Mexico Highlights

From Havana, Cuba we flew to Mexico, Cancun.

We travelled across the whole of Mexico by bus, stopping off at the following places:

  • Tulum
  • Akumal
  • Valladolid
  • Palenque
  • San Cristobal de Las Casas
  • San Juan Chamula
  • Oaxaca City
  • Puerto Escondido
  • Zipolite
  • Acapulco / Pie de la Cuesta
  • Zihuatanejo
  • Barra de Potosi
  • Puerto Vallarta
  • Guadalajara
  • Zitacuaro
  • Mexico City

Scroll down to see my highlights for each of these areas!


Tulum


Only 2 hours away from Cancun by bus, is the lovely little town of Tulum – famous for its ancient Mayan ruins and long sandy beaches.

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The town is a little distance from the beach itself – approximately 10 minutes by taxi or collectivo or 20 minutes by bicycle. Aside from the nice bars and restaurants and arts and crafts shops which give Tulum its buzz, there is plenty to do outside of town. Super efficient and cheap collectivos arrive on the main road every few minutes, making Tulum an ideal base for exploring this gorgeous coastline of Mexico.


Places to Stay


There are plenty of accommodation options in town. You probably won’t get stuck if you just turn up.

We stayed at Mama’s Home

Calle Orion s-n entre venus y sol oriente
Tulum 77780
Mexico

t:+52 984 871 2272

You can book through Hostelbookers or Hostelworld.

For a private double room it was actually pretty cheap. The hostel was clean and had a fun vibe and what was good was that they had an after 11 o’clock quiet rule. The people running the hostel at the time were super friendly and helpful. They provided us with really useful information on the local area, and also rented out snorkel gear. Don’t get too excited about the breakfast people rave about in the reviews. It’s sweet but it’s just a pancake with a bit of fruit on top.


Things to See and Do


Ruins and Beaches

The Tulum ruins are OK. I thought that you could access the beach which sits in front of the ruins without having to pay the entrance fee – not so. Also, the tide was in so we couldn’t access the beach area at all, which was a shame. However, there are many beaches that stretch across Tulum, covering 10km, more or less. These are really nice and there are bars scattered along the way. For a really nice beach experience though, head to Akumal.

Akumal – swim with GIANT sea turtles just metres from the shore.

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Akumal is a hidden gem and a real highlight of our trip so far. When we arrived, the people running our hostel advised us of 2 things we MUST do whilst in the area:

The beach of Akumal is public so you can go out and snorkel independently (no matter what anyone else tells you) and you can rent snorkels for about 50-100 pesos for the day.

Do not go with a guide! There is no need!

Swimming with turtles has always been a dream so I kept my expectations low to avoid disappointment, after all, this is wildlife and the weather conditions when we arrived were not so great. On our second morning when the skies were a little clearer following the rain, we hailed a collectivo in town and paid 30 pesos for the ride to Akumal. The journey was about 30 minutes long and we arrived at about 8.00 am.

We were in the water for no longer than a few minutes before we reached these amazing creatures. As soon as my feet couldn’t touch the ground and my face went under – there they were – 2 beautiful enormous turtles. I swam about 1 metre above one and guessed it was the same size as me. Snorkelling out a little further you can see all sorts of tropical fish and rays in and amongst the reef. This tiny little beach of Akumal is paradise and well worth a visit.

No guidebooks I’ve read make mention of this place and people I met heard of it only via word-of-mouth. There is a small resort on the beach but I think in a few years time this little beach will be a different place, as when we visited (November 2014) they had started developing another resort directly in front of the beach where we snorkelled.

TIP: You will be able to see turtles swimming at any time of day but if you want a unique experience I would recommend going as early as possible. Maybe between 7.00 am – 9.00 am. After that tour groups arrive in their masses. We saw maybe 5 groups of 10 people getting ready at 9.00 am. At 8.00 am it’s just you and the turtles.


Coba Ruins

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Take a bus from the main bus station to the Coba ruins, set deep in the forest just over an hour north of Tulum. It’s a nice day trip and you can climb the highest ruin in the Yucatan region. The setting is beautiful but there are plenty of tourists clambering around which can sometimes spoil the view but it’s still worth seeing.

The bus timetables are a bit wonky with only 2 buses returning in the afternoon, so if you’re planning on taking a bus back don’t go before 11.00 am, otherwise you’ll be stuck out there for a whole day and you don’t need that long. I think we took an 11.00 am bus and made it back for 5.00 pm. 4 hours is more than enough. Don’t worry about crowds, the site is pretty big so you can lose them easily enough.


Places to Eat, Drink and Be Merry


Forget the dozens of restaurants that line the streets. The food served is okay – and by that I mean average at best, and mains cost over 100 pesos! A couple we met in Coba said their Mexican friends recommended an outdoor restaurant – El Rincon Chiapaneco – a true, authentic Mexican dining experience. The tables and chairs were all plastic fantastic, but with tacos and empanadas and enchiladas filled with hundreds of delicious fillings, and all costing 120 pesos for 2 people – who cares! This was not only the most delicious food we had eaten in Mexico so far but the cheapest!

TIP: They don’t serve alcohol here but just try the big green drink with lime. It’s delicious!

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Batey Mojito & Guarapo Bar

Outside the Batey Mojito & Guarapo Bar sits an old VW Beetle that’s been transformed into a sugar cane juicer.

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The Mojitos here are made using sugar cane rather than granulated sugar, SO THEY’RE DELICIOUS! There’s a nice vibe in this bar – it’s relaxed, sociable, friendly and cozy. Sometimes there’s live music or a cult film night. There is also an outdoor area where a pet rooster keeps you company.


Valladolid


I loved this little town just east of Chichen Itza.

We couldn’t really be arsed with Chichen Itza as we’d heard reports of it being over touristy and completely underwhelming. However, when in Yucatan I suppose it’s a must. Valladolid seemed close enough to make it to Chichen Itza early in the morning, and the little town is famed for its cenotes, so we based ourselves there for 2 nights. What a result. Vallodolid was absolutely lovely, the cenote we visited was stunning and Chichen Itza was incredible!

