Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Mexico.

Celebrating Life In Mexico: Dia De Los Muertos

Bathed in the glow of hundreds of flickering candles, I breathed in the heady perfume of copal incense. As my eyes adjusted to the gloom, I tentatively picked my way through the jumble of tightly packed gravestones. An elderly woman pulled her shawl around her as she adorned her husband’s grave with sweet-scented marigolds and prepared for an all-night vigil. At a neighbouring grave, a family remembered their dead with tales, tamales and toasts of mezcal. Suddenly there was a plaintive wail, trumpets blared and a mariachi band launched into a Spanish version of ‘My Way’.

Despite its name, Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is far from macabre. It’s a time to remember the dearly departed, a joyful celebration of lives led, rather than a sombre mourning of its passing. In a country as geographically and socially diverse as Mexico, the festivities vary from region to region, but around the city of Oaxaca, in south-east Mexico, it involves more ceremony and ritual than anywhere else in the country.

Food for the fiesta – When the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes reached Oaxaca (pronounced wa-HAH-ca) in 1521, he found a captivating place of green valleys flanked by high mountains; a new city soon grew over and around the great Zapotec and Mixtec temples. Today, much of Oaxaca’s charm lies in its convergence of indigenous cultures and the juxtaposition of the ancient and modern. Its zocalo (central square) is filled with flowering purple jacaranda and orange flamboyant trees; its imposing Church and Monastery of Santo Domingo are some of the best examples of colonial architecture in Mexico; world-class museums and contemporary galleries sit next to socio-political street art; it’s home to the finest markets in the country, as well some of its top chefs. One such chef is Alejandro Ruiz,. Inspired by the richness of native produce he turns traditional recipes into gourmet fare.

Oaxaca City - A colonial gem, filled with fascinating museums, shops, galleries and top-notch restaurants.

Oaxaca City – A colonial gem, filled with fascinating museums, shops, galleries and top-notch restaurants.

At his award-winning restaurant, Casa Oaxaca, I feasted on venison tamales with mole. This rich sauce, made from an eclectic mix of up to 40 ingredients – including bitter chocolate and fiery chillies – is an elemental part of any Oaxacan celebration, including Day of the Dead. Even Oaxaca’s traditional spirit is reaching a new audience these days, as modern mezcalarias sprout up around the city. At Mezcalateca, a dark, speakeasy-style bar, I gazed at the hundreds of bottles of mezcal standing shoulder to shoulder. Distilled from cultivated and wild maguey, the spirit is still produced by rural families in the age-old way; as I savoured its potent smoky flavour, I was told that I was not only tasting the essence of the plant but the history, culture and politics of the land it comes from.

Keeping crafty – Traditions are well and truly alive outside Oaxaca City. Small towns with Nahuatl (Aztec) names, where Spanish is still the second language, hold thriving weekly markets; here, locally grown, seasonal food is a way of life, not a culinary movement. At the Sunday market in Tlacolula, I watched a Zapotec women, resplendent in her best frilly apron, as she stirred an enormous bowl of tejate. This non-alcoholic pre-Hispanic drink is made from ground corn, cocoa and mamey seeds, and is still drunk from gaudily painted jicaro gourds. There are also many towns and villages that still dedicate themselves to a particular craft, such as weaving, embroidery or wood carving. I travelled to San Bartolo de Coyotopec, famed for its black pottery.

At the State Museum of Popular Art I met artist Carlomagno Pedro Martinez, who was born into a traditional pottery-making family but has now turned it into fine art. He stays true to his roots but creates unique pieces that focus on the Zapotec legends he learnt as a child, and death, which he calls ‘our grandmother’. It was becoming clear that in Mexico they see death differently. “We believe that dying is not to be feared, nor is it taboo to talk about it or think about it,” Carlomagno told me. “The Mexican obsession with death pre-dates the Spanish conquest but when they arrived they couldn’t eradicate it, so they encouraged it.” Indeed, the Day of the Dead is an amalgam of pre-Columbian mysticism and Spanish Catholic tradition. Its origins stretch back to the Aztecs, who dominated central Mexico for centuries. They held a feast for the dead in the middle of the year, believing death was not the end but merely part of the cycle of life.

