Hot as a jalapeño pepper, pristine as the colour of the Caribbean Sea, ancient as the Mayan ruins, wild as the waves of Pacific Ocean and colourful as the paper flags decorating the streets …. That’s how I see Mexico, diverse and captivating.
This country will easily get under your skin and soon enough you’ll discover that Mexico has a lot more to offer than just delicious tacos and beautiful beaches (although both of those are truly amazing). This country belongs among my favourites and the combination of astonishing culture and spectacular natural wonders makes me want to visit it again, as soon as possible.
In majority of tourist destinations, you’ll be fine speaking English, especially if you’re hanging out around the young generation. The more remote the area is, the less English is spoken. In some off-the-beaten-path places people speak very broken English, if any, but using hands and facial expressions is still quite sufficient.
But isn’t traveling to Mexico a great opportunity to (re)discover your enthusiasm for Spanish language and try to speak the native language of the country you’re visiting? Locals usually appreciate it and even if your command of Spanish is limited, there’s nothing to worry about. Just learn few basic sentences, useful phrases, numbers and mainly, don’t forget to smile…you’ll see how far it’s going to get you. The worst thing you can do is assuming that everyone speaks English and be shocked when they don’t.
HECHO EN MÉXICO
Mexican culture is interesting, vibrant and very rich in traditions that go far beyond quinceañera, Cinco de Mayo, Día los muertos and piñatas which became known to the rest of the world. Despite being geographically in north of America, Mexico’s latino spirit is undeniable and can be seen in arts and festivities all around the country.
Music is a very important part of Mexican culture. In one night, you can witness Mariachi band playing to serenade your evenings as well as move your hips to the rhythms of salsa or reggaetón.
From my “Mexperience”, locals are very warm and welcoming and everyone I encountered during my 6 weeks stay was super nice and helpful. It was wonderful to meet different people in the streets, collectivos, through Airbnb or at the taco stands where we would all together chat and smile (and they would laugh at me when I was crying and gasping for air after having eaten some of the spicy food😊).
Unlike what some people predicted after I had told about my upcoming trip to Mexico, I felt very safe and my travels weren’t influenced by any security issues. Mexico has earned quite a reputation for violence and has been home to many incidents in recent years, however most of the narco-related conflicts happen in the in the northern states along major trafficking routes and overall I can say that Mexico is not as “crazy” as presented in the news. Obviously, there are areas that aren’t safe and even most of the locals wouldn’t go there for holidays but generally the tourist destinations do not see such a high of drug-related violence and you won’t see chopped off heads along the roads as you might have heard. Crime happens, just like anywhere else, so stay alert but don’t let it discourage you from travelling to Mexico.
Local cuisine is world renowned for a reason. Food here is to die for and I am not talking only about tacos you get at home on Taco Tuesday.
Mexican dishes are based on corn and play with cheese, vegetables, fruit, meat and different kinds of spices and flavours. There is so much to try and when I go back I’ll be filling my belly with chalupas (sort of taco), chilaquiles (fried corn tortillas), tlayudas (“mexican pizzas”), tortas (sandwiches), sopa de nopales (cactus soup), quesadillas (grilled cheese tortilla), enchiladas (rolled tortilla covered with chilli peper sauce) or tamales (meat or vegetables wrapped in banana leaf)…
When it comes to drinks Mexico is famous for its tequila and I also noticed that Mexicans love their beer. Another beverage that deserves your attention is mezcal, a distilled alcoholic drink with strong smoky flavour made from agave plant called piña. Today mezcal is still made in its traditional way as it was 200 years ago and some of the bottles contain worm which is supposed to complement its salty taste.
Currency used in Mexico is peso (MXN) and 1 USD equals to about 19 MXN.
Speaking of money, if you’re limited by a certain budget and looking for a destination where you get a lot of bang for your buck, add Mexico to your list. This country, especially food and accommodation, is very affordable. Well, if you’re making smart choices – that includes using public transportation, sleeping in backpacker guesthouses or Airbnb, going to the markets and eating at food stalls (mmm those tacos for 5 pesos😊) Doing that, you might be able to live on 25-30 USD per day in total.
¡DOS BOLETOS, POR FAVOR!
I found transportation in Mexico easy and logic. There is a relatively rich net of buses that connects major cities and towns. Many bus companies provide basic as well as quite luxurious services. For bigger distances (such us Mexico City to Cancún) it is also possible to use local airlines (for example Volaris) that will board you for around 50 USD.
In case your budget is tight and you’re up for cultural encounter, jump on collectivos. These shared minibuses/vans run around specific routes and you simply hop in with other riders, tell the driver where you want to get out, and pay once you reach your destination. The price varies based on distance, but an hour-long ride doesn’t cost more than 100 MXN.
If you find yourself in a pickle, don’t be scared to use taxis, they are still quite reasonably priced. Just make sure to agree on a rate prior the ride.
MY TOP 10
Mexico surprised me with the diversity of its landscape and quickly made it to the top of my travel list. These are the favourite places from my Mexican adventure (until I come for more):
There is something undefinable about Oaxaca City that instantly made me fell in love with it. The capital city of Oaxaca state is a lovely little town with clean cobble stone streets and colourful houses and there is simply something in the air that makes you feel adventurous.
