Road-Trip from Monterrey to Mexico City – so many waterfalls!


I have a sort of love hate relationship with road trips since I hate renting cars, but it can sometimes be the only way to see a country’s beautiful natural destinations. In Mexico for example we went on a road trip with a route that took us to so many beautiful waterfalls which are pretty much only accessible by car. Despite some rental car headaches, unlisted fees, etc, the road trip was well worth it. I’ll outline our Monterrey to Mexico City itinerary below, (and briefly summarize the car rental gotchas which you’d want to avoid.)

Our Monterey to Mexico City Road Trip Destinations

a map with a blue line
This was our (intended) route from Monterey to Mexico City. (In Bernal I learned of a death in the family so in actuality we just went the most direct route to CDMX from there.)

Above is the route we’d planned for our Monterrey to Mexico City road trip. In terms of destinations, I can enthusiastically recommend this route. However, one-way car rentals are expensive, and you’d probably be better off doing a modified round trip version – I’ll get to that later.

Secondly, in Bernal we found out we’d need to end our trip early (for a funeral) so we skipped the Grutas Tolantongo and Teotihuacan destinations. While I’ve been to Teotihuacan on trips since then and can recommend it as a destination, I can’t personally vouch for Grutas Tolantongo. It looks awesome in pictures, and I’ve heard others recommend it.

Here are the destinations we visited on our Monterrey to Mexico City road trip:


Monterrey is a city with lovely mountain views. It’s not as modern and cosmopolitan-feeling as Mexico City, but still a big city worth seeing once.

We did a lot of driving just to get out of the city and closer to our waterfall destinations, but Monterrey is convenient to fly into and big enough to offer a variety of rental car options, so it makes sense as a launch point.

a road with cars and a bridge and mountains in the backgroundMonterrey Mexico

El Meco Waterfall

This first waterfall is visible from a little overlook off the side of the road and we treated this as a fairly quick scenic stop.

a waterfall in a forest

Cascadas de Minas Viejas

This is the first waterfall where we stopped to swim and there were hardly any people there! It was great. There is a very small entry fee of ~$1.50 or so.

a waterfall next to a body of water

a person swimming in a body of water with a waterfall
Here you can see how tall these waterfalls are!

Micos Waterfalls

Micos Waterfall and Micos River is definitely more of an organized tourist stop and doesn’t necessarily accommodate just stopping by for a dip. It’s just a dollar or two to park and visit, but then to do anything, you need to rent a guide and life jacket. (For that reason, we actually just stopped for the view and then kept going.) You can learn more about all the zip line, canoe tour kinds of things you can do here.

Be wary that the road going from Puente De Dios north towards Cascadas de Minas Viejas and El Meco is a dirt road. It had rained the day before we drove this area and we were ok, but it was very muddy, and we wouldn’t have wanted much more rain than we’d had!

Puente de Dios

Puente de Dios required life jacket rental too, but was much more of a self-guided exploration (and this was actually our favorite stop.) Entry fee is a few dollars, then it’s another dollar or so to park and rent a life vest.

But once you have your life vest, you can jump into this beautiful blue pool and follow the ropes through a cavern. The sand on the bottom of this cenote like pool is so white and the water is so blue that the cavern looks almost illuminated with this crazy blue glow. Some of the most impressive parts of this spot aren’t pictured here because I didn’t have a waterproof camera on hand.

All in all, this spot is an amazing jungle playground with an other-worldly feel which became kind of a theme of this road trip. It’s absolutely worth a stop and my picture doesn’t do it justice. Make sure to search this spot on YouTube for a better idea.

people swimming in a pool with a waterfall

Tamul Waterfall

Tamul Waterfall is another spot that requires a little more of a guided experience. For ~$40 our guides took us on a ~30 minute truck ride to the entry point for our canoes. The canoe ride was about an hour and half or so but included little stops here and there. I’m pretty sure a better guide is supposed to take you all the way to a little hike around the waterfall, but our guides turned around after the stop with the nice photo-op.

The canoe ride is really beautiful though. The water is bright blue and there are occasional little cascades that come down through the rock formations. Again, it feels somewhat otherworldly.

a waterfall in a rocky canyon

a couple of people in a boat on a river

Las Pozas

Las Pozas, or more specifically “Jardín Escultórico de Edward James, Las Pozas”, is a fascinating surrealist sculpture garden hidden in 80 acres of rainforest. The sculptures are these tall, concrete structures created by an artist in the 40’s which are sort of reminiscent of an MC Escher painting, or Indiana Jones meets Dr. Seuss. While the sculptures may very well cover 80 acres, the part which you can actually explore doesn’t span that much and can be seen in ~2 hours. It’s a really unique experience climbing all over these structures and the nearby town of Xilitla is charming and worth a visit as well.

