With an enormous amount of cultural and architectural sites, museums and festivals galore, quirky traditions and rituals, beaches and dense forests, delicious spicy Mexican cuisine and city diversity, Mexico is an amalgam of all the gravitating elements together.
Here’s a comprehensive itinerary of what to see, starting at the ruins near Mexico City.
Mexico attracts attention due to its possession of spectacular ruins due to the Mayans Civilization. Known for their exceptional knowledge in mathematics, astronomy, art and agriculture, their traces can still be found flourishing in Mexico.
About Chichen Itza
A recognized UNESCO heritage site, Chichen Itza dates back to the 5th century as a thriving Mayan city. Located in the state of Yucatan, it has been a hub of commerce, religious monuments and residences. The term “Chichen Itza” means “at the mouth of the Itza well” and Itza refers to the ethnic group of the Mayas, who rose to power in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Main Complexes of Chichen Itza
The first complex in Chichen Itza, El Castillo is the largest and most famous pyramid in Chichen Itza. A significant monument 98 feet high and dedicated to the giant serpent deity, Kukulkan. During the spring and fall equinoxes, the sun is said to hit the northwest of this monument, conjuring up triangular shadows and creating the appearance of a creeping serpent slithering downward. It was astronomically and architecturally aligned to the religious beliefs of the Maya. The monument has 365 steps in total, 91 on each side and one at the top. Clapping at the base of the stairs in El Castillo also produces an eccentric echo similar to the chirping of the Mexican Quetzel, a bird considered sacred during the Mayan culture.
Besides El Castillo, another well-known complex in Chichen Itza is the “Temple of the Warriors”. A large step pyramid has thousands of carved columns representing warriors. It has a staircase which cannot be climbed although at the top is the ‘Chac Mool’ statue, a reclining figure with a disc on its stomach. The ChacMools are considered to have been messengers of God and speculation is rife train whereby beating hearts of people who were sacrificed were placed in this central square.
The “sacred cenote” at Chichen Itza holds a mystery as it is a 197-foot naturally formed shaft and limestone bedrock. According to Mayan cosmology, cenotes serve as vital portals between the earthly world and the sky. Thus, children, women and warriors were offered to Chac, the rain god of the Mayas because they feared drought. Besides the skeletons, the archaeologists have discerned gold, jade, shell, wood and many precious objects.
The Great Ball Court is another complex at Chichen Itza and the largest ball court in Mesoamerica. Measuring 225 feet wide and 545 feet long, spectator sports were played here. Games such as Pok-a Tok symbolized the struggle of life against death and the losing team was offered as a sacrifice to God by the Maya.
Home to ruins of the Mayan civilization, Tulum offers both relaxation and adventure. A quiet town along the Caribbean coast, lately it’s an Instagram-worthy destination. Being in the state of Yucatan, not only has natural cenotes, beaches, snorkeling, but also architectural sites, Tulum ruins, biosphere reserves and much more.
What to do in Tulum:
One can visit the architectural site SFER IK, which is an interdisciplinary creative sphere, gaining a lot of recognition. For the adventure junkies, there’s a triple cenote adventure tour where you can enjoy scuba diving, jungle tours, ziplining, suspension bridges, and abseiling. There are also many resorts, spas and relaxation centers with delicious food choices that you should not miss.
Probably like Times Square but with more soul, Zocalo is the heart of Mexico City. Its location can be considered the original Aztec city, Tenochtitlan and the ruins of it are still present. The Aztecs are the indigenous people of Mexico before the Spaniards dominated it in the 16th century. If ever confused between Mayans and Aztecs, the Mayans were the first Mesoamerican civilization and the Aztecs founded their city around 1325 AD.
Places to visit in Zocalo
Palacio Nacional (the presidential palace): The palace houses the federal executive branch of the Mexican government and is a huge palace showcasing ornate buildings, gardens, murals, and Mexican heritage. Famous artist Diego Rivera’s “History of Mexico” murals depict everything from the Aztecs to every revolution. One of the world’s leading libraries, the Biblioteca Miguel Lerdo de Tejada is also hailed here. Admission is free to this spectacular attraction and visiting hours are 9am to 5am.
