Puebla to Oaxaca (via Tehuacan)
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  Posted August 14th, 2016 by Zdenko  in Travel | 9 comments

Traveling Mexico – on the road again

By: Zdenko Kahlina

Highway to Oaxaca
After spending two days in beautiful city of Puebla, we are on the road again. Today’s plan is to drive from Puebla de Zaragoza over the mountains to the capital city of the state Oaxaca that carries the same name: Oaxaca.

Highway to Oaxaca – highway MEX135D

The fastest way to get to Oaxaca from the Puebla is the tolled highway, also known as the Puebla – Oaxaca Super Highway. The distance between both cities is of over 350 kilometers, which are covered in approximately 5-6 hours (if you are tourists like us). The drive from Puebla to Oaxaca, without stopping other that for a couple of pit stops, takes about three and a half hours. 

Until 1995 when the toll road opened, all the way from the capital to Oaxaca, for much of the route you were required to travel along secondary roads and highways, pretty well doubling the length of the drive. Even today, this trip would take a little over 9 hours on Federal Highway 1 (toll free).

Landscape: Scrubby palms and tall cacti

Landscape: Scrubby palms and tall cacti

These days we have the benefit of a much shorter and definitely a safer trip along quality well-marked pavement, with the added feature of the option of getting off the main highway and venturing into some villages to take in additional sites, scenery and local culture. The only cautionary note is to not drive outside of any major urban center, and in particular on the highways or even toll roads, at night, unless absolutely necessary. Lighting tends to be lacking or insufficient, and laws regarding impaired driving are rarely enforced.

It does not matter which way you choose, the tolled highway or the Federal libre Highway (150D), the trip from the City of Puebla to Oaxaca will always be gratifying due to the beautiful mountainous settings that its geographic surroundings have to offer. That’s the road we’ve chosen…

Puebla – Tehuacan route -  highway MEX150D

Virtually the entire roadway from Puebla to Oaxaca was well-marked and paved toll road. Signage was large and clearly lettered. However, a few key pointers are in order. You want to be where it says “cuota” and not “libre,” the former being the toll road and the latter the much slower, single lane highway. “Autopista” is invariably the toll road. En route to Puebla from Mexico City you’ll see signs directing you to the Puebla, and then from Puebla, the signage will indicate Oaxaca.

Tehuacan – Oaxaca route – highway MEX135D

The highways are either two lanes each way, a lane and a half, or a single lane. However, custom dictates that cars going slower move to the right and onto the paved shoulder when they see you coming, so regardless of the type of highway, most of the time you should be able to go at the speed to which you are accustomed. There are, however exceptions as with any rule. Sometimes, for example, large tractor trailers are too wide to move over enough to let you pass. But when they see that the roadway ahead is clear, they’ll put on the left-hand signal, telling you its okay to pass on the left … assuming you trust them.

Highway 135D has only two lanes 

Highway 135D is in good condition

A solid center line tends to be suggestive only and you’ll quickly learn that with cars moving over to the right for you, you can pass notwithstanding the solid line … except when there’s a significant curve, peak or valley up ahead.

Once on the toll highway after you’ve passed all the exits for Puebla, keep your eyes peeled for a PEMEX, and pull over for a fill-up. Even if you’ve got a half tank, this is one of the only gas stations you’ll encounter for miles, and you don’t want to be running on fumes on Highway 135D. The next PEMEX you see really IS the last one for miles, so if you ignored my earlier advice, fill up now. For real. And while you’re at it, grab a mochacchino at The Italian Coffee Company and a snack–drinks and food, like gas, are scarce. Credit cards are generally accepted for filling up, and now as well at the many toll booths… except when the system has broken down.

Sierra Madre mountains

If you have to stop for some reason, see what the vendors have to offer. And at the toll booths there will be even more offerings, from uniquely Poblano sweets known as camotes, to whole wheat tortillas, to puppies.

Two lanes become one and a half, as we approached the turn-off to the right to continue on to Tehuacan and Oaxaca. The road signage changed here from 150D to 135D. From now on we just followed the highway 135D signs towards Oaxaca; this two lane highway will take you straight into Oaxaca.

Once we were burning rubber on Highway 135D, we noticed an abrupt shift in the landscape, from farmland to scrubby palms and tall cacti. We could see the breathtaking snow-capped peak as we looked ahead towards Orizába (but don’t take that road or you’ll end up in Veracruz).

There are two recommended stops, unless you also want to spend time at Tehuacan. The first is at the onyx / marble village of San Antonio Texcala. Take the second Tehuacan exit (after the Tehuacan toll booth), onto highway 125 leading to Huajuapan. After 6 km you’ll arrive at the village, with five or more factory outlets where you can by almost anything into which these stones can be shaped – tequila sets, plates, sinks, lamps, tables, bowls, boxes, unicorns, fish, hash pipes, and of course a number of diverse ornaments with religious imagery. Prices are about half of what you’ll pay elsewhere.

Vera in the mountains

Center line tends to be suggestive only

Next is the Museo de Agua, or water museum, actually a misnomer because it is so much more. Take the well-marked next exit after your return to the autopista, for Sangabriel and Chilac. There will also be signage for the museum. You’ll be given a tour (in Spanish) in the main building, and of the outside surrounding landscapes. You’ll learn how progress is being made to teach villagers in desolate regions where water is scarce and soil fertility is lacking, to conserve and recycle water; to use compost, worm culture and other techniques to enrich the land; and to grow and market nutritious produce such as amaranth.

