In June I left the United States for the very first time. While exciting, it was also a stressful experience. Traveling to Mexico for a Spartan race does not have to be that complicated or expensive, but it will absolutely require planning and attention to detail. Traveling out of the country and continuing to compete as an elite athlete is a lot to process.
Planning the Travel
With the race being mid-June, my first task was obtaining a passport. Having never had a passport before and needing to battle the post covid travel surge to get one was a bit stressful. I needed to order my original notarized birth certificate, which was easy to do online and inexpensive, around $25 in Idaho. I had gotten one the previous fall but misplaced it and did not realize until it was time for the first passport appointment I had booked. I had to hurry and cancel that appointment and order a new copy. Then I had dig around to schedule a new in-person appointment, everywhere near me was booked. I had to look at several different places and ultimately drive 30 minutes for my appointment which I had to wait a couple weeks for. I had my passport appointment in early March and ended up paying to expedite it. I received my passport less than 3 weeks later which was a HUGE relief.
The next order of business was to book the lodging, while booking a plane ticket is certainly important. Unlike lodging near a race venue, plane tickets are unlikely to sell out. I had heard through the grapevine and a Mexican local that the town near the venue was small and lodging may be limited so I hopped onto my Airbnb app and booked a place in March while on my way to another race. I waited until the end of March to book my plane ticket; this was about 6 weeks out from the travel date. Given the uncertainty of things with covid, I even splurged and paid extra for travel insurance. By mid-April I had my lodging, plane ticket, and passport ready to go.
Traveling to Mexico
When searching for my flight I used google and hopper and tracked the flight for several weeks. When it came time to book, I determined that Delta was the cheapest option and booked directly through the Delta airline app using my Delta AmEx credit card so I could earn points for my purchase, I also happened to have $218 in airline credit to apply towards my airfare. For the rental carewe used the Booking.com app to easily scope out prices and book the accommodations. For lodging accommodations, I used the Airbnb app to find the best location and price as well as something that would accommodate me and other people, I was sharing lodging with.
Leaving the States
I started my travel out of Boise, Idaho so the actual travel time to Mexico for the Spartan race was not that long. I only needed to get to the airport about an hour before my flight left since I wasn’t checking a bad (I always travel to races with only my race backpack and a carry-on sized suitcase). My flight left Boise, Idaho around 8:30 am, arrived to LAX around 9:40am, and departed for Mexico out of LAX around 1:45 pm, finally arriving in Mexico City at about 7:30pm. Total travel time was about 11 hours which is not too bad. Getting through customs at LAX was simple but I was thankful to be traveling with a friend who had experience with international travel, otherwise I may have struggled.
- Delta- $560.70
- Allianz Travel Insurance- $42.05
Arriving in Mexico City
The biggest issue was getting into Mexico City at 7:30pm and then trying to navigate the rental car situation. My travel buddy had booked a car with Mex car rental but when we got to the kiosk in the airport there was no one in sight. Luckily, she had also previously had a reservation with Euro car that she cancelled (but it never went through apparently) because we realized it was a manual car, and we were not about to do that. We went to the Euro car kiosk, and they were able to get us set up with an automatic rental, but the language barrier did cause some issues. We were shuttled to the rental car destination (at this point it was about 9pm) and there was a long line. Thank goodness we got an English-speaking employee, however there was still some confused. Our understanding was that our car would be about $60 for about 4 days but it rung up as closer to $170. Apparently, they do not allow you to use your own car insurance you MUST purchase theirs. We were frustrated but had over a 3-hour drive ahead of us so got the car and headed out. Though did make a stop at a nearby Walmart in Mexico City so we could get snacks, breakfast items, bottled water and other drinks that would get us by for that night and following morning. Then finally we were on the road to Chignahuapan, Mexico.
