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Mexico is a beautiful country, and has almost everything to suit any traveller’s taste: ecology, nature, adventure, museums, culture, ancient ruins, history... It is a third world country because some areas have no services and a lot of the population earn the minimum wage, but also expect to see first world cities and services. This is a country of contrasts.
Mexico City has theatres, a National Ballet, National Symphonic & Philharmonic Orchestras, Opera, cinemas, restaurants and in the shopping areas you will see form Chanel to Hummer Dealers.
Let’s start with some basics: Mexico is not South America, is not even Central America !! It is part of North America along with the USA and Canada . If you get a map of the continent you will be able to see it: The 3 big countries make North America, then Central America is that thin bit underneath it. (from Guatemala and Belize to Panama ). Then it gets really huge again, that is South America Starting with Colombia & Venezuela . Is not only for your general knowledge but to clear this misconception because people sometimes plan a trip to Argentina and then thinking about a” little” jump to Mexico, “now that they are in South America and all…” so just for you to know, London in closer to Mexico City than Buenos Aires! Or the same if you go to the US , Cancun is a 4hrs and a half flight from Los Angeles .
This ties up with the next think you have to think about: distances are HUGE, and means of travel are not that good, there are no trains!! So you end up at the mercy of an unreliable coach due to pass at sometime… so don’t plan tight schedules. In all the cities and airports, do go to the public transport or the official taxis, never stop a taxi off the street!!! it can be dangerous. It might be more expensive, but se the taxi services of the hotels. Buses are unreliable (there is no time-table) but if you’re not in a hurry, it can be fun. It is a vast amazing place full of colour, traditions, culture and history.
Spanish is spoken nearly everywhere (except for some Native Indian areas) but be careful if you know some Spanish because although Spanish - Spanish is the same as Mexican Spanish: some words are different, so a Mexican will not recognise Spanish words (for example: shrimp/prawn: it is called gamba in Spain , it is called camaron in Mexico ) Also the TH pronunciation is not used in Mexico , so don’t say: THERVESA (beer: cerveza) because they will not understand or if they do, they will laugh!!! C and S are pronounced like the English S (like in Saturday, Sea..) Mexico has a vast range of climates, you will find snow in the mountains (although it almost never snows) deserts and rainforest. Mexico is divided in the middle by the tropic of Cancer so expect the tropical heat to be moderate, like in Calcutta !!!. Please do take with you sun-glasses, sun block and hat, they will be a must.
If you are vegetarian is going to be difficult to find vegetarian restaurants, they are virtually inexistent!! there are about 5 in Mexico city for 20 million people! that tells you how many veggies are there… you might end up eating cheese and tortilla all the time, as even vegetable soup is done with chicken stock. If self catering, take in consideration that a lot of concepts you’re used to will not exist: no such thing as being able to trace where the food comes from, no such thing as free range, or organic… if you make an effort, you might find some very specialized farm shops but they are rare. Veggies, the food you can eat: Quesadillas (combination of cheese (queso) and tortilla). Most tortilla is made of corn (there is even one corn that is green-blue! don’t miss it if you see it), while flour tortillas, are mainly found in the north. They fill the tortilla with mushrooms or cheese. Another delicious exotic filling for veggies to try is: pumpkin flower, (yep, they eat flowers too!! that is a tradition dating form the Aztecs!) Of course you can survive on salads and fruit, but there is enough the variety and richness of Mexican food, along with China , is the only foods that are recognized by UNESCO as humanity’s patrimony. And another myth buster here: fajitas and nachos are NOT Mexican food. Shocked? prepare for another ne: not all the food is spicy (hot).
About “Moctezuma’s Revenge” (otherwise known as Delhi Belly): There are areas where water from the tab is not drinkable, so don’t ever drink it, or take water from public fountains. Also, f you buy in the market/supermarket fruit and vegetables you must wash them always before you eat them. Not all is lost for our veggie friends: fruit and vegetables are the typical snack, so you will see street vendors everywhere selling mangoes, watermelon, cucumber… and the way to eat them is with salt, chilli powder and lime juice!!! If you don’t like spicy hot, just ask for salt and lime juice, is delicious!!! (you just say: “sin chile!, solo limón y sal” ). Lime kills the germs naturally, so is pretty safe.
As for hot food, also sold in the streets, is relatively safe anywhere just eat where the locals eat, and it seems clean. They have fried food too, so that also is safe to eat. Depending on the area, there will be regional foods that depend mainly on the local ingredients and the season. Tip: don’t drink cold beverages, it sounds crazy, I know, but observe the locals: they go for coffee, hot beverage raises your body temperature, so the difference between the temperature of your body and the atmosphere reduces, and you feel better. If you keep cooling yourself this difference increases and that is why tourists feel like walking into a sauna. As usual: when in Rome … Please, do be careful if you have allergies, nuts are widely used in the food and most is not labelled for allergics!