A Spanish manuscript dated 1553 states: “They used to celebrate the feast of the dead, offering in their honour to the devil many turkeys, corn, blankets, clothing, food… every household celebrated a great feast.” The Spanish moved the Aztec celebrations to coincide with the Catholic holiday of All Saints’ Day on 1 November and All Souls’ Day on 2 November. In fact, to call it the Day of the Dead is misleading; it’s actually several days of festivities, during which time it’s believed that the deceased – children (angelitos) on 31 October and adults on 1 November – have divine permission to visit friends and relatives on earth to eat, drink and be merry once more.

San Bartolo de Coyotepec - Part of La Ruta del Artesania, this town is home to the State Museum of Popular Art.

San Bartolo de Coyotepec – Part of La Ruta del Artesania, this town is home to the State Museum of Popular Art.

Sweet skulls & skeletons – The eating and drinking are an integral part of the festival, and back in Oaxaca City, at the diminutive Mercado Sanchez Pascuas, the preparations for the Day of the Dead were well underway. Outside, indigenous women, brightly coloured ribbons woven into their long black plaits, sold mounds of freshly cut cempasuchil (orange marigolds) and purple cock’s comb. Inside, there was a festive atmosphere, the walls festooned with papel picado – delicate tissue paper cut into intricate designs. Chillies of all shapes and sizes – fresh, dried, red, green, brown, black – were heaped together and stalls overflowed with sacks of pungent spices and fragrant sticks of cinnamon. The air was filled with the delicious aroma of steamed tamales – corn dough stuffed with meat and vegetables and wrapped in corn husks – while stallholders nibbled on chapulines, the surprisingly tasty local delicacy of deep-fried grasshoppers.

Rickety stalls were piled high with elaborately decorated sugar skulls, some with names iced on to their foreheads. There was also pan de muerto (bread of the dead), a sweet-tasting roll meant to look like bones or with a little wooden effigy baked in to the dough. The aisles were stuffed with calaca (skeleton figures) from every conceivable profession – doctors, musicians, prostitutes – all engaged in everyday activities: sitting at a typewriter, waiting at a bus stop, getting drunk in a cantina. In fact, you could buy everything that’s needed to build an ofrenda (altar) in honour of your deceased relatives. The altar is believed to help guide the spirits back for their brief sojourn. Each family builds one in their home; depending on budget, they can range from a simple decorated table to a towering five-tiered affair, but all have the same basic elements.

They looked like beautiful art installations but it wasn’t clear what they symbolised, so I jumped at the chance when a family invited me to help them build their own. We began by covering a table with a white cloth and taped brightly coloured papel picado to the front, to signify the wind and the fragility of life. Long stalks of carrizo, a type of reed, were tied to form an arch, representing the passage between life and death. We put an image of Mexico’s favourite saint, the Virgin of Guadalupe, on the altar, and then their loved ones’ favourite possessions – a book of her grandfather’s, a shawl belonging to his grandmother. They invited me to add something.

Unprepared, I stopped and thought for a moment before adding my camera to the mix in honour of my grandfather, who loved photography. Then came the food. Tamales, fresh fruit, nuts and a bowl of mole were placed on the altar as a feast for the spirits to savour. Although, being spirits, they can only consume the essence of the food. Every altar has to have a glass of water, not only because it embodies purity but because the dead are thirsty after their long journey. And not just for water. Bottles of mezcal and beer appeared, along with a packet of cigarettes. It seems bad habits continue beyond the grave. Finally, photographs of the deceased were put in pride of place. We tore up the cempasuchil to make a petal pathway to the altar and lit candles and incense to help guide the spirits home.

