Driving in Monterrey (or through it)? Listen to this wisdom and advice from the expert on Mexico travel, Mike Nelson.
Like the Colossus of Rhodes, Monterrey’s Cerro de la Silla (saddleback hill), visible from miles away stands like a silent sentinel, guarding the entrance to Mexico. While the city is a mere 1765 feet (538 meters), this distinctive peak rises to the sky at 5,970 feet (1,820 meters). It is a welcome sight promising an end to the monotonous 140 miles of barren land, dust devils, tumbleweeds and forlorn-looking cows from the Texas border. A multilane divided tollway whisks you from the two main border crossings – Reynosa or Nuevo Laredo in about 2 ½-3 hours.
You have to go through Monterrey to get anywhere in Mexico from Laredo or Reynosa. You don’t have to stop. Many people speed past it on a toll Periferico or bypass (NL-100D). In the old days, when driving from the border took longer, Monterrey was many people’s first stop. Today, even though there are more tourist attractions and a vibrant big-city flavor, most tourists are businessmen or senior tour groups. There’s plenty to discover in Mexico’s third-largest city with nearly five million residents.
If you drive in Monterrey with an RV, you won’t stop. There are no RV parks. The next one is Saltillo.
Monterrey’s the capital of Nuevo Leon state and has a history of being independent of the government in Mexico City, even today. In the 1582 King Phillip of Spain declared the Kingdom of Nuevo Leon in Mexico which included much of today’s Texas. Don Luis de Carvajal y de la Cueva (Portuguese with Jewish heritage) was appointed governor. He declared religious tolerance, welcoming both Jews and Christians to the new territory. Carvajal has his enemies in the Royal Court and was arrested in 1588 for enslaving Indians. He was acquitted of that, but the Inquisition court in Mexico City convicted him of the “crime” of not disclosing that his relatives practiced Judaism. He died in prison. The city was founded on Sept. 20, 1596, by Diego de Montemayor.
Regiomontaños (as people from Monterrey are known) admire the United States and will tell you that they feel they have more in common with Texas than Mexico City. For its independence, it is often excluded from federal government funds. The people of this prosperous vibrant city do well without them. The richest city ($25,636 per capita) in Latin America is a suburb of Monterrey – San Pedro Garza García. There are more people with college degrees than average. It is also considered one of the safest cities in Mexico with low crime rates.
Driving in Monterrey Can Be A Challenge
If you drive in Monterrey in a car or pickup, go for it. Driving TO Monterrey is easy. Driving AROUND Monterrey is a bear. It reminds me of driving in Chicago or Los Angeles. In my younger days, I got a kick out of the challenge. Today, not so much. For most people who are used to city traffic Monterrey traffic won’t overwhelm you. But your trip will be more enjoyable if you park the car for some of it.
I suggest is you take the Periférico around the city to the east until it turns south and into MEX-40D. A few miles later it dead ends into the main riverside drag, Constitución. Exit left onto that for downtown hotels. There will be exits for Centro. Hotels in Monterrey are pricier during the week (this is a business destination) and lower on weekends. The other choice is to find a less-expensive hotel farther out, but on a Metro line. That way you can leave your car at the hotel and still get most places. Or, if you’re young and full of vinegar, you’ll enjoy the adventure. Just be sure to stay off the roads during hora pico (rush hour). Ask your hotel for the current rush hours, but generally they will be from 7-9 AM and 4:00-8:00 PM.
This link to Booking.com will save you quite a bit. They have 35 hotels that are pet-friendly.
Monterrey’s Metro (subway) can get you just about anywhere you want to go for $5.50 MXN with discounts if you buy 10 tickets. It is beautiful, with murals at many stations. In fact, each station was made distinctive to help riders who cannot read.
Downtown, the Macroplaza is overwhelming in its size and sculptures. Smack in the middle of downtown are one hundred acres of open space and statues. The Faro del Comércio (lighthouse of commerce) rises high above, illuminating the way to Monterrey with a green laser at night.
Want Some Goat With That Candy?
One food Monterrey is famous for is cabrito al pastor or roast goat. Many countries cook goat and each is different. Cabrito al pastor s cooked over an open spit for six hours and very lightly spiced. To goat lovers, there is nothing finer. The Restaurant El Rey de Cabrito is internationally famous. The owner displays walls of pictures of him and celebrities from all over the world. It was the first place I tried cabrito and it has been the gateway drug dealer for many people. Cabrito was introduced by Jewish immigrants to this land noted for beef and pork production. There are other cabrito restaurants, El Gran Pastor and El Indio Azteca among them. If you don’t like goat, steaks, fajitas etc. are good.
The Monterrey area is famous for dulces or sweets. Las Glorias (caramel candy made from goat’s milk, sugar, cinnamon, pecans) are the most famous. A visit to the small Museo del Dulce is in order if you want to see how they are made and buy some inexpensively. It also is downtown.
This just scratches the surface of a little-visited area of Mexico. You don’t have to drive for days to get to see some place interesting in Mexico. If you are in Texas, a safe adventure may be only hours away.
“Mexico” Mike Nelson has been writing about Mexico for forty years. He currently offers road logs (guidebooks) for drivers and personalized trip-planning from his website, https://www.mexicomike.com
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