Wanderlust: A Guide To Mexico

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Welcome to another edition in my Wanderlust series! This series allows me to indulge in my travel fantasies, of all the different places in the world I would love to visit one day. Some are definitely a dream only, and some are well within my reach, like today’s destination – Mexico. In this guide, I’ll fill you in about my dream holiday to Mexico, a bit about the country itself, and how to get there. I’ll tell you about vacation rentals in Mexico, as well things to do, food and drink to enjoy, and finally stuff you should know before you go!

If you have a wanderlust to visit Mexico, or have visited this Central American country, then tell me all about it in the comments!

Wanderlust - A Guide To Mexico In this guide, you'll learn a bit about the country itself, and how to get there. I’ll tell you about vacation rentals in Mexico, as well things to do, food and drink to enjoy, and finally stuff you should know before you go!

A Guide To Mexico

Our Dream Mexico Holiday

I know lots of friends that have been to Mexico – most of them to Cancun, and mostly in resorts. When visiting a country as exciting and cultural as Mexico, the last thing we want is to be stuck in a tourist trap! I asked a Mexican friend (now living in the USA) of mine about Mexico and he said it’s best to stick to the tourist areas, which are policed well. As with everything in this world we live in these days, it is wise to be aware of your surroundings, not to flash cash/wealth, and to stick to tours and guides etc.

As much as I like to go off the beaten path, we’re not crazy adventurous! We would love to see the ancient ruins and pyraminds; visit churches and museums, maybe even get to a few different cities during a trip. We are an adventurous foodie couple though, so a food tour would be a must, as would visiting local markets for souvenirs. I love the bright, bold, and colour designs of Mexican fabrics, pottery, and art so I know I would be seeking out traditional crafted goods.

With a diverse landscape, I would also make sure we saw as much of it as we could – the sandy beaches, the lush jungle, the desert, the mountains, the cities… We probably couldn’t fit it all into one trip, but I know we sure would try!

Mexican Flag

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Where In The World?

Mexico is a country between the U.S. and Central America that’s known for its Pacific and Gulf of Mexico beaches and its diverse landscape of mountains, deserts and jungles. Ancient ruins such as Teotihuacán and the Mayan city of Chichén Itzá are scattered throughout the country, as are Spanish colonial-era towns. In capital Mexico City, upscale shops, renowned museums and gourmet restaurants cater to modern life.Google Maps

Mexico is a vibrant, colourful country with friendly people, a long history, and delicious food (who doesn’t love Mexican food?!) It has a lot to offer visitors with miles and miles of sandy beaches to chill out on, crystal clear waters for diving, warm sunshine to bask in, ancient ruins to marvel at, and cultural cities to explore.

While researching for this post I found myself getting more lost in all the places to see, and things to do in Mexico – much more than I thought. Mexico is more than Cancun, which is the first city most of us would think of when it comes to a holiday in this Central American country.

I am always one for going off the beaten path a bit, but there are places in the world that you need to make sure you are not too far off it. and I would always check your Government website for up to date safety and security advice for your chosen destination. The UK site allows you to set up alerts, which we found handy on our trip to Paris in 2015 after the terrorist attack at the Bataclan.

On reading through, it says “The Mexican government makes efforts to protect major tourist destinations like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta and Nuevo Vallarta and these areas haven’t seen the levels of drug-related violence and crime experienced elsewhere.” Ultimately, when on holiday, no matter where you go in the world, you shouldn’t leave your common sense back at home. Be alert, don’t carry large amounts of cash, etc., I hate being a party pooper, but it is the world we live in.

Cancun Mexico Beach

Mexican Market

Palenque Pyramid - Mexico

Oaxaca Mexico

Wish You Were Here?

Flight time from the UK to Cancun is around 11 hours, and from the UK to Mexico City is around 12 hours (non-stop). Since flight prices can vary from airline to airline, I tend to use a flight checkers to compare them all and get the best deal. According to one of them:

“Four airlines offer direct flights from London to Cancun. Thomas Cook Airlines and Thomson Airways fly from Stansted. British Airways, Thomas Cook Airlines, Thomson Airways and Virgin Atlantic fly from Gatwick.

