If you had several weeks to travel and you just went to Chiapas, you would not be able to see it all, Chiapas is full of interesting and beautiful attractions so don’t worry if you miss some of them. San Cristóbal de las Casas is probably one of the best known spots, full of very friendly idigenous peoples and constant souvenier markets, there is also a very beautiful city centre with some elegant restaraunts and shops lining the streets. Then you have Palenque and other archaelogical sites, once great cities inhabited by the advanced Maya civilization. If none of those interest you, perhaps you would enjoy the natural pleasures of the Canyon of Sumidero, where you follow a river along the bottom of a canyon or the impressive Waterfalls at Agua Azul and Misol Ha, then there’s the fantastic lake complex at Los Lagos de Montebello. You can visit San Juan Chamula, marvel at the almost prehispanic religion that the locals still practice. The list goes on, I hope you can forgive the author if I leave out one or two things, in the interests of space.
The Copper Canyon
Very much the hidden treasure of Mexico, the Copper Canyon is located in the northern Chihuahua state. Rather than one canyon, it is an enormous complex of caves, cliffs and valleys that together are larger than the Grand Canyon in the U.S. In the valleys below, there still live the Tarahumara indigenous peoples who continue to practice their traditional customs. At the top, you can get some absolutely breathtaking views. You can walk along the side enjoying the view, though it stretches very far. In numerous places, there are look out posts, some have glass-bottom bridges so you can see all the way to the bottom, for the really brave. The best place to get a view is El Divisadero, about an hours drive from Creel, which is the biggest town in the area. It’s also possible to take a walk down to the bottom in some areas.
Like Chiapas, one could spend weeks, perhaps months here and not see everything that it has to offer. Natural beauty abounds with a number of cenotes (underground lake or water hole) very close to the capital, Mérida, there is also several national parks, perhaps the most impressive is Celestún, reknowned for it’s abundance of flamingos. Yucatán, being on the Caribbean, has a large supply of hamacs and with all the fantastic beaches, you’d be forgiven for getting one and hanging it up between two trees. Progreso is perhaps the nicest beach and certainly the most accessible from Mérida, just 30 minutes away. Speaking of Mérida, the town itself is a jewel to explore with its beautiful colonial centre, along with the various other colonial towns in the area. Then there’s the ancient Maya ruins, including the modern wonder of the world, Chichén Itzá. This site is known best for it’s enormous pyramid, known as ‘El Castillo’ and the giant ballcourt found just to the left of the entrance. But apart from Chichén, there is also, Uxmal, probably the best-preserved ancient city in the state, Dzibilchaltún, known for it’s ‘doll house’ (no dolls present, sorry) which every equinox, allows the sun to shine through the building, illuminating the central path of the city. Then there’s Mayapan, where the word ‘Maya’ comes from, amongst many other beautiful ruins.
Most people going to Mexico have plans to see Cancún. Cancún is very, very touristy and the area surrounding the beaches is like an area of any US city picked up and moved to the south of Mexico. It is of course beautiful, but if you want a really isolated, beautiful place to go where the beaches are even better than in Cancún, go to Isla Mujeres, just a 30 minute boat ride away. When you get there, you can rent a golf cart and explore the island alone. All over the island are some of the most beautiful, isolated beaches in the Caribbean. There is also a (very) small Mayan ruin and a small zoological garden, amongst other modest attractions.
Oaxaca (pronounced Wahaca), a state bordering Chiapas, like its neighbour, has alot in it for its size. The capital, also named Oaxaca, is a beautiful, colourful colonial city. Merely walking through the streets is a pleasure, marvelling at the buildings and decorations. Apart from that, it is one of the most cultural cities in Mexico with film showings, plays, poetry readings and more on all week. Outside the city, one could take a trip to Tule, wherein resides what is reputedly the widest tree in the world or to Puerto Escondido, the surfer’s paradise. Also in Oaxaca are Monte Albán, Mitla and many more ancient cities belonging to the Zapotec and Mixtec peoples, some of the most advanced in all of Mesoamerica. Like Chiapas, there is also plenty of natural beauty which waterfalls and streams practically anywhere you go.
One of the most impressive ancient ruins in Mexico, this is singled out because it is one of the most intact ancient cities in the country. Located in northern Veracruz state, walking through this site will really give you a sense of what it was like to live there all those years ago. The main market square, the impressive ‘Pyramid of Niches’, the ballcourt, a number of former nobles’ residences are all amazingly intact. One can walk through the streets of the city and admire the buildings, getting a sense of how a local might have lived there some thousand years ago or so.
Beaches of Baja California Sur
Los Cabos is the best known and for good reason, it is a very beautiful spot. When you’re there make sure to take a water taxi out to Los Arcos, where the Sea of Cortes and the Pacific Ocean meet, the guide will explain to you the images that sea-farers have found in the rocks there. Apart from Los Cabos, however, the beach in La Paz and those in the surrounding area are also well worth a look and are often better. In La Paz, the Malecón (board walk) stretches the length of the city centre, letting you see numerous sculptures, wee restaraunts and straw umbrellas by the sea. The Topolote is much more isolated, if that’s what you like, you’re unlikely to have to fight for towel space and it’s another spectacular beach just minutes away from La Paz.
Not the most famous of sites in Mexico, indeed, you may not find this one some guide books, but Tlacotalpan is probably the most beautiful town in Mexico. There is little justice a written description can give, but the houses are a multi-coloued beauty, like from some fantasy novel, most have their own arches in front. At each interval, there is a lovely park or square, re-enforcing the beauty and a number of churches dot the town. Though it probably won’t take more than a day to see, it would be recommended to stay much longer and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and talk to the friendly locals, while enjoying the striking colours, unavailable anywhere else in the country.
Located in the centre north of Mexico, going to Zacatecas is like going back to the 16th Century when the Spanish first built the town (if you ignore all the cars and modern conveniences obviously. The town is very well preserved, retaining its colonial look with narrow streets, small buildings and colourful exteriors. The cathedral alone might be worth the visit, a wonder of mexican baroque, the facade will most likely stop you in your tracks as you pass. But that’s only one of a large number of spectacular buildings located in the centre. Then within and on the outskirts of the centre are a number of parks which you can saunter through or just spend a while relaxing. Once ready to move again, you can climb the hill only to delve into the famous silver mine located there, once the heart of the Zacatecan economy, when you’re finished, you can get the cable car across the city and see the town from above.
No trip to Mexico would be complete without a stop in the capital of the country and one of the largest cities in the world. When you’re there, the most important thing to see will be the Zócalo (main square) where you’ll find the cathedral, the Palacio Nacional (goverment buildings) and the Templo Mayor, the main temple of the Aztec city Tenochtitlán. Once you’ve enjoyed the sites, you can have a wander through the beautiful colonial streets that lie around the area, including churches, former colleges and the first printing press in the Americas. Afterwards you can take a stroll down to the Fine Arts museum and through the Alameda Central, where the Juárez monument is. Also in the city and considered ‘must-sees’ are the Chapultepec Park, which houses the National Museum of Anthropology (which takes a day to see in itself), located at the end of Avenida de la Reforma. There’s also Coyoacán where León Trotsky was murdered, there’s some 5 or so museums dedicated to Diego Rivera or his contemporaries. Soccer fans will want to take a trip to the Estadio Azteca, the third biggest stadium in the world, there’s also Xochimilco, the last remaining canal from the grand city of Tenochtitlán, and that’s just the ‘must-see’! If you have time after that, you should go to Teotihuacán, home of the impressive Sun and Moon Pyramids