All posts by lisac

Cuernavaca Day Trips

Vibrant colors, Old World style, ornate architecture, cobblestone streets and distinctly locked in time… this is the mystique of Taxco. An hour from Cuernavaca, this is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque towns in all of Mexico. In the early 1500’s, Jose de la Borda (a Frenchman living in Spain) heard of rich mineral deposits in the New World and rushed to Mexico to try his luck. He struck it rich in Taxco. Since then the city has been deemed the “Silver City” and is known worldwide for its pure silver jewelry and handicrafts. Borda developed the city and is credited for the construction of the city masterpiece – the Santa Prisca church. He imported artisans from France and Spain who created the most powerful and elaborate examples of 18th century of baroque architecture. The interior is astounding with twelve intricately carved and gilded altars arranged according to size and religious content. It will rival most any cathedral in the world. There are plenty of cozy eateries surrounding the town the square for a relaxing lunch. Not only will it be the best shopping day of your life (over 150 silver shops), but it will also leave you with a lasting sense of Mexican history and charm.A short 30 minutes from Cuernavaca is the mystical town of Tepoztlán. The legendary birthplace of Quetzalcoatl, (“plumed serpent” of ancient Aztec and Toltec folklore) the area is considered a prominent “energy center.” It very well may be the Sedona of Mexico! The towering vertical cliffs of Tepozteco Mountain frame this inviting Mexican village. Ruins from a 15th century temple can reached after a rather strenuous hike 3,000 feet to the top, but the breathtaking view is well worth the effort. Do some shopping in the marketplace and stop for lunch at Casa Pi ón, the food is fantastic, the view wonderful and they usually have live jazz music in the afternoons. (Av. Revolución, No. 42. – your driver should know the way.)

Just up the road (maybe 25 more minutes), you’ll find the enchanting village of Tlayacapan. Lined with colorful shops, and filled with local handicrafts, you can spend hours exploring and enjoying the kindness and warm smiles of the local people. In the 15th century, Tlayacapan was a passage way between the capital of the Aztec empire and southern Mexico. When the Spanish arrived, they built the San Juan Bautista convent that is still the pride of the community. Incredibly well preserved, with a majestic façade and amazing frescos on the walls, this may very well be one of the most intriguing convents in central Mexico. The marvelous chapel is still in use and the museum inside the convent is astounding.

Mexico’s Colonial Cities

Just for a moment, put aside your preconceived notion of Mexico. You know the one…beaches, beaches and more beaches, complete with heaping doses of sun, sand and surf. Well, it might be time to expand your cultural horizons and discover the true character of a country steeped in a vast and colorful history.After the conquest of the Aztec Empire in 1521, Mexico was the richest and most prized possession for the Spanish Empire. For 300 years Spain not only ruled Mexico, but also worked diligently to model it after the mother country. The result: a Latin country dominated by European ideas, architecture, monuments and art. The modern day Mexico has more standing legacies to this Spanish colonial era than any other country in the world. (In fact, Spanish Catholics built 12,000 churches in Mexico during that time!) This incredible heritage can be experienced in literally hundreds of cities, towns and villages throughout the country, and Oaxaca City, Guadalajara, Merida, and Morelia are certainly at the top of the list

Oaxaca (wah-HAH-kah) City has always been known as one of Mexico’s premier colonial gems. Framed by the Sierra Madre del Sur Mountains 5,000 feet above sea level and 340 miles southeast of Mexico City, Oaxaca City is the perfect combination of modern day comforts and a 3,000-year old past. Though it is a city with more than a half million residents, it still has the cozy feel of a traditional village. The immaculate streets of downtown reflect the exquisite, baroque colonial architecture of the 16th century. An astonishing cathedral, perfectly preserved religious and municipal buildings, fine museums, and unique art galleries round out the city’s magic. The archeological ruins of Mitla and Monte Alban are not to be missed. Reflecting the Mixtec and Zapotec cultures, these ruins are an interesting change from the Maya remains of the Yucatan.

