Mexico Travel Guide: Explore this Colourful Country
From tranquil beaches to colourful towns
Mexico promises warm turquoise sea and strips of soft white sand framed with lush green palm trees. It is the perfect destination in which to sit back and relax with a margarita in hand as the sun beats down and glistens on the water.
But, while this should be part of your Mexican holiday, there are also cities to explore, adventures awaiting adrenaline junkies and an abundance of unique culture to soak up.
There really is something for everyone and so many things to do in Mexico, making it the ideal destination for both travellers and holidaymakers alike.
Mexico at a glance
This colourful country is perhaps best known for bustling capital Mexico City, the wild parties in Cancun and the beautiful beaches of Tulum. But there is so much more to Mexico and it’s all waiting to be discovered.
Beyond the beaches and coastline, there is a varied landscape that ranges from jungles and deserts to snow-capped volcanoes.
If you want to join the 40 million tourists who visit this exotic destination every year, read on to ensure you make the most of your time.
Travel advice when visiting Mexico
Mexico does have a reputation for crime and drug-related issues. However, according to gov.uk, tourist destinations such as Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Nuevo Vallarta, Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos don’t experience such issues to the extent other parts of the country do.
The government’s site also says the majority of tourists visit without incident and don’t tend to be the target of violent crime. However, it is vital that you take out the relevant travel insurance and keep your wits about you.
If you are pregnant, then it is best to avoid travelling to this country for the time being. Mexico is one of the destinations at risk of the Zika virus.
You should also be aware of the Mexico departure tax before you visit – you can find out all you need to know here.
For a safe trip to Mexico, make sure you stay in one of the major tourist destinations. There is an increased police presence in the touristy areas, especially in Cancun. You should be aware that street crime can be a problem and avoid walking away from the crowds, especially after dark and if you are on your own. You should also leave any valuables you don’t need in your accommodation and ensure any you do have on you aren’t on show.
If you are travelling a long distance then you may need to book on an internal flight to get from place to place in Mexico. Alternatively, there are taxis and buses that will take you between destinations.
If you are in Guadalajara, Monterrey or Mexico City, you’ll be able to use their metro systems to get around. Indeed, the latter’s metro is the second largest in North America. You can also travel by boat or ferry, especially along the Mexican Riviera and the Riviera Maya as well as between islands and the mainland.
You may also wish to travel on the country’s famous train on the Copper Canyon Railway, known as ‘El Chepe’. There is also one known as the Tequila Express which takes you to tequila country from Guadalajara.
Tuk-tuks, which are known as mototaxis in Mexico, can be found in the smaller towns. These are incredibly cheap and perfect for short journeys.
Average accommodation costs
Accommodation is reasonably priced in Mexico, costing about Mex$ 483 (£19) a night for one person and Mex$ 966 (£39) for two people.
Popular attractions in Mexico
Mexico is a large country with so many things to see and do that you might be wondering where to start. To help you decide, here are the top three attractions.
This ancient city – known as the ‘place where gods were born’ – was once the largest in the Americas. It dates back to 100AD and today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The top sights are the Pyramid of the Sun, the Pyramid of the Moon and the Avenue of the Dead. As well as wandering around on the ground you can take a sunrise balloon flight to see the spectacular city – believed by some to be where the universe was born – from above.
2. Pyramid of Kukulcan
The ancient capital of the Yucatán Maya, Chichen Itza, is one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Here you’ll find his incredible 24-metre high pyramid with a temple atop it, which is dedicated to Kukulcan. It was built between 800 and 900 CE to represent the Mayan Calendar. If you are here for the spring or autumn equinoxes – when Kukulcan is believed to return to earth – parties that started more than one thousand years ago are recreated. Music fills the air while natural shadows cause a serpent to appear on the pyramid in an experience you won’t forget in a hurry.
3. MUSA – Underwater Museum of Arts
Just off the coastline of Cancun you’ll find an underwater museum with more than 500 life-size sculptures which have been here since 2009. It is one of the largest underwater attractions in the world, partly because it is one of the most visited parts of the water. The material used to create the statues encourages coral to grow and it was originally built to help save the reefs and raise awareness. You can dive or snorkel to see this, or alternatively take a glass bottom boat tour.