Metropolitan Cathedral: The imposing facade of the cathedral dominating the Zocalo square is the largest and oldest cathedral in Latin America, built in 1521. It took nearly 250 years to build and is therefore a reflection of three distinct styles: baroque, neoclassical and neo-Renaissance.
Designed by Spaniard Claudio de Arciniega, it has majestic bell towers and is influenced by the Gothic style. Religious relics, crypts, works of art and grandeur emerge from every corner. Even though Mexico is mostly prone to volcanoes, the material used to build this cathedral has survived all calamities such as earthquakes, volcanoes, fires and floods.
Additional sights to see along the way
Frida Kahlo Museum
The fearless brushstrokes of Frida Kahlo, a Mexican painter who stood out for her uncompromising passion for self-portraits and reflecting many symbolic ideas, are revered in her work today. This museum, also known as the Blue House, is dedicated to his life and works. It costs 246 pesos or around US$16 as an entrance fee and is open from Tuesday to Sunday.
Often you would have stumbled across ornate colorful buildings, cobbled streets, bustling plazas with Mexico tagged as a location on Instagram. Well, Guanajuato is known for its underground streets and tunnels, charming architecture, lively Mercado Hidalgo for its souvenirs and delicious food, and the popular Internacional Cervantino festival held in October.
If you are interested in beaches and nightlife in addition to heritage and nature, Cancun may be the right destination to enjoy a Caribbean vacation. One of the most affordable destinations with fascinating white sand beaches, biodiversity in the lagoons, reefs, clubs, restaurants, sports such as jet skiing, scuba diving, snorkeling, parasailing and acrobatic dancing, Cancun should not be missed. Also Chichen Itza, the UNESCO heritage site, is quite close to it.
Events to attend on the way
The day of the Dead
The traditional festival in Mexico is known as Dia De Muertos Ie Day of the Dead which is meant to honor the dead and was celebrated by the early Aztecs. Even though death seems like grief in general, on the contrary, it is celebrated in Mexico by families who visit the cemetery and later hold a small party in the cemetery. It is celebrated on November 1 and 2.
A culturally vibrant festival representing art, music, and dance is celebrated in the state of Oaxaca. The term “Guelaguetza” means offering and was traditionally celebrated on occasions such as baptism, marriage or the feast of the patron saint of the village. Each person offers something to the party as a reciprocal expression. It is celebrated the last two months of July and is a great cultural greatness for tourists.
Food to fill your stomach
Tacos al Pastor
Considered an authentic Mexican dish, Al Pastor tacos are made from marinated pork and cooked like shawarma. Pineapple is added or excluded according to one’s preference. Apart from this, onions, cilantro and salsa are the hallmarks of Mexican cuisine
This dish represents a mixture of Lebanese and Mexican culture. Al Pastor literally means shepherd style as in the early 1900s, many Lebanese immigrated to Mexico.
A fairly large breakfast from Mexico, it has triangular pieces of fried corn, tortilla chips, shredded chicken, chorizo, scrambled egg or sunny side up with fresh cheese, onions and coriander.
Corn or flour tortilla stuffed with ingredients with melted cheese, meat or vegetables, spices, then grilled. Toppings usually involve potatoes, mushrooms, chorizo, guacamole, avocado, salsas, chili peppers, tomato chicken, beef or pork, and cilantro.
A flour or corn tortilla stuffed with fillings such as cheese, beans, potatoes, meat, chili-based sauces such as salsa roja, moles, and cheese-based sauces such as chili con queso. Historians believe that Enchiladas date back to Aztec times.
A fairly iconic Mesoamerican dish made with dough steamed in a corn or banana leaf, tamales are loaded with meat, cheese, fruits, vegetables, and chili peppers. They were invented by the Aztecs a thousand years ago.
The list is endless, but these are the main attractions and activities for your next visit to Mexico.
Next: Must-see destinations in Mexico (other than Cancun or Tulum)
Wild And Sweet: What to expect at New York’s best candy bar