Holidays in Mexico:
This brilliant Central American
country has been a vibrant and multifaceted tourist destination for many
years, loaded with landscapes of every description from bleak deserts to
dramatic mountains while superb beaches range from activity-stuffed, all inclusive holiday resorts to stretches of sand devoid of packaged life forms.
Then there are the chart-topping
ancient pyramid sites, strange and colourful festivals, varied wildlife,
terrific weather (if you get your timing right), excellent public
transport systems, superb undersea life on one coast (the Caribbean) and great surfing
on the other (Pacific), good food and booze, pleasant colonial towns and
all at a reasonable prices.
- Sometimes it's perhaps not quite as colourful as the myth of Mexico might
suggest; there is no lack of dull towns and dreary landscapes.
- Banditry and thievery are not a myth.
- Many Mexicans are resolutely uncommunicative (unless you've got
$ in your hand) and taxi drivers in particular are a disgrace.
- Handicraft quality has gone down the toilet. However! Good handicrafts
and people seem to have migrated out to the coastal resorts...try
Mexico City and find out why!
Weather in Mexico:
Worst: June-October (wet, hot); the Yucatan Peninsula especially is susceptible
to hurricanes during this season but even if the big H doesn't strike
the seas around may be rough and unclear, the skies cloudy and the
beaches less pleasant to
hang out on, though prices will be down. March/April delivers US College
kid overload during the Spring Break (various schools, various dates).
Min. worthwhile stay, not incl. flights: one week. e.g. Cancun,
Merida, and Chichen Itza.
Recommended: 2 weeks, or much, much longer.
Places to visit in Mexico:
City. Visit excellent museums, see superb murals at the
Palacio Nacional, frolic around the Zocalo, take a little canal boat ride on the watery 'gardens' of Xochimilco and do day trips out to the magnificent pyramids of Teotihuacan, perhaps the city of Puebla, the Cholula pyramid and maybe the volcano of Popocatepetl 45 miles (70 kms) away.
For families or young thrill-seekers Six Flags Mexico is just south of Mexico City, a massive US-owned theme park with plenty of wild rides, water features, glitzy shows.
a large city with a relaxed, pretty old town centre, lovely main square and the ancient
Zapotec site of Monte Alban nearby. A great location for Dias
des los Muertos festivities.
Day of the Dead Festival Tour
The origins of the Day of the Dead Festival can be traced back as far as the indigenous people of Mesoamerica. The modern day festivities take place on 1st /2nd November each year when relatives gather in cemeteries in Oaxaca where they build altars and bring along food and party with the souls of their dead.
***Monarch Butterfly Breeding Sites. Nature reserves in the highlands of the state of Michoacan host millions of butterflies between November and March of each year, although numbers have declined sharply recently so don't leave it too late.
a small, delightful old town with agreeable free, daily concerts
and dance, good restaurants and good access to the ancient Maya site of
**Barranca Canyon del Cobre, Copper Canyon. A stunning
6 hour train ride from Los Mochis on the Pacific coast up the mountains
to Divisadero or Creel drops you on the edge of Mexico's Copper
Canyon. This is makes a great region for those who wish to escape extranjero overload - hiking (tho' trails are not well marked), horseback riding, birding, and Tarahumara Indians.
*Guadalajara - A traditional city that is the home of mariachi music and tequila and enjoys perpetual spring weather. Guadalajara's colonial downtown is pleasant and sophisticated.
*Tijuana - Mexico's busiest border crossing with the USA and a long-standing target for bargain shopping for southern Californians due to its proximity with San Diego.
Palenque © Brendan Macpherson
a good warm up for Chichen Itza: a pleasing and unusually rounded
Magician's pyramid with other interesting and well-preserved Maya buildings. Makes a perfect day trip from Merida.
Itza. A sensational Maya pyramid and many other strange
and unusual structures in the middle of a large (tho' quite dull) expanse of greenery. Stay 2
nights nearby and do it properly, but sadly it is now forbidden to climb pyramids and other attractions are roped off to prevent access.
**Tulum, Mexico, is the only Mexican archaeological site beside the sea, with more than fifty well-preserved structures, a small beach beside the main temple and a modest hotel zone nearby offering cabins and diminutive eco-hotels along this coast
120 miles (150 kms) south of Cancun.
***Palenque (in Chiapas state, Pacific coast) a wild Maya pyramid complex surrounded by rainforest;
wonderfully evocative and isolated but a long way to go from most of the other tourist hotspots. e.g. 10 hours drive from Merida, 13 from Cancun or fly to Villahermosa, about two hours away from the site by road.
*El Tajin is an ancient World Heritage Site built by the Totonacs in the state of Veracruz, east of Mexico City. The cluster of sacred structures is near Poza Rica, Papantla, or the small beach resort of Tecolutla.