Rental Car Information
- Europcar (through booking.com)
- $170 for 4 days
Driving in Mexico
Driving in Mexico is an interesting experience. Especially at night, there are potholes everywhere and seemingly no rules. People pass whenever you want, we got in many near head on collisions. Also, people drive on the shoulder in what seems to be a bike line, it apparently is not but rather the place people are expected to drive. I can only assume it is because you must be ready to gun it off the highway at any time due to people driving Mario kart style all over the road. It is very dark on the road in the middle of nowhere and our car made many funny noises, making it to our Airbnb was a distant hope at this point. We certainly drove on the wrong side of the road at one point when we almost took the fork the wrong way, but we lived to talk about it, later we discovered that isn’t unusual anyways.
Lodging in Mexico
We arrived at our Airbnb around 1 am. I was checking in with our host regularly through the app to let her know we were arriving late as she had to bring us the key. She was kind and the built-in translator that the Airbnb app has was super helpful. However, when we got into the tiny town we couldn’t figure out where our house was. Google maps lead us there-ish, but we couldn’t quite pin down the exact location in the dark. Thankfully the host was able to drive around the neighborhood until she found us and lead us to the property. We were so thankful to have arrived. The property had steel gates with locks, so we felt safe. The biggest downfall the first night was the constant howling of stray dogs throughout the night. Of course, there was no air conditioning being that this was a small mountain town in Mexico, but the temperatures were tolerable. The property was clean and had pretty much everything we needed for cooking and sleeping.
- Martha Imelda’s Place
- 3 nights
- 26 minutes, 18 km from the race venue
A Day in Mexico
In the morning we made coffee and enjoyed it in some authentic Mexican coffee mugs while sitting on the patio. The town we stayed in was small but quite aside from the footsteps and barks of the plethora of stray dogs that scatter the streets everywhere you go. The location of the property was close to the local downtown area as well as to the race venue. We were able to drive over by the venue for shakeout run. The area smells of pine trees, dust, and high altitude. It reminded me of my hometown honestly. After our shakeout run, we enjoyed some of the pretty murals and looking at shops in the downtown area and went to a smaller local Mexican Walmart where we got food to cook for dinner as well as lunch items and more snacks. We tried to be very careful with the food we consumed. We got ground beef and rice to make for lunch and dinner. I also got sopas and made a tostada type creation. We did not eat at any restaurants prior to the race and cooked with and drank only bottled water.
Eating in Mexico
As I mentioned earlier. We tried to be very careful about what we consumed prior to the race to make sure to avoid any GI upset. We browsed the Mexican grocery store for familiar looking items and tried to stick to bland things. The ground beef and rice seemed like a good idea for pre-race meals, but the ground beef took FOREVER to cook, it was the strangest thing. It just stayed pink. I cooked it for over 30 minutes at which point it ended up becoming basically salted meat pieces, but we made it work.
The fun part came post-race. At the venue I indulged in two post-race authentic Mexican tamales that were delightful. I also got some sort of pastry wrapped baked apple that I ate later. In the parking lot there was someone pedaling around sunflower brittle which I had to try and had no regrets.
Then began the chaotic post-race afternoon of trying to find out friends stolen passports, so the eating was on hold. After hours of talking to local police and looking all over the venue, we found ourselves in downtown Chignahuapan indulging in margaritas and a Mexican food buffet. I am not sure what I ate honestly. There was rice, various stews, different meat and veggies combos, and weird desserts, but it was all tasty (or maybe we were just starving). It was strange, I noticed in the authentic Mexican restaurants they don’t ever have chips and salsa like you would find in the states. The buffet didn’t even have tacos, nachos, enchiladas, tamales, or fajitas. After we ate there, we stopped at a local bakery, and I bought multiple pastries.
The following day we ventured to Zacatlan where I really indulged. For lunch we ate at a local place where I ordered enchiladas suizas and a side of nachos. My friend got chicken tostadas and it was only a total of $10 US. We left a $10 US tip because this just seemed too good to be true. My meal was great! We browsed the market in download Zacatlan and I got a mangonada (it was honestly disappointing and I have had better at Mexican food trucks in the states). We also got some ice cream that was wonderful.
That night we drove back to Mexico City and ate at the Hotel Riazor Aeropuerto restaurant which attempted to be multicultural and was not nearly as affordable. We again indulged in Margaritas, and I got a spin on chicken cordon bleu. The hotel restaurant was a bit more upscale and although the food wasn’t authentic, I did enjoy it.
