Chihuahua (State)

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Travel Guide North America Mexico Chihuahua

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Introduction

Chihuahua is one of the 31 states of Mexico. It is located in Northwestern Mexico and is bordered by the states of Sonora to the west, Sinaloa to the southwest, Durango to the south, and Coahuila to the east. To the north and northeast, it has a long border with the U.S. adjacent to the US states of New Mexico and Texas. Chihuahua is the largest state in Mexico by area, with an area of 247,455 square kilometres, it is slightly larger than the United Kingdom. The state is consequently known under the nickname El Estado Grande ("The Big State"). Chihuahua has a diversified state economy. The three most important economic centers in the state are: Ciudad Juárez, an international manufacturing center; Chihuahua, the state capital; and Ciudad Cuauhtémoc, the state's main agriculture hub and an international recognized center for apple production. Today Chihuahua serves as an important commercial route prospering from billions of dollars from international trade as a result of NAFTA.

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Geography

The state is made up of three geologic regions: Mountains, Plains-Valleys, and Desert, which occur in large bands from west to east. Because of the different geologic regions there are contrasting climates and ecosystems.

The main mountain range in the state is the Sierra Madre Occidental reaching a maximum altitude of 3,300 metres known as Cerro Mohinora. Mountains account for one third of the state's surface area which include large coniferous forests. There are two national parks found in the mountainous area of the state: Cumbres de Majalca National Park and Basaseachic Falls National Park.

The plains at the foot of the Sierra Madre Occidental is an elongated mesa known as Altiplanicie Mexicana that exhibits a steppe climate and serves as a transition zone from the mountain climate in the western part of the state to the desert climate in the eastern side of the state.

The most important river in the state is Río Conchos which is the largest tributary to the Río Grande from the Mexican side; the river descends from the zenith of the Sierra Madre Occidental in the southwest part of the state and winds through the center of the state where the water is exploited in the steppe zone and it eventually empties into the Río Grande in the small desert town of Ojinaga.

The desert zone also accounts for about a third of the state's surface area. The Chihuahuan Desert is an international biome that also extends into the neighboring Mexican state of Coahuila and into the U.S. states of Texas and New Mexico. The desert zone is mainly of flat topography with some small mountain ranges that run north to south. The desert in the state varies slightly with a small variant in climate. The lower elevations of the desert zone are found in the north along the Rio Grande which experience hotter temperatures in the summer and winter while the southern portion of the desert zone experiences cooler temperatures due to its higher elevation. The Samalayuca dunes cover an area of about 150 km2; it is an impressive site of the Chihuahuan Desert and is a protected area by the state due to unique species of plants and animals.

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Cities

  • Chihuahua is a very prosperous northern Mexican city with a real western feel to it. Many denizens of Chihuahua can be seen sporting cowboy hats and boots and many businesses in town sell all manner of western wear. There is also a great deal of Mexican Revolutionary history here and visitors can learn more about it by visiting Pancho Villa's mansion or the cell where Miguel Hidalgo was imprisoned along with the spot of his execution in 1811.
  • Ciudad Juarez is your typical border town and is also one of the roughest. There is not much of interest here, although it is a place for folks north of the border to cross into Mexico exclusively for cut-rate medical care and cheap medicine. Many pharmacies cater to Americans by selling drugs without the need for a prescription from a doctor.
  • Creel is a very popular stop along the The Copper Canyon Railroad and serves as a great base for some hikes, hot springs, waterfalls and other natural wonders. Creel is also the place to find semi-regular transport deep into the Copper Canyon, specifically to the small village of Batopilas. For such a small town, Creel is certainly ready to accommodate travellers looking for adventure, either self-guide or with local tour operators.

