With winter already in full swing in Canada, I’m dreaming of escaping to a tropical paradise. Central America is one of my favorite parts of the world to travel this time of year, since it’s relatively close to North America, affordable to fly and travel within, and has a lovely warm and dry climate. If you’re looking for a place to escape this winter, get inspired with these five amazing destinations in Central America.
Caye Caulker, Belize
If you want a place to chill out and relax then head to the charming island of Caye Caulker, just an hour and a half boat ride from Belize city. The motto of this island is ‘go slow’, and the locals actually enforce it.
Caye Caulker is a very small island, so once you get off the boat you can walk anywhere you need to go. The atmosphere of the island is relaxed and friendly, making it easy to meet locals and other travelers. The Lazy Lizard is one of the most popular spots in town to hang out. It offers unique seating arrangements where you can drink and eat while still being in the water.
Caye Caulker is an excellent destination for diving and snorkeling, with access to the second-largest barrier reef in the world. The most famous dive site is the Blue Hole, but there are plenty of other beautiful coral reefs around to explore such as Half Moon Caye Wall. With such a welcoming atmosphere and access to incredible marine life, Caye Caulker is one of the best tropical islands in the world.
Santa Teresa, Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a country full of beautiful beaches with access to the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Caribbean Sea on the other. Each beach town has its own unique atmosphere, but one that should be on your Costa Rica itinerary is Santa Teresa on the Nicoya Peninsula.
Santa Teresa is the perfect place for surfers and yogis. The waves on Santa Teresa beach are consistent and perfect for beginners learning to surf, with lessons readily available in the area. Even if you don’t surf, Santa Teresa still has a lot to offer including yoga classes, horseback riding, and some of the prettiest sunsets in Central America. The sun sets directly over the ocean, and every night the beach has a wonderful atmosphere of locals and travelers gathered to watch it go down.
For a dive focused vacation, head to the wonderful island of Utila. This small 12-square-mile island off the coast of mainland Honduras is a diver’s paradise. Utila borders on the Mesoamerican barrier reef system, the 2nd largest reef in the world after the Australian Great Barrier Reef. It has over 100 different world-class dive sites to choose from where you can see colorful reefs, caves and wrecks, and hundreds of species of fish including whale sharks. It also happens to be one of the cheapest places in the world to get your diving certification.
Honduras is a country that’s often overlooked because of its dangerous reputation, but the bay island area, including Utila, is perfectly safe to visit. Locals will say there are two things to do in Utila: dive and party. In my experience, that’s pretty accurate, but I loved every second of my time there. The island is made up of dive shops and bars, but everyone who lives in Utila is friendly and down to earth. From beach clean-ups to all-night parties, the town has a great vibe about it.
San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua
If you’re looking for beach, surf, and parties, it doesn’t get better than San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua. San Juan is most famous for being home to Central America’s biggest pool party, Sunday Funday. It happens every Sunday of the week, and a ticket gets you entrance into five different pool parties plus transportation between them.
Even when it’s not Sunday, San Juan Del Sur has a lot to offer visitors with so much beautiful nature around. For the best views, take a short 20-minute hike up to the Jesus Statue where you can see San Juan del Sur Bay below. Afterward, reward yourself at one of the San Juans many delicious taco shops.
There is a beach you can visit right on San Juan Del Sur Bay, but there are nicer ones not far away. Grab a shuttle to nearby Playa Hermosa, which has beautiful white sand and a shaded hammock area to relax in. San Juan del Sur is just half an hour away from the Costa Rica border, so it’s the perfect place to stop if you traveling between the two countries.
San Blas Islands, Panama
When I think about a perfect tropical paradise, the San Blas Islands are what come to mind. This stunning archipelago is located in Central America between Panama and Colombia, surrounded by the beautiful Caribbean Sea. It’s made up of approximately 365 islands and cays, of which only 49 are inhabited by the indigenous Kuna people.
When you reach the islands, it will be just your crew and the belongings you have brought. With no cell phone reception or wifi, days are spent relaxing on the beach, drinking fresh coconuts, or snorkeling in the nearby water. If you want a complete escape from reality, the San Blas Islands are the perfect place to go.
Winter is an ideal time to visit the San Blas Islands, as this is during the dry season when the seas are calm. The best way to visit the islands is to take a tour from Panama City. This can be done as a two-day overnight trip where you sleep on the islands, or as a 4-day island-hopping adventure that ends in Colombia.
Colombia is a rich and diverse country filled with so many amazing places to visit and some of the most beautiful and picturesque small Spanish colonial towns.
When you need a break from the large cities like Cartagena, Medellín, and Bogotá, consider heading to one of the small towns like Salento. You’ll see a very different slice of Colombian life and will you enjoy the welcome respite of a much slower pace.
