Where is Mexico?
Mexico is the southernmost and smallest country in North America. Its neighbouring countries are the USA and Guatemala and it has coastlines on the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean and Pacific.
The former fishing village of Cancun is now a lively resort that lures holidaymakers in search of picture-perfect beaches, luxurious resorts that cater for your every whim, designer malls and incredible nightlife. The Hotel Zone, or Zona Hotelera, is a bustling strip of bars, dance clubs and live music venues. From mid-March to early April American teens on spring break flock to Cancun, keen to enjoy the sunshine and beach life whilst partying into the early hours. During this time the resorts can get very busy.
Stretching south of Cancun along the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula to Playa del Carmen, Tulum and beyond, the Riviera Maya is renowned for its miles of white sand beaches, all-inclusive resorts, the dramatic clifftop ruins of Tulum and fantastic ecological parks. Quieter than Cancun, the region is ideal if you’re searching for peace and relaxation with the opportunity to soak up the natural beauty, history and culture of the region. In Playa del Carmen, the Riviera’s largest resort town, you can enjoy watersports from the beach, sample the local catch-of-the-day at one of the casual beachfront restaurants and stroll around the cobblestone streets and shop for traditional handicrafts, jewellery and folk art on bustling Fifth Avenue. The sleepy island of Cozumel is just half an hour away by boat and offers a peaceful setting for world-class snorkelling and scuba diving.
The Mayan ruins of the walled city of Tulum date back to 1200-1500 AD and are perched dramatically on a limestone cliff against a spectacular backdrop of endless blue skies, talcum powder sands and aquamarine waters. Highlights include El Castillo which is believed to have served as a temple and a beacon for boats approaching the shore, and the Temple of the Frescoes which features murals and sculptures depicting Mayan gods. Stretching both north and south along the coast from the ruins you’ll find a number of resorts, restaurants and bars. Basing yourself here means you can access the ruins before the crowds head down from Cancun and the Riviera and after they have left for the day.
Mexico boasts some of Latin America’s richest colonial architecture and the capital Mexico City is home to the magnificent Zócalo – the heart of the city and one of the world’s largest squares. A giant Mexican flag is ceremoniously raised and lowered daily, numerous community events take place here and Aztec dancers perform daily. The square is overlooked to the north by the Metropolitan Cathedral and to the east by the Palacio Nacional which is adorned with colourful murals by Mexican artist Diego Rivera which depict the country’s history from the Aztecs to pre-revolution Mexico. Just an hour outside of the city lies the spectacular archaeological zone of Teotihuacán, also known as the City of the Gods. This capital of the pre-Hispanic empire and formerly the largest city in the Western Hemisphere was built between the 1st and 7th centuries and is now a vast and impressive complex of ruins that is well worth taking the time to explore.
Diving and snorkelling
Mexico’s Yucatan coast is a highly regarded dive destination. Many dive sites, which regularly appear on ‘world’s best’ lists,are located just 10 to 15 minutes offshore. There are reef walls, caves, healthy coral gardens and even an underwater museum just off the shore of Cancun. A unique opportunity in this region of the world is diving in cenotes. These natural sinkholes are filled with water, both fresh and salt, and act as a gateway to a subterranean, subaquatic world with a vast network of underwater caves.
Diving is a year-round activity in this part of the world with water average water temperatures rarely lower than 25 degrees Celsius. The most popular times to dive coincide with the high season (from December to April), however sites will be quieter and there will be the chance to spot more varied marine life. Bull sharks are often seen off the coast of Playa del Carmen between November to March while whale sharks are seen near Isla Mujeres which is just to the north east of Cancun’s hotel zone.
Food and drink
Mexican cuisine hardly needs any introduction. It’s such an integral part of the local culture that it has been awarded Intangible Cultural Heritage status by UNESCO. Mesoamerican staples included corn, beans, avocado, sweet potato and chili pepper, while Europeans introduced meat such as chicken and beef, rice and dairy produce.
There are regional variations. In the Yucatan, where the food is influenced by the ancient Mayan culture, as well as Caribbean and Europe, the food is smoky, spicy and citrusy. Oaxacan cuisine is one of the country’s most famous varieties. Tortillas, known locally as blandas, are used in many dishes as are many types of black beans and even chocolate which is a common ingredient in both food and drink.
GMT -6 hours
11½ hours to Cancun
Tipping is a way of life in Mexico. Hotels and restaurants usually add 15% to the bill. If they don’t, tip 10-15%. Tip porters about 1US$ per suitcase, and also tip hotel maids (further guidance will be given in resort).
Casual dress is usually appropriate. Swimsuits mustn't be worn away from the pool or beach, and flashy or suggestive clothing is inappropriate in smaller resorts and inland cities.
• For breakfast try huevos rancheros (fried egg on a fried tortilla with salsa), huevos a la mexicana (scrambled eggs with salsa), chilaquiles (tortillas in a green tomato sauce with chicken, cheese and cream) or heuvos con machaca (scrambled eggs with dried beef).
• Sample regional dishes including pozole (a pork soup), Mole (a dark brown sauce served over chicken or turkey), tamales (corn meal stuffed with meat, cheese or vegetable and steamed in corn or banana husks) and menudo (tripe stew).
• Avoid tap water.
• Try the national spirit, tequila. Ask for a Margarita cocktail (stronger and less ‘frosty’ than those served in the UK) or a Sangrita - sour orange and pomegranate juice with a shot of tequila.