Cemetery celebrations – After dark on 31 October, I headed to Oaxaca’s largest cemetery, the Panteon San Miguel. Outside its gates, a carnival was already in frill swing: there were echoes of laughter as people swirled around on neon-lit amusement rides, raucous music blasted from speakers and ramshackle stalls sold beer, tacos and waffles in the shape of crosses. At the cemetery’s heart stood a 17th-century chapel, an atmospheric shell of crumbling adobe walls open to the elements. A brass band pumped out popular tunes, and candles lined the floor-to-ceiling walls of square tombs, many of which dated back hundreds of years. A stream of people – some dressed as ghosts, skeletons and mummies – filed past the extravagant altars and brightly coloured sand carpets, created especially for the festival.

Monte Alban - Dating from 500 BC, the former Zapotec capital has spectacular views over Oaxaca City.

Monte Alban – Dating from 500 BC, the former Zapotec capital has spectacular views over Oaxaca City.

Some portrayed religious icons, others the iconic image of the ‘Calavera de la Catrina’ by Jose Guadalupe Posada. In the early 20th century, the prolific printmaker and illustrator had depicted a female skeleton wearing a hat befitting the European upper classes of the time, in a satirical portrait of those Mexicans who, Posada felt, were unduly influenced by European aristocracy. Over time, she’s become inextricably linked to the Day of the Dead. I watched children play tag around the gravestones under the watchful eye of crumbling cherubs and benevolent Madonnas. It felt alien to be celebrating in a graveyard, to be celebrating death. Aren’t graveyards supposed to be places of fear and sadness? Not in Mexico. Nobel prize-winning Mexican author Octavio Paz summed it up: ‘To the people of New York, Paris, or London, ‘death’ is a word that is never pronounced because it burns the lips.

The Mexican, however, is familiar with death, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, and celebrates it.’ I moved on to the smaller and more remote Panteon Antiguo in Xoxocotlan, 5km from the city. If I thought being in a graveyard after dark was the stuff of horror films, this one bucked the trend: it was full of light and, bizarrely, life. It was midnight and the festivities were at their peak as families sat around the graves, eating, drinking, laughing and telling stories. Mariachi bands strolled from grave to grave and, for a few pesos, they would play the favourite song of the deceased. Like the ofrendas, the decorated graves overflowed with gifts and food; proud of their artistry, the families were happy for strangers to stop and admire them. In the candlelight the burial place took on an otherworldly atmosphere and, as I left the town, I watched the orange glow from the cemetery fading into the pitch black night.

Dancing with the devil – Another archaic Oaxacan Day of the Dead tradition are the comparsas – lively street parades for the dead. These involve flamboyant costumes, gruesome masks and face paint, riotous dancing and banda (a kind of Mexican polka), with ear-splitting firecrackers exploding at random adding to the mayhem. One of the most popular comparsas takes place in San Agustin Etla on 1 November. I watched as the devil, the priest and the skeleton Catrina – along with bottles of beer and mezcal – worked their way through the town, inviting onlookers to join them in their chaotic carnival-like procession. The Grim Reaper stopped to hand me a skull. As I bit into its sugary sweetness, I marvelled at the Mexicans’ apparent nonchalance in the presence of death; the exuberance with which they accompany the dead for a night or two. Or perhaps it’s a celebration of still being in the land of the living.

Mexico City, Mexico

Before you arrive – With a cultural heritage spanning from the Aztecs to lucha libre wrestling, abundant museums and some of the world’s best restaurants, Mexico City is shaking off its crime-and-grime image and moving on from its stopover status. This sprawling megalopolis sits in a highland basin encircled by mountains, 2,250m above sea level. Its regenerated Centro Historico, a rich mix of architectural styles, stands on top of the former Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. The city has since survived colonisation, revolution, earthquakes and more, and Chilangos are fiercely proud of their home. It’s now a blend of old and new, from ancient ruins to striking modern architecture, ramshackle markets to chic boutiques and street food to fusion restaurants. Indeed, banish thoughts of tasteless Tex Mex: Mexican cuisine has been granted UNESCO ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ status.

