Places in Mexico

Places in Mexico, Photo by Elena Elisseeva
Mexico's astounding array of options can excite, entice, or even overwhelm many first-time visitors. There's untold scope for adventure activities in the forests and mountains, but you should make time for culture too. Grand colonial cities, small indigenous villages, thriving urban metropolises and the crumbling ruins of ancient civilizations all feature heavily in Mexico's multi-faceted cultural life.

Mexico City is one of the world's great capital cities and with a staggering 22 million inhabitants, it's one of the largest too. A riotous celebration of chaos, culture and style, attractions run the gamut from gritty urban cityscapes to indolent Aztec canals. Beyond the city limits there are the graceful colonial cities of Taxco, Puebla and Cuernavaca, as well as stunning archaeological sites like Teotihaucán and Tula.

A classic destination for RV campers and US expats, Baja California continues to draw crowds with its well-established resorts, isolated beaches and hauntingly desolate landscapes. In recent years, eco and adventure tourism have flourished, especially in the south, with ample opportunities for whale watching, diving, desert hiking and sea kayaking.

The north is a vast and daunting land of deserts, mountains and endless lonely highways. Don't miss the Copper Canyon that competes with Arizona's Grand Canyon for sheer jaw-dropping grandeur. Hikers and climbers will also want to check out the Parque Nacional Cumbres de Monterrey, home to several challenging peaks and over 120 species of birds.

A network of immensely beautiful colonial cities grace the interior of Mexico, including Guanajuato, Zacatecas and Querétaro. Built on the prodigious wealth of silver mining, many of them and their buildings have been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

Western Mexico is a bastion of national traditions, such as tequila, mariachis and the Mexican hat dance. The best place to enjoy all of them is Guadalajara, Mexico's second city. But indigenous culture is richly represented in the west too, with scores of evocative Purépecha villages perched upon the shores of Lake Pátzcuaro.

The Pacific coast is a truly vast and legendary stretch of shore with everything from glitzy high-rise resorts to chilled-out bastions of hippy culture. Ramshackle fishing communities, quiet enclaves and blissfully isolated beaches are plentiful, perfect for slinging a hammock and soaking up the sunset.

As the heart of Mexico's oil industry, the Gulf coast may not be as beautiful or popular as the Pacific, but it is wonderfully verdant and free from tourists. Don't miss the steamy, hedonistic port of Veracruz, the archaeological wonder of El Tajín and the urbane university city of Xalapa. For intrepid adventurers there are also plentiful jungle- swathed stretches, untouched beaches, whitewater rapids, beautiful lagoons and mangrove swamps.

Southern Mexico is the country's most popular tourist destination and it's not hard to see why. Mayan ruins, dense jungle, white sand beaches, islands, coral reefs, indigenous villages and colonial cities - the south has it all. Be sure to check out the fine towns of Oaxaca, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Campeche and Mérida, as well as the ruins of Palenque, Uxmal and Chichén Itza. If you want beach time, Tulum is southern Mexico's most hip destination, but there are also plenty of mega-resorts nearby, including the infamous Cancún.

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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