A world of it’s own.
Writing this blog with a prayer of thanks to the Universe for giving us such a wonderful world, and to the Almighty for giving me the means and opportunity to explore and experience a small part of it. On a somber note please do your bit for sustainable tourism, don't waste food and resources, try to use public transport, carry your own bags and water bottles. If the recent pandemic has not opened our eyes to the threat the world is facing then what will ? This is the first country I got to add after 3 years to my list of countries visited, surely sobered me down I am so overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of Mexico, history, beaches, culture, shopping, museums, pubs, restaurants it's all whatever anyone would want X 100. This blog is scratching the surface of what Mexico has on offer. A few tips are what I had researched and did not have the time to experience myself, hope it's useful and relevant.
Most tourists head to the Mexican part of the Yucatan peninsula. Yucatan, Quintana Roo and Campeche. The high end all inclusive resorts are mostly found in Cancun, Tulum and Playa del Carmen. ( Quintana Roo ) They are all good, brochure perfect with infinity pools. Ensure to take one that has its own beach, most of them do. I stayed at The fives hotels & residences which offers an all inclusive plan. Taking an all inclusive comes with pros and cons….Pros : its non stop party, indulge 24 hours of the day with food, entertainment, drinks. Cons: control is difficult and a few stones get added to the weight for sure.
Merida the capital of Yucatán state is my favorite place to go in Mexico. It’s way bigger than I thought, which was initially disappointing as was looking forward to a quaint town which was actually a city. Fortunately it had all the vibes of a town rather than a city. Campeche has the magnificent Mayan ruins. If one is short of time just visiting this peninsula could be an appetizer till one could come back for more. Ubers are available in most places.
Cancun, Tulum, Playa del Carmen : Known for its luxury resorts, many just come here for their dose of Vitamin Sea and not step out at all. Which is a pity as there is much to do around. Chichen Itza, Cenotes, Tulum to name a few.
Tulum : An hour and 15 minutes away from Playa Del Carmen located on the coastline is Tulum archeological site. The only ancient city overlooking the Caribbean sea and on the top of a hill. The walk to the site as well as when looking around is in full sun with very little shade. Carry water, hats and shades. Built in the 13h-century, one of the last cities built and inhabited by the Maya. Because of its proximity to the sea a lot of trade happened here. It flourished between the 13th and 15th centuries. By the 16th century it was abandoned. The beauty of this coastal city can be well imagined, it’s lush with greenery and a short walk up the cliff to see the coast is highly recommended. Iguanas can be seen in abundance, big lizards which look cute and harmless, absolutely fascinating.
After being in the sun so long most tours in the Yucatan region end with a dip in a cenote, (a natural pit, or sinkhole resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes cool water) I visited the gran cenote after Tulum, it was good, turquoise crystal clear water, small fish, caves with bats, decent toilets and a cute open air shower, the entry price includes life jackets. I feel there would be better ones around. It’s mandatory to take a shower before entering any cenote in order to preserve its ecosystem. Carry a swim suit, quick dry towel and swim shoes, go pro and snorkels would be a value add. At the gran cenote they don’t have much food to sell but if carrying food they have gardens where it would be fun to picnic. Want to make it a little more fun ? Visit an adventure park they feature cenotes, ziplines, lagoons, snorkeling, canoes, cliff jumps and more. Lunch break options from Tulum : La Coqueta (7kms) El Milagrito (7kms) Posada Margarita (6kms)
From Quintana Roo ( Cancun, Tulum or Playa del Carmen ) to Chichen Itza it approx 2 and half hours, instead to going back it’s better to go ahead to Merida, approx 5 hours by road, start early maximize the day by visiting some places along the way. Quintana Roo to Valladoid (2hrs) Chichen Itza (45 minutes) Merida (2 hrs) The ambitious can fit in a cenote as well.
Valladolid : A small town untouched by tourism. Explore San Servacio Church, walk on Calzada de los, the most instagrammable street, take a picture with the Valladolid sign. Have lunch at Conato Cultural 1910, incredible presentation, ambience & flavors. Gelato at Wabi , swim in nearby cenotes Suytun (for pictures, not necessarily to swim) Zaci (in the middle of town) San Lorenzo Oxman (has a rope swing) Saamal (artificial waterfall and lunch buffet)
Chichen Itza : One of the new wonders of the world, the main 3 buildings are Pyramid of Kukulkan, Temple of Warriors, Great Ball Court. Said to be named after a cenote nearby. Those days fresh water was scarce and the cenote is said to have played a major part in prominence of this place, where hundreds of Mayans are said to come every day for work and trade. It’s said this city also had suburbs, built around 400-600 AD it met its end around 12th -15th century. A collection of events may have caused that, draughts, arrival of Spanish, weather conditions. Was eventually discovered in 1841.
Interesting facts : The main pyramid nest smaller pyramids inside similar to Russian dolls. It acts as a calendar, 365 steps, 91 on each side and 1 on top. Each side representing a season. Monuments were astronomically aligned, the round-shaped observatory, El Caracol, which was used to gauge the positions of planets and the sun.
The pyramid was designed in a way that the sun forms a shadow of a serpent twice a year. 21st of March and 21st of September. Head of the serpent is sculpted at the base of the pyramid and on those days when the sun goes down for a few minutes it looks as if the serpent is descending. Gives goose bumps to think how the people would have felt thinking their God is descending. Even now on these dates people flock to see the phenomenon. A couple of days earlier and later also this can be seen with lesser crowds.
Great ball court, the largest ball court in America where the difficult but seemingly harmless game of Pok Ta Pok was played. Teams of 2 or 4 had to keep a ball weighing up to 4 kgs off the ground and pass it through a vertical hoop in the center of the court. They could use only 1 side of their body, hips, knees, elbows and heads. That side was protected by shields. At the end of the game 1 person would be sacrificed. Logic would say from the losing team, but it’s said it would be from the winning team as a sacrifice has to be of the best person. I would just play badly to stay alive but it’s said from birth it’s ingrained that it’s an honor to be sacrificed and all would play to win.
Merida : Known to be one of the safest cities in America including USA, this says a lot as Mexico is in(famous) for crime. Stay at Montejo street or Plaza Grande and within a radius of 5 kms all that a tourist will want would be covered. Anyone who likes walking will not have to Uber at all.
Plaza Grande : Walking tour Monday to Saturday from Palacio Municipal in Plaza Grande around 9:15 AM, it’s free, tips are expected. San Ildefonso Cathedral one of the oldest in America. A picture with the Merida sign and the U & I chairs, these funny looking chairs are supposed to have been created by a protective father, so that his daughter and her suitor don’t sit next to each other. Shop at Centro for dream catchers if they fascinate you, best ones are found in Merida, or anything hand crafted that catch fancy, just buy, most of the times they are prettier than what Mexico city has to offer.
Every evening at the Plaza there are some events happening which are free. Recreation of the game Pok Ta pok happens every Saturday at 8PM.
Stroll at Paseo de Montejo street, starts from a park called El Remate and ends at Monumento a la Patria. A 3.2 kms long street, trees lining all the way, free wifi on the road. Plenty of places to stop on the way for a drink, the prettiest Starbucks I have seen.
Monumento a la Patria is magnificent during the day and even more at night when it’s lit up. It has over 300 hand carved figures. Brunch at Rosas & Xocolate Boutique Hotel. Saturday evenings and Sunday morning this street turns into a cycling zone. Cycles can be rented for as low as Rs 200, a huge variety of them, tandem, with a child seat, with baskets, could spot a dozen variations. Don’t want to cycle ? Take a fun carriage ride.
Southern end of Paseo Montejo to Calle 47 (47th Street) is the Restaurant Row.
Other things to do : Photograph the Hotel Casa Azul, you would spot in while walking down the restaurant street. It’s blue and striking. Munch on nuts and sweets sold by roadside vendors. Take a Photo on the Big Chairs in Parque Santa Lucia, it’s got lively music in the evenings and restaurants. Dinner & Live Music at Mercado 60. Both theses are almost next to each other. Dine at Casa Maya, Centro it has fun ambience with swings and local vibes. Other good dining options, Catrin, Oliva Enoteca, Amado by the beer box. Want to make it an outing for lunch ? Drive down to Hacienda Teya around 10 kms from Merida.
Uxmal : An hour away from Merida, I found these ruins or archeological site more fascinating than Chichen Itza, it was more organized from a tourist’s perspective. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site. I could imagine people living in harmony and there were such peaceful vibes. Dating to 700 AD it’s said to have 25000 inhabitants. It maybe lost it’s importance around 1200, no new buildings could be seen made after that.
Main Pyramid at the entry is Pyramid of the Soothsayer. Huge with lots of motifs and sculptures depicting Chaac, the God of rain.
A short climb up is the Governor’s house, calm peaceful and from here the view of the site is incredible.
The name Uxmal comes from the word Oxmal, which means built 3 times. Suggesting that there has been many alterations before it got its appearance as we see today. Unlike Chichen Itza, Uxmal had people living there. Natural water storage can been seen still. Sculptures of serpents seem to dominate both the sites.
