Pueblo Magico: Malinalco

YFAB9289Why should I go to Malinalco?

Malinalco is a great weekend getaway from the hustle and bustle of Mexico City. At approximately two hours by car, you’ll journey through the sparsely populated and hilly region to the south of CDMX.

It’s an education about what life is like for most Mexicans living outside the urban areas, but once you arrive in Malinalco, you’ll quickly come to understand it’s appeal.

Malinalco has always been considered a place of magical powers, going back long before it was designated a Pueblo Magico by Mexico’s tourism board.

It was a place of spiritual and ritualistic significance during Aztec times, as evidenced by its truly unique Aztec temple, Cuauhtinchan.

Where should I stay in Malinalco?

There are only a few hotels of good repute in Malinalco proper, but Airbnb’s supplement the options available.

During my trip to Malinalco, I was fortunate enough to select a stay at Diego’s Airbnb called Casita de Campo. His parents own a small compound walking distance to the city center. The compound contains several freestanding buildings that they rent on Airbnb.

My Airbnb on their property included not just a bedroom and bathroom, but also a beautifully put together little kitchen and dining area. In addition, there is a pool and grassy grounds and Allan (Diego’s father) is always nearby to help out and give recommendations for your stay.IMG_3134

What activities should I do in Malinalco?

The main attraction of Malinalco is the monolithic Aztec temple that sits in the hillsides above the town. Admission was about $3 per person and you can also hire a local guide, though signage at the site is quite good and in most case, bilingual.

Walk through the town towards the mountain and you can’t miss the signs to the site, but be prepared to walk up a winding, uphill pathway for about 20 minutes to reach it. Vendors will happily sell you ice cream, micheladas, and whatever else you might need to fortify you for the journey up!

In addition to the Temple of Cuauhtinchan, Malinalco is just a charming little town. I was impressed by the handicrafts on sale throughout the streets, which seemed not to be the mass-produced factory-type items I have seen in more visited tourist destinations throughout Mexico.

There are also a number of attractive bars and restaurants from which to enjoy the pleasant weather.

Where should I go to eat and drink in Malinalco?

The city center of Malinalco, like nearly all Latin American cities, is located around a main plaza. Within two to three blocks of Plaza Central is where you’ll find most of the places to eat and drink in town. Here are a few of the best:

La Casa de Valentina

While I didn’t get to eat at this place (just pop in for a quick peek), it was recommended to me by my Airbnb host, who was dead-on with his other recommendations.

Hipsters and art fans will dig the design and the food looked quite good, too. When I was there, they were offering live music options on the weekends, too!

Los Placeres

Hit this spot for patio dining with views of the mountains. The garden-like setting is super attractive and the quality of the food justifies the Mexico City prices.IMG_3188

Casa Diablitos

This place is the spot if you want to extend your night later into the evening just about any day of the week.

My travel companion ordered a flaming mezcal-based cocktail and it was artfully crafted in front of us by the manager, who along with the rest of the staff, was having an awesome time providing great service.

Nieves Malinalli

It’s always warm in Malinalco, which means mandatory ice cream stops. This place is absolutely delicious!

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What is the weather like in Malinalco?

Malinalco is warm year-round, despite being at over 5,000 feet elevation. The first few months of the year are characterized by highs reaching into the low-90’s fahrenheit, with the rest of the year averaging low-80’s temperatures.

Nights are comfortable all year long and perfect for strolling around the city-center.

While it doesn’t rain all that much in Malinalco, this Mexican Magic Town does get the typical summer monsoon weather in July and August.

Malinalco would be an excellent snowbird destination, with October through February offering dry/warm weather, although in the months of February through April the hillsides can get very dry and therefore, just a little less magical.

How much will I spend in Malinalco?

Because Malinalco is within a two-hour drive of Mexico City, expect prices basically inline with CDMX at nicer places, while accommodations and basic necessities will be cheaper. Malinalco provides a great value for those traveling on the USD or Euro.

