As part of a new national tourism policy for Mexico, President Enrique Peña Nieto has pledged to prioritize Planning and Sectoral Transformation.

“The institutional framework will be restructured to improve decision making and ensure the effective implementation of the various programs to boost tourism,” said Peña Nieto. “We want to achieve full coordination with the governors and the Head of Government of the Federal District to align the policy of the Federal Government with the efforts of the various states of the country," he said.

President Peña Nieto has ordered the creation of a Tourism Cabinet, to be led by the President himself, will coordinate with all stakeholders in the tourism industry in order to transform Mexico into a world class tourist destination.

Tourism accounts for 9 percent of the gross domestic product of Mexico and salaries in the tourism sector are 30 percent above the national average.


St Regis Punta Mita

A three-night stay at the St.Regis Punta Mita in the Riviera Nayarit is part of this year's Oscars Swag Bag.

As part of the 2013 Everyone Wins at the Oscars Nominee Gift Bag, organizers at Distinctive Assets have included three nights in a deluxe oceanview suite at the AAA-Five-Diamond St. Regis Punta Mita, including daily breakfast, massages at Remède Spa, fine dining at Carolina restaurant.

The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort is nestled in a captivating setting on one of the world's most alluring beaches on the Pacific coast of Mexico. Surrounded by white sands, pristine waters and lush tropical flora, the resort’s ambiance is as extraordinary as it is comfortable. The area of Punta Mita (the name means "gateway to paradise") located at the Riviera Nayarit is a 1500-acre resort and residential community. It is home to discreet enclaves of private Villas and Residences, as well as two Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses. 

The trip to Mexico in the Oscars swag bag is valued at $3000. 


Punta de Mita

Located in the lush, tropical haven of the Yucatan Peninsula, Tulum is an ideal luxury oasis for well-to-do bohemians and sun-bathers alike. The eclectic crowd is a far cry from the neighboring towns of Cancun and Playa del Carmen, which are more popular destinations for the college co-ed set.

If a “grown-up” spring break is on your to-do list, then Tulum is the place to experience it all – by land and by sea. Only a ten minute drive from the seaside, the town of Tulum, population 30,000, is in the same vein as many Latin American towns. Shops, hotels, and restaurants housed in pueblos surround the town square. Despite such close proximity to the beach, hotel rooms and restaurants are less expensive than those nearer to the sandy shores, but of just as high quality.

In terms of culture, Tulum has few, but distinct offerings. Only a stone’s throw from the town, vacationers can snorkel around “cenotes”, underwater caves located within the network of rivers under the peninsula. A “dryer” option for visitors includes exploring the scenic Mayan ruins. Located atop seaside cliffs, visitors can get a feel for a culture that existed uninterrupted for centuries before Spanish colonization.

Like many other Mexican resort towns, Tulum’s beach is dotted with cabanas, boutique hotels, restaurants, etc. But, what makes Tulum quainter is the lack of high-rise hotels and heavy development found in such places as Cancun.

Cancun may be the nearest airport, but at 145 km away, Tulum is truly a hidden gem.


Veracruz is alive with culture, history and music

Rich in culture, history and attractions, Veracruz was an obvious filming choice for Hidden Moon. 

Veracruz is Mexico’s oldest, largest and historically most significant port since European colonization. It has always acted as a main gate for Mexico, accepting many sea travelers and products since the 16th century. Hernan Cortes first landed in Mexico only 20 km northwest from Veracruz. Because Veracruz is the oldest standing city settled by Europeans, it is overflowing with historical sites. Visitors tour the San Juan de Ulua Castle, the last fortress of the Spanish Empire that was later used as a prison during Porfirio Diaz’s government. 

Veracruz is home to a blend of cultures from the indigenous Mexican, Spanish and Afro-Cuban. The mixture is showcased in the city’s food and music, which carries strong Spanish, Caribbean and African influences. The traditional vericruzana music is called “Son Jarocho,” which is the perfect example of the city’s blended cultures. 

The downtown harbor plazas are teeming with life.  The city rarely sleeps, with most of the locals listening to music in the squares late into the night, only to wake up in the early morning to sip coffee at sidewalk cafes. Music and dancing bring light to the city once the sun goes down, and the bustle of everyday activity springs back to life in the morning. Coffeehouses are a social center, the most famous being the Gran Café del Portal and the Café de la Parroquia. 

Every year since 1866, the Veracruz Carnaval is celebrated. Veracruz’s Carnaval is the largest in Mexico. It is based in the historic center of the city, and focuses on the Carnaval Parade of Veracruz. The event begins with the “Burning of Bad Humor” and ends with the “Burial of Juan Carnaval.” 



See video
See video

On November 4-6, 2012, North American meetings industry leaders who are also members of the PCMA North American Advisory Board gathered for the 5th Annual PCMA North American Advisory Summit 2012 held at the Mazatlan International Center in Mazatlan, Mexico. To watch our MexicoToday exclusive coverage, go to our Flickr channel, and watch our video wrap up on our YouTube channel.

During the closing ceremony and joined by local government representatives, PCMA’s president and CEO Deborah Sexton announced that the 2013 conference will take place in Puebla, Mexico. 

At the nearly 100,000 square feet venue, Mexican meetings industry representatives heard from the Advisory Board members, such as Barry Smith of Metro Toronto Convention Centre and Robert Lander of Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau, a series of successful business practices in the meetings industry.  

During a panel discussion on the opening day, key representatives discussed the importance of educating the world on Mexico’s continued development in recent years and highlighting advantages of selecting Mexico as meetings and travel destination. They suggested that delegates focus on features such as Mexico’s proximity to the United States, the government zero-tax incentive, all-inclusive resorts, diversity among various states, a rich culture and welcoming people, among the key advantages in selecting Mexico.

Experts gathered also with delegates in small groups to address current issues within the industry and possible solutions. Through strategic collaboration and consulting sessions, the participants searched for ways to further enhance the sector in Mexico and promote it as a top attraction for business travel in a competitive market. 

At the final panel discussion, members of the Advisory Board provided overall tips and ideas on ways to combat current challenges in the tourism sector, and ways to advertise Mexico’s strengths to the global community.