Mexico old culture and festivals guide
Playa del Carmen, Mayan Riviera
Maya Riviera (Caribbean Coast):
Getting seriously busy and built up these days, this relatively short
coastal strip offers very little chance of tranquility, solitude or real ethnic interest, but plenty of family-friendly attractions such as Xcaret 'eco-park', Cozumel coral, serious pyramids not far away and of course superb beaches.
**Cancun is known for its spectacular 5 star beaches, clear blue waters and hectic nightlife but little culture. During America's Spring Break (sometime from the middle of March to late April) it is famously rowdy, with binge drinking, drug use and casual sex.
del Carmen for a lively beach scene
and excellent bars/restaurants/shops though getting overdeveloped.
**Puerto Morelos, Akumal and Tulum beaches are smaller, less developed options, but backpackers would probably find more accommodation to their taste along the southern Pacific coast.
***'Los Cabos' ('Cabo' in the USA) is a lively 20 mile beach resort area at the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula. The warm Pacific waters and massive stretches of white sand backed by sophisticated hotels, restaurants, bars and other attractions run from raucous Cabo San Lucas (another spring break vacations target, along with Cancun) down to quieter, colonial San José del Cabo.
Apart from wild nights and wet, sandy daze, the main activities in this Cabos Corridor are golf and sport fishing. Los Cabos International Airport serves the region, or drive Highway 1 i(Transpeninsular Highway) that runs 1063 miles (1711 km) from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.
**Sea of Cortez - to see whales, swim with dolphins and sea kayak in the warm waters along the eastern coast of Baja California near La Paz.
*Mazatlan is a vibrant port town, both a transport hub with ferries to Baja California, and a beach destination with huge stretches of sand. Mazatlan is a popular Spring Break destination due to its variety of low-cost accommodation.
**Acapulco, a lively 20 mile bay of
beaches, bars and hotels that has entertained Elvis, Sinatra and
Kerouac but still has space for budget travellers. A bit brash, decaying and
with and nightmarish traffic, but quiet spots survive, as do most of the famous (45m/148ft)
cliff divers at La Quebrada.
**Puerto Vallarta to **Puerto Escondido region has great beaches and a huge range of facilities from pricey to backpacker.
Here's a possible
2 week 'Yucatan in ruins' itinerary containing some of Latin America's prime sights/sites:
Fly to Cancun - to Chichen Itza via Ek Balam ruins
- to Uxmal via Mayapan - to Edzna - to Palenque - to Bonampak and Yaxchilan - to Chamula and San Cristobal
de las Casas via Agua Azul and Tonina - to Calakmul and Becan
via Balamku - Tulum - Cancun.
Getting away from the crowds
This is one of the world's most popular vacation destinations with over 20 million foreign visitors a year, though most Mexico vacations are centred around all inclusive holiday beach resorts as well as the central part of the country.
American tourists tend to cluster on the Baja peninsula and the modern beach resorts such as Cancun and Puerto Vallarta, while European tourists gravitate around smaller resort areas in the south like Playa del Carmen. The least busy part of Mexico is probably the northern interior or the far south in the vicinity of Guatemala.
The best way to stumble across less tourists is to visit Mexico in the low season months but when the weather is good, such as November, January, February and maybe March (but for March check when US colleges take their Spring Break that year).
Cozumel's dolphin play park
Hiking, Biking and Horse Riding: All over the country but especially well developed in Baja California
and Copper Canyon (Barranca del Cobre), an awesome gorge that's
bigger than the USA's Grand Canyon.
Climbing: Mountains are not the only
climbing option in Mexico, volcanoes are also hot and there's
a fine pair less than 100 kms south of Mexico City - Iztaccihuatl (5,255m/17,342 ft) and Popocatepetl (5,420m/17,887 ft).
White Water Rafting: Veracruz, Chiapas,
Oaxaca and Morelos states.
Scuba diving: Best dive spots are around
Cozumel island and Cancun on the east side
and the Pacific coast between Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco, Manzanillo
and the Sea of Cortez, Baja on the west side.
There are also some spooky dives available in the shape of caves
and cenotes (natural, underground wells).
Snorkelling and swimming with dolphins: Off 'Maya Riviera', especially Cozumel, Isla Mujeres.
Surfing: All down the Pacific Coast,
around Baja California (Ensenada), Mazatlan and especially
Puerto Escondido's Zicatela Beach.
Sea Kayaking: The Baja peninsula.
Wind Surfing: Puerto Vallarta, Los
Whale, dolphin and seal watching: off Baja California and Puerto Vallarta. Grey whales are especially
visible in February.
Sea Turtle watching: around Puerto
Vallarta and Zihuatanejo.
'EcoParks': The Maya Riviera is site of several Ecological Parks, such as Xcaret, Xel-Há and Garrafón; aimed at conserving flora and fauna of the region, as well as being tourist attractions. At these parks tourists can learn about the Mexican culture, and also enjoy activities like swimming with dolphins and snorkelling.
Golf: With well over 100 courses around
the country there's plenty of choice though Baja Sur's Los Cabos is reputedly Mexico's best golfing destination with Puerto Vallarta
area a close second.
