One of the world’s great civilizations, Mexico is dainty and haunts with diverse landscapes; shimmering blue coastline of Baja California, the iconic cactus-strewn desert of the north or the Mayan villages and gorgeous palm-smothered beaches of the south.
The vibrant modern Mexico is in itself a whole big enchilada generously filled with Spanish traditions, unique food, art and archaeology, pyramids, museums, haciendas, superb architecture and 21st century cities. Its pleasant and warm weather surprises you here and there from snowy mountains in the Sierras to rainy jungles in the Southeast and desert in the Northwest. A traveler can hardly find oneself weary in the world-class destinations like Acapulco, Cancun, Cozumel, Los Cabos, and Mazatlan where sophisticated cuisine has little in common with the world of nachos and burritos.
Mexico bakes up to a sumptuous loaf of bread with the dough wrapping-in multitude flavors of distinct regional identities. From the cowboy culture of the northern deserts to the Mesoamerican traditions of the south, you have a thrilling, constantly surprising place to travel.
The authenticity of the country is not in its suburbs and SUVs but rather in the adventures that can still be found through happening upon a village fiesta, complete with a muddy bullfight and rowdy dancing, or hopping on a rural bus, packed with farmers all carrying machetes half their height and curious about how you’ve wound up going their way. Whilst the violence is very real in some parts of the country, the danger to tourists is absolutely minimal – for the most part, you will find this is a friendly, fabulously varied and enormously enjoyable place in which to travel.
Baja California: The far northwest Baja California is in its own right best for world-class whale-watching, untrammeled beaches and crumbling Spanish ruins. Car-rides to Baja through the Trans-Peninsular Highway gives taste of North America’s great road trips. Part of the thrill comes from the long spaces separating major towns, the narrow segments of highway that snake along precarious cliffs and the animals and washouts that can block the road. But the biggest draw is the near-constant beauty of the tantalizing desert, mountains, lush oases, sea and ocean vistas and their illumination by brilliant blue skies and starry nights. Annual grey whale migration (Dec. to April) in lagoons Ojo de Liebre or near San Ignacio Baja is a magical sight. The Sierra de San Francisco, a World Heritage Site by UNESCO homes most bewitching and thought-provoking five hundred particularly vivid rock-art sites and cave art in the world.
Bajío: Pass through the beautiful towns of Zacatecas and Guanajuato, both oases of culture and sophistication, built largely with the bounty of the silver mines that riddle the landscape hereabouts. The legacy of Spanish architecture remains at its most impressive here, in meticulously crafted towns of San Miguel de Allende and Querétaro. San Miguel de Allende homes a large population of foreign artists, gringo retirees and language students. The real pleasure is in the appealing roster of colonial relics of Aguascalientes, art from José Posada and fabulous food. The wonderfully strange semi-ghost-town of Real de Catorce is punctuated only by the occasional ranch or defunct mining towns where decades of abandonment are gradually being reversed.
‘Unknown Mexico’: Northern Mexico mostly ignored by tourists has expansive deserts and mountains of the border states. Copper Canyon, the Sierra Madre and the Chihuahuan desert of Mexico are the exotic places for adventurers. Enjoy hiking, horseback riding and birding to settle the adventure ticks. If taking the CHEPE train ride starting in Los Mochis, the real scenery starts at El Fuerte. Stand on the western side and travel uphill to Creel or Chihuahua. Hang out in the few open vestibules with your camera — the uphill scenery is fairly splendid for at least two of the seven or nine or twelve hours of the journey. On the downhill run, put yourself in the club (bar) car, where you can stretch out in a modicum of comfort.
Coasts of Chiapas and Oaxaco: Tropical beaches on Mexico's southern coast, evident of the strength of indigenous traditions in and around the market town of San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, continue to make it a big travelers' centre. The city of Oaxaca is especially enticing for its extraordinary mix of colonial and indigenous life, markets and fascinating archeological sites. Oaxaca, the ‘Land of the seven moles’ has most famous sauces: mole negro or Oaxaqueño (the most popular, made with chocolate giving a distinct roasted flavor), amarillo, coloradito, mancha manteles, chichilo, rojo and verde. The place to go for exceptional, innumerable and often bizarre home-made ice cream is the plaza in front of the church of La Soledad, full of rival vendors and tables where you can sit and gorge yourself while watching the world go by.
