A line of boats on the shore of a Mexican river.

One of the most important archaeological sites in the state of Chiapas, Yaxchilán is an ancient Mayan city set deep in the Lacandon Jungle and only accessible by lancha, or motorboat. Yaxchilán is situated on the banks of the Río Usumacinta (Usumacinta River), which serves as the border between Mexico and Guatemala. The Lacandon Jungle is home to diverse plant and animal life, and the natural setting welcoming you to this region of Chiapas is spectacular; crocodiles sun themselves on the river bank, colorful birds sing from the tree tops, tree frogs buzz in the background, butterflies flutter overhead and howler monkeys swing noisily through the jungle canopy over ruins of pyramids and temples.

Yaxchilán, meaning “green stones” in Mayan, is best-known for its impressive monolithic limestone steles, carved stone lintels, alters, mural painting, ornamental stucco facades and roof combs. The large central area of the archaeological site is made up of three main building complexes – the Great Plaza, Grand Acropolis and Small Acropolis – and contains more than 120 structures. Yaxchilán was once the most powerful ancient city in the Usumacinta Province, yielding influence over much of the region, including Bonampak. Yaxchilán was settled prior to AD 250, peaked in power and influence between AD 681 and 800, and was abandoned shortly thereafter.

Today, Yaxchilán is a favorite destination among visitors to Mexico’s southernmost state of Chiapas and a popular stop along La Ruta Maya, the tourist route that connects important Mayan archaeological sites in southern Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula and parts of Central America.

Part of the adventure of visiting Yaxchilán is getting there; after a rough overland journey, you’ll arrive at Frontera Corozal, the border town that serves as the jumping off point for visits to the ruins at Yaxchilán. In Frontera Corozal, you’ll find long, narrow and colorfully-painted flat-bottom boats waiting to shuttle passengers the remaining 13 miles (22 km) along the river to the archaeological site.

After a scenic forty-minute boat ride along the Usumacinta, you’ll arrive at a staircase that leads up over the river bank to the site entrance. From here, you can follow the main path to El Laberinto, an impressive two-story structure located on the northwest end of the Great Plaza. A path leading off to the right takes you to the Small Acropolis, a group of ruins on a small hilltop. Many of the important structures at Yaxchilán can be found in the Great Plaza. A staircase off to the right of the plaza leads up to the best-preserved structure at the site, a temple that houses a statue of one of the city’s ancient rulers. Further up the hill is a clearing that houses several more structures and offers excellent views across the river to neighboring Guatemala.

The jungle ruins at Yaxchilán can be easily explored on foot, though it does require a bit of climbing to reach all of the structures. Most of the signs at the site have information in English; however, hiring a local guide is a great way to get a better understanding of the history and significance of the site.

Because of its remote jungle setting in Mexico’s southern border region, Yaxchilán receives fewer visitors than many of the other well-known archaeological sites in Mexico. When I last visited in 2010, Yaxchilán had yet to be developed into a major tourist destination, and unlike many of the Yucatan Peninsula sites, there was no on-site café or gift shop, no souvenir vendors and best of all, no crowds. Instead, visiting the site was an experience that felt very real and authentic.

If You Go: Yaxchilán is best visited on day tours from Palenque and San Cristóbal de las Casas. Day tours depart early in the morning and typically don’t return until late in the evening. Public transportation in the area is unreliable at best, and visiting the archaeological site independently is challenging and can end up taking several days. Travelers to the region can also visit local Lacandon Maya villages and take part in several interesting local ecotourism projects that are currently in development.

Day tours to Yaxchilán also include a visit to the jungle ruins at Bonampak. The name Bonampak means “painted walls” in Yucatec Maya and the archaeological site is best-known for its monolithic limestone steles and the colorful murals that are found inside the Templo de las Pinturas.

Visitors to Mexico City can also explore a bit of Yaxchilán: many of the carved stone lintels that the site is famous for are on display at the Museo Nacional de Antropologia.

For more information visit: www.inah.gob.mx/paseos/palenque/ and www.visitmexico.com/en-us/yaxchilan-archeaological-site-in-chiapas-mexico

Discuss

0.000000
0.000000
The Sunsetting on Mexico Skyline

I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I... I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.

            Robert Frost from The Road Not Taken

Robert Frost was speaking metaphorically, of course, about life's choices that propel us all toward that inevitable last step off our own private piers. He speaks of making unpopular decisions, less traveled by the masses. It often requires taking a risk, and you know what they say about those hellbent risk-takers. You may at times feel vulnerable and a little lonely, and you occasionally feel that you have made a horrible decision. But in the end there is an enormous glow of satisfaction, because you have explored that "road...less traveled by", and it did make "all the difference."

We make the same choices when deciding our next travel sojourns. Will it be Mexico? France? Walla Walla? Do I fly, drive or take the train? How long do I have? Can I afford this?

Let’s make it Mexico. Will I go to the five-star "umbrella-drink" hotel in Cancun, or how about that white-water river trip down the Antigua in Veracruz? Or how about Guanajuato, the colonial town first settled nearly 500 years ago with the cobblestone streets and mummy museum? Chetumal? San Blas? Morelia? Boxers or briefs? Hey, there are too many dang forks in this road...I'll just stay home!

But you know that you have to go...somewhere. For me, and many others, it's usually Mexico that wins the eight-headed coin flip. Some people may have heard about an alluring town, researching how to get there and they pack one bag, grab the debit card and are on their way. Who needs to know anything about the destination? Discovery is the real goal of travel, right? The traveler experiences many surprises this way (you eat grasshoppers?) and it makes for a fascinating, formative trip - if you are that kind of person. Many times you will unwittingly find out the person you really are. Travel can do that. Mexico can do that.

