Travel Bucket List - Mexico and Central America

Striking Places Off My Travel Bucket List

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El Chepe – the train that runs through Mexico’s Copper Canyon.

It’s time to reveal my tentative travel itinerary. I say tentative because I never really know what my route will be. Some places, I definitely want to visit; others are potential destinations and still others are only “if I have time.” I generally have a hotel or hostel reserved for the first few nights, but after that I just go where the wind blows me and figure out travel arrangements as I go.

Sites that are high on my priority list this time around are taking the train through Copper Canyon (Barranca del Cobre) to spend time among the Tarahumara Indians and visiting the Yucatan capital of Merida, both in Mexico, as well as hiking the Inca Trail to Macchu Pichu in Peru, and visiting the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador.

Several of my fellow digital nomads will simultaneously be doing long-term travel in South America and/or Central America and I hope to cross paths with some of them along the way; there’s even talk of a meet-up at Macchu Pichu. Since my plans are fluid, I’m open to any suggestions you may have for places along the way that are worth investigating or should not be missed, or any comments with regard to my schedule (if, for instance, a particular plan to go from one place to another by bus would be too long for a single day’s trip). So, without further ado, here’s my current travel bucket list itinerary:

  • Fly to Mazatlan Mexico (5 nights)
  • Ferry across the Sea of Cortez to Baja; stay in La Paz and Todos Santos (6 nights)
  • Ferry back across the Sea of Cortez to Los Mochis (1 day, stay overnight)
  • Take the Copper Canyon train from Los Mochis to Bahuichivo (4 nights)
  • Get back on the train to Divisadero, perched on the 9,000 ft. high rim overlooking Copper Canyon floor. Tarahumara Indians live all through the area. Women and children can be found at the train station fixing gorditas and burritos on steel drum stoves and selling handicrafts at the station and the hotels. Solitude, great hiking and breathtaking views. (2 nights)
  • Get back on the train to Creel. Day trips to an Indian reservation containing a rock formation called Valley of the Mushrooms, the tiny village of San Ignacio with a 400-year-old mission and Lake Arereco. (2 nights)

Wildlife of Galapagos Islands

  • Side trip to Batopilas, an 80 mile drive south of Creel. The area is inhabited by Tarahumara indians living in small cabins and caves in the surrounding mountains. With the Rio Batopilas flowing right through town and steep mountains along both sides of the river, there’s room for just one narrow street, made of cobblestones and lined with old stores and houses. About 1,000 people live here. Highlights include a five mile trip to to the small town and lost mission in Satevo, the ruins of the silver mining operation that dominated the region before the Mexican Revolution and the chance to walk deep into the mountains through old mind shafts nearly 100 years old. (2 nights)
  • Possible side trip to Basaseachic Falls within Basaseachic National Park, which covers a spectacular part of Candameña Canyon. The Basaeachic Cascade is the second highest waterfall in Mexico and the 28th in the world. (3 nights)
  • From Creel, make my way by bus to central Mexico via either Chihuahua, Hidalgo de Parral, or Cuauhtemoc to Zacatecas. (2 nights)
  • Aguascalientes (maybe), Ganajuato (definitely), San Miguel de Allende (definitey), Queretaro (definitely). About 2 weeks in central Mexico.
  • Bus to Mexico City, side bus trip to ruins at Teotihuacan; check to sees if it too late to see Monarch butterflies (3 nights)
  • Bus to Cordoba (overnight)
  • Bus to Xalapa/Veracruz, (2 nights)
  • Bus to Coatzacoalcos (overnight)
  • Bus to Palenque & ruins (thru Villahermosa) (2 nights)
  • Bus through Campeche, then divert inland to Uxmal Ruins 2 (nights)
  • Bus to Merida, tour Chichen Itza ruins and Il Kil Cenote. A little further east at Valladolid, see Cenote Zaci, Dzitnup Cenote, & Ek Balam. (4-5 nights)
  • Bus to Cancun, tour ruins & see the local side of the island, 3-4 nights at CasaMagna Cancun Marriott Resort. Possible side trip to Isla Mujeres. (4-5 nights)
  • Bus to Playa del Carmen; side trips to Tulum ruins & Cozumel. (3-4 nights)
  • Bus into Costa Maya, visit Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, Majahual, Quintana Roo, Bacalar & Lake of 7 Colors. (5-6 nights)
  • Bus to Chetumal, overnight
  • Hire taxi to cross over into Belize to Corozal, bus to Belize City. Visit Altun Ha ruins, cave tubing, Cockcomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary (world’s first jaguar preserve). (4 nights)
  • Ka’ana Resort & Spa, western Belize. (4 nights)
  • Overland to Flores, Guatemala to see Tikal Ruins (2 nights)
  • Fly to Guatemala City, onward to Antigua (4 nights)
  • Fly Guatemala City to Cusco, Peru; stay 5 nights to acclimate to altitude before hiking Inca trail to Macchu Pichu for 4 days
  • Train to Nazca, Peru, air tour to see the Nazca lines. (2 nights)
  • Bus to Paracas, Peru, see natural bay known as Galapagos of Peru. (3 nights)
  • Bus to Lima. (4-5 nights)
  • Fly from Lima to Tumbes, Peru. (4 nights)
  • Bus from Tumbes, Peru to Loja, Ecuador. Take pick-up truck taxi right from the bus terminal or off of the main square to Izhcayluma Eco-Hotel in Vilcabamba. (3 nights)
  • Fly from Loja to Guayaquil, Ecuador (2 nights)
  • Fly to Galapagos Islands. (2 nights)
  • Return to Guayaquil and fly home