At the airport – Benito Juarez International Airport is 5km east of the city. It’s big, modern and efficient, with two terminals linked by a monorail. Aeromexico flights from London to Mexico City take around 11 hours; returns start from £700. British citizens need a tourist card: to get this, complete an immigration form (usually given out on the flight). Don’t lose the card, you need it to leave the country. In Arrivals there are information booths, currency exchanges and ATMs.


A place filled with history and culture, the Mexico Cathedral is definitely a must-see of the city.

Getting into town – Authorised taxis are readily available; ignore the non-official taxi touts hanging around the terminal. Buy your pre-paid fare from a booth of the Transporte Terrestre and then join the line. Rates are set by zone and are per vehicle not per person, so don’t be pressured into taking a larger vehicle than you need. Alternatively book a private transfer in advance with a company such as Mexico Airport Transfers, or through your hotel (usually more expensive). Terminal Aerea Metro station is near Terminal 1. It’s on Line 5; you will probably need to change.

Other ways to arrive – Greyhound offers bus services across the US. In Mexico, first-class bus operators are UNO, running services to the south-east, and ETN, running services to north-central Mexico. The city has four main bus terminals: Terminal Central de Autobuses del Norte connects to the north; Terminal de Autobuses de Pasajeros de Oriente connects to the east; Terminal Central de Autobuses Sur, connects to the south; Terminal de Autobuses del Poniente connects to the west. No passenger trains link to Mexico City currently.

First Day’s Tour – Explore the Centro Historico on foot. At its heart is the vast, busy Zocalo (Plaza de la Constitucion). Start at the Palacio Nacional (take photo ID) on the square’s east, where Diego Rivera’s vibrant murals (right) are a visual history of Mexico, from Spanish conquest to revolution. On the north side is the Metropolitan Cathedral, one of the oldest and largest in the Americas. To the north-east are the remains of the Aztec Templo Mayor and a small archaeological museum. For more Rivera murals, walk north to the Antiguo Colegio de San lldefonso and the Secretaria de Educacion Publica.

Or stroll west along shop-lined Avenida Francisco Madero to leafy Parque Alameda and the white marble Palacio Bellas Artes. Its sumptuous Art Deco interior is home to Mexico’s opera, the Ballet Folklorico and more legendary muralists. Lunch at city institution Sanborns at Casa de los Azulejos, then take the Metro to spend the afternoon exploring Chapultepec Park, the city’s green lung. It’s home to the unmissable Museo Nacional de Antropologia (closed Mondays). Back in the Centro Historico, Azul Historico – set in the patio of a 17th-century mansion – serves regional favourites from around Mexico, such as chicken in black mole, a rich chili-chocolate sauce.


The City of Mexico is just as beautiful during the night as it is at daytime.

Where to Stay – Top end: The luxurious 189-room St Regis Mexico City (Paseo de la Reforma 439; is perfectly placed for the city’s sights and nightlife. Its ‘48 Hours in Mexico City’ package (available Thursday-Sunday) includes a personalised programme from its cultural curator, airport transfers, a city bus tour, two nights in a deluxe room, breakfast and a meal at one of its restaurants; it costs from US$435pn (£256).

Mid-range: Downtown is an artful blend of 17th-century colonial grandeur, industrial chic and indigenous culture. It has a prime location in the Centro Historico, close to the Zocalo. Doubles from US$156 (£92). Budget: The Red Tree House is set around a lovely patio, with each of the 17 rooms and suites being eclectically furnished. Doubles from US$125 (£74).

Stay or Go – Stay. You could easily spend a week exploring all the city’s offerings. Travel 50km north-east to Teotihuacan and Aztec temples. Or spend time in a brightly coloured trajinera at the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco. Art is everywhere, from Polanco’s Museo Soumaya to Caza Azul (Frida Kahlo’s home-turned-museum) and the Diego Rivera Studio Museum in San Angel. The city is home to museums on every theme, from Trotsky to tolerance. Mexico has a rich tradition of folk art and crafts. Shop at the Bazaar Sabado (Saturday market) in San Angel, where stalls sell everything from textiles to kitsch art. For high-end Mexican design, try the Downtown complex in Centro Historico. It’s worth learning about street food on a small-group tour. Try one with Eat Mexico – you’ll visit a neighbourhood market, see how tortillas are made and discover the tastiest taco and tamales stands.