For others, it's best to prepare for a trip to Mexico with extensive research. These folks can accept a few inevitable bumps on the journey, but all in all, they prefer a definite game plan. Hotels and flights are booked online - tours to the ruins one day, a bay cruise the next. Meals are planned by consulting TripAdvisor.com reviews (who are these people you trust to tell you where to eat?), and every day is pre-arranged. This approach is often required if time is a factor. You don't have enough days for many errors or misdirection (Oh, you meant THAT San Carlos). If you have work for a living in a job that gives you a week or two vacations every year, this is probably your category, and is a fine way to travel.

Either way, your life is forever enriched by the adventure. I have met many people over the years in my Mexico travels that possess an independent spirit, leading them away from the tourist-oriented towns...and their numbers are rapidly growing. You find them driving the back roads or taking a bus, staying overnight in small town pensiones, experiencing the true essence of Mexico. These are my people, but that’s just me.

And there are the younger travelers. If I recall correctly, the cranial wiring isn't quite complete at this stage of life, producing a sublimely happy travel-warrior. There are absolutely no problemas that can't be solved, usually with the assistance of a beer and tequila in the nearest cantina. Many become lifelong Mexicophiles, as their view of the world, and their place in it, is forever changed.

After several years of declining visitors, Mexico has turned the corner as tourism numbers continue to rise. There were several reasons for the downturn – fear of the cartels – a worldwide recession – a press/media exaggerating unfound dangers. But people, especially travelers, are pretty smart and savvy. They began to understand that 99% of the country is as safe as ever, and the Mexico Tourism Board people have done an outstanding job of promoting their country to a worldwide audience.

Hopefully, at some point, on one of your Mexico journeys, you will be lucky enough to find that very special place...that place where, for some unknown reason, you feel an unexplained affinity. It becomes your place. And you know that if you could, if things were different, well, you would live there. But until that day arrives, you can visit and know you have found a second home.  It makes it easier to go back to your life and your work, because your special place will be there the next time you need it, if even in your dreams.

James Taylor sang a song called Mexico that describes the feeling dead on.

Oh, Mexico It sounds so simple I just got to go The sun's so hot I forgot to go home Guess I'll have to go now

Oh, Mexico It sounds so sweet with the sun sinking low Moon's so bright like to light up the night Make everything all right

Discuss

19.432608
-99.133208
Mexico City
Two people scuba diving in the ocean

The Mexican Caribbean, known for its pristine beaches and tropical weather, is the destination of choice for millions of travelers each year. From the big city of Cancun and the cosmopolitan streets of Playa del Carmen to the laid back vibes of Tulum and Akumal, the Riviera Maya attracts visitors from around the world seeking relaxation and adventure. For those who know the region well, it’s easy to see why: it offers all the elements necessary for the journey of your dreams. 

The element of fire. Of course, with the heat of the sun beating down, one might think that an afternoon in a hammock with a spicy michelada in hand is hot enough. For those looking to raise the temperatures and embark on a spiritual journey, the ancient practice of temazcal is just the thing. Much like the Native American and Canadian sweat lodge, the temazcal has a long history in Mesoamerica, used for centuries as a healing ritual for the body and soul. A dome-like structure is built from stone and cement, and volcanic rocks are heated to provide a sauna-like atmosphere inside. An elder is present to assist in the rituals, introducing various herbs and chanting prayers. Temazcals are found throughout the Mexican Caribbean, from luxury spa resorts to small pueblos, visitors are invited to discover this ancient ritual, cleanse the body and soul and go one step beyond the typical beach vacation.

The element of water. This is the element for which the region is best known. The Caribbean Sea with its unbelievable turquoise colours is the backdrop of many a travelers’ dreams. Water adventures abound as divers and snorkelers flock to Cozumel and the Riviera Maya to visit the Mesoamerican Reef, the second largest reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef. A whole world of multi-coloured fish, coral formations, sharks, turtles, rays and dolphins await the underwater enthusiast. Sailing, deep-sea fishing, jet-skiing, water-skiing, wake boarding, boogie boarding, windsurfing or just floating on a blow-up raft, the ocean is THE place to be in the Mexican Caribbean. Aside from the sea, the element of water presents itself in the sacred fresh-water cenotes that abound in the Yucatan Peninsula. These natural “sinkholes” in the limestone offer a refreshing dip in the midst of the jungle, and spectacular stalactite and stalagmite formations in ancient caves and underground rivers attract a special kind of diver and adventurer. 

The element of earth. The jungles of the Riviera Maya are mostly unexplored and pristine; the dense foliage is home to exotic birds and wildlife, a nature lover’s paradise. Take an ATV ride down a jungle trail, a slow horseback journey under the canopy or a daring rappel into a hidden cave. Bring your binoculars to seek out the brightly coloured birds, the chattering monkeys and if you are really lucky, you may even spot a jaguar, an endangered species that still prowls through the jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula. History and culture enthusiasts will enjoy exploring the Mayan archaeological sites scattered throughout the region, many of which are still buried under a millennia of jungle overgrowth.

The element of air. Sea breezes blowing through your hair are fabulous, but thrill seekers can take to the air and get their adrenaline flowing and hearts racing away from beach clubs and swim up bars. Seriously extreme adventurers can take a leap from above in a skydiving adventure over Playa del Carmen, free-falling from a height of 10,000 feet over the waters of the Caribbean Sea. Zip-line adventure parks take guests on fast-moving flights over the jungle canopy, racing down thin cables in a harness with the wind whistling in your ears. The hottest new “air” sport is kiteboarding, combining water and wind in a race over the waves, a colourful kite driving “kiters” to high-speed flips and tricks, an incredible sight to see up and down the coast of the Riviera Maya. Kiteboarding schools are popping up everywhere; Tulum is a hot destination for the sport, and even if you do not strap on the kite and board yourself, watching these athletes and their airborne acrobatics is a great way to spend the day.

