From margaritas to sombreros, mariachi bands and tequilas, Mexico is a land of plenty. It’s also an adventure land of thick jungle, snowcapped volcanoes, cactus-dotted deserts and sandy beaches. Adding to it are ancient archeological Mayan sites, colonial-era cities and the bustling metropolis of Mexico City, packing together thousands of years of history.
Mexico’s colonial cities are ideal for walk- ing – they’re compact, yet architecturally rich and accentuated with blasts of colour. Bustling markets, Baroque cathedrals and architectural museums add to the towns’ historic centres, many of which are UNESCO sites.
Established in 1532, the city of Puebla is nestled among volcanoes along a route that connected port cities like Veracruz. Decorated in bright cobalt blues and yellows, the city’s famous Talavera tiles adorn almost the entire city, capturing aspects of Islamic, Aztec and Art Nouveau design.
The historic downtown of Querétaro is a World Heritage site, with quiet walkways that link colonial-era parks and plazas. Baroque and Moorish elements fuse dramatically in this city, evident in the city’s spectacular cathedral – the Templo de Santa Rosa de Viterbos, which has elements of Mudejar details and a Baroque
interior. For an interesting excursion, the ‘Leyendas’ tour has guides dressed as historical characters.
Located in a high valley (1,950m), Morelia is an elegant town with broad boulevards, genial plazas and expansive views of the countryside. Unlike many other colonial towns, Morelia has 2 main plazas and the city centre is a World Heritage site. Stately 16th- and 17th-century stone buildings with Baroque facades and archways line the narrow streets, home to attractions, cafes, chocolaterías and taquerías.
From its chintzy Baroque churches with multi-tiered chandeliers to the richly-up- holstered Teatro Juárez, Guanajuato is like a decadent Cubist landscape of narrow cobblestoned alleyways, or callejones. Once a silver mining town, the city is built on hilly ground, meaning the city is almost entirely on a slope. This World Heritage site is unique, thanks to its network of underground tunnels that serve as roads, and the fact that its official pet is a frog.
Home to many different cultures through the centuries, Mexico has over 180 Mayan and Aztec archeological ruins.
The Aztec Empire flourished in the 13th century in central Mexico. Today, most of the Aztec sites are located in and around the Valley of Mexico near Mexico City. In fact, the enormous ruins of Tenochtitlan is buried right under the city itself – archeologists uncovered the ruins of the great pyramid (Templo Mayor) under Zocalo Square. Once the capital of the Aztec Empire, Tenochtitlan stood on an island in the middle of Lake Texcoco until the ancient lakebed dried up.
Teotihuacan, in the highlands northeast of Mexico City, is often touted as one of Mexico’s most important archeological sites. Discovered (and inhabited) by the Aztecs in the 13th century, visitors today can find sacred sites like the Pyramid of the Sun, the Pyramid of the Moon, and the Avenue of the Dead.
Calixtlahuaca is located along the slopes of the Toluca Valley, and is notable for its well-preserved residential areas which are located next to ancient temples and pyramids. In Morelos, the small pyramid of El Tepozteco, built on top of a remote mountain centuries ago, is dedicated to the Aztec god Tepoztecatl, patron of the alcoholic beverage called pulque.
The Mayan civilisation flourished from around 250AD to 900AD, and made a number of notable achievements in astronomy, commemorating them in magnificent works of architecture. Some of the most important Mayan ruins are located in the Yucatan Peninsula.
The most important Mayan ruin is Chi- chén Itzá, the civilisation’s focal point. The site includes traditional Mayan temples, ball courts and an observatory. You can climb up the steep staircases of Kukulkan Pyramid for an impressive view of the site. Uxmal seems to emerge out of the jungle, and is home to some of Maya’s most unique structures, including the massive Magician’s Pyramid, and the complex system of manmade wells which still mystify scientists today. By far the most impressive of Mexico’s ruins, Palenque (a UNESCO site) is located in the savanna of Chiapas, spectacularly surrounded by dense jungle in a mountain setting. Another breath- taking site is Tulum, located on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea, which flourished from 1,200AD until the arrival of the Spanish. Its Temple of Frescoes was once used by the Mayans as an observatory of the sun. Then there’s the ruins of Coba, much of which remains to be excavated. It’s known for its intricate system of ceremonial roads, as well as multiple pyramids (including the tallest in the Yucatan).