How do I get to Malinalco?

The drive from Mexico City to Malinalco is fairly straightforward once you leave the capital, assuming you understand the Mexican toll road system.

When I drove with a friend, although Google Maps told us the trip would take about 1.5hrs, with toll stops and passing through some small towns, it took a little more than 2hrs.

It’s also possible to use a mix of public transportation. At last check, Aguila Bus goes directly several times per day between Malinalco and Mexico City.

Another option would be to combine a bus ride to Cuernavaca or Lerma de Villada with a taxi ride.

What else should I know about Malinalco?

Malinalco is a great destination by itself, but it can also be visited as part of a wider tour of Pueblos de Magicos. When I went to Malinalco, I then continued on to Valle de Bravo for some lakeside lounging!

Tepoztlan and Taxco are two more Magic Towns within 1.5hrs drive, with the latter being a good way to break up a longer drive to Acapulco or Zihuatanejo on the coast.

Pueblo Magico: Valle de Bravo

IMG_3300Why should I go to Valle de Bravo?

Valle de Bravo is an excellent fresh-air getaway from the bustle of Mexico City, but it’s charms may keep you there much longer.

Blessed with mild temperatures and scenic vistas along Lake Avandaro, the Valley of the Brave offers a mix of active sports and leisure pursuits to please a wide variety of visitors.

In 2005, Valle de Bravo was named a “pueblo magico” and after having visited in early 2018, I can totally understand why!

Where should I stay in Valle de Bravo?

Valle de Bravo offers various accommodations, but I found vacation rentals to offer the best combination of price-point and quality.

For example, the average price for a one or two bedroom “entire home” on Airbnb is between $50-$125 or $25-$75 for a “private room.” If you are traveling with a larger group, it’s totally possible to rent a 4-6 bedroom property for between $200-$300 per night, whereas you’d likely pay twice that for the requisite number of hotel rooms.

During my stay, I selected a private room on Airbnb that essentially functioned as a private apartment. There was a shared entry point and I had access to all the facilities of the house, but the room itself was very separate from the rest of the home and even included its own terrace and jacuzzi tub.

What activities should I do in Valle de Bravo?

In Valle de Bravo, the most common thing to do is hang out along the waterfront of Lake Avandaro or to walk along the boutique-filled streets until you reach the town’s charming center square.

As I was walking along said streets, I noticed a killer deal for 2×1 artisinal mezcal shots. The mezcal had been purchased from a small-batch producer in Oaxaca and came garnished with chile-dusted orange slices and chapulines (fried grasshoppers!). The damage: 80 pesos or approximately $4 US at the time of my visit.

Other activities common to Valle de Bravo are boating, mountain-biking, and hang-gliding, all of which can be arranged by several tour providers.

Where should I go to eat and drink in Valle de Bravo?

Valle de Bravo may be a relatively small town, but there is no shortage of dining opportunities if you enjoy traditional Mexican food. I also noted a significant number of Italian restaurants that received strong reviews on TripAdvisor. Here are a few of my picks:

La Machinhuepa

This is a great place for a coffee or juice and some breakfast. A 16oz cappuccino will set you back $2 and their paninis and chilaquiles are both great options, too, for about $5. While you wait, they’ll bring out fresh bread with butter and jam. If it’s warm enough, sit at one of the two window tables for stunning views of the lake!

La Cueva del Leon

This restaurant proves that sometimes when a restaurant gets less than four stars on google, it’s still worth a visit. Perhaps the best views of the town square and La Parroquia de San Francisco de Asis (chapel) are from the second-story balcony seating at La Cueva del Leon.

I often use the “guacamole index” to figure out how a restaurant is priced in Mexico, and at 50 pesos ($2.60) for a large serving, this place is a steal. Although I didn’t get to try any of the main dishes here, I feel confident in recommending the place just on the strength of its position for people-watching and its delightful decor.IMG_3243

Mestizo

I turned up at Mestizo around 10:30pm on a Sunday night, which is understandably a slow time for a city that is known predominantly as a weekend getaway for the city-dwellers of CDMX.