Millions of monarch butterflies migrate to the high forests around
Michoacan in winter. Easiest to view by hiking up from El Rosario
village. November - March.
And by the way, did you know that butterflies taste with their feet?
Domestic Mexico airlines are acceptably efficient
and low cost if you book in advance.
The Mexican bus network is all-encompassing
with the exception of the Baja Califironia peninsula and a vast array of carriers
are available, many of a very high standard (express buses labelled 'directo'). This is our preferred form
of transport outside cities but avoid long-distance night buses as bandits like to
take them - in a different sense. When travelling by bus do not put valuables in your check-in bags in the storage locker of the bus.
Cars - rental or bringing your own.
But be warned, like many Latin America cousins...
Mexicans have a lively style of driving which can disturb those
who have actually studied for a driving licence and are
unused to swervy road tactics. In addition road surfaces can be
atrocious, signs limited, unmarked obstructions not unusual and
night lighting irregular. Any accidental involvement with the police
may be unpleasant and financially painful. Spanish language and
experience of fluid driving styles would be an advantage
if you plan on self-drive.
Insurance - American automobile insurance is not accepted in Mexico while vehicles with
foreign plates must obtain permits before being allowed into the interior of Mexico. This can be done at the border checkpoints by showing your vehicle title or registration, as well as immigration documents and a valid credit card.
Night Moves - Tourists are warned about being out on roads at night. Although bandits are rare in metropolitan areas, they may pop out of the woodwork in rural areas, along with cattle, dogs, and wild animals. The best bet is to drive during only daylight hours. If possible, follow a bus or truck that seems to be driving safely.
Taxis are a practical way to get around
but ensure that either you agree on a price beforehand or there
is a working meter. Mexico City is particularly difficult for taxis
and though they are easy to find they may be more of a
problem to leave! The safe solution is to phone a taxi company from your hotel/restaurant or get a taxi from a established station (Taxi de Sitio).
A shaman (witch doctor) at work in Mexico City
Hygiene is unexpectedly good but nevertheless common sense dictates that before any Mexico tourism ensure
your vaccinations are to the max and up to date.
Diseases you should be concerned about, at least, are Typhoid (get
a jab); Hepatitis A and B (get a jab); Hepatitis B, C,D (take care
what you eat, drink, or who you share fluids with, blood included);
dengue fever and malaria - both acquired from mosquitoes.
Drinking tap water is not advisable for visitors, with the exception of Merida.
Mexico City and some large towns endure fairly high levels of crime,
most of it petty, but armed robbery and even rape is not unknown,
though major tourist locations such are
generally well protected. As usual take special care in busy places like bus
and metro stations, when using ATMs and at night. Location is important as safety changes from place to place. Areas close to downtown (el centro) are safer to walk at night, especially in the Zocalo or Jardin (main square) and areas nearby.
Stay in populated areas, avoid poor neighbourhoods and don't walk there at any time if you are alone.
Cruising taxis are better avoided if possible as they have been implicated
in serious assaults. See more under Transport/Taxis, above.
Police in tourist destinations often speak English and are reliable,
though this does NOT apply to Mexico City.
See Bugbog Safety pages.
Mexican currency is the peso, usually marked as $, though in major
tourist attractions they distinguish between the two by marking
pesos as MN (moneda nacional) and dollars as Dlls.
Small peso change is useful but hard to come by so hoard it.
Banks and casas de cambio (exchange offices) give similar
rates of exchange but always check rates first and precise money
received immediately after (i.e. at the counter!).
$100 bills are tricky to unload, $1 bills excellent.
ATMs work well but take care, especially in Mexico City, at night,
Credit Cards are widely accepted though some establishments add
a hefty surcharge when paying by card.
Many service personnel depend on tips so assuming their
service is adequate you should tip waiters in the region of 15%,
bellboys and porters up to $1 per bag. Taxi drivers do not require
110v, 2 flat pins (same as USA, Canada)
Most foreign nationals (including Americans, British and other Europeans) who intend to visit Mexico for fewer than 180 days for the purpose of tourism or business can get a tourist card (FMT) at the border or upon landing at an airport for a nominal fee and after showing a valid passport.
Drugs and bribery:
A strict anti-drug policy exists in Mexico. Take great care, even with weed. Local police are hopelessly corrupt, and like nothing better than to catch unwary tourists with small quantities of marijuana. Threatening long prison terms their main aim is to extract bribes, usually half of all the foreigners money. Caution is particularly advised on long bus journeys across state lines, as police or military checkpoints ask for identification and may search passengers. In general, however, these checks seem to be aimed at locals - particularly in the Zapatista homeland in Chiapas.
Time Share bores:
When visiting touristy cities it is common to be approached with offers of gifts, free rental cars, free nights, free dinners, free anything that may appeal to you, just for visiting and listening to a presentation to buy a timeshare. Unless you are severely desperate for something to do, you should probably ignore them and save yourself a high-pressure marketing situation.
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