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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Mexico.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Mexico.
Discover a selection of Mexico’s most culturally rich states, including its vibrant capital, and immerse yourself in mariachi, folklore and colonial cities before heading to the beautiful beaches of Punta Mita. Start in Mexico City for a glimpse into this modern, yet history- rich capital before travelling up to the ‘cradle of the Mexican Independence’ movement in Guanajuato.
Making your way towards the Pacific Coast, stop in Guadalajara to discover the folklore and traditions behind Mexican mariachi culture. After travelling the state of Jalisco, journey on to Punta Mita on Mexico’s Pacific Coast, where you can enjoy vistas of Riviera Nayarit.
Try telling Mexico that. The widely observed and wildly popular ‘Day of the Dead’ festival is more about a joyous celebration of life than it is a subdued mourning of the dead.
It’s believed that the modern Mexican celebrations originated in indigenous traditions and rituals over 3000 years old. By the late 20th century the customs had developed to honour the deaths of children on 1 November and adults on 2 November.
Families will decorate the graves of their lost loves as well as set up altars in their homes with the deceased’s favourite food, drink, candles, flowers and incense in order to wish them well in the next world. The exuberant celebrations include dressing up in masks and painting faces. The ubiquitous skull motif has become a symbol of the festival, as it’s designed to remind us that no matter what we are in life, we are the same in death.
Looking at the trailblazing winery that Alonso Granados runs in Mexico’s Valle de Guadalupe, it’s hard to believe that a decade ago he didn’t even know wine was made from grapes.
The then student lawyer had returned home for a family dinner when a winemaker his father had hired brought out some wine he had produced off the family property. His father had bought the land with the intention of re-selling it, but Alonso soon had other ideas.
“I was in my last year of law school and I came back with a very strange feeling that I wanted to leave my career and start winemaking. I Googled schools to study at. 1 finished my degree and booked my ticket and left for Spain to study winemaking. It was the best thing I ever did.”
In August 2015, Alonso opened Decantos Vinicola, an imposing winery and tasting room that rises out of the parched landscape like a mirage on the horizon. In the Old World, it is often said that the more vines struggle the better the wine, and when you see how vines grow on some of the rocky slopes in Spain, you understand the truth in that.
It also seems to ring true in the dry and barren Valle de Guadalupe region, north of the city of Ensenada in Baja California, the long peninsula extending down from San Diego.
A 90-minute drive from the U.S. border, this is Mexico’s most up and coming wine region, a place where sophistication and innovation sit side by side with rustic authenticity.
Many of the roads are still rutted and unpaved but they lead visitors to impressive cellar doors, elegant and comfortable accommodations, and world-class restaurants and bars. Some have likened it to the Napa Valley of 30 years ago but that would be doing both the Napa Valley and Valle de Guadalupe a disservice.
It has a character and a charm all its own, a low-key feel that is assuredly Mexican but outward-looking enough to take the best winemaking and other traditions from abroad and develop them into its own.
Much of this story is told in the Museo de la Vid y el Vino (Museum of Vines and Wines), a great introduction to the region and worth seeing for its artefacts, artworks and splendid view, although unfortunately little of the signage is in English, so you might need a guide.
Here you’ll learn how wine was introduced by missionaries in the 1700s, how Russian
immigrants planted vines in the early 1900s, and how the last few decades have seen a boom in the development of Valle de Guadalupe as a wine region, credited to three winemakers in particular: Santo Tomas, Cetto and Domecq.
Two decades ago, you could count Baja’s wineries on both hands. Today, the Ruta del Vino (Wine Route) boasts more than 120 wineries, along with restaurants, art galleries, boutique hotels, ranches and resorts. The Mediterranean-like weather, coupled with unforgettable landscapes – especially around the coastline and mountain ranges – add to its appeal.
The best-preserved Maya site on the Yucatan peninsula, Chichen Itza continues to confound archeologists. The date of the first settlement in the older, southern part of the site is uncertain, but the northern section was built during a Maya renaissance in the 11th century. Similarities with Tula, the ancient capital of the Toltec empire, and myths of exiled Toltec god-king Quetzalcoatl (Kukulcan) settling at Chichen Itza, suggest that the renaissance was due to a Toltec invasion. However, other theories hold that Tula was influenced by the Maya, not vice versa. In its heyday as a commercial, religious, and military center, which lasted until about the 13th century, Chichen Itza supported more than 35,000 people.
