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Driving to La Barra

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Just got back from a serious road trip, showing a potential investor our watersports setup in Barra de Navidad. Since we have a certain number of questions regularly about driving in Mexico, I thought I would write up this trip to share it with the curious.
We drove down in a 94 Ford Ranger extended cab pick-up. Documentation required: Title, consent from financial institution if the car is financed. This can be faxed to the place you buy your Mexico auto insurance; they usually do not ask for it at the border. Your US
Where is La Barra de Navidad?
La Barra de Navidad is a resort town on the Mexican Pacific in the state of Jalisco. It's a few miles up the coastline from Manzanillo. That's south of Puerto Vallarta and north of Acapulco.
or Canadian insurance policy is not valid in Mexico. I normally recommend Sanborn's Mexican Insurance because of their reputation for claim service and their Travelog. However, look at your Travelog before you leave. For the second straight time, we got less than half the route guides we needed. We were also recommended a route that was a bad one, but more about that later.
With only one or two people, driving is not cheaper than flying or the super-busses. For one thing, gasoline runs about US$1.60 a gallon as of this writing. For another, the toll roads are almost unbelievably expensive. But if there is a toll road, take it. Toll roads are marked either "cuota" or as "Autopistas". The alternative is almost always unacceptable, with you forever stuck on curves behind trucks going 20-25 miles per hour! And the very first toll road is from Nuevo Laredo to Monterrey. It costs $118.00 pesos, or US$15.28. The first two-thirds of the trip are fairly dull; the countryside an extension of South Texas with a few Joshua trees thrown in. But about the time you reach the Sabinas Hidalgo exit, you are into the predominant Mexican terrain of mountains.
Just past the Monterrey airport and just before you get to Monterrey proper, you will see the exit for Highway 40 to Saltillo. The toll for this stretch is $51.00 pesos or US$6.61. It is very mountainous, but a lot of strip mining goes on near the roadside, filling the air with dust.
Be very careful when you reach Saltillo. The signs for Highway 54 are very easy to miss. Keep your navigator alert. Once you're on highway 54 to Zacatecas, you'll have a little additional climb out of Saltillo and then be on the high desert. This highway is mostly extremely straight. Although only a two-lane road, it is easy to maintain a high rate of speed. This long stretch of high desert features some almost unbelievable whirlwinds! At almost any time driving this stretch, you can see one or more huge whirlwinds skittering across the desert floor. One we saw, an inverted cone, reached all the way up into the clouds! I suspect that these are big enough to push your car around pretty badly, so try to time yourself so that you don't intersect one crossing the highway!
And here we come to the route selection I didn't like. The girl at Bravo Insurance, the Sanborn's outlet in Laredo, recommended looping from Zacatecas through Aguascalietes and then to Guadalajara in order to take advantage of the Autopistas. However, far less than half the route had Autopistas, and with the extra distance, there was no savings in time at all. The tolls totaled N$131.00 or about US$17.00. We did not make that mistake going back!
From Guadalajara to Colima there is a very pretty stretch going past the lakes. The sight of a picturesque Mexican village reflected in the lake is very pleasing to the eye! The toll for this stretch is $46.00 pesos, or about US$6.00. A portion of the toll road is two lane, but still a time-saver. There is an additional $40.00 pesos (US$5.18) toll at the end of the toll road in Manzanillo and a toll of $17.00 pesos (US$2.20) if you wish to take the bypass around Manzanillo. From there to Barra de Navidad, it's a nice drive through coconut groves with bananas and mangos growing beneath the palms.
The route back duplicated the route down with one exception. From Guadalajara to Zacatecas, we stayed on Highway 54. Going out of Guadalajara, you pass through one of the prettiest canyons I have ever seen. Jungle shrouded mountains; waterfalls galore, including on I estimate at 800 ft high! The world's largest water park is also on this stretch of road! The mountains are steep and plentiful; when I go back down in a couple of weeks towing my compressor, I'll probably avoid this route, but I sure will miss it!
This trip report may be just a bit sketchy; if you're planning to drive down, e-mail me (USHARKBAIT@aol.com) and I'll try to flesh it out for you and even recommend some hotels. In the meantime, bon voyage!

John M. Williams
PADI Scuba Instructor

May 1996

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