Cancun, (Mexico)

“Nizuc”, “Throne of the Snake”, “Place of the Gold Snake”, “Riviera Maya”

Cancun, Mexico, January 2014

For our last 2 days in Mexico we decided to spend them resting in Cancun. After all the previous busy and tiring days we though the beast we should do was to have a well deserved rest in between, before continuing on to Belize for a short stop followed by a busy week in Guatemala and a final resting days in Panama. But from our original thoughts to what the reality unfortunately was, it’s a big difference.

The weather. It really ruined what was meant to be sun, beach and pool for two days. The freezing blizzard happening in North America pushed too much south and while temperatures were not cold in Cancun, we did not see the sun at all. Thankfully we could enjoy the beach on the first day. Very warm water and nice outside temperature. Just big clouds but no rain. Only towards the end of the day it is when the strong wind and heavy rain started. That was the end of our beach time the following day.

In any case, if you plan coming to Cancun around the same time of the year as we went, be aware that the chances of rain are quite high. Other months of the year is better but then you need to be careful during the hurricane season. It’s kind of a lottery to be honest. We were unfortunate in this occasion. (more…)

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Uxmal, (Mexico)

“Óoxmáal”, “Oxmal: Three Times Built”, “Uchmal: What is to Come, the Future”

Uxmal, Mexico, January 2014

Another day and another Maya city. The 4th pre-Columbian archaeological site we visit in our trip, sadly meaning only one more left to go. This is quite different to Chichen Itza even the distance separating both is not big and both are of Maya civilization. The main difference is the architectural style. Although structures are always repeating on every city; final decoration, sculptures and finish is not the same. While Chichen Itza has a wide mix of styles, Uxmal is entirely Puuc.

How can you easily spot what is Puuc architecture? Notice the intricate mosaics made of stone on the upper façades of the constructions. This is something unique to this style and the finest examples are found in Uxmal, the largest city on this style.

Around half of the size of Chichen Itza, and being so near to many other Maya cities, you can visit more than one in the same day. In fact and as I will explain below in the section how to visit the site, there are Sunday tours where they take you to 5 cities. This is called La Ruta Puuc (the Puuc Route). (more…)

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Chichen Itza, (Mexico)

“Chi’ch’èen Ìitsha”, “At the Mouth of the Well of the Itza”

Chichen Itza, Mexico, January 2014

This is the third pre-Columbian archaeological site we visit on our tour, and one of the finest of the Maya civilization, for the size, history and how well preserved it’s been kept and excavated. One of the finest UNESCO World Heritage Site listed pre-coulmbian sites. Incredible to see how some of the constructions seem to have been built recently, but in fact, they are even 2000 years old. Of course it’s been greatly restored and rebuilt, adding back the missing stones taken over centuries for the use on other constructions like the Spanish did for churches and cathedrals upon conquering the region and founding new cities.

The site still not fully excavated, but it’s one of the most uncovered and studied Maya cities in the region, including as far as Guatemala. The jungle in here is not as dense any more as it used to be years back, something that helped in the other hand to uncover and discover new constructions. This is a subject I will come across again when creating the guide for Tikal in Guatemala because in there that is the totally opposite side of the coin, pristine thick jungle where 80% of the ancient city still lies uncovered.

From all the structures in the site, two will get your look immediately for being in perfect restored shape. The Castle (El Castillo) pyramid and the ball court. The pyramid is so well preserved that you can see the snake effect on the stairs, for this you will see to look to it sideways and there you will see the head of the snake and the body all the way up to the top. (more…)

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Merida, (Mexico)

“T’hó”, “Ichcaanzihó”, “City of Five Hills”, “Capital of Yucatán Region”

Merida, Mexico, January 2014

Leaving behind the capital city of the country and these beautiful places we’ve been around we move to our next base: Merida, the capital city of Yucatan region. Our main aim for a base here? Get to visit two of the major and most important Mayan cities: Chichen Itza and Uxmal. Sadly for us we could not count with more days to keep exploring the many Mayan cities in this region, therefore we had to choose and decided for the most important ones.