Add to these elements your own sense of adventure and a desire to live outside the box, cross off some of your bucket list items and embrace the idea of “YOLO” (you only live once). Get up off your lounge chair and explore the Mexican Caribbean, with an adventure waiting for everyone. From the relaxed to the extreme, all the elements are aligned for the experience of a lifetime.

Discuss

0.000000
0.000000
This new archaeological discovery is 2,000 years old

The recent discovery of a jaguar statue at an archaeological site in Chiapas represents a new example of Mexico’s cultural history. Carved out of stone, the jaguar is only engraved on one of its sides, his paws flexed as if he were lying down. Considering the stone’s other blank faces, it was seemingly left incomplete. 

The stone jungle cat dates back 2,000 years, when there were no metal tools to make sculptures. The jaguar was uncovered in the 2,500-year-old pre-Mayan civic religious center, Izapa. This southern stretch of Mexico is merely a few kilometers from the Guatemalan border. 

Stretching 1.38 meters long by 87 centimeters high and 52 centimeters wide, the jaguar weighs one ton. According to Emiliano Gallaga, Chiapas director of the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH), the sculpture adds to the heritage of Izapa, and reinforces how important jaguars were in the ritual thinking of the Mesoamerican cultures.

Discuss

14.923000
-92.180000
The medieval convent has a shockingly beautiful interior decorated with murals

For as long as the town and municipality has stood, Malinalco has been considered a magical place. Much of its association with sorcery stems from the legend that it was the home to the goddess Malinalxochitl. According to mythology, the god Huitzilopochtli left his sister Malinalxochitl sleeping in the middle of a forest after finding her practicing evil witchcraft. Upon awakening alone, a furious Malinalxochitl gathered those loyal to her and decided to establish a new city, which grew to be Malinalco.

The area has many influences, including from the Teotihuacan, Toltecs, Matlatzincas and Aztecs. One of the city’s major attractions is the Cuauhtinchan Archeological Zone, rising above the town, built from the mid-1400s to the beginning of the 1500s. An important Aztec site, the site was also used as a ceremonial center.

The former Divino Salvador Convent, which was built by the Augustinians in the mid-1500s, has a medieval exterior with a breathtaking interior. Painted murals dance across the walls, many by the indigenous Tiacuilos. While breathing in the paintings’ beauty, visitors can appreciate the depiction of paradise here. An exuberant garden grows around the tree of life, with delectable flora and curious fauna, and another painting tells the story of the Garden of Eden in an Aztec codex style. 

Each culture from Malinalco’s diverse past has melted together to create a vibrant city. Malinalco is alive with color. The adobe houses have red tile roofs, some painted a variety of bright colors, creating a rainbow-effect. Street markets provide local arts and crafts for purchase, as well as a wide variety of food. 

While Malinalco may not be filled with the sorcery legends describe, it certainly is sparkling with a certain magic. As you stroll down the cobbled streets and past the neighborhood chapels, the depth of the pre-Hispanic and colonial past becomes clear, and history truly comes to life. 

The Pueblos Magicos program identifies towns that reflect “the culture of Mexico” through attributes like architecture, traditions, customs, music, gastronomy, festivities and handcrafts. There are currently 52 destinations throughout Mexico that have earned the Pueblos Magicos classification.  

Discuss

18.944569
-99.495388
Malinalco
The historical buildings of Real de Asientos provide an air of mystery

History, art, nature and a culture of mining come to life in Real de Asientos, Aguascalientes, Mexico. An ancient city, Real de Asientos dates back to 1548, when it was founded by the congregation of a religious group. Over the past few centuries, Real de Asientos transformed into a mining town, and then to a city of great mystery.  

Visitors are encouraged to experience the grand past of Real de Asientos. The El Piojito train route traces the old mineral trail to the Galerón de los Esclavos – or Slaves’ Hall – which had been used to transport ore on the King’s Highway to San Gil. Other landmarks on this trail of history include the Miner’s Plaza, Cactus Museum and Lazymen’s Hill. The first mine discovered by the people of Real de Asientos can be seen on a tractor-pulled train ride through the wild mountains and over the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro. 

Local establishments also provide a chance to glimpse this city’s history. The Guadalupe Cemetery, built in the 1600s, is the oldest cemetery in Aguascalientes. Many say that mystery veils it. Its Sanctuary was built in 1765, and is decorated with unparalleled paintings of the twelve apostles. A visit to the former Tepozán Convent, named after the patron saint of the miners, feels as if you have been transported to the monastic life of previous centuries, dating back as far as the 1600s. Walking through the narrow passages, visitors see the cells where Franciscan monks stayed. The Tepozán Museum showcases the influence of black culture in Real de Asientos, the social and religious conflicts of the area, and the myths of the Guachichil people, the land’s natives. The chilling feeling of walking along the same paths that many have traveled for centuries, and hearing the myths of the town, leave locals and visitors feeling a mysterious air surrounding the city. 

Real de Asientos is alive with not only art and history, but also with nature. The wonders of nature can be found at the Living Plant Museum, where over 1,500 plants from 45 different species form an impressive collection. Some of the species were confiscated from plant traffickers, such as agaves, cacti and succulents. The grounds also contain an agave garden, greenhouse, cactus garden, herbarium and nursery. 

If you are looking for a souvenir to remember Real de Asientos, the choice is quite clear: Pottery. The traditional pottery’s craftsmanship has become representative of Real de Asientos. The pottery includes jugs, pitchers, mugs, ashtrays, candle holders and flower pots, all handmade with clay.  

