Autopista del Sol
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  Posted March 12th, 2011 by Zdenko  in Travel | 8 comments

Traveling Mexico

By: Zdenko Kahlina

Last stage: Acapulco – Mexico City
There is no railroad to Mexico City from Acapulco and consequently the only way to get there is either by private automobile or by bus via Taxco. The highway connecting Acapulco via Taxco, to Mexico City – the “Autopista del Sol” – is one of Mexico’s best and it’s most expensive toll-road.

Leaving Acapulco after we spent only two nights here was anticlimactic. We left the old town of Acapulco and stayed on the Costera Miguel Aleman Avenue so we could connect to highway 95D towards Mexico City, as quickly as possible. But even before getting on the toll road, we were stopped by local Transit Police for no reason, other than them making few bucks early in the morning, by robbing us. You can read more about this incident at the end of my blog.

Stretching for more than 400 km between Acapulco and Mexico City, the Autopista del Sol, or Sun Highway, slashes through the rugged countryside of the southern highlands, reducing the smog-to-surf commute from eight hours to just under four.

The autopista is a very nice road, divided four-lane, very smooth with wide shoulders. Some very interesting bridges on it too. We went from sea level to mountains with no problems. From palm trees to pine trees. We passed a couple of areas where workmen were cementing the areas that were prone to falling rocks. 

Taxco, Mexico’s silver mining town is located a two hours drive from Acapulco. It’s a lovely colonial town with whitewashed buildings and narrow cobblestone streets. It’s the best place in Mexico to buy silver, with great prices and huge selection. The main road to Mexico City for automobiles no longer leads directly through Taxco, but passes the town on a by-pass, although the busses still go straight through the center of the town. Taxco and the nearby pyramids of Xochicalco are on the “old” winding mountain road and require a detour, though Taxco is a lovely colonial town worth over nighting in.
The views from the highway are extremely beautiful all the way. From Taxco the road drops rapidly down through the hills until it reaches the village of IGUALA, at kilometer 195. Iguala is at an altitude of only 2,500 feet, and while there is nothing in particular to see there, it is a famous shopping center. Market day is on Sunday, and the specialties are silver and gold filigreed JEWELRY, HATS, BASKETS, LEATHERWORK, and TIN MASKS.

Dizzying Bridge
Perhaps the crown jewel of the autopista is the glistening suspension bridge that spans the Mexcala River at about the halfway point between Acapulco and Cuernavaca. It’s 600 feet down to the river and if the dozen or so people milling about on the span were any indication — they just pull over and park in the middle of the bridge! — the view must be spectacular (I was scared to stop).

Economy, Aesthetics
As the highway twists and turns through beautiful valleys and hills, it’s much easier to take in the bold landscapes than to give serious consideration to the relatively traffic-free conditions until you run smack into the reason: The many toll booths along the autopista charge some of the highest tolls in the world.

The toll booths are frequent, but if the idea were to spread out the charges to cushion the impact, it fails miserably. Here is how much we paid in December 2010, between Acapulco and Mexico City: Acapulco tunnel 81 pesos, highway 95D: 94, 105, 115, 55, and at Cuernavaca 86 pesos. This is total of 536 pesos or about $50 CAD for the whole distance.

But unlike trips on many other toll roads, on the Sun Highway you really see what you get for your money. We saw road crews everywhere: scrambling to plant flowers, sweeping the median with hand brooms, placing signs for scenic stops and being generally persnickety about keeping the road shipshape. The attention to detail is not merely cosmetic. Even to a novice, it is obvious the highway has been built to specifications that would give an autobahn designer an inferiority complex. As the road twists around mountainous curves (affording spectacular views of the valley), you can see drainage funnels every 30 feet or so, with concrete water channels running to the edges of the cliffs to prevent erosion.

We stayed on the autopista all the way to Cuernavaca, which was a stretch of about 300 km, and we made it in 3 hours and 15 minutes. 

In Cuernavaca, we decided to spend our last night in Mexico in this interesting town, where throughout history, wealthy hacienda owners, politicians and other prominent capitalists from Mexico City have built homes here. The city of Cuernavaca is located some 85 kilometers south of the capital of Mexico, Mexico City.  It has an altitude of 1500 meters above sea level.  As you descend on the highway from Mexico City, you can observe how big the valley is where this “City of Eternal Spring” is located.  Its slogan comes from the very nice climate which it has most of the year.

