Mexico: Beyond the Beaches
We’ve been travelling around Mexico now nearly a month and we haven’t visited a single beach. We haven’t even seen the ocean. We haven’t been to Cabo or Puerta Vallarta or Cancun, Cozumel or the Rivera Maya.
If we haven’t been sipping margaritas on white sand beaches, or getting wild at Senor Frogs, you ask, what have we been doing?
We’ ve spent a full week enjoying one of the largest cities in the world. Maybe you picture an overpopulated, polluted, dirty, dangerous place? Sure it has its issues, like any massive city does. Pollution is a constant struggle which the government is working to improve. In the 90’s, Mexico City was the most polluted city in the world. These days, however, due to some big changes, it’s slid down from #1 to #471.
Picture this: nearly 1700 acres of green space, filled with trees and gardens and ponds, smack dab in the middle of a sprawling metropolitan area. One of the largest city parks in the world, Parque Chapultapec is a wonder. On weekends the park takes on a festive feel when it fills with families, happy children and affectionate couples along with the street performers and venders who follow, selling everything from treats to toys. One of our favorite parts–the friendly squirrels in the park who, much to our delight, took seeds directly from our hands with their tiny squirrel fingers, as we giggled like school children.
See a concert at one of the amphitheaters. Visit the free Zoo. Rent a paddleboat and take a ride on the lakes and waterways within the park. Learn all about the rich history of the people who have inhabited Mexico throughout the ages at the world-class Anthropology Museum.
On our first night, our Airbnb host invited us out with his friends. We drank mescal in a sweaty night club surrounded by the young and beautiful as latin dance music shook the floors. We ended the night eating delicious “antojitos” (translates literally to “little cravings”) at a crowded taco el pastor spot.
We spent much of our time exploring the neighborhoods near our rental. Which, by the way, was on the 10th floor of gorgeous high-rise apartment building, with stunning views panoramic views of the city below. It was a treat to watch the sunset each evening from our living room or bedroom. The neighborhood, La Condesa, along with nearby Roma, has pedestrian friendly streets lined with shady green trees, filled with hipster coffee shops, fusion cafes, excellent international restaurants and cool art deco-style apartments.
Nearly every day we’d walk through a nearby city park filled with fountains, tropical trees, sculptures; populated by trendy looking hipsters and their equally trendy dogs, on our way to a juice vender or to yummy street food stall.
One day, we took the cheap, yet comprehensive Metro system to the nearby suburb of Coyoacan. Here we walked down cobblestone streets alongside colorful colonial style homes, and people-watched in a massive city plaza in front of an impressive cathedral. We visited the famous blue house of national treasure Frida Kahlo, and then the home where Leon Trotsky briefly lived and died.
We were sad to have missed the canals of Xochimilco. Where you can ride vibrantly painted wooden boats, drinking beer, while serenaded by mariachi, as women in boats paddle up selling delicious treats and drinks. And though I visited years before, Jim and I missed the ancient remains of Teotihuacan this time around. The massive archeological site is easily reachable from the city center by public transport. There should be plenty more opportunities to visit ancient ruins during our time in Mexico…
San Luis Potosi & Rio Grande
After CDMX, we hopped on maybe the nicest bus I’ve ever experienced (large, comfy reclining seat and private TV screens with selectable movies/tv, and nice bathroom aboard) and headed to spend a long weekend in the adorably colonial San Luis Potosi, a city with more pedestrian streets than possibly anywhere I’ve ever been. A former silver boom town, evidence of Potosi’s former wealth is everywhere in its many elaborate cathedrals, parks and government buildings.
From Potosi, we took a day trip to nearby Rio Verde to a magical place called Media Luna, featuring turquoise rivers fed by hot springs. Here we soaked in the warm water, drank chelados (beer on ice with lime and salt) and enjoyed the hot sun and cloudless sky.
Mostly because we didn’t know until it was too late (already booked an airbnb someplace else), we missed our chance to visit Xilitla and the nearby national park. This is apparently a magical place filled with clear green rivers and waterfalls, where you can hike through jungles and exotic landscape, and if you’re lucky, you’ll find Las Pozas, a surreal art instillation built in the middle of the jungle.
Next we headed over to what is arguably Mexico’s most perfect city–Guanajuato. This ridiculously beautiful place, nestled into a mountainside, resembles the setting of a movie. Here, we spent five days exploring the city from our rental; a spacious, condo ($39/night! Airbnb is the greatest) located high above the city. In Guanajuato you can catch a performance in the historic theatre, or grab a cup of coffee in one of the most beautiful plazas anywhere, as mariachis play Mexican love songs. Visit the birthplace of Diego Rivera, or a museum filled with mummies. Or do what we did everyday: wander aimlessly through a maze of quirky and colorful houses and shops. The altitude here means it’s never too hot, and nights are often chilly.
Guadalajara & Tequila
Next stop Guadalajara. Famous for being the home or birthplace of such iconic Mexican things as mariachi music, the Mexican hat dance, the wide-brimmed sombrero, Lucha Libre and Tequila, Guadalajara is a must see. We rented a studio for seven days in the city center; visited museums and parks, enjoyed ringside seats at a rousing Lucha Libre match and shopped at the upscale artisan market of Tlaquepaque. We ate some of our best meals here.We frequented gourmet fusion restaurants featuring classically trained Mexican chefs who created the sort of innovative culinary masterpieces that would have cost us triple anywhere else.We drank fresh squeezed juice everyday and indulged in the finest tequila, in the land where it was born.
We went to the charming town of Tequila. Yes, the birthplace of the liquor by the same name. The only place in the world that can produce tequila is the state of Jalisco. We toured the Sauza factory, learning all about the process from agave to the glass. We learned how to taste tequila, and that the fine alcoholic beverage is better sipped than shot. We had a cocktail at one of the top rated bars in the world, La Capilla.
Three weeks in Mexico and we haven’t visited a singe beach.
Three weeks in Mexico, and as one might guess, we’ve eaten incredibly well. Succulent tacos, cheesy quesadillas, flavor filled soups, tostados piled high with fresh seafood, spicy salsas. The creamiest avocados, the freshest tortillas, the most tender slow-cooked-well-marinated melt-in-your-mouth meats.
Three weeks in Mexico and we haven’t had a single issue or any major troubles. We haven’t been robbed, pickpocketted or kidnapped by the cartels. We’ve had nothing but overwhelmingly positive experiences with the locals.
Airbnb hosts have taken us out on the town. We’ve had restaurant owners go out of their way to make sure we, personally, have an outstanding dining experience. Countless people stop to offer us help when lost or confused. We’ve had nearly every person we meet light up when we ask for travel or restaurant recommendations. Mexicans love their country and they are happy to let you know what’s not to be missed.
And believe me when I say, in Mexico there is plenty that shouldn’t be missed…
Next stop: the culturally vibrant Oaxaca. First to the city by the same name for what many claim is the spot for some of the best food in all of Mexico. Then, after a month in Mexico, we finally head to the beach, to the hippie surfer haven of Puerto Escondido and Mazunte. Finally we’ll end our time in Mexico in Chiapas; a very special place with people who are almost as diverse as its landscape.