According to tradition, the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego, an indigenous man, in 1531 at Tepeyac Hill near Mexico City. Speaking to him in Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs), she told him to ask the church leaders to build a church on the top of the hill. The archbishop, Fray Juan de Zumárraga, was incredulous and instructed Juan Diego to return to Tepeyac Hill and ask the woman for a miraculous sign. On his return, Our Lady of Guadalupe told Juan Diego to gather flowers from the top of the hill. He went there and, despite the fact that it was late in the season for roses, he found many blooming there, and he placed them in his cloak, or "tilma." When Juan Diego opened his cloak before the bishop, the flowers fell to the floor, and on the fabric was the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Juan Diego's tilma is on display at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is an important symbol for Mexico and Mexicans have a great devotion to her. She is celebrated on her feast day of December 12. People gather in the early hours of the morning to sing Las Mañanitas to the Virgin, and many go on pilgrimages to the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, or visit other churches dedicated to her. Many Mexicans dress their children in traditional clothing and take them to the church to be blessed.
This is a great month to visit Mexico. Hurricane season is officially over, and the weather is in general more moderate, though nights can be quite chilly in some places, particularly cities at high altitudes like Mexico City. There are lots of events taking place this month, including cultural and religious festivals like the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the posadas, and other Christmas traditions. You won't run out of things to do in Mexico in December! Check out our list of December Festivals and Events and information about Winter Travel to Mexico.
Photo © Suzanne Barbezat
In my opinion, there's no bad time to visit Mexico, as each season has something to offer. There are a few things you'll probably want to take into account when planning the timing of your trip, however. If there are any special festivals or events you would like to attend, by all means you should plan your trip accordingly. You'll also want to keep in mind that certain times of the year can be crowded at popular destinations, and you'll also want to have an idea of what the weather will be like during the time of your visit. Check out our Mexico Month-by-Month calendar to have a look at what's happening each month of the year.
For more information about when to visit Mexico, read more here: When Should I Travel to Mexico? or read our reader's opinions - and give your own: What's Your Favorite Time of the Year to Visit Mexico?
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Many visitors to Mexico experience so much joy and pleasure during their stay that they wish for a way to give back to the communities that welcome them so warmly. There are many ways to do so; just the simple act of visiting these places and making purchases from local vendors helps to stimulate the economy, but if you would like to do more, one way you can do so is by bringing some items that may be of use to needy people in Mexico. It's always a good idea to leave a little extra room in your suitcase to bring back handicrafts or souvenirs you might pick up during your trip, and you can put that space to good use on your trip down by filling it up with items you can donate to disadvantaged people, particularly children. There are a few projects that will help make sure your donations get into the right hands.
Pack for a Purpose
This organization operates in several different countries around the world and has as a goal to make it easier for travelers to donate items to people in need in their destinations. In Mexico Pack for a Purpose has teamed up with a few hotels to accept donations of specific items that may be of use. For a list of participating hotels and lists of specific items to pack, check out the organization's website: Pack for a Purpose Mexico.
Kicks for Kids
Michele Kinnon, whose blog "Life's a Beach" was nominated for Favorite Mexico Blog in our Readers' Choice Awards two years in a row, has begun an initiative to collect sneakers for the children of a village outside of Playa del Carmen. Nuevo Noh Bec is a small village with many needs, but since snakebite is the number one health issue of its residents, it was decided that the most pressing need is to make sure the children who live there have proper footwear. The Kicks for Kids project's goal is to collect 400 pairs of new or gently worn sneakers to deliver to the children of Nuevo Noh Bec before Christmas, though the project will be ongoing to provide the children with shoes as they grow. Organizers are asking visitors to the Riviera Maya to pack a pair of new or gently worn sneakers and leave them in one of the project's drop-off locations. Learn more: Kicks for Kids.
Photo credit: Lauren Burke / Getty Images
Thanksgiving, which is called Acción de Gracias in Spanish, is not celebrated in Mexico (see the list of Mexican national holidays). We just had a long weekend for el Día de la Revolución on the 3rd Monday of the month, as well as the Mexican version of Black Friday: el Buen Fin. However, if you're hankering for a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, you may be able to find one. Since expats and tourists visiting during the holiday often want to celebrate Thanksgiving with a traditional meal, there's a good chance there will be at least one organized in your destination of choice.
Many resorts in Mexico offer their guests a Thanksgiving turkey dinner, and restaurants in tourist areas are getting in on the action. Alternatively you may be able to find a group of expats who are having a dinner and would be happy to have a few more people join their celebration. If you don't come across a traditional turkey dinner like you're accustomed to, remember the most important thing is to feel appreciative of all you have - and there will surely be a lot to be thankful for if you're in Mexico for the holiday. You might consider branching out and trying turkey prepared in a different way, like this turkey with mole sauce, for example.
Here's a list of Thanksgiving dinners being offered in Los Cabos from Los Cabos Guide: Thanksgiving Dinner Options in Los Cabos 2013. If you have access to a kitchen, you might consider preparing your own Thanksgiving dinner. Here's some info about where to buy your supplies and some alternative recipes from the Good Food in Mexico City blog by Nicholas Gilman: Thanksgiving: Doing it Yourself in Mexico City. However you decide to celebrate, I hope you have a very happy one!
