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What do you think of when you say ‘Mexico’? Big sombrero hats, moustachioed caballeros, senoritas in salsa dresses and high-flying masked wrestlers? And possibly beautiful beaches, sun-bleached grasslands, and crowded cities ablaze with carnival colours? Mexico is all this and more. This dynamic North American nation shares its northern border with the US, meets the pacific Ocean at its south and west, the Gulf of Mexico at its east and the Caribbean, Belize and Guatemala at its southeast. Add these influences to its own blend of Indigenous and Spanish cultures and you’ve got a heady mix indeed. Officially called the United Mexican States, Mexico is a federal republic with over 126 million inhabitants and many major urban centres including Mexico City (the capital), Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana. Great things to do in Mexico include exploring Mexico City’s gorgeous galleries and museums. Including the amazing Museo Nacional de Antopologia, which is packed with priceless cultural artefacts showcasing the talents and vision of Aztac, Mayan and various other cultures which flourished in this part of the world prior to Europeans arriving from Spain. And if you like your art a little more modern, don’t miss The Blue House, the birthplace and studio of legendary artist Frida Kahlo. You can also attend amazing festivals like the Day of the Dead – it’s celebrated nationwide but its heartland is in Oaxaca state. And with so many stunning scenic sites, Mexico is an amazing destination for taking off on fantastic road trips to hotspots like Baja California, Yucatan and the Pacific coast.
Guide of Mexico
Mexico’s history spans more than 10,000 years, so there’s lots to take in. Evidence of plant cultivation suggests humans were growing crops like squash here as long ago as 8000BC and by 1500BC, the Olmecs (the first real Mesoamerican civilisation) were in ascendence and had started growing things like maize, chili peppers and cotton. The Olmecs were a rather arty lot too – evidence of their graphic symbolism has been found around areas like San Lorenzo. Various other regional groups emerged in the following centuries and by 250 AD, the Mayan civilisation was in full swing and these talented people were leaving their mark on everything from mathematics to hieroglyphics and calendar making. By the 15th century, the Aztecs dominated, and their civilisation may have endured to this day had the first European, Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba, not arrived in 1517. A larger force followed under the command of Hernan Cortez and after a series of bloody conflicts, the Aztecs were overrun by 1519, their capital razed to the ground and the first foundations of Mexico City were laid. Spain ruled until 1821, when Mexican Independence was formally declared.
Culture in Mexico
With so many different influences, you’d expect Mexico’s culture to be as spicy as its cuisine (more of which later). And you’d be right. From diverse architectural styles to seasonal festivals and music to art, this nation’s cultural tapestry is endlessly rich and vibrant. The predominant language is Spanish, the Roman Catholic religion is still influential and close family ties are important – this is a country where you’ll still see several generations of the same family living in the same abode. In such a lively country, you’ll have to embrace boisterous atmospheres in restaurants, pubs and clubs – it’s part of the Mexican passion for life. And although there’s a prevalent laid-back attitude, good manners, friendliness and respect go a long way – remember that in business for example, it’s bad form to turn up late for meetings.
If you’re a sports fan, you’ll be in your element in Mexico. Football is the most popular sport and it’s closely followed by boxing – fight fans worldwide remember legendary Mexican pugilists like Julio Cezar Chavez, Salvador Sanchez, Marco Antonio Barrera and Ruben Olivares. And as mentioned earlier, masked wrestling (Lucha Libre) is also a big draw and in some areas (controversially) you’ll still find bullfighting. Other sports include basketball, tennis, motor racing, racquetball and ice hockey.
Things To Do in Mexico
There are plenty of historical sites for you to discover in Mexico and these span pre-Hispanic and Hispanic eras. For starters, the amazingly well-preserved Chichen Itza site comprises two cities established by the Toltec and Mayan civilisations – it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site that includes iconic buildings like the Warrior’s Temple and circular El Caracol observatory. You can also explore the distinctive stepped pyramids of Teotihuacan (dating from 400 BC) and the rambling remains of the Maya site Tulum, which includes temples, a castle and city walls. For something a little more recent, try the impressive 18th century AD Castillo de Chapultepec building and 16th century San Augustin church.
If you’re visiting Mexico with kids in tow, the good news is that there are plenty of family-friendly activities. The nation’s beautiful beaches are an obvious win and although there are many to choose from, Isla Mujeres at Yucatan is particularly highly rated for families with small children, it’s close to Cancun’s international airport, boasts powder soft sands and access to the Caribbean Sea. Meanwhile, slightly more adventurous (and older) children might enjoy swimming in the Cenotes – natural limestone pools where they can splash in turquoise waters, surrounded by beautiful rock walls (and sometimes ceilings).
Big nights out
If you want to party, Mexico might be a little underwhelming. Only joking – it’s one of the best places to party on the planet! There’s almost too much to choose from, but highlights include the plush Mandala Cancun nightspot, Coco Bongo Cancun revue show, Carolina Daylight Club on the beach at playa Del Carmen and Batey Mojito & Guarapo Bar in Tulum. You might also like the live traditional music at Incanto in Puerto Vallarta and Hussong’s Cantina in Ensenada.
Eating Out in Mexico
Chances are you’re no stranger Mexican street food but when you visit, you can taste the real deal from the source. For many locals and visitors alike, tacos take the top spot – these tasty tortillas are filled with succulent meat like fried pork and complemented by ingredients like onion, salsa and guacamole. Tamales are also popular – corn dough dumplings stuffed with meat and salsa and wrapped in banana leaf. And tostadas are tasty too – crisp tortilla bases fried and stacked with meat, seafood, cheese and good old salsa and guacamole too.
If you’ve got refined tastes, there are lots of fine dining experiences in Mexico to please your palate. At Pujol in Mexico City, chef Enrique Olvera serves his signature dish Mole Madra, a sourdough starter made with chillies and served with tortillas. Meanwhile, El Mural de lost Poblanos in Puebla City serves traditional dishes with exciting ingredients like grasshoppers, and Casa de la Troje in Metepec is located in an ancient adobe building and tempts your taste buds with dishes like coconut soup and blue corn tortillas.
You’ll find international food in several of Mexico’s larger cities but it’s fair to say that it’s concentrated in Mexico City. Highlights include French comfort food at Monsieur Croque, Japanese emporium Tokyo in the city’s Zona Rosa, and Lebanese kebabs and falafels in the Condesa neighbourhood’s Kebabji restaurant. Meanwhile, if you’re yearning for international fare, try La Tapperia de Comonfort in the Lagunilla Street Market for tapas and Iberian wine and snacks. For something a little different, Plantasia serves immaculate Asian-style vegetarian and vegan dishes.
The main airports in Mexico are Mexico City International Airport (MEX), Cancun International Airport (CUN), Guadalajara International Airport (GDL) and Tijuana International Airport (TIJ). You can hire a car at your airport with Enjoy Travel and hit the road immediately once you land and clear customs – couldn’t be easier.
Mexico City has an expansive bus system and a metro system, Monterrey has its own Metro system and there are light rail systems in the capital as well as cities like Guadalajara. Be warned though – although there’s good coverage, often there’s no timetable as such and routes are frequently changed for no discernible reason and with no prior warning.
You drive on the right hand side of the road in Mexico, the legal driving age is 18 (although you may have to be older to hire a car), seatbelts are mandatory and drink driving is forbidden. Speed limits are 20km/h near schools and hospitals, up to 40km/h in built-up areas, 70km/h on main roads and 110km/h on highways.