A visit to Mexico immediately introduces guests to its rich culture and history. From stunning magical Mayan architecture to fiery dining, Mexico has it – including 6,000 beautiful beaches. Then there is bustling Mexico City, with its colonial charm, sophisticated nightlife, and fabulous markets. Best yet, it is right next door.
The country of Mexico is located on the southern-most border of North America, with the United States to its north, the Caribbean Sea to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the southwest. The Yucatan Peninsula extends into the Gulf of Mexico in the country’s southeast. Its capital is Mexico City.
It is a country of extreme landscapes, with mountains, such as the Sierra Madre, canyons, deserts, and rainforests. If you are looking for it, you will find it in Mexico. It is the fifth-largest country in the Americas and the world’s 11th most populated country. In 2011, more than 22 million people visited Mexico.
The Yucatan was once Aztec country, the marvelous remnants of which still exist today as fortunately, many pre-Columbian treasures have been preserved. The great leader Montezuma ruled in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan until the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores. The Spanish brought in slaves to help mine Mexico’s plentiful silver and turn it into a wealthy settlement. By the 16th century, northern Mexico (much of today’s Texas) was settled by Franciscans and Jesuit missionaries, and Spanish boundaries kept moving north into the French territories of Louisiana.
By 1824, Mexico had fought off the Spaniards and the French and became an independent republic.
The Mexican culture is a blend of its indigenous past and its newer European influence. Its capital, Mexico City, is the soul of the country. Saturday is Mexico City’s market day. The Tianguis Cultural del Chopo flea market is where you can find anything, and the Mercado San Juan, also downtown, is known for its exotic gourmet delicacies. For sheer relaxation, locals and visitors stroll the Chapultepee Garden with its piped-in music. There are 150 museums and artistic venues here. Gourmands have over 55,000 different restaurants from which to choose. The city is a bustling modern contrast to the pre-historical gems to be found in the rest of Mexico, where the old and the new live in harmony.
Language Spoken in Mexico
Technically, Spanish is Mexico’s official language spoken by over 90 percent of its citizens. However, an array of indigenous languages are also legally recognized. The Spanish of Mexico is different than the Spanish of Barcelona. Due to its proximity to the U.S., Mexico’s Spanish shifts from English phrases to indigenous dialects to colonial Spanish.
Twenty-one percent of Mexican are self-described indigenous with their own traditional dialect.
While only 10 percent of Mexicans speak English, it is widely recognized in most tourist areas.
Currency Used in Mexico
The Mexican peso is Mexico’s official currency. The U.S. dollar is widely accepted, especially in tourist regions. While visiting Mexico, it is best to carry dollars for tours and accommodations and have pesos handy for the smaller necessities.
Things to Do in Mexico
Visit Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza, located in the Yucatan Peninsula, was one of the most important Mayan cities, and it is one of Mexico’s most amazing tourist destinations dating back to 600 AD. It has been named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, with over 2,500,000 visitors each year. There is so much to see, it is undoubtedly best experienced with a knowledgeable tour guide. Most tours originate from Cancun or the Riviera Maya. El Castillo is the largest and primary of the temples, with its 365 steps providing an outstanding view.
Hike the Sierra Norte Mountains, Oaxaca
The Sierra Norte region of Oaxaca is one of Mexico’s hidden gems, missed by those remaining on the tourist paths leading to Cancun and Playa del Carmen. The region consists of eight villages called the Pueblo Mancomunadoes with approximately 3,000 permanent residents who are reliant on eco-tourism, and each village has its own hiking or biking guide. Cabins serve as accommodations for hikers. After exploring the villages, there are pine forests, a plethora of special plant life, and outstanding scenery, although many hikers are more charmed by spending time with the local villagers.
Hidden Beach, Marietas Islands
The Hidden Beach is one of the islands in Marietas Island National Park, located an hour from Puerto Vallarta. This wonder of nature was created by volcanic activity. The islands are home to a myriad of sea life, including humpback whales during the winter months. But it isn’t the whales that bring visitors from around the world.
The Hidden Beach is a formerly enclosed cave that was burst open to the skies. No one is sure, but the opening may have been created by test bombs in the early 20th century. Now, it is a huge pool of water with a beach and perfectly blue water surrounded by white sand which is accessible only during low tide. Visitors can swim and snorkel to their heart’s content.
Ziplining in Puerto Vallarta
What do ziplining and mules have in common? They are bound to raise your adrenaline to the sky during your Puerto Vallarta outdoor adventure. You will ride to the Sierra Madre Mountains, where a mule will carry you through the jungle to the heights. Once at the destination, you will soar through the air, rappel along a waterfall, and enjoy nature’s natural pools of water. TripAdvisor has rated this heart-pumper one of the top ten adventures in Mexico.
Museo Frida Kahlo in Mexico City
This museum used to be the home and inspiration of Mexico’s famed artist. What is now known as the “Blue House” is where Frida was born and lived. It is now a museum that exhibits her remarkable work.
