Mexico

Welcome to Mexico

Palm-fringed beaches, chili-spiced cuisine, steamy jungles, teeming cities, fiesta fireworks, Frida’s angst: Mexico conjures up diverse, vivid dreams. And the reality lives up to them.

With steaming jungles, snowcapped volcanoes, cactus-strewn deserts and 10,000km of coast strung with sandy beaches and wildlife-rich lagoons, Mexico is an endless adventure for the senses and a place where life is lived largely in the open air. Harness the pounding waves of the Pacific on a surfboard, strap on a snorkel to explore the beauty beneath the surface of the Caribbean Sea and ride the whitewater of Mexico’s rivers. Or stay on dry land and hike Oaxaca’s mountain cloud forests, scale the peaks of dormant volcanoes or marvel at millions of migrating Monarch butterflies.

Mexico’s pre-Hispanic civilizations built some of the world’s great archaeological monuments, including Teotihuacán’s towering pyramids and the exquisite Maya temples of Palenque. The Spanish colonial era left beautiful towns full of tree-shaded plazas and richly sculpted stone churches and mansions, while modern Mexico has seen a surge of great art from the likes of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Top-class museums and galleries document the country’s fascinating history and its endless creative verve. Popular culture is just as vibrant, from the underground dance clubs and street art of Mexico City to the wonderful handicrafts of the indigenous population.

Mexico’s gastronomic repertoire is as diverse as the country’s people and topography. Dining out is an endless adventure, whether you’re sampling regional dishes, such as Yucatán’s cochinita pibil (slow-cooked pork) or a vast array of moles (complex sauces, their recipes jealously guarded) in Oaxaca and Puebla, or trying the complex, artsy concoctions of world-class chefs in Mexico City. Some of Mexico’s best eating is had at simple seafront palapa (thatched-roof shack) restaurants, serving achingly fresh fish and seafood, and the humble taquerías, ubiquitous all over Mexico, where tortillas are stuffed with a variety of fillings and slathered with homemade salsas.

At the heart of your Mexican experience will be the Mexican people. A super-diverse crew, from Mexico City hipsters to the shy indigenous villagers of Chiapas, they’re renowned for their love of color and frequent fiestas, but they’re also philosophical folk, to whom timetables are less important than simpatía (empathy). You’ll rarely find Mexicans less than courteous. They’re more often positively charming, and know how to please guests. They might despair of ever being well governed, but they’re fiercely proud of Mexico, their one-of-a-kind homeland with all its variety, tight-knit family networks, beautiful-ugly cities, deep-rooted traditions and agave-based liquors.

Top destinations in Mexico

Guanajuato

The extraordinary Unesco World Heritage city of Guanajuato was founded in 1559 due to the region’s rich silver and gold deposits. Opulent colonial buildings, stunning tree-filled plazas and brightly colored houses are crammed together on to the steep slopes of a narrow ravine where excellent museums, handsome theaters and a fine marketplace punctuate cobblestone streets. The city’s main roads twist around the hillsides and plunge into long dank subterranean tunnels, formerly rivers.

San Cristóbal de las Casas

Set in a gorgeous highland valley surrounded by pine forest, the colonial city of San Cristóbal (cris-toh-bal) has been a popular travelers’ destination for decades. It’s a pleasure to explore San Cristóbal’s cobbled streets and markets, soaking up the unique ambience and the wonderfully clear highland light. This medium-sized city also boasts a comfortable blend of city and countryside, with restored century-old houses giving way to grazing animals and fields of corn.

Mexico City

A stroll through the buzzing downtown area reveals the capital’s storied history, from pre-Hispanic and colonial-era splendor to its contemporary edge. This high-octane megalopolis contains plenty of escape valves in the way of old-school cantinas, intriguing museums, inspired dining and boating excursions along ancient canals. With so much going on, you might consider scrapping those beach plans.

Querétaro

Wandering through the delightful colonial heart of Querétaro with its shady squares, grand fountains and historic mansions, you’d never guess that this is one of the fastest-growing cities in the northern hemisphere thanks to a booming aerospace and technologies industry. Except perhaps you can, as in order to reach the colonial heart of Querétaro, you’ll have to first pass through some fairly striking examples of urban sprawl and contend with the powerhouse city’s legendary bad traffic. However, it’s well worth the effort to do that, as Querétaro’s star is clearly in the ascendent, with an optimistic and mercantile population rising to the challenges of life in modern Mexico. The town’s historic heart is characterized by charming andadores (pedestrian streets), gorgeous plazas and historic churches. The sophisticated restaurants serve up quality cuisine and the many museums reflect Querétaro’s important role in Mexican history.

Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres generally has a quieter and more relaxing vibe than what you’ll find across the bay in Cancún, and there’s just enough here to keep you entertained: scuba diving and snorkeling, visiting a turtle farm or simply swimming and lazing around on the island’s gorgeous north shore.

Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen, now one of Quintana Roo’s largest cities, ranks right up there with Tulum as one of the Riviera’s trendiest spots. Sitting coolly on the lee side of Cozumel, the town’s beaches are jammed with super-fit Europeans. The waters aren’t as clear as those of Cancún or Cozumel, and the sand isn’t quite as powder-perfect as they are further north, but still Playa grows and grows.

Guadalajara

As Mexico’s second-largest city, Guadalajara delivers a less frenetic alternative to the nation’s capital. And, while many of the images recognized as Mexican have their roots here – mariachi music, wide-brimmed sombreros, the Mexican hat dance and charreadas (rodeos) – Guadalajara is as much a vanguard of the new Mexico as it is guardian of the old. An embarrassment of museums and theaters drive the cultural life forward, fusion chefs have sharpened the edges of an already legendary culinary scene and foresighted local planners are doing their damnedest to tackle the traffic.

Cabo San Lucas

Cabo San Lucas’s white beaches, fecund waters and spectacular arching stone cliffs at Land’s End have become the backdrop for Baja’s most raucous tourism. Where else do clubs round up conga lines so that waiters can pour tequila down dancers’ throats? The next morning you can be boating next to dolphins and spouting whales for a hangover cure. The activities are endless: jet-skiing, banana-boating, parasailing, snorkeling, kitesurfing, diving and horsebackriding can all be found just by walking down to the beach. Outside city limits, you’ll be surrounded by majestic cardón cacti, caracara birds and mystical arroyos (streams) that will impress you just as much as that crazy club you partied at the night before.

Oaxaca City

A cultural colossus fit to rival anywhere in Latin America for history, gastronomy and colorful manifestations of indigenous culture, Oaxaca is a complex but intensely attractive city whose majestic churches and refined plazas have deservedly earned it a Unesco World Heritage badge. Lovers of culture come here to indulge in the Mexico of Zapotec and colonial legend. Flowing through handsome yet tranquil streets, life pulsates with an unadulterated regional flavor. See it in the color palate of historic boutique hotels, a meet-the-producer artisan store or an intentionally grungy mezcalería (plying locally manufactured alcoholic beverages). But what makes Oaxaca especially interesting are its undercurrents. While largely safe and attractive by Mexican standards, snippets of political protest in recent years have lent the city a grittier edge. It bubbles up in satirical street art, bohemian bars and been-around-forever street markets. Trust us: there’s far more to this city than just pretty churches.

Acapulco

Acapulco, Mexico’s original party town, has a stunning topography of soaring cliffs curling into a series of wide bays and intimate coves, fringed with sandy beaches and backed by jungle-green hills. It was dubbed the ‘Pearl of the Pacific’ during its heyday as a playground for the rich and famous, including Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Elizabeth Taylor.

Trip ideas

More in the North America and Central region

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