However, this place has clearly become one of the spots the locals go after the tourists leave and it’s time to end the busy period with a few drinks and a late dinner. Beers were $2 and 8″ pizzetas with any combination of toppings were less than $3 each.

Come in the day-time and you’ll be treated to one of the best rooftop views of the lake available in the downtown area.

What is the weather like in Valle de Bravo?

The climate in Valle de Bravo is mild, considering it sits at 6,000 feet elevation.

How do I get to Valle de Bravo?

Almost all travelers will reach Valle de Bravo via Mexico City. Whether coming straight from Benito Juarez Airport or the city, plan on about two hours. The drive will involve a somewhat frustrating 3-5 stops at toll booths, which will set you back about $10-15 USD. Also plan on some traffic within the city-center of Valle de Bravo, as the streets are mostly cobblestone and can become congested.

For those already in another part of Mexico, Toluca Airport may provide a good solution, both from a cost and traffic-avoidance perspective. Leaving Mexico City, travelers will be heading through the Toluca area anyway to get to Valle de Bravo.

Mexico City and the Puebla Earthquake

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In the last year, I’ve made two visits to Mexico City so this earthquake has had a personal impact on me. After spending nearly two weeks there, I place the Mexican capital high on my list of favorite destinations. So great is my interest in CDMX that I have plans to visit again in just a few months time.

The earthquake, magnitude 7.1, that hit Puebla a few days ago has had a heartbreaking impact on Mexico City. It has been frustrating to watch US television coverage, which has been entirely focused on one school building. I have reached out to contacts in the area to get a better sense of the full scope of impact.

What people in the damaged areas are saying

Friends on the ground tell me that the damage is actually greatest in some of the trendier areas like Roma and Condesa, places I have come to know well. One friend explained that after the massive 8.0 earthquake of 1985, many people returned to buildings that were damaged but did not fall; many repairs were never carried out, making the impact of this earthquake more serious.

There has been an encouraging outpouring of aid and volunteerism in CDMX, with many taking time off work and school to help in any way they can. In many cases, the damage to buildings is superficial, but in some cases apartment buildings and other structures are being evacuated and some are even in the process of collapse.

In a twist of events, city officials are now beginning to encourage volunteers to return to their work as the sheer number of people and food-aid that has flooded the damaged areas is almost too great. With so many disasters occurring simultaneously throughout the southern part of the Northern Hemisphere, these types of stories bring hope in times of despair. Infrastructure is damaged but humanity remains intact.

What you can do to help Mexico City

At this time, I would feel like a hindrance to the recovery process if I visited as a tourist, but soon, Mexico City will need tourism revenue to help in the rebuild/retro-fit process. I still hope to make a visit in a few months.

If you’d like to know more about some of the areas affected and why they’re still places well-worth the visit, check out this article I wrote for Traveling Nine to Fiver. Both of the Airbnb’s I reference suffered no major damage, which is great because the hosts are really great people and the apartments are awesome!

 

Airbnb Like A Pro: Tips for Booking a Vacation Rental

Airbnb tips for better stays at cheaper prices

1. Know the place you will visit

It doesn’t matter if you find the best Airbnb property in all of Mexico City if you find yourself on the wrong side of traffic from the sites you want to visit! This is key #1 because without understanding where you’ll want to be in your chosen destination, you won’t know if your Airbnb selection is in a good location for you.

If you plan to go to the beach every day, your perfect Airbnb might be walking distance from the best beach. If you want to visit the beach, but are more interested in the city’s nightlife, it might make more sense to locate yourself in the city and figure out a transportation strategy to access that secluded beach on the edge of town that no one knows about!

Once you’ve got a sense of your destination, narrow your search to the ideal spots on the map. By doing this, you’ll often cut out as much as half of the potential options and be in a much better position to find the best airbnb for your stay.

