Motorcycle Travel Blog Mexico: The Other Side

Three months and 10,000kms through a country people warned us was too dangerous to ride… Welcome to Mexico!

Motorcycle Adventure Travel in Mexico - Mad or Nomad

This travel blog recounts our motorcycle adventure through Mexico in 2024 as part of our round the world trip. To read more stories from our travels check out Our Adventures

Motorcycle Travel Blog Mexico

Don’t go…

We’re huddled in a circle with a bunch of Mexican bikers on the ferry from Baja to mainland Mexico. In broken Spanish we ask about a remote route we want to take shortly after landing. They shake their heads and after a few minutes reach their conclusion: “Very bad road. Big problem. Don’t go.”

Our faces light up. We have been in Baja for the last few weeks. It’s like a soft introduction to Mexico with lots of American tourists in the main towns, but now we want to get stuck into the real thing – mainland Mexico. We roll down the ramp on our Honda CRFs and head straight for the “Devil’s Backbone.”

Cowboys

Apparently, the Devil’s Backbone is one of the world’s most dangerous roads because of its steep drops, hundreds of tight hairpins and drug running. But a new paid highway runs alongside it now, there are fewer people and trucks barrelling around blind corners in the wrong lane. Maybe it was once rough, but today it feels like any other pretty mountain road.

Either way, it isn’t even the road the bikers were worried about. It’s tomorrow’s ride – the much less travelled Route 23 that’s the “big problem”. Google refuses to calculate a route for us, so we write down the village names, fill our emergency petrol can up and see what Mexico has to offer.

The country unravels the higher we climb. Trees carpet the valley below and we spot our lonely road twirling its way through before disappearing over a mountain in the distance. The further in we ride the more the road crumbles away. Large chunks of asphalt are missing and the bits that are left are peppered in pot holes. Huge boulders litter the road from landslides and we find either a crater or a couple of donkeys standing in the middle of each turn.

We pass hard working Mexican vaqueros (cowboys) covered in dust, with cool hats, thick moustaches and dark leather skin. It’s a different sight from the cowboys we saw in the US strutting down the street in Ray Bans and shiny spurs. But soon, all the cars, people and villages disappear as the 23 lures us deeper into the remote Sierra Madre Occidental Mountain range.

A warm welcome

We stop for food in the first village we find in hours. We smile and wave but don’t receive either in return. The men are in old hats and boots and the women in tattered but colourful clothes. We step into a wooden shack, sit down on the only two chairs and ask for tacos. Locals take turns poking their heads through the doorway to look at us.

We step outside to find a small crowd around our bikes. An older gentleman walks up to me and says some words I can’t quite catch. I say some words back and he extends his hand to shake mine. After the shake he smiles and walks away. Happy with that, everyone else wanders off too. We assume he just gave us the all clear for the rest of Mexico…

Mexico Motorcycle Travel

Cheese and wine

It takes four days to get out of the mountains and reach a bigger town. We check our messages to find an email from a Mexican chap offering us a place to stay if we pass by. One night turns into a week with Pablo and Gabriella. They cook us delicious food, we visit their favourite restaurants and they even prepare a surprise wine and cheese night after we mentioned it’s what we miss from home. 

Our hosts also introduce us to our first Pueblo Magico (Magic Town), which we instantly fall in love with. We quickly decide that this is how we would ride through Mexico: by pinning magic towns on our map and linking them up via the most remote roads we can find.

Mexican Magic

The next magic town on our route is Tequila (worth a shot). We load up on ‘supplies’ and chase the next one. They just keep getting better and better. They’re little explosions of colour, culture, cobbled streets, cafes and coffee shops. All the towns have a plaza (main square) and they’re packed with food stalls selling tacos, tostadas, pancakes, ice creams and churros. Families stroll around late into the night as that’s when these towns really come alive. We can’t help but sample something from each stall before collapsing on a bench to watch the vibrant nightlife pass us by.

As we walk back down a dark and empty street to our hotel, a man shouts something at us. Our reply in Spanish immediately gives it away that we’re not from around here. So, he invites us into his home and we spend the rest of the evening meeting his family and sipping lemon tea.

Into the mountains we go

We love the riding in Mexico. All the quaint little back roads and twisties connecting gorgeous towns and their delicious food stops are addictive. But our Honda CRF300Ls have been waiting patiently for us to have our fill so they can finally get back onto the rough stuff. So, we plot an off-road route across a mountain range as a thank you. You know it’s going to be good when Google says there’s no road…

We head to the magic town of Bernal and fill our bags with enough water and cheesy bread to last us the next few nights camping on the trail before making our way into the mountains. 

It all happens fast. Villages disappear, people vanish and the road is immediately replaced by dust and gravel. The tracks soon narrow, the backdrops widen and we’re left alone in Mexico’s forgotten wilderness. We stand on the pegs and let the CRFs do their thing as we roll deeper into the range.

Motorcycle Adventure Travel in Mexico - Mad or Nomad

Boil in the bag

The trail turns nasty with jagged rocks that don’t appreciate being ridden over. But our bikes and gear are light and our single-cylinder motors make easy work of whatever Mexico throws at them – it’s what they were built for. It’s only us that start to struggle and soon realise we’re panting and out of breath. The temperature quickly rises, sweat stings our eyes and the path ahead is a blurry boulder. We’ve been caught off-guard.

The now 46C midday sun scorches us and our sat nav phone starts to melt, switches off and won’t turn back on. We know we need to keep heading south, but the tracks veer off in different directions. We’re bubbling away in our kit trying to make a choice. We can’t stay still so I pick one – and it’s wrong. Wading through deep sand when you’re going the wrong way gets sweaty – fast. It’s hard to catch our breath at this altitude and are burning up, so we seek shade under a tree and guzzle water.