Three Reasons You Should Go To Salento, Colombia
Salento may be a small town, but it has a lot of great things to do. Here are my favorites:
Learn all about coffee production in the top-producing area in Colombia. Take a tour of a Finca (farm) to learn all about the process and enjoy one of the best cups of coffee in your life.
Salento is the closest town to the Cocora Valley, one of the most incredible hikes in the country offering a lot of geographic diversity. Hike through a cloud forest and see the crazy tall wax palm trees all in one amazing day.
Wander the streets of this beautiful, colorful, and picturesque small town nestled in the mountains with a perfect representation of Spanish Colonial architecture. There are more things to do there than you might expect.
In this article, I’ll share more about each of these reasons why you should go to Salento, and why I know you’ll love it as much as I did.
Enjoy The Lure Of Colombian Coffee
Colombia is the third-largest coffee producer in the world thanks to its rich volcanic soil and the long rainy season. Interestingly, coffee isn’t usually a drink the locals enjoy as the best is exported. For coffee lovers, little can compare to a good cup of Colombian coffee.
Salento is nestled in the mountains in the heart of the Coffee Triangle (Eje Cafetero).
The location in the mountains doesn’t provide for large production high-yield farms, but instead, it is known for small boutique farms that focus on very high quality.
Finca Don Eduardo is one of these small farms. The owner is incredibly passionate about making the highest quality of coffee and prioritizes quality over profits. He proudly shares that his coffee is “deliberately non-certified organic.” They are exclusively organic, however, he chooses to not pay for the label but instead, funnels the money into the beans.
The finca grounds are just a ten-minute walk from town located on a ridiculously-steep hill. Considering the beans are picked during the rainy season, coffee farming is not for the weak of heart.
On the tour, we learned about the kinds of coffee available and walked through the entire growing process from seed to cup. We got to walk the grounds and then enjoyed the pièce de résistance of magic in a cup. After choosing the type of beans we wanted and roasting them, we enjoyed what was one of the best cups of coffee I have ever had.
There are several boutique coffee fincas in Salento, and both Don Eduardo and Finca El Ocaso have great reviews.
Hike Cocora Valley
The Cocora Valley (Valle de Cocora) hike is one of the top attractions in Colombia. Many people go to picturesque small-town Salento as it is the closest to the valley. This epic hike features lush green valleys, a cloud forest (high-elevation rain forest), and the interestingly cartoonish wax palm trees.
Parts of this hike may be tough for beginners but it’s worth doing. It is a loop that is almost 8 miles long and takes around 6 hours, depending on your pace. There is also a shorter in-and-out hike that leads directly to the magical area of wax palm trees. Grab a bagged lunch from Brunch de Salento and grab a “Willy” jeep from the square in town. Be prepared for amazing adventure.
Most people hike this trail in a counter-clockwise loop and start in the cloud forest. It is so peaceful and beautiful. One warning about this hike is that there are seven dodgy suspension bridges you have to cross as you weave over a stream. Yes, seven. They took some getting used to, but even my fear of heights did not dissuade me and I pushed through. They are not overly high up, but they are quite rickety so it’s a bit unnerving walking on them.
There is also a hummingbird sanctuary called Acaime in the rainforest where you can take a break to enjoy the birds. Here you can try a local specialty called aguapanela caliente, a traditional Colombian hot drink made from caramelized sugar cane. It’s often enjoyed with a chunk of cheese melted in the drink.
Next, you head towards the toughest part of the hike trekking up to Finca la Montaña. You will be rewarded with the most amazing views of the valley and they are worth it.
Once you catch your breath and grab lunch, start heading downhill on the sloping path to Bosque las Palmas where you can wander among the 200-foot tall wax palms. Hug a wax palm, or two! They are incredibly skinny and you can get your arms completely around them!
Take In Small-Town Life
Salento is a sleepy small town begging to be wandered, with beautiful Spanish colonial homes and a quaint town square, Plaza Bolívar. It’s a nice change from the crowded streets and the pace of the larger cities.
Plaza Bolivar is where the Willies take off from to go to the valley, so it’s always bustling with people. There are a number of shops and restaurants on the square, and one of the restaurants even turns into a roaring discoteque by night! There are lots of carts with food, juices, and other items for sale.
Visit Calle Real right off the plaza, full of tourist shops, galleries, and restaurants. It is mostly a pedestrian-only street so the locals are out mingling with tourists. Head to the colorful staircase at the end and up the hill to the lookout point, or mirador. You will see the most incredible views of the Quindío River (Rio Quindío) and if you are there for the sunset, you are in for a special treat.