2. Search in your price-range + a little more

Perhaps the easiest way to narrow down your search for the best Airbnbs is to limit your price-range; you know how much you want to spend, and also have the opportunity to weed out properties below your expectations by setting the lower price limit, too.

Typically, it’s important to be careful about not going over-budget before even arriving at your travel destination, but it still makes sense to search up to 10-20% over your intended price range.

One of the most valuable things to know about Airbnb rentals is that the price is not necessarily fixed. If you find a few great Airbnbs at your price-point and then find one that’s priced out-of-reach, but is the absolute best Airbnb you could hope for, contact the host!

There are many ways to go about this negotiation, but the easiest is probably just to explain how wonderful you think their property is and ask if they’d be willing to come down to the price of the others you found. You lose nothing by trying, and they lose a lot by not accepting. 

Unless the property is booked consistently, there is a good chance that the host will seriously consider your offer. Consider the example of a 5-night, $500 stay where the host’s operational cost is $100. Normally, that results in a profit of $400 for the property manager, but only if the apartment is rented.

If you offer $450 for the rental, the profit goes down to $350, but that’s still $350 in the host’s bank account that wouldn’t be there otherwise. Everyone can win here! This will work best with last-minute bookings (greater probability of Airbnb property going unsold) or longer stays (lower daily operational cost).

3. Amenities & deal-breakers

The amenities offered by an Airbnb rental unit can significantly impact your experience. One big plus for travelers that is often understimated is the washing machine. No one wants to go looking for the laundromat in a foreign city (let alone waste several precious vacation hours tending to the wash), and knowing you’ve got that easy access allows for lighter packing, too!

Does the apartment you’re renting have a shared pool/jacuzzi or a workout facility? What’s the access to nearby coffee shops or restaurants? Are you in a city where front-door security/concierge will make you more comfortable?

Then there are your absolute deal-breakers, which can be selected and filtered for to reduce the number of properties you have to consider in the search for the best Airbnb.

If you’re traveling with friends, you’ll definitely want to make sure you’ve got the right bed configurations to suit all parties. When staying somewhere tropical, or in a place with summers that bake the sidewalks, A/C is probably a deal-breaker; there is so much to be said for returning to refreshingly cool apartment or house after traipsing about in the heat.

Another key amenity that will be a deal-breaker for most is access to WiFi. Most Airbnbs offer it, but clicking on that WiFi amenity sorting option will often cull out of few stray properties that would make your electronic devices very unhappy.

The key here is to think about and filter for things you absolutely require, and then use additional amenities to further narrow down your options if you still see a lot of Airbnb properties you like.

4. The importance of reviews

Reviews are almost as much of a currency with Airbnb as cash-money. The whole Airbnb ecosystem is built around the idea that reviews will ferret out the poor opportunities and reveal the best ones, whether for the renter or property owner.

First, let’s start with property reviews. Generally, the more reviews you can read, the better you will understand the merits of the Airbnb property you are assessing. If there are more than one or two, you will start to pick out repetition in the reviews (i.e. no hot water, patchy wifi, better than the photos!), which will help you understand what others have found significant.

If there are no reviews, the property is probably new, but there is also a decent chance it’s not truly for rent. Airbnbs with no reviews might be willing to offer you a deal in order to establish credibility, but they also might be a dead-end. Proceed with caution!

Second, you’ll want to make sure you establish your own credibility. Even one positive review will help put an Airbnb owner/manager’s mind at ease when you approach them. If it’s your first time, include a little note about yourself and why you’d make a good renter (i.e. very clean, quiet, respectful, worked in hospitality before). Once you’ve got some reviews, no Airbnb property manager will bat an eye, but those first few reviews are crucial to always getting the best Airbnbs.

5. Make sure you can comply with property rules

It’s very important for a pleasant experience that you comply with the property owner’s rules. Why? You’ve got to remember that this Airbnb you’re renting is or was probably someone’s home. Airbnb is essentially a means of sharing vacation properties, and at the very least, the owner put considerable time into creating the beautiful environment that drew you to the space.