When we visited in ~2018, you simply had to buy the ~$6 tickets then explore on your own. Now, according to their website, it looks like you technically have to reserve a time slot in advance and reserve a “mandatory guide”. The guide is only another dollar or so, but I’m not sure if I’d do it again with that sort of guided tour experience, just because I tend to prefer wandering around on my own. Though, it’s possible a guided tour could be better in some ways. And of course, it’s possible that you can still enter without a guide like we did.

(If anyone has been there recently and can comment with your experience, please do!)

a spiral staircase in a forest a group of trees and plants a structure in the woods

a waterfall in a forest
Las Pozas also has a waterfall of course, amidst the sculptures.

a woman sitting on a stone staircase in a forest

a man standing on a stone staircase

Peña de Bernal

Bernal was one of my favorite spots (despite deviating from our jungle waterfalls theme.) The drive from Las Pozas here was a bit grueling but also scenic as it took us through beautiful mountains. The town was charming and our Airbnb had this incredible view of the peak.

a room with a view of mountains and a city

Mexico City and Teotihuacan

I’ve already posted about all the cool things to do in Mexico City (and why I love it). And while we had to skip Teotihuacan on our Monterrey to Mexico City road trip, I thought I’d include it here since it was in our original itinerary, and it’s the kind of thing you need coordinate transportation to see. May as well drive there yourself if you already have a rental car. Like all the other spots on this list, the entry fee is just a few bucks so the main cost is transportation.

What you see in this picture is pretty much what’s there to see, but it covers a lot of ground and is worth seeing at least once. I could see this being more interesting with a tour guide, though.

a woman standing in front of a pyramid

What to watch out for with your Car Rental…

As I said at the start, I hate renting cars. In this case, we found a cheap rate for a one way rental with some small, unknown brand and went for it. Unfortunately this gave us two headaches:

1) It took us easily an entire hour to find where we were supposed to return this car, driving around the same several blocks in Mexico City with nothing in sight that resembled the right place. In the end, we finally found the tiny, unmarked unit. It was extremely stressful because…what’s the plan B in that situation if we hadn’t finally found it?

2) After we returned it, the rental company charged us a one-way fee which they had not disclosed at the beginning and which we did not approve. They just added it on. We disputed it with Chase thinking it would be an easy dispute since the rate charged differed from the rate/terms we’d signed at the beginning. No such luck. Apparently all the rental company needed to decline our dispute was proof that we’d indeed rented a car with them.

The road trip was amazing, but there are so many beautiful spots in Mexico, I’m sure we could have come up with an equally cool roundtrip version of this trip. In fact, here’s an alternate route Drew planned out at the time. We can’t personally vouch for it since it’s not the route we used, but it hits some of the same spots:

a map with blue lines

One last thing to note: everyone recommends not driving at night in Mexico and the reason they say this is because you can’t predict where free-roaming livestock will pop up and it’s too risky driving when you won’t be able to easily see them in the road.

Monterrey to Mexico City Road Trip Conclusion

Mexico is such a big and beautiful country, and so many of its treasures are hidden out in the jungles or the mountains. I have a hunch that most treasures wouldn’t be treasures without the journeys required to reach them. And that’s exactly why I begrudgingly rent cars from time to time.

And while renting a car is a headache half the time, I’d love doing another Mexico road trip to see even more waterfalls, cenotes, and little mountain towns. Next time, I’d just make sure to rent from a big, reputable brand, and I’d plan a roundtrip route. Even with our car rental headaches though, we still remember this trip fondly.





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Ivan Y

Sounds like you did not push with Chase. I have of course gotten the same outcome from Chase and have always always pushed back. You gotta remember its one dude in some office somewhere, that he has to adjudicate 500+ claims per day and he is basically clicking on a button all day long.
I have had the exact same thing happen to me in South Africa, and a few times when I have returned the car with less fuel, when it was rented with the same amount. Don’t get me started on damage a week after returning vehicles.
Every time I have provided tons of evidence and always had declined disputes overturned after I escalated a decline.
Pro tip: Use AMEX whenever possible, their dispute resolution works way better than other banks.


I’ve rented cars four times in Mexcio: Yucatan twice (no problems — except got incorrect change at a fill-up, costing 500 pesos), Baja (no problem), and central Mexico (drop / return CDMX) in which we were hit up twice by cops and paid $100 or something in bribes.

Guanajato is definitely worth a visit and is easily accessible by bus (no car needed).


