Mexico City’s Playground: Valle de Bravo

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Central America Mexico
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I’ve only been to Mexico once (so far!), but thanks to a good map and a passable rental car, Kevin and I managed to explore an eclectic collection of towns and historical sites in the span of only four days.  We flew into Mexico City and used the capital as our base to explore the surrounding region.  While we both agreed that the trip’s highlight was the opportunity to visit the ancient, pyramid-filled Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacan, the next day we traded the ancient for the modern and up-and-coming by heading for Valle de Bravo.  Located about ninety miles to the west of Mexico City, Valle de Bravo is where the capital’s well-to-do flock to blow off steam.

Like most resort towns, Valle de Bravo has large spa hotels and posh retreats.  Kevin and I are not tempted by the promise of luxury and relaxation; we appreciate adventure, and luckily for us, the real draw of this small lakeside community is the wide range of athletic activities it offers.  Outdoorsy types can go hang gliding, hiking, rent a boat or an ATV, or even join a yoga session.  The surrounding hills act as the town’s natural shield; here, you’ll feel as though you’re a world away from the smog and chaos of Mexico City.

Mexican lake

Since Valle de Bravo has been built around a human-made lake, it’s best to just do as the locals do.  Whether on a small motorboat, sailboat, or a sea-doo, make an effort to get out onto the water and explore the expansive lake.  Sun refuses to emerge from grey clouds?  Don’t let that stop you.  Kevin and I were able to rent a boat even in a light drizzle, and the less-than-desirable weather didn’t stop our fun.  Don’t know how to drive a boat?  No worries.  If you decide to rent a private motor boat, your price includes a personal captain.  We opted for an hour-long private boat tour, and we paid approximately fifty dollars for the experience.  It’s worth mentioning that the safety standards weren’t quite up to snuff with what one would expect in the States.  Kevin and I were shocked when we hopped on board without signing liability waivers, and the boat only had three life jackets: two sized for a six-foot-tall man and one fit for an elementary-aged child.  After struggling to buckle the child-sized option, our boat driver told me to simply not worry about it.  (If this makes you nervous, I’ll let you know that I felt perfectly safe.  The only time I’ve been truly upset about poor safety regulations was when Kevin and I took a cab in Istanbul that simply didn’t have any seat belts.  Nope.)

Valle de Bravo looks glamorous from the water.  Each waterfront abode is well-maintained and exudes the low-key wealth we often associate with chic communities.  Residents here enjoy privacy and serenity – for a price, to be sure, our boat captain informed us.

Valle de Bravo houses

The town has an exclusive feel that reminded me of Santa Monica; views in Valle de Bravo, like in Santa Monica, make for prime real estate.  I snapped the above photo during our boat tour of the lake…and if Kevin and I ever win the lottery, I now have an idea of where I’d like to retire.

Valle de Bravo waterfall

Our one-hour boat tour also included a stop at a secluded waterfall, where our captain pulled ashore and guided us to the top of the falls.  How awesome is that?  If you’re familiar with my site, you’ll know that I absolutely adore the heck out of waterfalls, and I often plan a waterfall or two into our travels even if we have to go a tad out of our way.  This little enclave, then, was a wonderful, welcome surprise.

The lake may be Valle de Bravo’s focal point, but touring it by boat isn’t the only way to view the water and surrounding mountains.  If you enjoy hiking, I’ve got the perfect spot for you.  We visited Valle de Bravo on a Sunday in late May, and although the skies were grey and cloudy, the temperature was warm and the town bustling with energetic weekenders.  Even so, the trail known La Pena, the town’s most popular hiking route, had not another soul.  The hike itself is within walking distance from the center of town, although one can drive up to its base.

This hike itself is more strenuous than it first looks, as it quickly becomes steeper the higher one climbs.  While it might not be ideal for children, nothing beyond a pair of sturdy shoes and a water is needed.  You can leave that grappling hook at home, folks!  Of course, I’d argue that the view is well worth the sweat and effort.

Valle de Bravo lake

When Kevin and I finally reached the peak and enjoyed that first, rewarding glimpse of the lake from up high, I couldn’t help but feel as though I were looking at a postcard or a stock photo.  Stunning just doesn’t do this place justice.  Take another look at that view!  It’s a real place on planet Earth, people.  Even I can barely believe it; it was that rare place Kevin and I simply didn’t want to leave.

It turned out we’d departed in the nick of time, though.  Just as we were starting our descent back into town, the skies finally made good on their promise and drenched us in a vengeful downpour.

Once we left the mountain, we hailed a cab and finally had the chance to see the much-touted colonial town center – Valle de Bravo’s other claim to fame.  I didn’t find it all that different from the other colonial-era squares we visited in Mexico, but I suppose you’ll have to travel there and judge for yourself.  (See what I did there?!)

Valle de Bravo water

Traveler Tips:

  • If you’re driving to Valle de Bravo from Mexico City, expect to pay about twenty to thirty dollars in tolls in each way.  Generally, the tolls around Mexico’s capital are much pricier than us in the States might be used to; you’re paying for safer and less crowded roads, though, than the toll-free routes that are frequently jam-packed with trucks and go directly through cities.  Carry cash on you at all times while driving, as the tolls don’t accept credit cards at the time of this writing, and don’t stop on the side of the road unless you’re one hundred percent certain that the person waving you over is a police officer.  (Most roadside folks are harmless, but they’re incredibly persistent salespeople who oftentimes dress as construction workers to encourage passers by to stop and look at their junk for sale).
  • Valle de Bravo is about a two-and-a-half hour drive from Mexico City, so unless you don’t mind the long drive, Valle de Bravo should probably be an overnight as opposed to a day trip.
  • Since the town caters to a clientele with disposable income, bartering for a better price on your boat rental won’t work.  Do shop around, though: by the town’s waterfront, there are a plethora of boat rental companies all offering competitive prices.  No matter how excited you are to get on the water, don’t jump at the first rental company you pass!  If you do rent a motorboat, it is customary to tip your boat’s driver.
  • As far as cities in Mexico go, I found Valle de Bravo to probably be one of the more ADA-accessible.  Unfortunately, for now, accessibility standards in Mexico are far lower than they are in the States, but we noticed some genuine efforts on the part of many towns that bodes well for the future.
  • Even though Valle de Bravo is pricey by Mexican standards, taxis are still cheap to American or Western European sensibilities.  Don’t forget to give the driver a small tip!

Valle de Bravo boat ride

Valle de Bravo dock

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