Submitted by Heather Demars on August 1, 2016
A country teeming with activities, Mexico is full of life, color and culture. The people are cheerful, the landscapes are delightfully varied, and nightlife is filled with fun and tequila drinks.
Terrains are varied, from scorching hot deserts to sparkling white beaches, from rich rainforest to rocky canyons, snow-capped volcano peaks to busy cities. The country also boasts such perfect coastlines, that stretch down both in the Pacific and Caribbean, that it was tagged as the summer capital in the whole continent. Beaches in Acapulco and Cancun are just few of these so called vacation havens.
Visiting the country will confuse your senses as Mexico artistically combines the old with the new; the traditional to what is modern. Buildings show a juxtaposition of colonial and pagan architecture where there is Baroque and Art Nouveau as well as Art Deco and Native American design. Festivals and regional fiestas celebrated throughout the year introduce the pagans to Christianity as well as the Christians to paganism.
Colonial rules, invasions, rebellion, civil wars, and recessions left the country rich with cultural heritage. Despite all these, Mexicans have managed to remain an air of warmth and friendliness to the outside world. Visiting tourists are welcome any time of the year. They are welcomed to the major cities and towns with its myriad of architectural designs and bustling streets.
Or they could be wheedled to the serenity of the countryside that is brimming of archeological sites. Pyramids, magnificent stone carvings and ruins of ancient cities show that the country has seen more than what was told. Silver mining towns, indigenous villages, Mexican ports Mayan temples and ruins of Aztec civilizations – all are living proofs of the country’s struggle as a nation.
Start your Mexican adventure with the hustle and bustle in the capital city of Mexico. It will be a great starting point in rediscovering the country’s heritage. Head to the Plaza de las Tres Culturas showing the three major cultures that helped shaped the country: the Aztec ruins, the San Diego colonial church in 17th century and a few buildings of 20th century.
Dig in, explore the country’s wonders and simply enjoy the feeling!
When to Travel
When planning your Mexican vacation, time of year is important to consider because weather can affect the activities you may want to do. May to September is hot and humid while November to February is cold. The weather is mild throughout the year in the central plateau but is a little cooler from December to March. Summer months are also the months with more rains, normally a few hours of downpours in a day. The northern regions which consist mainly of deserts have hotter days and cooler nights. In the mountainous regions of the south, winds blow hot and cold with pleasant climates.
The peak season is from July to August when Mexicans head to the coast to enjoy their annual vacation. This is the time when resorts are fully booked, prices go up, public transportation and hotel accommodations are hard to find. It is advisable then to book reservations in advance. Other months that draw more crowds to the country are from December to January and Easter for Mexicans.
If you are available, it is a good time to join the Mexicans in their celebration of fiestas and art festivals. Also, watch out the regional fairs being held for they are sure feasts to entertain you. The Carnaval in late February or early March and the Semana Santa in April are some celebrations you have to look forward to attend.
Mexican Cuisines and Drinks
Mexican cuisine is a mishmash of various regional cuisines rather than a typical list of dishes for the country. Because of the geographical variation as well as climate changes in the country, Mexican cuisine is classified in four categories, the northern (mostly meat dishes), central (mostly corn based accompanied by different spices), southeastern (spicy vegetables and mostly chicken based) and coastal cuisine (mostly seafood and fish).
Mexican food can be very spicy so before digging in the menu, make sure to ask if the dish includes some peppers. Tacos, burgers, and bread are commonly found in food carts that are scattered in the streets of Mexico. Other dishes worth looking for are the following:
Chicharron – munch this crunchy fried pork skin.
Tortas – take a bite of this fancy Mexican sandwich. The bread is slightly fried with meat fillings, tomatoes, lettuce, beans, onion, mayonnaise and avocado.
Guacamole – crushed avocado sauce with green Serrano chili, chopped tomatoes and onion, lemon juice and fried slices of tortilla called “totopos”.
Barbacoa – meat (usually sheep or goat) cooked with maguey leaves in an oven made at a hole in the ground.