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Places to Stay


Hostel Candelaria
Street 35 #201-F
Valladolid
e. hostel-valladolid@hotmail.com
t. +52 985 8562267

This is a beautiful hostel located inside a church courtyard – very close to town and the bus station but far enough away to give the illusion of being in a jungle lodge. The lush tropical garden is cleverly landscaped, with plenty of tables and chairs and hammock areas, making it a perfect place to kick back and chill out. Breakfast is included and is buffet style. The bread is fresh and the ladies cook you eggs. There’s unlimited coffee, tea and fruit.

The only drawback is there is no regulation on noise. People may be up chatting loudly until the early hours, so maybe opt for an upstairs room or take ear plugs. It’s worth staying here though, for a hostel – it’s beautiful and the rooms are very clean and cosy. The kitchen facilities are also very good!


Things to See and Do


Around Valladolid

Cenotes

Ask at your accommodation for a map. There are cenotes everywhere, including one in town. Our hostess said that her favourite one (as it was less touristy) was 4km south of town. The cenote is called San Lorenzo. It’s absolutely beautiful. We spent a few hours down there swimming around. The tree roots from above stretch all the way down, disappearing into the water, so you’re swimming in and amongst them. Stunning!

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Chichen Itza

We went with the mindset of getting it out of the way. Sure it’s a wonder of the world but I just don’t like places that have coach loads of tourists arriving every 5 minutes. I have to say, I was well impressed with Chichen Itza.

We took the 8.30 am bus from Valladolid and arrived at 9.30 am. As we walked in through the gates I saw it; this huge pyramid structure in the middle of a big green field. “Is that it?” I asked Seamus. “I think so” he replied, looking at the map. I asked because there was hardly anyone around. We took the opportunity of taking pictures and walked right up to the magnificent structure which was only roped off from about a metre away. Chichen Itza is more than just a pyramid as well, it’s an entire city of ruins. We spent the whole day wandering around and we really enjoyed it!

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TIP: Near the staircase of Chichen Itza clap your hands and hear the echo (similar to the sound of a bird) vibrate and come back to you.

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If you’re getting a guide, explore by yourself first. Most groups with guides stuck to the path about 50 metres away from the structure itself. There’s nothing like getting up close and personal, especially with so few people around.
We travelled here late November – low season, which may explain why it was so quiet at the beginning of the day. However, I’d still advise people to arrive early, as by 11.00 am all the tour buses from Cancun arrive.


Related blog posts: Chichen Itza – It’s Alright!


Ek’ Balam

Another ruin to visit in the area but we didn’t have time.

I would have liked to have stayed in Valladolid a little longer. The town had a great vibe and the people were happy and relaxed. They also had an impressive Piñata shop!

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Palenque


Deep in the jungle, in the far east of the Chiapas region lies Palenque, an area which is home to some of the most impressive ancient Mayan ruins in the whole of the Chiapas and Yucatan states. (It is also the famous filming location of Predator, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger).

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Hundreds of Mayan ruins are spread out over 15 sq km of dense jungle. On site you are able to climb on all of the ruins and explore the main palace grounds. It’s impressive.


Places to Stay


Collectivos can drive you from the bus station in town to the jungle where the ruins are located. It takes about 15 minutes so no matter where you stay, you will not be far from the attraction.

You can stay in town or in any of the hotels or cabins on the road down to the ruins (there are many). We made the mistake of following the guide books recommendation of staying at El Panchan. It’s not funky and it is not fun – It is the setting for the Blair Witch Project.

Read about my experience here – Palenque – A Real Travelling Experience.

The cabin we stayed in was dark, damp, dirty and uncomfortable. The whole place is a real throw back from the 70’s and in need of some serious updating. However, the pizza the restaurant served up in the evening was stunning, and there was free entertainment. Just don’t sleep there – it’s pretty grim.


Things to See and Do


Palenque Ruins and the Waterfalls – Misol-Ha and Agua Azul

As much as I wanted to visit these sites independently, it worked out cheaper and better to see them as part of a tour. Going it alone was just too much hassle and the waterfalls are about 2 hours drive away from Palenque. Public transport to and from the waterfalls is not guaranteed.

We were dropped off at the ruins early in the morning, and had 4 hours to walk around. We then went to Misol-Ha.

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This is an amazing waterfall, and even if the water is thundering down you can still go for a swim close to it, as there are ropes stretching out across the water for you to hold onto should the current be too strong.

Swimming here was an experience I will never forget.

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Agua Azul was our last stop. It was okay. There are dozens of waterfalls cascading down and you can go for a swim but it’s quite built up around the edge with restaurants and shops and people selling things. The water can be quite polluted in places as well. Misol-Ha was much better!

Yaxchilan and Bonampak

Set deep in the Lacondon jungle and accessible only by boat via the Usumacinta River that runs between Guatemala and Mexico, these ruins were not your average Chichen Itza/Palenque ruins.

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Most of the ruins were left in their original state, untouched and still crumbling and there were very few tourists. Howler and spider monkeys swung through the trees and the caves were filled with huge spiders and bats. This was a real Indiana Jones experience!

Despite being cold, tired and a bit bored of all the ruins I had seen, this was well worth the visit! Also included in this tour is the option of staying in the jungle for a few days, for hiking and trekking. This option can also include an onward journey to San Cristobal. Make enquiries at one of the many tour agencies in Palenque.

Laguna Mirimar and Lagos de Montebello

We were told not to bother with Laguna Mirimar. It’s a pain in the arse to get to and not so pretty. You also get charged for everything you do. Lagos de Montebello are much more beautiful and there are accommodation options there. Trips and transport to the Lagos de Montebello are best organised from San Cristobal de Las Casas. We tried to look at options for travelling from Comitan but it all seemed a bit too complicated. In the end we got sick and so decided to recover in the stunning mountain town of San Cristobal de Las Casas instead, and skip the lakes.

However, if you’re considering going, I would leave from San Cristobal and organise accommodation at the lakes. I’ve heard that the day trips can be a bit rushed. Check on Trip Advisor.


 Related blog posts: Palenque – A Real Travelling Experience.


San Cristobal de Las Casas


Beautiful colourful colonial buildings, coffee shops, bakeries and wine bars serving hot mulled wine, all tucked away between lush mountain landscape and countryside. Heaven on a stick!

