Trip Coach: January 8, 2008
David Baird, co-author of "Frommer's Mexico 2008," answered your questions about planning a trip to Mexico's colonial cities and off-the-beaten path locations in southern Mexico and the Yucatán.
David Baird: Hello, this is David Baird. I'm going to be around for the next hour to answer your questions about interior and southern Mexico. My, my, my. A lot of questions have been pouring in this morning. I'll tackle those I am best qualified answer, and we'll see how far we can get today.
Princeton, N.J.: I believe I have read of a food wash that will render Mexican raw products safe for eating by Americans. Can you help me?
David Baird: There are various products out there for disinfecting fruits and vegetables. All of them are made with either chlorine or iodine. In the U.S., you can find them at backpacking outfitters, but it's easier and cheaper to pick them up once you get to Mexico since Mexican cooks use them all the time. The most popular brand is Microdine (pronounced mee-crow-DEE-neh). You can find it at supermarkets, convenience stores, and in some drug stores. A lot of people will use this to disinfect any produce that they can't peel or cook. Some even will dip mangos and avocadoes under the theory that the knife blade can contaminate the flesh when it cuts through the skin. I'm not that careful, but I have friends who are.
Duxbury, Mass.: We will be in Mexico City in February for three days and then plan to take a bus to Guanajuato. We don't speak Spanish and would like to buy the tickets in advance, if possible. Can we do that?
David Baird: Yes, you can buy tickets in advance. As long as you're not traveling on a holiday weekend, you shouldn't have any problem getting tickets to Guanajuato. February holidays are La Candelaria on Feb. 2, and Día de la Bandera on Feb. 24. Both fall on Saturday or Sunday this year, so they won't make for long weekends. My advice would be to buy tickets on the bus line called ETN. It offers "servico ejecutivo," which is above first class. Seats are bigger and more comfortable and there are several other perks. It's superior to any bus service I've tried in the U.S. The easiest option would be to buy the tickets once you're in Mexico City. There are many travel agencies there that sell bus tickets so you don't have to go to the bus station. Ask at your hotel for the closest one. Two days in advance would be more than enough cushion. I was in the Guanajuato bus station a couple of months ago and counted 10 ETN buses per day from Mexico City. Your other option is to buy your tickets online by going to etn.com.mx but this is fraught with complications. I've done this before and ended up with a very confused ticket agent, who couldn't seem to locate my online purchase. Better to buy once you get to Mexico City. To go to Guanajuato you'll want to leave from Mexico City's north bus station, called "Central del Norte." Sometimes it can be a problem getting a taxi from the Guanajuato bus station so schedule your trip to arrive in daylight (travel time is about 5 hours). And remember that dates are always formatted dd—mm—yyyy.
Valparaiso, Ind.: My husband are traveling to Ixtapa in February and are unsure if we need to rent a car. Is it safe to drive to Acapulco or Taxco from Ixtapa?
David Baird: Yes, it is safe to drive to Acapulco and from there up to Taxco, but that would be a long drive, and not necessarily a pleasant one. Once you make it to Taxco, having a car becomes a liability because of the narrow streets and lack of parking. Make sure you start out early and be prepared to walk a lot once you get to Taxco (and the walking is all up and down there). If you're not dead set on Taxco but want to see a little bit of colonial Mexico, I would advise you to head in the opposite diretion. There's a new super highway that connects Ixtapa with the highlands of Michoacán. It has made traveling to the colonial cities of Pátzcuaro and Morelia much faster and easier than going to Taxco. Personally, I find these cities more interesting than Taxco. From Ixtapa to Pátzcuaro in a car is about 5 hours. And, if you would rather not drive, you can catch buses to these destinations.
Raleigh, N.C.: We're looking into a trip to Holbox Island. What's the quickest, cheapest way to get there? Thanks!
David Baird: The fastest way is to fly to Cancún, rent a car and take the fast toll road 180 towards Mérida. You need to take the exit closest to the state line, which divides Quintana Roo from Yucatán. I remember the closest exit is a little after the state line and called Nuevo Xcan. From there you backtrack along the old Federal Highway 180 with all its speed bumps until you get to the crossroads called El Ideal. You go north on Hwy. 5 through Kantunilkin to the coastal town of Chiquilá, where you can park your car and take the ferry to Holbox. You won't need a car when you're on the island, and the parking is only $3 or $4 per day. The duration of the trip depends on the state of the road between Chiquila and El Ideal. When there are a lot of potholes it slows you down.