For a number of years, Acapulco was the primary spot for business travel in Mexico. This year, however, the PCMA North American Advisory Summit was held at the Pacific Coast beach resort in Mazatlan, Mexico to showcase other attractions within the country. Mazatlan was selected for its rich culture and history as an international commercial seaport, as well as its established resort destinations.


A Jeep drives through a dusty road in rural Mexico

The year was 1970 and I was about to turn 21. The Chicago Seven Trial was winding down, the Vietnam War was in full rage, Nixon had lowered the voting age to 18, and The Beatles had released their final album, Let It Be. The message to my generation was to simply “Keep on Truckin’”. So naturally, I figured it a good time for a Mexico road trip.

My junior year at San Diego State concluded, I called my old boyhood friend attending Stanford, Tom Dawson, regaling him about a place in the jungle I had heard about called Puerto Vallarta. The first paved road to get there had just been completed from Tepic.  Using advanced calculus, with gas costing 15 cents a gallon and sleeping on the beach as our accommodations, I estimated we could do a two-week trip from San Diego for about $100 each.  So off we went in my 1966 VW van with no jack, a case of beer, and four bald tires. I had no idea how this trip would come to define my life – but it did just that.

This was before all of the freeway-like toll roads in Mexico, so you drove through every town and village along Highway 15 heading south.  I had never heard the term then, but with the exception of stops in Guaymas and Mazatlán, this was Rural Tourism, now known as travel to rural areas, thereby providing an important source of income outside of age-old agriculture. Today, tourism is the number one money generator in third-world countries, getting money to people who need it the most.

I have recently returned from Puerto Vallarta for about the hundredth time, exploring an area a short distance south of town called Cabo Corrientes. You may know it as the area where the town of Yelapa is located, primarily accessible only by boat. But the entire region can be reached by auto, although most all of the roads are dirt. I hooked up with a guy, Brad Wollman, who lives in Yelapa and has a tour business ( specializing in exploring this back-country adventure. There are over 50 villages in total, from the mountainous jungle surrounding Chacala to the pristine beaches of Tehuamixtle and Pisota. It is hard to fathom that you are just an hour or two from Vallarta, as few tourists venture this far out of the city. I do know that you will not find a more beautiful area in Mexico or finer people. This is Mexico as it was and is, away from the big cities, the politics, the cartels. You notice more burros than cars, more smiles than scowls. Indiana Jones and Jane Goodall would feel right at home, although probably not together.

The gateway town where you enter Cabo Corrientes is El Tuito. There are a few hotels, and some of the interior villages have very rustic accommodations (a cot in a room) if you ask around. Otherwise, it is close enough to Puerto Vallarta that you can be back to your hotel there by sundown if you get an early morning start.

Another day was spent driving deep into the jungle mountains behind Puerto Vallarta. From town the hills look uninhabited, but there is a large network of dirt roads that will eventually lead you all the way to Guadalajara in about six hours (except in rainy season, when the many rivers rise that cross the road) or north to the towns of mountain towns of Mascota, San Sebastian and Talpa de Allende. The road begins flanking the Rio Cuale, bordering the Romantic Zone of PV. Within a few minutes of leaving town you are climbing the jungle terrain, seemingly 1,000 miles away from anything. The jungle is Amazon-dense, jade-green, and noticeably cooler as you gain elevation. You see an occasional rancho and there are a few small villages. It is Quiet. Stunning. Perfect.  Contact Brad, mentioned above, for this trip, as well. Or if you feel comfortable enough, rent a Jeep in town for around $40.00 - $60.00 a day. I have driven tens of thousands of miles in Mexico without losing any limbs or my mind (debatable). So can you.

These are just two examples of Rural Tourism options when visiting Vallarta. But the same is true anywhere in Mexico.  Within an hour’s drive of Cancun, Acapulco, Cabo San Lucas, Ixtapa or Oaxaca City, you find a way of life unfamiliar to most gringos. Mexico is a huge country, two-thirds the size of the U.S. with 31 states, boasting terrains and cultures of every category. The state of Oaxaca alone has 16 indigenous groups, each with their own language. Some of the world’s finest textiles and folk art are produced here, primarily in small, rural villages. Every area has its own art, music and food on display in the every-day life of rural Mexico. Grab a map and you will see the blue-roads snaking throughout the country, dotted with names like Zempoala, Jacalito and Tejocote. There are thousands of them – fascinating places a world-removed from the metropolises of Mexico City, Monterrey and Puebla.

In these economic times tourism is more important than ever for Mexico. And nothing could spur the industry better than the growth of rural tourism, where the destinations are endless. For example, Mexico has around 6,000 miles of coastline, but only relatively few towns have become tourist centers. Have you ever wondered what the other 5,800 miles are like? Well, I’ve seen most of them and you can too. It’s safe, fascinating and cheap – not a bad combination. If you don’t relish the thought of driving, Mexico’s buses run everywhere. From 3rd class beaters to 1st class luxury liners, the country gets around on buses. It’s easy to find scheduling information from any town you fly in to.

For the best information on the web concerning Rural Tourism in Mexico, go to Ron Mader’s award-winning Planeta site . Ron has been a long-time leader of responsible travel and ecotourism in Latin America from his home in Oaxaca City. 

So put on some U2 and hear Bono sing Where the Streets Have No Name – and start planning that trip.


Puerto Vallarta
Puerta Vallarta Cathedral Overlooking the Ocean

At the end of this year, my family and I will be visiting Puerto Vallarta, which will make it my umteenth time enjoying this beautiful and safe city. In fact, just thinking about visiting Vallarta, I am nostalgic for my home away from home, as there are so many things to do in addition to making time to relax.  

Located on the gorgeous Banderas Bay, surrounded by 40-kilometers of mountains, rivers, coastline and beaches, the ever quaint and charming city of Puerto Vallarta is home to Jalisco natives, local residents, international residents, plus Canadian and U.S. expats and retirees who now call the destination home. 

