Mexico

Quick facts

  • Capital: Mexico City

  • Population: approx. 106 million
  • Language: Spanish
  • Area: 1,972,550 sq km (approx. three times the size of Texas)
  • Currency: Mexican Peso (approx. exchange rate: 10 MXN = 1 USD)

Travel budget / daily costs: Alright. One night in a hostel will cost you about
70 Pesos on average. With a daily budget of 30 USD careful travellers should be
able to get by. Because Mexico is such a big country, transportation becomes quite
pricey if you move around a lot.

When to go: October – May. If you’re able to travel outside of the rainy season (which is in the months May through October) this is probably best. Nevertheless, the rainy season is not as bad as it sounds; it’ll rain for about an hour every afternoon/evening.

Introduction

What’s described in this guide is only a small selection of what Mexico has to offer. The ultimate guide to this country does not exist: the country is absolutely enormous (it would take you about three days of non-stop travel by bus to cross the country from Baja California to Yucatán Peninsula) and is home to a rich variety of attractions: deserts, beautiful coast lines, one of the biggest cities in the world, Indian ruins, holiday resorts, local festivals, a colourful cultural heritage… All of this diversity makes Mexico a popular destination with travellers of all sorts.

Mexico City & Teotihuacán

Most travellers enter Mexico through the country’s capital: Mexico City. This
metropolis is absolutely huge, it is in fact the third biggest city in the world.
It has an estimated 25 million inhabitants and they make the city just vibrant
with life. The city centre is an everlasting market: from sunrise until sunset
the streets are filled with many street vendors and little stalls, trying to attract
the attention of all possible buyers by creating as much sound as possible in
at times very creative ways. The city definitely has its charms, but it generally
strikes people as an ugly, chaotic and dirty city. There’s way too much traffic
and the levels of smog are unbelievably high. Apart from a handful of museums,
the city itself has relatively little to offer to the backpacker. Most people
choose to stay in the city for a short time only, before exploring the rest of
Mexico. The nightlife is best in Zona Rosa.

Pyramid of the Sun (Teotihuacan, Mexico)

One of the best things that you can do in Mexico City is actually a daytrip
which will lead you out of the city and bring you to Teotihuacán, one of
the biggest and best preserved ancient cities. The most important remaining landmarks
on the 2,000+ year old site are the Pyramid of the Sun, the Pyramid of the Moon
and the Ciudadela (the main plaza). The pyramids can be climbed and give the visitor
- apart from the obligatory Kodak moments – some great views over the entire site.
There’s a museum with many excavated artefacts and interesting explanations on
the ancient society that once dwelled here.

[ Entrance fee 50 MXN, and free with an ISIC card -
if the guards are in a good mood that is. The easiest way to get there is through
an organized tour from Mexico City. ]

The Pacific Coast

Mexico’s west coast is huge, beautiful and has everything for everybody: mega
tourist resorts with nothing but big hotels, restaurants and casinos (Acapulco),
nice fishermen towns (Zihuatanejo), surfers’ paradises (Puerto Escondido),
quiet backpackers’ relaxation heavens (Mazunte), tranquilo unspoilt
beautiful tropical virgin beaches (Maruata). In short, the Pacific coast
is definitely worth travelling along and spending a good amount of time on. You
will without a doubt discover plenty of great spots to hang.

Zihuatanejo

This beautiful fishing port has a very friendly atmosphere and an authentic
Mexican feeling. This makes Zihuatanejo a nice place to stick around for a couple
of days. The beaches are beautiful, although the Playa Municipal is quite dirty.
Luckily there are four other beaches on Zihuatanejo’s bay, of which Playa Las
Gatas is most secluded and most beautiful. It can be reached by a long walk
along the bay’s shore or by boat, and is an excellent spot for some snorkelling.
The nightlife is calm, nice places to go are: the Jungle Bar for some drinks and
the Black Bull for some dancing.

Playa Manzanillo (Puerto Escondido, Mexico)

Puerto Escondido

Once a small attractive fishing village, nowadays a lively backpackers’ hub.
It’s a very touristy place, yet the beaches are absolutely beautiful and make
the town a great place for some good relaxation in the daytime. One of the most
gorgeous beaches is Playa Manzanillo, a bit out of town. A lot of travellers
come to Puerto Escondido for some surfing because the waves are great, especially
at Playa Zicatela where the ocean is just brutal. At night there’s plenty
of entertainment in the bars and discos. Every day of the week there’s at least
one bar that has ‘Ladies Night’, which is usually where all gringos and locals converge
in the evenings. These gatherings can end in beach parties, great fun.