Guadalajara is another of Mexico’s overlooked treasures. It’s the country’s second largest city and is known as the “city of roses.” Extremely sophisticated and well preserved, Guadalajara is a wonderful mixture of parks, fountains, plazas, rustic churches and tree-lined boulevards. In addition to the museums, galleries and other cultural offerings, the shopping here is unsurpassed. The suburbs of Tlaquepaque and Tonala are world famous for native crafts, folk art and traditional fine arts of all kinds.

Rolling green hills, mountain lakes, pine trees and wildflowers hardly fit a description of Mexico. But that is exactly how to describe the immense natural beauty of the city of Morelia. Lush and gorgeous, this city defines 17th and 18th century Spanish architecture. The downtown area is home to masterfully restored buildings, most with soft pink-colored stone and delicate facades. The central square is graceful, refined and surrounded by museums and shopping. Morelia feels something like a storybook and the towns and villages on its outskirts are equally impressive.

Mérida is the capital of the state of Yucatan. European in design, yet undeniably Maya, you’ll find horse drawn carriages to carry visitors down tree-lined boulevards past an enchanting mixture of Spanish and French colonial architecture. Elaborate turn-of-the-century mansions still stand as a reminder of the wealth that began here in the 16th century. The main plaza is framed by huge laurel trees, fantastic colorful shops, and lies adjacent to a towering cathedral. Museums and markets bring the captivating Mayan culture to life and some of the world’s most important archeological sites are within a one hundred-mile radius of the city. This is the perfect gateway to delve into the mystery of Chichén Itzá, Uxmal, and several other famous ruins.

Exploring the this magnificent heritage that lies within Mexico’s interior will forever change your perception of the beauty, grandeur and splendor that is at the colonial heart of Latin America. It will be well worth it to experience the real soul of Mexico through these remarkable cities and many others like them.


Cancun – The Jewel of the Mexican Caribbean

by Lisa Coleman

For decades vacationers have been drawn to the Pacific Coast of Mexico. From Mazatlan to Acapulco, the “Mexican Riviera” was the most famous stretch of beach in the country. However, in the late 1960’s things on the Mexican tourist scene began to change. The government began to take interest in a remote sandbar on the Eastern Shore of the Yucatan Peninsula. As a result, the resort of Cancun was born and the Pacific Coast destinations were in for some big competition.

Even though the prospects of Cancun as a major player in the tourist business were considered in the 60’s, it wasn’t until the 1980’s that things began to really take off. Then a string of hotels and promotions made Cancun the “hot spot” of Latin America in the 1990’s. As a matter of fact, the state of Quintana Roo (where Cancun is located) now garners 35% of all Mexico’s tourism revenue.

I think that for most “beginner” travelers to Mexico, Cancun is a great destination choice. The American restaurants, shopping malls and the widely spoken English keep things easy for the gringos who might not be interested in delving too deep into the authenticity of Mexico. Built specifically as a tourist destination, Cancun is designed to cater to a predominantly American clientele. If you aren’t hip on big crowds you may want to stay outside the city, but either way, there is an astounding amount of things to do and see.

Cancun is ruins and riches, beaches and shopping, fishing and snorkeling, and has all the exotic flavor of a tropical paradise. It is a perfectly melded mixture of natural, cultural and man-made attractions. Technically an island, Cancun’s resort zone is approximately 14 miles of sugar-white sand shaped like the number seven. Framed by the turquoise and emerald waters of the Caribbean, Cancun is without question one of the most stunning resorts not only in Mexico, but all of North America.

The lay of the land is very easy to follow as it is divided into three distinct yet integrated areas. The “city of Cancun” is a booming town of 300,000 and popular for dining, shopping and less expensive accommodations. The “ecological reserve” is a haven for nature and a collection of lovely lagoons and mangroves. And, as mentioned, the “resort zone” is an island. Though growing at a rapid rate, development is designed to be ecologically sensitive therefore always maintaining the integrity of the land and natural surroundings.