The best beaches in Mexico
Mexico boasts more than 6,000 miles of coastline, lapped by the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf of California and the Pacific Ocean. The most famous beaches can be found in Tulum, Cancun and Acapulco.
If you would like to relax on white sand and swim in the warm turquoise water, here are three of the best beaches to pick.
Playa Paraíso, Tulum, Quintana Roo
Paradise Beach in Tulum certainly lives up to its name. It is one of the most tranquil and idyllic stretches of sand in Mexico, if not the world. The crystal clear, turquoise water laps against the soft, white sand, which is backed by rugged cliffs and palm trees. This beach may be incredibly popular but due to its size, it never feels overcrowded. You’ll regularly see people doing yoga against this beautiful backdrop – join them to truly relax in paradise.
Isla Holbox, Quintana Roo
The beaches on this island in Quintana Roo are hidden gems that have only recently been uncovered by tourists. The water here is popular with divers and if you don your scuba gear there’s a high chance of seeing whale sharks. The island – only 26 miles long and one mile wide – is famous for its over-water hammocks. Here you are lapped by the warm azure waters, enabling you to cool off as you sit back and relax.
Playa del Amor, Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur
You don’t want to miss this beach, especially if you are on your honeymoon or travelling with your significant other. Known as Lover’s Beach, this is one of the most romantic stretches of the Mexican coastline and it’s easy to see why it has earned that reputation. This can be found a short distance from the Arch of Cabo San Lucas, which is a popular spot for sea lions. If you have just got married you might want to avoid the beach that backs on to this one – Divorce Beach. Jokes aside, it is beautiful but too dangerous for swimming.
Excursions from Mexico
You may like to see the pastel coloured houses of the colonial towns to get a flavour for Mexico’s rich variety. San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato are just a short distance from Mexico City. The latter is one of the most popular places to see in the country. San Cristobal de las Casas is situated near the border with Guatemala and Valladolid can be found close to Cancun.
It’s also worth visiting one of the Pueblo Magicos – Magic Towns. This title was appointed by the tourist board to encourage visitors to see more of the country and explore the overlooked towns. There are 111 in total, including San Cristobal de las Casas and Tequila.
If you’re still hungry for more, there are the islands such as Cozumel, Isla Holbox, Isla Mujeres and Isla Janitzio – all well worth a visit.
Food and drink in Mexico
You’ve no doubt sampled Mexican food before but there is no better place to try it than the country of origin.
Tacos are one of the most popular dishes, they are often filled with meat such as beef or chorizo. If you are on the coast, you’ll be able to sample this with fish or shrimp.
You’ll also get the chance to tuck into some amazing enchiladas, which are corn tortillas filled with meat or vegetables and topped with sauce and cheese before being baked. Burritos – flour tortillas wrapped around meat and refried beans – are on the menu here, as are quesadillas – tortillas filled with cheese, as well as meat, beans and vegetables.
Mole is a sauce that tends to be made with chilli peppers, which are a popular ingredient in Mexican cooking. Mole poblano is the sauce you are likely to see most, usually served with chicken.
Nachos, meanwhile, are a Mexican dish that were actually invented for Americans. The tortilla chips are often heated up and served with the country’s traditional dips, tomato salsa and guacamole.
Street food is popular in Mexico and many of the above dishes are available in this way. If you are a foodie you may like to join a tour – the best are in Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta and Guanajuato.
To wash it all down, looks out for the margaritas. This cocktail is made with tequila, Cointreau and lime juice and finished off with ice and a slice as well as salt around the rim.
Talking of tequila, this traditional Mexican drink comes – unsurprisingly – from the town of Tequila. This drink is a type of mezcal that is made with blue agave. At weekends you can literally board the tequila train here which will take you to the Herradura distillery.
Do you like a Bloody Mary? Try one with a twist in Mexico. The vodka is swapped for beer in a drink known as Michelada.
Mexico is perhaps best known for Spring Break in Cancun. It takes place during February, March and April and is typically attended by students and recent graduates. It is basically one big party and can get pretty wild!
Other places to head for great nightlife include the capital Mexico City but Guadalajara, the second largest city in the country, is also a great destination, especially around Avenida Chapultepec.
The coastal cities of Mazatlan and Veracruz host great carnivals – the former’s is the oldest and dates back to 1898. If you are here for this you’ll see parades during the day before banda music fills the air after the sun has gone down.
