Under the Radar: Mexico

As my step-mum is from Mexico, I’ve been lucky enough to spend many summer and winter holidays there. Mexico is one of the most eclectic places I’ve ever visited. While most people travel there for its beaches (and for good reason), it has a far more diverse landscape than most people realize. It is also home to jungles, volcanoes, deserts, mountains, lagoons, colonial towns and ancient ruins. Here are three places in Mexico that I think are vastly underrated…

For Beach Vibes:

PUERTO ESCONDIDO

While most flock to Cancun to sample the nightlife that Mexico has to offer, if you prefer less tourists and more chilled out vibes, then Puerto Escondido is the place for you. Literally translating to ‘hidden port’, it is definitely something of an underrated, hidden gem. Long appreciated by backpackers, and dubbed a ‘surfers paradise’, it’s time that it received the universal recognition it deserves.

We visited here last December and could not have come at a better time. Spending NYE here was charming. It wasn’t too party oriented, but there were definitely places to have a good time. Among my favourites was the cute bar and live music venue located along Zicatela: Casa Babylon. It’s an ideal spot to recover during the day – it even has an array of books available for free via an exchange system. Alternatively, you can head down there when it comes alive at night with live music, dancing and cheap cocktails.

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For a City Escape:

PUEBLA CITY

The city of Puebla is the capital of the state of the same name and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s one of the five most important Spanish colonial cities in Mexico and boasts a myriad of baroque, renaissance and classical architecture. One of the most notable examples of its architecture is The Cathedral of Puebla, which is one of the largest in Mexico.

While you’re here, be sure to check out the Amparo museum. It’s easy to see everything in a couple of hours, and it seamlessly incorporates technology to keep you engaged. Not only does it have an impressive collection of pre-Hispanic artefacts, but it also has wonderful contemporary exhibitions. Bonus points for the roof top terrace with views over the city.

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For History Buffs:

CHOLULA

A quaint, colourful town only a short taxi ride from Puebla (so, it’s very convenient to combine the two in one trip). This Mesoamerican site is home to the Great Pyramid of Cholula: Tlachihualtepetl. While little of the structure remains, and it resembles more of a hill (due to the mud bricks which have resulted in an entirely buried structure), it is in fact the largest pyramid in the world. Yep, although it doesn’t look like it, it is in fact bigger than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt (in terms of volume, not height). Not just that, it’s also the largest monument built on Earth so far. Ever. Which is interesting considering that archaeologists weren’t aware of its existence until the early 1900s.

Climb the ascent to find the church of Nuestra Señora de los Remedies sanctuary which was built by the Spaniards atop of the complex and is perfect for enjoying a panoramic view of the town. Then, wander around the colourful, bustling markets for traditional food and handmade garments.

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The Venice of Mexico (Xochimilco)

If you’re ever in Mexico City, make the short journey down to Xochimilco where you’ll find the ancient floating gardens. Dubbed as the Venice of Mexico (but for a fraction of the price of the real thing) you can hire a private trajinera for a couple of hours for around £15 with a punter doing all the work for you. Make sure to barter for this kind of price as sometimes they can take advantage of unsuspecting tourists. Luckily, when I went, we befriended a local man who was traveling home from the city and advised us. He was even kind enough to drive us to The Embarcadero Caltongo.

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We had to use a replacement bus service due to reparations which were being made on the train line at the time. On an average day, the journey usually only takes about an hour and the trains are regular and easy to navigate. You simply catch the M2 to Tasqueña, and then take the LT 1 to Xochimilco. Taxis are cheap but if you’d prefer to walk, research the route before hand because there aren’t many sign posts. Xochimilco is actually a world heritage site so it’s worth a wander round while you’re there.

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Within the Embarcadero, there are lots of quirky stalls selling handmade garments and various other types of merchandise. The boats themselves are very spacious, so it’s not uncommon for a large group of friends or family to rent one out for the afternoon, which is quite a popular way to spend a Sunday. Some visitors even have ‘floating parties’, complete with music and beer. It was a mild January day when we went, but there is shelter on the boat from the rain so it wasn’t too much of a problem.

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The boats are beautifully hand crafted and very colorful. Along the route there are flower markets, vendors in smaller boats selling scarves or other nicknacks, and fresh food made there on the spot in front of you. For a price, you can even rent a mariachi! It wasn’t as busy as I’d expected, and there didn’t seem to be many tourists. The entire ambience feels worlds away from the hustle and bustle of Mexico City and is a relaxing break from what can seem like non stop sightseeing!

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