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WARNING! San Cristobal gets cold! When we arrived in December the temperature was below 10 degrees. We immediately had to buy winter clothes from local village folk selling them on the streets. My scarf was only 50 pesos, so no harm done.

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Places to Stay


We stayed at a friend of a friends hotel – Hotel Posada Las Casas and it was really lovely, bright, comfortable and cosy – a real home away from home. The bed was huge and comfortable, there was cable TV and a lovely hot shower/en suite bathroom. The internet connection was also brilliant!

Hotel Posada Las Casas

Francisco I. Madero No. 81 /Almolonga y Jesús Martinez Rojas
Barrio de Guadalupe, CP. 29230
San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico.

+52 967-6782882 –

ventas@hposadalascasas.com
hposadalascasas@hotmail.com

I know a few people who found good accommodation through Air BnB as well – worth checking out!


Things to See and Do


San Cristobal itself is quite small but you could easily spend a week here. The landscape is incredible and there are plenty of markets, coffee shops, bars and restaurants to explore. Buy some winter woollies from one of many local women wandering the main square.

This region of Mexico celebrates festivals like no other. If you arrive during festival time be prepared for fireworks, parades, music and dancing until the early hours of the morning.

Canon Del Sumidero

The Canon del Sumidero is a narrow 1000m deep canyon surrounded by a national park located north of the city of Chiapa de Corzo in the Mexican state of Chiapas.

Sailing through it is like venturing through the movie set of Lord of the Rings.

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It’s stunning but because it borders with a city, unfortunately there’s a lot of waste that flows into the river. However, money made from the boat trips goes towards daily clean up operations. You’ll see plenty of boats out and about clearing any waste away. I didn’t see much at all – maybe the odd stray coca cola bottle floating about.

It’s a shame to see any sort of pollution at such a beautiful site but it’s hardly surprising considering its location.

The canyon is home to crocodiles, vultures and hundreds of other bird species. The boat ride lasted approximately 2 hours and took us all the way through the giant rock formation and back again. For only 200 Mexican pesos, including transport from San Cristobal, it was well worth it!

Zicanatan and San Juan Chamula

Zicanatan and San Juan Chamula are very famous Tzotzil indigenous villages located just 30 minutes outside of San Cristobal de Las Casas. Visitors flock here to witness the religious traditions that are unique to this community.

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The local form of Catholicism is a blend of pre-conquest Mayan customs, Spanish Catholic traditions mixed with other religious rituals, making for a once-in-a-lifetime insight into one of the most intriguing religious customs you are likely to experience.

Read more about my surreal experience of these indigenous villages here – San Juan Chamula – Voodoo Catholicism and a Chicken Sacrifice.


Places to Eat, Drink and Be Merry


There are many bakeries, coffee shops, bars and restaurants in San Cristobal de las Casas but these were my favourites:

La Vina de Bacco

7 Calle Real de Guadalupe
San Cristobal de las Casas 29200
Mexico

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Possibly my favourite bar in the world – I exaggerate not…In fact, when I met other travellers and Mexicans after I had visited San Cristobal all of them asked me if I’d been to this bar. There is an extensive wine list, and beer and other alcoholic beverages available for those who don’t want wine – but the emphasis is on wine! Red wine, white wine, mulled wine, sparkling wine, dessert wine, and with each glass of wine you receive free tapas!

Oh, and did I mention that the price of a glass starts at just 18 pesos! That’s about 90p! What’s better is that they’re not stingy with the pour, and they have proper glasses. The music they play is also great – blues and rock mainly.

Yes, my favourite bar.

Comida Thai

Real de Guadalupe # 84 Centro
San Cristobal de las Casas 29200
Mexico

The lady who runs this tiny little eatery is from Thailand. Her food is delicious, completely authentic, and will, without doubt warm you up!

Posheria

Andador Real de Guadalupe # 46-A
Centro Historico
San Cristobal de las Casas 29230
Mexico

You cannot visit San Cristobal without trying the local alcoholic brew, Pox (pronounced posh), which is used for religious ceremonial purposes. It literally translates as medicine and tastes a little bit like Schnapps. It’s so delicious. It comes in many different flavours – my favourite was the plum (tasted a bit like port) and hibiscus (Jamaica Flower). In the Posheria you can sample lots of different flavours and each shot (which you sip) is accompanied with some chocolate and slices of orange.

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Related blog posts: San Juan Chamula – Voodoo Catholicism and a Chicken Sacrifice

San Cristobal de Las Casas – Rest, Wine and Winter COLD


Oaxaca City


Oaxaca City is a place you need to explore at all hours of the day – from early morning when people are making their way to work, to the afternoon lunch time rush hour and the evening. Leave no corner unturned in this cultural, culinary mecca of Mexico. Explore!

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I have no particular recommendations as such – Oaxaca is a place in which you can easily discover your own highlights and live your own adventure. The Zocalo and the Mercado de 20 Noviembre are definite starting points though. Check out my blog The Crazy of Oaxaca Cityfor more information.


Places to Stay


Azul Cielo

Azul Cielo Hostel
Arteaga Num: 608 Centro
Oaxaca, Mexico
Tel: +55 9512053564

Bookings can be made through Hostelbookers.

I think this has to be one of my favourite hostels so far. The private room was really comfortable and bright, the garden area was sweet and the breakfast was different every day. It was simple but lovely. The staff were kind and friendly and the whole hostel had a really positive vibe.


Things to See and Do


Outside of Oaxaca

The tree of Santa Maria del Tule (Arbol del Tule)

Claimed to be one of the largest trees in the world – Arbol del Tule has the stoutest trunk of any tree and in 2001 it was placed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

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We hired some bikes from the hostel and rode for approximately 1 hour to the town of Santa Maria del Tule to see this great tree.

If you come out of Oaxaca City take the Ferrocarril road to Tule. In the middle of this road is a pedestrian highway where an old rail track used to lie. You can cycle on this path and it’s literally just one straight road, making this a very easy trip! Beware of burning leaves along the way!

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Take your time in this little town, and see if you can spot the lion hidden in the tree!

