NORTH AMERICA

Mexico


Nowhere else on earth has managed to jam-pack as much colour and diversity into one country than the truly vibrant Mexico. It has something for everyone: ancient Aztec and Mayan ruins; over 10,000 kilometres of beaches lapped by not one, but two azure coasts; colourful cities of every size; and a rich, unique culture dating back thousands of years.

Its beating-heart capital, Mexico City (home to a staggering 20 million people), was settled in the 14th century by Aztecs and is bursting with interesting things to do. After a street breakfast of tamales, travellers can explore the Historico Centro's atmospheric Zocalo (the 3rd largest square in the world ) and the fascinating Templo Mayo museum; then take in the socially significant Diego Rivera murals adorning the walls of the nearby Palacio National. Weary feet can rest a while in Alameda Central, Mexico City's oldest and largest park. Once an Aztec marketplace, and later an execution site during the Spanish Inquisition, it now makes for a lovely place to momentarily escape the hectic city.

The nearby old-world towns of Cocoyan and San Angel have managed to retain their individuality amidst a vast urban sprawl. The Frida Kahlo Museum (also known as The Blue House) in Cocoyan is a delightful house and garden that the famed artist twice called home. It offers an interesting insight into the fascinating if not troubled life she led; and her legacy of being the world's most famous Mexican. Mexico's vast array of Aztec and Maya ruins literally start on Mexico City's rambling doorstep with the awesome, well-preserved city of Teotihuacan. Dating back to around 100 BC, it took 150 years to build. At its zenith in the first half of the 1st millennium, it became the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas.

Another must-see ruin is the partially excavated Mayan city of Palenque in Southern Mexico. After 700 years of occupation from 100 BC, it fell and was reclaimed by the surrounding jungle. Scrambling around this mysterious ruin on a hot day, accompanied by the din of parrots and howler monkeys, is an experience like no other.

Travel plans to Mexico are not complete without a sojourn at one of its countless beautiful beaches. Still very much a fishing and market town, Puerto Escondido on the West Coast is popular for its surf break, laid back charm and low key development. The Yucatan peninsula on the East coast offers a number of getaways including Cancun, the party town; and the more sedate, but gorgeous resort town of Playa Del Carmen. Further South again lays the serene Mayan ruins of Tulum, which overlooks the inviting, turquoise waters and coastline. The Yucatan is a microcosm of much that Mexico has to offer and as such is often favoured by travellers with restricted timelines. Visitors can explore the impressive Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza; relax in palm fringed beach towns; and wander the cobbled stone streets, colonial buildings and museums in the delightful city of Merida.

Still in the South, the city of Oaxaca brims with beauty, grand colonial buildings and highly creative locals who produce some of the finest crafts in the country. It also makes a great base from which to explore the surrounding valleys, one of which has the Zapotec ruins of Monte Alban. This diverse country is also home to countless natural wonders including the spectacular Copper Canyon: deeper, larger and more majestic than the more famous Grand Canyon in neighbouring Arizona. Nature lovers will enjoy the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, North of Mexico City. Its serene forests are home to as many as a billion butterflies that migrate annually from the harsh North American winter.

The generous Mexican people are particularly proud of their delicious and varied cuisine which was recently added to UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage list. From delectable street food through to fine dining, travellers will enjoy the simplistic, fresh flavours just watch out for the chillies that pack a serious punch!

While the weather is hot (mid-20s to high 30sC) and rainy from June to October through coastal Mexico, it is also the most popular time to visit, with July and August being peak season. Central and northern Mexico are more temperate, but can become quite cool from November to February.

Mexico loves a fiesta so it would be worthwhile timing your visit to coincide with at least one festival. Regional fairs, saints' days and national public holidays see the locals let loose and party, often for longer than the official day of celebration.

Click here for our suggestions on events and places to go at various times of year

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