Our favourite destinations… in Mexico
Have you ever wanted to get an inside look at your tour operator’s favourite destinations? Below, we speak to Cox & Kings’ Ariane Mick de Vizcaino to find out about her must-visit places in Mexico.
The Mayan ruins of Uxmal
The word ‘Mexico’ conjures up different images for different people. Some minds may instantly spring to dramatic ancient ruins on the edge of thick jungles, while others might leap to white sand beaches and turquoise waters instead. Part of the beauty of Mexico is the variety it holds, but of course, for travellers this poses a difficult question – where should I go?
Cox & Kings’ Ariane Mick de Vizcaino has travelled Mexico extensively, and she has shared with us her personal favourite destinations in the country – places we believe will provide you with plenty of inspiration for when it comes to selecting your itinerary or creating your own.
The capital of the country, Mexico City is a vast metropolis that Ariane described as a “must-see”. Noting that some people may have reservations about Mexico City, she explained that nowadays it is an incredibly vibrant place, and one that possesses a fantastic mix of modern and beautiful colonial architecture. Add to that its fabulous restaurants, excellent selection of museums and the spectacular Teotihuacan pyramids just to the north of the city, and it is not hard to understand her enthusiasm for the place.
In a city of such size and variety, it is little surprise that Ariane listed numerous attractions as being among her favourites. The Zocalo, the city’s impressive grand square, topped her list – and is a natural starting point for explorations of Mexico City.
What’s particularly captivating about the Zocalo is that it is surrounded by so many wonderful buildings, including the cathedral and the presidential palace (also known as the National Palace), with the old excavated Aztec Templo Mayor on a side street nearby. Take the time to discover what these have to offer in more detail; the National Palace, for example, is home to stunning murals crafted by famous muralists such as Diego Rivera.
More murals can be seen at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, which also boasts a stained glass ceiling and spectacular Tiffany glass stage curtain in its concert hall. In addition to seeing these more famous attractions, it is worth visiting somewhat lesser-known areas such as Coyoacan – an atmospheric old town that has been absorbed into the metropolis, and where you can see the former home of artists such as Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.
Also fabulous is the food. Possessing some truly excellent fine dining restaurants, the city is a veritable heaven for gastronomes. Visit the upmarket area of Polanco to discover the best; the latest offerings in Mexico fusion are always particularly exciting.
Palacio de Belles Artes, Mexico City
Located to the south-east of Mexico City, Oaxaca is a beautiful colonial city – and the second of Ariane’s three favourite Mexican destinations. Full of charming cobblestone streets and glorious old architecture, this city is wonderfully atmospheric, has an enviable reputation for the calibre of its cuisine and pre-Columbian ruins perched just outside it.
Among Ariane’s favourite experiences in Oaxaca was simply taking a walking tour of the city, strolling around its beautiful architecture and convents, which often house fantastic little museums. It’s well-suited to walking, and exploring on two feet can lead you to another of its finest attractions – its central market.
The streets of Oaxaca
What makes this market stand out is that it’s not simply a tourist attraction where you can view handicrafts – though they do have a fantastic selection of these as well – but a real, thriving local market that sells an array of fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, cheeses and much more.
This brings us to another of Oaxaca’s top attractions – its gastronomy. Enjoying a particularly prestigious reputation within Mexico, the cuisine here includes a selection of special local dishes, such as meats prepared with delicious sauces, and a wide variety of cheeses. It’s also somewhere that you can try more unusual snacks – such as fried grasshoppers, which are known locally as chapulines. Ariane noted that, if you can overcome your squeamishness, these make a great bar snack. “They are a very crunchy, savoury dish, and one I can recommend,” she commented.
There is an array of additional attractions to be discovered just outside the city, including the pre-Columbian ruins of Monte Alban, which was once capital of the Zapotec civilisation, and the little local villages that dot the surrounding countryside. These are great places to visit to see local handicrafts being produced.
Ariane’s final favourite destination is the Yucatan Peninsula – a large part of Mexico that is famous for its glittering Caribbean coast and ancient Mayan ruins, such as the Unesco World Heritage-listed Chichen Itza.
It is also home to charming cities, such as Merida, as well as a beautiful countryside that’s sprinkled with old, restored haciendas that make for lovely places to stay away from the hubbub. Indeed, the Yucatan Peninsula has an impressive variety of accommodation and, consequently, types of holiday. As well as the possibility of quiet stays in haciendas, you can enjoy large-scale resorts on the coast, or smaller, more intimate hotels on the seaside.
Praising Merida for its relaxed atmosphere, Ariane named this as one of her favourite places in the Yucatan Peninsula. She noted that it’s a particularly nice place to spend an evening, thanks to its excellent food and the street musicians that often play at this time of day.
She also enthused about staying in one of the peninsula’s restored haciendas. Giving Hacienda Temozon as an example, she explained that it’s in an amazing rural setting, has beautiful grounds, a verandah and a swimming pool, all of which make it a wonderful place to slow down the pace for a few days in between sightseeing at Mayan ruins.
And of course, the Mayan ruins themselves are also firm favourites. Ariane’s personal favourite of these is Uxmal, which she explained are quieter and less visited than the famous Chichen Itza, and also have a magical jungle setting.
For a completely different experience, swimming or snorkelling in a underground cenote is particularly memorable. These freshwater sinkholes can be found all over the peninsula, and it’s simple to arrange an excursion to one from Merida or the coast.
Making the most of your holiday to Mexico
Ariane also had a few useful tips to help travellers make the most of their Mexican adventure. Firstly, she advised holidaymakers staying in the Yucatan Peninsula during peak season to start their day as early as possible. This way, you can avoid being out at Mayan sites during the peak of the heat, when sightseeing can often become uncomfortable. “Then you’ll have the hottest part of the day to just relax – have a siesta, go the beach later on, and enjoy amazing cuisine,” she added.
Similarly, she suggested that it’s worth taking stock of your itinerary before travelling and either accepting that you will be quite busy (as there is so much to see) or, if you are creating your own itinerary, considering factoring in a few rest days.
Her parting tip was specifically for those visiting Mexico City. It is best to give some thought to where you would like to eat in advance – not because good restaurants are hard to find, but because there are so many to choose from. This way, you can make sure you visit those that tempt you the most.
Cox & Kings offers a range of holidays to Mexico >
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