When you get hungry, there are a lot of great places to go and everything is a five-minute walk or less. Try the local specialty of trout (trucha) offered many different ways at Restaurante Meraki or Donde Laurita or go to one of the food carts in the plaza. You can’t go wrong.
The fruit juices are simply amazing, and something you should try while in Colombia, and if you want a sweet snack, try an obleas. It’s made from two thin wafer cookies with sweet flavors inside to your choosing like arequipa (sweet Colombian caramel), mora (blackberry) jam, chocolate, and shredded coconut.
If you’re looking for something fun and uniquely Colombian, try Tejo. You play by throwing rocks at paper packets filled with gunpowder—how could it be anything but fun?
Salento is a magical place and it was one of the highlights of my trip to Colombia. It’s a perfect dose of small-town life in Colombia and a worthy addition to any trip to this wonderful country.
Yucatán, Mexico is the next “it” destination – mark my words! After my visit to this culturally rich state, I’m convinced that between its hidden cenotes, ancient archeological sites, future developments and commitment to sustainable development, Yucatán will be on every traveler’s bucket list. It truly is the perfect sample of Mexican cultural heritage, gastronomy, architecture, art and more.
In the past year, Yucatán had a 27% increase of arrivals, mostly because of the increase of direct flights from Miami, Houston and Toronto. I was overjoyed to see the amount of travelers experiencing this slice of heaven on earth, just a few hours south of the USA! What’s even more special is that Yucatán tourism is committed to creating experiences that showcase the indigenous culture for visitors. I love that there are so many immersive trips and moments travelers can take part in to understand the Mayan people!
P.S. To clarify – the Yucatán state is not the same as the Yucatán Peninsula! Yucatán is the center of the peninsula, nestled between Quintana Roo (famous for its resorts in Cancun and Playa del Carmen) and Campeche.
Today, I’m excited to share some of my favorite finds and gems in Yucatán – from the colonial cultural hub of Valladolid, to the otherworldly scenes of Las Coloradas to the yellow wonderland of Izamal.
Just 25 miles away from the epic Chichén Itzá lies the colonial gem of Valladolid. The varied architectural styles within the city are each so unique, I loved walking through the historical styles block by block. The sixteenth century convent walks of San Bernardino of Siena and the baroque Municipal Palace, Temple of San Juan de Dios, Santa Ana, and The Central Park monuments all seamlessly feel like a walk through Valladolid of the past.
Where To Stay: Hotel Mesón del Marqués
Right in the main square of Valladolid is Hotel Mesón del Marqués, an old casona from the seventeenth century transformed into romantic lodgings with modern facilities. Locals and foreigners love its ideal location in the historical neighborhood, and I loved its charm and commitment to hospitality so much!
What To Do
There are so many activities to see and do in Valladolid! Here are some of my favorite experiences from my time in the city.
Visit The Convent of San Bernardino de Siena
This former convent was created in 1552 under the direction of a friar in the Sisal neighborhood, and is one of the second largest Franciscan constructions in the Yucatán. It’s now one of the most magical sights to see in Valladolid! I loved walking through the large tropical trees and colorful corridors of arched stone windows.
The Royal Palace of Valladolid once was the home of the many Kings of Spain between 1601 and 1606, and was even a temporary residence of the Spanish Monarchs and Napoleon during the War of the Independence. Now, you can explore the palace’s galleries, courtyard and incredibly large throne rooms, oratory and towers.
The Temple of San Juan de Dios
After visiting the center’s gems, be sure to stop by the yellow gem San Juan De Dios.
El Parque Central
The perfect place to get some shade and people watch! El Parque Central is a great resting place after sightseeing the historic sights.
Buy Chocolates At Choco Story
If you have a sweet tooth like me, you’ll love to shop for chocolates at Choco Story. The Yucatán has quite the chocolate culture!
Lagartos River and Las Coloradas Biosphere Reserve
Las Coloradas is a northern coast community in the Rio Lagartos Municipality, best known for its huge salt evaporated ponds with bright colors (due to the micro organisms living in the water) and home for many flocks of flamingos.
Be sure to take a boat tour with Rio Lagartos Adventures! The boat tour of the 150,000 acre wild life refuge showcases the 395 species found and recorded in the lagoon. We spotted flamingos from afar and ended the boat tour with a Mayan mud bath! So special. Plus, we were treated to a delicious seafood lunch, waiting for us at the starting point restaurant, Ria Maya.
The ancient city of Uxmal is home to one of the most important archaeological sites in Mayan culture. The Mayan city, located in the Puuc region of Yucatan, showcases the quintessential architectural style and is now designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its historical significance. It’s such a sight to behold! I loved trekking through the hundreds of temples and buildings, taking in all the detailed stone work and tall greenery.