Carnitas – pork meat that has been deep fried
Chile en nogada – this dish bears the tree colors of Mexican flag. The dish is made of a big green Poblane chile with beef apple stuffing (could be pork), it is coated with white nut sauce and then topped with pomegranate seeds that are red. It is usually served during the country’s Independence Day.
Quesadillas – cheese grilled in between tortillas
There are several local brands of beers that are also available outside the country. You have probably tried the Sol or Corona in your home country. These two are the most popular in the country as well as in the neighboring countries.
But nothing can beat Mexico’s national drink – tequila. It is distilled in just few locations in the country to ensure quality. The drink is enjoyed by the Mexicans as it is by people around the globe. What gives it a twist is that there are more or less 20 ways of enjoying tequila. Some parts of the country also produce wines, and they are quite good.
The country also produces excellent coffee especially in the southern region of Chiapas. Café con leche which is coffee with steamed milk is quite popular. Other non-alcoholic drinks that you might enjoy are champurrado (thick chocolate drink), licuados de fruta (milkshakes or fruit smoothies), horchata (liquor made from rice) and refrescos (sodas).
Popular Vacation Sights in Mexico
Chichen Itza- The stone remnants of the Mayan civilization take us to Chichen Itza. This ceremonial city has drawn thousands of tourists across the globe. The most significant structure is the El Paraiso or the Pyramid of Kukulkan. Tourists will definitely be curious of this pyramid with a temple on top where it has been said that Kukulkan’s shadow can be seen on his way up the steps.
Teotihuacan- Located just a few miles northeast of Mexico, Teotihuacan is the site of the country’s largest ancient city. Visit the ruins of an imperial center that can be matched to ancient Rome. Literally means “the place of the gods”, the site houses, what they call the Avenue of the Dead, that connect the Pyramid of the Sun, Pyramid of the Moon and the Citadel.
Museo Nacional de Antropologia- Take time in visiting the displays and exhibits in the National Museum of Anthropology. See and marvel at the priceless arts that cover 20,000 years of human life. One of the priced artifacts is the 3,000 year old Tlatilco Acrobat.
El Zocalo- The enormous pave Plaza de la Constitucion or Zocalo in the capital city of Mexico is a good starting point in exploring the country. As the world’s second largest city square, Zocalo is the center of government and religion. The magnificent Presidential Palace and the great Metropolitan Cathedral dominates both sides of the square.
Tulum- Marvel at the quiet and peace in Tulum. Take an early morning dip to the blue waters and see the sunrise over the Mayan ruins which are actually on the beach.
Templo Mayor- Templo Mayor, meaning the Great Temple is the principal temple of the Aztecs. Explore the site which has once been believed to be the center of the universe. Within the temple is the Museo del Templo Mayor which houses a large collection of artifacts that gives us an idea of the Aztec Civilization.
Mexican currency is the Mexican Nuevo Peso (New Mexican Peso, M$) which is divided into 100 centavos. There are six banknotes in circulation in the denominations of M$20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1 000. There are eleven coins in denominations of M$1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 and 5, 10, 20 and 50 centavos. The M$1 000 note bill is often not accepted and tourists will have a hard time getting a change for it.
Cash is the king in Mexican markets. US dollar is widely accepted because, odd it may seem, it is difficult to pay in pesos sometimes. Exchange can be done at banks, major hotels and currency exchange houses (casas de cambio). Exchange rates are reasonable and currency exchange houses often offer the best rates and quicker service compared to banks. ATMs are scattered in most cities, major towns and tourist destination sites. They are the easiest and most convenient way to get money.
Credit cards are not as widely accepted in the country as in USA. The most accepted cards are MasterCard and Visa. Other cards like American Express and Diners Club are also accepted but are limited. With cash and credit cards available, traveler’s checks are not recommended to carry when traveling into the country. However, there are some exchange houses that accept checks issued by well known brands. These casas de cambio give better rates than hotels and faster services than banks.
To avoid additional charges when changing traveler’s checks, bring them in Pounds Sterling, Euros and US dollars.