If you haven’t thought about adding Mexico to your travel bucket list, put it on – it deserves to be there. It’s AWESOME! Just to be clear though, I don’t mean quick stopovers in Tijuana or Ensenada. While it’s true that some parts of Mexico do indeed have dodgy reputations, good advice, common sense and not working for a cartel will hopefully mitigate problems.
I was lucky enough to be introduced to this diverse country via Puerto Vallarta, made famous by Elizabeth Taylor and The Love Boat. As a popular cruise port this lovely town is located in Banderas Bay and seasonally offers some of the most spectacular whale watching opportunities in the world. It is entirely possible to sit in a bar and watch humpbacks breaching 200 metres offshore.
The Old Town is colourful, cheap, pretty, friendly and the food is incredible. My dollar seemed to stretch which made a welcome change. The cobblestoned streets make flat shoes essential with tee-shirts and shorts acceptable practically everywhere 24/7. The Malecon boardwalk is a wonderful stroll with artworks, tourist stalls and casual restaurants/bars overlooking the beach. There is both a large gay and retired expat presence and although it’s not a late night town, neither does it rise with the sun – it breathes an easy, relaxed rhythm that you quickly fall into.
An hour north of PV is Sayulita, super popular with backpackers offering a great beach, cheap cafes and lively nightlife. Bursting at the seams, this little town looks to be under scrutiny from large hotel chains, but as with anything, once the over thirties move in the under thirties will have moved on, so go now if you are on a budget.
The town of Tequila was a joy to behold. Like Champagne, in order to be called Tequila the alcohol must be produced by a certain region or it is known as Mezcal. Staying in a gorgeous hotel on the central square meant we could walk to any of the Tequila showrooms and partake with great abandon. Big brands like Cuervo, DeSouza & Herradura had localised distilleries, but finding a tasting room that stocked pretty much every possible brand was a true learning experience and one I hoped to remember!
Onwards to Guadalajara and staying in the suburb of Tlaquepaque was an excellent choice. Arty with colourful pedestrian shopping streets and one of the most visually stunning restaurants I have ever been to. I loved the Mexican hacienda building style that looks very plain from the outside but opens to wonderful, spacious, tasteful courtyards – certainly the colour, lighting and vegetation were a wonder to the senses and feeling of well-being.
Returning to PV we detoured to include the mountain town of San Sebastian. This tiny village looked like it belonged in the Swiss Alps but had the alarming sense that it was on the cusp of becoming “discovered by the tourist trade”. Residents were beautifying the quaint buildings and updating small family owned accommodations. We found a pretty restaurant and chose to sit outside snuggled into soft provided sheepskins where we enjoyed a remarkable meal and stunning sunset.
Back in PV we relocated to a condo at the more tourist focused northern end of the bay. Two days by the huge pool was terribly difficult and not helped by the stunning beach or charming town of Bucerias which provided distractions of food and markets. So we flew to Mexico City. Home to 21 million people and 10 million street dogs. I was astonished to simply love this city. Staying central, it was super clean, with security on every corner and had wonderful architecture. The mornings were very quiet, but evenings felt like all 21 million had come to town. Zocalo Square, where James Bond kicked off Spectre, had Xmas lights and decorations and provided the perfect tourist starting point. Sunday mornings see one of the major boulevards closed to traffic, so people can bike, run or walk with friends enjoying the city landmarks. With so much to offer; incredible museums, art – home of Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera, markets from food and flowers to witchcraft, amazing restaurants and cafes and the ancient city of Teotihuacan on its outskirts, mere days are not enough.
Mexico, with all its naysayers, quite simply blew me away. A better, more value-for-money holiday in such a diverse country I could not have expected. I loved everything about it and am saving the pennies to return!