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Related blog posts: The Crazy of Oaxaca City


Puerto Escondido


I wanted to avoid staying in Puerto Escondido – it’s the kind of place American Spring Breakers flock to and spend their time shouting, screeching and getting wasted, but I really wanted to visit Laguna Manialtepec (the lake of lizards), about 18km west of Puerto Escondido. This lagoon is famous for its night-time phosphorescent waters created by plankton. The organism’s luminescence is activated by the movement of the water and at night, streaks of light can be seen when it is disturbed.

I researched hard and I managed to avoid pretty much most of the spring break activity. I stayed in an amazing hotel with a pool, situated across from a beautiful beach, that had some of the best sea food restaurants I’ve ever been to.

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Places to Stay


Hotelito Swiss Oasis
w. http://www.swissoasis.com
e. info@swissoasis.com
Anador Gaviotas S/N
Brisas de Zicatela, Playa Zicatela
C.P. 70934 Puerto Escondido
Oaxaca, Mexico

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The Swiss owned hotelito (little hotel) on Zicatela beach was more like a swanky B&B. It was close enough to the beach but far enough away not to hear any noise in the evening. It really was like a little Oasis of calm. I didn’t know Zicatela was a party beach until I left, and someone told me. It may turn into a party beach at night time but during the day the beach has more of a family vibe. The hotel has a gorgeous little pool, the rooms have huge double beds and the showers are hot! There’s a fridge full of beer and an honesty tab, a communal kitchen and wifi. Excellent!
Hostess, Manuela is fantastic. She arranged the tour for us to Laguna Manialtepec and gave us some excellent suggestions for places to eat nearby.


Laguna Manialtepec


Laguna Manialtepec (the lake of lizards) lies roughly 18km west of Puerto Escondido. This lagoon is famous for its night-time phosphorescent waters created by plankton. The organism’s luminescence is activated by the movement of the water and at night, streaks of light can be seen when it is disturbed.

Swimming in it felt amazing! My skin and the water glowed as I moved. It was like floating in a hot bath tub, and lying back and looking up at the stars and fireflies whizzing past was just out-of-this-world beautiful.

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TIP: Try to avoid Laguna Manialtepec when the moon is full – your chances of seeing the effect of the phosphorescence is dramatically reduced. There’s not really a special time of year to see this happen – it’s year round, as long as the moon is not full.

Around December time the turtles nest in nearby Mazunte. Keep your ears close to the ground. Usually hostel owners are in touch with local fishermen who will let people know when this is happening. It’s the largest turtle nesting area in the world (so they say)!


Places to Eat, Drink and Be Merry


We didn’t venture out too much – we preferred to hang out by the pool a lot of the time, however our hostess Manuela recommended a seafood restaurant – Los Crotos – located on the next beach along from Zicatela, where the fishermen moor their boats. What better setting to have your dinner -on a beach overlooking dozens of boats, watching local fishermen at work.

I had Red Snapper fried in garlic – AMAZING!

Los Crotos

Av. Lic. Alfonso Pérez Gasga, S/N
Sector Libertad
Adoquinado
Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca.

w. www.restauranteloscrotos.com.mx/

t. (954) 58 2 00 25 Cel. (954) 119 37 89

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On Zicatela beach there are a whole load of beds scattered by the sea for evening lounging – part of some sort of nightclub. Up until 11.00 pm they’re all empty, so you can lie back, on the beach and enjoy an ice cold Mojito.

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There are a whole heap of bars lining the beach and yet it all seemed pretty chilled and had more of a local buzz about it. Let’s just say, it’s no way near the Ibiza I was expecting. I would go back.


Zipolite


East of Puerto Escondido are 3 beaches, Agustinillo, Zipolite and Mazunte, well known destinations for those wanting to leave everything behind for a while, lie in a hammock, and switch off. People usually struggle to decide which beach is best…

We chose to spend our time on Ziploite beach – it was the best option.

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The town itself is tiny and lovely to stroll through at night as local artists set up their stalls, selling jewellery and clothes. Out of the 3 beaches Zipolite is the largest beach and towards the end of the year (December time) you can see the sun rise out of the water and set into the water – on the same beach!

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You have a nice mix of people as well – young people, old people, families, nudes, locals, tourists. It’s a real mix, and just lovely. Zipolite is famous for being a nude beach, and sure you see a few naked people strolling past but most people have swim wear. It’s just easy going. Mazunte was a lot smaller – more live a cove. You could stroll from one side to the other in maybe 10 minutes. Agustinillo was smaller still and the beach there seemed very close to the road.

Zipolite’s surf is just not swimmable but you can go out in it up to your waste and have a fun time with the waves. In all honesty, I spent more time splashing about in the unpredictable waves of Zipolite than I did swimming in the water of Mazunte. I guess waves are more fun!

For swimming, Mazunte is better but we just got in a taxi or collectivo on the days when we wanted to swim. It’s only 10 minutes away. Mazunte is not as chilled out as Zipolite – there’s more of a party scene and because of its size you’re always surrounded by people. The vibe of Zipolite was much much better – there’s just more space. In town you can also get pretty much whatever you want – wine, beer, bags of ice, fresh fruit and vegetables, picnic supplies, clothes – everything.


Places to Stay


Stay on the western side of the beach, as there are more families here and a more chilled out crowd. You also have much nicer accommodation and eating options.

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We stayed in Lo Cosmico, in a hut on the beach. It’s very basic and you stay there on the premise that you bring all your own things with you (towels and soap). Bed linen is provided and changed only on request but the bed is incredibly small for 2 people (if you’re sharing). You cope though.

Next door is a very fancy accommodation option with cabanas on the beach – El Alquimista. They also have a pool. If I had more money I would have stayed here – just for the pool! Zipolite gets very very hot!

El Alquimista

Restaurante/Bar/Cabanas/Spa/Yoga
Playa Zipolite, Oaxaca, Mexico
w. http://www.hotelelalquimista.com
e. el-alquimistahotel@hotmail.com
T. (044) 958-587-8961

We ate at the restaurant lots. It sits right on the beach and they light torches at night. Gorgeous.

Shambhala is another place that looked good to stay. A few restaurants further down (headed east) is a lovely pizzeria that also has an accommodation option. I wouldn’t go further than that, as it gets a bit shabby.