Exploring the urban sprawl of the Cities
Acapulco: A sophisticated Pacific Coast urban beach known for its top-notch nightlife, elegant dining, and nightmarish traffic, where the surf is wilder and the scenery more rugged than in the Caribbean, Acapulco is best known beach destinations. Hundreds of kilometers of relatively empty sand are broken up only by resort cities like Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan; a popular Spring Break destination with the oldest Carnival in Mexico and one of the largest in the world .
Playas Caleta and Caletilla, quite different from those in main bay have almost legendary status in Mexico, but, for the party that families come for, not tranquility. Take a water taxi across to Isla La Roqueta, hang out at super-cool Boca Chica, or rent kayaks.Tow around the bay on a parachute, water-ski or sail to Zona Dorada beach.
Acapulco’s famed clavadistas (cliff divers) plunging some 35m from the heights of La Quebrada into a rocky channel could easily be corny, but it is undeniably impressive, especially when floodlit at night. The final diver of the night carries a pair of flaming torches.
Cancun: Known for its clear Caribbean waters, lively party atmosphere and wealth of recreational facilities, Cancun and the Mayan Riviera are simply legendary in diving circles, conjuring images of millions of techno-colored reef fish, swirling school of barracudas and jacks and above all, sea turtles swimming peacefully everywhere. Not far off the highway from Cancun to Merida, stumble across a ‘magical’ city when driving into Izamal – The Yellow City. What makes Izamal particularly magical is the architecture –all painted yellow, even the Franciscan convent. As garish as that sounds, it really works to make the city look amazingly bright and happy!
Mexico City: The capital, one of the three largest cities in the world, a sophisticated urban hub with a 700-year history, though a nightmare of urban sprawls, is totally fascinating one in every way – artistic, political, cultural. Everything from parks, Aztec ruins, colonial architecture, museums, to nightlife and shopping still retain its colonial feel; its streets bustling with the comings and goings of daily commerce.
To the west, steel and glass take over from brick and stone but in the suburbs like San Ángel and Coyoacán, there is as much charm as any small Mexican town with a surprising number of little squares overlooked by old churches; notably the Basilica de Guadalupe, amid leafy residential back streets.
In Alameda in particular, there is music, art (Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo contemporaries) and color enough to seduce you, the hustle-bustle only amplifying it. While the outer edges of the city are largely shantytowns, built piecemeal by migrants, hidden among them are a number of gems; pyramids of Tenayuca, Santa Cecilia Acatitlán and Cuicuilco, and the canals of Xochimilco.
Mariachi in Plaza Garibaldi: The traditional final call on wearing nights can get pretty rowdy and it is best to avoid coming laden down with expensive camera equipment or an obviously bulging wallet. The real deal is when hundreds of competing mariachi bands gather here in the evenings, all in their tight, silver-spangled charro finery and vast sombreros, to play for anyone who will pay them. You may also come across Norteño bands from the border areas with their Tex-Mex brand of country music, or the softer sounds of marimba musicians from the south. Simply wander round the square and you will get your fill. At the back of the square is a huge market hall in which a whole series of stalls serve simple food and vie furiously for customers.
La Lucha Libre: Wrestling remains one of Mexico’s most avidly followed spectator sports, though waned recently, most of whom, heroes or villains, wear masks. Over a dozen venues in the capital alone host fights several nights a week for a fanatical public. In Mexico City, fights can usually be seen at Arena Coliseo (Tuesdays) and at Arena México (Fridays).
Bull Fighting or corrida de toros: Quintessentially Mexican, bull-fighting is rooted in Spanish machismo. Imbued with multiple layers of symbolism and interpretation, it transcends a mere battle of man against animal. Every Sunday winters afternoons, men and women from all walks of Mexican society file into the stadium – though some admittedly end up in plush sombra (shade) seats while the masses occupy concrete sol (sun) terraces.