The Pueblos Magicos program identifies towns that reflect “the culture of Mexico” through attributes like architecture, traditions, customs, music, gastronomy, festivities and handcrafts. There are currently 52 destinations throughout Mexico that have earned the Pueblos Magicos classification.  

Discuss

22.238476
-102.089016
Real de Asientos
Palizada River provides fun and food for locals

Once a refuge for pirates, the river village Palizada in Campeche, Mexico has transformed into the perfect destination for a relaxing vacation. Palizada is frequently overlooked, and used as a stopping-off point on the way to Ciudad del Carmen. But if you pause to appreciate the peaceful town, you will be rewarded by the warmth of its locals, mouth-watering traditional food, beautiful nature and unique sunset experience. 

The quaint town is bordered by the Palizada River, which flows into the Laguna de Terminos. Two statues spring up from the boardwalk: the Monumento a la Madre (Mother’s Monument) in front of the Presidencia Municipal, and a replica of the Statue of Liberty. The most cherished town symbols, however, are located in the main park. Standing tall and colorful is the San Joaquin Parish Church, which was first built over two centuries ago. A statue of Benito Juarez, who served five terms as President of Mexico from 1858 to 1872, welcomes visitors to the church. 

Across the river is the Casa del Rio, a white farmhouse built in a French style. In reference to Marseille, France, “Marsella” is still legible across the roof’s tiles, which is where they were made. In past centuries, European ships docked nearby and traded Palizada logwood for these French tiles. These bundles of local precious wood were originally referred to as “palizada,” and eventually named the town. 

At the end of the boardwalk is the Mercado Municipal, or Municipal Market, where the otherwise peaceful town is alive with hustle. The best authentic Palizada cooking can be found here. Tortuga en su sangre is the most traditional plate. The translation? “Turtle in its own blood. Don’t worry – the turtle is prepared with red sauce, not blood!  For something sweet, it is recommended to try a sweet cream dessert with cinnamon and lime called manjar blanco. The drink of choice is coconut with gin, a legacy from the pirate days. Other delicious options include freshwater gar and morjarra. Since the town is on the water, a lot of the traditional food is seafood.

A lot of the activities are based around the water as well. The groundwater provides a rich nature experience, covered in evergreen forests and a diverse collection of species. One of the most popular dwellers of this ecosystem is the crocodile! Near Palizada is a crocodile farm, where you can see the animal at all different ages, including their eggs. It is not everyday you get to observe crocodiles so closely, and worry-free! Visitors are encouraged to enjoy a scenic river boat ride to admire the breathtaking scenery, or try their hand at fishing in the river. 

As the sun dips down across the horizon, clouds of herons fly over the river, billowing their white bodies against the sky’s canvas. They streak across the sunset to sleep near the river, their calls mixing with the sounds of the other animals to provide an unparalleled soundtrack for a beautiful sunset. 

A trip to Palizada provides relaxing for your mind, body and soul – and a whirlwind adventure for your senses. Between the fiercely exquisite colors painted by nature, and the enchanting sounds from the extensive wildlife, Palizada is a magic town from Campeche. 

The Pueblos Magicos program identifies towns that reflect “the culture of Mexico” through attributes like architecture, traditions, customs, music, gastronomy, festivities and handcrafts. There are currently 52 destinations throughout Mexico that have earned the Pueblos Magicos classification.  

Discuss

18.254578
-92.091480
Palizada
Centro Historico of Mexico transformed

Mexico is a city that wears its age well--almost 700 years old and still full of youthful energy. Founded in 1325, it’s got Aztec splendor and ruin, Spanish majesty and bombast, 50’s modernism, quirky time-warp shops, smoke tinged cantinas, excellent museums and restaurants, and street life that never stops.

After years of neglect following the 1985 earthquake, the Centro Histórico of Mexico City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been transformed. There are increased security measures, new paving and lighting, and hundreds of old buildings have been spruced up. New museums, hotels, restaurants, outdoor cafés and shops have opened. Several streets are now traffic-free pedestrian zones. New bars, jazz clubs and dance halls draw crowds on weekend nights.

But one thing hasn't changed--the intense level of energy on the street, which can excite and exhaust you in equal measure. When it gets to be all too much, I’ve discovered a solution to regain my tranquility--I take my feet off the ground.

With so much going on at street level you might miss what’s happening up above.  Over the years I’ve discovered several places where I can escape the hustle and bustle of street level by heading upstairs.  Here’s my list of the ‘Top Ten Above Ground Oases of Tranquility’ in Mexico City: 

Above and beyond the Centro Histórico you can tour the major attractions in Mexico City on the Turibus. The open top deck affords great views and a wonderful feeling of being above all hubbub below. Click http://www.turibus.com.mx/ for information.

Discuss

19.432608
-99.133208
Mexico City
Mexico's_Annual_Wine_Festival_in_Guadalupe_Valley

Every year, the Guadalupe Valley hosts the Vendimia (wine harvest) Festival lasting 17 days. The festival, which is expected to draw in over 50,000 people, has a wide variety of attractions including wine-inspired street fairs and concerts, culinary parties, and vineyard tours.

The Guadalupe Valley produces 90% of the wine in Mexico, and the vintners range from producing 200 bottles of wine a year to over one million bottles of wine. Guadalupe Valley is home to over 20 official wineries. This past year, Camillo Magoni brought recognition and positive acknowledgement to the blossoming area after being selected as the top wine maker in the world.

The Guadalupe Valley boasts many new hotels, motels, and bed and breakfast inns making it an attractive destination for any international tourist! The area is filled with attractions ranging from museums to nature spots including hot springs and waterfalls. The Guadalupe Valley, a mecca for cuisine, offers restaurants serving anywhere from traditional Mexican food to French food.

