"Mexico is a mosaic of different realities and beauties."
Enrique Pena Nieto
The many facets of Mexico add up to an excellent holiday destination which can tick just about any box you care to mention. The ancient relics of the Mayan civilisation eloquently convey the complex cultural heritage of indigenous Mexico, while the colonial charm of towns like Oaxaca can't fail to enchant. Zesty, vibrant flavours are everywhere, so take the chance to learn more about authentic Mexican food during your trip, visiting markets, street kitchens and perhaps taking a cookery class. Delve into indigenous culture when you visit the highland communities where it is strongest, and discover the wonders of Mexican history and arts in the many museums in the capital and beyond. Don't overlook the delights of the stunning Caribbean coastline where the white sand, sparkling sea and blue sky paint a truly relaxing picture.
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Top things to do in Mexico
There are many wonderful experiences to be had in this fascinating nation. For further inspiration take a look at the trip ideas put together by our trusted local experts, but in the meantime here are our top things to do in Mexico.
Get to know Oaxaca
Oaxaca is worth a visit for its colonial splendour alone, and wandering among the historic and charming lanes of the old town is a delight. But there is much more to this beguiling city than its looks - the artistic heritage is strong and there are plenty of galleries showcasing accomplished works both contemporary and retrospective. This is one of Mexico's primary market towns, and browsing the crafts and produce on display is a popular pastime for visitors, along with excursions to the remains of the Zapotec city of Monte Alban, a beautifully sited archaeological treasure trove hanging above the valley.
Explore the mysteries of Chichén Itzá
Mayan architecture reached its zenith at the incredible site of Chichén Itzá on the Yucatan peninsula. Once an important centre for trade complete with imposing monumental sites of worship, this is an atmospheric place where you can step back in time and learn about the lives of the Mayan people who lived here all those centuries ago. The central part of the city spreads across a large area, but the dominant buildings are the Temple of Kukulkan, named after the plumed serpent God, the Temple of the Warriors, the Tomb of Chacmool, the Caracol, the Ball Courts and the Wall of Skulls.
Discover Mexico City
Start your tour at the Zocalo, otherwise known as the Plaza de la Constitución, where the history of Mexico is eloquently represented by the layered structures around the city square. The square itself occupies the location where originally the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan stood, and the ruined Aztec Templo Major is testament to the city's pre - Hispanic incarnation. Also worth a visit are the Metropolitan Cathedral and the National Palace, the latter home to many of Diego Rivera's finest works. The historic colonial quarter, the fantastic Museum of Archeology and the Frida Kahlo museum are other highlights.
Have a taste of Mexico
From the 'intangible cultural heritage' that UNESCO has awarded the food culture of Oaxaca to the inimitable taco stalls and mezcal bars found nationwide, Mexican food is distinctive, delicious and devilishly addictive. The fresh and vibrant flavours vary from region to region, so you'll never run out of new dishes to try. Puebla is the unofficial foodie capital of Mexico, and should feature alongside Mexico City and Oaxaca on any gastronomic tour. Learn the secrets of carnes asadas, tamales, fried grasshoppers… and so much more.
Lesser-known things to do in Mexico
While there are many well-known things to do in Mexico, what about the lesser-known highlights? Our local experts have shared some of their top tips for where to go and what to do if you fancy a bit of an alternative Mexican adventure.
Cool down in San Cristóbal de las Casas
Quaint cobbled lanes, ornate balconies and cheerfully painted houses give this enchanting highland town a European flavour yet with Mexican flair. Enjoy the artisan market for brightly coloured textiles and trinkets, or the municipal market for local life and busy commerce. Both offer a good insight into the culture of this hilly region. Many visitors take the opportunity to explore the nearby villages of Zinacantan and San Juan Chamula where indigenous culture is strong and the unique heritage is all around you.
Take a cruise in Sumidero Canyon
Created by the separation of a geological fault line in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas range, the Sumidero Canyon is 41 kilometres long and in places the canyon walls are 1,000 metres high. It's an impressive trip following the Rio Grijalva at its base, looking out for waterfalls, varied birdlife including egrets and pelicans, spider monkeys and crocodiles along the way. The most impressive waterfall is the famed Christmas Tree, where mineral deposits have built up in a classic festive shape and become covered in bright green algae.
Find jewellery workshops and small town charm
Silver mining has been the lifeblood of Taxco since pre colonial times, and even today silver is the major industry, though the mines are no longer in use since the veins of silver have been exhausted. The town is attractively ranged across a steep hillside, complete with charming cobbled lanes twisting uphill flanked by whitewashed houses with red roofs. The contemporary silver industry is based around artisanal workshops making quality silver jewellery available all over town, so it's a good place to pick up a souvenir.
Explore mellow Merida
Standing on the site of the ancient Maya city of Tiho and built from some of the remaining stones, Merida has a laid back yet vibrant character, especially in the old town. The graceful and historic streets are dotted with churches, museums and art galleries. Mayan culture is particularly strong in the Yucatan, and the museums here document the history with flair. Attractively jumbled streets and plazas are where the main action can be found - almost every evening there will be a party somewhere in the historic centre. Live music, dance classes, films and more are laid on for free and well attended by locals and visitors alike.
When is the best time to go to Mexico?
The best time to go to Mexico is November to March - the dry season - a great period to visit when you can expect blue skies and moderate temperatures perfect for the beach yet not too hot for touring. April to October brings more rain, but in the early part of the wet season - May and June - the rain is restricted to short showers and shouldn't have too much impact on your plans, though temperatures and humidity are on the rise. During August and September the rains arrive in earnest, and you could be unlucky enough to encounter a hurricane, so this is perhaps the time to avoid travel to Mexico. By November the rains are fizzling out and on the 1st of the month the vivid Day of the Dead celebrations are a brilliant and colourful festival to honour the deceased.