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Sights and Activities

  • Cueva de la Ranchería is an archaeological site located south of Ciudad Madera, in the Sirupa Canyon region, northwest of the Mexican state of Chihuahua.
  • Cumbres de Majalca National Park is a national park located 88 km northwest of the city of Chihuahua. The park showcases extraordinary rock formations that have been shaped by wind and water erosion. This park was created by presidential decree in 1939 encompassing 4,772 hectares to protect the endemic flora and fauna. The park is characterized by pine and oak forest. The park is one of the few areas in Mexico that are inhabited by black bear.
  • Piedra Volada Falls (Spanish: Cascada de Piedra Volada) is a 366 m tall plunge waterfall in the Barranca Candameña of the Sierra Madre Occidental range in Chihuahua, Mexico. The English translation of Piedra Volada is "Flying Rock" or "Flying Stone".
  • Samalayuca Dune Fields, traditionally known as Los Medanos (the dunes), or more recently referenced as Medanos de Samalayuca are a series of large but separated fields of sand dunes located in the northern part of the Mexican state of Chihuahua. The dune fields are scattered over a wide expanse of desert to the south, southwest and southeast of Ciudad Juárez. The dune fields are located in a 2000 km2 area known as the Samalayuca Desert.
  • Cuarenta Casas. Located in Vallecito in the municipality of Casas Grandes, Forty Houses is believed to be the southernmost site related to the period of Mogollon influence. The site consists of a series of cliff dwellings built in natural caves in the cliffs of Huapoca Canyon. The best known is the Cueva de las Ventanas (Cave of the Windows). Early Spanish explorers named the site Cuarenta Casas (forty houses) based on their speculation of the total number of structures. The area consists of five main cave communities: Cueva del Puente, Cueva de la Serpiente, Nido del Aguila and Cueva Grande.

Copper Canyon

Sunrise in Copper Canyon

Sunrise in Copper Canyon

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Barranca del Cobre, also known as Copper Canyon, is a series of 6 different canyons in the Sierra Tarahumura, which is in the southwestern part of the state of Chihuahua. All the canyons added together are larger and some parts are deeper then the Grand Canyon in the USA, although no individual canyon in Barranca del Cobre is larger then the Grand Canyon. The Chihuahuah Pacifico railroad goes up and down the canyon, which is known by the nickname Chepe. The canyons are the traditional home of the Tarahumara people, which are known for their long distance running ability. These people have been known to run 160 kilometres in order to run down an animal to kill it. The Tarahumara people still live a traditional lifestyle and practice a traditional religion with a Roman Catholic twist.

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Events and Festivals

Most of the fiestas of the state of Chihuahua are related to the anniversaries of the foundation of municipalities, the celebration of local Roman Catholic patron saints or exhibitions of the most popular produce of the particular region. The majority are observed at the local level and, given that the greater part of the municipalities have few inhabitants, the festivals can be a bit austere.

Day of the Dead

Although the Day of the Dead is also celebrated in many Latin American countries except Mexico (and also in parts of Europe, Asia and Africa), the Day of the Dead (Spanish: Día de los Muertos) is most intensily celebrated in Mexciowhere where it is equal to a National Holiday. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. The celebration takes place on November 1st and 2nd, in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saints' Day (November 1) and All Souls' Day (November 2). Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed and visiting graves with these as gifts. Although it is about the Dead, it is also a celebration where eating and partying both are common as well.