Discuss

31.859577
-116.606428
Ensenada
Discovering the neighborhoods of Mexico City

The first time I landed in Mexico City, I really didn’t know what to expect. I accepted a position to work in one of the biggest cities in the world and was excited for my future. However, when friends and family learned about my assignment, everyone warned, “It’s not safe there.”

Certainly a city of twenty million is not without problems or issues, but also think about what twenty million people can create. And in one of the oldest continuously populated places in all of the Americas people have created something beautiful. Yes, very beautiful.  But what about the danger? Trust me, the real danger of Mexico City is falling in love with the city. And I did. So if you enjoy city travel, definitely put Mexico City on your list of destinations. And since it is so big, with so much to do, let me start you off with five places to visit on your first or next trip.

The Zocalo

Mexico City one of the world’s largest cities also has one of the world’s largest squares. Built on the site of the original Aztec Empire capital, the Spanish Conquistadors built the main plaza. It’s a huge square enclosed by colonial buildings with a ring of a multiple lane road around the plaza. But one visitors cross to the pedestrian only center you stand in the heart of the city and the country.

Inside you will always stumble on something unique or interesting. Whether it is a planned festival, a Mayan cleansing ceremony or a chance to view the moon through a telescope at night for a few pesos, the Zocalo is Mexico.

In the Zocalo you will find a Cathedral, Templo Mayor archaeological site (Aztecs), and the National Palace. On a walk through the palace you can view many of the historical and majestic murals by the famous artist Diego Rivera.  Impressive work.

An Afternoon in Coyoacan

Mexico City is made up of multiple neighborhoods that come together to create one massive city. Traffic remains a huge issue both in the residential and commercial areas but one oasis in the city is the neighborhood or “barrio” Coyoacan. It is the perfect place to spend a Saturday afternoon.

On the weekends an artisan market fills the center square and the surrounding cafes fill with visitors stopping for a coffee or a meal to catch up with family and friends. The cobblestone paths create a vibe of a simpler time and a stroll can be romantic. I visited my first weekend in the city and return often.

A night in Condesa

An emerging middle class is one of the best feel good stories about Mexico City. Professionals that work and live in the city often head to the trendy neighborhoods for a night out. Sure Mexico City has clubs, but in neighborhoods such as Condesa or Roma people come to enjoy the culture, cuisine and cervezas (or Tequila) in the city’s many cafes, restaurants, and bars. Walking these streets is where I learned so much about today’s Mexico.

After a night out, or even for dinner visitors can find many spots to stop for real tacos. For me there was no better spot for a few tacos el pastor then the taqueria El Califa in Condesa. I never visited Mexico City without enjoying a meal there and never will.

Teotihuacan – Mexico’s Pyramids Before the Aztecs ruled the region, a prosperous civilization flourished just outside what is present day Mexico City.  The famous Pyramids of the Sun and Moon at Teotihuacan make for a perfect day trip out of the city.

One of the true highlights of a visit is the chance to climb to the top of both Pyramids. Although the climb is longer and more challenging to reach the top of the Pyramid of the Sun, it is the Pyramid of the Moon that provides the best views of the entire archaeological site. The origin and civilization who called this home is often debated, but what isn’t debated is how impressive the ruins are to visit.

The National Museums

A museum in Mexico? Yes, the Museum of Anthropology, (museo Nacional de Antropolgia) is arguably the best collection of pre-Columbian artifacts in the entire world. So if the visit to Teotihuacan wasn’t enough, stop here and you will leave impressed, as the collection will even overload a scholar.

The museum would be my top choice and recommendation, but visits to the National History Museum in Chapultepec Castle (stunning views), The Museum of Modern Art, or the Frida Kahlo Museum are also perfect for a rainy day.

As I mentioned other museums, there are also other must see and do places and activities. in Mexico City. The mariachi in Garibaldi, the canals of Xochimilco, Sunday in Chapultepec Park, a Bike ride on the Paseo la Reforma and a climb of the Angel of Independence are a few. And yes, lists can continue, but the important thing is to learn Mexico City will surprise you and these five places will start to give you a flavor and taste of the city I love. Trust me you will want another.

But if you are still wondering how to respond about safety, let me quote my favorite words by Aldous Huxley, “To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” And when you want to give Mexico City a chance you will agree.

Discuss

19.432608
-99.133208
Mexico City

Former NBA basketball star Shaquille O'Neal recently visited Monterrey, Mexico to attend a social project. Upon his arrival, he was warmly welcomed by a traditional Mexican mariachi band. On his Twitter account, he expressed his appreciation for Mexico by saying, “Thanks for the warm welcome muchas gracias, yo amo#Mexico…To all the people in Mexico muchas gracias I had a great time. Can't wait to come back.”

25.673211
-100.309201
Monterrey
Beyond Spring Break attractions of Mexico

So you’re a regular visitor to Mexico, and you’ve already been to most of the spots on the top of most tourists’ lists: Cancun, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico City, Mazatlán, etc.—the usual suspects. Now you’re looking for a Mexico venture that’s a little more creative… somewhere you’re not going to see on advertisements for Spring Break!  What should you consider for your off-the-beaten-path travels on your next Mexican vacation? Here are a few ideas to get you thinking outside of the all-inclusive-resort box…

1) Xilitla & Las Pozas, San Luis Potosi state:  if you’re looking for eccentric, nothing fits the bill like this surrealistic garden of concrete flowers & stairs leading to nowhere in the middle of the jungle seven hours northeast of Mexico City.  English poet Edward James fell in love with the flora here and made it his home, and after a freak snowfall killed all the orchids, he decided to rebuild them….out of concrete! What resulted is a fascinating wonderland built in the lush jungle hillside filled with columns, castles, airplanes that you can scramble up, down, and around. It’s hard to describe in words, but check out some more pictures here

 2) Tequisquiapan, Querétaro state: This tiny town has long been known to Mexico City residents for its spas, and therefore sees a fair amount of traffic from escaping DF-eños on the weekends. But during the week, you’re likely to have the town square all to yourself. “Tequis” is about two hours north of Mexico City in the heart of Querétaro’s blossoming wine and cheese country. If you have a car, you can take a leisurely driving tour of the nearby Finca Vai dairy and Freixenet vineyards. But if you’re public transit-bound, fear not—both spots have opened up outposts in Tequis.  You can sample a bottle of local bubbly for ~$200 pesos at the Freixenet Winebar, pop over for a hearty cheese platter at the Museo del Queso y del Vino, and then walk back to your hotel for a dip in the pool.