Things to See and Do


Don’t go for a boat ride tour to see turtles and dolphins!

The people who organise these tours do not treat the animals in the ocean with any respect. We were approached by a guide who offered to take us out for the day. He showed us pictures of people swimming in the water with turtles, only they were holding them up like trophies. It looked awful! No thanks.

Walk around Zipolite town at night

Visit Mazunte

Yoga – every morning drop-in at El Alquimista

Eat, drink and be merry!


Places to Eat, Drink and Be Merry


El Alquimista – lovely breakfast, great dinner, generous servings of wine.

Lo Cosmico – delicious crepes for breakfast/lunch.

Pimientos Salad Bar (located in town) – a heavenly salad, smoothie and sandwich cafe. The salad is fresh and wonderful and you can pick ‘n mix your own selection. The smoothies are amazing and fresh as well.  Awesome place to eat healthily and for super cheap prices!

La Providencia

Fancy, chilled out, delicious. The service is incredible and the atmosphere is pretty idyllic. It’s ranked #1 on Trip Advisor (2014/15).

Shops

There are plenty of shops in town where you can buy snacks, wine, beer and bags of ice for a picnic. You can get takeaway from pimientos as well (HIGHLY recommended!)


 Related blog posts: Zipolite – One Beach, Two Suns, Three Dogs and a Few Naked People


Acapulco and Pie de la Cuesta


Next stop – Acapulco, although we didn’t stay in Acapulco – we ventured 10km west to the little beach town of Pie de la Cuesta. The magic of Pie de la Cuesta is that it is cradled by both a beautiful calm lagoon and the rough Pacific Ocean. It’s not really on any tourist route, making it quite a wonderful little place to stay.

So peaceful and off the beaten track is Pie de la Cuesta, that it is (or was) a prime location for shooting movies. Tarzan and the Mermaids, starring Johnny Weissmuller, and Rambo were filmed here.

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Places to Stay


There are a number of options, shop around on Trip Advisor. We stayed at Hotel Villa Nirvana – really lovely but the owners were selling up. It may not be around for much longer – or it may be staying exactly as it is – but it’s worth investigating.


Things to See and Do


Many locals line the streets offering to take you on a tour. The thing with these tours is that despite being fairly cheap, you end up on a motorised boat with about 10-15 other people.

My recommendation is this:

Take a collectivo to the end of the lagoon to ‘Barra de Coyuca.’ From there stroll along the beach to the end where the lagoon meets the sea.

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Ask any local guy or fisherman if he’ll take you out for a few hours. Some people will approach you and offer to take you on a tour but feel free to shop around and ask a few people and negotiate your price.

We chose Omar (I’m sure you could just go to town and ask for him – everyone seemed to know him).

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He found us looking a bit lost when we arrived in the collectivo. After showing us his boat and arranging a price we went with him. It was a few hundred pesos more than the tour operators (400 pesos, I think), but then you get a more personalised service. He filled up an empty bottle with home-made Mezcal and loaded up a cooler box with some beers. Uh oh! I was expecting this to go dreadfully wrong but it was great fun, and the wildlife was stunning. We originally negotiated 3 hours but ended up on the lagoon all day at no extra cost.

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As sunset was approaching, Omar pulled out a table and some chairs and set them out in the lagoon for us to enjoy the last of our beers. It was pretty special. Another boat party joined us.

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Treat Yourself to a CELEBRITY Mud Mask

Whilst you’re on the lagoon you MUST pay a visit to Paula’s for one of her FAMOUS mud masks! Now, all I know is that her name is Paula. We were told to just ask the fisherman to take us to Paula for the mud mask. She’s located on one of the rivers off the lagoon at the Barra de Coyuca end.

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Paula has offered her mud mask services to the likes of Julio Iglesias, Johnny Weissmuller and other Spanish celebs. The result: my skin felt baby soft for about 3 days following the treatment. SUPERB!

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Acapulco

There really isn’t much worth seeing. It’s expensive, it’s tacky, it’s hot and over crowded. However there are two things that are well worth doing in Acapulco – eating Sushi and seeing the famous La Quebrada Cliff Divers.

La Quebrada Cliff Divers

Daily – afternoon and evening.
Ask locals for timings as these may change. We went at about 8.00 pm and there was another performance at 9.30/10.00 pm.

The divers perform daily shows for the public, diving 35 metres from the cliffs of La Quebrada into the sea below. However, timing is everything as the area into to which they dive is narrow, spanning just 5 metres or so, and if a diver should jump at the time when the tide is coming in, they risk being dragged into the cliff, which would kill them instantly.

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I think this is the most INSANE performance I have ever seen in my life – at times, impossible to watch.

My recommendation – go in the evening to see them perform their stunts. You’ll be holding your breath for most of the time.

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Bento Japanese Cuisine

Costera Miguel Aleman No. 3007, interior 7-B, en la plaza a un lado del Edificio Oceanic 2000
Acapulco 39850
Mexico

EAT HERE!

We splashed a bit of cash here because the reviews were so good and we were really craving Sushi. You will not be disappointed. From the outside you are left wondering whether this really is the place everyone raves about but inside – the ambience and the setting is wonderful and the service is impeccable. I ordered a Bento Box which I struggled to finish as there was just so much – but I had to because it tasted so good!

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We then went to see the cliff divers in the evening. Perfect!


Zihuatanejo


Just spend a day in Zihuatanejo, there really isn’t much to do. Every shop or market stall is much of a muchness – selling the same sort of thing, and the main beach – Playa de Ropa – is busy and polluted. We much preferred the nearby fishing village of Barra de Potosi for its beach, lagoon and simple village life.


Barra de Potosi


Magical. That’s how I would describe this little fishing village lying 26km southeast of Zihuatanejo. From the outside you will see a dusty road of a town, similar to other Mexican towns you pass on the bus. You wonder what’s so special. Then you venture down the path towards where the lagoon meets the sea. Families and children congregate on the beach area outside half a dozen or so open air restaurants. A relaxed, sociable, family vibe fills the air. You pass these restaurants and then it’s just you and the fantastic strip of untouched beach of Playa Larga.

