Mexico was on my list of countries to visit for so many reasons. I find Mexican cuisine excellent, the Mexican landscapes from Western movies are very impressive to me, I read about the old colonial cities in the heart of Mexico, it all attracted me. Then, the ancient cultures of Mexico, the Aztecs, and the Maya, then the Mexican soap operas that have been so popular for years. I speak Spanish, so I had a great desire to go to Mexico.
And lo and behold, I finally had the opportunity to visit Mexico. When planning my visit to Mexico, I searched the internet for suggestions on what to visit for the first time in Mexico, and thus cover the most important of this country, in case I never return to Mexico. No need to tell you that I want to come back to Mexico!
So for my first visit to Mexico which lasted 10 days, I chose to visit the capital with its surroundings, then the colonial center of the country with the cities of Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende, and the south of the country with Merida and Chichen Itza. This proved to be a great plan. I’ve seen everything and anything, I think I’ve gotten to know Mexico very well, and now I’m calmer if I fail to get back to Mexico again.
I flew Lufthansa via Frankfurt directly to Mexico City. Already after the plane landed and I arrived at the passport control, I felt as if I had come home. Indeed, because of Mexican soap operas, I felt like I simply knew this country. I had a feeling that I knew what their cities, villages, landscapes looked like, how the rich live, and how the poor live.
Passport control went very smoothly, and when I passed that control, in the airport building I ordered a taxi at one of the taxi stands that took me to the very center of Mexico City, to the neighborhood called Roma, to my Geneva hotel. As I arrived late in the evening, I ate something and went to sleep.
I woke up fresh, well-rested, and ready to start visiting this wonderful country. Four things were important for me to visit in Mexico City: the historic city center, the Xochimilco canals, the Teotihuacan pyramids, and the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
I have to admit that I really liked the capital of Mexico, and Mexico City is really worth your visit. For some reason, tourists avoid Mexico City and go straight to their final destinations or to tour the country. Too bad, they miss a lot, there really is a lot to see in this city. After all, the historic center is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, and with good reason. Namely, the city center is teeming with Spanish colonial architecture.
In fact, this architecture from the era of Spanish colonialism will keep delighting me all over Mexico. Such architecture has been lost in Spain, but it is abundant here in Mexico. The center of the capital is full of such architecture, in all possible pastel colors. The historic center of Mexico City is located around the magnificent cathedral.
In addition to Spanish colonial architecture, here in the historic center, you will also see the remains of an Aztec temple. Mexicans are an extremely proud people, Mexican flags hang everywhere, so it is not surprising that on the site of the remains of this large Aztec temple and Aztec city, the Mexicans made it an archeological park, through which you can walk for free.
After all, Mexico was named after the Aztecs. Because while we call this historical people the Aztecs, the Mexicans call them Meshika.
Speaking of names, it is interesting to know that if you tell a Mexican that you are going to Mexico, for example, for him or her it means that you are going to the capital – Mexico City, but not to the country of Mexico! Mexicans call their capital Mexico, and when they talk about the state of Mexico, they say “republic.”
In any case, the center of the capital, Mexico City is full of colonial Spanish architecture and you will really be delighted to walk through the center of the capital, around the cathedral, and this archeological park of the historic city of the Aztecs. All of this is actually a small area, everything is next to each other, and you walk around, no need for a taxi. The cathedral is located on a huge main square which is generally one of the largest main squares in the world.
The historic center of the capital is really beautiful because of its colonial architecture, however all other parts of the capital are uninteresting. Along the main road called Reforma there is more or less everything that is of interest in the capital. And that is Alameda Park, and at the very end of the Reform there is a museum of anthropology and Chapultepec Park.
It is really worth visiting the Museum of Anthropology to see how rich the history of Mexico is with its various peoples. In addition, the Museum of Anthropology is located at the bottom of the capital’s main thoroughfare, the Reforma, and it is here that Mexico City’s largest park begins, a true oasis of greenery, silence and peace in the capital’s chaos.
Chapultepec is a real pleasure to visit, forests, meadows, lakes, streams. Lots of Mexican families come here, especially on weekends, to enjoy nature. You have countless opportunities to refresh yourself, and there are especially a lot of mobile carts that entrepreneurs bring here and sell sweets.