Other Events and Festivals

  • Grito de la Independencia - September 15th is Mexican Independence Day! A massive celebration involving plenty of singing, dancing and fireworks takes place in the Zócalo. Everyone here awaits an appearance from Mexico's president who rings a bell from a central balcony of the Palacio Nacional overlooking the Zócalo. The president then shouts out the Grito de Dolores, or the Cry of Dolores which was Father Hidalgo's famous call to arms against Spanish rule in 181o.
  • Dia de la Candelaria. Candlemas is held February 2nd and commemorates Jesus being introduced into the temple 40 days after his birth. This nationwide celebration sees many different ways of celebrating and many towns in Chihuahua State hold processions, bullfights and dances. Of course, plenty of delicious, traditional foods are served during Dia de la Candelaria as well.
  • Carnaval is held in late February or early March throughout Chihuahua and all of Mexico. This big party is meant to celebrate the 40 day penance of Lent. Carnaval always takes place during the week or so prior to Ash Wednesday, 46 days before Easter Sunday. Mexicans celebrate this holiday with fireworks, food, dancing, parades, dancing and drinking.
  • Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is a huge celebration which starts on Palm Sunday. This is a very popular time for Mexicans to take a short break; as a result, it seems most of the country is on the move, with buses and hotels often booked out. As for the celebration of Semana Santa, expect colorful processions and many masses at churches everywhere.
  • Día de Nuestra Seňora de Guadalupe, or Day of our Lady of Guadalupe, is held December 12th. There is a week-long build up to this religious celebration in honour of the Virgin who appeared to the indigenous Juan Diego in the year 1531. Since then, the Lady of Guadalupe has been Mexico's religious patron and her veneration is very significant. It is traditional for young boys to be dressed as a Juan Diego and for young girls to be dressed in indigenous garb and brought to a special mass, held at many churches throughout the country.
  • New Year's Eve. Mexicans celebrate New Year's Eve or locally known as Año Nuevo, by downing a grape with each of the twelve chimes of the bell during the midnight countdown, while making a wish with each one. Mexican families decorate homes and parties, during New Year's, with colors such as red, to encourage an overall improvement of lifestyle and love, yellow to encourage blessings of improved employment conditions, green to improve financial circumstances and white to improved health. Mexican sweet bread is baked with a coin or charm hidden in the dough. When the bread is served, the recipient whose slice contains the coin or charm is believed to be blessed with good luck in the new year. One can expect a lot of firecrackers, fireworks and sparklers being fired. At midnight there is a lot of noise and everyone shouts: "Feliz año nuevo!" People embrace, make noise, set off firecrackers, and sing Auld Lang Syne.
  • Cinco de Mayo is an annual celebration held on May 5. The date is observed to commemorate the Mexican Army's victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla, on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza. The victory of the smaller Mexican force against a larger French force was a boost to morale for the Mexicans. A year after the battle, a larger French force defeated Zaragoza at the Second Battle of Puebla, and Mexico City soon fell to the invaders.

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Weather

The climate in the state depends mainly in the elevation of the terrain. According to Köppen climate classification the state has five major climate zones. The Sierra Madre Occidental dominates the western part of the state; there are two main climates in this area: Subtropical Highland (Cfb) and Humid Subtropical (Cwa). There are some microclimates in the state due to the varying topology mostly found in the western side of the state. The two best known microclimates are: Tropical savanna climate (Aw) in deep canyons located in the extreme southern part of the state; Continental Mediterranean climate (Dsb) in the extremely high elevations of the Sierra Madre Occidental. Satellite image to the right shows the vegetation is much greener in the west because of the cooler temperatures and larger amounts of precipitation as compared to the rest of the state.

In the far eastern part of the state the Chihuahuan Desert dominates due to low precipitation and extremely high temperatures; some areas of the eastern part of the state are so dry no vegetation is found like the Sand Dunes of Samalayuca. There are two distinctive climate zones found in the eastern part of the state: Hot Desert (BWh) and Cool Desert (BWk) which are differentiated by average annual temperature due to differences in elevation. There is a transition zone in the middle of the state between the two extremely different climates from the east and west; this zone is the Steppe characterized by a compromise between juxtaposed climate zones.

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Getting There

By Plane

General Roberto Fierro Villalobos International Airport (CUU) has a range of flights, with the main destinations being Mexico City, Houston, Guadalajara, Monterrey, Tijuana, Dallas/Fort Worth, Cancun, Mazatlán, Victoria de Durango, Culiacán Rosales, Puerto Vallarta, Santiago de Queretaro, Albuquerque and Denver.

By Train

The Copper Canyon Railroad is one of the most scenic train journeys in all of the Americas. This route, which runs from Los Mochis in Sinaloa to the city of Chihuahua, passes through the dramatic Copper Canyon. There are about a dozen stops along the way where you can either get out to enjoy the scenery or break your journey for a few nights in order to hike into the canyon. This certainly represents the most scenic ways of getting to the state of Chihuahua.

By Car

Four Federal Highways enter into Chihuahua state; Federal Highway 49, running north to south from the U.S. and the state of Durango, respectively; Federal Highway 16 running east to west; Federal Highway 24 running north from Durango state and Federal Highway 10 heading west from Sonora state.

