The Mayans were one of the greatest civilizations of pre-Columbian South America and the only one to leave remnants of a written language. Chichen Itza, located in the state of Yucatán in south eastern Mexico, is one of the most spectacular Mayan ruins and has recently been declared one of the seven new wonders of the world. It’s easy to see why – Chichen Itza is practically a whole city, with temples, courts, baths and markets to explore.
The centre piece is the Kukulkan Pyramid, which is a monument to astronomy, its seven triangular windows pouring light in the shape of a serpent down the main stairway at 3pm on the vernal equinox (20th March). The site can be visited in a day from Cancun by bus, but it gets extremely busy, so it’s wise to arrive early in the morning to avoid the crowds. If you can, stay until the evening, when there is sound and light show. Entry is around $10 with $4 for the light show.
Mexico City is the third largest city in the world by population and, despite its reputation for both crime and pollution, is gradually undergoing a cultural renaissance. The city is huge, and can be something of a concrete jungle, but it also has stately buildings, large green areas and a year-round spring-like climate.
Maybe start at the Zócalo, which is Mexico City’s grand, historic and political centre, whose central square is often filled with feathered Aztec dancers, then progress to Chapultepec Park, which is the largest city-based park in the world. Unlike other green urban spaces, Chapultepec is packed full of history, including a Toltec alter on the top of Chapultepec Hill, the site of the Baths of Moctezuma and tombs associated with the ancient city of Teotihuacan.
In the evening, you have a choice of thousands of eateries, from street-food stands and cantinas to fine-dining, as well as music venues and steamy salsa clubs.
Located on the southern fringe of Mexico City, and well served by the local metro, the floating gardens of Xochimilco were created by the Aztecs 700 years ago and still operate pretty much as they used to. The network of canals is navigated via brightly painted boats called trajineras, which often also carry mariarchi bands and snacks and drink for sale. You can either hire a boat all to yourself for around $30 – $100 or travel in a group on a passenger boat.
Xochimilco is also home to a fortified monastery and the Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño which features a collection of noted Mexican painter Diego Rivera’s work.
The Tequila Express
The Tequila Express travels every Saturday and Sunday from Guadalajara to Amatitan, a journey that takes around one hour 40 minutes. While being serenaded by a mariachi band, you’ll hear all about the history of tequila as well as being offered drinks such as margaritas, sangrita and beer. In Amatitan, visitors are taken on a tour of the Hacienda San José del Refugio, where tequila is manufactured, and offered an evening meal with drinks, music and dancing. The day-long excursion costs $1,200.
If you’re looking for sun, sand, scenery and relaxation, then Cancun is the place in Mexico to find it. Many tourists come to Cancun just for a beach holiday and choose the all-inclusive resort option, but Cancun is also an interesting town in its own right with plenty of cultural activities on offer such as art and ballet, not to mention more traditional vacation pastimes such as golfing and diving.
Because of its status as a popular resort, Cancun is easily accessible by air or by public transport such as train and bus from all over the country. It also has frequent links to popular tourist destinations such as Chichen Itza and the Tulum ruins.