Mexicans love sweets, and you will notice that sweets are sold really everywhere, and children eat sweets in extremely large quantities. That is why Mexicans have major weight problems from an early age, and this is a problem that the Mexican government is slowly starting to address. So far, the government has not particularly interfered in this because the lobby of the candy industry is too strong.
In addition to obesity being a major problem in Mexico, Mexico City has a particularly pronounced pollution problem. The air is very polluted in Mexico City. I had a problem that I only realized on my second day here, and that is that my eyes were itching. Then I read somewhere that many tourists who come to Mexico City have problems with irritated eyes, exactly because of the polluted air.
Mexico City is perhaps the largest city in the world. But no one knows exactly how many inhabitants there are, maybe about twenty million. Due to the constant and intensive migration of the population from the countryside and back, the authorities do not know exactly how many people live in Mexico City. Suffice it to say that the capital’s airport is located in the city itself, because the city has expanded so much, that it has occupied all the area around the airport.
Indeed, it is amazing how long you fly over the city itself to land at all. During this time you have the opportunity to see how big this city really is. And not only that but there are no parks, no green spaces.
Near Mexico City there is a magnificent archeological park – Teotihuacan. This archeological park is on the list of everyone who comes to the capital. It takes over an hour to get to this place, but it is worth every minute of your time and your effort. There are many pyramids here, the largest being the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon.
On the main street of this once very densely populated city, there are many pyramids on both the left and right sides. The main street is called “Avenida de los muertos”, in translation “Avenue of the Dead”. It is a very great experience to climb the pyramids. Unlike Egypt, in Mexico you can climb the pyramids. But the difference between the Egyptian and Mexican pyramids is primarily that the Mexican pyramids are much more “bent”, so it is possible to climb it. In Egypt they are very steep and are built in huge blocks.
The two main pyramids in Teotihuacan are the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon. You can climb both of these pyramids, and it is a very nice experience to watch this great archeological site from the top of the pyramids. There are many unknowns regarding Teotihuacan, so it is not even known who started building it or when. We know, however, that it was built before the new era, and that it was later inhabited by the Aztecs.
This park on the canals is something I especially wanted to visit. It’s a little inconvenient to find your way once you get here and it is also tricky to get here from the capital, but with a little effort and patience you’ll find it. It is a network of canals in the area of Mexico City, and is a favorite picnic spot of many residents of the capital, especially on weekends.
Typical boats take you through the canals. These boats are all in extremely bright colors, and with very interesting names. Other boats pass by and sell you beer and other snacks. There are also big boats because many come to celebrate here for example a birthday. Special attractions are the boats on which the Mariachi are. They entertain us with their Mariachi music. They are dresses naturally in typically Mexican attires.
This is the largest Christian shrine in Latin America, and is actually the largest Christian shrine outside of Europe at all. Our Lady appeared to a young shepherd in the sixteenth century. Our Lady of Guadalupe is most revered in Latin America, and it is Our Lady of Guadalupe to whom people pray, not only Mexicans but the whole of Latin America.
If you are a Christian, and you come to Mexico City, you should definitely come here. If you’re not, there’s no point in coming here because it takes you quite a while, and there’s nothing to see here. Even the church itself is not something impressive.
However, it will be a great experience for Christians to come here, to walk the land where Our Lady appeared, to pray in the church in front of the statue of the Black Madonna. Everything here is for pilgrims, so you have countless restaurants and cafes to refresh yourself. And there are countless souvenir shops, so you will have the opportunity to buy at least one small statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Many who go to Mexico go south, especially to Cancun. No wonder, because here in the south of Mexico everything is too good. The weather is always fantastic, endless beaches on the Caribbean Sea, the service level is high, there are spectacular Mayan archeological sites, beautiful cities with typical Spanish colonial architecture. Everything is great in the south of Mexico.
So many come directly to Cancun, which today is connected to many cities across both of the Americas but also Europe. I personally did not go to Cancun. Instead, I went to Merida. Namely, my goal was not swimming but sightseeing. Merida is a beautiful Mexican city with beautiful architecture, and in the vicinity is probably the best archaeological site in Mexico, Chichen Itza. In addition, in the vicinity of Merida, there is another great site, Uxmal. And on top of all that, there is a lot of so-called “cenotes”, natural pools at the bottom of caves. Exceptional ambiance for an unusual swim.
