By Lois Ellison
Do you know how long it takes to drive from Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara and on to Lake Chapala? Well, neither did we, until we decided to make the trip this summer.
If you ask a dozen people, you’ll likely get a dozen different answers. Check some sites on the internet and voila, more answers. The range is usually anywhere from 4 ½ to 6 hours. Then there is the debate about which route is best: Highway 200 past Compostela and then on the cuota (toll road) or the route through Mascota. Many prefer the former, even though it is longer distance wise, because you can really make time on the cuota.
Others swear by the latter for its shorter distance and great scenery, even though it is two lanes most of the way on some rather marginal roads. Never mind that some of the internet sources say that route takes up to 8 hours.
On the way up, we chose the first route, thinking the roads would be better and faster. It was an interesting ride, even though if you get caught behind a bus or truck it takes an hour just to get to Sayulita, a distance of only 25 miles. Further on there was one stretch of road construction but traffic kept moving. Oh yes and our GPS routed us straight into the heart of Guadalajara in the late afternoon, instead of using the Guadalajara bypass. It took us almost 7 hours.
When it came time to return home, we really wanted to come back through Mascota but it had rained a lot and we were concerned about rockslides. If we got stuck behind one, there wouldn’t be any options except to wait until it was cleared. After much deliberation, we decided to go back the way we’d come, but we’d ignore the GPS and take the loop road around central Guadalajara.
My satisfaction at outsmarting the GPS was short-lived when miles of construction on the bypass slowed the heavy traffic to a crawl. As we inched our way to the other side of Guadalajara, I had the sneaking suspicion that this would be a very long day.
Thankfully, the scenery is varied and spectacular much of the way. Near Jala the now dormant Ceboruco volcano has decorated the ground with lava rocks. Next, the road takes you through lush mountains, broad valleys and ultimately to the low lying coastal areas starting at Jaltemba Bay.
Near Jala we saw evidence of the ongoing construction for the highly anticipated Jala-Puerto Vallarta highway.
That didn’t slow us down but starting on Highway 68 and continuing on Highway 200 almost all the way to Sayulita, we got stuck in at least four major road construction projects.
Not just stuck but totally and completely stopped for what seemed like interminable amounts of time. During each of these stops, traffic was reduced to one lane at a time in alternating directions.
Did I mention how hot it was that day? At each end of the stopped traffic, men stood with hand held signs to alert drivers when to stop or go.
They must have shed several pounds just sweating under the blistering mid-afternoon heat. Adding to their misery, a nearby hillside fire belched choking smoke into the air.
In the midst of all this, an entrepreneurial young man with a push cart appeared selling ice cream to the not so patient travelers sweltering in their cars.
It was the kind of moment that makes you pause and reflect on the indomitable spirit of the Mexican people.
We finally arrived home, hot, tired and very cranky after a 7 ½ hour drive. Adding insult to injury, the renovations on our home were not complete.
Lots of our furniture was piled high on our bed and we had to check into a hotel.
So here’s our take on the drive from Guadalajara. Even without all the road construction, it’s got to be at least a 6 hour ride.
The new road is being advertised as reducing the “4 ½ hour drive by 1 ½ hours”. Hah. If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge I can sell you.