One destination instantly springs to mind when we hear this: Mexico.
A holiday in this country will be a mind-blowing combination of unforgettable adventures, experiences, sensations and memories.
With your cases packed, these are some of the different ways of getting to know a country so diverse that you will need live there for a time in order to scratch the surface or, at the very least, come back time and time again. From beaches to mountains, get your tickets at the ready. We are going on one amazing trip…
So, how about starting with visiting some indigenous, pre-colonial parts of the country? (i.e. pre-Columbus and the arrival of Europeans).
With four thousand years of antiquity predating the discovery of this ‘new world’ by the Spanish in the 17th century, an array of indigenous peoples inhabited this land, living in perfect harmony with their surroundings and establishing their way of life and customs. Thought of as the mother culture, the Olmecs inhabited Veracruz in the Mexican Gulf and Tabasco, gauging rainy seasons by reading the stars.
The Toltecs, on the other hand, inhabited what is now the state of Hidalgo, on the high plateaux, and boasted a significant commercial and politico-religious presence that very nearly rivalled that of the far better known Mayans.
The Mayans inhabited Yucatán, Campeche, Quintana Roo, Chiapas and Tabasco and, governed by feudal lords, were a nation of prominence between the third and the ninth century. Masters of hieroglyphs, mathematics, astronomy and architecture, they built observatories in which they studied the stars, lunar cycles, the sun and Venus. Even though the Mayans are believed to have disappeared, to this day their descendants continue to travel the world keeping their Mayan language alive.
Travelling across Mexico and exploring their settlements would be an ideal way of living their legends and immersing yourself in the magic of one of the most cinematographic of countries.
So, let’s travel through time, through this maze of mysteries to Chinchén Itza and to Mérida, , recognised as being Heritage of Humanity, where we can visit the instagramable jungle ruins of Uxmal.
Juarez, in Oxaca is one of the country’s most beautiful cities owing to its historical colonial centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With its vibrant and much-loved traditions, colourful and popular festivals and picturesque street markets, the ruins of Monte Albán, built by the Zapotecs between 500BC and 800AD and now
also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, gives us the very best a pre-Hispanic city has to offer.
But there is more to Oxaca than its ruins. It is diverse and attractive in other ways too. It is a magical city with a magnificent centre beside the calm waters of Puerto Escondido and the bays of Huatulco and Playa de La Entrega. This is a true paradise on earth for anyone wanting to lose themselves for weeks at a time.
Nevertheless, without doubt, Oxaca’s real USP is it culinary traditions and how it allows you to discover Mexico through food:
Tacos, salsa, enchiladas, guacamole, white, red or green maize stew, edible insects such as the dried eggs of water insects called ahuautle, ant larvae called escamoles (thought of as an ‘insect caviar’), an edible caterpillar called the agave worm, or el gusano de maguey in Spanish, chicanas or large grasshoppers, chaveles in corn husks such the Yucatán tamale, corn, chilli (with its 17 different varieties), chocolate, fajitas, burritos, empanadas, aguachile shrimps (shrimps in hot chilliwater sauce), huarache, quesadillas, Oxaca cheese, panela cheese, tortilla chips, savoury appetisers, Mexican cakes, fresh pickled seafood… and for dessert why not try mammee apple jelly, coconut kisses, sugar-coated peanuts, alfeñique sweets, guava sweets, muéganos or black zapote sauce cakes.
And if you have a thirst to quench don’t forget Mezcal, Pox, Tequila, the Torito, southern-Californian wines, Pulque, Tepache, fresh fruit juices both sweet and acidic and, of course, the lager.
Ok, let’s prize ourselves away from the food…
Let’s continue on our journey, like a modern-day Indiana Jones. But let’s come as adventurers and discoverers who want to share and be a part of the country, not as colonisers. Let’s relax and enjoy at Rivera Maya and its different settlements, all running along the edge of its turquoise waters.
At Tulum, we can both bask in the warm sun and learn about the history, given that its white sands rise to an archaeological settlement dating from around 1,000AD. How about that for the perfect Instagram profile picture?
Ambling from temple to temple on a bicycle, in Cobá we can climb the highest Mayan pyramid which, standing at over 40m, affords a stunning view.
