Mexico’s gorgeous sandy beaches get a lot of attention – and rightfully so. But venture inland and you will find a profusion of flavours, culture and experiences that vary from region to region. Each era of Mexico’s rich, diverse history, from the pre-Colombian civilizations, to its uropean settlers, has had a hand in shaping the arts and crafts, architecture, culture and food story of this vibrant country. Here is just a glimpse of some of the unexpected treasures waiting for you in Mexico.
From colonial mansions to colourful haciendas, there are many alternatives to Mexico’s famed beach-side resorts. Seeking out smaller properties can offer a different vacation experience, one that might bring you more in touch with a region’s rich culture and history. In fact, the unique accommodation you choose could become the most memorable part of your trip! Here are a few options for your next Mexican escape.
Stay in a Hacienda
Yucatán: Hacienda San Jose
Haciendas are estates that were built between the 17th and 19th centuries. These family-owned properties were farms and ranches that focused on manufacturing items for export. Many luxury hotel groups have restored these formidable properties and buildings, and turned them into lavish retreats. The Hacienda San Jose is a beautifully restored hacienda. Though renovated to modern standards, the original character remains – 18-foot ceilings, exposed beams and rafters, 10-foot wooden double doors and tile floors. Hammocks provide a place to relax and enjoy your picturesque surroundings. Another great hacienda part of the Starwood Collection is Hacienda Temazon but in this area of Mexico the hacienda choices are abundant.
Stay in a Mansion
San Miguel de Allende: Casa de
Sierra Nevada (belmond.com)
Four colonial mansions and a main building form the Casa de Sierra Nevada, a luxury hotel in the heart of San Miguel de Allende with stunning views. Guests can learn how to make traditional Mexican dishes at Sazón, a cooking school located on-site and relax in the azure pool surrounded by stone arches of the mansion.
Stay in a Convent
Oaxaca: Quinta Real Oaxaca
Stroll the hallowed halls and gorgeous gardens of a 16th-century convent at the Quinta Real Oaxaca. The original frescoes remain at the Convent of Santa Catalina de Siena, which was built in 1576. The former chapel features folkdance dinner shows and the hotel is in walking distance of The Historic Centre of Oaxaca, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Stay in a Palace
Soak up the history of Mexico City at DOWNTOWN, a 17th century palace that is part of Design Hotels group. Located within waking distance of the Zócalo, this 17-room hotel elegantly blends the old – exposed concrete and vaulted brick ceilings – with the new – modern furniture and industrial-chic design features.
A Quest for Ancient Times
Add an element of time travel to your vacation by exploring Mexico’s rich and colourful past. There are many historical treasures to discover, both in museums and at actual archaeological sites that date back hundreds of years. Discover the civilizations that have contributed to Mexico’s rich culture.
The most visited museum in Mexico, the Museo Nacional de Antropología, proudly displays treasures from all the pre-Colombian civilizations, from the Aztec to the Olmec. It is a great introduction and history lesson that will take you across the country and back. In the Zócalo, also known as the main square, there is still work being done to unearth and preserve artifacts from Templo Mayor, a signifi cant religious area of what was once the Aztec capital known as Tenochitlan. If you want to explore one of Mexico City’s historic suburbs, visit the canals and colourful floating gardens of Xochilmco on a flat bottom boat that represent a living example of an ingenious agricultural practice invented in Pre-Hispanic times. Today, it is a popular tourist attraction with lively markets and an abundance of great restaurants. Northeast of Mexico City lies the once powerful, 2,000-year-old holy city of Teotihuacan. Here you will find the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, as well as the Temple of Quetzalcoatl. These buildings have great historical significance as Teotihuacan was once the most populated city in the New World and one of the strongest in Mesoamerica. In Aztec, Teotihuacan means the place where the gods were created.
One of the New Seven Wonders of the World, so-named by UNESCO, is in Yucatán: Chichén Itza. These seventh and 10th century ruins tell the story of both the Puuc Maya and the subsequent arrival of the Toltecs. During the spring and autumn equinox, the sun creates the illusion of a serpent descending the steps of the Pyramid of Kukulkán, a 25-metre stone representation of the Maya calendar. A great option is to spend the night at one of the Mayaland hotel properties right on site and enter the park through the hotel’s private entrance early morning to beat the crowds. For less travelled but equally significant Mayan sites in the area, there are many options such as Ek Balam and Uxmal. The colonial town of Izamal, also known as The Magical Yellow City because of the colour of the town’s buildings, is a great place to find traditional handicrafts. You will also find the ruins of four large Maya pyramids that were destroyed by the Spanish. The town is a designated Pueblo Magico or Magic Town of Mexico as well as a Unesco World Heritage site and worth a stop. You wont be disappointed. Want to learn more about the Maya? In Mérida, over 500 artifacts at the Mundo Maya Museum tell the story of both the ancient civilization and today’s modern Maya. Also worth a visit in Merida is the Anthropology and History Museum on the site of a refurbished mansion. It traces the city’s roots from the Mayan through Spanish Colonial times to present day.
