Take its fascinating history for one. For 2700 years, ancient peoples such as the Olmecs, Aztecs and Mayans ruled the land before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in 1519. Still traces of their civilisations remain, in the form of structures such as the pyramids of Teotihuacan and Chichen Itza, considered one of the new seven wonders of the world. Or nearby Tulum – one of the last cities built and inhabited the Mayans and also the site of the holiday home of infamous Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.
If nature is more up your street, discover beaches along both coastlines that are among the best in the world with soft white powder sand, azure water and spectacular marine life that can be explored by snorkel or by scuba. Or head deep into its volcanic mountain ranges and jungle regions like those found in Chiapas for hiking adventures and the discovery of lost cities such as Palenque.
Energetic work indeed. Replenish those energy stores with a foray into the country’s cuisine – one of the world’s most flavoursome and diverse. This is the birthplace of chocolate after all, and quinoa and a whole host of other dishes that now appear on dining tables the world over.
Still not sated? Then try one of its diverse range of tipples – from the iconic lime-embellished Corona to the tempestuous tequila. Or discover tequila’s lesser known sibling mescal, the fermented agave drink pulque or the country’s maturing wine industry.
Lizard at Tulum
Places to Visit in Mexico
- Mexico City
- Yucatan Peninsula
- Puerto Vallarta
Unique Things to See and Do in Mexico
- Explore its ancient pyramids at Teotihuacan, Chichen Itza and Palenque
- See the stars of the lucha libre clash in the wrestling ring
- Discover its underwater world at Cozumel, part of the world’s second largest coral reef
- Immerse yourself in unique traditions such as Dia de los Muertos and cleansing temazcal
- Trek the nature-rich jungles of Chiapas and Campeche
The first of Mexico’s ancient civilisations, the Olmecs, established themselves in the Veracruz and Tabasco area in around 1000 BC, with their influence going on to be seen in subsequent contenders. These years of Indigenous rule yielded mind-boggling structures such as its pyramids – which fuelled rumours of cities of gold that travelled across the waters and tickled the greed of the Spanish conquistadors. Their arrival in 1519 marked the cruel demise of the rulers of old, but the start of a new civilisation which fused Spanish colonial traditions with the pre-Colombian ways of its Indigenous people. The result? A distinct and vibrant culture that can be seen throughout the country – from its food and art, to its religious festivals.
Other ways to experience its unique culture could be to try the cleansing ritual of Temazcal which takes place in a dark heated room scented with herbs, or to explore its vibrant markets. Or get involved in one of the many festivals, such as Dia de los Muertos.
And then there’s discovery by taste. Mexico’s unique cuisine is also a fusion of influences, often brought to life with the fire of the chili pepper – thought to have been first used in Mexican cooking as long ago as 7000 BC. While tacos and tortillas have by now been embraced by even the most unadventurous, more intrepid palates have plenty to get excited over – from rich moles to deep-fried grasshoppers. A wave of innovative cookery is sweeping the country, breathing new life into traditional dishes.
And it’s not just the cuisine that is evolving. The country’s ancient masterpieces are now joined by the artworks of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and a burgeoning array of contemporary artists. The mariachi bands still deliver tinny trumpet trills but the nightlife is now a buzz of electro beats and rock riffs.
Getting around Mexico
Buses, known as camiones, remain the most popular way of getting around the vast country and are wonderfully affordable if sometimes something of an endurance test. But more and more visitors are renting cars to drive around, with roads in many areas being improved. Low cost carriers too are on the rise, with cheap fares although restricted routes.
Did you know…?
When Hernan Cortes arrived and conquered Mexico in 1521, it was named New Spain – a name it retained until it won independence from Spain in 1821.
Did you ALSO know…?
In Mexico, artists can pay their taxes with artworks.
Frida Kahlo Museum
Best time of year to travel to Mexico
Mexico is a large country, so different parts of the country are best visited at different times of the year.
Northern destinations can get pretty chilly in the winters months of November to January so wrap up warm.
Beach destinations tend to be warm to hot year round although most pleasant with lower humidity between October to May – when you’ll also dodge hurricane season. But this time of year, along with school holidays, tends to see popular holiday spots get crowded and prices rise accordingly.
Ready to plan your visit to Mexico? Check out these popular guides and trips.