A vast array of gods and goddesses were worshiped by the Maya. Some of them were connected to celestial bodies, such as the stars, Sun, and Moon. Others held sway over creation, aspects of daily life, and death. Deities were feared as much as revered and it was essential to appease them as much as possible, often through human sacrifice. Kukulcan, a feathered serpent, was an important deity. Chac, the god of rain and lightning, was venerated, since rainfall was vital to farming communities. Also worshiped was the Sun god Kinich Ahau, who was associated with the jaguar.
Built around 800, the incredible El Castillo pyramid has a perfect astronomical design. The four staircases face the cardinal points, with various features corresponding to aspects of the Maya calendar. At the two yearly equinoxes, a fascinating optical illusion occurs whereby a serpent appears to crawl down the north staircase. The temple at the top of the inner pyramid contains a chacmool, a carved reclining figure with a stone dish on its stomach thought to have held sacrificial offerings. There is also a beautiful, bright-red throne carved as a jaguar and encrusted with jade. The entrance to the temple is divided by snake-shaped columns.
Unlike other Mesoamerican peoples, the Maya did not develop a large, centralized empire, living instead in independent city-states. Once thought to have been a peaceful people, they are now known to have shared the lust for war and human sacrifice evident in other ancient civilizations. Immensely talented, the Maya had an understanding of astronomy and developed sophisticated systems of writing, counting, and recording the passing of time (Observatory). They predicted the phases of the Moon, equinoxes and solstices, and solar and lunar eclipses. They knew that the Morning and Evening Star were the same planet, Venus, and calculated its “year” to within a fraction of the true figure. Remarkably, they achieved all of this without the use of lenses for observing distant objects, instruments for calculating angles, or clocks.
At 5 50 ft (168 m) in length, this is the largest ball court in Mesoamerica. Still in place are the two engraved rings that the ball had to pass through.
Also called El Caracol (The Snail) for its spiral staircase, this building was an astronomical observatory. The various slits in the walls correspond to the positions of certain celestial bodies on key dates in the Maya calendar.
Temple of the Warriors
Set on a small pyramid, this is decorated with sculptures of the rain god Chac and the plumed serpent Kukulcan. A chacmool statue and two S-shaped serpent columns guard the entrance.
So called because its small rooms reminded the Spaniards of nuns’ cells, this large structure, built in three stages, was probably a palace. This facade of the eastern annexe has particularly beautiful stone fretwork and carvings.
This building is decorated with fretwork, masks of the rain god Chac, and the bacabs – four animals who, in Maya myth, held up the sky.
Group of a Thousand Columns
Made up of carved stone colonnades on two sides of a huge plaza, this may have been used as a market.
Built on top of an older structure that can also be visited, this 79-ft (24-m) high pyramid was dedicated to Kukulcan, the Maya representation of the god Quetzalcoatl. Its height and striking geometric design dominate the whole site.
A sacbe (Maya road) leads to this huge natural well, which is thought to have been revered as the home of the rain god Chac. Archeological evidence indicates that the well was used for human sacrifice.
The “Wall of Skulls” is a low platform whose perimeter is carved with grinning skulls. Archeologists believe that it was used to display the heads of victims of human sacrifice, which was practiced during Chichen ltza‘s late period.
Thousands of objects, including some made of gold and jade, were cast into the Sacred Cenote as offerings to the rain god. If a human sacrificial victim survived, they were thought to possess the power of prophecy.
c. 750: The Sacred Cenote s used for ritual offering to the rain god.
c. 900 Chichen Itza becomes the center of Maya culture.
1904—10: US archeologist Edward Herbert Thompson dredges the Sacred Cenote.
1988: Chichen Itza is added to UNESCO’s World Heritage Site list.
The biggest church in Latin America, Mexico City’s cathedral is also at the heart of the world’s largest Catholic diocese. Its towers rise 220 ft (67 m) above one of the largest public squares in the world, and it took almost three centuries — from 1573 to 1813 — to complete. This long period is reflected in the multiple styles of its architecture, ranging from Renaissance through Baroque to Neo-Classical. It has five principal altars and 16 side chapels containing a valuable collection of paintings, sculpture, and church furniture.
