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

Las Ventanas al Paraiso – Los Cabos, Baja, Mexico

Windows to Paradise

Located at the tip of the 1,000-mile long Baja Peninsula, near where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez, Las Ventanas al Paraiso evokes an ends-of-the-earth solitude, cushioned between sea and desert sands, with the rough-hewn mountains beyond.

Once geographically isolated, Los Cabos—a 25-mile corridor that joins the two desert towns of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose6 del Cabo—has undergone rapid devel­opment in the past decade, with Cabo San Lucas in particular becoming known for wild, cerveza-drenched spring breaks (check out the town’s Cabo Wabo, where every night is tequila night) and hippie-happy social dropouts.

Las Ventanas, opened in 1997 on 12 acres along the much calmer corridor, has brought the ultimate note of refinement to this scene, from the breezy luxury suites (the largest in Mexico) to the seaside drop-edged pool, the championship 18-hole Robert Trent Jones Jr. golf course, and an indoor-outdoor spa that offers everything from a torchlit couples’ massage and cactus-cleansing wraps to—no kidding—a stress-reducing rubdown for your poodle.

The smiling and eager staff second-guesses every whim, and guests who venture off the property can take advantage of the area’s ruggedly beautiful scenery and world-class diving and big game fishing. Sunsets are completely intoxicating, even if you didn’t attend the afternoon’s tequila tasting.

Whale Watching in Baja – San Ignacio Lagoon, Baja, Mexico

Who’s Watching Whom?

At San Ignacio Lagoon, a magical place halfway down the Pacific Coast of the Baja Peninsula, whales regularly rise out of the sea to touch and be touched by humans. In one of the most remarkable annual migrations nature offers, Pacific gray whales make the 5,000-mile trip from the chilly feeding grounds of the Arctic to the safety of the warm, shallow waters of the Baja Peninsula for their breeding and calving season (the calves are about 15 feet long and weigh 1,500 pounds at birth).

Several thousand whales may visit San Ignacio every winter, and there are sometimes up to 400 in the lagoon at one time. Las amistosas (the friendly ones) is the local nickname of the whales, which regularly approach the small panga fishing boats to be stroked and touched by awed whale-watchers, in a genial gesture that has stumped scientists for more than twenty years, since it was first recorded.

Nearly driven into extinction in the 19th and 20th centuries, the gray whales now return in greater numbers every year and were removed from the endangered species list in 1994. Baja’s Pacific lagoons and fifty unin­habited islands, often referred to as Mexico’s Galapagos, are renowned for their exceptional marine and bird life. Hundreds of dolphins accompany the gray whales, while hump­backs, finbacks, and Brydes whales make regular appear­ances along with blue whales, the largest animals on the planet.

Na Bolom – San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

An Anthropologist’s Dream in the Heart of the Mayan Highlands

People-watching is the most exciting pastime in this blissfully untouched, high-altitude colonial city. More than thirty different Indian tribes— descendants of the ancient Mayas, known for their woven textiles and other highly sophisticated crafts—trek into town to fill the daily mercado, especially on Saturday. Here near-extinct languages like Tzotzil or Tzeltal and beautiful headdresses and embroidered costumes decorated with tassels and ribbons distinguish one tribe from another.

No trip to San Cristobal is complete without a visit to Na Bolom, home of the much-respected archaeologist Frans Bloom, which he shared with his wife, ethnologist-journalist-photographer Gertrude Bloom, until her death in 1994.

The 19th-century hacienda functions as a museum, cultural gathering point, and guesthouse. It is the headquarters for contin­uing research on the area’s constellation of highland villages, where the cultural and religious traditions of the local people thrive.

Communal dinners at the hacienda, in a salon filled with art and artifacts, guarantee an inter­esting mix of visiting scholars and like-minded travelers. Spending a night or more at the guest house may well be the highlight of your journey to this little-traveled corner of Mexico.

Palenque – Chiapas, Mexico

Most Haunting of the Ancient Mayan Cities

In a dense virgin jungle at the foothills of the Usumacinta Mountains lies one of the most extraordinary ruins of the Mayan culture. Occupying a high, strategically situated plateau, Palenque blossomed during the middle to late Classic Period of the 6th to 9th centuries A.D. as a center of art, religion, and astronomy.