Baja California, Mexico – The Kiss of The Devilfish

The grey whales from Baja California are a friendly bunch –could a cetacean smooch here be the world’s greatest wildlife encounter?

They say you always remember your first kiss. Well, l’m not absolutely sure I do (it may have been on the Isle of Man; I vomited afterwards but that was probably more to do with the ice-cream I’d just scoffed). However, I do remember kissing my first whale. It was around 3pm on Friday 28 February 2014, in San Ignacio Lagoon, Baja California.

Seven of us, plus our guide, were in a small panga (motorboat), bobbing around on a sunny afternoon. We’d watched jealously as a mother and baby grey whale approached a boat mom away. Then we held our breath as they turned and headed towards us. When they were halfway, they sank from view; we stared intently at the water, eager for a sighting. Our hearts pounded as they surfaced right by our boat.

Two pangas (motorboats) in La Paz - Mexico

Two pangas (motorboats) in La Paz – Mexico

The 4.5m-long baby turned on its side, her eye peering up at us, seemingly inviting us to stroke her. Her skin was soft and smooth, like latex. The mother also rose, and we could appreciate her size: nearly 15m long. Her skin was covered in patches of barnacles, but was smooth between the outcrops.

The baby kept vying for attention, and thrust her head up towards us. Kissing her seemed to be the only thing to do. It would have been rude not to. After a few more minutes of the mutual love-in, the pair sank down, swam under our panga and headed for another boat.


A baby grey whale

The encounter was so momentous that afterwards we couldn’t recall whether we had been screaming or whether we were in awed silence. We conferred and decided it had been both. I turned to one of my companions, Lindsey, to see her wiping away tears of joy.

“Pinch me,” I said.


Copper Canyon – Mexico

Rearing up out of the North Mexico desert in a blaze of green only to drop away again into canyons many times greater than Arizona’s Grand Canyon, this place is arrestingly beautiful.

Essential information:

Population: 175,000

Foreign visitors per year: 200,000

Main town: Creel

Languages: Spanish, Raramuri

Major industries: tourism, agriculture

Unit of currency: Mexican peso (M$)

Cost index: hotel double/dorm M$700/150 (US$55/11), day’s mountain-bike hire M$300 (US$23), four-person canyon tour M$2300 (US$175), second-class Chihuahua-Copper Canyon-Los Mochis train ride M$1442 (US$109)

Topography: deepest canyon depth (1849m), highest point (3306m)

Why go ASAP?

Run for your life, bike for your life, or  – for real daredevils – be blasted out over a 1250m-deep precipice: the Copper Canyon was never short on thrills but its list is lengthening year by year.


Biking on Copper Canyon – Mexico

The big reason for the changes is the new Creel Airport, finally set to get off the ground running connections to Houston and Dallas in the US, as well as prominent Mexican destinations like Mexico City and Canciin. Traditionally, visiting the canyons has been an undertaking of several days – approaching via the classic but time-consuming Ferrocarril Chihuahua Pacifico rail route and letting off steam with an into-the-wild odyssey of canyon rim-to-bottomhiking. Now travellers can get the `wow’ without the ‘ow’.


Ferrocarril Chihuahua Pacifico train traversing Copper Canyon – Mexico

Creative tour companies will have opened by 2015 a Tarahumara running trip (far-off-road running with the region’s most distinctive indigenous people, the Tarahumara), and biking down the hair-raising but newly paved road to Batopilas, a colonial town hidden in the tropical canyon valleys. The canyons’ rim-straddling adventure park, Parque de Aventura Barrancas del Cobre, is adding a brace of new adrenaline highs too: the world’s longest zip line, and a slingshot ride – which casts you out into the middle of the canyon on a bungee before reeling you squealing back in.


