One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor!
Date Posted: 17/09/2010
Famous for its potent drink, Mayan ruins and great beaches, Jeannine Williamson introduces Mexico.
For many people, their first - and sometimes last - taste of Mexico is a trip over the border from America to Tijuana, the world’s most visited border town. Colourful or chaotic, depending on your viewpoint, it provides little hint of what lies beyond.
The reality is that Mexico is a vast country, covering 1.2 million square miles, with 32 states and an astonishing geographical diversity running from the Pacific to the Caribbean coasts, from desert to tropical jungles, and from high plateaux and canyons to snow-covered volcanoes. Add the legacy of ancient cultures and teeming modern cities to the mix, and you have a huge range of experiences for groups.
It can be hard to know where to head first, but Mexico is divided into six tourist regions that provide a useful starter for itinerary planning. Northern Mexico is characterised by deserts, nature reserves and rugged mountains; the heartland of central Mexico is the place to find beautifully preserved colonial cities and silver mining towns; and the southern part of the country and Gulf of Mexico is well-known for eco-tourism and outdoor adventures. The Yucatan peninsula is the gateway to the Mayan world and cosmopolitan white-sand Caribbean resorts. More fabulous beaches can be found on the Pacific coast and the Baja California peninsula is renowned for its cave murals and annual whale migration.
A typical group itinerary could be a week spent exploring Mexico City, colonial cities such as Puebla with its strong Spanish influence, and Oaxaca, known for its handicrafts, combined with trips to archaeological sites and mountains. Alternatively, the focus could be on the Yucatan peninsula followed by time relaxing in Cancun.
The Mexican capital is an enormous living museum, a showcase for 3,000 years of history, one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities and nowadays one of the Ballet Folklorico show at the Palacio largest. There are more than 150 museums and galleries and one not to be missed is the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, filled with Mexican archaeological treasures. Also top of the list should be a visit to the Zocalo, one of the world’s largest squares surrounded by a cathedral, presidential palace and the remains of an Aztec temple. In the evening try and catch a performance of the spectacular de Mexico de Bellas Artes, or stroll to Plaza Garibaldi and listen to traditional mariachi bands.
Top three sights
The Aztec ruins of Mexico’s largest ancient city, 30 miles outside Mexico City, include the awesome Piramide del Sol, the world’s third largest pyramid.
2 Whale watching:
After spending the summer off Alaska, thousands of California grey whales migrate 6,000 miles to Baja California’s warm Pacific lagoons, creating an unforgettable sight between mid-December and March.
One of the country’s fabled ‘silver cities’ boasts beautiful colonial buildings and a pink stone cathedral built from the riches of the local silver mines.
Made up of three states, in this diverse region your group members can explore ancient Mayan culture, jungles, underground rivers and Cancun - the location the Mexican government chose in the 1970s when they were looking for a perfect spot to develop a tourist resort. Yucatan is most famously home to Chichen Itza, one of Mexico’s largest archaeological sites. It’s made up of two cities, one governed by the Mayas from the sixth to tenth centuries, and the other by the Maya- Toltecs, dating back to 1000AD. Awe-inspiring sights include the castle, or pyramid, where the four sides have 365 steps representing the days of a solar year; 52 honeycomb shapes representing each year of the Mayan century; and 18 terraces for the months in the religious year. The site also includes one of the many cenotes that can be found in the region, huge underground caverns that the Mayans believed were home to rain gods.
In the centre of Mexico, groups can go back in time and discover splendid colonial cities built on the riches of local silver mines. Around 125 miles from Mexico City is Queretaro, which played a key role in Mexico’s independence process and has beautiful baroque churches and palaces with intricate wrought iron balconies. Nearby is San Miguel de Allende, home to many artists and famous for its cultural scene, which runs from impromptu musical performances on the streets to traditional festivals. Guanajuato, built in a ravine on the site of one of the world’s richest silver mines, is well worth visiting. Its most unusual attraction is the Museum of Mummies. When remains from the town’s cemetery were disinterred in 1865 to make more room, it was found that the soil’s mineral content and dry heat had combined to mummify the bodies and more than 100 are on display in the museum.
Apart from its borders with America and Guatemala, Mexico is completely surrounded by warm tropical waters and after a busy sightseeing itinerary, groups can spend a few days relaxing on the beach before returning home. The 6,200-mile coastline on the Pacific, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean includes iconic resorts such as Acapulco, Cancun and Puerto
Vallarta. Cozumel, with the world’s second largest coral reef in the world, is popular with divers and the historic port town of Veracruz stages a huge nine-day carnival every February or March in the run up to Easter, and an Afro- Caribbean festival in the last two weeks of August.
Eat: Most of your group members will be familiar with Mexican staples such as tortillas and tacos, served with all kinds of meat, vegetable and cheese fillings, but there is much more to Mexican fare, including regional specialities. Seafood is particularly good along the coasts and Yucatan cuisine includes pibil, barbecued meat wrapped in banana leaves. Not all the food is spicy, and tasty dips such as avocado-based guacamole, and empanada, a pastry with a savoury or sweet filling, make a light meal in themselves. Mexico is famous for its chocolate, and mole poblano is a thick sauce made with chocolate and usually served with poultry, which tastes much nicer than it sounds.
Drink: “One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor,” quipped the late American comedian George Carlin. Straight shots of Mexico’s celebrated drink are certainly not for the faint-hearted, but it can be enjoyed in longer drinks such as a tequila sunrise, where it is mixed with orange juice. Mexico is the world’s third largest beer producer, so there is plenty of excellent beer, or cerveza; and jugos, freshly squeezed fruit juices, and licuados, a blend of fruit juice with water and sugar, are particularly refreshing.
Try: Taking a ride on the Copper Canyon Railway, also known as the Chihuahua-Pacific railroad, which runs through a spectacular area in north west Mexico that’s four times the size of the Grand Canyon. A feat of engineering, with 39 bridges and 86 tunnels along the 400-mile track, the journey through canyons, gorges and forests takes 16 hours - or you can opt for a shorter trip between the various stops. For fares and more information visit www.chepe.com.mx.
Buy: Brightly coloured woven rugs and clothes, wicker baskets, sombreros and straw hats, pottery and silver jewellery.
Go: Mexico is a year-round destination with a tropical climate. Average temperatures range between 17C to 30C and the hottest time of the year is from June to October. This is also the rainy season, but this doesn’t usually amount to much more than a short downpour. From November to January it is mainly dry and cooler.
Flight Time: Cancun 8-9 hrs and Mexico City 10-11 hrs from London.
Time Difference: GMT -6hrs to 8hrs.
Currency: Peso, with the US dollar also used in tourist areas.
Language: Spanish, with English widely spoken.
Mexico Tourism Board: