Mexico

Reasons to go:

1. Mayan civilization
  • Zona Arqueológica de Uxmal - absolutely fascinating, loads to explore and much less crowded than other more popular places.
  • Teotihuacán - most architecturally significant Mesoamerican pyramids built in the pre-Columbian Americas. In the first half of the 1st century CE Teotihuaca was at least the sixth largest city in the world with about 125,000 people. To get there, grab a bus to “Los piramides” from Terminal Norte in Mexico City, takes about an hour.
  • Zona Arqueológica de Yaxchilán - only accessible by boat, once you get there it feels other-worldly.
  • Zona Arqueológica Palenque - expensive and crowded, but totally worth it. Even after visiting many other archeological sites, in Palenque I found things I’ve not seen anywhere else.
  • Zona Arqueológica Chichén-Itzá - especially El Caracol, the observatory, and buildings around it.
  • Zona Arqueológica de Monte Albán - an impressive site.
  • Zona Arqueológica de Toniná in Chiapas is still on my to-visit list.

2. Mexican cities
  • Mexico City - a big city with loads of things to discover.
  • San Cristóbal de las Casas - a highland city with a high proportion of indigenous people. My happiest memories are hot chocolate at Xocolattes Y Cafe, pre-hispanic food at Kokono and breakfasts at Kukulpan. Do not miss Iglesia de San Juan in Chamula and Romerillo Cemetery - these are unique places, there is nothing like them anywhere else in Mexico or indeed anywhere in the world.
  • Oaxaca city - beautiful city, great food, home of Mezcal. My happiest memories are cocktails and food at El Techo (on top of El Destilado restaurant), vegan food at Hierba Dulce, tasting different types of mezcal at Mezcalería In Situ. Head to Barrio de Xochimilco for street art and a nice neighbourhood vibe. Great city overall, but I could not shake off the feeling that everything felt “for tourists”. Next time I’m here, I’d like to try the tasting menu at El Destilado.
  • Guadalajara - a city that truly comes alive on Sundays during Vía Recreactiva. Colonia Americana is the best neighbourhood to be based in - good vegan restaurants (La Flaca, Choclo y Maíz, and many more), traditional Mexican food (El Fondue Gourmet serves pre-hispanic foods like scorpions and huitlacoche soup), cocktail bars (De La O Cantina, Barra Matilde Mi Amor), local breweries (Loba Restaurante UMHO) and much more.
  • Santiago de Querétaro - a picturesque city not far from Mexico City. My happiest memories are street art in Museo de Arte Urbano de México, vegan food at Tacogreen and pastries at La Dulce Compañía. I much preferred Santiago de Querétaro to frequently recommended destinations like San Miguel de Allende (though this town has a lot of great art galleries), Puebla city and Pueblos Mágicos that I failed to appreciate.
3. Food and drinks
  • Amazing flavours and interesting ingredients. For example, huitlacoche (a fungus that infects corn plants, it’s delicious when cooked in traditional dishes), nopales (edible Opuntia cacti), jamaica (you’ll find it everywhere in agua fresca, but try to find it in tacos or other dishes where you actually get to eat the flowers themselves).
  • Mezcal. First try as many different types of mezcal as possible, then try negroni with mezcal!
  • Tequila. In Tequila town, about a 2 hour bus from Central Vieja bus station in Guadalajara, you can visit tequila distilleries and learn about the process.

Notes:

  • Many cans of beans contain chorizo. If you’ve ordered a vegan option and your beans taste of chorizo - you are not imagining it.
  • Mexicans prefer their drinks sugary. If you ask for a jamaica agua fresca or a hot chocolate without sugar, you’ll get a puzzled look. Try asking for a bitter chocolate (which they usually have, and it contains no sugar) dissolved in milk, they will make it and look surprised when you actually drink it.
  • Warm drinks for breakfast are coffee and camomile tea. If you prefer another type of tea for breakfast, bring your own tea bags.
4. Volcanoes
  • El Chichón - the 1982 eruption left a 1km wide crater housing an acidic crater lake and some active fumaroles.
  • Nevado de Toluca - beautiful area for hiking.
  • Volcán Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl
5. Haciendas
  • Hacienda Yaxcopoil is a great place to learn about haciendas, the crops they grew and the machinery they used.
  • Hacienda San Pedro Ochil is now a restaurant where you can enjoy good food in a spectacular setting.
6. Other stuff
  • Street art is everywhere. Best ones I found were in Mexico city, Barrio de Xochimilco in Oaxaca city, Museo de Arte Urbano de México in Santiago de Querétaro, Barrio de Guadalupe in San Miguel de Allende, grand murals on highrises outside La Cevicheria Tabasco in Villahermosa, around Iglesia de Santa Inés in Puebla city.
  • Cenotes - natural sinkholes resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater. There are very many of them.
  • Las Coloradas - salt flats full of red-coloured algae, plankton and brine shrimp that give the water its bright pink colour. Flamingos frequent this place. The best time to visit is on a windy day at about 2pm.
  • Beaches. My favourite ones on the Caribbean coast are Xcacel Área Natural Protegida Estatal, beaches in Reserva de la Biósfera Sian Ka’an and Puerto Morelos. On the Gulf of Mexico coast - El Cuyo, visit El Chile Gordo, one of the best restaurants in the country, if you are there. On the Pacific coast - Zipolite, the best nudist beach in the country.
  • Grutas Calcehtok - exploring caves with a guide.
  • High on my to-visit list are: Cueva de Cristales in Naica, Saucillo Municipality in Chihuahua; Hierve el Agua in Oaxaca state; Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Michoacán; Granja de Cocodrilos Itzamkanac in Yucatan; Large Millimeter Telescope in Parque Nacional Pico de Orizaba in Puebla state; Las Pozas in Xilitla, San Luis Potosi.

Tips:

  • Sim cards: Telcel has the best coverage across the country. I bought a “recycled” Telcel sim card from Oxxo. No passport/documents required, insert sim into your phone and it works instantly, top up online as needed.
  • ATMs normally charge per withdrawal, regardless of how much you take out. Both Santander and Citibanamex work well, they allow withdrawals of up to MXN 9,000 for about MXN 35 fee.
  • Uber in Cancun. Uber drivers are at war with taxi drivers used to dictating high prices before the advent of mobile apps. The situation is not pretty - taxi drivers physically attack Uber drivers, who live in fear. If you want to get an Uber in the city or to the airport, find a quiet side street from which no taxis or big roads are visible and call it from there - the Uber driver picking you up will be grateful. If you want to get an Uber from the airport, where the Uber app is blocked, head to the Departures and grab an Uber dropping people off - the Uber driver will be grateful as they cannot pick people up in the airport through the app and hence they normally have to drive back to the city with no passengers.