the weather was outstanding: cool mornings and evenings complemented warm days. Altitude-sensitive travelers should be aware that all cities on our itinerary are at elevations over 6,000 feet.
Our hotels were clean, comfortable and included American breakfasts and complimentary bottled water in our rooms. My favorite hotel, although located away from the center, was Mision de los Angeles in San Miguel de Allende. Its manicured grounds and authentic decor made for a delightful stay. Also recommendable is the newly opened and very modern Hotel Santa Rita in Zacatecas. It is ideally situated opposite the Cathedral and Plaza de Armas.
This independent trip should appeal to travelers with a sense of adventure and an appreciation of history and culture. I found that a little bit of Spanish goes a long way here. People are kind, helpful and eager to please. Shoppers will have a field day perusing regional handicrafts: pottery, weavings, metalwork, straw items, leather goods, jewelry and colonial-style furniture.
Finally, Mexican highways are heavily traveled and delays caused by construction and tollbooths are common. Cities are gridlocked, and it can be difficult to see or read the street names.
However, watching the miles roll by from the comfort of our coach, we knew we had made the right decision.
Gayle Christensen is a travel consultant with Alamo World Travel in Alamo, Calif.
Mexico Adventures LTD