Like its exterior, the church’s interior decoration is a blend of the three prevailing architectural styles of the colonial period. The Baroque altars and side chapels are particularly ornate, a highlight is the richly carved Altar de los Reyes. A statue of Christ, the Senor del Cacao, which probably dates from the 16th century, is worshiped in the Capilla de San Jose. The statue’s name derives from the donations of coffee beans (a common currency in the precolonial era) made by the local people toward the cathedral’s construction. An urn containing the remains of Emperor Agustin de Iturbide (1783-1824), the champion of Mexican Independence, is located in the chapel of San Felipe de Jesus.
When the Spanish arrived in the Americas in the 1500s, they encountered flourishing indigenous settlements. In addition to their desire for conquest and their greed for gold, silver, copper, and land, the conquistadors also saw themselves as missionaries and attempted to convert the established Mesoamerican civilizations from paganism to Christianity. Franciscan and Dominican friars preached to, converted, and baptized the indigenous peoples. Although the New World was ultimately conquered by Europeans, elements of the indigenous cultures survived and were absorbed into the developing Christian society.
When Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes led his army into the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan in 1521, the city stood on an island in Lake Texcoco. After conquering the city, the Spanish razed it to the ground, reused much of the stonework in their own buildings, and gradually filled in the lake. The Metropolitan Cathedral was built on the ruins of the main Aztec temple of worship, whose stones were used in the building’s walls. Like so many of Mexico City’s buildings, the cathedral has been sinking, almost since its construction, into the ground beneath — the slant is quite visible. Restoration work, mostly carried out underground, has prevented its collapse.
Capilla De San Jose
This side chapel is one of 16 dedicated to saints and manifestations of the Virgin, all exquisitely decorated with statues and oil paintings.
This is a block of white marble carved with images of saints.
Kings and Queens
The sculptures adorning the Altar de los Reyes are of kings and queens who have been canonized.
Altar de los Reyes
Carved between 1718 and 1737, the Baroque Altar of the Kings features two oil paintings, the Adoration of the Kings, the Assumption of the Virgin, both by Juan Rodriguez Juarez.
Seventeenth-century paintings and items of carved furniture, including a fine decorated cabinet, can be seen there.
With its gold-alloy choir-rail imported from Macao, superbly carved stalls and two magnificent organs, the choir is a highlight of the cathedral.
This is decorated with statues of Faith, Hope and Charity.
Built in the mid-18th century as the parish church attached to the cathedral, the Sagrario has a sumptuous high-Baroque facade adorned with sculpted saints.
Divided into three parts, the facade is flanked by monumental bell towers.
A figure of the Virgin, by Simon Pereyns, was replaced after the 1967 fire with a black Christ which, legend says, absorbed the poison from a devout man who kissed it on his deathbed.
1573: Construction work begins on the cathedral.
1667: The cathedral is consecrated but its exterior is not finished until 1813.
1967: Fire causes damage to parts of the cathedral.
1985: A powerful earthquake damages the cathedral.
1987: Mexico City is inscribed as a UNESCO Worl Heritage Site.
Ignacio Maza, EVP of the Signature Travel Network, recently returned from Mexico City where he visited the markets, the top hotels and attractions within and just outside the destination. Here is his report.
In recent years, Mexico City has become one of the must-see’ destinations in the Americas. This enormous, sophisticated and, at times, maddening metropolis has a great deal to offer savvy travelers looking for new horizons. For anyone interested in history, fine dining, shopping and the arts, Mexico City exceeds expectations. Having said this, the city can be overwhelming. With a population of over 20 million, Mexico City is one of the largest metropolitan areas and one of the 10 largest cities in the world. The city, located on a high flat valley, about 7,300 feet above sea level, was originally built by the Aztecs roughly 700 years ago, on an island surrounded by the then Lake Texcoco.
The Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes arrived in 1519 and turned the city into the capital of a vast empire that at its height stretched all the way out to what is today Washington State.
Sightseeing: To understand Mexico City, start at the Zocalo, or Constitution Square, in the heart of the downtown district.
Take time to visit the National Palace, home of Mexico’s Presidential offices, and do not miss the stunning murals by Diego Rivera, one of Mexico’s premier 20th-century artists. Other major sites downtown are the enormous Metropolitan Cathedral, started in the 1500s, and the Templo Mayor, a massive Aztec temple discovered in the 1970s. The downtown district is experiencing a renaissance and there are many great new shops, restaurants and hotels, including the hip Downtown, a Design Hotel built within a historic building. Another notable site is the Palacio de Chapultepec, located within the city’s largest park.