Where To Stay: Lodge at Uxmal
Right outside of the Uxmal Archeological Zone (seriously, its a four minute walk!) is the Lodge at Uxmal – one of the coolest hotels with the closest connections to the wonders of the archeological zone. I loved the cool dipping pool and home cooked meals made every day. Not to mention, seeing the majestic Mayan ruins right outside were a marvel!
What To Do
The Archeological Zone of Uxmal is the centerpiece of activities, that’s for sure! But Uxmal has so many special experiences travelers to take part in to get a fresh perspective and historical context of the area.
Experience in Land Rovers by Mayaland Adventures
In taking part in an off road experience with Mayaland Adventures, visitors not only drive in one of the most iconic vehicles of the 20th century… but they are transported to another era. I loved this unique experience because it gave us the chance to see the way the area was explored many many years ago, when the archaeologists discovered Yucatán. Driving in a vintage Land Rover through the property’s plantation to visit the remains of the original Hacienda Uxmal founded in 1673 was one of my favorite moments!
Lights & Sound Show In Archeological Zone
The night tour at the archaeological site of Chichen Itzá begins at the main entrance of the site and allows travelers the chance to visit some of the main buildings in the surroundings of the Pyramid of Kukulkán (The Castle) wrapped in the mystery of the night. Afterwards, we were seated in front of the pyramid to enjoy the historical projection on its façade, where we learned more about the site’s amazing past.
Less than 50 miles outside of Merida is the Magical Town of Izamal. Izamal means “dew which descends from the sky” and is visually stunning covered in just one color – yellow.
Where To Stay: Hotel Rinconada Del Convento
This beautiful Mexican-style hotel features views of the San Antonio de Padua Convent. Following the city’s signature shade, you’ll find pops of yellow throughout the hotel! The pool was a delight to have after the hot afternoon exploring too.
What To Do
Of course, my biggest suggestion is to commit to traipsing through Izamal’s mustard hued alleys, streets and squares for a few hours. It’s such a stunning sight! But in between your explorations through the town, here are some of the best things to do in the yellow city.
Coqui Coqui Casa De Los Santos
I loved this residence and spa’s weathered look. It’s a beautiful place alone – and then I learned that it’s also a perfumery. If you’re looking to take something completely special home from your travels, this is it!
Convent of San Antonio De Padua
This is a must-do, in my opinion! Explore the Franciscan Convent of San Antonio de Padua, the saint of lost things. I was so moved by the simplicity of the building. So many rustic and minimalistic scenes.
Night Show “Light Paths”
Travelers looking to be wowed after a long day of exploring will love the night show projection on casonas of the convent.
Izamal also houses many ruins to explore. The ruins were the headquarters of Bishop Landa, the friar who both destroyed the ancient Mayan civilization and preserved it by creating written documents of the Mayan society. It’s an interesting look at the sordid past of the area.
Shop In The Big Mercado Market
Don’t miss the Big Mercado Market to get a real look at daily life in Izamal. Right in the center of the city, the market opens in the morning and stays open until mid afternoon. Come here to sample traditional dishes and a freshly made meal!
I loved this restaurant’s menu of traditional Yucatáean food and its beautiful and cozy atmosphere!
The vibrant city of Merida is the capital of Yucatán. Rich in culture and beauty, Merida just may be the next hot spot! It’s even been selected to host next year’s edition of Tianguis Turístico, the largest annual tourism event in the whole country. The whole city as a European flair to it, especially is architectural influences. But, throughout the whole city you’ll find a commitment to Yucatán traditions and ancient Mayan culture.
What To Do
Merida is rich with so many things to do and see. From the Paseo de Montejo’s wide avenue lined with enormous, stunning mansions to Catedral de San Ildefonso, the oldest churches in Latin America – Merida has it all!
Plus, there are many free cultural experiences to take part in. The Yucatán Vaqueria, The Serenade in Saint Lucia, and playing the Mayan ball game “pok ta pok” are just some things to do during your time without spending a penny.
Fundación De Artistas
Fundación de Artistas is a nonprofit organization that showcases and supports the development of arts in Yucatán, Mexico. You’ll find all sorts of art in the gorgeous building – it’s obvious that it’s quite the haven for artists in the area to find creativity and inspiration.
Coqui Coqui Merida
A gorgeous sister-store of Coqui Coqui, this time hidden in a colonial home with a boutique filled with hand-made goodies and high end gifts.
This restaurant has garnered quite a lot of buzz – so be sure to make a reservation while in Merida! The service is impeccable and its menu is top notch in providing a contemporary twist to classic Yucatán dishes.
Without a doubt,Yucatan charmed me through and through. I can’t wait to see more travelers explore this jewel of a state!
