There is no harm in dreaming about your future holidays – in fact we believe it’s important to have something to look forward to. Planning an adventure can be a lot of fun and at the end of the day, the more research you put in then the higher the chances are you won’t miss any of the highlights. Best restaurants? Check. Unmissable UNESCO sites? Got it. Today we are putting the spotlight on one of our favourite Latin American destinations – Mexico. Between the beautiful weather, sun-kissed beaches, ancient history and unique experiences, Mexico is a country that attracts almost every type of traveller. You could spend a week on the beach while partying the night away in Playa del Carmen, or you could lose yourself wandering the remnants of Maya ruins before dipping into a stunning cenote. We have put together some of the best places you must visit while in Mexico.
It goes without saying that the bustling capital of Mexico is a must see on your itinerary. Bursting with beautiful pre-Hispanic architecture and home to a variety of museums, markets, galleries and restaurants, it’s the perfect place to spend a few days getting acquainted with the Mexican culture. Highlights include the impressive Catedral Y Sagrario Metropolitano, the Plaza de la Constitution and the National Palace. Spend time walking around the Historic Centre and indulge in some pastries from one of the many bakeries in the area. If you are eager to experience some of Mexico’s high end restaurants, head to Condesa where you’ll find yourself in the heart of one of the city’s most fashionable areas. The tree-lined streets and boutique shops mirror what you might find in a trendy European neighbourhood.
The site of Teotihuacan is a short drive from Mexico City and makes for an excellent day trip out of the city. The ancient Mesoamerican site spans around 4km and walking around makes you appreciate its colossal scale that it would have possessed back in its day. It’s thought that it was built around 300 BC and now consists of pyramids, temples, palaces and a Ciudadela.The most notable buildings are the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon, two large pyramids that are amongst the most impressive outside of Egypt.
This colourful colonial city is home to magnificent churches, a dramatic backdrop of volcanoes and peaks and a beautiful historic centre. One of Mexico’s oldest towns, Puebla means “City of the Angels” and was founded in 1531. Due to its rich history and impeccably preserved buildings, the historic centre is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Between the vibrant coloured architecture found round every corner and the ever-growing selection of restaurants and cafes, Puebla has grown in popularity over the years with people after a cultural holiday away from the crowds found in Mexico City.
Continuing south on our Mexico itinerary we come to the city of Oaxaca – known for its incredible street food and fast becoming the gastronomic hub of Mexico. One of the highlights is the Templo de Santo Domingo, a 16th century church with a lovely Baroque style facade – perfect for photography lovers. We also recommend taking time to get lost down the cobbled streets where some of Oaxaca’s best independent galleries can be found, as well as quaint cafes and restaurants. Be sure to try some tlayudas, crispy tortillas topped with beans, cheese and avocado, as well as tamales, tacos and of course, tequila.
Just outside of the city you will also find the spectacular temples of Monte Alban, a pre-Columbian archaeological site that is the only pyramid in Mexico that sits at 400 metres. Explore tunnels, palaces, tombs and pyramids and admire the beautiful glyphs and carvings.
If you have the time to travel overland from Oaxaca to the Yucatan province, there are some wonderful places to be seen, including Palenque. However if you are shorter on time you can catch a flight from Oaxaca to Merida – capital of the Yucatan province. The “White City” is a lovely mix of churches and plazas, with the same beautiful buildings found elsewhere in Mexico. Walk amongst the brightly painted houses in the city’s downtown or lose yourself in the popular Museum of Modern Art, which regularly exhibits local artists showcasing Mexico’s rich culture and heritage. Visit the largest market, Lucas de Galvez, where you can try some dishes typical to the region as well as picking up beautiful handmade crafts. And if you can’t get enough of ancient ruins, visit Uxmal, a UNESCO-listed Maya ruin celebrated for its beautiful stone carvings.
Travelling southeast you can then stop at one of the most popular attractions in Mexico – Chichen Itza. The impressive Maya site was voted as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World and was built between the 7th and 10th century AD, serving as a centre of pilgrimage for the Maya for over 1000 years. The archeological site’s most famous attraction is the Temple of Kukulkan, which is dedicated to the feathered serpent God Kukulkan. Standing at about 30 metres high with a series of nine terraces, the pyramid was built with such precision that the shadow of a serpent descends down the steps during the equinox. As well as the main temple, you can explore the Great Ballcourt, the Temple of the Warriors and the Observatory, as well as other small temples and ruins. It’s worth spending a decent amount of time exploring the site and hiring a guide if you want to uncover the history behind the ruins.
Playa del Carmen, Isla Cozumel and Tulum
It’s time for the beach. We work our way east to the party city of Playa del Carmen. Not to everyone’s taste, Playa del Carmen has an incredible nightlife scene and some of the best beach bars in the region. A little quieter than the likes of Cancun, the resort town has white sand beaches and enticing bright blue water that’s perfect for swimming, snorkeling and other water based excursions. With chic beachside cafes and bars it’s another world from the ancient ruins you just left behind. If the scene in Playa del Carmen isn’t to your liking, then you could venture across the sea to the nearby island of Isla Cozumel. It’s considered one of the best scuba diving and snorkelling destinations in the region due to the crystal clear water and the abundance of marine animals. It has a more laid back atmosphere and it’s easier to find a quieter beach to relax on, perfect for those who like it a bit more peaceful. And if you haven’t quite had enough of the stunning Mexican beaches and gorgeous food, keep travelling south to Tulum. This beach town has risen dramatically in popularity over the years due to it’s hip food scene, instagram worthy locations and pristine beaches.
And finally, cenotes
While not a specific location, we can’t talk about the best places to visit in Mexico without highlighting cenotes. A “cenote” is a natural pool which has resulted from a collapse in the limestone rock that once surrounded it. They are scattered all through Mexico, with many being in close proximity to Merida, Tulum and Playa del Carmen. The often hidden swimming locations have fresh water that is filtered by the earth around it, and the water is often so clear that you can see small fish darting below. Visiting a cenote is the perfect way to unwind and relax for an afternoon while enjoying the natural surroundings.
Matt Gannan is the CEO and Owner of Tucan Travel. Tucan Travel operate cultural tours in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, Asia and Europe, as well as tailor-made holidays in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
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