Best cultural holiday: Mexico
Sometimes you want a bit more from a holiday than sunning on a beach or getting lashed on cheap booze. For us at TheSite.org, the best cultural get away is Mexico.
Mexico isn't just the land of tequila and tacos, but is recognised worldwide for its cultural traditions and ancient history. As the Aztecs and Mayans both built their civilisations here, Mexico is a great fusion of modern and ancient culture. To top all this, the people of Mexico are friendly, laid back and welcoming.
Geography: Mexico is located in the lower region of North America bordering the USA to the north with Guatemala and Belize holding the South.
The golden beaches of Mexico
Currency: The Peso
Climate: The variety of Mexico's terrain ranges from lowland coastal to high mountain areas. This leads to a vast array of temperatures across the country. Climate is largely determined by altitude. The beaches are generally hot and humid and the cities on Mexico's central plateau have almost constant spring temperature.Map: Mexico
GMT: Mexico is divided into four time zones. These range from GMT -6 to GMT-8.
Visa: Tourists from the UK do not require a visa for Mexico, but you will need a 180-day tourist card.
Do's & don'ts
- Do drink bottled water as tap water tends to be unsafe. Food and drink from street vendors is also likely to be unsafe.
- Don't become involved with drugs in any way. Penalties for drug offences are very harsh. Convictions carry sentences of up to 25 years.
- Don't wear suggestive clothing or swimsuits and bikinis away from beach areas.
Getting there/getting around
From the United Kingdom, the only way to get to Mexico is by air, unless you happen to be on a cruise holiday. Flight times to Mexico City and Cancun from the UK average 11-12 hours and you can fly direct to Mexico City with British Airways, or connect via the US with one of the American carriers, such as American Airlines. This will give you more scope to fly direct to the smaller cities in Mexico.
Mexico is a huge country, especially when you are actually travelling across it. It has an extensive network of modern airports throughout the country, and flying from place to place is efficient and safe. The two main airlines are Aeromexico and Mexicana.
Mexico's bus system is well run and seen as a safe and economical way to travel. You also have a choice of 2nd class buses if you are on a budget. These still provide a relatively good level of comfort, but standards vary. They may also take longer to get you to your destination as they are often "indirect" - in other words - they stop at all the towns and villages en route.
Mexico now has its own independent hotel rating system. But as a general rule if a hotel is rated one to five stars, it can vary from just the bare necessities (a sink and a bed) at one star and on a par with international standards (five star). A 'Gran Turismo' rating denotes exceptional quality and first class amenities. 'Categoria Especial' often refers to hotel accommodation in a listed building, such as in a convent or colonial mansion.
Sightseeing & activities
Mexico melds modern and ancient culture, beaches, colonial cities and majestic mountains.
The capital city, Mexico City, has beautiful plazas, fabulous art galleries, restaurants and markets. Coyoacan, one of the main districts is home to the Anahuacalli museum a tribute to a pre-Hispanic Mexico. Plaza Coyoacan shopping centre, the district's Olympic swimming pool and National Cinema (Cineteca Nacional) are also worth a visit.
In the Xochimilico district, it's worth visiting the awe-inspiring Church San Bernandino, where many of the festivals associated with Christmas and Easter take place.
The beach resort of Cancun is the most popular tourist destination in Mexico. Top attractions in Cancun include the bullfighting stadium (Plaza de Toros Cancun).
Entertainment & nightlife
Throughout the country there are Mexican and American-style nightclubs. The American-style clubs cover every dance genre from rock to salsa. Mexican-style 'cantinas' are bars-cum-restaurants and are known for their selection of spirits - tequila often being the number-one choice.
Food & drink
Mexican food is very diverse due to the sheer size of the country and variations in climate. Mexico is the place that bought the world beans, corn, squashes, tomatoes, chocolate, vanilla, avocado and chile pepper amongst other favourites. These foods tend to appear in a lot of Mexican dishes.
For most Mexicans breakfast consists of fresh fruit, pan dulce (sweet bread), eggs, hot chocolate or coffee and fresh juice. Lunch and dinner are normally heartier affairs. Examples of popular regional dishes are pozole (pork soup), mole (a spicy gravy poured over meats) and tamales (corn meal stuffed with meat, cheese or vegetables in banana husks). Delicious black or white bean-based soups are also popular, as is menudo, which is a tripe stew.
Alcohol is another one of Mexico's plus points as it produces a range of first-class beers, as well as their national drink and popular export - tequila. Mezcal, like its cousin tequila, is also widely drunk as is damiana- a herbal-based spirit. Tamarind juice drinks and traditional horchata are punchy non-alcoholic alternatives.
The final word
"I went to Mexico City a couple of years ago, and found it really exciting," says Rosa Delores, 21. "It's worth visiting, Palacio de Bellas Artes - the Fine arts museum and El Museo de Cera - the Wax Museum. There were also lots of music festivals going on organised by the Mexican government. There are many religious festivals too, such as Day of the Dead at the beginning of November. La Basilica de Guadalupe is the best known big church. People leave gifts for the Virgin Mary, and make wishes. Often you can see pilgrims leaving, manoeuvring themselves out of the church 'walking on their knees' until they reach their homes. It's a religious tradition and it's wonderful to watch."