Mexico

Mexico Travel Guide

Guanajuato Mexico Travel Guide by CC user budellison on Flickr

Guanajuato Mexico Travel Guide by CC user budellison on Flickr

Introduction

Comprising the southernmost of the three major nations of North America, Mexico is one of the most popular tourist destinations on Earth. Despite fear mongering in the media, the overwhelming majority of visitors that come to enjoy its beach, natural and cultural attractions enjoy themselves without incident, which is easy to see when you take a brief look at what is on offer there.

Some of the best beaches on Earth, whether you’re carving waves off the coast of Mazatlan, or swimming with sea turtles in the crystal clear waters of Akumal, cultural remnants of several civilization that thrived before the Spanish arrived, and one of the deepest canyons on Earth is just a sliver of what awaits you in this expansive nation.

Currency: Mexican Peso

Languages: Spanish

What To Do

Teotihuacan by CC user desdegus on Flickr

There is much to see and do in Mexico City (known as District Federal by local residents), but if there is one attraction here that deserves a mention as a place with national and global significance, the National Museum of Anthropology would be it.

Containing artifacts from this nation’s many indigenous and pre-Hispanic civilizations (as well as artifacts from the colonialists themselves), it is no surprise that this museum is the most visited institution of its kind in the country.

Designed in a modernist style, the simple yet elegant concrete forms of this building serve as the perfect backdrop for priceless objects such as Aztec calendar stones and Olmec statues.

Additionally, there is a hall of visiting exhibitions, which feature cultural treasures from other nations around the world, such as Iran, Egypt and Greece to name but a few.

While this museum is a central place where one can admire the historical heritage of this great nation, a short bus ride outside Mexico City will take you to Teotihuacan, where a civilization that pre-dated the Aztecs built great pyramids to honour the gods.

According to them, it was here where they planned the creation of humankind, and when you see the scale of the works that remain to this day, you might be convinced to agree with them.

While there are many pyramidal structures on the site of this ancient city (construction began in 300 BCE), the primary ones of interest to those with limited time are the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon.

These two are the tallest of the lot, and will give sweeping views of the rest of the park, the valley, and the mountains on the horizon. Take your time though; the elevation will take its toll on your lungs if you push yourself too hard!

Further to the north and west in Chihuahua State is the Copper Canyon. While it is not as big in overall size as the Grand Canyon in the United States, this natural wonder of the world is deeper, with the greatest elevation difference being 6,000 feet from top to bottom.

The best way to enter this area is by train, as it clings to the sides of this dramatic water-carved gouge in the Earth’s crust. Outdoor lovers will adore this place, as opportunities for adrenaline sports abound, and culture lovers will jump at the chance to visit indigenous peoples, who seek to avoid the complexities of urban life in Mexico.

Tulum by CC user xtopherglez on Flickr

When the time comes to head south and east, head to the Yucatan Peninsula, where the ruins of the Maya await. The top ruin complex in this part of Mexico is Chichen Itza, though Tulum and Coba are worth a visit as well.

The first site was home to the Mayan Empire’s most diverse and economically significant city, the second a port city that allowed the civilization to trade with its regional neighbours, and the third an agricultural city that was home to the largest collection of stone causeways in the Mayan world.

There are many other smaller archaeological sites outside of these three, so take your time and explore as many as you can if you have the time and interest to do so.

The limestone that comprises the bedrock throughout much of the Yucatan Peninsula is the source of this region’s many cenotes, or sinkholes. Formed by rain flowing through the porous rock over the eons, caves (open air or enclosed) with crystal clear water have formed. Making for the perfect place to cool off on a hot day, swimming in one is an experience that is not to be missed.

Old Puerto Vallarta Beach by CC user paulhami on Flickr

If you’d rather go for a swim in the ocean, there are plenty of beach resort areas throughout the nation that will not only serve as a great place to take a dip, but also as a world class spot to relax and rejuvenate your spirit.

The Mayan Riviera, which consists of party-hearty Cancun and the more chilled out towns of Playa del Carmen and Tulum is where you’ll want to head if you are looking for Caribbean style white sands and aquamarine waters, and those seeking big waves will find the many towns and cities along the Pacific coast more to their liking.

In the latter category, you’ll find plenty of resorts to choose from, whether its the luxury of Cabos San Lucas at the tip of the Baja Peninsula, the big wave surfing of Sayulita and Puerto Vallarta, or the fishing village ambiance of Puerto Escondido.

What To Eat

Pozole rojo by CC user marthax on Flickr

Mexican cuisine is among the top cuisines in the world, as it uses the heat of chili peppers, the bulk of corn, and a variety of fresh vegetables (many of which are native to the region) and meats to create a flavour experience that has seen it inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010.

Covering all the bases of this expansive cuisine is not possible in a short guide, but those seeking to discover authentic Mexican food should start by having Chilaquiles for breakfast, as it is a favorite morning meal for many people here.

Consisting of lightly fried tortilla shells softened by green or red mole sauce, it is topped with queso fresco, sour cream, onions, and avocado slices.

When in Jalisco State, be sure to grab a bowl of Pozole. Comprised of maize, pork, chili peppers, and cabbage stewed in a meaty broth, it is garnished at the end with a squeeze of lime or lemon to give it a kick of citrus.

Finally, you won’t be able to walk far in any part of Mexico without happening upon a stand serving authentic Mexican tacos. Unlike some Tex Mex adaptations in the United States, tacos here are always served in a soft tortilla, and they come in many forms, from the Lebanese influenced Tacos El Pastor, which consists of marinated pork and pineapple, to Tacos de Cabeza, which uses uncommon cuts of meat from the head of a cow.

When in coastal areas, fish and shrimp tacos are common, so keep an eye out for this variation when visiting an ocean community or beach resort area.