Rented a car in Merida & did a cenote route through Yucatan & Quintana Roo. I had heard it was expensive prior but was really sticker shocked with the mandatory insurance & fees. Its always worth the experience in rural Mexico but yeah…


I’ve rented in Merida (and Playa del Carmen). I think it’s better to rent locally and review the terms in detail before renting. About $50 a day all-in that way.


nice report on places relatively unknown!

Did you notice the drought at all? This article implies it is quite widespread…and quite bad in some areas of Northern Mexico.

Kind of ironic me mentioning it…as you were surrounded / looking for water a lot.

edit: just realized this trip was in 2018? Might want to make that clear in the beginning…as opposed to it being recent. Things are changing rapidly in some places…or at least some aspects…more to come very soon…war in some/more places, weather related (drought-water shortage, flash floods, fires, etc..) in more places.

Understand Lake Mead & Powell / Colorado River system….and you’ll understand the fate of Las Vegas/Southern Nevada and parts of SoCal (Including most of San Diego area) within a decade. CA State Water project (and low reservoirs) for bonus points…and understanding the agricultural reach of California…

did Teotihuacan by local buses from MX City a couple years ago or so….your -suggested- way is def more adventurous way to get there! Following the expensive/luxury vs budget/simple theme…I was staying at the Intercontinental MX City on IHG certs with a high floor room overlooking Chapultepec park, then went to the local bus station and toured Teotihuacan on the cheap – which had relatively recently reopened from a COVID closure…the Anthropology museum in MX city was still closed to my chagrin.


What a great trip. Given the plethora of bad press about cartel violence did you feel safe? I’d love to learn the the tales of terror are overblown.

As a clarification on your Chase chargeback issue, Chase will side with the car rental company on any charges, divulged in advance or not, for whatever the company wants to charge you after the fact? If so, that’s insane.


What an unreal question you have, have you heard that in Chicago, LA, NYC there is more violence than in Mexico? Not counting the massacre at Walmart or the high schools?! If you live in the United States, do you think you are safer than in Mexico? are you ok?


I’ve personally hit some strange security situations in Mexico more than once on highways so my question is relevant and I come from a large U.S. city with no shortage of crime but nice job engaging in whataboutism rather than addressing the question.


Christian, your question is wholly reasonable. Decades ago, I lived in a removed part of the Middle East. In the town where I lived, about 300 people were killed every year as the result of terrorism. I felt safe. Aware but safe. Separately, I had been in Mexico a few times from the early 1980s to the late 1990s. At that time, I felt safe. Aware but safe. I’m an adventurous guy. But, at this stage of my life, I’m not certain that I want to tempt fate and I’ll settle for boring.


Crime in Mexico is fairly localized by state, at least historically. Wikipedia has a list of Mexican states by homicide rate which is instructive. Don’t pay attention to the first chart, which shows raw numbers, instead look at the second chart, which shows murders per 100,000.

The chart reveals some very interesting facts and shows the stark differences between safe states (Yucatan at 2.25) versus unsafe (Colima at 71) and how the situation has deteriorated in particular states (in 2007, Colima was 4.86) and the country as a whole.

Sadly, some states that were previously very safe, like Guanajuato, are now ranked pretty poorly.


Thanks Larry, you’re always good for a dose of informed common sense.


have you heard that in Chicago, LA, NYC there is more violence than in Mexico

If you’ve heard such a thing you were listening to a very poorly informed source. New York has a murder rate of 5.8 per 100,000 population, tied with Wichita, Kansas and safer than 30 out of 32 states in Mexico. Even Chicago, which has a per-capita rate 500 percent of New York’s (just under 30 per 100k) ranks in the middle of Mexican states for violence.


They’re overblown. Tourists are not targeted because we don’t pose a threat to their business. You’re much more likely to get pickpocketed at Disneyland.


Last winter there were shootouts at two beachfront resorts on the “Riviera Maya” and a bar manager (a foreigner, I believe) was shot to death around the corner from my Air BnB in Playa del Carmen. I have no knowledge of the pickpocket rate at Disneyland (and would certainly choose Mexico over Disneyland 365 days out of the year), but crime in Mexico is not nothing and has been getting worse. Mexico has been growing into its previously undeserved reputation for lawlessness. Gringo impunity is still a thing, but it’s not a guarantee.


Fear & risk are mutually exclusive.


Awesome trip! Have you been to Cascada El Salto? Also a super cool town to visit is Tamazunchale.

Dr. Jay

Could you share lodging and prices along with rental car and food prices?


Did you hike up the Peña de Bernal? I wanted to, but I didn’t have time when I was there.

I also want to recommend the charming nearby town of Tequisquiapan, with its oh-so-charming pink church and picture-perfect central square.