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Going the other way you can hire Kayaks (by the hour) and either take a tour or investigate by yourself the mangrove filled lagoon. We saw hundreds of birds – even pink flamingos!

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So that’s all lovely but I’m yet to get to the magical part. The village itself.

We stayed with ‘Dona’ Laura in her beautiful home, La Casa del Encanto. It was a little over budget but it was Christmas and we wanted to spend it somewhere a bit special. Boy was it worth it! The rooms were beautiful, the atmosphere was incredible (tiny water fountains trickling away in the garden and thousands of candles and fairy lights lit up at night) – it was like a miniature paradise.

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Oh god, the breakfast! It was all included and was buffet style, with traditional home cooked eggs and beans. The chef is amazing! She can turn her hand to anything as simple as eggs and beans and make it Michelin star worthy.

Now that’s the magical setting – here’s the magic: The village – the children – the work of our hostess, Dona Laura.

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Read more about it here in my blog: Finding Neverland – The Magic of Barra de Potosi, Mexico


Things to See and Do


Hire a Kayak and venture out into the lagoon

Absolutely stunning! I’ve visited plenty of lagoons and this is BY FAR my favourite one!

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Get a Massage on the beach

Playa Larga
Casa del Encanto Beach Property
Massages offered by a lady called Lupe.

The massage hut is near a big white ‘Hotel’ on the beach (called Hotel). For reservations make your way along the beach and book direct (you can ask people in the restaurant for directions to Lupe’s massage but you can spot the white hotel from miles away). Alternatively, enquire at Casa del Encanto in the village.

This massage will be the most amazing massage experience you ever have in your life, I promise you. When we went the cost was $300 pesos for a full hour. It included head massage, gentle Swedish Massage, Reflexology, Cupping – oh god, you could just lose yourself entirely for a whole hour, whilst listening to the waves in the background. I didn’t know the massage included cupping as well and it freaked me out a little when it happened. I was expecting huge bruised circles on my back. I bruise very easily and I’ve had cupping before – but I left without a single mark on me. I told other people about the massage, and the next day when I saw them they couldn’t thank me enough for the recommendation.

It really is the best massage you will ever have in your life.


Places to Eat, Drink and Be Merry


La Condessa

La Condessa is the restaurant furthest away from the lagoon (about 100 metres). It serves GREAT sea food and Rum and coconut cocktails. Try and grab a table at the front for ocean views and enjoy fish tacos – also prime people watching location!

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Barra de Potosi Village

There are only a few streets in the village and each one is a hive of activity, with locals selling legendary tacos, sopas, tortillas, fruit and beer. God I miss Mexican food – it really is made with love! It was so cheap as well.

One thing’s for sure in Mexico – your belly and your wallet will always be full.


 Related blog posts: Finding Neverland – The Magic of Barra de Potosi, Mexico


Puerto Vallarta


Puerto Vallarta is a Mexican beach resort city situated on the Pacific Ocean’s Bahía de Banderas. To be honest, we didn’t have a lot of time in the area. Our main objective was to sea the Humpback Whales and move on. Had we had more time we may have travelled and stayed in smaller nearby villages, as the accommodation in Puerto Vallarta was ridiculously over priced for what it was.

However, despite the ugly sky rise buildings and the shitty accommodation, we actually had a good short stay here. This was owing mainly to the night-time scene along the Malecon.

Party people would go and do their clubbing thing for sure, but in Mexico you always get a mix of people of all ages doing their own thing, so you never feel out of place. We spent our time strolling up and down the Malecon, eating delicious street food, seeking out cheap drinks and bar hopping along the beach, people watching. It was great!


Places to Stay


It’s hard to find anywhere decent to sleep for a decent price. Avoid ‘Hostel Bed and Pizza’ and do your research. Look up Trip Advisor, Hostel Bookers, Hostel World…all of them and compare accommodation options.


Things to See and Do


Whale Watching and other expeditions

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Vallarta Adventures

Read more about my experience in my blog: Chasing Whales and Butterflies

Stroll the Malecon at night

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Places to at, Drink and Be Merry


Paradise Burger

Ok – another American Burger joint, but the burgers were pretty good as far as burgers go and the service was nice. What sold it though was the view. The balcony overlooks the Malecon and the sea. You can also take in a show as the famous Mexican ‘Danza de los Voladores‘ takes place less than 50 metres away.

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The Malecon

You’ll find your own fun on this crazy strip along the beach.

Try Skite – sweetcorn served in a pot with mayonnaise and chilli powder (I’m sure someone told me it was called Skite) – sounds average but it’s delicious! Please just try it.

The shrimp on a stick are popular but I found them hard work – stick, shells, bleurgh.

There are plenty of cheap drinking options on the beach – test out a few. These Margaritas were about 50p each.

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Related blog posts: Chasing Whales and Butterflies


Guadalajara


Having seen the whales we ventured north-east to Guadalajara, Mexico’s second city – home to the Mariachis and world famous Lucha Libre fighters!

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Guadalajara is also a good base from which to visit the town of tequila. You can arrange pretty cheap tequila tours from hostels in Guadalajara. Prices start from 400 pesos for a whole day, including transport, entry, tour and tastings.


Places to Stay


We chose to stay in Chapultepec – slightly out of the city centre. Cahpultepec is well known for its many bars and cafes. You can get to the town centre on foot (2o minutes) or by bus or taxi. Buses are pretty regular.

Hostel Hospedarte Chapultepec

This was a very decent hostel but as with many hostels where the manager is not present, service is a little slow and can be pretty shoddy at times. The girls at the reception desk were just a bit clueless and ditsy. They forgot to give us towels when we were checking in, they told us things were open when they were closed, they left our passports on the desk (anyone could have walked away with them) and they organised a taxi that didn’t show – because you can’t really pre-order taxis in the city. Sorry girls, but wake up!


Things to See and Do


Scream your ass off, eat doughnuts and watch men smack each other silly, Mexican Style!
Lucha Libre

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Don’t wait for Arena Mexico in Mexico City – check out the arena in Guadalajara and get front row seats! The main matches are held on Tuesdays and Fridays, unless it’s a special occasion. They don’t usually hold matches on any other nights. Get front row seats and listen to locals swearing their asses off whilst muscle-bound men, fat men, old men and dwarfs throw each other around relentlessly! It’s a scream!

