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Travel Guide: Mexico Highlights

12th Oct 2011 2:01am | By Editor

Dreamy beaches, big cities and Mayan ruins to explore.

Mexico City

At times it's pure chaos, and you may never see the city's giant volcano, the 5300m snow-capped Popocatepetl, through the smog. But staying around the vibrantly atmospheric Zocalo centre offers an almost sedate introduction to this sprawling city's monumental colonial buildings and museums, such as the 16th century cathedral and Baroque National Palace.

Popocatepetl and Teotihuac‡n's temples are must-do day excursions, while you've also got to check out Lucha Libre, which translates as free fighting. The WWF-style wrestling is second only in popularity to football and some mask-clad stars have crossed over into politics, without even removing their disguises. Also make sure you visit Zócalo. The municipal square is the world's second largest, after Moscow's Red Square, and a cultural melting pot.

You can also expect to be happily attacked by the city's famous mariachi bands, who play classic Mexican ditties for a bit of loose change, at the Plaza Garibaldi. Marvel at the collection of pre-colonial artefacts in the extraordinary Museo Nacional de Antropología, and take a day trip out to the magnificent pre-Aztec pyramid (the world's third largest, so they claim) site of Teotihuacán.

Oaxaca

South of Mexico City, this World Heritage-listed city is classy. Dating from 1521, it oozes charm, whether you're joining Oaxacans for their evening constitutional in the pretty plazas or sipping Margaritas in stylish bars.

There are many language schools in town and the city is built around a square that's massive, even by Latin American standards, and the wondrous 16th century Spanish architecture has made it a popular stop for travellers.

The Yucatán Peninsula

If you have only two weeks in Mexico, you would be well advised to split your time between the capital and the Yucatán Peninsula. The peninsula separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Caribbean Sea and includes the states of Yucatán, Campeche and Quintana Roo. Put simply, the collection of dream-like Caribbean beaches and spectacular Mayan ruins, including a newly-crowned Wonder of the World, takes a lot of beating.

Michoacán

The Day of the Dead may be celebrated in much of Latin America (and a national holiday in the Philippines), but it originated, and is still biggest and best, in Mexico where it is celebrated with much fervour on November 1 (and usually right through to the next day). Morelia, capital of the rolling, lush Michoacán state, is the perfect place to sample Mexico’s famed Noche de Muerte.

The festival is one of Mexico's best-known events — a ghoulishly surreal carnival of religion and public celebration that epitomises much of what is so intoxicating about the country itself. Yet for all the frivolities, this is also a deeply traditional celebration. Nowhere is this more so than in the state of Michoacán, whose indigenous Purepecha people have preserved their ancestral heritage more keenly than most.

Cancun

Mexico’s party joint instantly brings up a mental image of American students on spring break, but there’s more to it than that. There are plenty of rather nice resorts, which are shielded somewhat from the boozing. Cancun is also the access point to Central America, with many tours leaving from there. Meanwhile, day trips can be done to the turtle sanctuary on Isla Mujeres, or the impressive Mayan ruins at Tulum and Chichen Itza.