Around Mexico City

Nourished by the fertile Valley of Mexico, the provinces surrounding the capital have long drawn settlers and travellers - not least the Spaniards, who were keen to exploit the local mineral wealth. Throughout the region, Mexico's colonial past is exalted by an abundance of handsome cities including Cuernavaca, Taxco and Puebla, where time has failed to erode traditional Spanish ideals of beauty - or a long-held reverence for the baroque. Ostentatious mansions, exuberant church facades, splendid palatial gardens and dazzling grand plazas reveal a taste for opulence, drama and the outright grandiose.

But the Spaniards were not the first to lay roots in these lands, where remnants of lost cultures pepper the valley. The vast pyramids of Teotihuacán, more than 2000 years old, hint at civilizations as grand as they were complex, but about which very little is known. Like scattered fragments of a puzzle, the ruined cityscapes, mountain-top altars, mysterious shrines and crumbling old palaces are as entrancing as they are enigmatic.

Fortunately, the living descendants of these city-states offer tentative glimpses of an ancestral past. Hidden away from time and progress, indigenous villages such as Cuetzalán and Tepoztlán are bastions of ancient lore and heritage. Here, the old gods are alive and well, venerated as much as the saints, while the crafts and farming techniques that sustain their communities have changed little since the Spanish Conquest. Dance, traditional dress and archaic languages supply a vivid living link to the saga of ancient Nahua history. What's more, the land - as dramatic and inspirational as the stories it recalls - is a burgeoning draw for outdoors enthusiasts. Challenging volcanoes like Nevado de Toluca and Iztaccíhuatl provide further motivation to explore the rich world surrounding Mexico City.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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