MMexico is one of the most popular destinations for our clients and there is much more to do, see and experience than just the beaches and tequila! Here is a selection of our “Top Tips for Mexico” to give you a flavour of what a tailor-made trip to this unique country could contain. Contact us for even more tips!
Why not also check out our Mexico Destination Guide?
1: Ride ‘El Chepe’ into Copper Canyon
Copper Canyon Train – Image by Graeme Green
Deeper than the Grand Canyon and at least four times larger, the Barrancas del Cobre or Copper Canyon is a network of 11 canyons sprawling across 60,000 square miles of rugged red rock landscapes in the far north of Mexico. Getting there involves one of the world’s greatest rail journeys, a step back in time on an engineering marvel that took 90 years to build. Running for more than 40 miles between Chihuahua and Los Mochis in northwest Mexico, the Chihuahua al Pacifico, or ‘El Chepe’, rumbles through the foothills of the Sierra Madre, past giant cacti and over high bridges and into the heart of the Copper Canyon. The remote mountains, rivers and valleys are ideal for outdoor adventure, from hiking and climbing to MTB-ing and horse-riding, with an adventure playground at Divisadero Barrancas that includes a cable car, a challenging via ferrata and a zipline adventure tour. The canyons are also home as well to the Raramuri Indians, famous for their stamina in long distance running.
2: Be artfully inspired in Mexico City
Frida Kahlo Painting – Image by Graeme Green
Mexico City is the 2018 World Design Capital, the first city in the Americas to be awarded the title. But this is a city with a long-standing creative culture. Home to 23 million people, representing all of the country, the city is the cultural heart of Mexico, with an incredible number of impressive museums and galleries. The first port of call for art lovers is the ‘Blue House’ in Colonia del Carmen, the house where Mexican heroine Frida Kahlo was born, worked and spent her last days, as well as spending time with fellow artist Diego Rivera. You’ll also want to head to the Museo De Arte Moderno, home to one of Frida Kahlo’s most famous works, Las Dos Fridas, and to the Palacio de Bellas Artes, whose walls are covered by the giant murals of Rivera, Orozco and Siqueiros. Across town, take in centuries of Mexican history by standing before Rivera’s mural Mexico a Traves de los Sigloes, which surrounds the main staircase of the Palacio Nacional. You’ll find art almost anywhere, though, in Mexico City, from the modern sculptures on the sides of city streets to the galleries of Polanco.
3: Feel the Mayan magic in the Yucatan
Chichenitza – Image by Graeme Green
Between AD250 to AD900, the Mayan civilization spread right across Mexico and parts of Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador. The Yucatan’s most famous Mayan site, Chichén Itzá gets around 2.2 million visits each year, who come for guided tours of the towering El Castillo pyramid, the Temple of Kukulcan, the Jaguar Temple and the Great Ball Court, an arena for ancient ballgames, possibly using severed heads. Other relatively easy-to-access sites include the temple complex of Cobá, worth visiting to climb the steep steps up Nohoch Mul, the highest Mayan pyramid in the Yucatán, and the coastal ruins of Tulum. But exploring deeper into the peninsular is rewarded with impressive ruins, such as Calakmul, Dzibanche and Chicanná, that have just a fraction of the visitor numbers. Sometimes, you can get an ancient ruin all to your self.
4: Sample the Goods in Tequila
Tequilla Collection – Image by Graeme Green
In Mexico, you’ll discover there’s far more to tequila than the fiery, almost painful experience many people have in mind from downing shots at parties. It’s serious business here, and, like good whisky, proper tequila (made from 100% agave) has complexity and flavour that’s worth savouring As with Champagne, tequila is specific to a region. To bear the name, tequila has to have been made in one of five Mexican regions, the main one being Jalisco. The heart of Jalisco is the town of Tequila itself in the reddish hills of the Sierra Madre, where jimadores (farmers) work the surrounding fields to grow and harvest massive agave plants, tequila’s main ingredient. The town itself is touristy, with shops and stalls selling tequila of varying qualities in novelty bottles shaped like barrels or guns. But it’s worth taking a walk around, dropping in on producers to try their range, walking the warm streets with a fuzzy head. Stay overnight, as it’s a pleasantly quiet little town once the tourist buses leave.
5: Get the binoculars out in Chiapas
Ruins of Palenque, Mayan city in Chiapas, Mexico – Image by Medeia
Chiapas is Mexico’s southernmost state, bordering Guatemala. It’s also one of the least visited. Those that make it here often come to explore the dense green rainforests, rushing rivers (great for rafting) and mountainous Highlands, and to visit the colourful Spanish colonial towns and Mayan archeological sites scattered around the remote region, including magnificent Palenque. Increasingly, it’s Chiapas’ reputation as a birding destination that’s luring people here. Here, you get a chance to spot endangered Scarlet Macaws, the Chiapas countryside the only remaining area of Mexico where the bright red birds can be seen in the wild. Keen-eyed Twitchers should also watch out for toucans, parrots, parakeets, King Vultures and White Hawks, woodcreepers and more in the Lacandon jungle, with colourful species like the Red-faced Warbler and Blue-throated Motmot in the Highlands.