3) La Paz, Baja California Sur: While its southern neighbor, Los Cabos, gets all the glory, La Paz is content in its role as the laid-back city on the Sea of Cortez. There’s just a small touristy strip in town along the water, supplemented with some great restaurants scattered around but all within walking distance. Don’t be disappointed by the lackluster beachfront in the city—the most amazing beaches & clear blue water can be found just a few miles north of town. Balandra has a beautifully protected bay with completely still water and no development, and Tecolote has a couple restaurants and bars with water that’s only waist high for many yards out. Definitely worth visiting some of Mexico’s gorgeous beaches that still don’t have hotels anywhere in sight!

4) Tecali de Herrera, Puebla state: Mexico has many small towns that are known country-wide for the one unique product they create. For example, Santa Clara del Cobre is where you go for all your copper needs… San Martín Tilcajete for alebrijes (wood carvings of real or imaginary creatures)…and Tlalpujahua for millions of Christmas ornaments.  Tecali de Herrera is the center of all things onyx (along with a strong showing of marble), but also has a beautiful ex-convent to visit when you max out on shopping. Walking across grass under the soaring arches of the convent ruins is reminiscent of visiting an old church in Scotland. But here, you can supplement your historical visit with the purchase of a three-foot-high onyx lamp or onyx bathtub, or something a bit more portable like an onyx cheese plate shaped like a triangle of cheese. More details can be found here.

Discuss

0.000000
0.000000

Mexico has long been a destination of choice for celebrities and those in the entertainment industry. It’s no wonder - with the abundance of picture perfect beaches, private, luxurious accommodations and relaxed yet festive atmosphere - that the ever-bustling entertainment industry is so closely drawn to Mexico.

Iconic movies like Night of the Iguana, which starred Richard Burton, put Puerto Vallarta on the map in the 60’s and because of the making of Twentieth Century Fox’s epic film Titanic in Baja California, Fox Baja Studios was created along with some of the world’s largest stages and filming tanks.

In addition to Titanic, dozens of movies have been filmed at Fox Baja Studios including MGM’s Tomorrow Never Dies, Disney’s Peal Harbor, and Fox’s Master and Commander The Far Side of the World. Hundreds of filmmakers have chosen locations all throughout Mexico to intensify or beautify their films.

The destination of Mexico has been equally synonymous with celebrity getaways as well, whether for a much-needed hiatus or a special occasion celebration, engagement, wedding or anniversary.  With the wealth of five star luxury hotels, resorts and villas, world-class gourmet cuisine, celebrity chefs, personalized concierge service, first class amenities and warm Mexican hospitality, Mexico has time and again proven to be the destination of choice for the A-list crowd. 

In 2012 alone, Mexico boasted the most hotels ever on Condé Nast Traveler’s prestigious Gold List with a staggering 33 properties on the list and more than one-third the total in the Americas.

Mexico also topped the lists of dozens of 2012 travel lists including Frommer’s, Lonely Planet, Moon Travel Guide, Reuters, CNN and Forbes to name a few.

Hollywood celebrities flock to Mexico in droves because of the close proximity as well.  Depending on if the flight is a private charter or a commercial air carrier, from Los Angeles, celebs can jaunt to Cabo in a quick two hours; to Puerto Vallarta in three hours, and to Cancun/Riviera Maya in four and a half hours.  Cancun and Riviera Maya are among the top beach destinations in the world. Recently, Modern Family actress Sofia Vergara celebrated her 40th birthday in Riviera Maya, which resulted in an even bigger celebration when boyfriend Nick Loeb presented her with a special ring. Vergara celebrated with a group of her closest friends and explored parts of Yucatan and Quintana Roo, including a visit to the great archeological ruins of Chichen Itza.

“Riviera Maya is the closest destination to one of the New Seven Wonders of the World for U.S. travelers, along with access to the largest coral reef in the Americas,” said Director of Public Relations at Fairmont Mayakoba, Paulina Feltrin. “Mexico has been and continues to be a preferred destination for celebrities. The warmth of the Mexican hospitality guarantees a level of service that will make their vacations even more special.”

“Our hotel attracts many high profile guests, who expect the best in service and discretion,” continued Feltrin. “They stay with us because we are absolutely scrupulous in protecting their privacy and providing complete confidentiality.”

Year after year, celebrities flock to Mexico. Jennifer Aniston is a regular to Cabo. The Hills alum star, Lauren Conrad recently returned from a luxurious vacation splurge in Los Cabos as well, as did Nicole Scherzinger, Leann Rimes and Avril Lavigne, while certain cast members of Glee spent much needed time off in Zihuatanejo. The Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain was amazed from his recent visit to Mexico while filming a special on Baja cuisine for his show, “No Reservations”. Hilary Duff described her recent visit to Mexico as 'paradise'.  Justin Beiber recently wowed 200,000 fans in a special free concert in Mexico City’s main plaza Zocalo. Riviera Nayarit, named Mexico’s next great place by USA Today, is a magnet for attracting A-listers like Lady Gaga, Courteney Cox, Kim Kardashian, Charlie Sheen, Bradley Cooper and dozens more.