Also, it's common sense, but: please do not travel with expensive jewellery, or open your wallet at full sight of people, be careful with your camera and belongings, etc. remember, you’re not in Kansas anymore! ; ) The exchange will work for you, so you will find that your trip can be very cheap, it will be around 15/18 pesos to the euro/pound. You can have a good meal for 3 pounds in a market and you can also pay 150 pounds per person in a Michelin star restaurant. If you’re on budget, you won’t starve here! ; ) About shopping, you can find everything in the cities, specially in Mexico City, but if you’re into brands and fashion don’t expect to see cheap things, and in the markets they sell counterfeits, so be careful and don’t risk it because is a federal offence. Hugo Boss will have the same prices as in London , so it may not be worth it.
In Mexico, the ultimate souvenir is the handcrafts. You will see marvellous pieces everywhere: pottery, textiles, silver, clothes, woodwork… the hands of the Mexican craft makers are capable of great beauty. This is just general tips and advice, do please get a guide if you need detailed information. The country is divided in 33 States, the official name is Estados Unidos Mexicanos. Mexican United States.
A lot of countries in this vast continent are made of a federation of states so, a lot will have Estados Unidos in their name one way of another, and to finish off, they are all are from America!!! . It is a democratic country, the president rule the country along with a senate and a depute chamber, elected every 6 years. Schools can be both: private and state ruled. At state schools there is no teaching of religion and if you are up early on a Monday (school starts at 8:00am), you can see the kids doing “Honouring of the Flag” at the schools, is a very nice way of starting the week. The country is majorly catholic, and most churches and cathedrals are working, open all day and usually free to visit. There are other religions as well, all tolerated and living in harmony, but be warned, Political Correctness is not known, so you will hear comments and jokes of all sorts and is part of the freedom in this place.
Lets divide this country in 4 main areas, so you can plan what you want to see, eat and do:
1) The North About the area: This is desert: Heat is extreme and dry in this area during the day. Keep a water bottle with you at all times. But at night temperatures drop, so do have warm clothes with you if you’re visiting. The border states with the US are unsafe and you may not want to go there. If you had travelled to places like Colombia or South Africa maybe you find almost like a joke to say that is violent, but for “light” backpackers or women alone you should think about not doing it. If you really, but really want to go; then go… BUT be very careful. Gunshots at the middle of the city square at midday are common.
What is there more safe to visit: State of Baja California
When they paid their debts of with territory to the Americans, they ended up splitting the state of California in two, so the northern part of it was given to the USA and the southern part (Baja, meaning lower) was kept by Mexico, hence the name. Not contented with that, then they split that poor state in two parts: being a peninsula, they have the northern Baja (Norte) and the southern (Sur) Baja. The Baja California Sur is really a beautiful place, surrounded by amazing beauty, is a desert peninsula surrounded by sea, here you can see sea lions, whales (they come to have their offspring) and nice new developments, for the petrol heads there is a fantastic rally, and tours into the desert are awesome. You will arrive if by plane to the only airport to cover this area is Los Cabos International Airport . In this area you can visit: Cabo San Lucas, San José del Cabo and La Paz .
This is an area for the nature lovers, beaches, windsurfing, scuba diving, snorkelling, kayaking an camping sites… a must. Food: Tacos is a soft flour tortilla (not those hard shells you can buy here) with meats on top, in this area is famous to put seafood and fish in it. The usual way of eating it is with lime and salt, and salsas (hot sauces) are set on the table or on the food stall for people to help themselves. Try a VERY small amount first, and then see if you like the flavour and if it is not too hot for you.
Baja California Norte - This is the upper part of the divided state of California, the one that borders the USA, you may not want to visit right now, as it can be dangerous, but some people are attracted by ”The infamous” Tijuana City, that is a place for teenage Americans to come and have wild parties (legal age for drinking is earlier that in the States) and do drugs and other “recreational” activities. If you really want to go, just be careful and ready to see tacky places. Donkeys are painted as zebras for the souvenir photos (wearing a sombrero, of course) and there is betting, gambling (in the picture you can see the arena for Jai Alai, a Spanish version (quicker) than squash. It has a big crowd of fans and has a very lively atmosphere. It is still a lively normal city, so don’t expect It all to be a living hell, has some nice restaurants and all.
Chihuahua State - Yes, like the doggie, this is where those sorry looking dogs come from. ; ) This is a very vast state, home to the famous Tarahumara Indians. If you like running, this is a name that might be familiar for you; this indigenous group has a tradition of running for miles barefoot. It is a breathtaking desert experience, and is home of the only working train in this country, it is a touristic route to the Mexican side of the famous Grand Canyon. Food: This is a place for meat lovers, the quality of the beef is excellent and also they have good cheeses. Typical crafts: Ceramics, Textiles, jewellery and musical instruments. Visiting is really an experience of a life time. The capital: Chihuahua City is a big city but not much more and don’t even go near Ciudad Juarez .