Activities in Parque de Aventura Barrancas del Cobre – Mexico

Festivals & Events:

March sees the epic Ultra Marathon Caballo Blanco, a 50-mile lung-buster of a race across unadulterated wilderness and your chance to compete with Tarahumara runners. Get training…


Ultra Marathon Caballo Blanco – Mexico

Running from March to July in locations across Chihuahua state is the Festival Internacional de Turismo Aventura (International Adventure Tourism Festival). Expect extreme dune events in the desert — or catch a trout festival in Madera just north of the canyons.


Riding a dirt quad at Festival Internacional de Turismo Aventura – Mexico

Festival Internacional Chihuahua takes place in the city of the same name throughout September, focusing on the region’s musical heritage.

What’s Hot…

Tarahumara immersion experiences, paved roads (well, a little bit), anyone who finishes the Copper Canyon’s ultra-marathon

What’s Not…

Express trains, marijuana plantation bust-ups.

Life-changing experiences:

Ride the rails on Mexico’s best train journey from the desert (Chihuahua) through the canyons to the Pacific coast (Los Mochis).


world’s longest zip line at Parque de Aventura Barrancas del Cobre – Mexico

Steel yourself for a cross-canyon whoosh on the world’s longest zip line at Parque de Aventura Barrancas del Cobre.

See the canyons from the clouds with the brand new helicopter tours offered by Creel-based outfit the 3Amigos.

Current craze:

Flashpackers are replacing the backpackers of old among the canyons’ tourist clientele and that trend is likely to continue, as sampling the cream of the outdoor offerings here is nowhere near as cheap as it was. Add a session at the adventure park onto the price of a train ride, factor in that soon there will be more zip lines and snazzier hotels (planned for the canyon bottom) and you’ll see why it’s well-heeled thrill-seekers checking in.

Defining difference:

The remote peaks and troughs of the Copper Canyon are a refuge not only for the Tarahumara (best-known for their legendary long-distance running abilities over hundreds of kilometres and 1500m+ elevation gains) but also many of Mexico’s Mennonites (a fair-haired, often blue-eyed people tracing their roots to 16th-century Holland, best-known for their farming prowess which yields, among other things, delicious cheeses). Such cultures lend more colour to a region that, rearing up out of the North Mexico desert in a blaze of green only to drop away again into canyons many times greater than Arizona’s Grand Canyon, would already be arrestingly beautiful.

Most bizarre sight:


A family of Mexican Mennonites

Cuauhtemoc, a stop that the already eccentric-looking old steam train El Chepe makes on the Ferrocarril Chihuahua Pacifico just before Creel, is a pretty singular city. It’s home to the vast majority of Mexico’s Mennonites who arrived here from Canada in the 1920s, and wear clothes reminiscent of an earlier century. The men are usually seen in loose-fitting overalls and the women attire themselves in long dark dresses and headscarves. They speak a dialect of Low German, and still do most agricultural work with equipment worthy of being acquisitioned by a museum in most countries.



This very special hotel is set in a UNESCO-listed nature reserve abutting the Pacific, at the end of a very long dirt road about 110km south of Puerto Vallarta. The wild, isolated location and indigenous flora and fauna – coconut palms, exotic blooms, 150 bird species, including dive-bombing pelicans and herons so still they look like cut-outs, and the odd armadillo – all conspire to give that irredeemable sense of couldn’t-be-any-where-else.

The food (breakfast and supper are served at El Diablito on the lagoon; lunch at Nopalito, a rowing-boat ride away on the shore) is fresh, authentic Mexican: quesadillas, tacos, fresh fruit, much of it plucked from the hotel’s organic garden or fished from the ocean.

The 27 roomy, thatched beach – and lagoon-side stilt houses, candle-lit at night and with four-posters and terraces, are as romantic as it gets.