I came to Merida by direct flight from Mexico City and the flight lasted two hours. After landing at Merida Airport, I took a taxi to my hotel in the heart of Merida, the El Caribe Hotel. The hotel is simply gorgeous. This is actually a convent that has been converted into a hotel. You really feel like in some movie at this hotel. At the top of the hotel, there is a bar, a cafe from which you have a beautiful view of Merida.
Merida is the capital of the state of Yucatan, and tourists, especially Americans, have long since discovered this beautiful city. The city has almost a million inhabitants, but when you are in the center it looks really small. The main square, Plaza Mayor or Zocalo is, as everywhere in Mexico, the focal point of the city, and is always crowded with people. Of course, this is where the cathedral is. Cathedrals, more or less all of them in Mexico exude some incredible splendor. Since the cathedral is always the main church in every city, they tried to build the most magnificent and luxurious cathedrals.
In Merida, all the streets are made to intersect at right angles, so it looks like the whole city is one big square net. You always enter the house directly from the street, ie the yard of the house. It looks like there is very little greenery and no oasis of peace in Merida. But as soon as you enter the yards of those houses from the street, you are already like in a small oasis.
Merida does not have some concrete monuments, but the whole city is like one big museum. This colonial architecture in all possible pastel colors is so well preserved, that just walking through Merida is already an experience in itself. Not to mention that you can totally feel the breath of the Caribbean. Regardless that the city of Merida is not at sea. But it is not far from the Caribbean Sea either. In less than half an hour’s drive you are already on the shores, in the town of Progreso. The whole of Merida comes to swim in Progreso.
If there is only one archeological site in Mexico that you should visit, it should be Chichen Itza. It would seem as if this is some lost city in the rainforest, although there is no rainforest here. Everything is overgrown with forests on the Yucatan Peninsula. In addition, the Yucatan is a very flat region. I came to Chichen Itza by bus from Merida. Buses go non-stop and it takes about an hour and a half to get here.
It is truly an amazing feeling to come to Chichen Itza, once a lost city. Located in this dense vegetation, the buildings are extremely well preserved, one cannot help but feel like some kind of modern Indiana Jones or Lara Croft. It is not known when the city was founded or who founded it, only from the eleventh century AD there is information about Chichen Itza.
Chichen Itza had about 35,000 inhabitants, and many buildings are in very good shape. For example, I was particularly impressed by the sports field with large stone circles placed very high on the building, and through that circle the player had to kick the ball. The most impressive building is of course the most famous pyramid in Chichen Itza called El Castillo (castle). In addition, deep in the forest, there is a “sacred cenote”, an underground pool, but you can’t swim here.
Then, it’s interesting when deep in the woods you come across the so-called “nunnery”. Called that because the cramped rooms inside are reminiscent of the modest monastic cells of Spanish nuns. Then in Chichen Itza, there is an impressive temple of warriors, then an observatory of stars, and everything else. This site also impresses with the amount and richness of decorations and details.
Indeed, a visit to Chichen Itza leaves you breathless, and will be one of the strongest experiences of your travels, in general.
COLONIAL HEARTLAND OF MEXICO – BAJIO
This is the name given to the part of Mexico north of Mexico City and includes some of the most beautiful cities in Mexico in general. There is so much colonial Spanish architecture in these cities, that after staying here for a while, you don’t even notice this richness anymore. There were rich deposits of silver here, and many Spanish colonialists became very rich exploiting them. Then they would build themselves impressive haciendas, entire estates, very richly decorated palaces.
So today’s city centers of, for example Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, Zacatecas, Queretaro, Leon and so on, are teeming with that impressive Spanish architecture that no longer exists even in Spain itself.
To get here I flew from Merida to Leon, with a change in Mexico City. You need to order a shuttle at the Leon airport to take you to San Miguel de Allende. That’s where my hotel for the next three days was. I stayed at the phenomenal hotel “El Rancho Atascadero”, a former hacienda converted into a hotel. Everything around this hotel/ranch is spectacular, everything is somehow original, authentic. It took me back exactly to the time of five hundred years ago.
SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE
This city became a real American colony. Masses of Americans come to live in San Miguel de Allende and buy real estate here. Why wouldn’t they, the city is quite simply beautiful. One hundred percent typical Spanish colonial architecture in all possible colors, a multitude of beautiful rich historic buildings and palaces. It could be accurately said that this city is Mexico we dream of.
I walked endlessly through the streets of this city. I spent a lot of time at the local Starbucks, which is so much more than just a coffee shop. This Starbucks in the main square of San Miguel de Allende is a real haven for Americans. The ambiance is too good, the building itself was the palace of a rich merchant, so it has an inner courtyard which is a real little oasis. And in that inner courtyard is the Starbucks terrace. I used to spend hours and hours here!
I intended to stay four days in San Miguel de Allende and go to a different city every day. That didn’t happen, I went only to Guanajuato. Namely, the city of San Miguel de Allende enchanted me on the one hand and I just wanted to be here as much as possible. But on the other hand, it is so poorly connected with all other cities, that it is a real effort to go anywhere.
Just going to Guanajuato for one day was an adventure in itself. Firstly, the bus station is really out of hand, and secondly, the ride takes a very long time. The same goes for the return. Namely, the city of San Miguel de Allende is really magical, but it is really in the middle of nowhere, and it is very poorly connected to everything else.
But I went to Guanajuato, and it was the right thing to do! There are only buses in Mexico, no trains. It’s really an effort to get to the bus station in San Miguel, and the ride takes a long time, but at least it’s a consolation to you that as you look at the landscapes you pass through, you know you’re looking at Mexico.
Guanajuato is a story unto itself, and I advise you that if you have only one city to visit in the colonial heartland of Mexico, let it be Guanajuato! All the cities in Mexico are truly colorful, Mexicans love to paint their houses in a variety of colors. But for example, while San Miguel de Allende is all somehow in pastel colors of red, yellow, brown, Guanajuato is simply bursting with all possible colors.
In addition, Guanajuato was in the past perhaps the richest city in Mexico because of the silver mines located in the area. So the Spanish colonialists who exploited these resources of Mexico built themselves truly magnificent palaces. That is why the center of Guanajuato is just full of these extremely rich and luxurious palaces.
And the geography of this city is interesting, it’s all on the hills somehow. That’s why the city has what I haven’t seen anywhere so far: a whole network of roads, tunnels under the city. Very interesting!
Everyone loves Mexican food very much, and in a way Mexican cuisine is probably the most popular alongside Chinese. Who hasn’t heard of tacos, burritos, quesadilla, nachos or enchiladas. These are just some of the most recognizable names, but there are many other dishes as well. It always comes with chili and very spicy. Sure, you can order without it, but Mexicans really like it spicy.
I have to admit that I was somehow disappointed as far as food is concerned because after a few days I realized that it was all actually dry food, in terms of sandwiches, fast food. There are no specific dishes. For example, “torta” is widespread everywhere in Mexico and one would think it was a cake, or something sweet. It’s actually the most common sandwich. Between two slices of plain white bread they put what you want in it, and that’s it.
No, by no means can I say that I was delighted with Mexican food in Mexico, but that’s because I had extremely high expectations of this very famous world cuisine. In the end, it was just OK, and above all, it was practical: it satiates you when you’re hungry.
I was about eleven days in Mexico and the country absolutely impressed me! I realized that it is so rich in monuments, nature, cities, that I just need to go back. I realized that I will have to come back to Mexico when I realized that of so many archeological sites I had seen only two and that I had not seen for example Palenque. Or when I was in the north, I didn’t see Leon, Queretaro, Zacatecas, Guadalajara. Or that I haven’t been to famous seaside towns like Acapulco or Veracruz for example. Also, I did not visit the two most attractive federal states in Mexico located in the south, Oaxaca and Chiapas.
In the north, I haven’t seen the spectacular Canon del Cobre, the Cobra Canyon, or the typical images of Mexico from American Western movies with its cacti and desert landscapes such as Durango, Hidalgo, Chichuhaua. Or in the south I was not in the beautiful colonial city of Campeche. I really would have to go back to Mexico again.
Hasta la vista, Mexico!