Ah Mexico. We’ve just wrapped up the first leg of our round-the-world trip and we’re totally hooked on Mexico – such an unforgettable place! Here are the top 10 things we highly recommend you see and do when you visit this ah-maz-ing country.
1. Climb the pyramids of Teotihuacan
When I stood at the base of the Egyptian Pyramids I thought nothing else on the planet could compare, but the Teotihuacán (teh-oh-tee-wah-kahn) pyramids were just as mind-blowing. The holy city, known as the birthplace of the gods, is the most important and largest city of pre-Aztec central Mexico. It remains one of Mexico’s most mysteries cultures with its fusion of Maya, Mixtec, Zapotec and Aztec cultures.
The Pyramid of the Sun built in 200 BC stands 65m tall, making it the third tallest pyramid in the world. Keep in mind it’s located at an altitude of 7,000 feet (2,121m). Take it slow as you walk up the large stairs, but don’t be put off by the steep ascent. It only takes five to ten minutes to climb to the top and the panoramic views of the valley are totally worth it.
2. Eat the best seafood tostadas ever
Our tour guide took us to her favourite seafood restaurant in Mexico. And oh my, how were we impressed. I ordered the ‘tostada de pulpo encacahuatado’ which is basically a tostada (baked red corn tortilla) topped with ceviche. Octopus, chorizo, onion, tomato, coriander, avocado and sesame seeds are the perfect partners in these heavenly morsels.
My favourite spot: Hands down Sirilo Ceviche & Taco in Oaxaca. This place might be a bit out of town but it’s well worth the walk. They have plenty of seafood options and a modern Mexican vibe with brightly coloured Acapulco chairs.
3. Explore the Palenque jungle ruins
Arriving at the Palenque jungle ruins at 8am, the heat was rising quickly however the crowds had not yet taken over. Our incredible guide, who happened to be an archaeologist, first took us down a jungle path, in the opposite direction of the restored section of the ruins, to gain an understanding of their original unrestored condition.
We also saw entire pyramids and ruins previously covered by jungle for thousands of years after being abandoned in the 8th century. It’s said that only 10% of the area has been uncovered so far, meaning there are thousands of structures still to be explored and restored.
4. Be serenaded by a mariachi band
The floating gardens of Xochimilco were one of the best parts of our trip to Mexico City. You can eat, drink and dance for miles along the canals. You can rent a trajinera boat from $1200 pesos for two hours. Make sure you time your visit for a weekend when the canals are bustling with mariachis and food stalls.
It’s worth paying a small fee ($100 pesos) for one of the many live mariachi bands to jump aboard and serenade you. And for all the Aussies wondering what I’m talking about, think of the music in the Holden commercial One Tonne Rodeo. It’s a rendition of the classic mariachi song Guantanamera.
5. Meet the textile weavers
Outside Oaxaca, you’ll find some of the country’s best textile weavers still using traditional techniques and natural plant dyes. We took part in a weaving workshop at Teotitlan del Valle and it was incredible to see first hand the ancient rug making method. It’s a laborious process; winding the yarn, grinding the cochineal into powder, preparing the dye baths and finally weaving the rug which can take up to three months. The final textile pieces are absolutely stunning, with incredibly vibrant and detailed geometric patterns.
My favourite spot: We visited Casa Cruz, run by Fidel Cruz and his wife, Maria Luisa. They take great pride in maintaining the integrity of their work, and in seeing their sons carry on the tradition. You’ll immediately appreciate the quality of the weave and unique designs. They also offer international shipping, so you won’t have to haul your masterpiece around.
6. Take a dip at Agua Azul
It might be a long and windy trip through the mountains but Cascadas de Agua Azul is worth the drive with its awe-inspiring waterfalls, cascades and natural rock pools. The stunning blue colour that distinguishes these waterfalls is due to the limestone through which the waters pass.
7. Try the street food
Mexican street food is right up there in terms of some of the best street food I’ve ever had. Most eateries sell one signature dish in Mexico called ‘gringas’. These mouthwatering flour tortillas are stuffed with el pastor (marinated pork), sliced piña (pineapple) and queso (cheese). Be sure to squeeze some lime on top, and plenty of onions and coriander.
My favourite spot: The best place for gringas is in Oaxaca. Head to Taqueria El Primo. These bad boys will set you back a mere $25 pesos (AUD $2), and although they many not look like much, I can promise you’ll be salivating with every bite.
8. Swim in the beautiful cenotes
In the Yucatán Peninsula lies the natural wonders of the state. The cenotes. 6,000 to be exact, with only 2,400 actually registered. These impressive well-type formations have glistening turquoise water, making it the perfect spot for seeing the fish frolicking. Just try not to look down as you climb the incredibly steep and rickety staircase – eeek!
My favourite spot: Cenote Noh Mozón in Yucatán is one the most beautiful and hidden cenotes. You won’t have to fight the crowds and it will feel like your own magical swimming hole. Pure bliss.
9. Taste Mexico’s ancient spirit
No visit to Mexico is complete without a Mezcal tasting. Mezcal is a type of Tequila. To give you an analogy, Tequila is like french champagne, and Mezcal is like sparkling wine. Got that? It’s made from the agave plant and its produced all over Mexico. It has a distinctive smoky taste and is quickly becoming one of the local artisanal spirits used in many trendy bars.
Favourite spot: We had a tour of the Don Agave distillery just outside of Oaxaca. We saw the production process and tasted many different hand-crafted varieties. Many distillers will offer a free tasting tour, and tell you all about the Mexican tradition dating back 1,000 years.
10. Marvel at the colonial architecture
Colonial buildings and colourful handicrafts line the streets of San Cristóbal de las Casas. The city’s centre maintains its Spanish colonial layout with its red tile roofs and wrought-iron balconies. It’s easy to see why this city is considered the cultural capital of Chiapas.
My favourite spot: Take the time to wander around the cobblestone streets of The Zocalo. At the top of the city, you’ll find Santo Domingo where you can marvel at the highly ornate architecture. The cathedral abounds with intricately carved facades and gold leaf.