Mainly due to its nearly year round perfect climate, Puerto Vallarta, by nature, promotes a healthy, active lifestyle for visitors or locals. Time and again, year after year, Puerto Vallarta is also named one of the best places in Mexico to retire, which speaks volumes about its safety and desirability. According to AARP, “Our choice in Mexico is the Puerto Vallarta region, located on the Pacific Coast in the state of Jalisco. Its combination of first-class amenities and charming, palm-fringed villages have made it an appealing retiree draw, as well as a popular tourist destination.”

“Framed by the Sierra Madre and the Bay of Banderas Puerto Vallarta provides all kinds of ecosystems and settings for adventure,” said Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board when asked why PV is such a desirable destination for outdoor activity. “We have everything a visitor could want, from zip lining in Mexico’s longest line to ATV to swimming with the dolphins to releasing crocodiles and turtles and mountain climbing.  

Puerto Vallarta is also one of the most important places in Latin America for biodiversity, because it protects an impressive number of species – both flora and fauna on land and in the sea. 

No matter what your interests, this impressive and colorful city lays its welcome mat for all to enjoy. 

The following 16 recommendations below are experiences or activities I suggest as a frequent traveler to Puerto Vallarta (even though there are hundreds of cool things to do).

These final activities are the top three out-of-the-ordinary experiences to put on all travel itineraries, recommended by the Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board. 14. Extreme Adventure Zip Lining. I have yet to try this but I’ve put it on the agenda for our upcoming trip to Puerto Vallarta.  Just to be sure, I checked out the comments on TripAdvisor and I was happy to see that the section is filled to the rim with positive feedback.  15. Swim with the dolphins. We participated in this activity four years ago when we were last in Puerto Vallarta for a family vacation, except our activity was the dolphin excursion where its simply a session in the water with the dolphin, which worked out perfectly because of children’s ages at the time. We all loved it! 16. The New Eco Adventure. From bird watching and sea kayaking to Macaw Conservation trips and Crocodile Adventures, Puerto Vallarta offers some type of eco-adventure for all.   “Visitors to Puerto Vallarta will find a Mexican pueblo that has become a cosmopolitan destination but maintains its heritage,” said the Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board.  Depending on what time of the year you plan on traveling to Puerto Vallarta, be sure to check local event calendars to explore other exciting opportunities including annual gourmet festivals, fishing or golf tournaments, sailing races and especially the annual International Festival of Altruism, hosted by CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa each May where dozens of non profits come together to generate much needed funds for their organizations. 


Puerto Vallarta
Plane flying through clouds on route to Mexico

Recently a friend asked me, “How do you get to México?” I’d never spent much time thinking about it before, but for those who’ve never been, of course, it’s a valid question. The answer depends a lot on why you are going, how much time you have, how adventuresome you feel, and any of a myriad of other considerations. Since I always have children with me these days, and my normal stomping grounds are deep in central México, I always fly to and from México. But let’s consider the options.

One is to drive. The border crossing at Tijuana is one of the busiest border crossings in the world, so for many folks, driving clearly is the preferred choice. There are some fantastic resources for driving in México. Here is a great article by fellow México Today ambassador Susie Albin-Najera to get you started if you are thinking about a road trip to, from or around México. In it, she features a wonderful couple who have traveled the roads of México extensively. She also writes about the Green Angels service, a free service of the Mexican government for road travelers. Make sure to read it, she includes great tips and resources.

A second option is to take a bus. Greyhound has routes between the United States and many cities in México. While less expensive than a plane flight, the time investment is greater.  If you aren’t in a hurry, this could be a viable option for you. Just keep in mind, México is vast, much larger than a two dimensional map might lead one to believe. A bus ride from San Diego, CA to México City, for instance, takes almost 48 hours.

A third option is to go by boat. Of course, there are a number of major cruise lines with ports of call in México including Carnival, Crystal, Disney, HollandAmerica, Norwegian, Princess, and Royal Caribbean. Trips vary in price, duration, and destination. The season in which you cruise, your choice of room and occupancy, and other factors can affect prices, so keep these in mind when planning. Cruise ships set sail from places like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Long Beach and San Diego for Pacific Coast destinations like La Paz, Cabo San Lucas, Acapulco, Mazatlán, Puerto Vallarta, and Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo (Yep! you read it right, that’s the place Morgan Freeman’s character daydreams about in the Shawshank Redemption). Miami, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and Port Canaveral, Florida are some of the ports for departing to places like Cozumel on the East Coast of México. The big benefit of a cruise is someone else navigates and you should only have to unpack your suitcase once.

As for train travel to México, there is no through service that I know of from the US to destinations in México. If a train experience is what you are craving, you can make your way via Amtrak to either San Diego or El Paso. The San Diego Trolley’s Blue Line will take you to the border stop San Ysidro, near Tijuana, from downtown San Diego. But at the border, whether at San Diego or El Paso, you will have to find another mode of transportation from that point. Having said that, as an aside, there is a quintessential train experience within México, a now private line which travels about 400 miles through the natural wonders of Copper Canyon (Barrancas del Cobre) from Los Mochis, Sinaloa to Chihuahua, Chihuahua. Here is a nice article about the Copper Canyon train written by another México Today Ambassador, Suzanne Barbezat.

As I mentioned at the start, flying has been my exclusive transportation to and from México since having children. Without a doubt, it’s the best combination of speed and economy for traveling deep into México from the United States and Canada. México has over fifty international airports. While a number of US carriers have flights to México, two Mexican airlines in particular, Aeromexico and Volaris have the advantage of extensive choices in destinations both to and from, as well as within, México. 

Volaris has a long list of Mexican destinations including Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara, Morelia, León/Guanajuato, Puebla, La Paz, Los Cabos, México City, Cancún, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, Mazatlán, Colima, Hermosillo, Chihuahua, Monterrey, Los Mochis, Tijuana, Mexicali, Culiacán, Tepic, Querétaro, Uruapan, Acapulco, Cuernavaca, and Toluca. They have enjoyed large increases in ridership over the last year, due to new, innovative and flexible programs, like their “Tu decides...” program, and a partnership with Southwest Airlines, which means beyond Volaris’ USA destinations, including Orlando, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Diego, San José, Fresno, and Las Vegas, it now connect via Southwest to over 50 US destinations.