State of Nuevo Leon - Monterrey , the capital city of the state. This is the second city in the country, it is worth a visit if you like cities: is an industrial, big, fast paced city with restaurants, golf, theatres… but not much of a soul, it is wealthy and impressive, but not for the hippy, eco-warrior and light travellers. It is warded by the “Cerro de la Silla ” an odd looking mountain good for hiking that is shaped as a riding saddle, hence the name in Spanish. http://www.allaboutmonterrey.com/
Food: The “machaca” is jerked beef (dried meat) and it is typical to have it mixed with scrambled eggs for breakfast, really nice. Also the little goat: “Cabrito” is the city’s dish: succulent meat, very tender done in the spit. Not to be missed.
Central Belt About the area: Welcome to the Tropic of Cancer. Heat is moderate but dry in this area. Keep a water bottle with you at all times. If you like the idea of Haciendas and the time of the mining industry, you will love it (places like you see in Tarantino movies or others like La Mexicana o el Mariachi). This area is full of history and even ghost towns. This area is full of Churches and Cathedrals worth seeing for their art and architecture accented with the miners’ offerings. (Goldleaf is everywhere!!!) This area is not as unstable as the north but you still have to be careful.
Humboldt called it “the city of Palace ” and he was very right, this city is a delight for architecture and art lovers. This is a HUGE city, and all there is to see is mostly in the centre, please do be careful and avoid getting of the touristic trail, keep yourself to busy streets and beware of pickpockets. In the centre you have the Opera House “Bellas Artes” made of marble in an amazing Deco Style and worth a visit, see if the theatre is open to visit so you can admire the main curtain, and also the murals from the Mexican artists.
Nearby you have the Zocalo, the heart f the city. It has a marker where all the roads start and from there are marked all the kilometres, so is known as the Zero Point. It also has the official markers of the length of a meter and other guidelines. It has the mighty Cathedral, take a look inside and behold the baroque work in it. There is also the Palace of Government , don’t miss the visit to the murals inside it.
Behind the Cathedral you can visit the Museum of Medicine , that is held in the house that was the Holy Spanish Inquisition, the small area in front of it is where the Indians were tortured and executed if they refused to convert, there is a fountain in the site now. Also walk between the Government Palace and the Cathedral and straight ahead you can visit the ruins if the Mayor Temple , the Spaniards built on top of the pyramids of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan , so you can see the temples and pyramids emerging from the ground.
Try to walk the avenue Reforma. Is one of the longest avenues in the world and it goes from where the Opera House is, passing through the financial area to the monument of Independence, called the Angel (angel) you cant miss it, is a big column with a golden angel on top… and follow it until the national park: Chapultepec. This is a huge park with a castle (the remnant of the Austrian empire that held them for some years) good hike and worth a visit, a zoo, and several museums. If you like modern art, don’t miss the Museo de Arte Moderno , and in front of it, the Tamayo Museum .
The Museo de Antropologia is the best thing you can visit because it has the best archaeological treasures from all the country, is an architectural beauty and has a very comprehensive explanation of the whole of the different ethnic groups. If you would like a walk to the trendy, modern and wealthy area of Polanco, that is very nearby, there are restaurants for all kind of tastes and also galleries, and brand boutiques. The houses are beautiful and you can see all kind of styles, being the deco and Noveau the most amazing. The main avenue, Presidente Masaryk is famous not only for the shopping and restaurants, but the houses!!! The design and architectural craftsmanship are amazing in them.
You can use the subway: “metro”, is very, very large, but don’t worry!!! is the only one in the world that has images for each station, designed for the Olympics back in 1968, this pictographic system crumbles the language barrier, so you can easily recognize where to go. Avoid the rush hour (6:00 to 10:am, around 2:00pm and between 4:00 and 7:00pm it closes around 11:00pm) and beware of pickpockets.
Ciudad Universitaria, ( university City ) is a huge complex, it has all the schools and faculties and also a nice stadium done for the Olympics, it has theatres and areas with landscaping and monumental sculptures. It is in the south part of the city.
Also in the south you can visit the traditional Barrio of Coyoacan, and if you go, visit the house of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, now a museum.
There is a bullfight ring and there is bullfight most Sundays, if you like that sort of thing, if you don’t you can always go and support the people who are always at the entrance complaining against the barbaric sport.
If you like football there are many football (soccer) teams and some of the stadiums are amazing to see even without a match, like the Estadio Azteca. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estadio_... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Club_Am%... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Club_Necaxa
There is a race circuit; they usually have NASCAR and Indy Races from the USA , also show races of Le Mans and Super Bike, plus the national championships.
Also the theatre circuit has musicals like in London or New York , and other big productions, also the live music scene is big and most world wide known artists play in the national auditorium and other venues.
Day trips to do while in Mexico City :
Teotihuacan, The City of the Gods, an impressive complex of pyramids and archaeological remains.
Xochimilco: The Aztec capital used to be on a lake, so it was a complex system of channels, farming and living areas. Nowadays is home for gardens and plants that are for sale and tourist trips in long boats full of flowers. You can eat and have a drink and even get a mariachi band to play for you while you sail, as small boats with vendors will approach you offering food, a cold beer or a happy song…
Tepotzotlan - A ride to the north of Mexico city takes you to this nice little village famous for its church and convent, now a museum. State of Hidalgo - This state is where the independence from Spain started, there are a lot of historic sites. This is a very nice area, here, the temperatures are lower and fresher.