A huge fan of Mexico, Actor and Extra TV host Mario Lopez proposed to his girlfriend Courtney Mazza in Ixtapa, Mexico at the beginning of the year and just announced plans to wed at a private home in Puerto Vallarta in December 2012.

On break from rehearsals from her upcoming tour and judging duties with X Factor, Demi Lovato and friends recently returned from a restful vacation at Viceroy Zihuatanejo. During her stay, she indulged in relaxing spa treatments, lounged on the beach, shopped in the local market and took part in a surfing excursion, according to Director of Sales & Marketing, Jennifer Guevara.

“Viceroy Zihuatanejo is truly a respite from hectic Hollywood schedules and all our A-list guests remark how relaxed and undisturbed they feel while staying with us,” said Guevara. “With one thousand feet of private beach stretch along the azure waters of the resort's splendid Pacific coastline, strewn with teak lounge chairs and exclusive palapas, daybeds and cabanas, celebrities can enjoy three swimming pools, including a fantastic infinity pool poised at water's edge.”

The property also offers private dining- ideal for celebrities including Lunch on the Beach - their signature elegant beach lunch is delivered on a white linen-set table directly to a private palapa where guests enjoy gourmet cuisine while reclining in a beach chair. The resort also offers a Private Island Dinner that can accommodate one couple (twice a week) where they are transported to the island by canoe and dine at a pre-set table, intuitively attended by a personalized waiter, amidst lush foliage, candles and music.

Celebrities have endless options when it comes to Mexico getaways, with private and luxurious accommodations and unbeatable value, scenery and service. 

Discuss

0.000000
0.000000
Ultra Martahon in Chihuahua's Tarahumara Country

A truly remarkable 100 kilometer "ultra-marathon" is held each year in Chihuahua's rugged Tarahumara country.

The small plane banked steeply for a second pass, morning sun briefly flashing through the cockpit as we leveled off, the view below impossibly green, then revealing black and granite throughgossamer cloud, as if we were the first to discover the twisting river and sheer cliffs far below. “See, it is as I told you,” exclaimed Ismael Torres, our Cessna pilot, “like God has taken a great axe and cleaved the Earth.”

Spread out before us as in an eagle’s eye were the legendary “Barrancas de Sinforosa,” a vast series of rugged canyons and ravines up to 6,000 ft. deep, whose slopes are clad in pine, live oak,cactus and sagebrush. These beautiful and sometimes forbidding environs, part of Chihuahua’s Copper Canyon area, are home to many of Mexico’s Raramuri people, known as Tarahumara, the “people with light feet.”

We have only 24 hours, and have come to the town of Guachochi to see one of the most remarkable races imaginable – a 100 km ultra-marathon. Driving straight out to the “mirador,” Sinforosa’smain lookout, our pickup truck bumps along a red-earth road past farm after farm, interspersed with stretches of fragrant pine hemmed in by stone walls, the air fresh and cool at over a mile high.

Withdrawing from the advance of the Spanish “conquistadores” to the mountains that now bear their name, the Tarahumara dispersed their communities but managed to preserve much of their ancient culture. They are mystics, healers, craftsmen, and expert farmers, blessed with legendary endurance, but it is hard-won, a survival skill developed and adapted over time. In these remote places, running between distant villages is an essential communication and transportation necessity. Many Tarahumara will join this marathon, and often win it.

An international group of competitors begin at 5:00 AM and will, for the next 8 to 10 straight hours, run the course: 11 kilometers from town to the edge of the canyon, descend 1800 meters along a rough trail, run along the river, ascend 1800 meters by the punishing “z” switchbacks, 11 kilometers into town again, then run back to the finish line at the lookout point. From this spectacular vantage point of the “mirador,” it takes the mind and eyes much longer than usual to make their essential calculations, to readjust, and coordinate perception - the ravines of Sinforosa are very deep indeed, and stretch in every direction as far as we can see.

Guachochi is not a big town, and there is a feeling everyone knows each other. Long, low houses of cinder block, a hard afternoon light through the scrub pines, people’s broad, smiling faces – these are reminiscent of other high-altitude communities one encounters, on a farm in Qinghai, or in an Alaskan village.

And here, on the one night we could enjoy Guachochi hospitality, there were fine steaks on the grill, a “quinceanera,” a wedding, and a graduation ceremony all at the same venue, Saturday night cruising up and down Main Street, and the odd knot of foreigners and Mexicans in shorts and day-glo sneakers, with their headlights and hydration gear not knowing what to do until morning.

A chill in the air, and an alarm that comes way too soon – by 4:45 AM, we’re ready. Credentials are checked, number placards signed for, pre-race photographs of excited friends flash by in the pitch-black. Only the Tarahumara are completely calm, in their distinctive red headbands and long, angular white shirts knotted with beautiful braided belts. This event’s “huaraches,” or tire-soled sandals, are the same as everyday footwear. There are many female competitors, who will run fully covered, in colorful print dresses. Within a few minutes, and not much fanfare, the pack is gone, raising a ghostly dust trail out of town, along a route that would not be light for some time.

At hour four of the race, we were aloft, our careful timing intended to balance light and shadow, and avoid the dangerous rising thermals that would buffet a small craft as the sun warmed the air. For a photographer in search of perspective for the big picture, and the detail that makes a written story, this was a precious piece of the puzzle, the sky clear as we skimmed the clouds by cliff's edge, an advancing fog both burning off and still throwing into relief the highest peaks.