Aeromexico has flights originating from as far away as Europe and Asia. They, too, have an extensive list of destinations including Aguascalientes, Cabo San Lucas, Campeche, Cancún, Chetumal, Chihuahua, Ciudad de Carmen, Ciudad Juárez, Culiacán, Durango, Guadalajara, Hermosillo, Huatulco, Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, La Paz, León/Guanajuato, Los Mochis, Manzanillo, Matamoros, Mazatlán, Mérida, Mexicali, México City, Minatitlán, Monterrey, Morelia, Nuevo Laredo, Oaxaca, Obregón City, Poza Rica, Puerto Vallarta, Querétaro, Reynosa, Saltillo, San Luis Potosí, Tampico, Tapachula, Tijuana, Torreón, Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Veracruz, Villahermosa, and Zacatecas.

So now you know, whether by bus, plane, boat, or car, you can get to México in the mode that best serves your needs.   


A tall doorway leading into a hotel in Polanco

With a population of more than 20 million, most people think of Mexico City as an urban behemoth. But having lived here for almost fifteen years I’ve come to see it differently--as a conglomeration of neighborhoods each with its distinctive, small town feel.  

When the tourism board began its Barrios Magicos (“Magical Neighborhoods”) program last year, it listed 21 neighborhoods within the Distrito Federal that range from the funky and remote (Mixquic), the slick and touristy (Zona Rosa), to the hip and sophisticated (Roma/Condesa).  Coyoacán, San Angel and Xochimilco, with their traces of Mexico’s Aztec and colonial past, all made the cut—even the La Merced market area and the center of mariachi music, Plaza Garibaldi, are there.

So I was surprised that a place many feel is the city’s most desirable neighborhood was not included in the list.  What about Polanco?

Polanco, which extends along the north side of Chapultepec Park, is home to some of the wealthiest people in Mexico. It has many of the best hotels, restaurants and shops in the city and is the location of choice for many foreign embassies, international corporations, and a large portion of the city’s Jewish community (you can find kosher tacos here).  Near to many of the top museums, the air of sophisticated culture extends even to its streets, which are named after philosophers, writers and scientists. Along Avenida Presidente Masaryk , which is often compared to New York’s Fifth Avenue or Los Angeles’ Rodeo Drive, you’ll find a line up of status conscious stores like Tiffany’s, Gucci, Chanel and Louis Vuitton. 

Development of the area began back in the 1930’s, but the real building boom happened in the 1950’s, and it still continues. Designed as a purely residential area at first, homes in Polanco were marketed to those wishing to emulate an American lifestyle—freestanding houses with front and back yards, a novelty back then. Examples of the original architecture, a florid style known as ‘Colonial Californiano’, are scattered throughout the neighborhood, although many have been turned into stores and offices.

Polanco suffers a bit from a reputation as a snooty place—there’s even a popular restaurant named ‘Snob’. Last year the ‘Ladies of Polanco’ became famous after a video on youtube went viral showing two wealthy residents berating a dark-skinned transit policeman for daring to give them a ticket. It was the talk of the town for several weeks.

But there’s no denying that Polanco is a defining element of Mexico City, and well worth a visit to see how ‘the other half’ (or at least the top 2%) here lives.  

‘Polanquito’, the area around Parque Lincoln, is the closest thing to a town center, and the best place to walk around and get a feel for the neighborhood. In the park you’ll find an art gallery, an aviary, and a small pool where kids play with toy sailboats. The nearby streets, Virgilio, Julio Verne, Oscar Wilde and Alexandre Dumas are lined with stores and restaurants, and lots of well-heeled customers. At Masaryk 360, visit the Pasaje Masaryk, a former apartment complex turned into a shopping mall, which feels like a bit of old Palm Beach in Mexico City (‘Snob’ is here), and ‘Common People’ (Emilio Castelar 149) to check out the fabulous old architecture.  

There’s a taxi sitio in the middle of the park on Julio Verne, in front of the statue of Martin Luther King (see google map link).

‘New Polanco’ is the name given to the recent development in the area’s northwest corner. Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim decided to place his Museo Soumaya there, and the new home of the Jumex Collection, a contemporary art museum, is under construction.  Just down the block is the Antara Mall, the city’s most elegant shopping emporium. The Cinemex movie theater here features reclining leather seats and waiter service—you can order from a 10-page menu. 

Polanco has some of the best and most expensive restaurants in town, like Pujol and Dulce Patria, both of which specialize in alta cocina Mexicana. But you can also find excellent street food stands at the Saturday tianguis (street market) near the corner of Luis G. Urbina and Aristotles—and of course, those kosher tacos. The trendy bars at the W and Habita hotels are local hot spots where the ‘beautiful people’ hang out—worth a visit just to see the shoes!

Polanco may not be one of the cultural high points here, but if you’re in the mood for a bit of self indulgence, or just want to understand another piece of the complex puzzle of Mexico City, it’s well worth a visit.  


Mexico City
The buildings of Puebla Mexico

Of Mexico’s 31 states, I’ve traveled to over half of them and have lived in three. I am not even close to knowing all of Mexico or proclaiming “I’ve seen it all”-- my ‘Mexico Bucket List’ grows every day and I doubt it will ever stop. However, at this point in my Mexican travel adventures, if you had to ask me my absolute favorite place, without hesitation it would be the State of Puebla. 

Puebla is a very diverse and culturally rich state. Different picturesque landscapes are found throughout the highlands and it is home to five major indigenous groups. Puebla can proudly boast about Cinco de Mayo, amazing gastronomy including mole poblano, cemitas, and chiles en nogada and stunning Spanish colonial architecture. I’ve covered most of Puebla, from the three Pueblos Mágicos (Magical Towns) in the north, to the large southern city of Tehuácan -- and while I find the capital (Puebla, Puebla) to be the most beautiful and encompassing city in Mexico, I would have to say it was the Pueblos Mágicos that made me fall in love with the entire state and its wonders. 

Puebla currently has three official Magic Towns, with hopefully one or two more to be declared soon. The three official towns are Cuetzalan, Pahuatlán and Zacatlán which are all located in Puebla’s La Sierra Norte region, within relatively close distance from one another. Set in the lush mountains, a blanket of mist and clouds often sets the eerily-ethereal scenery for these very small, traditional towns. They each have their own surprising personalities and charms that are best realized by visiting.