6: Make big new friends in the “World’s Aquarium”
Whale splashing in the Sea of Cortes, Mexico – Image by HTurner
Jacques Cousteau called the waters of Baja California, off the northwest coast of Mexico, “the world’s aquarium”, because there’s so much life here. In the surrounding waters, you could get to see blue whales, humpbacks, fin whales, sperm whales, dolphins and possibly orcas. But for an up-close encounter, paddle out on a kayaking trip. Most tours leave from the colonial city of Loreto and head for the blue waters of the Sea of Cortez where who-knows-what might pop up above the surface next to your kayak. To maximize your chances of making new friends, though, sign up for a kayak tour of Magdalena Bay, a calving lagoon for gray whales. You’re likely to see more whales, as well as dolphins and sea lions, as you cross the Baja Peninsula.
7: Get the motor running for a road trip
Pyramids of Teotihuacan, Mexico City – Image by Graeme Green
A country as vast as Mexico has vast possibilities for exploring off-the-beaten-track hidden corners, with solid, fast, roads in many regions to explore places many other tourists miss. In the Yucatan, for example, it’s possible to leave behind over-run Cancun and Chichén Itzá to head instead for the quieter beaches of Tulum, up to the state capital of Merida and the ‘yellow city’ of Izamal, stopping along the way to swim in cenotes (water-filled sinkholes), to check out an old hacienda or visit lesser-known archeological sites, like Uxmal. Alternatively, consider setting out from Mexico City for the pyramids of Teotihuacan, then into the hills and valleys of the Baijo, with Spanish colonial towns and churches, the little-known university town of Guanajuato and the artists’ haven San Miguel de Allende, before getting some beach time on the Pacific coast at Zihuatanejo. Wherever you go, in a car, there will be no schedule and no climbing in and out of a tour van, just the freedom to spontaneously explore on your own clock.
8: Experience the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca
Lady Celebrating Day of the Dead – Image by Graeme Green
The Day of the Dead (Nov 2) is celebrated across Mexico in many different ways. But the state of Oaxaca is the spiritual home of El Dia de los Muertos. A combination of Catholicism (All Saints Day and All Souls Day) and pre-Hispanic cultures, the Day of the Dead shouldn’t be confused with Halloween, which it predates. Festivities start up to a week early in and around Oaxaca City. The event has its somber religious and spiritual moments, as people remember lost loved ones, including children. But the Day of the Dead is also intended as a celebration of life, with music and dance inside Oaxaca City’s main cemetery Panteon General, colourful marketplaces in the city and surrounding villages, and locals and travellers cramming into local cemeteries to witness vigils and rituals. There are also lively nighttime parties and carnival-esque processions that pass through the streets, many of those taking part wearing traditional dress or spooky ghost/skeleton face paint.
9: Try not to wake the Sleeping Lady
View from the Summit of Iztaccihuatl Volcano, Mexico – Image by Robert Cicchetti
Mexico may not instantly spring to mind for hiking potential, but an increasingly popular day trip is a hike up dormant Iztaccihuatl volcano, the third highest peak in Mexico. The volcano’s known as the ‘Sleeping Woman’ or ‘White Woman’, from the Aztec language; viewed from the right angle, the four snowy peaks resemble the shape of a woman lying on her back. The day hike usually starts with an early pick-up from Mexico City and a van ride out to begin the hike from up at around 3500-4000 metres. From the day hike’s highest point, you’ll have views of the Mexico Valley and the still-active Popocatepetl volcano (or ‘Popo’ for short), which means ‘smoking mountain,’ before descending and returning to Mexico. High altitudes aren’t for everyone, so be cautious.
10: Dive into cool Cozumel
Beach in Cozumel, Mexico – Image by Damsea
There’s no shortage of great diving off Mexico’s Caribbean coast, but Cozumel has held a global reputation as one of the world’s top diving locations ever since Jacques Cousteau helped put it on the map. Known as the Island of Swallows, most of the surrounding dive sites are found within the boundaries of Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park, which protects much of the second largest barrier reef system in the world, the Meso-American Reef System. The diving here is mainly “drift diving”, with options for beginners through to experienced divers. There are weird and wonderful, not to mention brightly coloured, underwater landscapes, coral gardens, tunnels and spires, with the possibility of seeing spotted eagle rays, barracudas, loggerhead, hawksbill and green turtles, and more than 500 varieties of colourful fish, as well as shark varieties, such as nurse sharks and black tip reef sharks, tiger sharks.
Why not also check out our Mexico Destination Guide?
For more information on things to do in Mexico, contact us for a free travel consultation.
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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