It was one of the first Mayan sites to be discovered and remains one of the most majestic and best preserved. Its elegant architecture, descriptive stucco carvings, calligraphy, and decorative friezes reached great artistic heights, and much has been left in situ.

Other artworks are dis­played in a small museum recently opened near the entrance to the grounds, or in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. Only a fraction of the monuments have been exca­vated, the foremost the Templo de las Inscripciones (Temple of the Incriptions), a stepped pyramid that holds the extraordinary tomb of Palenque’s ruler, King Pacal, who died in A.D. 683 (his burial mask, made of 200 frag­ments of jade, is in the museum in Mexico City).

The perfect complement to the Palenque expe­rience is the lodging at Chan-Kah Ruinas. Its simple stone and wooden bungalows are spread out over 50 acres of primordial jungle like a timeless Mayan village. Your wake-up call comes at dawn when the tropical birds begin their chorus.

Copper Canyon – Chihuahua, Mexico

A Breathtaking Train Ride Through a Rugged Wilderness

This little-known, inaccessible region of the Sierra Madre contains one of the greatest canyon complexes in the world, inhabited by one of the most isolated peoples, the Tarahumara Indians. Las Barrancas del Cobre, the Copper Canyon, is actually a network of deep gorges, five river systems, six major inter­twined canyons, and 200 minor ones that are cumulatively four times larger (and often deeper) than the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

Remote and largely unexplored, it is best seen from a window seat aboard the glass-domed deluxe South Orient Line, which travels the Chihuahua al Pacifico Railway. Perhaps the most scenic train ride in North America, it is 400 miles and thirteen Wild West hours from Chihuahua to Los Mochis on the Pacific coast, snaking through pine-forested highlands and wild ravines.

To experience the real grandeur of this rugged wilderness, take advantage of the stops. At 7,300 feet, the midway station of Creel offers entry into the heart of the back country, either with organized treks or through a stay at the Copper Canyon Sierra Lodge, where native guides can be hired.

The endless maze of hiking trails through the highlands and lowlands of this enormous canyon land and the opportunity to interact with the shy and beguiling Tarahumara make your stay here unique. There’s no electricity at the Sierra Lodge, but a toqued chef prepares surprisingly good local dishes, and the vast views are what you dreamed of.

The silver-mining village of Batopilas was once one of the wealthiest cities in Mexico; it now sits forgotten on the riverbank at the bottom of the canyon, amid lush subtropical foliage and flowers. Sierra Lodge can arrange for accommodation there, enabling you to take the most thrilling, cliff-hanging road trip you’re ever likely to take: a 6,000-foot descent into the mouth of the canyon that takes six to eight spine-tingling hours. Those who think they’ve seen it all should opt for the “suicide seats” atop the lodge’s Chevy van, a veritable roller coaster.

Cervantes Arts Festival – Guanajuato, Mexico

A Colonial Showcase Resonates with Dance and Song

With its historic architecture and old-world courtliness, Guanajuato is the picture-perfect location for the Cervantes Arts Festival, an annual affair that keeps alive the image of the errant knight Don Quixote, tilting at windmills and fighting to preserve the romantic side of the Spanish soul.

On any given day, the narrow cobblestone lanes resonate with the music of the estudiantinas—local university students dressed as strolling 16th-century trou­badours and armed with mandolins and guitars, evoking the Andalusia of centuries ago.

The multiweek Festival Internacional Cervantino is considered one of the most important celebra­tions in Latin America, and it floods the city’s and state’s many venues with well-known performing artists from around the world. Anything being performed in the Teatro Juarez, the center of Guanajuato’s cultural life, is worth seeing, if only to admire the theater’s ornate metalwork, gilt carving, and thick velvet.

The opulent turn-of-the-century theater—consid­ered by Enrico Caruso to be one of the finest in the Americas—is located on the Jardin de la Union, the former mining capital’s main square and ultimate gathering place for the festival’s more spontaneous alfresco performances.

The venerable Posada Santa Fe, the oldest and most charming inn in town, has a number of rooms that overlook the plaza and the festival’s mov­able concert; its outdoor cafe downstairs promises front-row seats and some of the best regional food in town.

