While Mexico is a popular country among Australians travelling to Latin America, MD of Contours Travel, Ted Dziadkiewicz, says many travellers tend to stick to the “same old” hot spots.
“There is so much more to Mexico than the usual touristy haunts and beach resorts of Cancun, Los Cabos and Acapulco,” says Ted. “This country is incredibly rich in history, archaeological sites, indigenous cultures, as well as nature and food adventures.
According to Mexico’s Tourism Secretariat (SECTUR), Mexico has 672 archaeological sites, more than 55 thousand historical monuments built between the 15th and 16th centuries and 309 museums across the country.
“To really get to know Mexico, a good start would be to explore the nation’s colonial past,” advises Ted. “Learning about and understanding the country’s ancient traditions from its indigenous cultures that have intertwined with the European lifestyle to give life to a country described by Dali as “more surreal than his paintings” would also be beneficial.
Ted recommends these five cities as a starting point: Mexico City, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Patzcuaro andSan Cristóbal de las Casas.
The capital of Mexico, Mexico City is an urban metropolis that is home to more than 20 million people. Once towns in the 1500’s, today they are neighbourhoods that make up this buzzing city. Markets selling products from fresh fruit to love potions; indigenous dancers performing ‘cleansing’ rituals; and museums filled with world-known artists and designers all add to the diversity of this fascinating capital.
Over the last few years, Mexico City has positioned itself as a world-class destination with much to offer including its botanical gardens, monuments of historical significance and nature parks. One of the biggest highlights, however, is the National Museum of Anthropology located within Chapultepec Park. Occupying about 20 acres, the Museum is one of the most impressive museums in the world.
San Miguel de Allende
About three hours from Mexico City is the town of San Miguel de Allende. This laid back town is part of an initiative led by SECTUR to promote towns that offer visitors “magical” town experiences through beauty, cultural riches and history. A stroll downtown will expose visitors to the town’s baroque and neoclassic architecture. Its gothic cathedral made the town one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites.
West of San Miguel and founded in 1559, Guanajuato is a former silver mining city. Steeped in myths and legends, the historic city centre has a distinct Spanish flavour with hundreds of narrow cobblestone alleys running along the hillsides. Plazas are dotted with cafes, museums, theatres and markets full of character. A major highlight here is the tradition ofcallejonaeda, where local musicians dress in traditional 17th century costumes make their way through the streets serenading the city with popular folk songs and recitals.
Nestled in Michoacan state, houses in Patzcuaro are made of adobe and/or wood and generally have tiled roofs. Patzcuaro and the surrounding lake area are best known for their Cultural Festival of Death and Day of the Dead celebrations. Starting 27 October, people decorate local cemeteries and create flowered arches for the gates of churches. Canoeing competitions are popular as well as poetry recitals, where poems typically portray satires of death and black humour. Festivities continue to midnight on 2 November, when women and children lay offerings of flowers and food in the tombstones of their dead relatives while praying and singing chants.
San Cristóbal de las Casas
Where ancient indigenous traditions harmoniously coexist with modern luxuries and comforts, San Cristóbal de las Casasin the south of Mexico is one of the most well preserved Spanish colonial cities in the country. Home to several indigenous groups descended from the Maya, the charming cobbled streets of the city is filled with a vibrant atmosphere, brightly coloured buildings and markets selling goods and crafts that come from one of the many by traditional neighbourhoods (or barrios) surrounding the city, where each barrio specialises in a particular trade or custom. Surrounded by lush country, residents here enjoy a rather laid back, bohemian lifestyle.
With ten UNESCO World Heritage sites, 83 magical towns and centuries of rich history and culture, Mexico bursts with different experiences and touring opportunities.
For more information on tours and itineraries for Mexico, visit www.contourstravel.com.au.