Mexico: smoking volcanoes, steaming jungles, endless sandy beaches; teeming cities, dusty villages, majestic ancient temples – all held together by a people of exceptional warmth and hospitality.
Since the Spanish conquest, Merida has been the cultural capital of the entire Yucatan Peninsula and is the largest city. At times provincial, at others “muy cosmopolitano”, it is a town steeped in colonial history, with narrow streets, broad central plazas and the region’s best museums. It’s also a perfect hub city to kick off your adventure into the rest of Yucatan state. There are cheap eats, good hostels and hotels, thriving markets and goings-on just about every night somewhere in the downtown area.
With its sugar-like sands, jade-green water, balmy breezes and glorious sunshine, Tulum is one of the top beaches in Mexico. And where else can you get all that and a dramatically situated Maya ruin? There are also fun cenotes (sinkholes), excellent diving, great snorkelling and a variety of lodgings and restaurants to fit every budget.
3. THE PACIFIC COASTLINE
Running from the desert islands of Baja California to verdant coves backed by lush tropical mountains, and from untrammelled expanses of sand to mangrove-fringed lagoons teeming with birdlife, Mexico’s Pacific coastline is stunning in its natural beauty. Punctuating this primordial grandeur is a series of lively resort towns – Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo, Ixtapa, Zihuatanejo and Acapulco – interspersed with world-class surf spots such as Barra de Nexpa, Boca de Pascuales, Troncones and Puerto Escondido.
4. RELAX ON THE OAXACA COAST
After a few days on this 550km sequence of sandy Pacific beaches, you’ll be so relaxed you may not be able to leave. Head for the surf mecca and fishing port of Puerto Escondido, the low-key resort of Bahias de Huatulco or the ultra-laidback hangouts of Zipolite, San Agustinillo or Mazunte. Soak up the sun, eat good food, imbibe in easygoing beach bars and, when the mood takes you, have a surf or snorkel, or board a boat to sight turtles, dolphins, whales, crocs or birdlife.
5. CHICHEN ITZA
The most famous and best restored of the Yucatan Maya sites, Chichen Itza (Mouth of the Well of the Itzaes), while tremendously overcrowded – every gawker and his or her grandmother is rying to check off the new Seven Wonders of the World – will still impress even the most jaded visitor. Many mysteries of the Maya astronomical calendar are made clear when one understands the design of the “time temples” here.
TOP TIPS FOR YOUR TRIP
– Expect the unfamiliar – in food, language, climate, manners. In case the strangeness of a foreign land starts to get to you, stay somewhere where you feel comfortable and remember that international cuisine is available in almost any town.
– Spend some time getting out of the cities and coastal resorts into the often dramatic countryside and some smaller towns and villages, where you’ll see a side of Mexican life that many tourists miss.
– Mexico’s much-reported drug-gang violence happens mostly in a small number of places, chiefly in the north, and tourists have rarely been victims. The country’s most visited areas, such as the Yucatan Peninsula, have barely been touched by the violence.