Hacienda Mucuyche : Hacienda means a large estate with a house. After every sightseeing in this region it makes total sense to end it with a cenote. After the heat a refreshing swim in cool clean natural pools would definitely be a unique experience doable only in Yucatan. For that reason and some more after Uxmal unquestionably go to Hacienda Mucuyche which is around 45 minutes from Uxmal . Prior reservation is mandatory, make sure to book an English tour as they have Spanish ones as well. A 3 PM one is recommended giving enough time to enjoy lunch and a tour of the estate before plunging into the cool waters. Here approximate time given to enjoy the cenote is an hour, it’s a guided swim with someone explaining the phenomenon and being around all the time. As earlier carry swim suit, quick dry towels, and swim shoes. Go Pro and snorkels if possible. This was a far better one than the Gran cenote, proper steps leading to the waters, there were 2 cenotes named Carlota and Mayan Blue.
Discovered just 10 years back when the latest owner sent some scuba divers to explore a well on the estate. Open to public merely 3 years back it already has a lot of tourists visiting it. Life jackets are provided and is mandatory to wear. The cenote is absolutely stunning and deep. It’s like being surrounded by crystals. Sparkling stalactites and stalagmites all around, Lights are put strategically to make it seem ethereal. There is a swimming pool at the estate to chill at after or before the cenote. A restaurant which serves local food and drinks.
Mexico City : All the stories about it being unsafe were luckily only stories for me. I found it safe and as vibrant as New York. Personally even better than New York. Only downside could be traffic, takes ages to travel even 1 km. Most big cities I advocate taking a hop on bus, it’s fun and covers all tourist points at one’s own pace. Travelling with kids ? Check out Bosque de Chapultepec, it’s a 1,600 acre park, the green lung of a buzzling city.
Coyoacan : A a great area for local shopping, must visit Parroquia San Juan Bautista a gorgeous church there. Google for the closest artisian market here or anywhere else in the city for bright colorful Mexican souvenirs.
Lucha Libre : Another name for freestyle wrestling where the contestants wear masks, the loser is supposed to lose his mask permanently. Though it’s know to be staged it’s still good fun, originating from Mexico this sport can now been seen in other parts of USA as well. Would recommend VIP seats with food included, the food is nothing to write home about but the experience is great. Happens every Tuesday, Friday & Saturday. Tickets can be bought online, mostly available on site as well.
Top bars : The cocktails had here would be the best I’ve had in any city, got introduced to Mezcal and now hunt for it in Mumbai as well. Cocktails curated in Mexico city I found were low on sugar and high on flavors, and very easy on the pocket. Licoreria Liantour (recommended drink, Mango Pina) La Calandestina (my personal favorite place for the best artisanal Mezcals & salsa) Tiecan Mezcalaria (good vibes & bar nibbles) La Zaranda (cute curbside place with good cocktails) Handshake (did not get space as did not have reservation, it’s a hidden bar with no visible signage) Xaman, Ling Ling (located on the 56th floor, it has the best views Mexico has to offer)
Would highly advocate Roma Norte as the area to stay in, would feel so peaceful to head back and to chill in one of the many amazing cafes or restaurants surrounding it. Centro Historico is the central place to stay in if one wants to be in the center of all sightseeing.
Xochimilco : The best day of my entire holiday, went in the morning and wanted to go again at sunset for the evening vibes some day but could not 😦
Around 45 minutes from city center this is the Venice of Mexico, but OMG so much more fun. The colorful trajineras, must hire your own with table and chairs, it’s not expensive, a typical ride is for an hour. People selling Margarita, corn, other food from floating trajineras. floating, live musicians who will jump into your boat to serenade you. It’s perfectly fine to carry your own alcohol, snacks and music, or can be bought from some shops just before the entry as well.
Teotihuacan Pyramids : An hour away from Mexico city and a world heritage site. Early morning hot air ballooning can be done here as well. It’s 3 main monuments are Temple of Quetzalcoatl and the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon. Teotihuacan was home to several civilizations, including the Toltecs, Totonacs, Mayans, and Zapotecs. The people who inhabited Teotihuacan had a written language, but researchers have yet to decode it. If any of the sculptures sold by the roadside vendors catch your fancy just buy it, I thought would get better ones in the city but seems they make it in this region and the best ones are found here. They are pretty pricy, some bargaining can be done.
Best time to go is in the morning and end it with lunch at the cave restaurant La Gruta, it seemingly gets its aesthetics naturally, sun comes in through the upper reaches of the cave, rest of the cave is lit up by real candles not fake electric ones. End of the meal the waiter comes with a candle, explains the story behind the cave and invites the guest to light the candle and place it.
Would love to discover more of Mexico, the possibility of that is not high though, it’s around 24 hours away from India even by shortest flying route. Had a few people remark that it’s a long way to travel for a holiday. I feel it’s worth all the flying hours, will remember & savor all the beautiful moments spent.
Make beautiful memories for yourself, whose ownership lies with you and no one can neither take it away or mar it in any way…. Sapna Rateria