Indirect flights are offered from Heathrow by American Airlines (with one stop in Miami), United (with a stop in New York-Newark), British Airways (stopping in Dallas) and Air Canada (with a stop in Toronto). Air Europa offer indirect flights from Gatwick (with a stop in Madrid).”

Plane

Where To Stay

When we go abroad we have always veered towards self catering accommodation, like villas or apartments. Villas especially can be great if you are a large family, or travelling as a larger group. They often have their own private pool which is always a bonus! As well as a number of bathrooms – meaning no fighting over who gets to shower first! I also love the home from home feel. Sometimes you don’t want to go out for dinner, but with the amazing food in Mexico, you could cook something delicious in your villa. Or if you have young kids who won’t last the evening, you can pop them into bed, and have the night for yourselves.

There are a vast number of hotels with different styles, locations, and amenities. When choosing, decide what is important to you the most and research from there. Do you want to be near a beach? Have spa treatments? Be all inclusive? Have a specific view? So many options!

Cancun Mexico

Things To Do

Chichén Itzá is a complex of Mayan ruins on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. A massive step pyramid, known as El Castillo or Temple of Kukulcan, dominates the ancient city, which thrived from around 600 A.D. to the 1200s. Graphic stone carvings survive at structures like the ball court, Temple of the Warriors and the Wall of the Skulls. Nightly sound-and-light shows illuminate the buildings’ sophisticated geometry. (Thank you Wiki!)  But it’s not just that pyramid, there are many more to see thanks to the ancient history of the Mayans and the Aztecs.

Chichen Itza Mexico

If you’re after a bit of R&R, then chilling out at a spot along the miles and miles of white sandy beaches is for you! But if you’re more of an adrenaline junkie, then why not sign up for a jungle tour where you can zip line over the canopy, and snorkel in caves? You can also swim with whale sharks, or go snorkelling in amongst the reefs and wrecks. If you’d like to stay above the water, then there are catamaran cruises, and glass-bottomed boat tours.

What you can see and do will depend on where you stay in Mexico, so the Tourist Board website is always a good place to start with your research and planning!

Cenote Mexico

No visitor to Mexico should miss the chance to join in a fiesta, with traditional dancing, music, processions and more. The annual calendar is full of them! You may have heard of Day of the Dead – where the dead are celebrated, rather than mourned (1 November). Carnaval – the week before lent starts, and ends with Mardi Gras (dates change). Cinco de Mayo (5 May) which commemorates the 1862 Battle of Puebla, it’s a public holiday in Mexico, but is actually celebrated more enthusiastically in the US (and in my house too!)

When you’re not quite sure of what to do, I find tours are a great way to go – you can be guided through cities, nightclubs, bars, shops, ancient ruins, food markets… It’s also worth checking out the itineraries from Rough Guides, the Classic Mexico three week tour sounds like the one I would love to do the most – and hits the most popular for travellers. As much as I love the beach – I can only do a couple of days before I get bored. Mexico is so full of culture and vibrancy I would have to see more than the shoreline!

Fiesta

Fiesta

Mexico Pavilion, Epcot World Showcase

Food & Drink

What most of us describe as Mexican food – chilli con carne, fajitas, and enchiladas for example, are really Tex-Mex; a fusion of Southwestern American and Mexican cuisines. But they do have a lot in common – after all, there is a Mexican influence in Tex-Mex food!

You will find international cuisines in tourist areas and resorts like Italian, Chinese, Japanese, burgers, pizza, etc.  But I can order that food at home in the UK! If I’m going to Mexico I want to eat Mexican food!

Making Tortillas

chili peppers

beans

corn on the cob

At its basic level, Mexican food comprises of beans, chillies, and corn. Beans are usually pinto or kidney and accompany nearly everything. You will probably have heard of refried beans, where they are cooked, mashed and then fried. Corn is eaten as a vegetable in itself, in soups and stews, or ground into a flour to make tortillas; which themselves are turned into other dishes with meat, fish and vegetables like tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas, tostadas, and burritos. Corn flour is also used to make tamales which are pockets of corn dough, filled with sweet or savoury fillings, covered with banana leaves and then steamed – just remember to discard the banana leaf before eating!