Cuetzalan is primarily known for its fertile and natural setting. Delightful sceneries of lakes, rivers, grottos and cascading waterfalls are scattered around the area with the gorgeous backdrop of verdant mountains blanketed in a white fog. The mist creates a feeling as if you are literally situated in the clouds and it is a truly magnificent sight when it rains. One of Cuetzalan’s unique characteristics is the slated rooftops that protect from the constant rains; it was as if the rain only had a 2 feet fall from its origin and it showed no mercy. What I loved most about this small town is that the past was still very much alive in the present. The streets criss-cross, rise, and fall with no pattern at all-- frenzied with locals selling their fresh produce and colorful textiles. The locals live with no concern of modern day, and it was truly enlightening. In fact, Cueztalan is one of the few pueblos that prefer to speak the indigenous language, Nahuatl, and they continue with the ceremony of the Voladores (flying men). The tianguis market on Sunday mornings is also a great representation of all that is Cuetzalan—here you can find regional artistries and clothing, crafted indigenous teponaxtle instruments, locally grown coffee, as well as the culinary traditions of pulacle tamales and a local wine of passion and yolixpan fruits.

Pahuatlán is a town of mysticism and tradition. Most remarkable is the nearby otomí community in San Pablito where they produce amate paper. A short drive up in the mountains to the Don Fausto Workshop is where the family demonstrates to visitors how they continue to use pre-Hispanic techniques of soaking and flattening tree fibers to create beautiful works of art. The interesting thing about this traditional parchment is that it is used by the local spiritual shamans and witch doctors in their ceremonies to represent gods and animals. Very few places in Mexico can you find legitimate ancient curanderos (healers) like those residing in this town. They are called upon to heal spirits, cure negative auras, and other magical practices.  Back in the town center of Pahuatlán, the influence and variety of ethnic groups is very apparent. It was inhabited by Aztecas, Otomíes, and Totonacos before the Spanish arrived and what resulted was a fusion of flavorful gastronomy that is hard to replicate. Chícales (ants), chiltepín, peanut tamales, pan de granilla (seed bread), and onion taquitos are just some of this town’s tasty specialties.

Zacatlán is short for Zacatlán de las Manzanas (of the apples) and rightfully so as it is one of Mexico’s largest and most prominent apple producers. As an outcome, the town has cultivated a whole culture around this delicious fruit.  They proudly create unique concoctions and dishes that contain apple which are unlike anything I had ever tasted—the baked dessert, manzana al horno, puts Grandma’s homemade apple pies to shame.  They are also the makers of the most exquisite ciders and alcohols.  There are a total of four family-owned companies, each of whom welcome you inside their factory to learn about the whole manual labor process.  Dozens of different types of ciders, alcohols, jams, and salsas can be taste-tested at any one of these factories and the best part is it doesn’t feel like a sales pitch, they truly want to welcome you to have you learn about their tradition.  The most prominent symbol of the city is the large floral clock in the main plaza that serenades the town with various instrumental songs--a perfect place to people watch and appreciate the community.

Chignahuapan is not yet an official Magic Town but they are hoping to be one soon. In efforts to reach status, fresh vibrant paint covers every corner of this town, creating a kaleidoscopic rainbow on each street. Chignahuapan is best known for its nearby thermal waters (warm springs heated from the earth’s crust) that are believed to have healing properties. What also makes Chignahuapan a unique town is that they are Mexico’s main producers of Christmas bulbs. Over 3,000 artisans and 200 workshops scatter the area, working year round to create beautiful esferas. It is not just Christmas in December but all year round in this colorful and merry little town.  



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The Vochol, a 1990s Volkswagen Beetle that has been decorated with traditional Huichol beadwork from Mexico, will be spending its autumn and winter touring Europe.  

The art-on-wheels took nine thousand hours of work spanned over seven months. There are approximately 2,277,000 glass beads designed into powerful symbols and milestone stories from the spiritual Huichol culture and deities. Eight artisans from two Huichol families began the art in May 2010, and it was inaugurated at the Museo de Arte Popular (MAP) in Mexico City in December 2010. 

After touring Mexico and the United States, Vochol has spent September traveling across the Atlantic Ocean from Houston, Teas to Le Havre, France. From October 2 through December, the Vochol will call Paris’s Musee du Quai Branly home. 

After Paris, Vochol will continue its voyage to Germany. Between December 5 and January 5, Vochol will be on exhibit at Autostadt, an automotive complex located near Volkswagen’s primary plant in Wolfsburg. Frankfurt’s Deutsche Bank’s corporate headquarters – the “Green Towers” – will receive Vochol next, until mid-January. 

Brussels, Belgium, is the last place Vochol will visit. The Musees Royaux des Beaux Arts will display Vochol from January 31 through March 3. It will then return back across the Atlantic Ocean. 

The work was originally created in order to showcase the ritual nature, skill and culture of the beadwork in a modern art form. The Huichol beadwork began by decorating bullhorns, gourds, masks and figureheads. 

At the end of the Vochol world tour, it will be auctioned on an international stage. All funds will benefit the AAMAP. 

If you live in Europe – or will be touring it soon – make sure to visit Paris, Wolfsburg, Frankfurt or Brussels. This beetle is one of a kind, and the detail must be seen to be believed. Vochol is absolutely breathtaking. 


The St. Regis punta Mita

Home to world-renowned resorts such as the Four Seasons and Grand Velas - both more than a decade old, the Riviera Nayarit is no stranger to luxury. The St. Regis Punta Mita, the newest member of this AAA Five Diamond club, however, has been steadily redefining what it means to be a top-tier luxury resort in Mexico. By weaving the traditional rituals defined by The St. Regis over the years with some of the local of traditions of the Bay of Banderas area, The St. Regis Punta Mita offers guests a unique "Mex-Lux" experience.

Officially opening in November of 2008, The St. Regis Punta Mita has been receiving accolades since its inception. The resort's architect, Roy Azar, was awarded Best Interior Design project in Mexico for his ability to successfully incorporate and showcase the surrounding nature of Punta Mita into the design of the resort and in 2010, the resort's signature restaurant Carolina was also awarded AAA Five Diamond status, making it the only Five Diamond restaurant on Mexico's Pacific Coast.