There are over 100 museums in Mexico City. The best of all is the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, which is the finest of its kind in the world and also home to ancient archaeological treasures from Mexico’s varied and brilliant pre-Columbian cultures. Another notable museum is the ultramodern Museo Soumaya that was inaugurated in 2011. It houses over 60,000 works of art.
Fans of Frida Kahlo should head straight to Coyoacan to visit her museum, also known as the Blue House, which is near the studio of artist Diego Rivera, her husband. The other highlight is the Museo de Dolores Olmedo, which has an outstanding collection of Rivera’s masterpieces. Architecture enthusiasts should visit the home of Luis Barragan, Mexico’s most celebrated 20th-century architect; they must, however, make advance reservations.
Beyond Mexico City: Although there is a wealth of interesting options in the vicinity, my top recommendation is to visit Teotihuacan, the Western Hemisphere’s greatest archaeological site, built over 2,000 years ago. Teotihuacan is enormous and spans over 100 square miles. Climb up the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon and wander around the courtyards and temples. Tip: Teotihuacan gets very crowded, especially on Sundays, so plan to arrive right before opening time for the best experience. For clients who have the time, I highly recommend day trips to Cuernavaca and Taxco.
Dining: Mexico City has one of the world’s most vibrant and sophisticated dining scenes. At the top of the list are Pujol and Quintonil, considered among the world’s 50 best restaurants. Both feature ‘New Mexican’ cuisine, and are very popular, so advance reservations are a must. One of the best seafood restaurants is the Taberna del Leon. For travelers seeking traditional Mexican menus, try Azul Historico (Downtown), Hosteria de Santo Domingo, or Chapulin, at the InterContinental Hotel. The best Margaritas and Mariachis can be found at Villa Maria restaurant.
Markets: Food enthusiasts must visit the San Juan Market, which is open all seven days. For antiques and art lovers, there is the Bazar del Sabado, while those looking for Mexican crafts should head to the Mercado de Artesanal La Ciudadela.
Where to stay: For luxury clients who expect the very best, I recommend the St Regis Mexico City and Las Alcobas, a Luxury Collection Hotel. St Regis is located on Paseo de la Reforma and offers spacious rooms, a rooftop spa and pool, and a great restaurant with indoor/outdoor dining. Las Alcobas is an intimate, residential hotel, located in the heart of the Polanco district, and offers 35 rooms and suites. Tip: Plan to visit Mexico City over a weekend, when the traffic is lighter and hotel rates are 30 percent lower.
Local Resource: Navigating Mexico is easier and more rewarding with Journey Mexico, the Signature partner Destination Specialist. Zachary Rabinor and his team have the contacts, the know-how and the expertise on the ground to make any stay in Mexico City unforgettable, while saving your clients time and hassles. Journey Mexico can arrange for all kinds of unique experiences, including balloon rides over the pyramids of Teotihuacan, private dinners at the Frida Kahlo Museum, special cooking classes, visits to private homes and art collections, and more.
For almost a century, artists, architecture enthusiasts, and history buffs have flocked to San Miguel de Allende to soak up its eclectic cultural scene, non-stop festivals, and out-of-this-world food.
Deep in Mexico’s central state of Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende has an enchanting, almost fairytale feel. Its sandy-colored cobblestone streets, its opulent churches, even its place in history (Allende, an instigator of Mexico’s War of Independence, was born here)-all ingredients combine to place travelers under an undeniably bewitching spell.
Art is practically sustenance in San Miguel. The stately Instituto Allende is the towns hub of ingenuity where you can take a course in everything from sculpture to silkscreening.
Stroll through the former haciendas enchanting grounds and peruse artisans’ wares. Look over your shoulder and you’ll catch sight of the largest church in town, pink-limestone, neo gothic Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel. Next, wander through the vast Jardin Principal toward the sounds of mariachi bands and into any number of the world-class restaurants that have earned the town its global culinary reputation. From lauded five-stars to local mom-and-pop eateries passed down for generations, you’ll see and taste why Conde Nast Traveler readers have voted the town ”Best City in the World.”
In addition to its flourishing culture and gastronomic scene. San Miguel is also a bourgeoning wine hotspot and its award-winning boutique vineyards are a must-tour for lovers of the grape. Regardless if you like red or white — or artsy, historical, authentic, or International — San Miguel de Allende has many flavors worth savoring.