Cancún Underwater Museum, Cancun
Cancun Underwater Museum is without doubt one of the most unique museums in the world. There are 500 sculptures, all sitting underwater. Visitors can either snorkel through the galleries or take a glass-bottomed boat.
Best Regions to Visit in Mexico
Cancun and the Mayan Riviera
Cancun is an island with luxury hotels and malls and beaches, while the Riviera Maya stretches along the eastern side of the Yucatan Peninsula. It is known for its stunning beaches and incredible towns such as Playa del Carmen. Away from the beaches, visitors will discover underground rivers and jungles.
Five million visitors from around the world come to Playa del Carmen, with its white-sand beaches and exciting nightlife. Watersports include snorkeling and scuba diving among colorful tropical fish.
Puerto Vallarta grew from a fishing village to a top Mexican beach getaway. Its natural beauty and surrounding jungle attracted Hollywood insiders such as John Huston and Elizabeth Taylor, which brought it to the attention of the world. Puerto Vallarta has become a destination for the famous, but also all other tourists. The former fishing village now has gourmet eateries, luxury resorts, swimming with the dolphins, jet skiing, and paragliding.
Cabo San Lucas
Top-rated magazines have described Cabo San Lucas as “one of the most beautiful resort destinations in the world.” Each beach is grander than the next. Whales are plentiful during whale season. Thirty restaurants have earned their reputation for dining with a flair; there is even a Michelin-rated chef. Or enjoy some tequila shots at Coco Bongo, the ultimate in Cabo nightclubs which just happens to be owned by actor Jim Carrey. The action here continues through the night.
Copper Canyon: Mexico’s Grand Canyon
Let’s be clear. Mexico’s Copper Canyon is no Grand Canyon. The Copper Canyon is seven times larger with six different rivers flowing through it. It is a true phenomenon of nature. Some Aztec descendants still live here. People can hike the canyon or roam around with a four-wheeler. But the magical way to see Copper Canyon is to take the Copper Canyon Train.
The 390-mile train ride begins in Los Mochis and goes to Chihuahua City, then back. It crosses 39 bridges and moves through 86 tunnels as it traverses some of Mexico’s most fierce landscape through mountains and ravines. It is breathtaking.
The train ride can be done in one 13-hour trip, or riders can stop for an evening at any of the stops within the canyons and take another train the following day or even a few days later. First Class trains have reclining seats, a restaurant, and a club car. The economy train has more stops and does not have a restaurant, only a snack vendor.
Best All-Inclusive Resort or Hotel in Mexico
Royal Sands and Spa (Cancun)
The all-inclusive beachfront Royal Sands and Spa in beautiful Cancun may be Mexico’s most popular hotel. Food and beverages in the resort’s three restaurants are unlimited, as are the activities. The resort offers all watersports, three pools, tennis, and golf. The Kid’s Club provides supervised activities for youngsters between the ages of 5 and 12.
Kids will also enjoy roaming the nearby Costa Occidental de Isla Mujeres National Park, while adults can indulge in some shopping at the neighboring shopping plazas or enjoy some of the resort’s classes in cooking, dancing, and yoga. Or they can indulge in an in-room massage.
Best Resort or Hotel for Couples in Mexico
El Dorado Marma (Riviera Maya)
The El Dorado Marma in Riviera Maya is an all-adult, all-inclusive beachfront resort with an incredible view of the Caribbean. It has earned the Conde Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Award for the 4th best resort in the world.
The private villas and over-the-water bungalows ensure absolute privacy and romance. Couples can delight in a true culinary journey at the resort’s 14 restaurants. The spa offers oceanfront massages and other revitalizing treatments. Scuba diving trips and fishing trips can be arranged with the front desk.
Best Resort or Hotel for Families in Mexico
Fiesta Americana Condesa Cancun
The breathtaking oceanfront Fiesta Americana Condesa Cancun has a bit of paradise for everyone in the family, from live entertainment and dancing at Rick’s Bar to a stroll on the white-sand beach. The Miiluma Spa offered unparallel pampering while the amazing dining is all-inclusive.
The Fiesta Kids Club has a variety of activities for youngsters, and the resort’s Teen Club offers teens a place to hang out and make new friends.
Although most well known for tequila, tacos, beaches, and spring break, Mexico is an amazing destination for your honeymoon (and even your destination wedding!). The Mayan Riviera and Yucatan are full of all-inclusive resorts, beautiful white sand beaches, fantastic marine life, Mayan ruins, and charming colonial towns.
Cancun is just a short flight from the Eastern US and serves as the transport hub for the region. For those wanting to venture further afield, Mexico City is surrounded by adorable colonial towns and spectacular scenery. Transport in Mexico is inexpensive with super comfortable buses plying between cities and cheap flights throughout the country.