For the British tourist: there were various British mining companies exploding this area in the 1800’s so you can visit a British Cemetery, eat “pastes” (what the locals made out of the pasties) and even bump into a blue-eyed Mexican ;) If you want archaeology and mystery: do visit TULA Is an old ceremonial city, very ancient and in very good condition. Is a culture older than the Aztecs, they were gone by the time the Aztecs were there, so even for them was a mystery who did this place.
The famous ATLANTES or Giants form Tula had sparked controversies, like in other monolithic sites: “are they form Atlantis or aliens?” but never the less an ancient marvel of building and art.
State of Morelos -This is another pretty central state, very dry and also with a lot of colonial history. Here you can visit:
Tepoztlan This is an amazing place, specially for hippy travellers. It is close to a very beautiful and high mountain, there the astrologers say there is a “portal” and there are all kind of quartz shops, healers, and if you’re not into that, still is a place to hike, camp and have good food.
Nearby, Cuernavaca , “the city of the eternal spring” is nice to visit, although ther is not much around, the place is a beauty by itself with nice restaurants, but I think it better can be used as base camp, and go from there to see the other places.
If you need to recharge batteries, Tequesquitenco, is a nice lake with spas.
Nearby the two volcanoes that are Mexico ’s City’s sentinels can be visited, if you’re an experienced climber, do note one of the volcanoes is active, so you need to see if the area is open. Typical villages are on the way and you can buy pretty woolly jumpers for very good price!!! and also visit the monasteries if you can. (yes, cider and all!)
Guanajuato State - With a capital city of the same name, this is another mining industrial place, now seat of the culture, with a very famous university and museums. The city of Guanajuato is an amazing labyrinth excavated in the rock, a city of alleys full of love and ghost stories alike. It is an Unesco site. Don’t miss it. It is typical to accompany the local musicians to walk and sing through the city at night, participate in a “callejonada” (alleywalk)
There is a landmark: the alley of the kiss: This place is home to the legend Romeo & Juliet style of two young lovers that kissed in their balconies (the alley is that narrow!) but ended up in tragedy… In general this is the most haunted city in Mexico , (well, that is how the story goes) but what is true is that is the city with more legends and stories attached to it.
There is a story for all the landmarks, and have a ghost for each. The scariest one is the “Llorona” (crying woman), there are many versions, but the basic story is that a peasant loved a nobleman who spurned her. She had two children whom she drowned in a moment of insanity. When she realized what she did, she cried out, “Mis hijos!” (my children!) Later, she drowned herself. Shortly thereafter, her wailing ghost began to appear, often repeating, “Mis hijos!” as she searched for her boys… and some say you can still hear her in Guanajuato.
Also an attraction, not for the faint hearted, is the mummies. Naturally preserved because of the weather, the collection is people from the local cemetery. At the end of the tour the locals sell you a candy shaped up like the mummies: charamusca.
It holds the Festival Cervantino in October/November. Cervantes is the father of Spanish literature, yes the same guy that wrote the Quijote, and is a celebration of the arts.
San Miguel de Allende This is a colonial city that has not grown much and keeps it charm, is very lively with culture and art. The cathedral is one of the most impressive in Mexico .
For the petrol-heads, the city of Leon , once a year is home to the world rally championship, a very good venue or this sport.
There is not much else to do in the city apart form the neo-gothic cathedral, if you go, please don’t miss the catacombs.
There is a local delicacy not to miss: CAJETA. Is a sweet toffee like dessert made with goats milk, very nice and has a liqueur taste. It is sold plain, to spread in your toast like nutella or used for confectionery. There is a local sweetie made of communion bread (of course not consecrated!) and filled with this sweetie. Is really nice and low fat! ;)
The state of Jalisco. This is a nice state full of little beaches and little known places. All worth a visit and you can do it in a shoestring.
Puerto Vallarta is the most famous beach. Is nice and has galleries and restaurants, very trendy but still traditional.
Tequila is the Hometown of the famous drink. This is a place, just like champagne, that has it’s name from the region, only tequila can be made in tequila. Time for another myth buster!!! If you ever drank tequila from a bottle that had a worm, (I hope you didn’t eat it), I’im sorry to say: is not tequila. You had drunk “firewater”, aguardiente, a very low quality almost pure alcohol that is the cheapest (is al senses) thank goodness you’re not blind! Tequila is made from the agave plant, that takes 10 years to be ready to be processed, and is a distilling and ageing system like Scottish whisky. You can find unaged (the liquid is white) and aged (coloured) and flavour and quality of course changes. There is a cream of tequila too.
Guadalajara The huge capital cityof the state of Jalisco. Beautiful for its architecture but very busy and fast paced life. Nearby Tonala is famous for the crafts and traditional food, go if you can.
This state is famous for its BIRRIA. A nice stew made with lamb. Another favourite: POZOLE This is a soup that has been around since time o the Aztecs, although in that time it was made with human flesh! (the sacrificed for the gods and prisoners of war) luckily now is made of pork. Although from this area, you can find it all around Mexico .