In terms of the land and townscapes, near Tehuacan you’ll see long narrow white-topped buildings where poultry is produced and then trucked throughout the state of Puebla and further abroad. There were couples of locations demarcated as stops for tourists to pull over and appreciate and photograph the deep valleys and high mountaintops. I didn’t miss this opportunity and my pictures a proof of that. Long well-marked expansion bridges serve to showcase the valleys and mountains. There were several kilometers of impressive “telephone pole” cactuses. Close to the approach to Oaxaca we sow vendors on each side of the highway selling brightly colored miniature wooden trucks. Vera almost bought one for our grandson Luka.

Parador turistico” (overlook) in Sierra Madre mountains

Our next stop was around kilometer 83, at a “parador turistico” (overlook) right before the Puente Calapa. We pulled over for a helluva view and a quick break. Here, we were able to look into a deep canyon and the trickling river that runs through it. Leave an offering at the shrine that’s out of sight just below the parking area. I snapped a number of photos here at the peak just off to the west, and admired the engineering work it took to build Puente Calapa, which soars a mile, it seems, above the river bed.

Puente Calapa

Sierra Madre dramatic-mountain view

Back on the highway, the scenery starts to get dramatic–mountains as impressive as those in the American West, which makes perfect geographical sense. I drove slowly down through this passage, not only because I wanted to enjoy the views, but for my own safety’s sake, too. 18 wheelers make this route, too, and impatient drivers (just about everyone) risk their lives trying to pass at ridiculous speeds on the curve-ridden roads. The hazards of people traveling by foot or bike on the shoulder are also amplified on this part of the road.

Leaving the Sierra Madre behind, we hit a fairly straight stretch leading us directly into Oaxaca Centro (Central Oaxaca). The last toll booth was called Huitzo. About 15 – 20 minutes further we approached Oaxaca. A few minutes after entering the city, we were stopped by a huge traffic jam. Nobody was moving… I had to take a turn into small dusty roads around that intersection to bypass this. After this slight delay, we just kept driving straight; eventually entering onto a one-way street that was leading us to the core of the downtown area and the zócalo.

Approaching the city of Oaxaca

Traffic in the city was… well, Mexican!

It was around 320 km between Puebla and Oaxaca and we made it in 6 hours, stopping several times to take photos. Since this was a toll highway – quota (MEX150D, MEX135D), we also stopped five times (Oaxaca exit $50, Tehuacan $34, Miahutlan $24, Oaxaca state border crossing $53, and Huitzo $63), to pay for the road which came to total of 224 pesos, before we arrived in Oaxaca city.

I’ll describe our impressions of this magic city, in the next blog, but can I just say: You have to visit Oaxaca!

Practical Tips 

Tolls: There are five tolls between Puebla and Oaxaca. Each charges a different rate; in total, though, we spent about 224 pesos ($20 CAD).

Telephones: If you’re carrying a cell phone, don’t expect to have a signal on most of Highway 135. There are SOS call boxes, though, so if you find yourself in a jam, pull over and use one.

Panoramic view of Oaxaca

Have a good and healthy season.

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9 comments to “Puebla to Oaxaca (via Tehuacan)”

  1. Comment by Rachul Blurty:

    Hi I love your article and it was so fabulous and I am definetly going to save it. One thing to say the Indepth analysis you have done is greatly remarkable.No one goes that extra mile these days? Well Done. Just another tip you shouldget a Translator Application for your Global Audience ..

  2. Comment by Hari Mata Hari:

    Very smooth Highway to Oaxaca – highway MEX135D. It will be very comfortable to drive through these roads. Beautiful and cool mountain areas. I was totally unaware that Mexico is so much beautiful country!

  3. Comment by Vicki Krenke:

    Very interesting; thank you for sharing!

  4. Comment by Mike Laporte:

    I’m Jacked. We are thinking of going to Huatulco and then shaking things up a bit because two weeks in one spot is too much. Your pictures of going to Oaxaca make that 2 lane highway look like a freeway. We are from northern Ontario so two lane, windy roads are the norm. Thanks for taking the time to post these pictures.

    Mike and Dianna.

  5. Comment by Zdenko Kahlina:

    The road accross the Sierra Madre mountains is not that bad, but it is windy… if you plan the whole day for this trip (one way) it should be enjoyable. I have more blogs coming to help you with ideas what to do during your stay in Huatulco. We visited Mazunte and Puerto Angel…

  6. Comment by Tara:

    Thanks for sharing your experience. Very uplifting and it gives me piece of mind. I am planning a trip to Oaxaca City. Planning to traveling by plane from Toronto to Mexico City and then from Mexico City to Oaxaca City by bus to save money and see mexico country and the mountains but have had my doubts. Wasn’t sure if its safe. I think reading your article and seeing the pictures I think am going to take the risk. We only live once! Take care. Tara.

  7. Comment by chad:

    Thanks for the detailed report! Very interesting. I’ve been traveling all over Mexico for years, but I have never taken a long road trip more than an hour or two. This makes me want to do so!

  8. Comment by Bouwman:

    Really impressed! Everything is very, very clear… It contains the information. I wanted to let you know that I linked to your site with a dofollow links so visitors can come to see your blog. It is all very new to me and this article really opened my eyes about traveling, and I guess since I like reading your blog, others will like it too… keep on posting!

  9. Comment by Deborah Mander:

    Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your web page posts. Anyway I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon. Cheers!

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