Merida has retained one of the finest collection of colonial buildings in the country and hosts the very first cathedral to be built in the New World. Of course no need to mention here that the distribution of the city follows the same pattern as any other in Mexico, where the Zocalo is the main square with the cathedral and city hall on the sides and the streets follow a strict grid pattern. Wherever you walk is another sight, no wonder it is one of the finest colonial old towns in Mexico to be listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Now the main question is how many days do you need here. Let me tell you, for the city itself you don’t need more than one. It is small enough to make a one day visit perfect. But since coming to Merida is mostly because of visiting the Maya cities around, then it is really when you need to calculate your time, which cities you want to visit, and how many. We spared 2 days to visit 2 sites. Gladly I would have stayed longer and keep visiting many others but my plan for this trip included 3 other countries, therefore I was limited in time. (more…)

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Puebla and Cholula, (Mexico)

“Puebla de los Angeles”, “Angelopolis”, “City of Angels”

Puebla & Cholula, Mexico, January 2014

Our third place we visit in our tour while in Mexico take us to another of the must sees places the country has to offer. It is in fact, two cities right next to each other, the smallest volcano in the world, and the largest pyramid in volume in the world. Plenty to see and do, ideally on a two day visit although if time is your limitation a well planned one day visit is enough as it was in our case.

Both cities, but specially Puebla the 4th largest city in Mexico and a wonderful UNESCO World Heritage Site listed old town, do follow the usual orthogonal street planning with a central square, usually named Zocalo, where the cathedral and city hall buildings are located. From all the cities we visited, plus the many villages we passed by while on buses, this was repeated on and on. Having such city planning, it is almost impossible to get at any point lost.

The best way we discovered to visit cities following this pattern, but also hosting many historical buildings and sights all around the central streets off the Zocalo is by doing spirals or zig zags. Both ways are quite self explained. (more…)

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Teotihuacan, (Mexico)

“Place Where Gods Were Born”, “Place of Reeds”

Teotihuacan, Mexico, January 2014

Being the most visited place in Mexico there is no doubt to wonder why. Every visitor to Mexico City should include this place in their list, not only if you are just visiting DF or if on a tour around other cities across the country. It is one of the highlights of the country and for civilization lovers, it is one of the greatest places in the world. Included on any list of to-dos in a lifetime, of course listed a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO.

As opposed to what most people think, this is not a city from the Maya, but from the Aztecs, although still unknown who precisely founded it. All that is known is that at the time, over 2000 years ago, it was already one of the largest cities on earth.

Today you can still admire such an impressive pyramidal structures, and the crown jewel of all, both the Sun and Moon pyramids; everything symmetrically organised along the Avenue of the Dead (Calzada de los Muertos). Incredible to think of such engineering and impressive techniques to build such enormous monuments. And consider that all you see there today are the stone constructions; now imagine how it would be looking in the ancient times with the countless homes made of wood surrounding the complex. Big! Yes, very big and overwhelming.

(more…)

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Xochimilco, (Mexico)

“Lake Xochimilco”, “Trajineras”, “Chinampas”

Mexico City, Mexico, January 2014

The incredible UNESCO World Heritage Site listed Xochimilco is a place like no other. No visit to Mexico DF can be completed until you come here. Those are the original canals and lakes built by the Aztecs that connected most of the settlements on the Valley of Mexico. Nowadays it is world famous for the colourful wooden boats taking locals and tourists alike up and down. The boats are called trajineras, and they are for rent on several options depending on size and time.

Having seen it in the movies, adverts and travel catalogues everywhere, it is somewhat one of the main images we have in mind when talking about Mexico. Colours, flowers, canals and boats, an unique experience not to be missed.

There are over 170km of canals and artificial islands. Of course the boats won’t take you any farther than the main canal and others on the side, but this is more than enough to appreciate the place and get to see how people also live on the shores. Watch out for the beautiful birds too but mostly, enjoy the quietness and music from the many mariachi boats passing by.

(more…)

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Mexico City, (Mexico)

“Tenochtitlan”, “Capital of the Aztec Empire”, “Capital of New Spain”, “City of Palaces”

Mexico City, Mexico, January 2014

The long awaited winter trip finally came to a reality. Not only the excitement of going again on a long holiday, but for going to places in the world never been before and wishing so much for long to go. A country in North America, Mexico; and the others in Central America; Belize, Guatemala and Panama. Finally a trip to former Spanish colonies where to speak only Spanish and not having to worry and trying to find people speaking English like for any of the countries I’ve been before.

We start the tour in Mexico City. This massive city that rivals Tokyo, Seoul and Mumbai as the largest metropolitan areas by population in the world. Only the approach when landing at the airport is a sight on its own. A continuous and massive net of streets and lights, perfectly defined orthogonal streets and avenues without an end. What a pity we landed in the night, otherwise I would have get to see in daylight the infinite expansion of this city.

Now, forget those erroneous stereotypes, negative nicknames and bad reputation you have heard and read about. Mexico City is not as dangerous as any other city can be, like for example London, Paris or Barcelona. Yes you read this right. I am in fact more cautious when carrying my camera in other cities in Europe than I have been in Mexico City. (more…)

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