Things to Do in Mexico - page 2
A Zapotec ceremonial center, Monte Albán crouches on a leveled mountain top. For a thousand years, the rulers of the city extracted wealth from the plains below. Today, the ruins offer panoramic views of the modern city of Oaxaca sprawling across the giant Oaxaca valley.
Monte Albán is the oldest city in the Americas. In addition to being unusually ancient (dating back to 500 BC), the site is unusually extensive. In its heyday, the city covered 25 square miles. Expanses of Monte Albán aren’t yet excavated, but it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to explore all the restored tombs and temples in one afternoon; the ruins encompass enormous plazas, a ball court, a mysterious monument known as the observatory, a network of underground tunnels, and a profusion of dank tombs, which were once decorated with bright frescoes and filled with treasures of gold and jade.
Puerto Vallarta locals and visitors alike strut their stuff on El Malecon, the city ’s iconic boardwalk overlooking the Bay of Banderas. It’s the place for sunsets strolls, rollerblading, ice creams and admiring the many public street sculptures that adorn the boardwalk.
You’ll see sculptures of dolphins, loving couples, a seahorse, angel and various abstract works. The malecon also takes in the color and vibrancy of the local fish market and the graceful arches known as Los Arcos that make up the city’s public amphitheater for outdoor entertainment.
The star attraction of the Cozumel Reefs National Park - or Parque Nacional Arrecifes de Cozumel - not to mention Jacques Cousteau's television show, which quite literally put Cozumel on the map - is Palancar Reef. Actually composed of 4 separate coral reefs, it is home to sea turtles, rays, nurse sharks, barracudas, moray eels, lobsters, crabs, and a keleidescope of colorful fish.
Boats leaving from Playa Palancar take snorkelers out to the shallowest parts of the reef, about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from shore. Scuba divers, however, have several world-famous spots to explore. The Palancar Caves are probably the most famous attraction, with huge brain corals and swim-through tunnels. Palancar Horseshoe is another massive formation of huge corals, some partially damaged in 2005 by Hurricane Wilma. Less experienced divers can visit Palancar Gardens, a shallower spot with mellow currents.
San Pedro Cholula is a municipality located in the town of Cholula, which is part of the Mexican state of Puebla. Its many historic sites plus its under the radar atmosphere makes it an excellent area of Mexico to visit.
A top site in San Pedro Cholula is the Place de la Concorde, which is the main plaza in Cholula and is where much of the action occurs. An aesthetically defining aspect of the plaza is Los Portales, a blue wall consisting of 46 arches that stretches down one side of Place de la Concorde. The San Gabriel Monastery is another prominent site in Cholula; it was built on the site of the Quetzalcoatl Temple in the mid-1500s and is one of the largest Franciscan monasteries in Mexico. The site that draws the most attention for visitors to San Pedro Cholula, though, is the Great Pyramid of Cholula, an ancient pre-Columbian temple that has the largest pyramidal base of any structure in the world. It also happens to be buried underground.
Perfumed with flowers and plied by trajineras, a sort of gondola cheerfully painted to reflect the canals' lush beauty, the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco were once the agricultural breadbasket of Mexico City. Today, these last lovely remnants of ancient Lake Texcoco are more a destination for young lovers and enchanted tourists in search of a romantic afternoon.
Though most of the Aztecs' massive system of canals have long since been drained, the suburb of Xochimilco ("Place of Flowers") offers a glimpse into the ancient beauty of of Tenochtitlán. The "floating gardens" that once fed the great nation are smaller, but still here; the trajineras may now come equipped with engines, but they are still festively decorated, and many carry troupes of mariachis and offer relaxed "restaurant" service.