An old man on a donkey appears from the bush with his two dogs and a flock of goats. We feed his dogs half of our cheese bread supplies and he offers directions (we think). He points at a track heading east and we find a little river that saves us. Alissa drops the sidestand, walks in with all her gear and lays down to cool off.

Ride like lightning

It’s an incredible feeling sat in your saddle atop a mountain while looking back at the tiny track in the distance you’ve taken to get there. Our bodies are caked in sweat and sand and our clothes are dripping with river water. We’re done and need to rest, so we survey the route ahead for a place to pitch our tents.

And then it starts. Thunder rumbles across the mountains in the distance. No way will it rain for the first time in months… The next two hours are spent sliding sideways in mud and slipping over rocks as it hammers down with rain. We plot a new course to the nearest town as lightning rips across the sky and thunder chases us all the way.

We pull into San Joaquin – a pretty town nestled in the middle of nowhere. Luckily, the rain stops and we can stroll around. We find a beautiful little hotel, buy a pizza from a guy with a homemade wood fire oven in his back garden and sip cold Cokes while chatting to locals. We weren’t expecting this pearl of a town in a sea of mountains – and we never would have found it if it weren’t for the rain. Every cloud…

Into the canyons

With achy bodies, we refuel, grab more supplies and head back into the mountains to pick up our trail and follow a river bed through canyons. We try not to stray too far from the water as we need it to soak our clothes. Towards the end of the trail, we’re met with a no-entry sign and a working mine. It would take two days to go back around, so we politely ask the miners if we can pass. They say yes, but point at the line of heavy trucks trundling up the switchback mountain, shrug and gesture with their hands to show the tightness of the road.

We soon see what they mean as we’re trapped behind overloaded trucks billowing black smoke in our faces. The ground is soft sand and overtaking on blind bends into oncoming mining trucks is dicey.

Glorious Gloria

As a reward for surviving nearly being shoved off a mountain and heat exhaustion, we ride to La Gloria – a natural hot waterfall cascading down a mountain creating dozens of warm water pools. We sooth our aching bodies from the week’s ride and plot our next route.

Salsa and mezcal

The CRFs need a dose of love. We need to swap a chain and bend a brake lever back, so we spot a small mechanic’s workshop and say hola! Jorge moves his bikes around to make space so we can work in his garage. We spend a few days working together and become friends. He invites us to his salsa club and the evening blurs as we drink strong mezcal with chilli worm salt and laugh the night away – despite none of us speaking the same language. That’s how it has been for us in Mexico over the last three months. We’ve been welcomed and shown such kindness.

It’s easy to be put off Mexico before travelling there – and it’s certainly a culture shock once you arrive. There are places you should avoid and you need to be aware of those. Police, military and the fully loaded Mexican marines are everywhere. Usually standing in the back of Humvees and pickup trucks with huge machine guns blasting down the road. Riding for hours without seeing anyone only to arrive at a village protected by locals with guns takes some getting used to. But it all becomes normal fairly quickly.

The people we’ve met are proud of their country, but are saddened by its reputation. They want us to know that the dangerous areas don’t represent the entirety of Mexico, and want us to stay and enjoy what their beautiful country has to offer.

The other side…

It’s not all smiles and happy riding. There are heart wrenching days in many of the countries we visit, and here is no different. As we head east we start to pass small groups of people walking on the side of the road, then more and more until it turns into hundreds… Men, women and children. Entire families and mums clasping babies in their arms.
 
Most of them are walking from Venezuela to the USA to try and find a better life. And they’re carrying their lives in rucksacks on their backs… The miles, months and danger involved in such a thing with little likelihood of actually getting into the US – or what would even happen if they do – is insane. But it shows how bad it must be where they’ve come from to attempt it.
 
These roads are seriously long, barren and baking hot. They’re endlessly straight and the sun is absolutely brutal. It’s mind numbing riding a motorcycle on this two-day stretch and the heat is exhausting, so we can’t even imagine what it’s like walking… And they’ve been doing it for months with a long way still to go.
 
People are wearing cardboard boxes on their heads to protect themselves from the sun and some wave empty plastic bottles asking passing drivers for a little compassion and water.
 
We buy as many 5 litre water bottles as we can fit on our bikes, and load up with bags of bananas filling the top boxes and side pouches with them. We stop and fill bottles and hand out fruit but it’s just a tiny drop in the ocean.
 
To give you an idea, a small family walks along in the dust and we spot that their bottle is empty, so we pull over. The mum grabs her kids and starts running away from us. You should have seen her face…
 
The dad didn’t run. I quickly flip up my helmet and gesture at the water bottles. He understands and calls his family back. He must be in his mid 20s. His face is covered in fresh cuts…
 
They hesitantly walk back. They don’t ask for anything, but just kept saying gracias as we fill their bottles. But what we will never forget are the boys when we give them bananas. You should have seen their faces…
Motorcycle Adventure Travel in Mexico - Mad or Nomad

Four seasons of heat

We make our way back into the mountains before dropping down south. The arid heat and dusty brown roads disappeared long ago. We’re now in muggy tropical jungles with palm trees, howler monkeys, brightly coloured birds, giant snakes slithering past our flip flops and ancient Mayan ruins.

We spend time in coffee plantations, fishing villages and camp by rivers before slowly riding to the coast. We pitch our tent on soft golden sand. The sea is warm, we buy fresh mangos drizzled in lime juice on the roadside and spend our days eating fish tacos, drinking cold Corona and learning Spanish. We’re going to need it for what comes next…

Read more on motorcycle travel in Mexico

Thanks for checking out our Motorcycle Travel Blog Mexico. We hope you enjoyed it! Here’s a few more related articles on riding in Mexico that we recommend you read next. 

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