Tamales

Taco

Mexican food is full of flavour, hearty, and of course chillies! After all there are over 100 types of chilli to experiment with, and the Mexicans use them as much for flavour as they do for heat. You’ll always find something on the side too – mole (pronounced mol-eh), a rich sauce made with over 20 ingredients; pico de gallo; salsas, and guacamole. If you want to cook up some authentic Mexican food at home to remind you of your travels, one of these 76 recipes should help.

Many Mexican dishes are meat free, so its great for travelling vegetarians. However, you might want to check that your food hasn’t been fried in lard, or been cooked in a meat broth. Vegetarianism is growing, but not that common in Mexico.

Tequila is made from the agave plant, and is Mexico’s most famous spirit. It is usually drunk straight with lime and salt; or with chili and a tomato chaser called a sangrita. It also forms the basis of a margarita cocktail – but this is considered a ladies drink and a waste of tequila!! Mexican beer is mostly light larger e.g., Sol. For a more flavoursome beer try a Corona.

For soft drinks, there is of course water (drink only bottled water), as well as the usual big brand fizzy drinks. But for something more authentic like aguas frescas which are a combination of fruits, cereals, flowers, or seeds blended with sugar and water to make light non-alcoholic beverages. Jugos (real fruit juices) and licuados (like smoothies) are also popular. As too are horchata – milk flavoured with cinnamon. It’s also worth trying the Mexican hot chocolate which is a spicy, semi-bitter concoction.

Tequila bottles

              

 

Tequilla

Know Before You Go

Entry Requirements

Citizens of the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and most EU countries do not need visas to enter Mexico as tourists for less than 180 days. Other Europeans can stay for ninety days. Non-US citizens travelling via the US, however, may need a US visa. – Rough Guides

Timezone

Five time zones exist in Mexico. Most of the country is GMT -6 hours, and BST -5, which is the same as US Central Time.

Currency

The local currency is the Mexican Nuevo Peso, known colloquially as ‘Peso’. It’s easier to exchange US dollar travellers’ cheques and notes into local currency than Sterling. UK debit and credit cards are widely accepted for payment and in ATMs. It’s not usually possible to exchange cash at hotel receptions – this can only be done at banks and bureaux de change.

Tipping

Some restaurants add a service charge (propina), around 10%. You do not need to tip more if this is added to your bill. At a bar in Mexico tip between 10 and 20 pesos per drink at the bar. If you run a tab, you can tip at the end, as a percentage of the total bill, in which case tip around 15%.Tipping in Mexico

Language

Spanish is the main language of Mexico. In tourist areas, you should be able to get by, by speaking English – but it’s always appreciated if you try to speak in the native language.

Climate

In summer, temperatures are between the high-20Cs and the mid-30Cs, and even in the winter months you can expect temperatures to top 28°C. There’s a little more rain in the summer months, between June and October, but it’s usually just an hour or two in the evening – the rest of the time it’s blue skies and sunshine. This is quite normal for tropical climates. Mexico does see the occasional hurricane between July and October, but they’re pretty rare, and hotels are well prepared if a storm does occur.

Drinking water

Drink only boiled or bottled water and avoid ice in drinks.

Health

Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. There are no reciprocal health arrangements between Mexico and any other country, so travel insurance is essential. NHS – Travel Vacinations (UK) | CDC Health Information (USA)

Religion

Most Mexicans are also quite religious, and about three-quarters are Roman Catholic; you will often see little altars by the roadside, and many people cross themselves whenever they pass a church.

Church - Temax, Mexico

Virgin Mary Statue

And Finally…

My Wanderlust series was born out of my increasing desire to travel – I’ve got a long list of countries, and places I would love to be able to visit one day! I have always loved researching things, and writing these guides adds to the excitement as I discover more about the places we will (hopefully) on day be visiting.

I know I couldn’t possible write about everything that Mexico has to offer, so I do advise that you do your own additional research before booking a trip.

There are also a few other things I do when planning a holiday:

Skirmish

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You can also check out the other destinations in my Wanderlust series: The Maldives

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