The following is a guest post by Julie Tulba
When you hear a traveler talk about her first love, she’s of course referring to a destination, not necessarily a person. For me, my first love would be Mexico, a country that’s absolutely amazing but also one that’s incredibly misunderstood and somewhat forgotten about by many travelers.
Mexico was my first love because it was the first ever foreign country I visited (sorry English-speaking Canada, but I just can’t count you). I was only 16 when I spent the summer there as an exchange student, living with a host family in the colonial city of Querétaro. I loved the country and its people so much that following graduation from college, I returned to Mexico once more, this time to another city in central Mexico, Cuernavaca. There I spent four months working as a volunteer at a home for orphaned and abandoned children.
I say that Mexico is misunderstood because many people have the misconception that the entire country is unsafe and dangerous, a place that one would be foolish to travel to. This couldn’t be further from the truth as media accounts are often extremely misleading and do a poor job of providing a well-rounded report. I say that it’s forgotten about because rarely will you encounter tourists from the United States (and even Europe) who travel to Mexico outside of beach resorts like Cancun and Puerto Vallarta (this is especially true for some of the “big wig” bloggers). They flock to the countries of Central America and do the South America tourist circuit, but Mexico is always left off the itinerary.
As a veteran traveler and temporary resident there, I’m here to tell you that you should be getting your culo (derriere) there lo más pronto posible (as soon as possible).
There is no shortage of incredible sights and safe places to visit in Mexico, but here are my top five.
The Mexican capital has it all…literally. A myriad of dining options, accommodations to suit every budget, tourist pursuits that will keep your camera active for days, it’s all here in the city commonly referred to as the Federal District or DF (Distrito Federal is its name in Spanish).
Some of my favorite things to do there include hanging out in the Zócalo (the main square), admiring the beautiful Diego Rivera murals found inside the Palacio Nacional, imagining the past at the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, and walking through the immense and lush greenery of Chapultepec Park.
The Mexican capital is one of the world’s most populated cities so trust me when I say that with its beauty and crowds of locals and visitors, it will remind you of Central Park in New York or Hyde Park in London.
La Casa Azul (The Blue House)
Even though Frida Kahlo’s house, La Casa Azul, is only a short distance from Mexico City, I decided to include it on its own (that’s how much I think you should go). A few days before returning to the United States for good, I decided to visit. I’d always been a fan of Kahlo’s art and being able to see not only the house that inspired her, but so many beautiful works, was an incredible experience. Even if you’re not that big into art or only know Frida Kahlo as the woman with the bushy eyebrows, plan a visit here. The house and its gardens are a photographer’s delight, truly.
San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende has become one of Mexico’s favored “hot spots” by expatriates and it’s easy to see why. It’s a gorgeous, small-size city with much of its colonial architecture (from the Spanish Empire days) still beautifully preserved, not to mention pretty spectacular weather (San Miguel de Allende enjoys a temperate climate). And its main church, La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, looks straight out of Europe with its incredible architecture.
A trip to Mexico is not complete without visiting at least one set of ancient ruins (preferably more) and the Aztec ruins of Teotihuacan are a good place to start. They’re an easy day trip from the Mexican capital (you can even take a bus to get there), and didn’t feel as “zoo like” as the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza. Visitors can still climb to the top of El Castillo (the Castle) and gazing out at the Avenue of the Dead is an experience you’ll never forget.
I lived in Cuernavaca for four months and while I think there are prettier colonial cities to visit in Mexico, I would recommend traveling to Cuernavaca for the food, yes food. I’ve become something of a foodie and I can honestly say that two of the best meals I have ever had in my life were both in Cuernavaca.
I spent a most memorable Christmas Eve dining at Las Mañanitas (a hotel/restaurant that actually was featured in 1000 Places to Visit Before You Die). The food was to die for and the ambiance unforgettable (peacocks freely roam the grounds, no joke). And on a more down-to earth scale but equally fantastic there was Casa Hidalgo, a restaurant serving Mexican and other global culinary favorites. Be sure to sit outside where your impressive views are of the Cortes Palace (yes, the conquistador Hernán Cortés built himself a palace in Cuernavaca back in the day) and the charming main plaza. For Mexico, both places are somewhat pricey, but when compared to costs in the United States or Europe, they’re a real bargain.
Mexico is a developing nation and sure, it has its share of issues. But what country doesn’t? When you read about ongoing violence in Mexico (usually related to the drug cartels), it’s in areas of the country that few tourists are going to (well if they are, they’re on their own).
Mexico City is just like any other major metropolitan area-there are dangerous sections but if you exercise common sense, you’ll be fine. Mexico is a big country so don’t write off visiting because of events that are going on more than 1,000 miles away. People talk about countries that have it all- well this country truly does and there are so many safe places to visit in Mexico. History, one of the best cuisines in the world, incredibly friendly people, a pleasant climate, and a flight that isn’t too long for many travelers. Certainly, its coastal resorts are unparalleled, but there is so much more to see and do in Mexico.
Visit. You’ll be in for a wonderful surprise.
For Julie Tulba, it all started with a high school exchange program in the colonial city of Querétaro, Mexico. After that unforgettable experience, she was hooked. She’s been to more than 15 countries on five continents, and when she’s not traveling the world or working her day job, she writes The Red Headed Traveler, where she blogs about everything from food and travel to living in Pittsburgh. She recently published her first book, Full Circle: Tales of Travel and Self-Discovery from Around the World, a collection of short stories that can be purchased from Amazon. Be sure to follow along with her adventures on Facebook and Twitter. And don’t forget to say “hi,” she would love to connect with more travel bloggers and fellow food aficionados!