What has guests really raving, however, are the daily activities ranging from culinary lessons to extreme sports - all designed to introduce visitors to the local culture of Punta Mita. On Mondays, guests meet with local chefs to learn how to make Ceviche, a Mexican favorite consisting of diced onions, cilantro, tomato, cucumber, and raw fish or shrimp "cooked" with the acids of lime juice. Tuesdays offer Mexican cocktail classes at one of the resorts four bars and on Wednesdays, guests can learn how to make another staple of Mexican cuisine, Guacamole. Thursdays showcase a Mexican twist on the classic Spanish favorite, Paella, as chefs walk guests through the creation of the dish as they cook the seemingly endless ingredients over a massive fire pit on the beach. 

In addition to the culinary experiences, a new partnership with Punta Mita Expeditions has allowed The St. Regis Punta Mita to offer their guests a variety of physical adventures, all departing from the resort's beaches. The activities range in difficulty-level from family-friendly adventures like Snorkeling and Stand Up Paddling to more serious excursions like SCUBA Diving and Spear Fishing. According to Nicolas Melani of Punta Mita Expeditions, the most popular expedition at The St. Regis Punta Mita has been the Sea Safari, a three-hour boat trip to the nearby Marieta Islands where guests Snorkel and Stand Up Paddle Board. "Guests have been very responsive to our new line of experiences at The St. Regis," commented Carl Emberson, the resort's General Manager, "as they don't waste any vacation time shuttling to and from external activities. Everything happens from our beach."

The weekdays are certainly jammed packed with fun activities, but it's the Fridays at The St. Regis Punta Mita that you don't want to miss. Early risers can join a scheduled walk to the nearby fishing village of Punta Mita at 9am, thrill seekers can try their hand at Stand Up Paddle Boarding at 10am, and fishermen can cast some lines at 11. And if your favorite angler strikes out, you're still in luck as the 11:30 bell on the beach means it's time for "The Catch of the Day."

Each Friday at half past eleven, a boat full of local fishermen parks on the resorts Sea Breeze beach, loaded with the freshest of the morning's catch. Local fish such as Mahi Mahi, Bonito, Sea Bass, Parrot fish, and Red Snapper (often massive in size) are laid out on a bed of ice for guests to inspect. The resort's executive chef is on hand during the event to describe the difference between various fish and make recommendations as to the most delicious ways for each to be prepared. Guests can then choose what sounds best to have for lunch or that night's dinner.

After the Catch of the Day, the remainder of the afternoon is one of leisure. At sundown, guests and staff meet in the stunning Altamira lobby for the famous St. Regis Champagne Ritual. The open-air lobby overlooks a seemingly endless river of infinity pools that run down the heart of the resort to the beach. Needless to say, the views are breathtaking and on Fridays, the sunset is made even more picturesque with the addition of a meticulously arranged pedestal, covered in white linen, upon which sit a golden-hilted saber and bottle of Veuve Clicquot on ice. True to the ritual, a staff member unsheathes the saber, which he swipes up the shaft of the bottle, slicing both the cork and the neck clean off in an explosion of bubbly excellence. Naturally, the champagne begins to flow and guests and staff mingle as the sun dips lazily below the horizon.

Freshly caught fish for lunch, a day by the pool overlooking the ocean, swords and champagne at sunset… what more could you ask for from the perfect Friday? How about a torch-lit, family style barbecue dinner on the beach? Each Friday evening, guests gather on the resort's Sea Breeze beach where a dinner table fit for a royal feast awaits on the sand. The aroma of grilling BBQ ribs, steak, chicken, fish, and Mexican sausage wafts the beach as guests have the chance to meet, mingle, and dine together. A trio of local musicians strum classic tunes as the evening unfolds leaving many guests to conclude that at The St. Regis Punta Mita, luxury is truly paradise found. 


Mexico City
A landmass emerges from the Gulf of Mexico

Eventually, I think it happens to everyone who has family in the snowy Midwest.  You finally reach a holiday season where even though you love your family dearly, you just can’t bring yourself to head back for the sub-zero wind chill, ice-covered roads, and layer upon layer of puffy winter coats…  You tell yourself, “Just this once, we’re going to throw tradition out the window, and go somewhere warm and sunny for the holidays.”  A Mexican beach sounded like just the ticket.

When my husband and I had this flash of brilliance the second week of December a couple years ago, we quickly realized that we were not the only ones who had thought of this ingenious plan!  When we started our last-minute search for flights and lodging around Mexico, many of the best-known beaches were already booked up or charging a steep premium for the most popular week of the year (between Christmas & New Year’s).  But then I came across the tiny village of Yelapa, located just south of Puerto Vallarta in Jalisco state on Mexico’s west coast.

Yelapa is a sleepy little car-free pueblo that is primarily accessible by boat and just got electricity in 2001, but has various claims to fame with past visits from Bob Dylan, Jack Nicholson, Liz Taylor, etc.  While it’s a popular day trip from Puerto Vallarta, I think it’s better as a two or three night stay.  There’s not a whole lot to do, but that’s why you’re there—push your boundaries and see if you can resist Yelapa’s recently-acquired internet access for your whole trip. J

We flew into Puerto Vallarta and spent one night there first to check out “the big city,” and then hopped on the Yelapa Water Taxi the next day (which leaves from the old Los Muertos Pier for $150 pesos one way).  A few taxi tips that I observed—1) sit in the back of the boat to minimize jostling, 2) have your camera at the ready to capture the beautiful scenery + schools of tropical fish and whales, and 3) ideally wear shorts/sandals in case you get dropped off on the beach in Yelapa where no pier = wade through the water. (Drop-off location depends on where your lodging is.)