Photo credits: Copper Canyon: einalem; Macchu Pichu: Brad.Stevens

24 Comments on “Striking Places Off My Travel Bucket List

  1. Hi, agree with the point above – 4/5 days in Lima is a long time. There is stuff to do… only there is better stuff to do elsewhere in Peru that is more rewarding. Likewise 4 days in Tumbes is a very long time – you’re better going to Mancora or one of the quiter northern beaches if that is your thing.

    Also I would very very highly recommend Trujillo, Chiclayo and Chachapoyas, particularly if cultural history and ruins is your thing. Machu Picchu gets all the glory, but Tucume, Kuelap and Chan Chan are just as rewarding.

  2. Just out of curiosity. If you were to stay in one place where would it be ? I’m heading to Mexico to relax. Would like to be in a nice safe place that is also fun.

    • Hi Sheerene: Now that’s a question I can’t answer, because I can never see myself in one place all year round. But it would definitely be outside the U.S.

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  4. Hi Barbara,

    I really like reading your traveling posts. I have been backpacking around south-east asia for three months and when i go for my next long backpacking trip i will go around the world.

    Have you ever stayed at an cheap hostel in New york? In manhattan or brooklyn maybe?

    Best Regards Billy

    • Hi Billy: New York is a tough one, as even the hostels are expensive and
      some of the lower priced ones don’t get very good reviews. However, I stayed
      at Hotel 17 in Manhattan this past summer and got a private room with shared
      bathroom for around $99 per night, as I recall. Nice place, great
      neighborhood, and not too bad for NYC. Hope that helps.

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  6. What a great sounding trip. 4 to 5 days in Lima strikes me as a long time. You may want to consider a visit to Arequipa in the south of Peru – a beautiful colonial Spanish city with a superb and photgenic old convent among other things. Food for thought anyway.

  7. I’d love to see a bit more of South America after my trip to Ecuador – just didn’t get time to see the Galapagos though. Hope your Spanish is good – or it probably will be by the time you’ve finished.

  8. A lot of us are really looking forward to following your travel adventure – vicariously, at least. I love Cancun, and I’ve never been to the Galapagos. You’re going to have an amazing experience!

    • Hi Jen: Yes, I’m excited. Since returning from my RTW in mid-2007, I’ve been traveling stateside so I could build the blog, but now it’s time to get back out there. I come back the end of June for TBEX, then 2 months in the states before I go back out for another 5 months, beginning with the World Expo in China. Then Nepal, Bhutan , Burma, Malaysia, Thailand (my 4th time – I love it there), a month in Laos, Borneo, Papua New Guinea, maybe even some South Pacific if there’s time. All on a shoestring, so should be doubly interesting. Thanks for following me around the world! Helps to know people will be reading. And maybe it will convince other baby boomers that it’s never too late to change your life.