Cenote Ik Kil is a tropical cenote located in the Yucatan region of Mexico, just a few miles away from Chichen Itza. A sinkhole filled with water, Ik Kil is one of the most popular cenotes for travelers to the eastern coast of Mexico thanks to its lush surroundings and easy accessibility. Cenote Ik Kil is not partially covered by earth like many cenotes but is instead open to the sky; sunlight streams down and hits the water, making it a bright teal color, from which it gets its nickname: Sacred Blue Cenote. Vines hang down from the rock walls, and gentle waterfalls also make their way down the sides of the encompassing circular wall, which stretches up 85 feet around the surface of the water, giving the cenote a more exotic feel.
Stairs down one side of the rock wall lead to a ledge from which you can get in the water to swim. The water stretches down 130 feet; while swimming, keep an eye out for the catfish that call the cenote home.
More Things to Do in Mexico
Never has a bombing ranged looked so beautiful than at Mexico’s Marietas Islands. Here off the coastline of Nayarit outside of Puerto Vallarta, these two volcanic, bird-covered rocks hold hundreds of scars caused by years of bombing by Mexico’s early military. Thanks to conservationist’s efforts, however—most notably Jacques Cousteau—the Mexican government agreed to protect the islands, rather than blow them up. Today, what remains of the islands above and below water is nothing short of astounding. Schools of colorful reef fish swarm in Technicolor clouds on the reefs, and sea turtles, dolphins, and enormous manta rays are regularly spotted near shore.
A small beach town between Playa del Carmen and Tulum on the Yucatan Peninsula, Akumal is known for its wide, white sandy beach. Meaning “land of turtles” in the Mayan language, Akumal to this day remains one of the most popular places in the area to spot sea turtles in their natural habitat. It’s also known as one of the most peaceful spots in the Riviera Maya with its clear waters, shallow bays and secluded beaches that attract visitors seeking a more private experience.
From town there are three local dive shops that will take you snorkeling or scuba diving out on the nearby reef, and there are also some clearly marked private beaches and several palm trees that provide refuge from the sun. While here, be sure to check out Half Moon Bay (famous for turtle sightings) and Laguna Yaiku, a protected snorkeling area.
One of the most popular dives in all of Cozumel, Paradise Reef proudly lives up to its name by offering numerous coral heads, teeming schools of colorful fish, and some of the best visibility anywhere in the world. Divers that look closely will spot numerous species of larger sea life such as eels, rays and nurse shark in addition to smaller creatures such as seahorses, boxfish and the delicate pipefish. A great dive for those who are just entering into the world of scuba as well as advanced divers who want to add a little color to their dives, Paradise Reef is one of the best dive spots in Cozumel.
Part of the Cozumel Reefs National Park (or Parque Nacional Arrecifes de Cozumel) Faro de Punta Celerain, also known as Punta Sur, Ecological Park offers some of the best diving and snorkeling around Cozumel. If you want to dive, go through one of the island's many dive operators. If you'd just like to snorkel, however, you can rent equipment and guides right here.
In addition to the undersea attractions, Punta Sur has broad, beautiful beaches (the reef is well offshore, so you can splash around safely), great seafood, and shady hammocks. If you're up for a some terrestrial exploration, you could climb the Faro de Punta Celerain (Celerain Point Lighthouse), with great views, or visit the tiny Mayan shrine to Ixcel, the fertility goddess, known as Tumba de Caracol. Punta Sur also has interesting wetlands, a magnet for migratory birds in April and May, and home to lots of crocodiles year-round.
As the world’s oldest and largest Tequila distillery, the Jose Cuervo brand is renowned around the globe - and the family-run distillery is the top attraction of the town of Tequila, the birthplace of Mexico’s National drink. Established in 1795, the legendary distillery forms part of the UNESCO-listed landscape of Jalisco and produces up to 20,000 gallons of mixto and 100% agave tequilas per day.
Today, the Jose Cuervo Distillery is open to the public via guided tour, offering visitors the chance to learn how the juice is extracted from blue agave plants and distilled to produce a range of traditional blanco (white), añejo (aged) and mixto (diluted) tequilas. Guests can also sample a selection of fine tequilas, sip premium tequila straight from the barrel or visit the private cellars of the Cuervo family. It’s even possible to create your own customized bottle of tequila, selecting your choice of spirit and designing your own personalized label.
