Mexico – By Graeme Green
Beyond tequila and Mexico’s famously beautiful beaches, there’s a whole lot of adventure to be had in his huge, diverse country, from the rugged rock landscapes of Copper Canyon to the Mayan ruins across the Yucatan. Across Mexico, you’ll discover wildlife-filled jungles and aquarium-like oceans, colonial cities, Magic Towns and fascinating traditions among indigenous cultures, plus thriving art communities and a cutting edge foodie scene to rival any in the world…
Language: Spanish and indigenous languages, including Mayan and Zapotec, with English spoken in hotels and restaurants in tourist zones.
Currency: Mexican Peso, with US dollars welcomed at some tourist businesses.
Getting To Mexico
- Most international flights arrive at one of three main airports: Cancun, for the beaches and resorts of the Riviera Maya; Cabo San Lucas, for Baja California up in the northwest; and Mexico City, the country’s capital and central hub for exploring the rest of the country. But there are plenty of other cities reachable with direct international flights, including Puebla, Guanajato and Oaxaca City.
- It’s also possible to enter the country by road from the USA, arriving into northern cities, such as Tijuana, or travelling up from Belize or Guatemala to access southern Mexico.
Getting Around Mexico
- A good network of domestic flights makes it easy and quite cheap to get from city to city and explore other regions of the country.
- Mexico also has solid, straight, fast highways and toll roads in many parts of the country, especially in the Yucatan Peninsula. Elsewhere, if exploring more off-the-beaten-track parts, it’s likely you’ll find plenty of potholes, cracks, uneven roads and lots of topes (suspension-testing speed ramps), as well as dusty and rocky trails in the countryside. They can sometimes make journeys, whether self-drive or bus trips, slow-going.
When To Go To Mexico
- You can visit Mexico any time, such is the diversity of climates across the country.
- Mexico City is pleasantly warm throughout the year.
- If you’re heading to the Yucatan, the hotels get extremely busy and more expensive from late December through to March, while the weather can be almost unbearably humid and sometimes rainy around July and August.
- Up in the Copper Canyon’s higher elevations, winter can be cold, June can be dry and dusty, with the summer and autumn months the best time for reasonable temperatures and lots of greenery and flowers in bloom.
Festivals/Events in Mexico
- The Day of the Dead is the big one (not to be confused with Halloween), with sacred rituals and mezcal-fuelled celebrations across the country on and leading up to November 1 and 2, particularly fascinating to witness in Oaxaca.
- September 16 is Mexico’s Independent Day, marking the anniversary of 1810 when Mexicans rose up against Spanish forces, another major celebration across Mexico.
- Elsewhere, there are colourful, lively parades, dances, music and parties for Carnaval in both Veracruz and Mazatlán, usually in March.
Food & Drink in Mexico
- Finally getting the recognition it deserves, Mexico is one of the world’s top culinary countries, from outstanding seafood in Baja California right down to endlessly diverse moles (chocolate chilli sauces) in Oaxaca. Whether eating tacos, tortas or tamales, part of the fun is in sampling a huge range of tasty salsas.
- Mexico City is a cutting-edge foodie capital. Despite high-end offerings, it’s often at Mexico’s street stands and markets that you’ll have your most memorable experiences; if there’s a crowd at a stand or the seats are mostly filled with locals, it’s a positive sign.
- Tequila is famous and mezcal is gradually earning international respect, while Mexico also has a little known but on-the-up wine industry, largely focused on the Guadalupe Valley in Baja California.
Top 5 Things To Do in Mexico
1. Ride ‘El Chepe’ into Copper Canyon
2. Be artfully inspired in Mexico City
3. Feel the Mayan magic in the Yucatan
4. Sample the goods in Tequila
5. Experience the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca
For more information on these and more, check out our Top 10 Things to do in Mexico
Ultimate Luxury Experience in Mexico
- Mexico isn’t well known around the world for the wine they produce, but the Guadalupe Valley, up in the north of Baja California, has been called out as “the next Napa Valley”, the area producing high-quality wines that more than stand their ground.
- Spend a few days getting to know the best vineyards on the Ruta de Vino with a private expert-led tour, making sure to sample the product at the likes of Monte Xanic, Hacienda La Lomita, La Cetto, Casa de Dona Lupe and Pedro Domecq.
