Mexico City is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the Americas, on the site of the Aztec capital. We thoroughly recommend a visit to the Museum of National Anthropology , to the Templo Mayor in the Zocalo main square and to the National Palace with murals by Diego Rivera.
The Aztec ruins of Teotihuacan are just 30 miles from the capital. Teotihuacan was inhabited from around 200BC and is thought to have had a population of around 125,000 people at its peak around 650AD while Britain was still in the Dark Ages.
Oaxaca is a graceful combination of the modern, the colonial and the ancient. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. We recommend a visit to the Monte Alban archaeological site, the capital of the Zapotecs, on a nearby hilltop with commanding views of the surrounding valley.
Beautifully set in a lush valley and surrounded by mountains, San Cristobal de las Casas is an attractive colonial gem, with cobblestone streets, classical architecture with clay tiled roofs and wrought iron balconies. 10km outside the city there are caves with impressive stalagmites. The Sumidero Canyon can also be reached from here.
Villahermosa is the gateway to Palenque but for visitors with more time, we recommend the journey from Tuxtla Gutierrez and the spectacular Sumidero Canyon which was created by the mighty Rio Grijalva which runs northwards through it. During the conquest Indian warriors threw themselves into the canyon rather than submit to the Spanish.
Villahermosa itself remained rather a backwater until the discovery of oil in the 1970s transformed the city to what it has become today.
The complex of Palenque is arguably the most beautiful of all the pre-Colombian structures in Latin America. The asymmetrical Palace at the centre was probably used as an astronomical observatory as well as a watchtower. The Temple of the Inscriptions derives its name from the hieroglyphic tablets on the inner walls but it was only in 1952 that this pyramid was discovered to contain a burial chamber to Pacal the Great, founder of the ruling dynasty.
Merida was founded in 1542 by Francisco de Montejo y Leon on the site of the Mayan city of T’ho. It is named after the city in Extremadura, Spain, the province which was home to many of the conquistadores. The historic centre of Merida retains considerable charm but, with a population today of around 1m, the city has long since expanded beyond the original walls.
Chichen Itza was built by the Maya in the late Classic period between 600 and 900 AD. The main pyramid (El Castillo) dominates the complex which includes a number of temples, a ball court and the Plaza of a Thousand Columns, covering an area of 2.5 sq. miles. You can easily visit Chichen Itza from Merida or from the Riviera Maya.
Cancun boasts that it has over 32,000 hotel rooms in a 17 mile strip with the turquoise Caribbean on one side and the inky-blue waters of Nichupte Lagoon on the other. Cancun offers watersports, zip-lines and mountain biking for the adventurous, golf courses, spas, shopping and a range of restaurants and nightspots for the less energetic. Three quarters of Cancun’s hotels are five star (many all-inclusive) but it is safe to say that Cancun is not everybody’s cup of tea.
Mexico’s Riviera Maya stretches along the Caribbean coast from Puerto Morelos just south of Cancun, to Punta Allen in the Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve south of Tulum. Playa del Carmen, little more than a fishing village 30 years ago, is now a busy tourist resort with accommodation ranging from luxury boutique hotels to rustic thatched cabanas. The Xel-Ha Park has a huge diversity of marine life in its coves, lagoons and cenotes (sinkholes).
Mexico’s 16th century colonial towns and cities thrived from the production of silver, gold and precious stones but were places of discontent which eventually led to independence and revolution. Today the well-preserved centres of Queretaro, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, San Luis Potosi and Morelia with cobblestone streets, leafy courtyards, attractive colonial architecture, churches, museums, plazas and gardens are a delight to visit.
The well-established beach resorts of Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco and Ixtapa have long been a magnet for holiday makers seeking sunshine, golden sand and Mexican hospitality. Manzanillo and Puerto Escondido have grown considerably since the 1980s whilst back-packers have long headed for Puerto Angel and the nearby beaches of Zipolite and San Agustinillo. Up-and- coming destinations on the Pacific coast include Costalegre and Riviera Nayarit.
The Chihuahua to Los Mochis railway is an extraordinary feat of engineering with 87 tunnels and 38 bridges through a series of spectacular interlocking canyons. While the railway journey can be completed (in either direction) in a single day, we recommend stopping en route at Divisadero and at Creel. The region is home to the Tarahumara Indians, renowned for their endurance in long-distance running.
Baja California stretches 1300km from the Tijuana border with the United States to Cabo San Lucas on the tip of the peninsula. Most travellers will head for the beaches at Todos Santos or the all-inclusive resorts of San Lucas. Playa Costa Azul, near San Jose del Cavo, is probably the best for surfing. To reach Playa del Amor at El Arco you can take a water taxi or hire a glass-bottomed boats, kayak or jet-ski.