People who visit Mexico City for the first time are often surprised by it. They expect traffic, pollution, and crime. What they find is a modern, cosmopolitan city and a world of cultural offerings they never imagined. It's a fascinating place with more museums than any other city in the world, a history that dates back to ancient times, and amazing food options that range from delicious street stand tacos to delectable world-class gourmet offerings. The main problem first-time visitors face is deciding where to start. Here are my picks for top 10 Mexico City sights. The easiest way for Mexico City novices to get around? Take the Turibus.
Start planning your trip with our Mexico City travel guide.
We often think of Mexico's beach destinations, but Mexico's colonial cities offer rich cultural experiences, exuberant festivities, excellent cuisine and superb handicrafts all with a beautiful backdrop of colonial architecture and a fascinating history. Mexico's colonial history marked the collision of two very distinct cultures. It was a time of great upheaval and destruction, but this period also gave rise to a flourishing of art and architecture. Many cities in Mexico conserve their colonial town plan, cobblestone streets and beautiful colonial architecture. Several of Mexico's colonial cities have been recognized by the UNESCO as forming part of the heritage of humanity. Find out which cities are on UNESCO's list and learn more about them: Mexico's World Heritage Cities.
Photo of Puebla's Cathedral © Suzanne Barbezat
Monte Alban and Mitla are Oaxaca's best known archaeological sites, though Oaxaca State has many, many more, including one important site that was opened to the public fairly recently. Atzompa was a satellite city of Monte Alban, and is located on a hilltop adjacent to it. This is a large and stunning site that, like Monte Alban, offers lovely views of the valley. Several important finds have made headlines during the the recent excavation. The finding of a large kiln, which is very similar to those still in use in the area today shows that pottery specialization in this area dates back to ancient times. The site also has a temple which contains a tomb with multiple chambers; apparently the building was constructed for the express purpose of housing the funeral chambers. This is very unusual for the area, where tombs were generally located below residences and temples.
Explore the ancient site in this series of photographs of Atzompa archaeological site.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada, met with Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto last week for the 3 Amigos Summit in Toluca, Mexico. This city is located just outside of Mexico's capital, 40 miles west of Mexico City. Toluca is a large city that is industrialized and prosperous, but is seldom visited by tourists, except those who use its airport, which has been used to handle overflow from the Mexico City airport. Toluca does have a few places of interest to visitors, however. The botanical garden is located in the city center in a structure that also contains an impressive work of stained-glass art called the "Cosmovitral," this mural depicts "Man and his Relation to the Universe," and is one of the sites that visitors shouldn't miss. Some stay in Toluca for a couple of nights in order to ascend the Nevado de Toluca, a nearby dormant volcano that is Mexico's fourth highest peak. Whatever the reason for the visit, travelers in Toluca should certainly sample the local specialties such as the chorizo, and "pambazos." Read our profile of Toluca city.
Creative Commons photo by Hernan Luna
Veracruz Carnival dancers - Creative Commons photo by cable369
Carnival kicks off this week in Mexico. It's time to break out the fancy costumes and get ready for parades, music, dancing, fireworks, food, and drink. This is a time to celebrate, let your hair down and maybe go a little bit crazy. Carnival celebrations vary throughout Mexico, with the largest ones taking place in Mazatlan and Veracruz, but many Mexican destinations celebrate Carnaval exuberantly. Find out where to celebrate Carnival in Mexico, and more information about how Mexico celebrates Carnaval.
Some travelers love partying in a huge crowd, staying up late doing tequila shots and dancing on tables. Others prefer a more relaxed time, maybe swinging gently in a hammock while listening to the sound of the waves, or strolling cobblestone streets and taking in local culture. Mexico offers something for both these types of travelers, and more. If you'd like to plan a trip to Mexico in the next couple of months, and your idea of a good time does not include competing in a wet t-shirt contest or being filmed as part of an MTV Special, don't worry. You can enjoy peace and tranquility in Mexico, even during the spring season. Check out our guide to avoiding the spring break madness: Avoid Spring Break in Mexico.
Photo © Suzanne Barbezat
If you still haven't decided what to do with your loved one this Valentine's Day (you didn't forget, did you?!), here are some last minute ideas to make the day extra-special and extra-romantic.
- Chicago will be performing at the Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort in Cancun on February 14th and 15th. I can't think of a better way to show your sweetie that he or she is your inspiration than a beach getaway for two and a concert by this band that's known for their romantic hits. Reserve a stay through the Palace Resorts website.
- If you'll be in Los Cabos for the holiday, consider treating your love to a special Valentine's Day romantic dinner at The Westin Los Cabos Arrecife restaurant. It begins with a rose martini and ends with a "Chocolate Symphony". Sounds delicious! More info: The Westin Resort & Spa Los Cabos
- They're celebrating puppy love at Hacienda San Angel Inn in Puerto Vallarta. If you adopt a dog or cat from the Puerto Vallarta SPCA before March 15, you will receive a voucher for one night stay at this romantic boutique hotel. Check out Hacienda San Angel special offers for more details.
- Want to treat your sweetie to a getaway at an all-inclusive resort without breaking the bank? Get 25% off when you book a stay at Barceló Maya Colonial in the Riviera Maya for two nights before February 17th. More info here: Barceló Maya Colonial.
February is generally the best month to visit the Monarch butterfly reserves in Mexico, however this year the Monarch population is at the lowest numbers that have been seen since records have been kept starting in 1993. In 1997 the butterfly population in the overwintering grounds in the oyamel forests of Michoacan and Mexico states covered 45 acres, but this year it's down to just 1.65 acres. Researchers estimate that there are about 35 million butterflies, but that's less than half the number that was seen last year, which was also a record low. The decline is due to shrinking habitat and unusual weather patterns. Monarch lay their eggs only on milkweed, and the plant has decreased rapidly along the migration route due to the use of herbicide resistant crops and development.
This year will certainly not be the best to visit the Monarch reserves, but with the numbers of migrating butterflies decreasing so dramatically, there is a danger that the amazing phenomena of the Monarch migration may disappear completely, so sadly, this may be one of the last opportunities to see it at all. According to Monarch Watch, the numbers can rebound only if weather conditions are favorable and there is enough milkweed along the migration route to support population growth. Do your part to help conserve the Monarch butterfly and their mysterious and spectacular migration by planting milkweed and other butterfly-friendly plants, and getting involved in other conservation efforts.
More information about Mexico's Monarch butterfly reserves.
Photo © Suzanne Barbezat
When you think vacation, you may think of long lazy days by the pool or on the beach drinking calorie-laden cocktails, and overdoing it at the buffet. Many people return from their holidays a few pounds heavier and fatigued from heavy partying. You could make better use of your vacation time, however. Going on vacation doesn't mean you have to leave behind your resolve to be fit and healthy. If you'd rather spend your Mexican vacation learning and reinforcing healthy habits, there are many options. Check out Healthy Vacations in Mexico for a few ideas.
Photo courtesy Rancho La Puerta
San Miguel de Allende is one of Mexico's most picturesque towns. It's got lovely colonial architecture, charming cobblestone streets, and hotels and restaurants to suit every palate and budget. It's very popular with expats and visitors, and it's home to a large artist community. The best way to discover this town is on foot. Strolling through San Miguel's colorful streets and shady plazas will not only open your eyes to the city's charm and beauty; it will also allow you to discover its rich history. Take a virtual walking tour of San Miguel de Allende.