A big thank you to Yucatan Travel for sponsoring this trip. I was so overwhelmed with their kindness, hospitality and commitment to showcasing historical and cultural heritage of beautiful Yucatan!
All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. The owner of this blog makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site. All opinions are my own.
I’m certainly not the type of traveler who bases their adventures solely around what is beautiful, but I’ll tell you what – sometimes timing is everything. I say this because I just so happened to plan a trip to beautiful Mexico City in the midst of its peak Jacandra bloom season. When I say that Mexico’s colors and vivid culture was bursting into life, I’m not exaggerating. There is so, so much to love about this city! Today, I’m taking you along my journey to show you an Instagrammer’s guide to Mexico City’s most picturesque and gorgeous spots. Here we go!
Where To Explore
A heads up to flower lovers who want to see Mexico City’s famous Jacandra blooms – come at the end of March! We found the most concentration of blooms near Bella Artes… but they truly are scattered around the city! March is also the perfect time to explore because you can take in the Festival del Centro Histórico de CDMX,Mexico City’s biggest cultural party of the year!
Zocalo City & Historic Center
Do yourself a favor and schedule yourself some time to just walk through Mexico City’s many districts and centers. The historical center of the city is simply a joy to walk through. There is so much to take in and so many beautifully aged and modern sights side by side!
Palacio de Bellas Artes
This is a hub of great places to explore as the gorgeous Palacio is very close to a quaint park to take in the blooming flowers, as well as the House Of Times (Casa de los Azulejos)!
Roma Notre, Condesa & Polanco
These neighborhoods of the city simply stole my heart. Roma Notre (my favorite), Condesa and Polanco are all walking distance apart and stocked with some of the most charming homes and architecture. Get your cameras ready, because these sections are delightfully cool and covered with greenery.
This area is where the Frida Kahlo Museum is located, and it also happens to be a lovely area to wander around, as there are many colorful houses and lovely streets. Color is definitely not shy in Mexico City, and I love it for that!
Where To Stay
As you might have guessed, I’m a big fan of using Hotel Tonightfor these quick, yet meaningful long weekend trips! I love that no matter how last minute, it’s there to help me find centrally located, safe and accomodating lodgings no matter what (p.s. you can use the code “nyakoub” for $25 off your stay). Give it a try and thank me later!
Hotel Zocalo Central
Hotel Zocalo Central has one of the best rooftop cafes/bars in the city, if you ask me. We loved waking up at sunrise to take in the beautiful waking city while sipping on coffee. Centrally located to the city’s main square where the festivities were starting, and so accommodating… I’d love to come back!
Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico
This former department store has been repurposed into a historic hotel in the heart of the city. Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico is another excellent hotel with some stunning views to take in from the rooftop! The Art Nouveau style and stunning stained glass rooftop is something you have to see for yourself.
Located in Zona Rosa, Casa Goliana this facade simply wins at life.
Instagrammable Eats & Drinks
Roma Notre Area
Our favorite place in Mexico City, located in the Roma neighborhood! Also, the cheesecake was probably one of the best things we’ve eaten out of all of our experience of travels!
Churros in the most adorable eatery… need I say more? El Moro has a few locations around the world, all open 24 hours a day. Love it!
This bar is the perfect place to grab a cocktail before a long night of exploring Mexico City’s amazing cultural experiences.
Rosetta’s lush greenery beckons you in, doesn’t it? We loved this little gem!
Butcher & Sons
The perfect little place to grab lunch in the Roma district!
This hot spot has some amazing Mediterranean inspired dishes and has really made a splash on Mexico City’s culinary scene.
The perfect spot to grab a quick coffee or do some emails/catch up! Chic, clean and delicious iced coffee. What’s not to love?
Gorgeous tall trees and lanterns hover over the entire restaurant. Be daring like us and try the guac with crickets!
Cafe Don Porfirio
One of the best views in the city, located inside the Sears Department store across the street from Bella Artes. Don’t miss it!
Bibliophiles rejoice! I had no idea that Mexico City was hiding this gem, but man was I so delighted when we found this place. Biblioteca Vasconcelos is located in downtown, but so worth the trip in my opinion!
Cafebreria El Pendulo
Another book-lover’s paradise, with various locations. We visited the ones in Polanco and Roma and found that the Polanco store was our favorite! Doesn’t this look like a library of your dreams?
Metro Bellas Artes
A slice of Paris in Latin America. This station along Line 2 and Line 8 of the Mexico City Metro system immediately transported me to my time living in Paris. It is located in the Colonia Centro district and truly popped against the purple blooms around it!
Palacio de Bellas Arte
This is a must for culture travelers! The Palacio de Bellas Arte is the hub of Mexico City’s notable art events. But besides music, dance, theater and art – it’s an excellent place to lose yourself to inspiration while taking it in!
