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Road trip from Cancun to Aquascalientes and Zacatecas

So what is it REALLY like to drive across Mexico? - by Scott Wilson

Join me on a road trip from Cancun to Central Mexico to a couple of famous cities named Zacatecas and Aguascalientes. I've documented the entire journey so you can see exactly what it is like. It took 26 hours to drive there and I did it in 2 days. Aguascalientes is 2,260 km from Cancun.

Most of the images are clickable so you can see a larger one

14-April-2004 3am - Depart Cancun

Click to see a larger image Since I am familiar with the roads south of Cancun along the Riviera Maya, I decided to depart at Oh Dark Hundred (3am). The idea was to gain as much daylight driving hours on unfamiliar roads. I had hoped to make Puebla by nightfall.

400km due south of Cancun is Chetumal, the Capital of Quintana Roo. The picture is a military checkpoint just past Chetumal. There were 10 military checkpoints on the entire trip. Click on any picture to expand it and see a more detailed view. The red line on the map below shows the route from Cancun to Aquascaliente and Zacateca.


Tabasco... It's 2 states to the left of Chetumal. Bananas seems to be the popular thing. It is a poor state as generally all the states in the south of Mexico are poorer than in the north. The roads are in fair shape and there is lots of construction as you approach the next state of Veracruz. The highway shown below is the main highway traveling through Tabasco. They are building more Autopistas (Interstate highways) through Tabasco so probably by 2006 it will be much faster to drive through.

There are lots of Banana trees in Tabasco. You can see them in the picture below on the right side of the highway.

Toll Booths

Sooner or later you will come across a toll booth where you have a chance to take a fast highway named the Cuota (AutoPista) rather than the slower free highways that go through the towns The tolls are very expensive. My total cost from Cancun to Aguascalientes from taking every possible AutoPista was about USD $90. Usually there is a sign that says Cuota or Libre (Pay or Free) and you can vector off to the toll road or free highway. In mountainous areas I recommend paying for the Cuota otherwise you will be stuck behind a large truck with 2 trailers going in first gear up a mountain for hours. Most of the Cutoa roads are in fabulous condition equal to, or better than, the InterStates in the USA... smooth pavement, reflectors on the highway for night driving, fences to prevent animals on the highway. The only thing they lack is reststops and food courts. Gas up whenever you see a PemEx gas station... they can be 100's of km apart.

Tabasco (continued)

Sugar seems to be a large crop in Tabasco. Below is a picture of a truck loaded with what appears to be small sticks, however, they are not sticks... it is the raw sugar cane. Note the old bus in front of us too. You will see a lot of them throughout Mexico belching black smoke. For those that are really sharp eyed, have a close look at the welded metal "grate" on the front of the truck. Those things are popular because if you run into a cow at night your truck won't be dented. Virtually all trucks have these specially welded grates.

Just before we get to the Veracruz border there is an Autopista which quickly speeds us out of Tabasco. The foothills of the mountains begin at the end of Tabasco.


Veracruz is the long and thin state in gray on the map to the left. It starts to get very mountainous as we get inland and head towards Puebla. The toll roads are more expensive from Veracruz to Puebla but it is well worth it. I took the regular free highways on the way back and found that it takes many hours driving in 1st and 2nd gear following the trucks just crawling up the "S" bends of the mountains. Rarely is there a chance to pass. You will see many tractor trailers hauling two trailers. Be extremely careful when passing as they are long.

Throughout Mexico there is only one type of gasoline station.... PeMex. All the stations are full service and have Magna (regular unleaded) and Premium (also unleaded). Diesel pumps are available too. The price of gas in April 2004 was MXP 6.10 per liter for Magna. That works out to about USD 54 cents a liter or roughly USD $2.16 per US gallon. Gas is 20% cheaper in Quintana Roo so gas up at the last station when passing around Chetumal before you enter.

Tabasco. Tip: The words for "fill 'er up" are: "llena de Magna por favor" (ye-nah dee Magna por favor). Tip the attendent 2 pesos if he cleans your windshield.

Veracruz is the name of the state and also the name of the capital. It is a large seaport as can be seen in the picture above.

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