Shopping in Mexico
Mexico’s shops are filled with folk art and handicrafts. It is the perfect place to purchase pottery, silver and textiles. Whether you fancy picking up a souvenir for yourself or a gift for a loved one back home, there is plenty to choose from.
One of the best places to shop is Oaxaca. Here you’ll find alebrijies – which is sculptures of fantastical creatures in an array of bright colours. Meanwhile, in the likes of Jalisco and Nyarit you’ll be able to get Huichol beaded items.
If you are in Mexico City, then you can browse the stalls at La Lagunilla, the largest market in the city. Alternatively, you can visit Reforma 222, one of the tallest buildings in Mexico and home to big name stores such as Zara.
Mexico culture and art
Mexico City has more than 150 museums. This is more than any other capital in the world.
The most famous is La Casa Azul. This was Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s childhood home and where she died in 1958. Today the bright blue building is a museum all about her life and work. It can be found in the Coyoacan district in Mexico City. Look out for the inscription left by Frida and her husband that says: “Frida and Diego lived in this house – 1929 – 1954.”
Her husband, Diego Rivera was also an artist and you’ll be able to his murals, including Man at the Crossroads, at various places in Mexico City including the National Palace.
Many of Mexico’s streets are decorated with art and some of the most impressive murals can be found in the centre of Mexico City.
Don’t miss the Anthropology Museum – where you can learn about Mexico’s history in one of the largest and most visited museum in the country. You may like to take the free guided tour to get the most out of your visit.
You’ll find the National Museum of History in Chapulteoec Castle in Mexico City and if you are a fan of the country’s traditional drink then you won’t want to miss the tequila museum
If you are here on the 2nd November, The Day of the Dead – or Día de los Muertos – is celebrated across the country. This high profile cultural celebration dates back thousands of years and as the name suggests, it is a celebration of the dead. The best places to experience the festivities are Mexico City and Oaxaca.
Outdoor adventure in Mexico
You are spoilt for choice when it comes to outdoor adventure in Mexico and exploring waterfalls and hiking up mountains are just the start.
Cozumel boasts the best scuba diving in the Western Hemisphere. The crystal clear waters provide the perfect conditions to see the colourful sea life.
If you would like to catch some waves then head for the Pacific coastline, especially around Baja California which is the best spot for surfing.
As well as snorkelling with them in the sea, between May and November you can see baby turtles being released into the water. Manzanillo, San Pacho and Puerto Vallarta are just a few of the places where you can see this.
Skydiving allows you to see Puerto Vallarta from above in style while in Chiapas you can trek through the Lacandon Jungle with a guide. There you can take a boat on the Metzabok Lake and spot crocodiles as you travel across the water.
If you like to see the non-touristy side of the destinations you visit, here are three things you might like to look out for in Mexico beyond the most famous attractions.
The Cenotes are picturesque sinkholes filled with clear, azure water that can be found in the Yucatan Peninsula, just a short distance from Valladolid. The Mayans believed they led to the afterlife and rumour has it that they were used for human sacrifice. Today, it is a unique place to swim as you cool off away from the heat of the sun that streams in from high above you.
Situated in Xilitla in the Huasteca region of southern San Luis Potosi state is this sculpture garden known as Las Pozas or ‘the pools’. It was created by patron of the Surrealist movement and English poet Edward James and dates back to 1947, although construction didn’t start until 1962. He initially used it to house exotic animals as well as orchids before building more than 30 structures. Some of these are unfinished while many are intercepted by the nine pools.
Hierve El Agua
At first glance, Hierve El Agua in San Pablo Villa de Mitla appears to be a waterfall but take a closer look and you’ll see that it is actually an illusion caused by the formation of the rocks. At the top of the limestone mountain there are a couple of freshwater pools and springs filled with minerals. Over the years this has dripped down the side and caused it to look like a frozen waterfall.
Best times to go to Mexico
The best time to go to Mexico is between December and April because this is the dry season. The average temperature during this season is 28°C. You may want to avoid visiting Mexico from June to November because this is the hurricane season.
The wet season is from May until October and starts in the South. While there are heavy downpours during this time, the benefit is that is does decrease the humidity.
Now you know everything you need to know about Mexico including the best time to go, the top attractions and the most beautiful beaches, you can start planning how to spend your time in this exotic location.
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