SUMMER VACATION IN MEXICO
Long a favorite destination of North Americans, Mexico is also increasingly popular with tourists from Europe seeking to enjoy the endless sun, breathtaking landscapes and beautiful sandy beaches – not to mention its amazingly rich cultural heritage. Mexico’s ancient Aztec and Mayan sites and historic colonial cities are so important that many of them have been inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, ensuring that they will remain unchanged for generations to come. It is interesting to note that these places – including places like Guanajuato, Chichén Itzá and Uxmal – are often as popular as traditional beach vacation spots like Cancún, Puerto Vallarta, and Playa del Carmen. At the top of the experience is the country’s rich culture, a fascinating blend of indigenous peoples and Spanish colonial influences found in all the country’s culinary creations and vibrant musical and choreographic traditions. It is also a country rich in flora and fauna, as it extends over climatic zones that encompass everything from arid deserts to lush tropical rainforests.
The coastal strip of the Gulf of Mexico includes the tourist destinations of Cancún, Playa del Carmen and the island of Cozumel, collectively known as the Riviera Maya. This beautiful region on the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula attracts some five million visitors each year, generating about 20% of Mexico’s total revenue. Despite these figures, it is unlikely that you will feel like part of the crowd because of the wide beaches of the Côte d’Azur and the endless crystal clear water. The region also offers many fun activities such as swimming dolphins and rays, snorkeling among tropical reefs and fish, as well as scuba diving in the world’s largest underwater museum, a spectacular collection of sculptures immersed at a depth of up to eight meters. Then, of course, there are the many ancient Mayan ruins of the region, with some of the nearest sites within walking distance of the beaches, while the largest and most impressive – Chichén Itzá and Tulum – are only a few hours away.
2. Mexico’s Grand Canyon; Copper Canyon
Chihuahua, one of Mexico’s northernmost states – it shares the border with New Mexico in the United States – is home to one of the country’s most visited natural attractions, the magnificent Copper Canyon (Barranca del Cobre). In an area known as the Sierra Madre Occidental and made up of a spectacular group of deep canyons, Copper Canyon is actually larger and deeper than its more famous cousin, the Grand Canyon. Deriving its name from the characteristic copper-green hue along its steep walls, these astonishing natural structures were formed by six rivers that converge in the Rio Fuerte before flowing into the Gulf of California. Thanks to the region’s growing popularity as a tourist destination, there are many options for those who want to explore this region of exceptional natural beauty, from train trips aboard the Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacífico to more adventurous excursions by bike or even horseback.
3. Mexico City Center
Mexico City (Ciudad de México) is not only the country’s capital and the seat of government, but it is also one of the country’s most popular alternative travel destinations, with its many world-class museums, art galleries, and attractions. Don’t let her size get you down. Instead, focus your efforts on the city’s historic center (Centro Histórico de la Ciudad), a 15 square kilometer UNESCO World Heritage Site that houses more than 1,400 important colonial buildings from the 16th to 19th centuries. It is here that most of Mexico City’s main attractions are located, many of which are located a few steps from the Plaza de la Constitución, the city’s bustling main square, including the National Palace, the Metropolitan Cathedral and the Templo Mayor with its Aztec remains. In addition, there are the huge volcanic mountains overlooking the city, Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl, each more than 5,000 meters high, which offer a perfect excuse to get out and explore the magnificent landscape of this part of the Mexican highlands.
4. Cabo San Lucas
At the southern end of the beautiful Baja Peninsula, Los Cabos – often referred to simply as Cabo – is one of Mexico’s main beach destinations. Consisting of a vast coastline stretching from the cities of Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo and known as the Corridor Los Cabos (Turistico Corridor), this 30 kilometre stretch of pristine beaches attracts visitors from all over the world for its clear waters, diving, snorkelling and fishing (it also hosts the world’s largest marlin competition). Many resorts have been created to suit every taste and budget, from luxurious spas to golf-centric properties offering some of the best courses in North America. In addition to spending time on the beaches and exploring Cabo San Lucas, one of the most popular activities is swimming and snorkeling around the famous natural site El Arco de Cabo San Lucas, a huge arcade carved into the coast where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site with many colonial buildings, winding streets, and narrow alleys, Guanajuato is a city that is waiting to be explored on foot. A particularly pleasant experience is the visit of its many squares, including the charming Jardin de la Union, the main square of the city with its splendid old architecture.
It is here that you will find the beautiful old church of San Diego and the majestic Juárez Theatre, as well as fountains and flower beds, cafés, and restaurants. Then go underground to the city’s underground streets, which are part of a network of tunnels that once carried a river, but are now used by cars and pedestrians who want to get around the city quickly. Recognized as a city of art, Guanajuato is home to many art galleries and interesting museums, including the Quixote Museum, dedicated to the work of the Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes (the city also hosts the most important festival in Latin America in honor of the author, the Cervantino International Festival). And if you have a stomach for it, take a look at the city’s famous Guanajuato mummies exhibition with its many mummified remains of residents who died in a cholera epidemic in the mid-19th century.
After Mexico City, Guadalajara, the capital of Jalisco State, has successfully retained its unique blend of colonial and indigenous tapatíos influences. Famous for its wide avenues flanked by picturesque parks and beautiful old buildings remarkable for their European charm, Guadalajara is home to traditional Mexican culture, Mariachi music that seems to emanate everywhere, fascinating charreadas, a type of rodeo that is usually accompanied by festivities such as dancing, singing and lots of good food. It is a fun city to explore on foot thanks to the four large squares that together form the shape of a cross and form the historic center of the city. The best of them, Plaza de Armas, is the ideal place to start a guided tour and includes remarkable buildings such as the 17th century Government Palace (Palacio de Gobierno) and the magnificent Baroque Cathedral of Guadalajara (Catedral de Guadalajara), built between 1558 and 1616.
7. Chichén Itzá: The Mayan Metropolis
A popular day trip for those who visit Cancún and Playa del Carmen or the capital of Yucatán, Merida, the beautiful Mayan city of Chichén Itzá is one of Mexico’s most visited archaeological sites, as well as one of the largest and best restored. The highlights of a visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site are many, from the El Castillo massif – also known as the Pyramid of Kukulkán, and at 30 metres high, the highest structure of the site – to the magnificent Caracol, an almost 1000 year-old observatory that testifies to the progress of the Mayas (the building is remarkable for its narrow slits in its walls allowing the sun to enter twice a year to determine its exact date). The many statues on the site are also interesting, including many examples of the famous Chacmools Maya who hold their sacrificial vases while continuing to protect these old temples.