House of Tiles (Casa de los Azulejos)
The “House of Tiles” is Mexico City’s 18th-century palace built by the Count del Valle de Orizaba family. Take in its exterior, covered by blue and white tile of the Puebla state. Even if you don’t have the time to go in, it’s absolutely a must to take it in from the outside!
This castle has some of the best views. I mean if historians say that the sights from the terraces “can’t be surpassed in beauty in any part of the world” – why would you not go see for yourself?
This moderist exterior really stands out in Mexico City’s skyline. Perfect for art lovers, the Museo Soumaya is perfect for a rainy day to take in some of the coolest art exhibits in the city.
Museo de Frida Kahlo
Learn from our mistake – ensure that you buy the tickets at least 3 or 4 days in advance online or else they will be sold out! It happened to us! Needless to say, we were devastated as I’m a huge fan of Frida. Great excuse to go back to Mexico City, though, right?
The coolest postal building ever? I think yes! The Palacio de Correos de México aka the “Correo Mayor” is located in the historic center of Mexico City, very close to the main downtown area. Take in its opulence and beauty!
La Ciudadela Market
An explosion of color! La Ciudadela Market was so fun to peruse through, especially if you’re looking for some souvenirs to take home to loved ones. I loved the beautifully made tapestries and fabrics!
Stay sponsored by Hotel Tonight. All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. The owner of this blog makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site. All opinions are my own.
Mexico City has always been loud. Colonial texts imply that they could hear Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, a day’s walk away.
Miles away from the urban center, the wind carried the sound of haggling and shouting of goods that traveled considerable distances to be exchanged at that very spot. Archaeologists have found materials from far reaching places, suggesting that tribes traveled from as north as Arizona and as south as Peru just to get a taste of the action.
This was sound pollution before they had speakers. And now they do have them. Merchants no longer have to shout over everyone else with similar hustles; instead, you will see speakers strapped onto on venders hips or balanced on bikes selling tamales or asking for your used furniture. Reggaeton blasts through car speakers and mariachi bands belt in city squares. This city is bumpin’. It is sometimes feels so loud that they can wake the dead, which they honor more than the living sometimes. Modern day Mexico City hasn’t strayed away from its original vibe.
It is a mosaic of Aztec cultures integrated with colonial Spanish influences while still able to keep up with the modern world. It is in constant contradiction and harmony with itself. It is magic and modernity.
Tacos + Street Food
Mexicans still respect the dedication it takes to makes food good. It is a culture that can take any given ingredient and make it appetizing, from crickets to corn fungus. You don’t have to go to a restaurant to eat like a queen.
The street food in Mexico City is always delicious, always indulgent, and sometimes healthy. Stands perfume the streets with aromas of fried meat, onions, and peppers.
But the stands have more than tacos. Tortes, soups, hamburgers, tamales: any shape you want corn to take, you can have it. GOOD stands will have an array of other offerings to add to your meal: guacamole, beans, red+ green salsas, cucumbers, radishes, cilantro, bowls of lime wedges, fresh and pickled onions, pickled carrots and jalapenos. This rainbow of toppings will balances all your taste buds demands. You will not find cheddar cheese or Tostitos salsa here.
You must grab a quesadilla if you stumble upon a blue corn tortilla stand. They are a nuttier version of the classic yellow corn and typically made by women whose hands are stained periwinkle from making hundreds of patties in a day.
Regardless of where you end up, all eateries have a golden rule. When you approach a stand and are about to bite into your taco, you must pause your excitement, turn to your neighbor and say “provecho.” It is their bon appetite but with more social gravity. It shows that you are courteous of those eating around you, and you open yourself for conversation with your eating companions. You will be well received by the locals.
But Mexico’s gastronomical pleasures do not end there. Several vendors are on wheels, so you must hunt them down. There are carts with peanuts spiced in every way imaginable and make your own mix bag. There are mango men who sell cups of sunshine. You can have them sprinkled with lime, chili, and hot sauce, which looks like you are swallowing a sunset. There are sweet potato men who come out only at night. You can hear them streets away by the screeching sound of their ovens releasing steam.
The food in Mexico is always an adventure.
If you want to understand Mexican entertainment, you must experience lucha libre. It is as theatrical and staged as a Shakespearean play, but with a tele novella plot line. There are two kinds of luchadors: technos and rudos. Their fight represents the larger narrative of good vs evil, and each has their own backstory. Technos are the good guys who have moral upstanding and play by the rules. The rudos are always the bad guys who cheat. However, they are only half the show.
The audience fuels the theatrics in ways where no Broadway show could ever function. They are loud and melodramatic as the characters they are cheering for and against.