In addition to accommodating the constant influx of tourism, Cancun works hard to remain focused on its most fascinating treasure – history. For centuries, prior to the Spanish arriving to the Yucatan Peninsula in 1519, the Maya Indians and their culture flourished here. Over 1200 archaeological sites are scattered within a few hour’s drive from Cancun. Some of the sites have been beautifully restored while others remain undisturbed in the jungle vegetation. Even the modern resort zone is home to ruins dating back to the 12th century. The Mayan society was one of the most highly advanced of the ancient cultures and day tours to sites like Tulum, Cobá and Chichén Itzá will demonstrate the magnificence of a lost civilization.

If you prefer to step away from the fast pace of Cancun, be sure to travel about an hour south to Playa del Carmen. This is a “real” Mexican experience. Though this town is growing as well, Playa del Carmen maintains its rustic charm and laid back lifestyle. Cozy restaurants and an active nightlife keep the town colorful and a lot of fun. The beaches can get crowed but the energy is relaxed. I would most certainly recommend including a stay here in your Cancun itinerary.

Cancun has achieved a unique goal. It has successfully combined the best of Mexico with the best of the Caribbean, and that makes for quite a combination. And though commercial tourism has boomed, there is no denying the seductive appeal of Cancun’s history, culture, beaches and resorts.

Canun’s Archaeological History

For most people, especially those on the west coast, Mexico is primarily a beach destination. They often think of fishing, beaches and golf, not history, culture and archeology. But life is very different on the other side of Mexico. Cancun is the premiere resort on the Yucatan Peninsula, and not only does it have all the pleasures and amenities of a Caribbean getaway, but an abundance of archeological relics as well.This perfect combination of centuries-old Mayan pyramids and sleek ultra-modern hotels makes Cancun an intriguing exploration. With over 1200 known sites scattered around Cancun and Merida, the Yucatan has more archeological sites than any other region in the Western Hemisphere. Many of these are world renowned and have been excavated and documented, but new sites are discovered nearly every year.

If don’t want to venture too far from the luxury of your hotel, but want to see some ruins, there are three small but interesting sites in Cancun’s resort zone. El Rey, the largest of the three, overlooks the lagoon near the Caesar Park Hotel; Pok-Ta-Pok is a small temple on Cancun’s golf course, and Yamil Lu’um is another small temple overlooking the Sheraton Hotel. These may pique your interest enough to look further and it is certainly worth your while to explore the biggest and the best -Chichén Itzá.

Chichén Itzá is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating sites in all of Mexico. About two hours by bus west of Cancun, this is one of masterpieces of the Mayan civilization. It is a combination of two cities: one under Mayan rule from the sixth to the tenth century; the other a Toltec-Mayan city that emerged around the year 1000 AD. Under the Toltec rule, the buildings were developed and the city came to life.

At the center of Chichén Itzá is the Castillo. This structure demonstrates a mixture of Toltec and Mayan influences and is known for its cosmological symbolism. As seen in many photographs, its four sides contain 365 steps (one for each day of the solar year), 52 panels (for each year in the Mayan century), and 18 terraces (for the eighteen months in the religious year). There is also an temple inside the Castillo which is accessible via a narrow stairway.

The Mayans at Chichén Itzá must have been intrigued by sports as well as the ancient ball court (framed by carvings) is the largest ever discovered. Also among the ruins is a sacred well, an observatory, the Temple of Warriors, and a nunnery along with numerous other structures. During the fall and spring equinoxes in March and September, the sun’s shadow forms an enormous serpent’s body across the giant staircase of the pyramid. It makes for an amazing sight.

Chichén Itzá is just the beginning, Coba and Tulum are also significant and an easy extension to your beach plans. There are literally hundreds of other sites, each unique, mysterious and steeped in ancient history. Cancun is a good starting point to begin a discovery of these tangible reminders of past civilizations.

Town and Country Tours offers direct, nonstop charters to Cancun. Ask your travel agent for details.