3) The South About the area: Tropical rain forest and high temperature hand in hand with high humidity. Keep a fan and a water bottle at your side. Indian population here is dominant, you will hear more than a hundred dialects!! You will find some areas with guerrillas and Indians rallying, is an unstable area but not as dangerous as the north, besides funny enough, most of the leaders are Europeans!!! there are a lot of lost hippies in this area, surfer’s paradise, nudist beaches and lefties heaven. Is good fun and you also find family-friendly and lighter areas. Although for all this state the golden rule is: better to keep yourself on the beaten track, don’t go exploring around.
State of Guerrero : Nice place, start of the rainforest and jungles, home of major attractions: Taxco and Acapulco , and the beaches of Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo. These are Pacific Ocean beaches. Very nice, but have colder water.
Taxco: The entrance of this vast state is this mining city of Taxco , where the best jewellers and silver craftsmen work. Do wear sensible shoes, this is a cobbled city that is very sinuous and in a mountain, so is not only uneven you are going to be climbing and going downhill all day. Most areas are inaccessible by car, so don’t think you will take a taxi if you get tired. Also a big warning for people in crutches, with canes or wheelchairs. The city is a colonial architectural jewel, don’t miss the Sta Prisca Church .
The famous Acapulco The beach is public, so you can expect anything, and be careful with the pick pockets pr people pinching your stuff when you go to swim, you’re better off at the hotels’ swimming pools. Nightlife and restaurants are great. There are karts, bungee, the famous divers’ show and more. Fun 24/7. Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa These are old fisher towns and villages that had grown with tourism, very nice and relaxed to viit, nice beaches, very traditional, and also havig good restaurants and nightlife, although not as big and modern as Acapulco .
State of Oaxaca This state is a favourite and is very rich in culture. Mostly of indigenous people, there arearound 18 different ethnic groups, each with their own culture and language. Is a very beautiful place where colour seems to splash everywhere. Here, like in many places in México the treat for the kids is an helium balloon shaped with the cartoon heroes, very colourful vendors are everywhere.
Go to the markets, all the food there is amazing and all the crafts beautiful, as always careful with the picking pockets and you will see presence of political posters of the “resistance” and maybe a left winged rally… mostly harmless but use your common sense if things do get hot and if the police arrives… you leave.
The local produce is coffee and chocolate, do taste them, they will be in a version very different to whatever you had had before. ; ) Famous here is the local cheese “Queso de hebra” or geographically called “queso oaxaqueno”, and is a cheese to melt in dishes and quesadillas. Cecina is a big chunk of meet, very thin and salted, served with black beans and cream to take over the salty flavour, in a huge crispy tortilla. Remarkable dish. And at last but not least, try the tamales, corn dumplings filled with pork or chicken and wrapped in banana leaf. For veggies you can ask for a Tamal Dulce, a sweet version with raisins.
This state is a heaven for alternative therapies; you will find everything from homeopathic to yoga, but try the local way of doing things: Temazcal and local massage Temazcal is like a sauna, made in a clay/cement or rock hut and set up with herbs. Usually the healer or medicine man (or woman) might ask you bout your health, maybe if there is a language barrier don’t be surprised if they start to check you up ad see your hands, face, eyes, etc. They are checking for unbalances and illnesses to see what kind of herbs to put in the temazcal, so is always personalized. Is a true remarkable experience. There are others that are communal, so they put generic herbs, non the less, a nice, reinvigorating experience. There are a lot of Natural Spas, here are some names to do your research: La ollaga, El Tzul-Zul, Atonaltzin, etc.
If you’re after archaeological sites, don’t miss: monte-alban. This was a very big city and densely populated, it is un almost perfect condition and you can see the palace, the ball game (we had a mixture of soccer and basketball without using the hands) and other buildings.
Oaxaca , the capital city with the same name. This is a vibrant city, still very traditional. Don’t miss the handcrafts, typical of the area is “Barro Negro” black clay, and the Indians do marvellous pieces with it. Get lost in the markets, and visit the “zocalo” or central area, the cathedral is magnificent. There are various museums, even one for stamp collectors! but the best one is the Museum of Cultures , and there are a lot of art galleries aswell.
You can visit Mitla , is nearby, a very small town but rich in culture and history. It has fabulous archaeological sites.
Beaches: Puerto Escondido, Puerto Angel, Huatulco.
Puerto Escondido is a very nice beach, funky and vibrant. Is divided in three main beaches: Playa Principal, Playa Marinero, and Zicatela. Is famous for surf! There are other beaches called Puerto Escondido (hidden port) so don’t get confused! others are in Baja and other parts in the north, this is the good one! ;)
Puerto Angel is a place where some Mexican families prefer to go, is quieter but still very nice. is smaller, has less commodities, but is worth a visit. Huatulco is amore developed and modern resort. Is beautiful, moderate in price and full of ecoturism, there is an ecological park and all. The word “resort” can scare most travellers in the European side of the Atlantic , but let be reassured, that is not the concept you have form Benidorm! so please don’t decide on pre-conceptions. If you like fishing, don’t miss a boat trip! and if you don’t, enjoy leisurely the boat trip!!! LOL
Hierve el Agua. Any geology enthusiasts in the crowd? Don’t miss the petrified waterfalls. The visti can be a day trip from Oaxaca city, is around 1.5 hrs drive, and you pass mitla on the way, so you can visit both in one day if you start early and have the stamina.