It is a place where everyone can release tension from the week, scream and shout, and hope that good will prevail. It’s like group therapy where you can drink and is significantly cheaper.
Luchadoras, lady wrestlers, have become more accepted have been in the spotlight more. Although sometimes oversexualized, these wrestling women are working hard to have the same respect as their macho male counterparts.
Coffee + Chocolate Culture
What is the point of going to the land that made chocolate without breaking out a few bars. The Maya’s coined cacao as “the food of the gods”, and you would be hard pressed to find anyone who disagrees.
There are several places around the city that are supporting organic and fair trade bean to bar chocolate. Many of these bars have less processing and sugar than commercial counterparts. They may take some time to get used to because their taste is a bit stronger than the Western palate is used to. But, once you start understanding what real chocolate tastes like, you will never be able to eat Hershey’s again.
The real treat is the hot chocolate. There are several places that are making hot chocolate with pre-Hispanic techniques. They have wooden molinillos, which can easily be mistaken for a handheld massager, but instead make frothy hot chocolate. These hot chocolate makers are used to make the beverage foamy and creamy, using the same hand motion as warming your hands on a cold night. You can watch your barista vigorously whip up a frothy cup and get an bicep workout at the same time. It is traditionally made with water, but you can have it made with milk as well and is not rich or thick as its European counterparts ( typically made with cream). Most places offer a selection of different spices to add to your drink. I recommend getting some with cardamom or orange.
Great places to check out are the chains Tierra Garat, El Moro, La Rifa, and Central Cacao. Most of them serve hot chocolate and bars.
If your sweet tooth isn’t satisfied, you can also visit their Chocolate Museum.
Coffee, although did not originate on this side of the world, is still living its best life in Mexico and grows spectacularly here. Most places don’t serve drip coffee, so it will help you wean off your Starbucks coffee addiction and learn how to enjoy a proper espresso. Third wave coffee is booming here, focusing on locally sourced and higher quality beans. Lots of places are open late for you to relax after dinner. There is nothing like having a cake and nice espresso around midnight.
Back when the Aztecs ruled over this land, Mexico City was built on an island in the middle of a lake and was navigated by boat. Then 300 years ago, the Spanish drained the lake and the culture from the natives. However, you can still experience some of the ancient Ubers today in the neighborhood of Xochimilco in southern Mexico City. The name translates from Nahuatl to where flowers grow and is still an agricultural center.
Today, you can glide through these human made islands on giant, colorful, wooden boats. It can be a romantic trip for two but is ideal for a large group. Whole families and friends spend their weekend afternoons here. You can often see two boats linked up together where people will drunkenly hop back and forth between the two.
To help keep the party going, there are snack and taco boats that will paddle up to you and serve you food. Gliding along side of them are mariachi boats that will impressively to belt and balance on a boat at the same time. Although the water isn’t super clear or pretty, the surrounding view is interesting and reminiscent of how the Aztecs might have navigated from temple to home and partied themselves.
Mexico City beats out New York as having the most museums in North America and is second to London for most museums in the world. From the classic to hyperniche, they honor every facet of Mexican culture and modern interest. They are everywhere: parks, peoples homes, grand theaters. Any edifice can and has been turned into a museum.
Here are some of the must hits.
Memoria y Tolerancia
Museo Nacional de Antropología
Franz Mayer + Cloisters
National Palace- Diego Rivera mural
Palacio de Bellas Artes
Casa del Indio
Frida’s House- Casa Azul
Museum of Modern Art (Museo de Arte Moderno)
Folk Art Museum (Museo de Arte Popular
Museo Jumex – contemporary art
Museuo Del Objecto
Mucho Museuo De Chocolate
Museum of Sound- Fonoteca National/ Octavio Paz’s House
The parks in Mexico City are wild. Although they are manicured, they still have the feeling that they are untouched by modern horticultural machinery. Long vines hang off of trees, flowers popup wherever they please, and cactus will take root between pine and palm trees. Although it sounds like a horticultural contradiction, when you see them, they somehow make sense.
There are always sculptures and secrets in the parks- from paintings, colorful kiosks, clock towers, or signs that remind you to breath.
They are typically filled with vendors selling peanuts, fruits, and other snacks because the Mexicans always have their picnic game on.
Their grandest park is Chapultepec: the lungs of body of Mexico City. Named Grasshopper Hill by the Aztecs, it’s history is anything but tiny. From pre-Hispanic empires to European colonialist, it is the space that people have fought over in order to be in control of the city. But don’t let the souls of those who died on this land prevent you from enjoying this park.
Chapultepec is so big it can fit 9 museums, a zoo, a theme park, AND a castle. It can fit two Central Parks inside of itself and still have room for tres leches. It is massive. With so much to do, it is also perfectly ok to enjoy the pleasure of doing nothing ( they have an entire section of hammock for that purpose exactly).