Take a boat along the Usumacinta River to see the Yaxchilán ruins. Apparently this was a town of Maya seers and powerful queens. This site is known for its inscriptions. Be sure to look carefully at doorways, which contain some of the bestpreserved Maya carvings. Located in the Tumbalá mountains, Palenque is considered to be one of the most impressive sets of Maya ruins in Mexico. There are 1,400 documented buildings, although only about 10 per cent of the site has been excavated. There is a distinct sense of serenity that one finds when meandering the jungle trails throughout the site that cannot be explained. Though the state of Chiapas is well known for the archaeological treasure of Palenque, the colonial city of San Cristobal de las Casas is a unique blend of ancient customs with its cobbled stone streets and markets along with the unique neighbouring Tzotzil and Tzeltal villages. San Cristobal de las Casas is at the heart of one of the most deeply rooted indigenous regions in Mexico and the traditions and visitor experience are both unique and unforgettable.
Monte Albán is the most important archaeological site in Oaxaca. Compared to some of the other ruins in Mexico, this one is not hidden by jungle, but is rather exposed; it was carved right from the mountain. Monte Albán was inhabited by a variety of cultures, from the Olmecs, to the Zapotecs to the Mixtecs. Mitla was once a religious and ceremonial setting for the Zapotecs. Among the five groupings of ruins, you will find 14 geometric designs in the stone carvings around the site.
Escapade for the Palate
Those who think they can sum up the flavours of Mexican cuisine in a North American restaurant need to plan a trip down south, pronto. Just as you will find distinct cultural differences as you explore each state and region throughout Mexico, you will find a cornucopia of unique flavours with multiple influences from the country’s indigenous civilizations, like the Aztec and Maya, to the influence of the conquistadores who introduced an assortment of ingredients from Europe. In fact, in 2010, traditional Mexican cuisine was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list. According to the UNESCO website, “traditional Mexican cuisine is a comprehensive cultural model comprising farming, ritual practices, age-old skills, culinary techniques and ancestral community customs and manners. It is made possible by collective participation in the entire traditional food chain: from planting and harvesting to cooking and eating.” Many of these flavours converge in Mexico City, which has restaurants influenced by over 50 regional cuisines. Here is a brief, but far from complete, overview of the food experiences you will encounter in Mexico. To discover the rest, you’ll just have to taste them for yourself! As you explore the bustling main square in the historic city centre of Mexico City, aka the Zocalo, you can find everything from the best street tacos to sophisticated restaurants offering Mexican dishes with a nouvelle twist. The international options are endless and you’ll be able to sample fresh flavours at any of the open-air markets throughout the city. Oaxaca is sometimes referred to as the Land of the Seven Moles because of its seven different types of this famous sauce, the most popular being the one made with chocolate: mole negro (also known as Oaxaqueño). Apparently there are over 300 varieties of mole throughout Oaxaca, but also the states of Tiaxcala and Puebla. Oaxaca is also known for tlayudas (long pizza-like tortillas with a variety of traditional toppings) and deep-fried chapulines (otherwise known as grasshoppers). In Yucatán, cochinita pibil is a classic dish (inspired by the Maya) that consists of pork slow cooked underground with a sauce that consists of oranges, red onion and a traditional annatto sauce. Also popular in the western part of the state is pipián, a pumpkin seed sauce served over seared and roasted meats, or enchiladas. Chiapas also serves a version of pipián over pork. This region is known for its coffee plantations where you can see first-hand the eco-friendly practices that many farms are implementing. Tasajo is another local specialty – thinly sliced beef marinated in an achiote chili sauce. An interesting fact about this region is the cuisine surrounding San Cristobal uses less chili pepper than in other regions of Mexico. If you have a sweet tooth, the village of Celaya in Guanajuato is famous for its goat milk caramels and other sugary sweets. For savoury snacks, try the antojitos of Apaseo el Grande.
