TAMPICO TO MINATITLAN
Today will involve what are probably the worst roads of the entire journey and there is no way to avoid them. However, in the four years that we have driven this first section of day 2 the roads HAVE improved drastically. The local government is trying to keep up with new paving projects. From now on the probability of topes is more and more frequent. Be aware that virtually every small village will have topes or vibradores at each end of town and quite often here and there throughout town. Don't rely on all topes to be signposted!!! When approaching even the smallest built up area, be safe and slow down to a speed that will allow you to come to a stop quickly. Your vehicle will thank you.
This section of road is why we choose to stay overnight in Tampico. We prefer to drive it while we are fresh in the morning.
The highway out of Tampico and heading to Tuxpan is Hwy 180 and it is 2 lanes all the way to Tuxpan. The scenery is spectacular but the road is a narrow two lane with virtually no shoulders and is very curvy as it winds up and down the mountains. The best bet is to just sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery. You WILL, eventually, end up behind a convoy of vehicles who are stuck behind a slow moving truck, but just be patient and eventually everyone ahead of you will get past the truck and then it will be your turn to take a deep breath and make your move to pass.
The trip through the mountains will take about 3 hours and once past Tuxpan things get continually better.
As you approach Tuxpan on Hwy 180, be very watchful for many more HIGH topes!! (Hint. If you are driving a vehicle with low ground clearance, this area is a good place to practice crossing the topes at an angle instead of head on. You will see a lot of locals doing that in this area) Once in town you will be driving along the river and will see a large bridge that crosses the river. You want to get onto that bridge. You will have to pass underneath the bridge and stay in the left lane. At the first traffic light after the bridge you will turn left and follow the signs to Poza Rica, Veracruz and Mexico.
Peter and Linda found a "bypass" around the topes and potholes of Tuxpan, as noted below. I did some looking and I believe the next map shows this bypass. It appears that the street to look for is called Adolfo Lopez Mateos. (WAIT!!! Are we back in Tampico????)
Dave describes the route through Tuxpan that follows the river. There is an alternative that is much easier and cuts about 90% of the topes and has less traffic. Believe it or not Tuxpan has a ‘bypass’. Having driven it I find this description rather misleading. It is essentially a back way to get to downtown and the bridge. You pass through about 4 stoplights and go past the bus station. Coming from Tampico you will see a Pemex on your left at the very northern end of Tuxpan. The road curves to the right as you pass the Pemex. Immediately past the Pemex turn left onto the bypass. After taking the left turn the road curves to the right and you are on your way. Keep going on this road. After about 10 minutes you will see a sign for Poza Rica on your right. Turn right at this sign then go about 100 yards and turn right at the junction. You will go up and curve to the left taking you onto the bridge across the river.
There is a very nice Hotel in Tuxpan and it is very easy to find. We have stayed there several times. Most of the rooms are actually little "casitas" with a little private parking spot. Not unlike the older motels from the 50's. In the picure above, it indicates to stay in the left lane and turn left. If you would like to stop in Tuxpan, stay in the right lane and drive along the river for about 4 miles. Hotel Rio Paraiso is on the right. the property is brightly painted in yellow, orange and purple. It has 2 nice pools and an excellent restaurant and bar. When you leave the next morning, just turm left and head back to the bridge and make a right at the traffic lights immediately before the bridge.
After leaving Tuxpan you will be on a nice 4 lane highway for about an hour. Once the 4 lane highway ends just follow the signs to Veracruz on Hwy 180. The next stretch is once again 2 lane but is in much better condition and much less hilly that the previous stretch between Tampico and Tuxpan. You will travel along the gulf coast for a while and will go through the Costa Esmeralda, which is an interesting, lively "tourist area" for the local Mexicans. It is a great place to stop for lunch if you feel inclined.
After passing through the Costa Esmeralda you will start climbing up into the mountains again, but the road is in great condition. After about an hour of mountain driving Hwy 180 turns into another 4 lane highway heading towards Veracruz. Parts of this highway are cuota (toll). I recommend taking a toll road whenever the opportunity arises. They are faster, smoother and have no topes.
On the way to Veracruz you will pass by a town called Cardel. About 15 km past Cardel you will see an overhead sign indicating an exit to a cuota road to Cordoba. Take that exit. It is an easy way to bypass the city of Veracruz.
Once you have passed by Veracuz the cuota bypass road runs into the Autopista (another toll road) to Cordoba, Hwy 150, which you need to take.
Once on the Autopista road to Cordoba, after about 50 km, there will be an exit to Cosamaloapan/Coatzacoalcos/Villahermosa on Hwy 145. You need to take that exit.
This highway is also a cuota road and it takes you all the way to Minatitlan, the destination for day 2. As peter observes below, this road can be in bad shape in the early parts. Our experience is that road conditions change from season to season and year to year. The section that was good last year will be repaired this year and some other part will have deteriorated.
For the first 30/40 miles the road surface is terrible so expect to see cars cross between lanes looking to find the best road surface. You quickly get into pineapple country – try a jug – there are many, many vendors on the roadside…only 15 pesos and it’s the best thing since sliced bread!!
There are 3 exits for Minatitlan. The first and third are both extensions of the same road. The middle exit is the one to the airport. I recommend using the third exit as it makes access to the hotel very easy. Below is a rough outline of the layout of the main road in Minatitlan with the location of the only excellent hotel in town. There is a Bodega Aurrera located about 3 blocks from the hotel, an easy walk, in case you need to stock up on anything for the hotel room. (like adult beverages!) I recommend walking since it took me until my 5th visit to Minatitlan to figure out which lane to get into to get back to the hotel easily. (lots of raised medians)
The third exit to Minatitlan is not very well signposted. After you have passed the exit to the aeropuerto you will see this pedestrian overpass. The first exit after it is the one you need to take.
The trip from Tampico to Minatitlan starts off slowly on poor roads but soon improves and ends up on cuota roads where the speed limit is 110 km/hr. As a rough guide, day two usually takes about 10 hrs.
Day 3 Minatitlan to Merida/Progreso