Think the fabled US Route 66 is the ultimate road trip? Think again: sun, sand, and endless stretches of coastal beauty make Mexico’s Coastal Route 15 a better choice.
NEED TO KNOW
LOCATION Stretching from the border town of Nogales to Tepic, Route 15 runs halfway down Mexico’s Pacific coast
VISITORS PER YEAR
Tens of thousands, but few drive the entire 600-mile (1,000-km) distance
Hot (79°F/26°C) and humid, but moderated on the coast by the ocean
There are few places in the world where you can drive for hours on end with the open expanse of the ocean on one side and everything from desert landscapes to tropical forests on the other. Of the handful of such routes that still remain, the little- known coastal portion of Mexico’s Route 15 is one of the best anywhere. It’s a journey you can make in as little as five days, or take six months to savor.
Along the way, you’ll see what’s left of old Mexico – sadly, soon to be lost forever – and some memorable landscapes. The views are punctuated by tiny seaside pueblos (houses) and colonial villages, endless fields of blue agave, prehistoric landscapes, Toltec ruins, and, farther south, several of the world’s most famous ocean resorts.
Heading south, the approach favored by most, Route 15 begins in the interior border town of Nogales and plunges towards the Sea of Cortez, taking in the wild Sonora Desert scenery and passing through the city of Hermosillo before reaching the brilliant blue coast in Guaymas.
Making it this far is an adventure in itself, as you cross paths with venomous Gila monsters, roadrunners, and the occasional vulture circling overhead. This is the Wild West of legend, brought to life in front of your eyes, before it gives way to the cooling sight of the Pacific Ocean glinting ahead.
From here onward, it’s mostly a coastal road, the likes of which you will never forget. A hundred or more kilometers brings you to the city of Mazatlán, the “Pearl of the Pacific,” with more than 12 miles (20 km) of uninterrupted beaches, one of the longest stretches of sand in the world. Quaint little fishing villages and plenty of classic Mexican scenery lie ahead before Route 15 veers inward again to the east and heads toward Tepic. But you can continue south along the coast on Route 200 and reach the resorts collectively known as the Big Five. Live it up at Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo, Ixtapa, Acapulco, and Puerto Escondido – before finally driving onto the border with Guatemala.
FORGET ROUTE 66?
THE BUILD-UP Up until a few decades ago, the famous Route 66, or “Main Street America” as it was then known, cut across the mid-western and southwestern United States in a wide arc, starting in Chicago and ending in Santa Monica, California. An entire popular culture grew up around this legendary route, and to this day, it continues to be the best-known road in the country.
THE LETDOWN There’s just one problem, and it’s a big one – Route 66 no longer exists.
It hasn’t for more than two decades. Parts of it are still around as state roads (not interstate highways), but the iconic cross-country route has been renamed and chopped up into unrecognizable bits. In theory, yes, you can follow the original trail, but it would not be the same thing.
GOING ANYWAY? At least the memory of this old route survives, and it’s online to boot.
Check out the wonderful “The Mother Road: Historic Route 66”, which even has step-by-step directions for retracing the former asphalt glory.
Getting There and Around
You can either start this road trip in Nogales and head south, or you can pick up Route 200 from the border with Guatemala and head north along the Pacific Coast, joining Route 15 at Tepic. Parts of the route run parallel to rail lines, but you definitely need your own set of wheels for this epic journey.
Where to Eat
There are thousands of spots along Route 15 where you can stop for a bite, from the tiniest taco stands to enormous five- star restaurants. By the time you reach Guaymas, you deserve something special. Stop at Los Barcos (corner of the Malecón Malpica and treat yourself to what may be the first of many seafood meals to come.
Where to Stay
There are many accommodations along the way, but the best pick is Villa Bella in La Cruz de Huancaxtle. It isn’t the cheapest stop, but it has everything a seaside villa should have and nothing it shouldn’t.
When to Go
The Pacific stretch of Mexico tends to be hot and humid through the year, but many travelers prefer to make the pilgrimage in the high season, from late November to early May.
Budget per Day for Two
Allow at least US$75, with occasional splurges of up to US$150, especially if you opt to continue south from Tepic.