If Puerto Escondido is just not for you and you want to escape the touristy
atmosphere and find some true relaxation, go a bit further south towards Zipolite
and Mazunte. These places are tiny villages, totally laid back, notorious
for their beautiful beaches, and not yet disturbed by the mass tourism. All you
can do is laze about in a hammock with a Corona in your hand, swim in the
ocean or lie on the beach. Accommodation consists of cabañas on the beach where
you sleep in hammocks.

Oaxaca

Oaxaca is a busy but pleasant town with nice colourful buildings, the big and
abundantly decorated church Santo Domingo, and best of all with a number
of markets where you can find just about everything: from cheap food, to weaving
women in traditional clothing, to chapulines – fried grasshopper-like insects
which are considered a local delicacy. There are four markets to be found throughout
the city, all of which are definitely worth a visit. Mercado de Abastos
is the biggest one, a true cacophony of sights, sounds and smells. Mercado
20 de Noviembre has many food stalls where you can get yourself a cheap dinner
or lunch. Mercado Benito Juárez has a little bit of everything.
And the Mercado Artesanal has, as its name suggests, local crafts (which
is in many cases actually a synonym for tourist crap). While you’re in Oaxaca,
do not forget to try the chocolate which is one of the world’s finest (best enjoyed
as a hot drink) and of course try the mezcal (a highly alcoholic drink
made out of cactus; you drink it in shots much like tequila).

Hierve El Agua, Mexico

Oaxaca is also a place from which you can do many good daytrips. Monte Albán
is the daytrip most frequently done by travellers: this ancient site has ruins,
pyramids, walls, terraces, tombs, staircases and sculptures. Another good way
to spend a day is to rent a mountain bike and simply bike through the stunning
landscapes that surround the city. And about 50 kilometres out of Oaxaca you’ll
find Hierve El Agua, a beautiful nature park where minerals have petrified
into what appears as a waterfall of stone. There are also some naturally formed
pools to swim in, and some amazing views to marvel at.

San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico

San Cristóbal de las Casas & Palenque

Situated in the province of Chiapas, built up in a very colonial style
with low, brightly-coloured buildings and small one-way cobblestone streets, and
one of the most beautiful and cheapest places within Mexico. Because of its altitude
it’s a lot colder than most other places in Mexico, a fact heavily exploited by
the local handcraft market by trying to sell everybody one of their indigenous-looking
sweaters. San Cristóbal de las Casas is also one of the biggest points of departure
to Guatemala.

The surroundings of San Cristóbal have a lot to offer, and make great day trips.
The most popular daytrip that can be done is an organized tour of sightseeing
at Palenque and Agua Azul. Palenque is one of the most stunning
Maya ruins in Mexico, situated in the middle of the jungle (bring mosquito repellent!)
and should not be missed. Agua Azul is a series of impressive waterfalls and rapids.
By the way, if you’d like to visit these sights on your own schedule, then it
comes recommended to find some accommodation a bit closer by Palenque. For example
in El Panchan – Maya for ‘heaven on earth’ – which is a fascinating hippie
sort of town between Palenque town and the ruins.

Other daytrips. Sumidero Canyon, a spectacular boat trip through a gigantic
high canyon. You’ll see crocodiles and howler monkeys if you’re lucky. Quite impressive.
Another nice way to spend a day is to go horseback riding through the beautiful
surroundings and/or visiting the lovely nearby villages.

Bits ‘n pieces

  • When travelling by bus in Mexico, it’s best to take an overnight bus if travel
    time is six hours or more. By doing this you’ll save one night of accommodation
    and you won’t lose a day to spend on more interesting things.

  • Mexico has a relatively warm climate, so most buses have air-conditioning. Unfortunately
    they’re all set to a North pole like temperature. So bring a sweater, or you might
    freeze to death.

  • Mexicans eat chili on everything, and loads of it. Be prepared.
  • It’s useful to have some basic knowledge of Spanish before arriving into Mexico.