And as if this were not enough, why not change landscapes completely and visit Campeche. Here, there is Balamkú, situated at the heart of the jungle, and quite simply a ‘frieze of the universe’. In Calakmul, we can venture even further into the tropical jungle, thanks to eco-tourism and eco-adventures, and explore the second ‘natural lung’ of the continent.
Next stop Cancún, widely thought of as doorway to the Mayan world, with its ruins and the cultural melting pot atmosphere of its beaches to discover. From its splendid, turquoise sea we can embark on our journey in search of legends.
What’s more, the Mayans inhabited as far as Quintana Roo, Tabasco and Chiapas, making a perfect trail to follow in order to get to know the states of this incredible country and its Hollwood-inspiring landscapes.
How about some down time on the coast?
If your quest into Cancún and Tulum leaves you wanting more, you simply can’t go to Mexico without planting your sun umbrella very firmly in the sands of Playa del Carmen and devouring the views of Los Cabos, also designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. From San José del Cabo to Cabo San Lucas, there is eco-tourism and nightlife to enjoy in equal measure.
And it goes without saying, don’t forget to pack your best bikinis for Puerto Vallarta, or to climb the 14 kilometres to Mismaloya in Jalisco, where the filming of The Night of the Iguana took place.
As we approach the end our coastal tour, let’s get to know Acapulco, one of Mexico’s oldest seaside resorts. Acapulco has three distinct zones: Traditional Acapulco, Golden Acapulco and Diamond Acapulco, and the latter still has all the elegance and glamour that made the great Hollywood stars of the previous century fall in love with it.
Don’t forget to pose at Quintana Roo at the pretty Isla Mujeres and Akumal. They’ll leave you breathless!
And last but not least, the capital city…
Having already been to the previous locations, summing up all the must-see sights of Guadalajara and Puebla, now is the time to explore Mexico City, commonly known as D.F. by Mexicans (Federal District).
This immense and sprawling city has a wealth of attractions just waiting to be explored, but this is my top 30:
- La Plaza de la Constitución – Mexico City’s main square
- El museo mural Diego Rivera – a museum of Mexican art built by the husband of Frida Kahlo
- El bosque y el Castillo de Chapultepec – castle and park, and an oasis in a busy city
- La plaza de las tres culturas – historic site paying homage to the mixed roots of Mexican heritage
- El Museo del Templo Mayor – museum of pre-conquest Mexico
- El paseo de la Reforma
- La plaza Garibaldi – a square featuring quintessentially Mexican mariachi bands
- El parque de los Venados – a park with a playground and a small carnival
- Parque México – Mexico Park
- La Casa de los azulejos – the ‘House of Tiles’
- 12 El museo nacional de Antropología – a world class museum
- El museo Frida Kahlo, ‘La Casa Azul’ – The Frida Kahlo art gallery, known as the ‘Blue House’
- La diferente basílica de Santa María de Guadalupe – a stunning religious shrine
- The Zócalo – the beating heart of the city and a must-see
- El mercado de la Ciudadelas – a flea market perfect for picking up all your souvenirs
- Lose yourself in the historic centre of the city, between the Allende metro station and the Palace of Fine Arts, and savour its glorious architecture
- El Palacio de Bellas Artes – The Palace of Fine Arts
- El Palacio Postal – a stunning building that housed Mexico’s first post office
- La indígena Ciudad Universitaria – a university and cultural centre
- La catedral metropolitana – an iconic cathedral
- Coyoacan, a charming area of the city, well worth a visit
- Las ruinas del templo mayor – archeological site
- El Museo Dolores Olmedo – The Museum of Dolores Olmeda, housing a fabulous collection of work by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo
- Las pirámides de Teotihuacan – The Pyramids of Teotihuacan
- El lago de Texcoco – Texcoco Lake
- If masked wrestling takes your fancy, Arena Mexico will be right up your street
- Xochimilco y sus jardines – canals and gardens, a Mexican Amsterdam!
- Ajusco National Park
This is a mere glimpse of a country so varied and jam-packed with things to see and do and places to visit, that getting lost in it may well be the way to find yourself. Streets, jungles, beaches, history, legends… Mexico has it all, and is best appreciated by savouring it little by little, with a camera in hand and an open mind.
So, fancy going? Altogether now