  9. I love the idea of a fluid itinerary – so different from most of our daily lives. But, then, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it! Can you share some of your packing tips with us? I struggle every trip with what & how to pack – I’m getting a little better, but still not great at paring down. :-)

  10. we are really looking forward to see your adventures. these are all places we wished to have included in our RTW trip but unfortunately, for a matter of budget, we had to skip it so we can’t wait to see what’s like, so jealous :-)

  11. What a wonderful trip you have to look forward to – I can see that you’ve done a lot of research & given a lot of thought to your itinerary. Make sure you’ve got binoculars & a good bird book – you should see lots of amazing birds, especially in Belize! I have to agree with Leigh about the Galapagos – even tho I’ve not yet been, my first reaction was, “Only 2 night?” Maybe because it’s high on MY Bucket List. Look sooo forward to your reports!

    • Suzi: Yes, I’ve taken the advice of previous commenters and boosted my stay in Galapagos to 5 days now. It is a fluid itinerary, so I’m sure I’ll probably be way off it by the time I’m 3 weeks into the journey :-) Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment!

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  13. Barbara, I’m looking forward to reading about your Copper Canyon experience as that’s on my list too. Will you be traveling to the Sacred Valley while in Peru? My travel friends have visited during “elevation acclimation” time. I admire your hike to Macchu Pichu. I’m afraid my fear of heights will keep me away from that experience. Happy Travels!

  14. Hi Barbara,
    I made similar plans last year (only Mexico though). Unfortunately it didn’t work out, but I still plan to go. A friend of mine gave me a tip if ever I would visit Mexico it would be worth the little trek to Real de Catorce. I don’t know if you are interested. He wrote the following to me:

    …Real is a very special place and thankfully not on the tourist radar at all. Not sure if you looked around at some of the other videos on that site but I shot another one in Real a couple of years ago during Semana Santa which, with its usual Mexican fervor on Good Friday, is pretty much a lovely spectacle:

    http://www.veoh.com/browse/videos/category/entertainment/watch/v405559ggHnxwSG

    If you ever decide to trek to Real, let me know because I have very good friends there: Humberto is Mexican and his wife, Cornelia is Swiss (!); both absolutely the best and they run a little eight room hotel…

    here is Humberto in Real:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/shadowplay/1243916/

    Unfortunately I can’t access his video – I suspect it’s my lousy Internet connection. Maybe it works from your place.

    Anyway, thought I let you know:)

    Have a wonderful trip!

    • Hi Fida: I was able to access the video, but only the first minute would play. Looks like a cute little town. Unfortunately I don’t think I’ll be in that area, but you never know. I’ll save the info just in case, because I do tend to wander off my itinerary a lot! If I decide to go I’ll email you. Hadn’t really thought about the fact that I’ll be in Mexico for Semana Santa, so glad you reminded me of that. Should be a special week.

  15. Hi Barbara,
    Looked through your itinerary and would suggest spending more time in the Galapagos and less time in Guayacil and Cusco. You’ve allowed alot of time for altitude acclimatization but probably more that you actually need. Buy some Diamox (altitude drug of choice)ahead of time so you have drugs if get altitude sickness (everyone handles altitude very differntly) and give yourself a few days but from what I’ve heard there are more interesting places than Cusco.

    I went to the Galapagos last year and the flights will likely have you in there around noonish. You can head to a hotel on San Cristobal and go out from there but you will be short changing yourself as you will miss out on too many of the Galapagos highlights. With only 2 nights planned you would have only 1 full day to see the islands and it will set you back $400+ for a ticket + park fes just to get there…You’re not likely to go back ever so make these incredible islands truly worth your while. The snorkeling experiences were highlights and are some of the best I’ve had in the world. What a great way to end your trip too!
    Check out my free Galapagos guide and Columbus travel in Ecuador can book you a boat in any price range over any number of days and will give you sage advice on the best way to use your limited time.

    • Hi Leigh:
      Based on your comments, I’m modifying my schedule to only spend 2 nights in Cusco, and instead going to Lake Titicaca after hiking to Macchu Pichu. Thanks so much for your suggestions. Much appreciated. I’ll also find a way to spend more time in the Galapagos. I suspect I will not be staying quite as long in some of the central Mexico towns I’ve researched, so will have extra time at the end of the trip.
      Barbara

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