This article was first posted on Yolisto by "Lola" on June 30, 2012
Merida Bound…via Laredo
This will be a long post about our travel route from Laredo to Merida that started on June 4, 2012. This detailed account may be TMI for many, so I am starting it as a new post. However, I must begin with a huge shout out to the many, many contributors whose Yolisto posts we gulped down, seared into our memories and later integrated into our precise plans. Additional thanks to the posts by numerous folks whose blogs we follow…like a religion. One particular article was immensely helpful, Yucatan Living, Driving Through Mexico by Dr. Steven Fry. This preface is important, because it is the collective experiences of many that will guide you on the travel adventure to this great city!
OK, a bit about us, so you can adjust accordingly! We are recently retired English-only speaking newlyweds making our permanent move to Merida with two dogs (a Golden puppy and older Chi, both crated during drive time) and enough possessions to get by for up to one year (our household will follow when our house construction is finished). We drove down in our late model Jeep Wrangler with no extended cargo or rooftop luggage….yep, we traveled light for such a duration! In fact, we had lots of extra room, and I wish I had brought more stuff. Oh, by the way, I am super organized (anal-retentive according to Freud), but, hey that makes for a great co-pilot.
This is the prep section…start a notebook (see Freud comment) and put everything in it….3 copies of everything you ever needed to get anything, anywhere – that should do it. Make and print out all hotel reservation confirmations and precise address of the hotels. I also had sections in our book for auto insurance (US and MX…must get this before you go), in route emergency contacts, important travel translations, pup papers, etc., etc. I also made sure we had our cell and bank cards set to work in MX. In addition to our notebook, we purchased (from Amazon) the 2012 Guia Roji Mexico maps and highlighted the route page by page (the Ruta section in the back of the map book is great…location of Pemex and toll stations and it even includes the amount of tolls, although the cost has gone up a few pesos at each toll stop since the map was published). Now (drumroll, please), the absolute best thing we did was purchase the MX map for our TomTom…a lifesaver to find the hotels in the big cities where we stopped each evening. Yes, the MX TomTom maps (TeleNav is the publisher of the maps) worked throughout the trip and have been great even now as we navigate around Merida!
Day 1 - 7:00 a.m. June 4, 2012…awe, we are so excited! After a comfortable night at the LaQuinta (I-35 Laredo, US), we are ready to cross the border headed to Saltillo. The room at LaQuinta was fine, dogs welcome, and they have a security person on staff at night. We thought we were so smart, cross at Bridge II, like the old timers, as they say. Well, ha, not so smart for us. We needed to stop for our tourist visa and car tag and the location for Mexican immigration in Nuevo Laredo, from Bridge II. is not marked….at all! After a very, very trying effort, we found it…but someone else out there needs to pinpoint this location for future travelers or advise to cross at Bridge I as perhaps there are some directions at that crossing…???. The crossing itself was a breeze for us – we got into the “nothing to declare” line, got a green light at the gate (meaning we were not pulled over and our docs or contents checked) and off we went. We really did have nothing to declare, so it was legit to get in this line for us. If you have stuff to declare, I would suggest not taking chances and get into the declaration line - when we crossed, that line was quite long! If you are not sure if you have something to declare, I suggest checking out the guidelines from official sites and various posts on Yolisto, other forums, and blogs. Final note here…if you insist on crossing at Bridge II but must stop at immigration, after cleared with a green light, follow the only road out, turn left at the first corner (a money exchange is on the corner), go straight through 2-3 stops signs and, I think, 2 flashing lights and take the left loop around, back under the bridge and then you will see signs for immigration. Immigration is between Bridge I and II. Even with all my diligence and research, we never found good directions in advance for immigration…urgh!
Oh well, so much for being in Saltillo for a swim….I can only say, it was a good thing we only planned to go 185 miles into the interior (Highway 85 and 85D) on Day 1 as our mix-up to find immigration and the time it took to get our visas and auto registration set us back about 5 hours. Even with the delays, we arrived in Saltillo, at a very quaint resort, El Morillo, in time for happy hour! Saltillo is known as the Denver of MX and the weather was cool and crisp – you know you are at high altitude when one shot of tequila is enough! Our dogs were welcome, the accommodations were comfortable and secure, staff friendly, and we had a made to order dinner.
We seriously debated the foolishness of only driving 185 miles from the border on our first day, but it was the best decision and really made the rest of the trip much easier. We were a lot more confident about the roads, speed, mountain driving, gas stops, etc. Traveling with dogs also makes a difference…they were as stressed out about being stuck at immigration for 5 hours as we were! We ALL needed that break!
I must insert that we did get stopped one time on day one at a federal checkpoint. The official was rather intimidating, covered in military wear and mask – eyes only visible. However, he was very nice, and frankly, I think he just wanted to see the Jeep. We only had to produce our MX car registration and then we were on our way.
I’m going to bundle Day 2 and 3 here as they were almost the same. Up early, hit the road – all the way we stuck to the Federal highways and toll roads – 40D, 57, 57D, Arco Norte around Mexico City, 150D (always take the bypasses…see Dr. Fry’s article referenced above). We stayed in LaQuinta in San Luis Potosi night 2 and LaQuinta Puebla night 3. Both were just fine, accept dogs, and places to get dinner close by. Note, LaQuinta policy is that you cannot leave the dogs in the room alone….so we missed exploring the night life in these cities, but still the stays were comfortable and secure. As to the travel on day 2 and 3, it is mountainous, but spectacular in places. We were very fortunate to miss any active construction (see Yolista postings from The Boys).
Day 4 up early and headed to Villahermosa where we had reservations at the Hilton. Leave Puebla on 150D to 145D to 180D/180/180D and ultimately to 186. Finding the hotel was a bit tricky…as we thought once we left the city that we must have missed the hotel, not so! If you make your reservation in advance, your confirmation will include directions. You just have to trust those directions and in our case, the TomTom! The Hilton was very nice. We joined the Hilton Club at the time we made the reservation, and we were upgraded to a 5-room suite. The pups loved it more than we did…some room to move! We enjoyed happy hour in the bar and dinner in the restaurant. Yes, a bit more expensive than hot dogs at the Pemex, but a bargain all-in-all.
Day 5, final stretch to Merida. Options are to go 186 and cut over to 180 or navigate to 180 to Merida (see Dr. Fry’s article). We elected to go 180 and glad we did. It was a great drive. From hugging the coast to seeing those Merida signs…heaven! There is some construction coming into Merida, but that is all good, right? We were eagerly patient (a contradiction, but true) as we were almost home. When our TomTom said we had 30 minutes before reaching our Centro destination, we called the property manager to meet us with some cold beers, and right on schedule, we pulled up to the house!
OK. Some folks have sent messages and asked me about trip costs…hotels were $60-100 US per night. Hotel charges for the dogs, Laredo and Villahermosa, about $50 US. Tolls were around $100 US (you must have pesos! We took several thousand pesos with us from US as we paid for hotels, gas, tolls, food, stops, etc. with pesos). Gas was about $2.80 per gallon US for regular (we paid in pesos). For our Jeep, gas from US border to Merida was about $175 US.
Some have also asked about being stopped at Federal checkpoints/Puebla police and about leaving your stuff in your car at overnight stops. We were stopped at 3 checkpoints; no other incidents of being pulled over. The checkpoint stops were all short and the only thing checked was our MX auto registration. As to overnight hotel stops, we felt fine leaving everything in the car…not the norm for me, for sure!
Safe travels to others taking the plunge!