Compared to other Mexican cities, Oaxaca seems relatively relaxed and thanks to number of interesting galleries, museums, markets and churches, the city promises very cultural experience. The centre is dominated by the magnificent Templo de Santo Domingo as well as the lively square of Zocolo where locals come to hang out.
Oaxaca is cited as a culinary hub of Mexico and regional cuisine is distinguished due to the varied geography and indigenous cultures. Every restaurant offers something special, such as grasshoppers (chapulines), homemade chorizos, mole sauces, tlayudas, memelas and tetelas (don’t you just love the names of Mexican food?). And if you’re fancying a good mezcal, a visit to Oaxaca will be more than pleasing as there are plenty of factories showing the process of making this traditional beverage (tasting included!).😊
Oaxaca does not lie by the beach (in fact, the closest beach is as far as 7 hours of driving) but it is surrounded by green hills and forests that give the area a mystical vibe. There are also fantastic trips to embark on to explore the entire state of Oaxaca such as Hierve del Agua (see number 6).
2. MEXICO CITY
The capital city of Mexico belongs to the biggest cities in the world and is home to about 22 million people. And it looks like it – crowded metro, terrible traffic and simply a chaos of a big urbanized area. On the other hand, visiting such a huge place has one big perk – there is so much to do! You could literally spend weeks exploring the hub of this country and still be finding new and interesting spots. So, don’t be surprised if you feel a little overwhelmed.
Mexico City is full of contracts. The city center is pretty, clean and features stunning architectural pieces. There is a huge variety of districts from modern ones offering a cool bar scene to the ones where I wasn’t recommended to go. Poorer areas and slums can be found on the outskirts, including Ciudad Neza, one of the largest slums in the world.
From my point of view, Mexico City is super entertaining. It very much depends on what you are into but I believe that there is something for everyone. Most of the major galleries and museums, such as Muse de la Antropologia and Templo Mayor, are located along Paseo de La Reforma, which is a big boulevard in the heart of the city. The historic centre of the city is located around Zocalo (Plaza de la constitucion), one of the largest squares in the world, wears its historic importance on its sleeve. That’s where you’ll see an enormous Mexican flag as well as the biggest cathedral in the whole of the Americas – Catedral Metropolitana.
Among other main sights are Chapultepec, one of the largest parks in the western hemisphere, and traditional Plaza Garibaldi. Make sure not to miss the iconic Palacio de Bellas Artes as well as Angel of Independence that was built in 1910 to commemorate the centennial of the beginning of Mexico’s War of Independence.
If you’re anything like me, you love Frida. The best place to really get a feel for Frida is to visit the museum in the Blue House/Casa Azul. This is where Frida was born, grew up, lived with Diego and died. The blue house is situated in Coyocan, a hip neighbourhood, which was my favourite in the entire city. Not far from there lies charming Xochimilco, where you can hire a brightly coloured boats (trajineras) and float around while drinking michiladas (beer prepared with lime juice and hot pepper sauce).
To sum it up, this is where traditions meet the modern days and visiting the capital city is a great opportunity to see the real Mexico (not the one people usually know from the beach of Cancún).
“Good vibes only”. That could be an official motto of this cute beach town located on the Pacific Ocean coast in the state of Jalisco. The days when Sayulita was a forgotten sleepy destination lacking foreign visitors are over but luckily it still somehow keeps its local vibe. The beach in Sayulita has everything you could ask for…. gold sand, palm trees and resplendent sunsets. And mainly, the ocean creates a perfect condition for surfing newbies beginners so rent a board and give it a try.
Chill bohemian atmosphere is present everywhere in Sayulita’s streets as they are full of hip boutiques and local restaurants. I had a crush on Sayulita the first minute I arrived and wish I could have stayed longer.
4. TULUM AND CENOTES
Located on the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo, Tulum is so much more than the ruins it is famous for. If you’re dreaming of a beach holiday spent on a white sand beach or craving a good Mexican food and outdoor adventure, you’ve found your destination.
The main pride of the area are the Mayan ruins, situated on a cliff in a scenic setting. This archaeological site can be quite overcrowded at the peak hours but is still worth visiting if you want to witness what is left after the Mayan walled city from 14th century, see the picture-perfect views of the Caribbean coast and meet local iguanas that crawl around the place like they own it 😊.
Not far away from the town, find hidden cave-like sinkholes with fresh, crystal clear water (so called cenotes). The largest one is called Dos Ojos and with its depth of 60 km! is a dream spot for divers and lovers of snorkelling. Another water caves in the area are La cenote Grande and cenotes Labnaha.
The streets of Tulum will always have a special place in my heart since that’s where I ate the yummiest tacos de pastor of my life (location unknown, some tiny food stand off the main road). So, long story short, Tulum is a fun and cool and you should visit 😊
5. SURREALIST GARDEN LAS POZAS
Just a short drive from the village of Xilitla, a seven-hour drive north of Mexico City, you’ll find yourself in a mystical rainforest almost 700 above the sea level surrounded by winding walkways taking you through the dense trees and flowers.
