Mexico travel guide, including map of Mexico, top Mexican travel experiences, tips for travel in Mexico, plus where to see whales and Mayan ruins in Mexico
From the vivid wall paintings at Bonampak to the mighty temples of Chichén Itzá, the sheer variety of archaeological sites in Mexico is astounding. Add to this the brilliance of the Caribbean Sea, huge canyons and dense jungles and you have an invigorating cocktail of culture and landscapes.
Congested, polluted and gloriously manic, Mexico City was originally founded by the Aztecs. Beyond the capital, the pace slows. Colonial cities, founded on the wealth of silver mines, rest assuredly on their architectural laurels. Within easy striking distance of Mexico City, the mountains and desert plains of Querétaro are another world: people quietly go about their business as they always have, farming and producing crafts for sale at the local markets.
The city of Oaxaca is the jewel in Mexico's gastronomic crown, home to colourful markets and a wide array of restaurants and street stalls serving regional specialties such mole amarillo and empanadas stuffed with courgette flowers and molten quesillo (a mozzarella-like cheese). Sign up for one of the cookery courses and market tours offered by many restaurants around town.
Adventurers flock to Mexico to climb the volcanic peaks, to descend into the deepest cenotes or to spill down the white waters of the Antigua and Pescado rivers. The Caribbean offers superb diving off the Quintana Roo coastline, while on the west coast surfers ride the giant rollers beside the beautiful beaches of the wild Pacific and Baja California. In the far north-west, the Sea of Cortéz is one of the planet’s richest marine feeding grounds – where, if you’re lucky, you’ll spot hammerhead sharks, dolphins and California grey whales.
Time your visit for the Night of the Radishes (23 December), a Oaxacan festival with ornate sculptures carved from radishes, or Carnival and Semana Santa (Holy Week), celebrated throughout the country with much colour and partying. When riding the Copper Canyon Railway, for the best views, sit on the right-hand side of the carriage to Creel and on the left to Los Mochis.
Much of Mexico is safe for tourists but some states, particular those along the border with the USA, experience high levels of gang-related violence and should be avoided. The situation can change relatively quickly so be sure to keep a close eye on FCO warnings and to check with locals.
Wanderlust web intern Thomas Rees on the thing he wished he'd known before he arrived:
"Bring a big rucksack. There are some magnificent finds to be had in the markets of Oaxaca. It's hard to resist!”
You can visit at almost any time of year. The driest season is from mid-December to April, though July and August are the peak holiday times for international visitors. The highlands of the interior can be quite chilly at night. Hurricane season runs roughly from June to October/November.
Benito Juárez Airport (MEX) is 13km from Mexico City; Cancun Airport (CUN) is 14km fromthe city.
Luxury inter-city coaches and simple buses use Mexico’s good road network. Hiring a car is possible but be warned: traffic is a nightmare. Ferries connect Baja California with mainland Mexico. Trains are restricted to a couple of tourist servces. Internal flights are useful if covering long distances. The Mexipass airpass is good if you want to visit several places in a short amount of time; book before arriving in Mexico.
Across Mexico, finding a room is usually only a problem in coastal resorts during peak season and anywhere at fiesta time. For budget travellers, hostels are ten a penny, apart from in areas such as Cancún where luxury resort hotels with private beaches rule the roost. There are few official campsites. Hotels should have an official price displaced outside.
You really should prepare your stomach for a trip to Mexico; the food is so fabulous you’ll struggle to leave the table. A world away from the fare on offer in ‘Mexican’ restaurants outside the country, food in Mexico varies from region to region. Wherever you go, expect to come across lovingly prepared dishes based on corn, tortillas, chilli and beans. Try mole poblano, a thick sauce of chocolate, chillies and nuts usually served with chicken. In the Yucatán, look for cochinita pibil, a tasty dish of pork marinated in spices and garlic, and the scarily hot chilli pepper habanero. No trip to central Mexico is complete without a few glasses of tequila, while only the brave will be tempted by the chapulines in Oaxaca – crispy grasshoppers fried in chilli and lime. Vegetarians should note that many Mexicans think vegetarianism means eating no red meat: make sure that the ‘vegetarian’ special doesn’t feature fish or chicken.
Ease your way into the pleasures of Mexican cuisine – bacteria in the food can cause problems for sensitive stomachs. Go for freshly cooked food and steer clear of salads, unpeeled fruit and raw seafood for at least the first few days.
Mexico does have some alarming statistics when it comes to crime but if you keep your wits about you and take sensible precautions, you should be fine. Petty theft and pick-pocketing are the biggest problem, especially in cities. Don’t hail cabs or take taxis parked outside nightclubs or restaurants in Mexico City; instead, phone a taxi service (sitio).
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