The following day we continued our journey and our last stage of this trip, to Mexico City. Between Cuernavaca and Mexico City, nothing’s changed much on 95-D. It was less than 100 km to Mexico City and to our surprise, at one point we even spotted frost on the side of the road. We made it to Mexico City in one hour, without any problems.

One major impact of the autopista is that bus travel from Mexico City to the coast no longer needs to be an endurance test. While very inexpensive bus service (which takes eight to 10 hours along the old 95-D) is still available, making the journey in style is still very cheap by U.S. standards. Estrella de Oro bus line runs a luxury bus service from Mexico City’s southern bus terminal, that takes just under five hours and costs $25.50.

Magnificent Mexico City

While tourists tired of battling with potholes on Mexico’s older roads will find the autopista and the other 2,500- plus miles of privatized roads a godsend, it’s too bad the average Mexican driver will be hard put to take advantage of them.

Traffic in Mexico City

Traffic in Mexico City can be confusing and intimidating for someone like us, unfamiliar with the network of expressways. As we went across the city, at one point we got lost, but than suddenly we found ourselves close to the airport, which was our destination. Mexico City itself is a zoo to drive in, but I covered this in my first blog, on our arrival in Mexico. This time we made it safely to the airport and the rent-a-car agency. I was very proud of myself, when the agent signed my contract, and confirmed that there was no damage done to the car. On this trip we covered 2,200 km all around Mexico, and crossed over five different states (Mexico City, Puebla, Oaxaca, Guerera and Morales).

Mexico City streets

Mexico City Zocalo

Vera and Zdenko – Mexico on your own completed!

The route we covered in three weeks: Mexico City – Puebla – Oaxaca – Huatulco – Puerto Escondido – Acapulco – Cuernavaca – Mexico City; total of 2,200 km

Acapulco Police Scam
If you decide to rent a vehicle from the airport or anywhere else in Acapulco to get around this great city, please be aware of the Transit Police. These so called police are driving the older model white two door Nissan Sentras with big numbers spray painted on the hood and on each side of the car, with big red and blue lights mounted on the top. You will be stopped by them! They target Americans! There are usually 2-3 of them in the car to try to intimidate you. And yes, these are supposed to be legitimate police but they are just traffic police that are just looking to get some money out of “Rich Americans”.

They will blow their horn at you and literally pull in front of you hanging out of the window to make you pull over. They will be very persistent until you do pull over. When you do pull over, just put a crack in your window, lock your doors, and keep the car in gear. Crack your window enough so that you can hear what they are saying and so that they can hear what you are saying. They will first tell you that you made a ridiculous infraction while driving and will ask for you driver’s license. Whatever you do, DO NOT give them your driver’s license.

Be firm (not rude) to them and continuously let them know that you did not do anything wrong let them know that you will not give them your driver’s license/identification/passport – just do not hand them anything! They will try to intimidate you to give up any of these documents so that they can sell it back to you. That’s right, they will not give it back to you until you give them all of your money!

They will tell you that they will take you to the police station and that you will be put in jail. You will not be taken to jail! They are just trying to scare you to give them your documents so they can steal from you. They will also tell you that you have no respect for the law and that you have to give them what they want. Just be nice to them and let them know you will not give them anything, that you respect the law, and they will eventually tell you to go. At first it is upsetting but just keep in mind that these men do not have badges, name tags, nor guns. They will not physically hurt you! They are just bullying you out of money!

When they realize that you will not give in to them, they will eventually tell you that you can go. The four times we were pulled over it lasted maybe two minutes each time. They will know that you understand what they’re after almost immediately when you tell them you will not give them your driver’s license and they will send you on your way.

If you are unsuspecting of this, you will fall prey to them and they will get what they want. If I can help just one person through this post I feel like my goal is accomplished. Just pass down your experience(s) with them to everyone. PAY IT FORWARD!




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8 comments to “Autopista del Sol”

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  6. Comment by Michael:

    Hello there! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my good old room mate! He always kept talking about traveling thru Mexico. Looks like a nice adventure for both of you. I will forward this write-up to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

  7. Comment by Tim Ziter:

    Great blog and thanks for the ideas. You gave me ambition to write another blog post tonight. I like your style.

  8. Comment by Pedro:

    I want to thank you for the efforts you’ve put in writing this story. In fact, your creative writing abilities has motivated me to get my own site now ;)

    I am from the same area and drive on this highway very often. Beautiful road and fast driving. I can get to Mexico City in about 45 minutes. Cheers!

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