If dozing in one of the hammocks beside the infinity-edged pool gets tiresome, sail the lagoon in a catamaran, help release soft, leathery, just-hatched turtles from the hotel’s sanctuary into the Pacific (just don’t ask for survival statistics), or go humpback whale spotting on the beach as the sun sets.



This very special hotel is set in a UNESCO-listed nature reserve abutting the Pacific, at the end of a very long dirt road about 110km south of Puerto Vallarta. The wild, isolated location and indigenous flora and fauna – coconut palms, exotic blooms, 150 bird species, including dive-bombing pelicans and herons so still they look like cut-outs, and the odd armadillo – all conspire to give that irredeemable sense of couldn’t-be-any-where-else.


A spa spot at Hotelito Desconocido – Mexico

The 27 roomy, thatched beach – and lagoon-side stilt houses, candle-lit at night and with four-posters and terraces, are as romantic as it gets. The food (breakfast and supper are served at El Diablito on the lagoon; lunch at Nopalito, a rowing-boat ride away on the shore) is fresh, authentic Mexican: quesadillas, tacos, fresh fruit, much of it plucked from the hotel’s organic garden or fished from the ocean.


Mexican food at Nopalito restaurant – Mexico

If dozing in one of the hammocks beside the infinity-edged pool gets tiresome, sail the lagoon in a catamaran, help release soft, leathery, just-hatched turtles from the hotel’s sanctuary into the Pacific (just don’t ask for survival statistics), or go humpback whale spotting on the beach as the sun sets.



The most beautiful hacienda hotel in Mexico sprawls over plant-filled courtyards and manicured gardens beneath an active volcano, deep in the coffee-plantation country of the Colima highlands; arrive at night and the whole place twinkles beguilingly by candlelight.

Built by German immigrant Don Arnoldo Vogel in 1890, the pink house was meticulously restored by the Goldsmith family, who also own beachside retreat Cuixmala, a private-plane ride away. Everything’s on a grand scale here, from the 30-metre swimming pool to the 25 vast, vaulted suites, each with a working stone fireplace, impeccably decorated with bespoke rugs and tiled bathrooms.


A suite at Hacienda de San Antonio – Mexico


Caracara eagle

There are 190 hectares of grounds to explore, plus numerous public rooms filled with exquisite Mexican art, sculpture and furniture, so seeing another guest can be as rare an event as spotting one of the crested caracara eagles that occasionally swoop for prey.

There’s plenty to do beyond the hacienda walls: hike the estate’s 2,000 hectares with a picnic, tour its cheese and coffee factories, or ride on horseback through bamboo forests. And for a break from the polished nightly dinner service, drive into the whitewashed pueblo magico of Comala to eat tacos and churros from the street carts.


Puerto Vallarta

The Secret Charmer

John Huston fell so hard for Puerto Vallarta and its winding cobblestone streets lined with bougainvillea that he used it as the setting for his 1964 film The Night of the Iguana – which prompted an influx of Hollywood’s elite to this Pacific coast town throughout the ’60s and ’70s. Though most of us now associate the place with cruise ships, jam packed beaches, and bars hosting all-day happy hours, there’s a handful of hidden gems, both in and outside town that remind us why Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton ran away here together.


Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in “The Night Of The Iguana”

Your Home Base. Burton purchased Casa Kimberly in the hills overlooking Banderas Bay for Taylor for her thirty-second birthday, in 1964. He also bought the house across the street for himself and built a bridge – known as both Lovers’ Bridge and Reconciliation Bridge – to connect the properties. Last December, after sitting empty for a decade and the undergoing a five-year renovation, Casa Kimberly and Burton’s house were reborn as a nine-suite boutique hotel. Book the Elizabeth Taylor suite and you can soak in the heart-shaped pink-marble bathtub Taylor installed when she moved in.