There’s an impressive number of lodging option for a village this size; you can see a fairly comprehensive list here. We opted for Casa Bahia Bonita, a bright orangey-yellow multi-level house built into the vegetation on the northeast side of the cove. It’s nothing overly fancy, but it was clean, it had great views from the terraces, and the rooms had small (albeit somewhat spartan) kitchenettes so we were able to whip up some breakfast on site.  It offers nice privacy as it’s the last property on that side of the cove, but the flip side is that it’s a bit of a walk to get to restaurants in town.  It’s good to try making that walk during the daytime to familiarize yourself with the route before walking it at night, and a flashlight comes in handy. If you’re staying on the beach side, you’ll have to cross the river to get into town. During low tide, it’s no problem to cross the mouth of the river at the beach, but during high tide, that crossing can be waist deep! However if you walk just a bit up the river, it’s much easier to cross & there’s usually a bridge.  (Something I wish we had known as we were wading back from dinner one night with wet shorts!)

If your tastes tend more upmarket, there are a couple higher end resorts that are worth checking out—Casa Pericos and Verana. We found surprisingly good food at Yelapa’s restaurants as well. Café Bahia was a great spot for breakfast & lunch, and we had a lovely Christmas dinner at the Yacht Club. You can find a helpful restaurant list + map on the site  Do be aware that many spots are closed in the rainy season (roughly May to September), so your dining options may be a bit more limited. A final note on food—we’d read a lot about “the pie lady” who visits the beach selling her wares each day.  When we finally caught up with her one afternoon and dug into two pieces of pie, they were amazing and totally worth the wait. If she’s still making the rounds when you visit, flag her down for a slice of banana cream.

Eating pie and taking artsy photos of Corona bottles next to your toes in the sand should fill most of your days in Yelapa…but if you need more entertainment, there are options! Folks like Yelapa Adventures are happy to take you fishing, snorkeling, whale watching, or horseback riding. You can also walk along the river to check out the waterfall, and reward yourself with a cold beer once you get there.

We found Yelapa to be a great, laid-back place to escape to and avoid the Midwestern winter, especially when combined with a few days in Puerto Vallarta on the front or back end.  Keep it in mind when you’re ready for a break from the usual holiday routine, and perhaps you’ll create a new tradition—out with turkey and dressing; in with fish tacos!


A trail next to a Mexican beach

Like margaritas and Mariachis, Mexico and romance have always been eternally linked. I'm happy to tip my sombrero to Mexican beach resorts as I certainly find them all incredibly romantic. From the deep blue waters of the Pacific Coast to the soft white sand of the Caribbean, Mexico’s beach resorts possess their own special kind of magic. But there's more to romance than the perfect sunset. This is a land of remarkable contrasts filled with vibrant images, amazing diversity, unique experiences and unexpected possibilities. Quite simply…romance defines itself here, and it's not always about the beach.

Romance is a personal thing. What's romantic to you may not be to me, and vice versa. It doesn't have to be candlelight and roses; I think it's about sharing an extraordinary moment in an extraordinary place. Here are a few suggestions for some different kinds of romance in Mexico.

Head off the beaten path. It sounds cliché, but it's so true. You can hire a guide for some one-on-one touring and you'll learn so much more. If you're in the state of Yucatán, take a tour of the cenotes (say-no-tays). These astonishing fresh water wells are so special. Ask your guide to take you to a few that aren't on the tourist circuit. Bring your bathing suit and spirit of adventure. Dipping into the crystal clear pools is like swimming in a sea of Perrier water. Soak it in. Listen to the soft echoes, and then enjoy the silence as you float in this incredible underground world. Then ask your guide to take you to HIS favorite restaurant and really indulge yourself in the local culture.

Discover Palenque. I was always told that sunset is the "magic hour" because everything seems to look more beautiful just before the sun slips beneath the horizon. This may be most true at Mexico's archeological sites. Arrive a few hours before sunset, just as most people are heading for the tour bus. My husband and I did this at Palenque in Chiapas and it was one of the most memorable afternoons I have ever spent in Mexico. Everything seems to come to life as the crowds begin to leave. The energy shifts. You get a stronger sense of the ancients. The light bounces off the ruins in ways you'll never see in the hard light of midday. Palenque sits in the middle of the jungle so the monkeys and birds create quite a symphony. The Temple of Inscriptions is the largest Mesoamerican stepped pyramid, yet at that time of day, the entire site seems strangely intimate. Don't miss Palenque in the late afternoon... you'll never be the same.

Do the zócalo in Oaxaca. The word "zócalo" refers to the main plaza or square in the heart of the historic center. Since 1529, this has been a gathering place for families, musicians and any and everyone who wants to drink in the feel of the city. There is almost always music of some sort. A Peruvian band playing pan flutes set the tone during my last visit. Hang out at a sidewalk cafe. Watch the smiles, listen to the music, laugh with friends, and of course nosh on some Oaxacan specialties. Don't rush this one, just stroll and enjoy.

Catch a performance (any performance!) at the Angela Peralta Theater in Mazatlán. I've had the pleasure to see both an unforgettable opera performance as well as a mesmerizing rendition of Mozart’s “Requiem” at this completely charming (and romantic) theater which has been restored in recent years to its European-style grandeur. Originally named the Rubio Theater, the structure was built in the 1870’s. In 1883, the famous Mexican opera singer, Angela Peralta (known as the Nightingale of Mexico), arrived in the city for a performance. The people of Mazatlán were so enamored of this songbird that the name was changed in her honor. The colorful interior is perfectly resurrected and true to the architectural influences of the period. After the show, head to Pedro + Lola, a hip restaurant with live jazz that sits catty corner to the esteemed theater. It will be an evening you'll long remember.

Do anything in Guanajuato.  This might be one of the most romantic cities in all of Mexico. Guanajuato is purely Mexican. You won’t find many Americans here, but you’ll be glad you came. This town is so magical that it’s difficult to describe in words. It has mysticism and charm only rivaled by the small Italian villages in Tuscany or the Andalusian cities in southern Spain.  Founded in 1557 as a silver mining town, Guanajuato is built over a maze of unusual subterranean street systems. Once used as control channels for floodwaters, the roads twist and turn through stone arched tunnels that bring you to the surface in various locations throughout the city. Above ground, you’ll find one of the most picturesque and colorful displays of architecture anywhere in the world. Splashes of bright greens, blues and yellows give the perfectly preserved buildings a storybook quality. A labyrinth of tiny streets, alleyways and steep stairwells cover the hillsides. This feels much more like a medieval village than a colonial city.  If you’re into photography, you’ll be in heaven!