San Miguel de Allende – Guanajuato, Mexico

A Celebrated Artists’ Colony and a National Monument

Mexican and international artists and writers are drawn 6,200 feet above sea level to the mountaintop town of San Miguel de Allende by the glory of its Old Mexico charm and the purity of its seductive light. Among its many attributes are restored mansions of noble families, 18th-century churches, the always lively laurel tree-shaded El Jardin square, outdoor cafes, and excellent restaurants.

In addition, a still-active and centuries-old trade in traditional Mexican artisanship helps make San Miguel a vigorous cultural center. Founded in 1542 by wealthy Spanish cattle barons and retaining an aura of prosperity that came later from the Guanajuato region’s lucrative silver mines, this casual but sophis­ticated town draws a mix of well-heeled Mexico City weekenders, intelligentsia, inter­national tourists, and a growing community of American residents.

Much of its fame has been secured by the long-term success of the Casa de Sierra Nevada, San Miguel’s most refined hotel (and one of Mexico’s finest inns). Built in 1580 and transformed into the sumptuous home of the Archbishop of Guanajuato in the late 1700s, it is comprised of seven colonial-era manor houses.

A welcoming staff gives new meaning to the expression “Mi casa es su casa.” Each distinctive suite has its own personality and decor:              Some have wood burning fireplaces and their own courtyard patio or private garden, while many enjoy full views from the unique mountaintop vantage point for which San Miguel is known.

Acapulco Bay – Guerrero, Mexico

Among the Most Romantic Views on Earth

Much of Acapulco’s sultry reputation as Hollywood’s south-of-the-border beach club has been shattered by a groundswell of tourism, but the heart-stopping beauty of the bay is eternal. With physical endowments that have often been compared to those of Rio de Janeiro, Acapulco also features unbeatable sunsets over its 7-mile horseshoe-shaped bay and the Pacific Ocean.

Avoid the package tourists and revel in unparalleled water views by checking in at the Hotel Las Brisas, the leg­endary hilltop grande dame that has shared Acapulco’s fame and high profile for more than three decades. Every day is a honeymoon here: Secluded fuchsia- and bougainvillea-draped casitas boast pri­vate pools filled with floating hibis­cus flowers and breathtaking views of the bay. The hotels Bella Vista alfresco restaurant is aptly named.

Most guests never leave Las Brisas’s 750 tropical acres on the lush moun­tainside, but those who do jump in one of the hotel’s hallmark pink-and-white-striped jeeps and head 6 miles north to the nearby fishing village of Pie de la Cuesta, a laid-back spot where a hammock and the roar of the surf evoke a long-ago Acapulco.

Taxco – Guerrero, Mexico

The Charm of Old Mexico in a Hilltop Silver Capital

Silver-hungry tourists make a beeline for this delightful colonial-era hill town, whose zigzag streets are lined with more than 250 silver shops. The shop-till-you-drop group won’t be disappointed by the quantity and refined quality of Taxco’s silver objects and jewelry, but sightseers will also find a charming town of red-roofed, whitewashed houses piled on top of one another.

Cobblestone streets lead to the Plaza Borda, the main square, named after the town’s 18th-century benefactor, a miner who inaugurated Taxco’s second silver boom (the first happened with the 16th-century arrival of the conquistadores). In gratitude for the bounty (since depleted) that made him wealthy, the French-born Borda financed the construction of a Baroque twin-towered church, Iglesia de Santa Prisca, in the square.

It is considered one of the most elaborate examples of the extravagant churrigueresque architecture in Mexico—no expense was spared either for the exquisitely carved pink-stone facade or for the interior, where twelve gilded altarpieces vie for attention.

The church and plaza are at the heart of Taxco’s renowned Semana Santa (Holy Week) processions, the most compelling in Mexico—self-flagellating, black-hooded, bare-torsoed penitents are only part of the lavish spectacle that involves the entire town.

Take advantage of Taxco’s mag­nificent views, especially romantic at night, from the top-notch restaurant and Mexican-style bungalows that make up the beautifully landscaped hilltop Hacienda del Solar.