Busy periods include the traditional winter holidays in late December and early January, Spring Break in March or April, and also the period in February that coincides with US school holidays. If you prefer to avoid the high season, think about travelling in November when the rains have just finished, or May when the risk of showers is higher but footfall is lower. If you hope to incorporate a whale watching trip while in Mexico, January to March is the best period - blue and humpback whales are present around Baja California during these months. If you enjoy the sight of butterflies in the wild, January and February are the best months to aim for as large numbers of monarch butterflies are migrating through Mexico at this time.
Interesting facts about Mexico
Mexico is a fascinating country, but did you know any of our top interesting facts about it?
There are 35 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Mexico, 27 cultural sites, 6 natural sites and 2 mixed.
Pico de Orizaba is Mexico's tallest peak, rising to 5,636 metres which makes it the third highest mountain in North America, only beaten by Mount Denali in Alaska in and Mount Logan in Canada. It is a stratovolcanic peak which last erupted in 1846.
By far the most popular sport among Mexicans is football, but boxing and baseball are also up there, and in some regions the most popular sport is Jaripeo, a bull riding sport.
The official language in Mexico is Spanish, though there are 68 other official languages, many of them indigenous.
Mexico is surprisingly large - by territory it is the world's 14th largest country.
The presence of humans in Mexico is believed to date back more than 20,000 years - ancient stone tools have been attributed to this period.
In 2007 Chichén Itzá, the ancient Mayan archaeological site, was named one of the modern wonders of the world.
Five Mexican foods you have to try
Mexican cuisine is one of the world's favourites - and for good reason! Here are the top five dishes that you have to try when on holiday in Mexico.
You won't need to go far to find one of Mexico's most popular street food snacks - corn on the cob. Usually served boiled on a stick but also found as a cup of kernels, the corn is doused in your choice of butter, salt, chilli, lime, and sour cream.
This is one of Mexico's most historic recipes, a delicious soup of corn and chicken or pork flavoured with lots of spices and fresh herbs before being cooked long and slow. A zingy topping of crunchy radish, lettuce and onion flavoured with lime and chilli is added just before serving.
Steamed parcels of meat, vegetables or sweet fillings make great snacks when you are on the move. The dough is stuffed with one of the classic sweet or savoury fillings, wrapped in either corn husk or banana leaf and steamed until it's all cooked through.
This is a generic term for 'sauce' but in fact it is one of the most complex dishes in the Mexican repertoire. There are as many different recipes as there are grandmothers, but the key is the layering of flavours - usually no less than 20 ingredients make a mole, and different types complement different meats and vegetables
Tacos al pastor
Strips of spit roasted pork marinated in spices and pineapple are served in small corn tortillas with a variety of toppings such as sliced onions, fresh herbs and lettuce. There are many variations of tacos but these are considered the original and best.
Celebrating Day of the Dead in Mexico
One of Mexico's most iconic festivals is the Day of the Dead, a celebration of loved ones who have passed away. A combination of ancient indigenous festivities and catholic traditions that arrived with the conquistadors, it is a colourful and vibrant affair celebrated across Latin America. Belief in the afterlife dates back many millennia in the region and the Day of the Dead is thought to be a time when the deceased can revisit the living for a brief period.
In common with other catholic nations, far from being a sombre and grief filled event, departed friends and family are remembered with happiness and joy and festivities take place across Mexico to honour the dead with a smile. One of the reasons that Europeans and North Americans are so taken with the Día de los Muertos festival is that it is a really upbeat event, directly in contrast with solemn memorial events we are more used to.
Festivities take many different forms depending on local tradition, but some of the common themes are the images of skeletons and skulls, known in Mexico as Calacas and Calaveras, which appear on sweets, fancy dress masks and as puppets. Ofrendas - which are small altars set up for loved ones with a treasured photo, favourite foods and other mementos - pop up in households, while many families take the opportunity to spend time at the graveside of their dear departed, chatting, cleaning and decorating the graves with flowers and paper garlands.
Here are some ideas on where to see and take part in Day of the Dead festivities in Mexico. The National holiday itself falls on 2nd November, but the celebrations often take place for several days leading up to this date.
In Merida, a strongly Maya city on the Yucatan, the festival is known by its Maya name of Hanal Pixan, and features gatherings at the cemetery to clean and decorate. The festival is celebrated with a special dish, pibipollo, a tamale that is believed to be enjoyed by the dead as well as the living.
The comparsas or Day of the Dead processions are a famous feature of the Oaxaca celebrations, taking place after dark with some spectacular costumes and a carnival atmosphere. Graveyards host reunion parties with departed souls, and the town enjoys a lively festival.
Mexico City has a long tradition of neighbourhood celebrations but since the Bond film featuring an elaborate procession of skull imagery was released in 2015, the city has embraced this idea and a procession is now an annual feature.
Various events and celebrations take place to mark Día de los Muertos in Mexico, and many are accessible by the public. These are deeply personal celebrations and customs so there may be some specific locations where tourists are not permitted, though generally if you show respect for the tradition and the significance of the event, you will not cause any concern to the local people.
What to read before you go to Mexico
'The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico' by Miguel León-Portilla
A hugely important exploration of the Aztec experience during the Mexican conquest, as they struggled to hold on to their culture and ultimately battled for their lives.
'I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter' by Erika L. Sánchez
A vivid and convincing portrait of Mexican family culture told through the eyes of the titular Mexican daughter. This is a detailed and immersive book about culture clash and family tensions with twist at its core.
'Under The Volcano' by Malcolm Lowry
Set in 1938 in the town of Quauhnahuac, this is the meandering tale of the British consul's experience of mid-twentieth century Mexico, its endlessly fascinating cultural melange and the evils of alcoholism.
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