During June’s Sabores San Miguel and July’s San Miguel de Allende Food Festival, foodies and chefs from all around eat, drink, and dance it up
MERCADO CENTRO SAN MIGUEL
A gourmet market bursting with flavors. From artisanal chocolate and local cervezas to authentic empanadas, this is how San Miguel eats
GUANAJUATO WINE ROUTE
Wine, colonial architecture, and the Sierra Madre Mountains swirl together as you sip through one of the world’s fastest- emerging wine regions.
In the past few years, Mexico’s capital has reinvented itself as a stylish metropolis. A new generation of tastemakers leading the charge are both cosmopolitan and confident in their country’s heritage. And nowhere is Mexico City’s transformation more visible than on the tables of innovative restaurants serving creative dishes based on traditional ingredients.
But it hasn’t always been this way. “When I started my apprenticeship in France in 1998, there was no such thing as Mexican haute cuisine,” says Edgar Núñez, executive chef and co-owner of Sud 777, which recently landed a spot on “Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants” list for 2016. The culinary talent was present, as was a host of traditional cookeries in the capital city. High-end gastronomy, however, meant anything but Mexican. Aspiring chefs like Núñez would study abroad and, when they returned home, dutifully emulate European food.
“But then I slowly began to remember how well we ate while growing up,” Núñez says. “My mother always grew her own vegetables, and I started thinking more about the importance of fresh, local produce.” It turns out that Núñez wasn’t the only one challenging the status quo. All across Mexico City, chefs young and old were getting reacquainted with their roots.
Here, five of the city’s hottest restaurants – along with the homegrown ingredients they champion – that demonstrate the depth and diversity of today’s Mexican cuisine.
At his fashionable Sud 777 in the stately southern suburb of Jardines del Pedregal, Edgar Núñez serves dishes based on simple ingredients, such as carrots that are simmered for 12 hours in duck fat, charred for seven minutes, and then topped with fresh cream.
Traditional it’s not – but this sophisticated comfort food is firmly rooted in the local soil. In fact, Núñez now grows many of his vegetables in a greenhouse behind 777.
Carrots also add life to the chef’s signature tostada, which features local tuna (“the world’s best tunas are caught off the coast of Mexico,” he boasts) tossed in lime, yuzu, soy sauce, and ginger, paired with avocados and green tomatoes. Crowning the dish: a fried corn tortilla, dotted with carrots, this time in the form of a buttery puree.
Death is part and parcel of life. And yet most of us fear this inevitable end to all living things. Not to the Mexicans, however. Dia de Los Muertos, which means the Day of the Dead, is a three-day celebration about death. As macabre as the holiday sounds, Dia de Los Muertos is festive and full of meaning for the people of Mexico. From 31 October to 2 November, families will visit the graves of the dearly departed and decorate the graves with candles, marigolds and chrysanthemums. Friends and family also exchange colourfully decorated sugar skulls to ward off the fear of death. The main events take place in the city; people dress up in costumes and paint their faces to look like skulls as they walk in a parade. To the Mexicans, Death is no longer foe but a friend.
Picture it: lounging by a palm-fringed pool, the sparkling Sea of Cortez in the distance, and your only task for the day—deciding what to do next. The options are myriad, from diving, snorkeling, and sport fishing off La Isla Espiritu Santo gateway, to the biggest marine preserve in the world, to hiking, biking, and golfing on an award-winning Gary Player championship golf course. The first and only luxury resort in La Paz, Baja, Costa Baja Resort & Spa is situated on 550 acres of environmentally protected coastal lands just five minutes from downtown La Paz, The 115-room boutique hotel brings a five-star luxury resort experience to La Paz with exquisite room views of the ocean, mountains, golf course, and marina.
After a day on the water or the course, you might want to indulge in a little “me time” with a visit to the Espiritu Spa, which features a Holistic-Reiki fusion combining aromatherapy using local healing herbs and Bach flowers with Reiki and Chakra balancing. The Resort features multiple dining options. We’re fans of Steinbeck’s, named in honor of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author who famously penned The Log from the Sea of Cortez while spending time in the area. This delightful restaurant features an impressive array of steak and seafood dishes. And, don’t miss Steinbeck’s Tequila selection (over 400 labels are on hand, including rare authentic reposado tequila bottles).