State of Chiapas
Chiapas is one of the most naturally beautiful places you will ever see. Is a poor state and contrasts are very dramatic, it has a low land where bananas grow and a highland, where the main crop is coffee. Mayan indigenous population is the majority of the demographic so do not to take pictures of the locals, some still believe you will do their soul harm by taking a picture, so don’t shoot people and if you want always ask for permission and don’t feel hurt if they refuse.
Again, get lost in the markets and see the handcrafts, and enjoy the food. This is place has it all: nature, adventure, ethnicity, history and archaeology.
The capital city is Tuxtla Gutierrez . This is a nice city, very traditional and you can set your “base camp there to visit the fantastic attractions:
Palenque The famous city of the Mayans. This city is in a very good preservation state and they are still discovering things, the famous tomb of king Pakal Votan is here, you can visit it (not for claustrophobics!) and is here where thy found the glyphs about the end of the world coming in 2012, that of course is nothing but a change of cycle in one of the several Mayan calendars.
Agua Azul , (yes, blue water) is a series of lagoons, waterfalls and streams for you to explore and enjoy, idyllic. It is set in the jungle of the Lacandon People, you can visit the reserve.
Lagunas de Montebello , the national park with a series of lagoons and jungle trails.
Canon del Sumidero : ( Sumidero Canyon ) Sumidero in Spanish is like a slang exaggeration: “super deep depression” Is a great canyon that you can travel by water from the huge Grijalva River . Some areas are white waters and there is rafting and kayaking.
San Cristobal de las Casas Beautiful traditional city. Don’t miss the churches and Cathedral and a stroll in the market.
Comitan - Very special and full of life and traditions. Beautiful and small, this city is famous for its centre and chuches, a very pretty colonial style shaped up with the colours and flowers, and taste of the Indians. The handcrafts are of good quality and great creativity, from textiles, pottery and ingenious toys. Expect an explosion of colour and textures. This is a state that you can explore for months, so beside this highlights, you can also visit the state, although as always, in this area the guerrilla can be found, so again don’t go off from civilization and don’t wander around with valuables.
Don’t get upset if they call you “gringo” and they don’t know where you are from when trying to explain... gringo is all white foreigner!
Beware of the heat but in the highlands the temperature drops considerably so pack warm clothes as well. Some areas are famous for the European backpackers and the odd leftie feeling the need to be the next che Guevara will be living with the Indians and trying to give you leaflets and sign petitions, usually they are harmless ;)
Food is very varied and you have the regional versions of the famous tamales and mole. A tostada is a grilled tortilla that is crispy an hard, topped with meats and vegetables, sometimes served just with sour cream and salt. Tasajo is a very large but thin chunk of beef, very salty but very tasty. Beware of the chillies because they are tiny but hyper-mega-hot. There are versions of the Spanish chorizo and is called longaniza, whilst the version of the black pudding is called moronga. The variety of breads (sweet and savory) are a delight, and the regional sweeties are really good too. Needles to say, coffee here is great.
4) The South East About the area: Rainforest at it’s best and Caribbean sea, just wonderful!, again, water bottle is your best friend. This area pendulates between modern, very cosmopolitan and touristic places (not saying that in a detrimental way) to isolated, indigenous only areas with no electricity, Mayans still live here in the land of their ancestors. Amazing ruins in the middle of the jungle, if you like feeling like Indiana Jones, this places are a must. Most of the archaeological sites are in very good condition because they were covered by the jungle and “lost” that way, protected from damage from the elements and pillage.
Yucatan Peninsula: Welcome to Paradise! This is a fantastic area, where you will find beauty spots, good food, friendly people and tons of culture, without setting aside your Indiana Jones inclinations ;) This Peninsula is famous because is here where the meteor that allegedly killed the dinosaurs hit, and you can see the crater in aerial photographs: Chicxulub. Today the site is a beach town/ fishing village on the Gulf Coast of the Yucatán just off another resort area: Progreso, where people haveholiday homes but there is nothing more than relaxing beaches.
Anyway, this is a very dry area combined with areas of rainforest. The terrain is vey strange and arid, as all the water runs under the surface creating the famous cenotes. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit at least one (there are several) and in some you can swim and dive into the cave systems. This places were used for sacrifices by the mayans, where the archaeologists found jewelry, human bones and other offerings to the gods.
The area was famous for jute and other crops that now are gone, but the famous Haciendas stayed, and most had been restored to their former glory, being new hotels, hostels and restaurants, some of them really posh!