By Bus

Getting to Chihuahua state from the rest of Mexico and portions of the U.S. is easy. Buses from many destinations enter the state at the city of Chihuahua, Ciudad Camargo, Ciudad Cuauhtémoc, Ciudad Juarez, Delicias, Hidalgo del Parral, Nuevo Casa Grandes and Ojinaga.

For an overview of schedules and connections, check thebusschedule.com. Also check out rome2rio.com.

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Getting Around

By Train

You can travel through the Copper Canyon by train. Chihuahua is the starting point for the famous Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacífico which travels two times daily to the Pacific coastline to the city of Los Mochis, Sinaloa and its port Topolobampo, though the beautiful Copper Canyon. One trip is for tourists only and is much faster, the second daily trip is slower, stopping en route at about 15 places and is a combined trip with cargo.

By Bus

The city of Chihuahua and Ciudad Juarez are without doubt the main bus transportation centers in the state. From these 2 cities, buses to all of Chihuahua state and beyond can be found. Many 2nd class buses serve some the of lesser towns and villages throughout the state.

For an overview of schedules and connections, check thebusschedule.com. Also check out rome2rio.com.

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Eat

Tortillas are the base of the diet, but they are made from wheat, rather than corn. In Chihuahua, these tortillas are much larger than those prepared elsewhere and paper thin. Dairy products are common in dishes with chile peppers playing a smaller role. However, one important native chile pepper is the chiltepín, which people continue to harvest wild in the mountains of north central Mexico.

As in other parts of Mexico, cuisine from Chihuahua is basically a mixture of indigenous and Spanish influences. When the Spaniards moved north from the Mexico City area, they found that the diet of the area was simpler, with the basics of corn, beans and squash, but without the further variety as existed in the lusher south. The Spaniards had a great impact on how the diet of the region. They brought European staples of wheat, beef, dairy products, pork and more, as well as dishes and ingredients from the center and south of Mexico, such as tortillas, more varieties of chile peppers and tamales. The cowboy/vaquero culture has been an important aspect of the culture in Chihuahua since the colonial period and much of the cuisine is based on what cowboys ate on the range, even though most people from Chihuahua no longer work outdoors.

Two important staples in the diet are seafood and beef, the latter playing a larger role in the cuisine of Sonora than in the rest of Mexico, although it is very popular here in Chihuahua, too. Beef is often cooked over an open flame, and people from Chihuahua prefer robust cuts such as brisket and skirt steak. Machaca, or carne seca, is still enjoyed, although refrigeration has eliminated the need to dry meat. Chihuahua also has a reputation for producing fine cuts of beef, but the lean Spanish cattle of the colonial period have been replaced by Angus, Herefords and Holsteins. Dishes based on or usually containing beef include carne desebrada, carne con rajas verdes, burritos, carne con chile colorado, beef chorizo, carne seca, machaca, menudo, gorditas and meatballs.

  • Tacos are by far the most prevalent food in Mexico and come in many varieties and regional variances. Here, tacos are more often served on corn tortillas instead of wheat. Flour tortillas are the norm in the northern states of Mexico. Beef is also the meat of choice for tacos here,
  • Mollete is an open faced sandwich consisting of a bolillo roll smothered in refried beans and melted cheese.
  • Carnitas are slow braised meats usually bought by weight. These often come with tortillas to wrap the meat in. Any meats cooked in this fashion are always tender and very rich in flavor.
  • Cabuche is the flower from the biznaga cactus. this edible flower is a delicacy in San Luis Potosi state. There are many dishes this flower can go into and many ways to prepare it on it's own.
  • Chiles en Nogada - this dish is meant to represent the Mexican flag's 3 colors; red, white and green. The red portion of this dish is a garnish of pomegranate seeds, the white from a cream sauce and the green from poblano chili pepper.
  • Huitlacoche is a fungus that grows on organic corn ears due to the lack of anti fungal chemicals introduced to the crop. When cooked and added to certain dishes huitlacoche is very earthy in flavor.
  • Pozole - Choose either red or green pozole. This corn and chile based soup is very tasty and is served at many comedors and loncherias in marketplaces throughout Mexico.
  • Rosti-Pollo - Roast chicken is a hugely popular meal in Mexico and represents an astounding value for travelers on a budget. Order a whole, or half chicken. Each order comes with french fries, unlimited tortillas and salsa.
  • Birria Stew - Birria is typically goat meat but many establishments prepare it with beef. The broth is a tomato and chili based one although it is not too spicy. Fresh diced onions and cilantro always accompany birria stew as a garnish. Of course, unlimited corn tortillas are served with each bowl.