I did in fact end up getting treated for e. coli about 10 days after my return from Mexico. We were super careful about what we ate and drank but we did drink drinks with ice and at some point, I picked something not good up.
- Agave – Zacatlan, Puebla
- Enchiladas Suizas- $3.76 US
- Nachos- $2.75 US
- Tostadas de pollo- $1.75 US
The venue itself was great. It was right off the main road that went through Chignahuapan at a local outdoor camping type facility called Llano Del Conejo. The biggest downfall of the venue location was the nearly 3-hour drive from the Mexico City airport. The drive is horrifying by the way, so many random potholes and people driving wherever they feel like it and with vehicles that don’t look road safe. But once you got to the town where the venue was located it was not bad at all. The venue was super easy to find with ample parking. It smelt of dry air and pine trees and honestly reminded me of the Idaho forests I grew up in. At over 7000 ft of elevation, you can certainly feel a bit of burn in your lungs once you start running. The plus side was the race being in June. Though it was quite warm during the day, the evenings and mornings were a bit cooler. You could quite easily find housing within 20-30 minutes from the venue and did not have to worry about traffic early in the morning and I am certain the only traffic would be the traffic of fellow racers.
I really enjoyed the variation this course had. Though it did not have a lot of mountain climbs like most people expected, we ran through dried up creek beds, on rocky paths, through wood chips and some bushes, as well as on some dirt roads. We were sent up and down a few steep climbs and even had a refreshing swim at the end. The course had a few obstacles that are rarely seen in the states and the Mexican Spartan race community was so uplifting and glad to have a national series race in their area.
The festival was also great. There were a variety of vendors. People were selling tequila shots and homemade tamales and tacos. There was quite a lot of entertainment though I did not partake in much of it myself. Do keep in mind that keeping your vehicle locked and your passport in a safe or hidden place is important as there is unfortunately a group of people who targets Spartan race Mexico venues and theft does occur.
What I saw/experienced
The small town of Chignahuapan, Puebla, Mexico was great. The downtown area had many shops, restaurants, and artwork but also was not too busy and felt very safe. We stayed in this area until after the race and then we ventured off to Zacatlan. While there we checked out all the wonderful street vendors in the downtown area. I bought souvenirs there for myself and family and we saw a beautiful mosaic mural. There was a lot of sightseeing to do in Zacatlan but we did not have too much time. The city center has a neat clock display and you could browse around traditional Mexican market shops all day.
The big thing we chose to do was to go ziplining. We used Zipline Zacatlan and it was a great experience. Thankfully we were accompanied but some English-speaking Mexican Spartan racers who were happy to translate for us as the instructors gave us safety instructions and explained the experience to us. It was a super cool group of people but started out a bit sketchy. We went a random hole in the wall looking place in downtown Zacatlan where we signed up for our zipline tour. It was only about $25, and, in the US, it is usually closer to $75-$100 for a ziplining experience.
Once we signed up, we went and explored the area until our time slot was approaching. At that point we sat in an empty room and eventually were escorted to a bus. It was a bit sketchy feeling, but eventually fellow Spartan racers were loaded up with us. They drove us about 20-30 minutes away to the other side of the beautiful canyon. The people that worked at the facility were so fun. The actual experience of soaring across the beautiful canyon was amazing though it is a quick ride. After you complete the ride, you complete your turn you must wait for all the other participants and then you have a short hike out of the canyon. It took probably 15 minutes and was a bit steep, but it is really pretty and adds to the adventure. A busy is then waiting to transport you back to the office. I was so glad we did this, totally worth it!
The trip came and went really fast. I had a lot of new experiences, a good amount of stress, and a whole bunch of fun. I shared the house with people I have never roomed with for a race before and it was great to get to know them. I got to experience new culture and sights and overall, I just felt like the experience of traveling to Mexico for a Spartan race added a lot of value to my life and I would highly recommend the experience. I do think I would go back!