Many travelers flying into Mexico have connecting flights in Mexico City. The majority of them are anxious to get on another plane to their final destination as quickly as possible, and never see more of Mexico City than the Benito Juarez International Airport and what they can glimpse out of the plane window.
Admittedly, everything in Mexico City is on a grand scale. With its 680 years of history; urban sprawl that covers over 1500 square miles; and population hovering around 20 million, the city can be intimidating, but those who do venture into the nation's capital may be pleasantly surprised by all the city has to offer.
If you'll be flying into Mexico City, consider spending a few days before continuing on to your final destination. Some time spent exploring this city can be a great complement to your trip. This list of the Mexico City sights you shouldn't miss will help you make the most of your time.
More about Mexico City:
In the latest Mexico Travel Newsletter (subscribe here to receive future ones direct to your inbox), I answered some questions that get asked frequently by readers. One of my readers, Carol, wrote back to me with some questions about her upcoming trip to Los Cabos.
1. We are staying at a 4 star resort - can we drink the water?
Generally it's not advisable to drink tap water in Mexico, but some resorts do have purified tap water; ask at reception or look for a sign near the tap that says "agua potable." If the tap water is not purified, don't worry: your hotel will surely provide you with bottled water for your stay, and when you're out and about you'll find bottled water readily available to purchase wherever you go. Read more here: Can I drink the water?
2. Do we have to have shots before we travel?
Most people visiting resort areas in Mexico don't get any special immunizations prior to travel. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control does recommend that travelers to Mexico have Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccinations, however. If you're concerned about it, check with your doctor.
3. Is it safe to wander away from the hotel?
Los Cabos is among the safest destinations in Mexico. Practice normal safety precautions like you would anywhere, but you should definitely explore outside your resort. Walk along the beach, stroll around the Marina in Cabo San Lucas, and take a self-guided walking tour of San Jose del Cabo.
4. I want to buy some vitamins - how can I find out where to go?
This is really easy. As you're strolling around San Jose del Cabo, if you spot this blue guy, just follow the arrow - or anywhere you see a sign that says "Farmacia." If you're planning on buying something other than vitamins, remember that when traveling back to the United States or Canada, you may be asked to show a prescription for any medications you're carrying.
5. What sight-seeing tours would you recommend?
There are many tours and fun things to do in Los Cabos. Two activities that I enjoyed on my last trip were whale watching with Cabo Expeditions and a camel riding safari with Cabo Adventures.
Do you have questions about travel to Mexico? Send me an e-mail at gomexico @ aboutguide.com and I'll try to answer as many as I can.
A new tradition in Cancun was begun last year: a parade of festively decorated boats through the Nichupte Lagoon at sunset marks the beginning of the holiday season. This year's Sunset Boat Parade will be held on December 1st. Participating boats and yachts are festooned with Christmas lights and decorations and depart from the Sunset Admiral Yacht Club & Marina, traveling through the lagoon to Malecón Tajamar, then to Km 14.1 of Avenida Kukulkan before returning to the marina. At the end of the parade, attendees will enjoy a cocktail party with musical entertainment, and a fireworks show. The top three boats with the best decorations will receive prizes. Want to watch the parade? You'll be able to see it from the lagoon side of the Cancun hotel zone anywhere between Km 7 and 14, or from the Malecon downtown.
Hosted by Sunset World Resorts which owns Hacienda Tres Rios on the Riviera Maya, and Sunset Royal Beach Resort and Sunset Marina Resort & Yacht Club in Cancun, among others, the boat parade is a fun festive event for Cancun locals and visitors alike to initiate the Christmas season in Mexico. Check out the Sunset World website for more information about the Sunset Boat Parade.
See more festivals and events in Mexico in December.
Day of the Dead celebrations peak during the first two days of November, but the whole month is full of festivals and events, including Morelia's International Music Festival, the Yucatan Bird Festival and the International Gourmet Festival in Puerto Vallarta, not to mention the commemoration of the Mexican Revolution.
Travel to Mexico in November has other advantages besides its events: the weather is milder than at other times, rainy season is over and hurricane season is drawing to a close, but high season has not yet begun, so you should be able to find some good deals and you won't have to worry about crowds.
If you're planning a trip to Mexico this month, have a look at our list of November festivals and events in Mexico.
If you didn't grow up with the tradition of Day of the Dead, it may be difficult to understand this Mexican holiday. Images of skulls, skeletons and coffins strike many as morbid, and the fact that they are portrayed in a playful way may be even more baffling. Some people don't really grasp the meaning of the holiday until they've experienced it in Mexico. Others may feel an immediate connection with the customs surrounding Day of the Dead, and incorporate its traditions into their own lives. To grasp the meaning of this holiday, it helps to understand its origins and history, which you can read about here: Day of the Dead Origins and History.
Of course, Day of the Dead celebrations entail a vocabulary that may be unfamiliar. Even Spanish-speakers may feel out of their depth with words like Hanal Pixan, Xantolo and cempasuchitl. Here's a list of words with their definitions, to help you brush up on your Day of the Dead vocabulary.