You shall visit the culture capital of Mexico : Merida . Merida is a colonial city that has still most of the buildings kept in the colonial style and is a very clean, organized city. In the weekend evenings the plazas and parks have poetry, dance ad music free for all to attend. They have a very good University and in general the art scene is good. People here are descendants of the mayans and very elegant, the dress code is very elegant despite the heat, for the men a nice shirt called guayabera is a must, and you can buy one for yourself and blend in! there is a range form the “normal” or budget (still very nice though) to the tailored ones, that people get married with. The women’s dresses are also beautiful and suited for grand occasions.
Merida has a fantastic historical centre, where a stroll admiring the architecture accompanied with an ice cream is a must. Is a very busy city, beware the traffic and people rushing in peak times. But is also ne of the safest places to be. Mayan culture is full of stories and mythology, they had different calendars and the glyphs had not been translated, so is surrounded in mystery.
There are museums (don’t miss the anthropology one)and galleries, and the travel agencies had arranged the sites in different routes, so if you’re happy to be led, just let them take you. There are spas and this is a heaven for baseball fans, and there are amazing tobacco shops for those who likes a good cigar. Like in Cuba or better! remember, this is the Caribbean . For the wee ones there is a zoo too, and a visit to the Cathedral is really a must.
There are a lot of caves systems, one of the best to visit is Balankanché. This area is full of archaeological sites: some really small and off the beaten track, others famous and busy all year round, depending on how much tie you have to visit, I would recommend to visit as much as you can (if that is your cup of tea, ofcourse) if not you will be having nightmares with stones!! lol, honestly there is much, much to see here.
Visit: Chichén-Itzá This is a ruined city, is huge so plan all day to visit it in full. It has the famous pyramid of Kukulcan where on the spring equinox the sun hits it in a way that you can see the god serpent crawling from the temple on top down the stairs. It has a ball game, market, convent, warrior house, Tzompantli or heads stall (yes, for the sacrificed), temples, baths… and an observatory.
Of the almost 200 sites, I would recommend to see: Uxmal , Mayapan, Xel-ha, Coba, Tulum and Ek Balam.
The city of Valladolid is a nice stop in your way to Cancun . The food is incredible, the signature dishes are done with venison. You can see it in one day and is near attractions like cenotes or archaeological sites. If you are a bird watcher, don’t miss the tour to Rio Lagartos to see flamingos and otherexoticbirds. Food Here, this peninsula has an excellent gastronomy. Beware the salsas as they are done with a very small but powerful chile that is almost inedible for most mortals ;) the habanero sauce. Makes piri-piri look like children’s game. lol
One of the delicacies is Cochinita Pibil, a pork stew marinated in spices, very good and usually the food has as side-dish picked onions, with spices that goes very well; the tortillas are made of corn, and sometimes they are stuffed with black beans to then be topped with meats. The Huevos Motulenos is a breakfast not for the faint hearted: a fried tortilla with beans, topped with fried egg and peas, ham, cheese and salsa. You’re set for the day! Don’t miss the taco stalls that are everywhere with the fruit waters J if you want a beer, you can ask it: michelada, that means with salt and lime ;) very refreshing. Panuchos and salbutes are tortilla and meat, with beans and salsa, and the papadzules are tortilla with boiled egg. Poc-chuc is a nice pork stew done with oranges and spices, very nice. Sopa de lima is a chicken broth with vegetables, absolutely fantastic.
Ask by sight and smell in the markets, you wont go wrong ; ) and in the restaurants, don’t be afraid to ask, usually waiters are very helpful with the tourists. Now, to Cancun . It is hosted in the state of Quintana Roo. It is a strip of beach in-between a lagoon and the sea, really lovely. Now, as all resorts, spring break and summer is flooded with European and American teenaged tourists that make the place a mess, there are adult only hotels and what goes in there is quite “legendary”. Try to go off season. Is so beautiful… and you will receive royal treatment everywhere. I had heard stories of people planning to do tons of stuff, go there and at the end didn’t wanted to leave the complex! lol Most hotels have the sun-beds in the swimming pool as the bar as well, and all inclusive has good food, and drink 24/7 You can find restaurants for all the budgets, and has a very lively nightlife. The boat trips are good and there is place where you can walk the bottom of the sea! there are also shows at night showing traditional mayan dances and hotels run tours to see the light and sound shows in the archaeological sites.
The sites to visit are: Playa del Carmen Old fishing town turned to touristic destination, specially as a connecting port to the islands. It has fantastic scuba diving and boat trips. Isla Mujeres Very beautiful and not too crowded. Again, place for beach, diving and eating
Cozumel . Is the island near Playa del Carmen, and is home to a famous reef discovered by Jaques Costeau and is a diving spot. Is a great day out for scuba, snorkelling and doing nothing in the beach.
Xcaret This reserve is dedicated to eco tourism, you can dice and also swim with dolphins, there is a mayan theme in the park, so there are shows and you can learn about the local flora and fauna. Is not only for kids!!! adults have a great time here too.