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Drink

Beer

Mass produced Mexican beers tend to be a bit less sweet than their American counterparts. All in all, Mexican beers are quite good and go very well with Mexican food. Microbrews are starting to pop up in big cities and certain varieties are distributed further afield. Many bars catering to a hip clientele will feature imported beers from throughout the world

Montejo, Leon, Victoria, Superior, Carta Blanca and Estrella are national brands that can be difficult to find at times depending on where you are in Mexico. Lately, both Tecate and Indio brands have become the most widely distributed beers next to Corona. Many of the beers mentioned are brewed by Mexico's brewery powerhouses - Modelo and Cuauhtemoc.

One of the traditions in Mexico is to add lime to beer, adding a pleasant acidity. Another popular way to drink beer in Mexico is to mix it with lime, tomato juice, spices and assorted chili-based sauces. This drink is known as a Michelada and is very popular in hotter climates throughout Mexico and actually makes for a very refreshing concoction.

Tequila

Tequila is the signature firewater of Mexico and nearly all of it hails from the state of Jalisco. Here, small agave plantations and larger haciendas churn out a staggering number of brands. Of those brands, there 5 varieties of tequila:

  • Oro, or gold is possibly the poorest quality of the lot. That gold color this variety is known for is artificial and this tequila really burns the throat. It is best used in cocktails and margaritas.
  • Plata is also known as Blanco and represents the next lowest quality of the 5 varieties but tastes better than the Oro variety. This is unaged and the flavor is much less complex, making it suitable as a mixer rather than a shot for sipping.
  • Resapado means rested and this variety is aged for up to 9 months. Flavor profiles become more complex and respado makes for a good introductory sipping variety. Expect a clean, sharp taste with a subtle peppery finish.
  • Aňejo. This aged variety, conditioned in oak barrels for up to 1 year, is very smooth and sweet. Many people enjoy this variety as an aperitif, or even an after dinner drink. Certain brands of aňejo represent a very good value, especially considering the amount of nuanced flavors created by each distilleries' aging techniques.
  • Extra Aňejo, or vintage, is a relatively new variety. This is aged for 3 years, often using other types of barrels aside from the traditional oak ones. This is best sipped neat. Extra Aňejo has boosted the craft tequila market in Mexico.

Mezcal

  • Mezcal can sometimes be as high as 60% alcohol, so enjoy this drink with caution! Mezcal is made from 1 of around 20 different species of agave, some of which can take decades to mature. Only once will a mature agave sprout the flower whose sap is fermented to make this potent potion. Some varieties include:
  • Minero is distilled in clay pots and is a very high quality variety. Subtly smoky in flavor and very smooth.
  • Arroqueňo tends to be a subtly sweet-tasting Mezcal. Many find this to be the most pleasant variety. The flavor begins a bit bitter but quickly finishes sweet and warm.
  • Joven means young, and this variety is simply unaged and therefore a little bit rough.
  • Tobalá is named for an actual variety of agave plant, grown in mountainous regions.

Pulque

Pulque has been enjoyed since well before the Spanish conquest of Mexico but has enjoyed a resurgence in the last decade, especially among the hip crowd. Pulque is simply the fermented sap of the maguey plant. The end result is a very thick, cloudy drink with a slightly acidic taste. This viscous liquid is often given artificial fruit flavoring to improve it's overall uninspiring taste, however many pulque drinkers are purists when it comes to quaffing this strange alcoholic beverage. In Mexico, pulquerias - bars exclusively serving pulque - offer a real authentic drinking experience and many feature roving musicians ready to play a tune for the merry patrons. Pulque has an alcoholic content between 4% and 6%.