At the city center is the Jardin de Union. Cafes, shops, colonial buildings, and the Teatro Juarez encircle this pristine V-shaped plaza. (Constructed from 1873-1903, the Juarez Theater is a beautiful combination of Doric, French and Moorish architecture.) Also a very safe city, exploring on foot is the best way to appreciate the multitude of sites. First time visitors may want to hire a guide as some of Guanajuato’s treasures may be rather complicated to find within the city’s layout. From churches to fortresses and museums to national monuments, Guanajuato is a real gem.

Whether it’s all about romance, or just an added bonus of your trip, you can always surprise yourself with the wonder of Mexico. Sharing Mexico with the people you love may very well be the most romantic thing you can do.


A town in Mexico with mountains in the distance

Living in Mexico City, the options for a fun and exciting ‘weekend getaway trip’ are endless. Pick any direction and after a short two-hour (or less) drive you can find yourself in the states of Queretaro, Mexico, Morelos, Puebla, Hidalgo, Michoacán or Tlaxcala. Within this radius there are plenty of unique towns to discover and explore with a wide arrangement of different customs, gastronomy, and traditions due to different pre-Hispanic and Spanish colonial influences.  With nearby access to at least 15 Magical Towns (Pueblos Magicos) and crossing at least 11 of Mexico’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Mexico City is a well known and accessible starting point in which one can venture out and discover the country’s rich culture and charms. 

While any time of the year is a wonderful time to visit the neighboring cities and towns, you often can get a better immersion experience during their festivals. These celebrations occur at different times throughout the year and present the perfect forum for truly witnessing the beauty and culture of the area.

Queretaro -The quaint Magical Town of Bernal holds a festival May 1-5 to honor the Holy Cross.  The traditional religious celebration of The Feast of Santa Cruz includes escaleros (climbers) that make a procession through the town then up the impressive 1,150 ft tall peña or monolith to plant a cross at the top. All of this is achieved without any harnesses!

- Caderyeta de Montes, just 20 minutes away from Bernal, is the nearby Magical Town which holds two famed events held by Spanish Winemaker, Freixnet.  In the month of August, La Fiesta de la Vendimia (Wine Harvest Festival) takes place, where Cavas Freixenet opens their doors to the public to enjoy and partake in traditional rituals, such as the cutting and stomping of the grapes.  May 26 and 27 is when Freixnet holds an annual Paella Festival where you can sample different tasty versions of this popular Spanish seafood and rice dish!

-The town of Tolimán, just north of Caderyeta de Montes and Bernal, is where you can find one of Mexico’s unique UNESCO Intangible Culture Heritages: the traditions and memories of the Otomí-Chichimeca people. Starting in July and culminating in September, El Chimal takes place and is the most significant festival to this culture and its people. It is a celebration of spiritual rituals and elaborate offerings, with a decorated vertical tribute of small objects and flowers towering over 75 feet!

Puebla -Zacatlán was named Puebla’s second Magical Town after Cuetzalan and is known for growing apples and utilizing them in delicious ciders and alcohols. Every year, La Feria de la Manzana (Apple Festival) is held in August. The festival is celebrated with shows, regional dances, a parade, and plenty of music and dancing. The festival always falls over August 15, the day of La Virgen de la Asunción, patron saint to the fruit farmers, in order to give her thanks and praise for the fruit that gives this town it’s signature. 

-La Fiesta Patronal del Señor Santiago is a special celebration on July 25 for the Magical Town of  Pahuatlán. The people come and celebrate their patron saint with typical Mexican fiesta traditions and a spectacle of the Voladores de Pahuatlán. In Pahuatlán, the voladores (flying men) are also known as Tocotines and is part of UNESCO’s Intangible Culture Heritages: the ritual ceremony of the voladores.

-While there are plenty of other distinct and unique fairs and festivals throught the state of Puebla, the regional Mexican holiday, Día de los Muertos, is especially extraordinary in the Poblano city of Huaquechula. From October 28 to November 2, extravagantly decorated altars and ofrendas paint and scent the town as the people pay their respects to the dead. 

Tlaxcala - A festival not to be missed during the month of August is La Feria de Huamantla. In the small Magical Town of Huamantla, approximately 300,000 visitors come to view the spectacles dedicated to the Virgin Mary.  One night in particular, La Noche que Nadie Duerme,  is when the residents create intricately designed tapetes (carpets) made of colorful sawdust and plants which line the streets until dawn. The Huamantla Fair culminates with ‘Huamantlada’ a day when the streets are saturated with people, barricades, and a releasing of the bulls. While the brave ones can challenge the running toros, one can also mitigate the danger by partaking in the other events like charreadas and watching a bull fight.


-Real del Monte, Mineral del Chico, and Huasca de Ocampo are Hidalgos three Magical Towns and are all located driving distance from one another. December through January is a great time to visit these Pueblos Mágicos. Starting December 8, Mineral del Chico holds La Fiesta de la Purísima Concepción. Considered the most important festival of the year to them, it is a time of recognition to the town’s patron saint. A few days later, December 11- 13, there are festivities honoring the Virgin Mary in Huasca de Ocampo, with typical carnival rides and stalls.  To close out the calendar, December 31 is when the locals really party! Real del Monte, organizes an enormous fiesta in the main square, with a large celebration of fireworks and traditional dances to ring in the New Year. The party also reigns in their January Fiesta del Dulce (Sweets Festival) which honors el Señor de Zelontla, patron saint to the past miners of Real del Monte. The month long festival includes a parade, religious processions, artists, and other attractions that transform the town into a kaleidoscope of colors and movement. Throughout January, you can also find celebrations in Huasca de Ocampo, including the Three Kings celebrations (3-8) and Feast of San Sebastian (20) commemorated with rodeos, cockfights, and other joyous Mexican traditions and fun.

If you plan on visiting one of these towns during a holiday or festival, be sure to make arrangements for accommodations well ahead of time. For tips on how to find accommodations (as many do not have comprehensive websites), check out  the post “Planning A Trip To Mexico’s Pueblos Mágicos (Magic Towns)”.