Mexico is one of those countries that’s been somewhat pigeonholed when it comes to travel: all too often the clichéd image of the major tourist resorts has come to dominate the image of Mexico, while much of its real culture and major cities remains unknown to travellers.
Here then is a rundown of things to do that should challenge this. Yes the tried and tested places like Cancún and Los Cabos make an appearance, but rather than sticking to the usual resorts and bars, get to know the area a bit more. Here are our picks for Mexico’s top cities and beaches to show that there is so much more to this country than the regular tourist haunts.
Image courtesy of Tristan Higbee.
When it comes to beach holidays in Mexico, the Yucatán Peninsula and its town of Cancún is the resort that everyone knows and with good reason: Cancún is situated on the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula and the area is a well-known destination for year-round sunshine and glorious beaches on the Gulf of Mexico.
Don’t let the popularity of this area put your off however, areas like Playa del Carmen and Cancún itself may feel a bit too touristy for some, but the surrounding coastline and islands are a blissful gem for you to explore. The Mayan ruins at Tulum are right on this postcard-perfect coastline, while the secluded islands of Isla Mujeres, Cozumel and Isla Holbox are tranquil beyond belief.
For something a bit more adventurous, try heading inland towards the town of Valladolid to the otherworldly Cenotes Dzitnup. Cenotes is the Spanish word for sinkholes and the networks of water that runs beneath the sinkholes and caverns of this region provided the ancient Mayan civilisation with their water supply. The caves have an otherworldly feel and sparkle suddenly as the sunlight flickers through from cracks in the ground above. A perfect spot for snorkelling and the water is a balmy 25 degrees Celsius.
If you are looking for a road trip, you could do worse than take a car south down the Californian coast, through the boarder and the town of Tijuana and onwards down the peninsula known as Baja California and Baja California Sur.
At the tip of this region you’ll find Los Cabos but before that be sure to stop off in the town of La Paz on the eastern side of the peninsula. The food here is great, there is a nice, relaxed atmosphere in the central square and the marina and contrasting desert lands beyond the town contrast spectacularly against the blue of the sea.
Baja California Sur is particularly known for its array of marinelife and wildlife and a day trip to Espíritu Santo Island will show you why. The UNESCO protected site is home to sea lions, manta rays, pelicans, dolphins, sharks and many others, not to mention some beautifully intact coral reefs. Snorkelling and scuba-diving are popular here and several operators can be found around La Paz marina.
Image courtesy of Carlos ferrer.
Mexico City has got something of a bad rap lately and rather harshly too. In spite of the criticisms of this city, it’s worth spending a bit of time getting to know the place and at least that way you can judge for yourself. The city’s main square, Zócalo was part of the original Aztec city, Tenochititlan, the ruins of which can still be spotted dotted around the area.
Local festivals, processions and memorial events take place in this impressive main square and if you are in Mexico for the Day of the Dead festival at the end of October, you have to see the memorial in square and Cathedral.
Image courtesy of Kevin.
If you are still curious about Mexico’s culture and history, there are some great day trips that can be easily made from the city: the pyramids of Teotihuacán date to 550AD and were built by the Aztecs while the colonial towns of Puebla and Tlaxcala have some fantastic examples of colonial Mexican architecture.
Within Mexico City itself make a trip to the Mueso Frida Kahlo, the iconic cobalt-blue house that was home to the influential artist and her husband Diego Rivera. Food-wise you will of course be spoilt for choice, but to try what is possibly Mexico’s most famous dish, the taco, head to Tres Galeones in the Roma neighbourhood or El Pescadito in nearby Condesa for some of the best fish tacos. Taquería Alvaro Obregón in Roma is another great cheap and cheerful spot.
Image courtesy of Eddy Milfort.
Mexico City may be the capital, but Oaxaca is most definitely the food capital. Mexican food is one of the country’s most famous exports and if you want to try the real deal, Oaxaca is really the best place you can go. Located on the south west coast of the country in a province of the same name, the region is as well known for its distinctive colonial Baroque architecture but also its ethnic diversity.
The indigenous Zapotec people are the largest of several groups of pre-Colombian people and in exploring Oaxaca you will most likely come across their food, artwork and language. The local drink in the region is Mexico’s second most famous drink, mezcal, made similarly to tequila from agave, but with a softer flavour.
Yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site (Oaxaca is also one) is the central city of Guanajuato. The rich silver mines of this region put this city on the map and the wealth that rolled in during the eighteenth century is evident throughout. The city has an almost European feel and its Baroque buildings, cobbled streets and large San Cayetano church could almost fool you into thinking you were in a southern Spanish city.
For something a little spookier, the city also houses a sizable mummy museum where the preserved corpses of former city inhabitants are on display. The area’s arid climate along with the dry conditions of the church’s crypt have preserved these bodies to a high standard and it is a fascinating, if macabre way of discovering Mexico’s culture and past.
Image courtesy of Christopher William Adach.
Less than 100km from Mexico City is the town of Cuernavaca, known by many as the town of Eternal Spring, which can only be a good thing. The year-round temperate climate and close proximity to the capital has made the city a relaxing place to get away from the bustle of the capital for locals and tourists alike.
The small city is rich in culture however with Hernán Cortés’ former residence in the city, the Palacio de Cortés, the oldest colonial structure on the continent. Beyond this, the city hosts several national and local festivals throughout the year from the Day of the Dead, the national festival at the end of October, to the more local Feira de la Flor carnival taking place in March.
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