Catemaco Lake is a natural wonderland for travelers who love the outdoors. Whether it’s joining one of the thousands of fishermen casting lines into the 22-meter-deep waters, or hiring a boat to explore the surrounding sites, Catemaco is a still undeveloped Mecca perfect for spending a sunny afternoon.
This rustic freshwater lake in south central Veracruz was formed by a natural lava flow from the nearby San Marin Tuxtla volcano. Its chilly waters and the fertile foothills that surround it offer plenty of options for outdoor exploring. Travelers can hire a local boat and paddle into the depths of Catemaco Lake before washing ashore Monkey Island, where playful primates swing freely between towering emerald green trees. Or they can head to nearby Nanciyaga Ecological Reserve for a refreshing swim in the peaceful lagoon, followed by relaxing mud massages and a dip in the hot springs.
A relatively small Mixtec/Zapotec ruin, Mitla is notable for the detailed and well-preserved geometric stonework that decorates the buildings. The setting is pretty, with a cactus garden and shaded benches. From the ruins you can see the domed Church of San Pablo, built in the 16th century when the Spanish pillaged stones from Mitla. At the gates to the ruins, a small artesanía (folk art) market is home to aggressively competitive vendors, a situation that can yield great deals. Outside the gates, a clean and efficient comedor (diner) serves authentic Oaxacan specialties.
The name Mitla comes from the Náhuatl word Mictlan, which means place of the dead or underworld. An ancient ceremonial center, Mitla includes two cross-shaped tombs, a promenade of hefty stone columns, and an elevated suite of ornately-decorated rooms that were once occupied by the Zapotec high priest. Although theories on the subject differ, Mitla was likely built by the Zapotecs.
La Casa Azul, or the Blue House, was the birthplace of iconic artist Frida Kahlo (1907 - 1954), whose beautifully tortured self portraits and passionate, tumultuous life with muralist Diego Rivera have elevated her to the status of legend.
Her home, today one of Mexico City's most popular museums, doesn't have an outstanding collection of her own work, though there are several sketches and less famous pieces to see. Instead, the rooms and gardens - still in much the same state as she left them - offer insight into her life as a wife, lover, artist, and hub of the city's (and Latin America's) socialist intellectual scene during the 1920s and 1930s. The tender details, from her brushes and canvasses, the pre-Columbian art collected by her husband, and even the prosthetic leg she wore in the months before her untimely death, will touch even casual visitors to the Museo Frida Kahlo.
The Bahia de Cabo San Lucas is the cape’s hub for water sports and beach activities. Rent jet skis and kayaks at Medano Beach, or hang out at the resorts lining the long stretch of sand overlooking the bay.
Take an underwater snorkel tour of the bay and nearby Sea of Cortez, or go diving off the Chileno reef or Cabo Pulmo Marine Park. There are charter boats for sports fishing in the world’s marlin capital, or more gentle cruising in a glass-bottom boat on the bay at sunset. For youngsters, what could be better than a cruise aboard a pirate buccaneer’s cruise, me hearties.
A dusty town tucked in the volcanic valleys northwest of Guadalajara and surrounded by the UNESCO-listed blue agave plantations, Tequila’s rich history is about more than just a name. As the birthplace of the eponymous drink, Tequila has been producing Mexico’s national beverage since the 16th century and the surrounding state of Jalisco is the only area of the country where the potent spirit can be legally produced.
Of course, visitors to the town come for the tequila, many following the popular Jalisco Tequila Trail or hitching a ride on the scenic Tequila Express train. Tequila enthusiasts will be spoiled for choice, from the over-zealous hawkers flogging sub-par mixto on the streets to specialist taverns serving up fine 100% agave vintages.
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