Mexico offers such vast options for visitors that it could be easy to miss out on the country’s authentic places full of tradition and charm. Mexico’s world known pristine beaches are just the tip of the iceberg of a country blessed with culture, nature and warm weather.
As a tour leader in Mexico, I normally get asked my favourite places on our Mexico tour. It’s hard to choose just a few favourites but after going through my photos during lockdown, I have decided that these are the best hidden gems that no visitor should miss on their holiday to Mexico.
Coyoacan neighbourhood in Mexico City
Only 10km from the buzzing main square of Mexico City, we find a beautiful cultural oasis called Coyoacan. This heaven of calm is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the metropolis and has managed to preserve its original layout and a bohemian atmosphere. Coyoacan has gone down in history for once being the home of world known artists like Frida Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera. You can actually visit their house “Casa Azul” and try to imagine how their life was back in the 1930’s when they even received the Russian politician León Trotsky as a refugee!
The best way to enjoy this neighbourhood is to stroll in the pleasant shade of century-old trees, admire its colourful streets, check out the lovely art galleries, enjoy a delicious Mexican dessert called “churros” from the market and sit on one of the benches around the kiosk to do some people watching.
Colourful, exotic and fascinating are some of the words to describe this traditional market in downtown Oaxaca. Walking around its alleys you will get to see all kinds of chillies, fruits, vegetables, spices, butcher shops, handmade fabrics, chocolate shops and even a corner dedicated to witchcraft and traditional medicine.
But the best part of the market is the food stalls, where locals and tourists enjoy fantastic Oaxaca food like: tamales, tlayudas and the city’s most ubiquitous snacks, the grasshoppers. If feeling adventurous you can try them with the local drink, mezcal. This is definitely a unique experience.
Santo Domingo Temple in Oaxaca
This wonderful former monastery will take you on a journey through Mexican history and baroque architecture. Its open patios with wide arches create perfect shades for pictures and a cool shelter from the strong Oaxaca sun. It’s amazing to think that this vaulted building with its gold layers was once a university, a military warehouse and even a barn for some time.
Now converted into a Cultural Centre you can visit its museum and have a look at its botanical garden with endemic plants from Oaxaca.
Cenotes de Santa Barbara in Yucatan
Cenotes are freshwater sinkholes that Mayans used as an important water source, and they also believed they were the entrance to the underworld. Today, Cenotes offer a surreal swimming experience surrounded by stalactites and lush greenery. There are at least 2000 cenotes in the Yucatan area, but you will never find two the same. In Santa Barbara you have the chance to see and swim in three of them: a cavern cenote with its intense blue colour, a semi-open cenote with its underwater fauna and an open cenote to admire its walls covered with plants and flowers.
Water temperature is always around 24 C° which is so refreshing compared to the 32 C° outside. Being inside these quiet caverns with a jungle view, gives us an idea of why Mayans considered Cenotes sacred.
The ruins of Uxmal
Once a magnificent Mayan capital city, the ruins of Uxmal is one of the few archaeological sites that allow visitors to climb its ancient buildings. Unlike other Mayan sites in the Yucatan area, Uxmal still offers a quiet experience to enjoy its mystical vibe and the exuberant vegetation of the area.
The main pyramid dedicated to the God of the rain seems to appear out of nowhere in the middle of this mighty jungle. Around the area you will find more than a hundred statues of this rain God and other Mayan deities. If you are up for the challenge, climb one the buildings to be rewarded with a breathtaking view and the experience of a lifetime.