BICYCLE ROUTETOURING THE TABASCO COAST ROAD
The little state of Tabasco is often overlooked by travellers and is one of the least visited states in Mexico. It’s easy to see why–the majority of its coastline, jungles, and swamps has been swallowed up by the oil industry. Ciudad de Pemex (City of Pemex) is the main hub of Mexico’s state-run oil company. Ships and oil-rigs leave from the busy port of Dos Bocas on the far eastern shore. My dad worked in this area in the early 1980s, so I was keen to see it with my own eyes. With all this industry going on, you can see why most tourists skip this region and head to the Yucatan or Chiapas.
However, Tabasco does have one crown jewel: The 50 mile coastal road running from Villa Sánchez Magallanes to Paraíso, on the Gulf of Mexico’s western shore. This crumbling run-down old highway is free from hotels, beach-side developments and tourists; and Julie and I both agreed that it was, hands-down, the best road we cycled in Mexico.
We rolled into the small coastal town of Villa Sánchez Magallanes in the early afternoon, just before a mighty thunderstorm hit. Drenched with sweat after a long 60-mile day, we made it to a hotel in town just in time. After freshening up and waiting for the rain to subside, we ducked out in search of a bite to eat. After scoring fresh shrimp and wrecking a whole pollo asado, we strolled to the beach a block away. How very disappointing! Unlike the beach resorts around the Yucatan and the Pacific Coast, the Mexican government have given very little love to the beaches in this area. The locals were burning their trash right next to the sea; discarded fishing nets lay tangled around the break-waters, and litter was dumped everywhere. It was a sad sorry state of affairs and no one seemed to care. We now wondered if the whole Tabasco coast was going to be a trash pile.
The following day at 6AM, an early start for us, we headed out. We wanted to beat the heat and the forecasted storm that would be making its way over in the late afternoon. With the bike loaded it was time to dodge the water-clogged potholes and follow the main road out of town. A narrow bridge separated the town from the spit. In the north, the Gulf of Mexico started to wake up to pastel magenta and orange hues over the horizon, while in the south lay the flat expanse of water that makes up the Laguna de la Machona; and in the very distance were the lush green coastal plains of Tabasco. We quickly descended the bridge on to the highway. Palm groves loomed over us from both sides of the road, with the occasional glimpse of the Gulf peeking through the break in the trees. In some places, the spit was so narrow that there was water just meters away on both sides of the road. To our left, rollers broke over the beach. To the right, flat, almost stagnant waters of the lagoon. Passing small clusters of ramshackle houses, every now and then we’d see someone selling coconuts on their front porch.
After 10 miles into the route, it was time to pull over and make a coffee. A deep breath and it was time for a wander on the beach which, to our amazement, was pristine. Even more incredibly, there wasn’t a soul on the sand for the miles and miles of perfect palm-laced beach. I never thought I’d see such a wild coastline on the Gulf of Mexico. This would be the perfect place to sling a hammock or pitch a tent for the night or two; and it was like this for the next 30 miles or so. When the sun got too unbearable, we’d find some shade under a bunch of palm trees, knock a coconut down, pry it open and drink the milk. Cooling off was too easy having the lukewarm ocean an arm’s length away. Stop. Swim. Ride. Repeat.
Along the route the highway went from smooth blacktop to potholes in an instant. In some places the road literally became the beach as frequent storms had washed parts of it away. Thick sand made for hike and bike sections and slow progress. A fatbike or 27.5+ mountain bike would be perfect, I kept telling myself, but alas we were on a heavily loaded tandem so pushing and dragging the beast through the sand was the only option.
The storm we had been eyeing up in the distance had finally caught up with us. As it approached the coast the headwind picked up slowing us to a snails pace. Bolts of lightening constantly pounded the sea, lighting up the distant oil rigs on the horizon, we took shelter from the ferocious downpour in a bus stop. Before we could count to 10, the storm had vanished but not before leaving the road to Paraíso soggy, muddy and extremely humid. As we closed in on the town, the traffic steadily increased and the roads finally became smooth. We kissed the Gulf and the lagoon goodbye and navigated our way to the town square, where we checked ourselves into a cheap hotel and ate fat, juicy, giant steaks to celebrate such a wonderful day of riding.
MAP & GPS
NEED TO KNOW.
- The route is 47 miles. A easy day ride, however splitting it up for an overnight camp on the beach would be great.
- Wild camping along the remote sections of the beach would be awesome. A hammock would be the best option. If in doubt, ask, the people are super friendly along this coast.
- Cheap hotels can be found in bothVilla Sánchez Magallanes and Paraíso.
- Food/Water can be bought easily along the route. Both towns have large supermarkets and restaurants. Coconuts and fresh mangos can be bought from sellers along the way. There is a 15 mile gap between the toll booths where there are no shops.
- 10 peso toll at each end of the highway. You only have to pay one way.
- Best time of year to go would be December to March. Temperatures and humidity would be low. We went in the rainy season and the humidity was easily at 80%. Also, there’s chances of hurricanes from June to November.
- The road is mixed terrane. The first 10/15 miles is smooth black top. When you get to the toll booth, the road deteriorates rapidly into loose chipseal, gravel, deep soft sand. At some points the road completely disperse into the beach.
- Bicycles with thick tires would be fine: 700x28 up/26x1.75 up. There are very limited parts where road turns into soft sand, so you might be pushing for a few meters. Mountain Bikes would love it.