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TIP: You don’t need to buy tickets in advance, just turn up an hour or so earlier and buy them on the door. Go for the ringside seats – slightly more expensive but WELL WORTH IT!

Photography: not permitted – I had to put my camera in a locker. I was gutted! However, you can take pictures on your phone which doesn’t make a lot of sense, so take a good phone! My phone was not the best.

Escape the City: Park Bosque los Colomos.

I was surprised at how built up Guadalajara actually was. Being New Year I was very much in need of a hang over cure – this park worked wonders. Watch out for wild rabbits!

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Tequila Tour

We didn’t do this (BAD BAD TOURISTS!) because we’d already been to a mini tour elsewhere. We probably should have gone but we were too tired, and hey, you just can’t see it all! Our hostel (Hostel Hospedarte Chapultepec) offered full day tours for just 400 pesos.

We just got a subway and some beers and sat on the roof terrace. I still kind of regret not going but I needed that day.

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Tlaquepaque

What a great place. This is where you come to see the Mariachi bands perform and shop until you drop in the arts and crafts village! Slip in and out of huge colonial buildings and archways, home to hundreds of displays of ceramics, paintings and impressive lights!

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We bagged ourselves one of these guys!

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It’s a very beautiful town in which to spend a day or an evening. I have no places to recommend as such – my advice would be just to pop in and out of anywhere that takes your fancy. Just make sure you end up at El Parian – The Centre Square, where the Mariachis congregate.

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We actually found a great band in a restaurant/art shop on our way to El Parian – they were Mariachi masters – much better than the ones we saw later at El Parian!

So it pays to just follow your senses and go where feels best. It’s not all about the guide book’s recommendations.

I’m pretty sure the name of the restaurant where we saw the Mariachis was Fonda Adobe. If you search on Trip Advisor it will pull up all the top rated eating spots in town.

TIP: In Fonda Adobe they make their own Sangrita to accompany the tequila. Sangrita is a tomato, slightly spicy Tabasco flavoured drink which you you sip with the tequila. I love it! The one here is delicious!


Zitacuaro


We came to Zitacuaro to see the butterflies.

My advice – visit in late January to early February, as it’s only then that they’ll be in flight. Here’s what the guide books don’t tell you:

  • The hike can be gruelling, painful and at times impossible.
  • It’s freezing up there so take plenty of layers.
  • I told my host that I was suffering from back problems so he arranged for me to take an easier trail. Most of it was done by car and it was an easy 30 minute climb. The people I had spoken to went through a painful 2 hour steep hike. You have options (see below – The Monarch Butterfly Reserves).
  • If you go between November and early January the Monarch butterflies will be there for sure, but they will be in the trees mainly, wings folded, resembling dead leaves. All fine, and that’s nature for you but…

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  • When we reached the top we had only about 30 metres of space to walk across to view them. It was all roped off – clearly for their protection, but for the time it takes people to hike and the money involved you’d expect a bit more of an area to walk around to view them. I’m sure they could have roped off more of an area. All in all, a bit of an anti-climax but it was still wonderful to see so many of them.

Luckily for us the sun came out so we saw lots of movement and flight but If I were to go again I would find a way to travel to the reserve independently (bus/taxi) – no need for a guide, and I would go in late January/early February.

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The Monarch Butterfly Reserves

When it comes to tours there are four reserves open to the public: El Rosario (which I would avoid as it is the most touristy although it is slightly bigger – but from what I’ve heard, not by much), Sierra Chincua (which is the one that involves a really tough hike), and the one we went to…but I can’t remember the name of it, and I can’t find it on the internet! However, I found this great page on the internet which explains how to get to the reserves, money involved, transport and all sorts of practical information.

I didn’t research as much as I should have done and as I was only there for 2 days, I took the easy option and paid for a tour via my accommodation.

Check out the above site (Mexperience) and Trip Advisor and hatch a plan from there.


Places to Stay


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You can find cheaper accommodation but we just paid full whack and stayed at Lonely Planets recommendation – Rancho San Cayetano.

It was very expensive for us but you really do get what you pay for – the most comfortable bed I’ve slept on, cable tv, incredible food, room service, bath robes, and a REAL fire place with logs – replaced daily. The food option puzzled me, however. The menu was set (so just one starter, one main, one dessert), and you had to confirm early whether you would be taking dinner – a little old fashioned. Dinner was 300 pesos + tax. Now that’s steep! I was initially completely disgruntled at having no option (although I was later told that I could have something smaller/different) but I went with it and had dinner. I can’t explain with words how absolutely incredible it was – really 5* I didn’t regret paying the extra money and indulging. Another thing that initially disappointed me was the pool – there was just one, it was small and completely freezing. The website shouldn’t say it has a heated pool when it doesn’t. However, we had a fireplace and a bottle of wine in our room, served with snacks.

I couldn’t have been happier or have felt more relaxed.

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 Related blog posts: Chasing Whales and Butterflies


Mexico City


So here’s what we heard: “It’s so dirty and polluted – it’s unbearable, it’s dangerous – do not go out at night and never ever go out by yourself!”

The reality:

Mexico City is wonderful! In fact, on my very first day as I was strolling down the city street, I felt it could easily be somewhere I could call my home. Like with any major city in the world you have areas which are considered safe and some not so much – Tottenham, Barking, Dagenham (London).

People really should do a little bit of research before they go travelling.


Places to Stay


The tree-lined, homely streets of Roma are your best bet! Roma is right by Chapultepec Park and near all the best bars, cafes and restaurants in the whole of Mexico City. Very chilled, super friendly and super accessible! We were lucky enough to stay with friends but we saw plenty of hostels and hotels in the area.


Things to See and Do


Chapultepec Park

Chapultepec, more commonly called the “Bosque de Chapultepec” in Mexico City, is one of the largest city parks in the Western Hemisphere, measuring in total just over 686 hectares. Go for a boat ride, visit the castle and if you like museums apparently stopping off at the anthropology Museum is mandatory.

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Isla de las Muñecas (Island of Dolls) – Xochimolco

This is one of the coolest trips I’ve ever done in my life!

