Manta rays and sea turtles; tacos, tlayudas, and corn on the cob; a conservative colonial legacy and the liberal ideals of a young democracy. Mexico is one of the world’s premier travel destinations that will surpass all expectations. A single lifetime is insufficient to see it all.
Mexican Road Trip Essentials: An Intro to Driving Through Mexico
With more than 6,000 miles of coastline, Mexico is peculiar in that all of the largest metropolitan regions are inland. Much of the coast is rural in nature and absolutely virgin in areas. With access to the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, as well as several different climates ranging from cool to tropical, there are experiences for every season. The Pacific Coast of Mexico is a wave magnet that has been explored and documented by traveling surfers since the early 1960’s. The waves range from intimidating cold water, big wave breaks to user friendly family oriented tropical paradises with everything in between. The Gulf Coast may not have the same surfing potential but what it lacks in waves it makes up in crystal clear water and coral gardens that culminate in the Sian Ka’an World Heritage Site. The beaches of Mexico are diverse as they are breathtaking.
The plaza and the concept public space predates the arrival of the Spanish to the Americas as can be seen in the archeological sites of Teotihuacán, Monte Albán and Tenochtitlan. The Spanish administration continued the tradition of city planning that puts a plaza in the city center and then spreads outward. Nearly every city, town and village in Mexico was founded around a plaza. These plazas are usually surrounded by a church, a market, mature trees, old mansions and some government buildings (many of which have been converted into museums). The plaza is the heart of the city where people come to celebrate, to protest, to have fun and be part of the community.
The main plaza of Mexico City, the Zocalo, was originally founded by the Aztec people and considered to be the center of the world. The Templo Mayor archeological site is located in the northwest corner of the plaza giving you an idea of how the Spanish would build their cities on top of the conquered cities and incorporate their planning. The Spanish chose to build their cathedral in front of the ruins of the people that came before them. All throughout Mexico the plaza is an important part of the community that travelers should consider visiting.
Mexicans and Mexican Culture
Mexico is a Mennonite of German-Canadian ancestry that plays the tuba and loves norteño music. It is also a Lebanese migrant fleeing conscription into the Ottoman army whose children will grow up to be among the richest people in the world. Mexico has more than 68 officially recognized native languages and thousands of years of history that is folded into the modern world. The Mexican understanding of mestizaje celebrates inclusion and welcomes immigrants and refugees from all over the world.
Mexicans are fiercely proud of their country while being somewhat critical of the government. They are hospitable to outsiders and genuinely interested in what is happening in other parts of the world. The tourism and service industries are among the finest in the world and are respected as important sources of employment. Most importantly, Mexicans know how to have a good time and recognize what makes their country so special.
Without a doubt, one of the best reasons to visit Mexico is for the food. Considered part of the World Heritage program, traditional Mexican cuisine is a treasure that has been shared with the rest of the world. Over the course of centuries ingredients such as tomatoes, Chile’s, and vanilla, that were endemic to Mesoamerica have come to be seen as traditional in other parts of the globe. From the agricultural practices that raise the ingredients to the markets that distribute them, and most importantly the people who craft all of these wonderful culinary traditions.
Mexico is an enormous country with diverse cultural traditions. Where popular culture was married to high culture, got divorced and later remarried. Mexico City has more museums than any other city in the world. Guadalajara is home to the largest book fair in Latin America, the film festival in Morelia is world class and the list goes on and on. Every corner of this country is packed with cultural treasures.
Mexico is Surreal
After winning the Golden Globe award for best director in 2018 Guillermo Del Toro was asked how he was able to surround himself with so much fantasy, to which he replied, “I’m Mexican”. Mexico has numerous landscapes that look like they are from another planet with vivid colors and exotic plants. Native American mythology has been woven into popular culture with a sense of mysticism. In the 1930s and 1940s, there was a real movement of European surrealist artists seeking refuge in Mexico. Salvador Dalí thought that Mexico was more surreal than any of his own paintings. Sometimes the reality in Mexico is so strange it could not be scripted: like the 17th-century Catholic church Parangaricutiro that withstood 8 days of lava flow from the world’s youngest volcano. Simply riding the metro in Mexico City at rush hour can feel surreal with a mass of people that is hard to quantify. There is more to Mexico than you could ever imagine!