It’s not just their parks that are lush but their streets as well. Any empty space on a balcony ledge or front door must be covered with flowing vines or terra cotta pots. You can stop on the street and stand next to an agave plant as tall as you that fortunately no one decided was a nuisance. Or maybe they are doing to balance the rampant air pollution in the city. Nevertheless, as reflective as they are on death, this is a city that cultivates life.
If you don’t have time or find any of the museums to be too pricey, just take a walk through the streets. They are an outdoor art exhibit on their own. In the 1920’s, artists were commissioned to paint the streets to renew national pride and identity. They are bright and bold and thought provoking. The art pulls from every facet of Mexican culture, from Aztec gods +symbols to Catholic iconography, with a flair of modernity and contemporary issues. They cover the city like rainbow sprinkles on an ice cream cone. Even locals are still finding new ones. The best neighborhoods to find street art is Roma Norte, Roma Sur, Juarez, Downtown, La Condesa, and Coyoacan.
If there is one thing Mexicans know how to do is throw a good fiesta. Like all the elements Mexico city has, you can jump from one mood to the next in a single night.
You can bounce from cozy bars, hop over to Reggaeton gay bars or get intimate at a salsa dance floor. If you find yourself circled by a mariachi band belting and professing their love to you at three in the morning, lean into it.
If you are looking for a packed dance party, go no further than Patrick Miller. You might think you have walked into a temescal when you enter: it’s that steamy in there. Rico, a gay club, has three levels of dancing with different music played on each, including a rooftop. For great Reggaeton, another gay bar is Divina, which hosts great drag shows on weekend nights.
If you are more in the mood for classic Latin dance, Mama Rumba is your go to. There are two floors with a balcony and a stage for live music, typically played on Friday + Saturday nights. They have a wider variety of music. Salón Los Ángeles is perfect if you are a beginner you want to take classes and dance after. This is a more traditional salsa center where you will find elderly couples salsa dancing and dressed to the nines.
Bars + Cantinas
If you are looking for a chiller vibe with nicer cocktails and a chance to chat, head over to El Departamento. They host downtempo DJ nights every first Wednesday of the month and have a spicy selection of mezcal cocktails.
Casa Franca is a jazz club around the corner that is so homey you might think you accidentally walked into someone’s living room. It calls back to the 1920s and has incredible live jazz music every Friday + Saturday. Bosfero, closer to downtown, is ideal if you want to get a great taste of mescal. Hidden behind a curtain ( there is no actual door), the dim lit and edgy place is perfect for philosophical conversations over garlic peanuts and the iconic Oaxacan liquor.
Nevertheless, you can’t leave Mexico city without getting serenaded by a mariachi band, and Garibaldi Square is exactly where you want to go. It is lined with canteenas that have several bands belting and boasting inside and outside. You will almost feel like you are in an old timey western.
Mexican literature is unique in its own. Their influences of magical realism, views on poverty, mortality, and the struggle of existence seeps through their literature like agave pouring out of a plant. But damn do they know how to make existentialism look pretty. Mexico City has some of the most beautiful bookstores, decorated with plants, local art, and wide open windows. There are as many as there are museums.
Here is a list of some you must walk through
El Pendulo- multiple locations through the city.
Under the Volcano Books- Roma Norte
EXIT La Librería- Cuauhtémoc.
Bookstore Fondo de CulturaEconomica- Hipodromo.
Regardless of which one you stumble into – you might find yourself aged significantly by the time you walk out- and still feeling like you don’t have enough time to read everything.
When you have finally made a decision on which book to buy, there is even a spot in Chapultepec where you can sit quietly and read. Audiorama is a quiet space with a mini library, and you will find people seeking some silence to read quietly in this obstreperous city.
One of the best day trips out of the modern metropolis is to go visit the ancient one.
About an hour drive away, the remnants of the indigenous tribes still stand as tall as the contemporary skyscrapers.
Teotihuacan was the largest pre-hispanic city in the Americas at its time with an estimated population of 125,000. It is believed to have originated as a religious center, but its origins are still unknown because it was built before the Aztecs. BEFORE. The Aztecs claimed relations to the original creators, usurped the pyramids, and created their city.
You can still walk this arid landscape. As you explore the full breadth of the area, you will probably be starved for shade, and people normally don’t take more than an hour or so to stroll around. Walk down the avenue of the dead to the Sun and Moon pyramids, which are both geometrically and symbolically impressive.
You can hike the Sun Pyramid and envision what it might have been like to rule all that you can see. If you are a morning person and have the dinero, you can splurge and do a hot air balloon over the pyramids.