We would see this early morning the hopefulness of the runner’s descent into these canyons, but by the time we made it down to a precipitous wire bridge to photograph along the trail, there was a different feel entirely - thirty or so grimly determined runners were already passing us on the way up, having climbed more than 4,000 ft. in an arduous combination of hiking and running.

Around the 70 km. mark, the bridge was built to safely cross what would be a substantial waterfall in the wet season. Support teams here checked runner’s numbers, gave out fruit and energy bars, and attended with some seriousness to an injured participant, for his own safety ruling him out of further competition with an eight-stitch head wound.

What is most remarkable about this race is not just that people finish it, but that they do so as a matter of course. Vicente Gonzales has a patrician’s grace, a red scarf wrapped vertically around his white hair Indonesia-style. At the bridge, he checked in with a smile, had a sip or two of a traditional barley drink, then without further word, disappeared up the 4 x 4 road behind us. He is eighty years old.

On the trail further down, a faraway flash of color quickly materializes. Maria Isidora Rodriguez, a stoic expression on her face, is fully wrappped in a bright yellow Tarahumara dress, and quicklymaking her way through the boulders that frame the path. She has company, a man and two young boys in baseball caps and jeans. They do not have race numbers. In less than a minute, Ms. Rodriguez and her supportive family are out of sight again, bounding for all the world like deer through the foliage.

For a beautiful fifty-image slideshow that accompanies this essay, go to  http://bit.ly/LAPefZ

Discuss

26.819444
-107.070000
Guachochi
Guerrero Negro a stop on a Baja California Roadtrip

If someone would have told me one of the best trips of my life would have involved over 20 hours of driving, I would have thought they were crazy.  A few years ago, my dad joined me for a very special road trip from San Diego down to the southernmost tip of Baja – Los Cabos.  While I love Mexico for its amazing hospitality and beautiful resorts, the little towns that are off the beaten path are equally wonderful and definitely worth exploring.

GUERRERO NEGRO: Guerrero Negro was the halfway point of our journey down to Los Cabos, and proved to be quite the interesting stop.  We stayed at the Malarrimo Motel, which is not only a hotel, but also has a restaurant and an RV park.  The hotel has become a famous stop for travelers driving through Baja, as it is the first major stop once you cross the border from Northern Baja into Southern Baja.  At first glance, the restaurant looks like the typical restaurant attached to a hotel born out of necessity.  As we tasted our food, we were blown away by the freshness of the seafood and the flavorful dishes.

Guerrero Negro is an interesting mix as it is primarily an industrial town that is surrounded by a number of lagoons. The town is best known for its whale watching tours, which take place from December 15th to April 15th, as the whales make their way down from Alaska to their ideal breeding spot in the warm waters off of the Baja coast.  An interesting little known fact is that Guerrero Negro is the world’s number one salt producer, thanks to the saltworks operations around the Laguna Ojo de Liebre (Eye of the Jackrabbit Lagoon).

MULEGE: After driving for hours in what seems like the middle of nowhere, we knew we were getting close to the coast when we saw a beautiful river flowing next to the road.  In what seemed like a matter of a few minutes, the vegetation turned from dusty desert roads to a jungle-like paradise with chirping birds and lush, green vegetation.  Mulegé is unlike any place I’ve ever been and to this day I consider it to be one of Mexico’s best kept secrets.  As the highway took us around the corner, we saw a glimpse of the most beautiful blue-green waters surrounded by impressive cliffs.

While there is not a lot to do in Mulegé other than sailing around the Bahia de Concepcion or fishing, the scenery is enough to make you stop the car and stare off into the horizon for hours (or take tons of pictures!).  It’s no wonder that author John Steinbeck said that the bay was one of the most beautiful in the world. 

SANTA ROSALIA: Santa Rosalía is one of Baja Sur’s most interesting towns when it comes to history.  Once we drove into the town, we immediately noticed a drastic change in architecture.  Instead of the typical Baja or Spanish influenced buildings we were used to seeing, we saw European looking houses made of wood with tin pitched roofs.  The town was established when the French came to found one of the world’s major copper producing mines, and to this day you can see how big an impact the miners made.   The church in Santa Rosalía was designed by Frenchman Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel tower fame) for the 1889 World’s Fair, and the steel walls were brought over by ship and reconstructed so that the townspeople, mainly those who worked at the copper mine, would have a place to worship.  Another famous spot in Santa Rosalía is the El Boleo bakery, which at one time had some of the best bread in Baja.  The bakery got its name from the French mining company and continues to use some of the equipment brought over from France in the late 1800s today.   One of the funniest parts of our three day journey happened in Santa Rosalía.  We explored the town, had taken some pictures and were ready to head on our way, when we started hearing a drumline and people singing.  Before we knew it, we were stuck in the middle of a parade!  With only one main street in and one main street out, you can imagine what our options were, so we decided to make lemonade out of lemons and sit back and enjoy the parade.  While it certainly wasn’t planned on, it turned out to be a great experience and a funny detour.  We got back on the road with a clear mission – make it to Loreto.

LORETO: Imagine the desert landscape meeting the beach and you’ve got Loreto.  Loreto was the first capital of the Californias and since it was established it has become well known for its sailing, deep sea fishing, diving, and kayaking.  In addition to all of the water sports, Loreto is a great place for history buffs due to its missions and nearby cave paintings.  We stopped briefly at the Inn at Loreto Bay for lunch by the water.  The views are breathtaking, the weather was perfect, and in that moment I knew why so many expats look to Loreto as an ideal retirement spot.   So, if you’ve ever been tempted to get in the car and go on a road trip that you won’t forget, I highly recommend driving down the Baja Peninsula.  With so many great towns and areas to explore, you’ll be sure to create as many great memories as I did!

Discuss

27.965410
-114.057701
GUERRERO NEGRO