Other Drinks

  • Chamoyada is a sweet and spicy type of shaved ice, or raspado or Mango sorbet, prepared with chamoy. It is a part of Mexican cuisine, and is also common in regions of the United States with significant Mexican-American populations. The drink is usually sweetened with mangoes or apricots. It is essentially a combination of chamoy sauce, shaved ice, chili powder, and fruit chunks. In certain variations, a whole fruit popsicle, or paleta, is added to the drink and mixed with the shaved ice. The drinking straws served with chamoyadas also often have tamarind candy on the outside. Chamoyadas do not contain any dairy products. The different flavors of chamoyadas can include fruits like mango, lemon, guava, tamarind, pineapple and strawberry.
  • Champuraddo is a warm and thick chocolate-based drink, prepared with either masa de maíz (lime-treated-corn dough), masa harina (a dried version of this dough), or corn flour (simply very finely ground dried corn, especially local varieties grown for atole); piloncillo; water or milk; and occasionally containing cinnamon, anise seed, or vanilla. Ground nuts, orange zest, and egg can also be employed to thicken and enrich the drink. Atole drinks are whipped up using a wooden whisk called a molinillo (or a blender). The whisk is rolled between the palms of the hands, then moved back and forth in the mixture until it is aerated and frothy.
  • Liquados are a Latin American handmade blended beverage similar to smoothies, made with milk, fruit, and usually ice.They are also sometimes called "preparados" (meaning "prepared"). Licuados and other fresh fruit juice drinks are ubiquitous throughout Mexico. They are sold by street vendors, and in special licuado shops, restaurants, and fruterias (restaurants specializing in fresh fruit).
  • Aguas Frescas, (Spanish for "cool waters", or literally "fresh waters") are light non-alcoholic beverages made from one or more fruits, cereals, flowers, or seeds blended with sugar and water. Some of the more common flavors include tamarind, hibiscus, and horchata. Aguas frescas are sold by street vendors, but can also be found in bodegas (convenience stores), restaurants and juice bars.
  • Atole, also known as atol and atol de elote, is a traditional hot corn and masa-based beverage of Mesoamerican origin. Chocolate atole is known as champurrado or atole. It typically accompanies tamales, and is very popular during the Christmas holiday season (las Posadas).
  • Café de olla is a traditional Mexican coffee beverage. To prepare café de olla, it is essential to use a traditional earthen clay pot, as this gives a special flavor to the coffee. This type of coffee is principally consumed in cold climates and in rural areas. In Mexico, café de olla is made with ground coffee, cinnamon, and piloncillo (known as panela in other countries).
  • Jarritos is a popular brand of soft drink in Mexico, founded in 1950. Jarritos is made in fruit flavors and is less carbonated than popular soft drinks made in the United States or Canada. Many Jarritos varieties are naturally flavored. The word jarrito means "little jug" in Spanish and refers to the Mexican tradition of drinking water and other drinks in clay pottery jugs. Produced in Mexico, they are sold throughout the Americas.

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Sleep

As is typical with all of Mexico, accommodation options in Chihuahua run from budget hotels and hostels to fancier lodges and resorts. Every city and town caters to the traveler as many people traverse the country by bus and often find themselves staying overnight along the way, especially on long-haul routes. Because of this, many hotels can be found around bus stations and in small towns those accommodation options will extend well beyond the transportation terminal. You will find an accommodation type to suit any budget in Chihuahua.

Many hotels in Mexico (and Chihuahua) list their prices at the front desk and haggling for a reduced rate for a stay of a few days or more is acceptable. Many hostels have become more expensive than hotels, especially for a couple traveling together. It is very common to find clean, safe, comfortable and centrally located hotels for 200 pesos. Wi Fi is almost always available at these hotels and sometimes cable television and air conditioning are included. Prices for these same types of hotels are at least double on the Baja Peninsula. It is also acceptable to ask to see a room before paying. Ask to see another room if the one shown to you doesn't suit you. Street noise is a problem in Mexico (and Chihuahua is no exception); rooms facing the road can be very loud. Ask for an internal-facing room if possible. Hot water is often an issue in Mexico and may only be available during certain hours.

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This is version 29. Last edited at 16:30 on May 15, 19 by road to roam. 6 articles link to this page.

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