The true flavours of Mexico have often been overshadowed by depictions of American spring breakers overrunning beaches as MTV film crews record the hedonism for the world. But this belies the enchanting country that has significantly more to offer to those in the know — with millennia of indigenous history to explore, sophisticated cities that rival any in Europe, and quaint countryside villages that feel like you’re going back in time. Mexico deserves another look, and most definitely a visit.
According to legend, Huitzilopochtli, the sun and war god, told the people of Aztlán to pilgrimage until they saw an eagle perched on a prickly pear cactus devouring a snake, and there they would thrive and build a powerful empire. After centuries of searching, the Aztecs finally saw such an eagle on an island in Lake Texcoco in 1325, and founded the ancient city of Tenochtitlán. They built a city that became the most important in Mesoamerica for centuries, with more than 70 temples and structures around this lake, which has today become El Zócalo, the main square, of Mexico City. And the eagle the Aztecs saw has become the symbol of the country, emblazoned on the Mexican flag.
Today, Mexico City is a teeming city of 8.8 million, offering modern luxury, international cuisine, and world-class amenities. Relax in the artistic Las Alcobas hotel in the fashionable Polanco district with the trendsetters, and follow those in the know (or reach out over Facebook) to get into Hanky Panky cocktail bar in La Juarez, whose namesake cocktail features vermouth, gin, and a splash of herbaceous Fernet Branca.
The first city in Mesoamerica, Teotihuacán, is thought to have been home to more than 100,000 people at its peak, in 600 CE. When you visit today, the landscape is dominated by the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon, which can be found along the Street of the Dead.
The Pyramid of the Sun was named by the Aztecs, who came centuries after the city was abandoned. It stands as the third highest pyramid in the world, at 71 metres tall. Atop the Moon Pyramid sits an altar used in the worship of the Great Goddess, whose domain included the underworld, creation, darkness, earth, water, and war. Both pyramids and surrounding temples at one point were covered in plaster and bright murals of significant religious iconography. Although none of this decoration remains, if you visit at night, they illuminate the facades with light to recreate the vibrant adornments of centuries past.
When you visit today, make sure you’re ready to climb some stairs, as the pyramids contain many, but the hike is worth it — the view from the top is not to be missed. Also, remember there is very little shade, so protect yourself from what can be intense sun, year round.
Taxco de Alarcón is referred to as one of Mexico’s “Pueblos Mágicos,” or magical towns, and as soon as it comes into view, you can see why. Situated on a precipitous hill and containing steep and winding streets, its breathtaking colonial gothic style will make you feel as if you’ve gone back to a simpler time. The magnificent centrepiece of the town is the pink-stone, 18th-century Santa Prisca church, which sits on the east side of the Plaza Borda, and you’ll be able to find your way around by looking for its twin spires amidst the Spanish red-tile roofs.
Until very recently, Taxco was known for its silver mining, but today it relies on tourism and its world-famous silver jewellery and silverware. Take an evening to get lost in the winding narrow streets, dining late, as is the local custom, and immersing yourself in the quiet, otherworldly town.
Once the playground of old Hollywood, with Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor and Elvis Presley frequenting the resorts and sandy beaches, Acapulco gained the nickname “the pearl of the Pacific.” Now it’s making a comeback for the jet set, with luxe spots to hang your hat, such as the Banyan Tree Cabo Marqués, in the exclusive Punta Diamante. This cliffside resort offers private, stilted villas with spectacular views, fine dining, horseback riding, surfing, and even the renowned cliff diving.
Although this oasis is known for beaches and relaxation, you can find some attractions to get you off the sand. The world-class Acapulco Botanical Garden is worth a visit when you need to see some greenery. You can tour the Mercado Municipal and see the petroglyphs set in a beautiful forest. Then you can explore the nightlife, a sight to see with its teeming nightclubs and bars, before making it back to the quiet hillsides.
Text by Laine McDonnell Translated by Rui Chen