- Stay in a Hacienda and luxuriate in colonial grandeur. Try one of the Yucatan Peninsula collection: thehaciendas.com
Ultimate Family Experience in Mexico
- You can find whale sharks in various parts of Mexico, including around Isla Holbox and Isla Mujeres off the Yucatan Peninsula and off the coast of Baja California in the northwest. Taking a swim with a bus-sized behemoth is the kind of once-in-a-lifetime family adventure that’s likely to be remembered and talked about for the rest of your lives. Despite their size, whale sharks are docile and harmless, and as long as your children are confident swimmers and ideally calm enough not to disturb these gentle giants, there’s no reason why they can’t get in the water and take a swim beside these beautifully spotted marine creatures.
What To Pack to go to Mexico
- If spending time on the beaches of the Riviera Maya or Baja California, it’s beachwear all the way, but it can sometimes get chilly or rain, so bring a few long sleeve tops and a rain jacket.
- Higher altitudes, such as in Copper Canyon or in Chiapas, are colder than other parts of the country, so bring lots of layers and a good coat.
- A pair of solid sandals is useful if exploring waterfalls, rivers or coastal areas. Comfortable shoes are handy if you’re planning to explore cities on foot, which is recommended, and hiking boots are useful in Copper Canyon or for any trekking.
- Carry sunglasses, sunhats and lots of suntan lotion. Mosquitos can be a nuisance, especially in mangrove or jungle areas, so bring a bottle of good repellent.
- Mexican plugs are different than in the UK and US, so bring an adapter to charge cameras, phones and other gadgets.
Health & Safety in Mexico
- Mexico gets a bad international press. Much of the drug violence is contained within the cartels and rarely impacts tourists. It’s far safer to travel here than most people think, but it still pays to be cautious, especially in less touristy districts of Mexico City and in off-the-beaten-track parts of the countryside. As anywhere, keep wallets, cameras, phones and other valuables safe and ideally out of sight.
- Upset stomachs are possible if eating at basic places. It pays to trust popular, busy stands or restaurants, or higher end establishments. Drink only bottled water, as a general rule.
- You can get extreme temperatures across the country, both hot and cold. Act accordingly, including drinking plenty of water in humid and sunny locations.
- Speak to a doctor about any vaccinations or medication.
Travel Tips for Mexico
- Arrive early at popular archaeological sites, such as like Chichén Itzá and Teotihuacan, not only to avoid the heat but to enjoy a few hours of relative peace before the tour bus crowds arrive. It’s also worth considering timing visits for mid-to-late afternoon when the day is cooling and many group tours have disappeared back to their hotels.
- Mexico is a vast country. Don’t try to fit everything into one trip, as you’ll spend too much time travelling from place to place. Instead, pick one, two or three regions to explore in-depth, and save the rest for future trips.
- Even if you don’t think you like tequila, give it a try in Mexico. You’ll find it’s far more pleasant than the low quality, sugary tequilas many people have experienced at home. Always check the bottle says 100% agave to know it’s good quality stuff.
- Chable, a remote new getaway, close to Merida, the capital of the Yucatan. Combining plush, modern luxury with the crumbly remains of a characterful old hacienda, they have casitas set in the jungle and a spa built around their own private cenote.
- Four Seasons Mexico City is a comfortable, elegant base for exploring the country’s capital.
- Campobaja in Mexico City has a lively, celebratory atmosphere, and serves ceviches and hearty portions of fresh seafood from Baja.
- Down in cool beachfront Tulum, on the Riviera Maya, NYC’s Eric Werner’s restaurant Hartwood is always packed, for good reason. They create hearty delicious dishes, such as ribs with agave glaze.
You have to go to…
- The National Museum of Anthropology, one of the finest museums in the world, with an extensive collection of statues, artworks and other treasures from Mexican’s pre-Hispanic cultures, including Mayan, Aztec and more. It’s well worth half a day of your time in the capital.
Before you go…
- Watch Frida, with Salma Hayek in the title role as Mexico’s national heroine. The film tells the story of the artist’s life and her turbulent relationship with husband and fellow artist Diego Rivera. You’ll see Frida’s face on everything from restaurant walls to handbags across Mexico.
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Graeme Green is a British photographer, journalist, travel writer and travel enthusiast currently based in Mexico.
Follow him on Instagram: @greengraeme