The state of Veracruz
This is a very large state that is jungle and tropical forest mainly but has amazing mountains too. There is a city has the same name: Veracruz or “true cross”. It is a very lively place and people are friendly and noisy! The city is a working port so you won’t be having beach holiday here. (water is not very clean, there are sharks and the navy has a school here, you will see the sailors everywhere. But food is amazing, don’t miss the milky coffee, specially in a place called “ La Parroquia ” where the waiter will be called making noise of the spoon on a glass and they will come to you with two jugs, one of milk and one of concentrated coffe, so you ust let him pour the coffee and say enough (“suficiente” or “gracias” will do) or just make a sign with your hand to stop him when you think is enough of your caffeine fix, and then he will top up with milk, delicious! It can be served alone or with the regional sweet breads, like churros (same as doughnut dough, deep fried but in a straight shape and covered in sugar) If you don’t have a sweet tooth, ask for a “canilla” (slang for thin leg) is a nice bread without sugar, to accompany your coffees.
Don’t miss San Juan de Ulua, a fort that has been used by the Spainiards, French and even Pirates. Things to do: take a troll on the marina “malecon” and go around the plaza, on weekends is common to see traditional dances and music. There is a lighthouse, a city museum with all the history (being the main port to the Atlantic , it has seen a lot of battles), the omnipresent cathedral and an aquarium.
Nearby Boca del Rio (mouth of the river) is a new city, with new developments where people live (of course with malls and restaurants too) a nice beach if you need the urge to sip on a beer whilst in a hammock. ;)
Nearby you can visit an island: “Isla de Sacrificios” for a day trip. Is really nice but with not much to do, unless you’re a very Zen person ;) its ok for half a day. Is a protected area, a national park. But outside the city, the adventure starts! There is rafting for the adrenaline junkies and archaeology for the history fans.
Papantla is famous for having a very good vanilla extract and the food is good, but is home to on of the strangest rituals in all the world: The Flyers (Voladores). Where 5 men risk their lives to celebrate the sun and nature. In a very tall post a man plays prehispanic music and the other 4 (representing the cardinal points) start a descent, head first, tied to the pole with a rope from their ankles. Amazing to witness.
Tajin is an archaeological site. Is in very good condition and easy to reach, they also have the “voladores” and nearby, so you can stary in Papantla and do a day trip to the location.
Catemaco is a beautiful place, a lagoon which you can visit in boat trips, is a reserve, so the nature is not only breathtaking but almost unspoiled. It is home to a local type of monkey and is also the traditional dish, so you might eat monkey for lunch; no. it's not everyone’s cup of tea, but a great experience. But the surprise is not ending with the culinary oddity: it is the capital of the “brujos”, the witchdoctors and witchcraft. here, people who believe they have a demon inside or are cursed come for cure. You can see cleansing rituals in the river and other lighter things too, it is literally a walk on the wild side. This can be an amazing experience but not for the faint hearted.
Nanciyaga is a eco-adventure lace with nice accommodation, services and lots to do, trekking, mountaineering and all kind of outdoor experiences.
Xalapa (or Jalapa as the Spaniards put it because they didn’t know what to do with the X) is the state capital and is shadowed by the port of Veracruz where everything is going on, this is a nice city, the cultural centre: it has a philharmonic, one of the est universities in the countries, is lively and has galleries, restaurants and is a beautiful experience of how a city can develop being intelligent and vibrant, full of culture and modernity alongside traditional and archaeological sites. Neraby, Xico is a heaven for nature lovers and famous for its waterfalls.
State of Tabasco
Villahermosa the capital, as usual see the city centre, with the churches, markets and cathedral, (the best companion for that is an icecream) If you travel with kids visit the Papalote, a museum where the rule is: Do Touch! and the little ones have a blast at the sme time that is educational. There is an art centre an theatre too. You can use it as base camp to visit the attractions.
Olmeca Ruins of La Venta This civilization was long gone before the Aztecs, and is a mystery who they were, they left their cities and colossal heads carved in stone that puzzle archaeologists, is to note the distinct racial features of this people, different to mayans of the area, so maybe they were visitors form Polynesia or Africa …
Comalcalco is now a city, and it stands on the Maya Ruins of the same name, so you can visit both easily in the same day, although there is not much to see in the modern part. Mayans settled in this area centuries after the olmecs and flourished for centuries more until some cities were abandoned and the Spaniards conquered.
Yumka park This national park is awesome, you walk in the jungle and discover the inhabitants: boa, cocodriles, elephants, ostrich, puma, parrots of all kinds an colours… a great day out.
Quick notes to finish: Besides here fruit is used to make water, ice creams and sorbets, don’t miss them, there are so many flavours you can try one a day for months! They will use fruit you might know like the strawberry but also try something you don't know, like guanabana, there are also zapote, Jamaica (a flower) and others.
You might not need a visa, and sometimes travel agencies can arrange it for you if you do (mostly for long period stays) If you want to drive, remember, is on the left, like in the USA and continental Europe .
The famous beers are Corona and Sol. But please, DO try he other beers, specially the regional beers. Montejo, is found in the south part of Mexico . Pacifico, as the name staes, will be found in Acapulco , Oaxaca and other areas in the pacific coast. Don’t miss Tecate or Carta Blanca for a very light beer accompany your food. Others to tried that are more full bodied are: Indio , Modelo, Modelo Especial , Bohemia and XX (dos equis).