By Judy Newell
Great travel destinations in Mexico, part one
Ready to discover the real Mexico? If you’ve traveled all over the world and still have much to discover in Mexico, here’s help. Charming historical plazas, tequila, mezcal and mole poblano, an affordable wine country, and a canyon bigger than the Grand Canyon are reasons enough to make new travel discoveries in 2013. Next week we’ll take a look at more destinations for you to visit.
Fly Into: Merida or Cancun (190 miles away)
Why Go: It’s a cosmopolitan cultural capital
The cultural capital of the Yucatán Peninsula, Mérida has become a favorite destination among European travelers. They come for the colonial history (only Mexico City has a larger historical center), the region’s best museums, and a fabulous Sunday market. Walk the narrow brick streets in the tree-lined historical Plaza Grande and you’ll see majestic white-limestone buildings and a cathedral built in the 1500s with stones from Maya pyramid ruins. From here, you can easily day-trip to the Maya archaeological sites of Chichen Itza (75 miles away) and Uxmal (50 miles away).
If You Go: Shop the busy Sunday market at Plaza Grande, which fills with locals selling crafts, playing live music, and dancing in traditional dress. Rent a bike any Sunday morning, when the city closes sections of the road to traffic to create the Bici Ruta bicycle route.
Fly Into: Guadalajara
Why Go: Traditional pottery and tequila tours
One of Mexico’s top destinations for arts and crafts, Tlaquepaque (pronounced “tlah-kay-PAH-kay” and roughly translated “Place above clay land”) is known for its long history of pottery making. Visitors come to browse the clay ceramics and other fine arts in the trendy shopping district of this quaint colonial village that was absorbed by urban sprawl and is now a part of Guadalajara. At the Regional Ceramics Museum, you can learn the ancient techniques that locals still use for working the clay. For a quintessential tequila experience, ride a luxury train to the town of Tequila, about 90 minutes away, to see the agave landscape and how the spirit is processed.
If You Go: The best shopping is along the pedestrian-only Independencia and nearby Avenida Juárez. Find craft stalls, fresh flowers, and food vendors at the mercado, open daily. Hear mariachis perform traditional music as you enjoy a cocktail or a meal at El Parián.
Copper Canyon, Chihuahua
Fly Into: Chihuahua City (255 miles away)
Why Go: This canyon one-ups the Grand Canyon
For the adventurous, Copper Canyon is Mexico’s answer to the Grand Canyon, only bigger. These green-hued walls are longer and deeper than the grand walls in neighboring Arizona and have plenty of stunning waterfalls, hot springs, lakes, caves, and rock formations to explore. If you arrange an excursion to the bottom of the canyon with a Tarahumara guide, you’ll see a remote village of the native Tarahumara people, who are known for their long-distance-running and basketry skills. To get to the canyon, it’s a six-hour trip on the popular El Chepe train from Chihuahua City.
If You Go: Hike, mountain bike, or go horseback riding with a local guide. Copper Canyon Adventure Park, which opened in 2010, has a scenic gondola over an abyss and seven zip lines connected with two sky-high suspension bridges.
Fly Into: Puebla or Mexico City (82 miles away)
Why Go: Mexico’s best mole poblano
In the country’s central highlands, just beyond two imposing volcanoes southeast of Mexico City, is a gem that has it all: a beautiful landscape, gold-encrusted baroque churches, winding streets, fountains, and exquisite Talavera pottery. Then there’s Puebla’s historic claim to fame: the victory (against impossible odds) over the French on May 5, 1862, for which the Cinco de Mayo holiday was named. But Puebla’s greatest source of pride is its food. The city is the birthplace of mole poblano (chile, nuts, and chocolate sauce, poured over chicken), chiles en nogada, and chalupas.
If You Go: Don’t miss the gorgeous display of books at Biblioteca Palafoxiana, the oldest library in the Americas. A 30-minute drive from Puebla is the archaeological site of Cholula and one of the world’s largest pyramids.
Fly Into: Oaxaca
Why Go: Festivals, arts, and mezcal
In Oaxaca (“wa-HAH-kah”), the fiesta never ends. No matter when you visit, you’re bound to encounter a celebration of one kind or another in this festive capital city. Brass bands, dancing, traditional processions, and fireworks are usually part of the festivities. You can also get a glimpse into the colonial city’s culture at two weekly markets or in the many museums and art galleries around the main square. Travel just outside of town to see villagers creating Oaxaca’s renowned handicrafts: black-clay pottery and alebrijes, colorful painted animal carvings.
If You Go: Sip your way along the region’s new mezcal route and learn that the handcrafted spirit, like tequila, is produced from a species of agave but is imparted with a smokier flavor. Visit two nearby archaeological sites, the hilltop Monte Alban (six miles away) and Mitla (28 miles away), with ruins of palaces and a number of tombs.
Deal of the Week
Tahiti luxury cruises 50 percent savings and free air from LAX
50 percent off standard cruise fares plus included roundtrip airfare from Los Angeles on all 2013 sailings of the m/s Paul Gauguin. Tahiti & the Society Islands, 7 nights from US$3,995; Society Islands & Tuamotus, 10 nights from US$4,747; Cook Islands & Society Islands, 11 nights from US$4,997; Marquesas, Tuamotus & Society Islands, 14 nights from US$5,997; Australs & Society Islands, 11 nights from US$5,297.
Judy Newell heads the travel company Perfect Journeys which specializes in tour and cruise travel for everyone. She also conducts private small group tours from San Miguel de Allende. 2013 tours will be announced soon. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources: Smarter Travel, Paul Gauguin Cruises