Beyond this element, Airbnb can be controversial for the owner’s neighbors, who might not have counted on so many new people passing through or making noise until the wee hours of morning. If you are the type to leave a hotel room looking like a tsunami blew through, Airbnb is not for you! Respect is an absolute key to a successful Airbnb rental and it’s also how you’ll establish yourself as a good renter in reviews of your stay.

6. Understand the cancellation policy

Unlike most hotel rates, Airbnb rental properties have three types of cancellation policies, and understanding which ones are acceptable to you is an important element to picking the best Airbnbs for your travels.

Flexible is awesome, because you can cancel in a way similar to most hotel policies, but it almost seems wrong to bail on a host who is tending to a single property, as opposed to a hotel front desk agent that deals with dozens of customers every day and has very little skin in the game.

Moderate is still decent if you will know for sure within 5 days before your trip if you’ll be able to keep the reservation, but after that you’re on the hook for the whole rate.

Strict cancellation involve losing a 50% to all of your reservation price if your plans change at any time, which will be an unacceptable loss for most.

In general, it makes the most sense to use Airbnb when you have firm plans, so that cancellation is unlikely, but if you’re on the fence about two properties, the one with the more lenient cancellation policy is compelling. Keep in mind that, regardless of the cancellation policy, the Airbnb service fee is always non-refundable. You can find a very detailed description of Airbnb’s cancellation policies here.

In Summary

Whether you’re just jumping into the vacation rental waters with Airbnb or you’ve experienced its benefits and drawbacks all over the world, it can be agreed that selecting the best Airbnbs is part strategy/part finesse. With these tips for selecting the best Airbnb property for your needs, you’ve got a solid framework from which to begin. Happy travels!

If you found this list of criteria for selecting the best Airbnbs, consider signing up for an account using this link. If you do, we’ll both get $40 in Airbnb travel credits, and your support of this website will be greatly appreciated!

Upside: Receive $200 off $400+ Flight!

Update: This Upside deal has expired, but you can still get $125 off your first trip of $400 or more!

Introducing Trevor’s Travel Tips

Welcome to the first post of my new travel website. I’ve been writing in the travel space for several years, particularly about earning and burning airline miles and rewards points. I’ve also written a number of city guides and destination reports and that’s where I see this website going.

This site will be oriented towards providing readers with great tips on hidden spots and strategies for making the most of visits to cities and natural sights across the world. That said, there will also be a healthy dose of advice on making travel cheaper. When really good deals come along, I want my readers to know about them!

A deal with major “Upside” potential

I wanted to start off with a bang, and this truly is an awesome opportunity. For the next week, I have a code from a newer booking website called Upside, which will grant you a $200 credit (redeemable for gift cards that are good as cash, like Amazon and Whole Foods!) on a flight booking of $400+.

Pro Tip: You can also redeem for an Airbnb gift card and take advantage of my post “Airbnb Like A Pro: Tips for Booking A Vacation Rental” for even greater savings!

I learned about Upside from Doctor of Credit, one of my favorite travel blogs, and you can read more about the deal from their post. I can’t say enough about how great their website is and how much I’ve learned from them, even though I only discovered them several years after I began my “miles and points” journey.

What makes my code particularly useful in this case is that Upside referral codes usually only grant a $125 referral bonus to the new user. Upside has increased my code to $200 through 8/31, which will save you an additional $75.

Trevor’s Travel Tips Upside Code: rx32zr

If you have any questions about this deal, my new website, or just want to drop a line and say hi, you can contact me at info@trevorstraveltips.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

Disclosure: I will earn a $25 credit when you complete your first booking and earn yourself $125. This is a mutually beneficial opportunity! With that said, I promise to always post the best available discount code I’m aware of when writing about deals. In this case, my code offers the highest credit currently available, so what are you waiting for?