Mexico as a country was intriguing to me, as one had heard about the Aztecs and the Mayans. When we got the opportunity to go as a group, my wife and I decided to seize it. We visited in the month of April and the temperature was comfortable (max 28 degrees, min 10 degrees Celsius). The flying time, with the fastest connections, is at least 25 to 27 hours including the layover.
We first landed in Mexico City and stayed at the Four Seasons hotel. The property was good but not exceptional. The first day we visited the old city and saw the ruins built by the Aztecs (in the post-classic period from 1300 to 1521). A visit to the anthropology museum is highly recommended. The architecture of the place is interesting as is the understanding of the evolution of Mexican society. The next day we did a hot air balloon ride at Teotihuacan and got an overview of the Sun and Moon pyramids built by Mesoamericans and later found by the Aztecs who claimed a common ancestry with Teotihuacanos, modifying and adopting aspects of their culture. One could climb both the pyramids if one wishes to. The Sun pyramid has 324 steps that are very steep but climbable. The old city had an interesting Cathedral as well as some interesting monuments. Of all the popular tourist spots, The Saturday Bazaar was not as impressive and could be missed for more historical and cultural experiences (unless you wish to buy local art and walk through the local buzz).
While visiting the ruins, we took a refreshment break at Cafe de Tacuba and it was a delight. The musicians serenaded us with some great music. When we left after an hour there was a large crowd of tourists waiting to get in.
Arango is a charming restaurant situated in a very old house. The ambiance is great and so is the food. La Opera Cantina seemed like a quaint old restaurant, but the food was not worth the visit. La Gruta, near Teotihuacan. La Gruta is a restaurant in a cave and worth the experience. Though we as a group did not go Pujol and Quintonil, they are both highly recommended restaurants. There is limited variety for vegetarians at restaurants.
We were able to catch the Folkloric ballet show at Bellas Artes Palace on a Sunday morning. It was a beautifully orchestrated ballet, showcasing a lot of Mexican folklore in form of dance. We also watched a Mexican version of WWE Wrestling Match, which is a very popular entertainment for the locals. However, it was avoidable if one is not interested in wrestling.
Fond of art? Visit the Dolores Olmeda museum to see some of Diego Rivera’s works. The Carlos Slim museum has predominantly European art is worth a visit. The highlight of our stay at Mexico City was a visit to Freida Kahlo’s house, now converted to a museum. The entire area ( Coyoacan )around the museum is lovely. A tram ride with colorful buildings and interesting architecture and bits of history to nibble upon. It is recommended to watch her movie before going there.
Polanco is the area for luxury shopping in Mexico City. Getting around the city is reasonable by taxis. If you are in a small group, luxury tourist vans are a great option for groups of 6 – 8 people.
San Miguel Allende
From Mexico City, we drove down to San Miguel Allende. It was an enjoyable 2.5-hour drive. Rosewood hotel is a lovely hotel. The view from the terrace at sunset was a sight to behold. San Miguel is like an old European town in Mexico. The brightly colored walls of the houses and the various styles of architecture are an attractive sight to behold. The road undulations remind one of Porto (in Portugal) & San Francisco. A guided walking tour of the city is essential to appreciate the charm of this city.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to… a nearly 400-year-old house, now renamed Casa Dragone, after it was bought by a Tequila company Dragone. A visit to Fabrica La Aurora is a must. It is an old textile mill converted into a contemporary art and design shopping space. One would get to see and purchase some interesting art and artifacts mostly by Mexican artisans, as well as many clothing labels by Mexican designers. The Sistine Chapel was also fascinating.
We had dinner in the courtyard of Casa Nene hotel. It is a remarkable place and the food is delightful…
We flew to Cancun from Leon which is a 90-minute drive from San Miguel. Cancun is the hip and party city of Mexico. It is a part of the Mayan Riviera. The Nizuc Resort and Spa is a spectacular hotel (An all-suite hotel) close to the strip, where one must go every evening, hopping bars & nightclubs. The spa at the hotel is both overrated and extremely expensive (around USD 250 for a 60-minute massage).
Chichen Itza is one of the main Mayan ruins. We had lunch at a private Hacienda (farmhouse) that also had a Cenote (water holes discovered in the ground) where one could take a swim. Tulum, a Mayan ruin by the sea was even more interesting than Chichen Itza.
When I initially planned the trip, I was looking forward to understanding the history of the Aztecs and the Mayans and their understanding of astronomy. However, I realized we Indians had accomplished all of this and moreover a few thousand years ago. We thoroughly enjoyed the arts, culture and the people of Mexico, but as Henry Rollins said: “A great way to learn about your country is to leave it”.