Tequila may get all the attention when it comes to Mexican beverages, but its cousin mezcal is worth a try. Both are made from agave, but mezcal uses the piña, which is the heart of the plant. An artisanal drink that is brewed in small batches, mezcal can be sampled at mezcalerias throughout Oaxaca.
Relaxation and Natural Beauty
Keep Calm and Relax in Mexico’s Natural Splendour
There is something to be said about a destination’s ability to weave culture and geography into a unique experience that will soothe the body, refresh the soul and nourish a traveller’s adventurous spirit. From waterfalls to traditional rituals, here are some ideas for seeking out relaxation on your vacation to Mexico.
Sweat it Out
Both the Mayans and the Aztecs used what we would refer to in North America as a sweat lodge for a variety of both spiritual and physical detoxifying purposes. This ancient tradition, referred to as temazcal in Aztec, has found its way into various modern spa experiences. While the methods may differ from place to place, the essence of this healing ritual remains the same.
Wash away your Worries
About 6,000 cenotes dot the Yucatán Peninsula – though many of them you can’t see because they’re underground. Some of these geological formations, essentially freshwater-filled sinkholes that occurred from the natural collapse of limestone bedrock, make for scenic places to swim. The Mayans used these “sacred wells” as a water source during times of drought. Now they provide cool respite for travellers and locals. Cenote Samula near the colonial town of Valladolid is arguably one of the most photographed cenotes in the Yucatán Peninsula due to its hole at the top which when the sun is shining bright creates a picture postcard scene of aqua blue waters. Cenote X-Canache near the archaeological site of Ek Balam and X’Ken in are also spectacular but depending on whether you are interested in diving, rappelling, caving or just enjoying the refreshing waters, each sinkhole has its own unique characteristics and reasons for visiting. A by-product of these cenotes is the powerful blue-green spirulina algae, which is known to contain high levels of antioxidants and anti-ging properties. The Yaxkin Spa at the Hacienda Chichen Resort offers Mayan purification rituals and healing arts, including a body wrap featuring this powerful ingredient. If you’re looking to swim near the soothing cacophony of a waterfall, both Agua Azul and Misol-Ha, located en route to the Mayan ruins in Palenque, provide scenic places to bring a picnic and relax. If you’re looking to swim near the soothing cacophony of a waterfall, both Agua Azul and Misol-Ha, located en route to the Mayan ruins in Palenque, provide scenic places to bring a picnic and relax.
Nightlife & Shopping
Written by admin on August 24, 2014 @ 8:43 pm
Shop ‘til you drop during daylight hours and then be prepared for a lively nightlife that does not believe in going to bed early. Most of Mexico’s great beach destinations and resorts offer something in the way of night-time revelry for guests, from shows to discos, as well as fabulous shopping for those who enjoy browsing and bringing home souvenirs of their travels. But head inland and you’ll discover even more opportunities to quench your thirst for shopping adventures and indulge your desire for nightlife. When in doubt about where to go, the town square (also referred to as centro histórico or zócalo) is often a good bet. Also, check the calendar for festivals that may be going on in the area that you’re visiting. Shopping doesn’t consist of just local handicrafts although that is definitely a highlight. Amazing finds such as the black pottery or Barro Negro as it is called from Oaxaca or the beautiful textiles and embroidery found throughout the country with unique designs from each state or region are a must. If you are in search of fashion, there is a lot to peruse from well-known fashion designers to undiscovered local and eclectic designers. If you are in Mexico City, be sure to check out Mazaryk Avenue in the Polanco neighbourhood. If art is your thing the town of San Miguel de Allende offers a treasure trove of arts and crafts created by Mexican artisans, from papier-mâché to folk art. Besides the quirky shops and boutiques, it’s worth a visit to Fabrica La Aurora, a former 19th-century textile factory that now houses artist studios and galleries – a great place to source authentic Mexican artwork as well as the many artists from abroad who now call San Miguel their home. Nightlife options are diverse. Of course the bustling city of Mexico does not quiet down once the sun sets. There is a great atmosphere that will appeal to both adults and kids alike. For the adults, you can find anything from trendy nightclubs in the Zona Rosa, San Angel or Polanco neighbourhoods to a more authentic experience like the mariachis who play in Garibaldi Square. In the smaller colonial towns such as Guanajuato or Oaxaca, kick back at a local café or lounge in their historic centre to meet the locals and take in the cool vibe. If you are travelling to the cultural gem of Merida, don’t miss the chance to see the Yucatan Symphony Orchestra
Filed under: SIGHTS