Casa Kimberly

The Table Worth Getting To. There are three ways to reach the Ocean Grill, an open-air, reservations-only lunch spot built into a rocky cove a few miles south of town. You can hike for 40 minutes through dense jungle, take a five-minute boat ride (provided by the restaurant), or – if you really want to make an entrance – anchor your yacht and swim to the restaurant’s dock. Your order: smoked marlin tostadas and a whole grilled lobster.

The Local’s Bar. Head a few blocks inland, away from the crowded bars of Old Town, to El Patio de Mi Casa, where you’ll sink into a chaise longue and sip a raicilla – the smoky local version of mescal.

The Secret Beach. It’s a 30-minute boat ride from Marina Vallarta, the main marina in town, to remote Yelapa beach (boats can be hired on the spot). Pull up a stool at the thatched-roof bar Angelina’s Gardens Beach Club for fish tacos and a cold beer, and then spend the afternoon dozing in one of the many hammocks strung between the palms.


The Remote Yelapa Beach


Small Town, Big Flavour – Los Alamos

Tucked away off Route 101 in Santa Barbara grape country, the tiny enclave of Los Alamos has quietly evolved into California’s next great gourmet destination.

Not long ago, it was a dusty backwater with the nickname “Los Almost”: a former stagecoach stop with a single main street on the fringe of the Santa Ynez Valley. Though just an hour north-west of Santa Barbara, it felt a good deal more remote. Flash forward to 2016 and once sleepy Los Alamos (pop. 10,500) now sees a steady stream of grape-country visitors and day-trippers, many of whom are so taken with its languorous, grape-stoned cowboy vibe that they end up spending the night.

Some stay even longer. The town’s reinvention is due largely to a tight-knit community of creatives, many of them LA refugees, who came to Los Alamos in search of a second act. There’s Bob Oswaks, who ran marketing for Sony Pictures Television and now mans the ovens at Bob’s Well Bread, his artisanal bakery in a renovated filling station. There’s Jamie Gluck, a former fashion advertising executive who spends his days in a 10-gallon hat at the helm of Bell Street Farm, a rustic-chic lunch spot with a phenomenal crispy porchetta. Across the street, journalist- turned-grapemaker Sonja Magdevski runs Casa Dumetz Wines and the nearby Babi’s Beer Emporium. And just down the block, in the 1880 Union Hotel, the sepia-toned, taxidermy-bedecked Wine Saloon is overseen by actor Kurt Russell, whose own GoGi pinot noir is served at the bar.


GoGi Wine by Kurt Russell

flatbread-pizza-at-full-of-life-flatbread-restaurantHow on earth did this happen? The first glimmers came in 2003, when Clark Staub – a 20-year music-biz veteran and erstwhile Capitol Records VP – opened Full of Life Flatbread on the west end of Bell Street. With its obsessively sourced local ingredients and massive 900-degree wood-fired oven (blessed on its first lighting by local Chumash elders), the restaurant was soon luring chefs and epicureans from all over the state – and putting Los Alamos on the map as a tiny but legitimate food destination.




El DÍa de Los Muertos – Mexico

Fascination with the Afterlife: The Return of the Dead

While many Americans view death with fear, anger, and anxiety, Mexicans maintain a vital bond between living and deceased family members, recognizing the Day of the Dead as a time to celebrate life while remembering those who have passed on. It is believed that the souls of the dead return for one week each year to visit friends and family and partake of the pleasures they knew and loved in life.

The origins of this festive celebration predate the Aztecs, and the native tradition survived the arrival of the Spanish missionaries by mingling with the imposed observance of the Catholic Church’s All Souls Day. Some rituals for El DÍa de los Muertos have remained unchanged over the centuries, and much preparation goes into the making of ofrendas of fruit, flowers, special pastries, and handicrafts for the dead, who are thought to begin to arrive on November 1.

Special foods (and the occasional bottle of tequila) are laid out for the breakfast and dinner of departed loved ones. The cemeteries are full of people cleaning, painting, and decorating the tombs and graves of their ancestors. Family altars incorporate photographs, simple or elaborate flower arrangements with orange marigolds, or sometimes nothing more than a plain candle.