This place is not certainly where you’d be looking for an art exhibition but in the middle of 20th century British millionaire Edward James chose this lush jungle in the middle of San Luis Potosí state to be his setting for his surrealist art collection and created an unusual experience for everyone visiting.
The site is composed of steps, ramps, rock statues, bridges, labyrinths and stairs that spiral up to the sky leading to nowhere. Laz Pozas is a real prove that it often pays off to go off the beaten track – most probably you will have the labyrinths and turquoise river lagoons to yourself.
6. HIERVE DEL AGUA
A trip to Hierve del Agua is going to feast your eyes on. Situated on the edge of the rugged mountains approximately 70 km south of Oaxaca, this enclave of natural beauty is a popular destination for oaxaqueños (people from Oaxaca) on their days off.
Past the archaeological site in the city of Mitla, several mescal factories and the widest tree in the world (El Tule), the unpaved road starts to wind until you reach picturesque rock formations and petrified mineral pools. The site is dominated by a massive salt waterfall surrounded by cliffs and cascades of water. Swimming in mineral springs in Hierve del Agua should be on everyone’s Mexico to-do list and was one of the most memorable things of my entire trip.
7. PUERTO VALLARTA
At first sight, Puerto Vallarta might seem to be pretty “mainstream” due to its neat board walk (‘malecon’) full of Señor Frogs, Margaritavilles and ready-to-party gringos. But don’t be mistaken by the first impression. If you take a second look and go behind the Zona Hoteliera, you’ll be swept into authentic streets full of local mood.
In Old Vallarta you can meander the historic streets decorated by the typical colourful flags (‘papel picados’) and fill up your tank at many delicious taco stands. The city is also a heaven for gay community. So-called Zona Romantica is situated south of the river and every year hosts many gay parades and similar events that are entertaining for everybody.
The lush coastline of Banderas Bay guarantees a wonderful beach time with Playa los Muertos being the main beach in the town. Facing the west, Puerto Vallarta knows how to put on a show and the sunsets here were unreal. The surrounding area of PV won’t disappoint either. The options for scenic walks and hikes are “countless” with a hike through the jungles to Playa Las Animas being on the top of the list.
On the other hand, think twice before booking a boat tour to the “hidden beach”, as it is often called a tourist trap. Don’t get me wrong, the island and rock formation in the middle of the ocean is amazing, however the tours are not very well organised and going there without a tour is unfortunately almost impossible.
When people associate pyramids with Mexico, they usually have famous Chichén Itza in mind and Teotihuacan is not getting the attention it deserves. But the truth is, the pyramids here are outstanding.
Surrounded by mystery, the initial creators of the ancient city of Teotihuacán are still unknown. It is presumed to have been established around 100 BC and at its peak, around 500 AD, the population reached over 200 000 people which made it the Mexico’s biggest ancient city in the pre-Columbian Americas.
Today Teotihuacán is a huge site full of ruins but for me, this place was far more entertaining than I had expected. The main features of the archaeological site are Avenue of the dead and the surrounding pyramids. The Pyramid of the Sun is the third largest pyramid in the world and you must clamber up over 260 steps to get to the top. The Pyramid of the Moon is slightly smaller but still ensures a breath-taking view of the area.
The site is located only 40 km northeast of Mexico City and can be reached by a bus from Autobuses del Norte station, which makes it a perfect one day trip from Mexico City.
9. PLAYA ESCONDIDO
Playa Escondido (‘hidden beach’ in English) hides itself in a little bay at the southern part of Oaxaca state. Washed by Pacific Ocean, this laid-back beach town is often referred as the Mexican mecca of surfing.
Life here simply revolves around the waves so embrace the beach time and throw shakkas no matter if you surf or not. Famous Playa Zicatella prides itself on having the world class breaks and attracts surfers from all around the world. The town even regularly hosts big name championships such as World Surf League.
In case you prefer to watch the waves from the safety of the beach, there is still so much to do. You can learn how to surf/paddle board at much calmer Playa Carizalillo and visit beautiful Playa Mazunte, bio-luminescent bays or turtle sanctuary. There is also a possibility to float through the mangrove forest on a boat in order to see exotic monkeys and crocodiles. Plus, the location within the Oaxaca state has one big advantage – good mescal everywhere around.
10. PLAYA DEL CARMEN
Playa del Carmen is a true paradise – imagine miles of gorgeous white sand beaches lined with palm trees and washed by clear-ish waters (depending on the seaweed). This little town is undoubtedly less busy than its touristy neighbour Cancún but still welcomes plenty of beach bums coming for their tropical getaways. So, if you’re looking for solitude, look elsewhere.
The life in Playa is centred around Quinta Avenida (5th avenue) which provides many great food options and spring break-like party scene.
Although the foreign (mainly the U.S.) influences might have taken away a little bit of the authenticity, Playa del Carmen is still a wonderful place to visit, not only for its pristine coast. If you wish to explore the Yucatan Peninsula, Playa makes a good starting point for the trips to Akumal, cenotes, close-by islands such as Cozumel or even famous Chichén Itzá.