The Roads, Cars & Driving
We wanted to see the area, the nature and also to drive out to Puerto Escondido, so we rented a car. This process was full of frustration.
Renting a car in Mexico is something that you have to research beforehand. Mexico has an obligatory requirement for a liability insurance policy (TPL) that is additional to the vehicle damage policy that comes with many US credit cards. Even reputable rental agencies will charge you a hidden insurance fee that’s double or triple compared to the rental quote, if you don’t pay attention to your booking. So that’s a thing to be aware about.
After hours of telephone calls and struggle, we ended up paying $360 for 7 days of car insurance in addition to our original rental quote, and got a Chevrolet Beat with a manual transmission, that looks like a pug.
Mexican roads are full of speed bumps aka Topes. Most of them have signs but some come up sneaking and unannounced, especially if you’re driving in the rural areas. They come in all shapes and sizes in places that only make sense to those who evoked them.
The abundant existence of Topes is however justified as Mexican drivers seem to ignore the speed limits and sometimes the red lights entirely, so in the absence of traffic police enforcement, they seem to be the only logical physical deterrent. They did drive us crazy though!
Money – Pro Tip
It’s easy to withdraw money from an ATM using an international debit card, however be aware of a shady practice! There is a currency conversion screen that pops up. Never hit “accept” the 6% markup ripoff, you can just decline this and the transaction will go through with your bank’s (probably much lower) conversion rate.
There are many small towns around Oaxaca in the Valles Centrales region known for their amazing textiles and other artisanias. We only had the time to visit a few of them – Mitla, Santiago Matatlan and the market at Tlacolula. The road passes through a couple of small towns: Yagui and Dainzu are famous for their archaeological Zapotec sites.
In Mitla – the “town of the dead” in Zapotec – you walk down the old cobblestone streets hearing the sound of the looms at work behind every door. Numerous colorful stores at the markets sell handmade treasures to the visitors and locals alike. Centuries old Zapotec ruins rest side by side with the colonial Catholic Churches built from the ancient stone. Numerous species of agave and cactus thrive under the dry sun at their feet.
The sun shines every day and the air is nice and fresh in the morning, settling into dusty dryness of the afternoon. Life goes on here just as it did a hundred years ago.
In the state of Oaxaca there are two main natural ecosystems one should visit: the beach and the cloud forest.
To see the beach we drove to Puerto Escondido. The road is a winding strip going through the series of mountain ranges and a cloud forest. The East Highway 175 is a narrow 2 lane road without shoulder that takes about 7.5 hours and has a lot of tourist traffic, roadside Comedores (little local eateries), Miscelaneas (product stores selling necessities) and gift stands. The West Highway 131 takes about the same and is less touristy and a bit more sketchy / in a state of disrepair, but has less Topes!
They are building a new more direct highway South of Oaxaca right now that would reduce the travel time to 2.5hrs, but who knows when that would be finished.
The beach in Puerto Escondido is indeed very beautiful. We’ve stayed in Zicatela that has a (very busy) great left surf wave. The place is abundant with nightlife and various eateries and tourists enjoying the endless summer.
10 minutes way from Zicatela there is a natural area surrounding Laguna de Naranjos. It was a gem we accidentally discovered – the place has crocodiles and tons and tons of shorebirds fishing at a beautiful wild beach.
READ NEXT: Oaxaca, Mexico. Part III
GO BACK: Oaxaca, Mexico. Part I