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In the south of Mexico City is Xochimilco a town surrounded by an extensive lake and canal system, which – as a vestige of the area’s pre-Hispanic past, has made Xochimilco a World Heritage Site.

Here you can spend a day on one of the colourful gondalas (trajineras) floating along the huge network of canals. The gondolas seat up to 20 people, and so it pays to get a crowd together and take a picnic and lots of booze. At weekends the canals are filled with groups of families picnicking or young students getting hammered – your best bet is to go during a weekday when it’s less busy. An hour trip will cost you around $350 pesos.


Getting to the Island of Dolls

Getting to The Island of Dolls is way more simple than the guidebooks suggest:

  • Take the metro to General Anaya and then take a taxi outside General Anaya station to Embarcadero Cuemanco (don’t bother with a bus – the taxis will take you there direct and they’re cheap if you get them on a meter).
  • Once there you will see dozens of gondolas moored up, and a big banner with prices, this is where you buy tickets.

It’s a 4 hour round trip to the Island of Dolls and hiring the gondola is $350 per hour.

This came as a shock as the guidebooks all said the trip should cost around $400 pesos in total!

We managed to negotiate down to $1000 pesos for the trip to the island which was very expensive but WELL worth it. My advice – get a group of people together, otherwise you are looking at one expensive trip.


Explore the City Centre – Downtown

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Pop into the Witchcraft Market – Mercado de Sonora

10.00 am – 7.00 pm; Metro Merced

Go easy with the camera – this is not a typical tourist destination and the locals take their culture and beliefs very seriously. It’s very religious/spiritual..and a bit bonkers. Just be discreet!

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Mercado de Artesanias de la Ciudadela

Get all your souvenirs here! They’re cheap and there are hundreds to choose from, from all across Mexico. One of the brightest and most colourful markets I’ve ever been to. Lovely to walk around.

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Places to Eat, Drink and Be Merry


There are so many places to choose from but these are my Top 5!

Roma and Around


Av. Alvaro Obregon, Roma

Find yourself here and you’ll be spoilt for choice. We spent an evening in one of the tiny restaurant/bars with friends enjoying some of the best nachos I’ve ever eaten and drinking Mezcal.

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Pizza Brosa

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Calle Zacatecas 106, Cuauhtémoc,
Roma Norte, 06700
Ciudad de México, D.F
Mexico

t. +52 55 5264 2404
w. http://pizzabrosa.com.mx/

Just go! The pizzas in this ‘cool’ diner style restaurant are huge and full of flavour, landing slap bang in the middle of your table on a big round elevated tray. Ka-Pow! What a pizza!


Frutos Prohibidos

Various locations

We went to the one in Roma.

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Delicious, organic, filling, quirky and light on the wallet! A fantastic breakfast/brunch/lunch dining experience!


La Casa de Tono

Various locations (I think we went to the one in Zona Rosa)

Open 24 Hours!

We came here just after midnight to fill our bellies with authentic Mexican food and to test out the famous ‘Pozole.’ It’s a soup and everybody raves about it – the only thing is that GOOD Pozole is hard to come by.

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The Mexicans we were hanging out with said that the Pozole served in La Casa de Tono was probably the best we would find in all of Mexico City. They were right! IT WAS AWESOME! As was all of the food we tried.

Even at midnight this place was packed! However, the queues outside never last long as the waiters literally run so fast with people’s orders they bring a new meaning to the term ‘fast food.’ It was funny and incredible to watch.


Downtown – Mexico City Centre


Hosteria La Bota

San Jeronimo 40
Colonia Centro
Delegacion Cuauhtemoc
Mexico City 06050
Mexico

A superb, quirky, vintage brik-a-brak bar, serving cheap drinks and delicious eats. I loved it here!
The calzone is medium sized but man does it pack a punch! YUM!

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Churreria el Moro

Eje Central Lázaro Cárdenas 42
Cuauhtémoc
Centro, 06000 Ciudad de México, D.F.
Mexico

A trip to Mexico City is never complete until you’ve tasted its WORLD FAMOUS churros! This place is pure churro heaven.

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Related blog posts: Mexico? You Gonna Die!

Mexico City – Isla de las Muñecas (The Island of Dolls)

Mexico City – The Perfect Ending to a Magnificent Country 


Next Stop: Colombia


Check out my highlights for everywhere else I traveled to: CubaColombia, Ecuador, The Galapagos Islands, Argentina, LA, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia and Japan.

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2 thoughts on “Mexico Highlights

  1. Hello – thanks for the great post and tips! My family of four is going to Mexico City next week. We are staying in the Zona Rosa. I’m hoping you can help with a few tips! We will be in Mexico City for four days (Thursday – Sunday). Here’s what I’ve planned so far:
    Thursday – unknown
    Friday – Day in El Centro (including the Mercado de la Merced), evening at Lucha libre
    Saturday – Xochimilco (including isla de las munecas), Friday Kayla Museum and surrounds, 6:00 futbol game
    Sunday – walk plaza de la Reforma to Bosque de Chapultepec – visit castle, take boat ride, go to Féria. Evening in La Roma

    Any tips on transit? Suggestions for a section of the city to explore Thursday? Is it too ambitious to both see the Blue House (and area) as well as the Isla de Munecas on Saturday – and return for a 6:00 game?

    We have lots of energy and start our days by 8.

    Thanks for any guidance!

  2. Hi there! Apologies for the delay in response – I didn’t get a notification of incoming messages. Transit wise we relied on buses and our friend who we stayed with had an uber account so we took taxis. Normal Taxis, however are a great way to get around and quite cheap. Mercado de Artesanias de la Ciudadela is a huge market and well worth a visit. Chapultepec Park would be a good suggestion for your first day. It just eases you in a bit especially if you’re with the family – but I see you have that for Sunday. You have to allow 5 hours for the Island of Dolls – it is great and well worth doing! As it’s a Saturday you might want to get there before midday to ensure you get a boat though (I don’t know their opening times and there’s no formal ticket office or anything like that, just guys standing by the gondolas)…maybe then when you return go to the museum and then to the match. Should be do-able. Maybe go to the museum on your first day and spread things out a bit? Have a great time!

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