Category Archives: City Profiles

Destination Dispatch: Chiapas

MexicoPremiere contributor Greg Custer, a Mexico expert in his own right, sent us his thoughts on his latest visit to this magical country: a trip through Chiapas, one of the country’s many hidden gems. ¡Gracias for sharing, Greg!

A recent visit to Mexico’s southernmost State reinforces why Chiapas is one of this hemisphere’s grandest nature + culture experiences. Bordered by Veracruz, Tabasco, Oaxaca and Guatemala and spanning Mexico’s narrow southern waist, Chiapas combines pine forest highlands, steamy jungle lowlands, wild rivers, alpine lakes, deep canyons, and a slice of little-explored Pacific Coast. It’s also the heartland of Mexico’s Mayan patrimony.

Historically, Chiapas has attracted only veteran Mexico travelers, Europeans, and backpackers on their way to Central America. Today it’s an easier-than-ever open-jaw itinerary using Houston non-stops into Villahermosa and returning from Tuxtla-Gutierrez.

Destination Dispatch: Chiapas

A typical SIX DAY jaunt begins by landing in Villahermosa (VSA; United has non-stop service from HOU; otherwise connect via MEX). It’s an easy, flat 90 minutes to the town of Palenque, and another 5 short kms to the Palenque archaeological site. There’s non-stop bus service from the airport to Palenque city (fare is around $17US). Stay in the ‘La Cañada’ area, home to a jungle-shaded, gentrified collection of good eats, coffee shops and small inns. (Palenque city has limited attractions beyond its leafy parks.) We stayed comfortably at Maya Tulipanes.

DAY ONE: Take a full day to immerse your soul in Palenque, the apogee of western Mayan architectural refinement. The jungle hillside setting is breathtaking. An English-speaking guide can divide your visit between the unexcavated jungle ruins, the regal central courtyard of palaces and temples, followed by a downhill, suspension bridge, waterfall path to the site’s excellent museum. Palenque’s importance to Mayan scholars cannot be overstated. It is here they found not only towering structures and Egyptian-like tombs, but a nearly uninterrupted record of the site’s powerful dynastic rulers. Studies will continue for decades-to-come and a day visit leaves you wanting more.

DAY TWO: Within reach from Palenque city are a host of nature and cultural attractions. Most opt for the waterfalls at Misol-há and the turquoise waters of stunning Agua Azul. When visiting from November to May, witness the 15 km-long river’s transformation from rainy season cappuccino hues to dry season’s brilliant blues, greens and frothy white cascades, which are the result of bicarbonate minerals that alter refracted sunlight. You can wander upstream to the river’s source, past vendors, restaurants and quiet alcoves. There are other daytrip options (and overnight journeys) exploring lowland ruins, villages and nature reserves.

Destination Dispatch: Chiapas

Destination Dispatch: Chiapas

DAY THREE: After travelling the sinuous two-lane highway south from Palenque to Ocosingo, you’ll swear there was a Mayan God of the Speed Bump (‘topes’ in Spanish). The road (regardless of whether you use private driver or deluxe bus) is tortuous. ‘Topes’ (the tall ones, not the smaller ‘vibrador’ variety) appear with a maddening frequency like no other route in the Americas. Take Dramamine (and your sense of humor) to compensate. You’re rewarded handsomely some upon reaching Ocosingo and a short jaunt east to Toniná.

Destination Dispatch: Chiapas

This little-visited site belongs in anyone’s TOP FIVE Mesoamerican experiences. Spanning a towering series of Machu Picchu-like terraces are temples, stela, carved stone walls, residences and pyramids, all climber accessible. A mere 30-40 people tour the site each day! The structure towers 75 meters (246 feet) and is now crowned as the tallest in all of Mexico. It had been thought the Toniná acropolis was built atop an existing hill. In 2015 scientists announced the massive structure was in fact entirely build by ancient inhabitants. “It’s a big surprise to see that the pyramid was done almost entirely by the architects and therefore is more artificial than natural” said Emiliano Gallaga, director of the site.

Destination Dispatch: Chiapas

Destination Dispatch: Chiapas

Destination Dispatch: Chiapas

After another two jarring hours of ‘topes’ your journey from jungle to highlands ends at magical 7,000-foot San Cristobal de las Casas. Rest at your hotel, then rally for an evening stroll along the city’s 16th century flagstone pedestrian arcades and marimba serenaded squares. (We enjoyed our stay at Las Escaleras, ten suites climbing a hillside a short walk to the main square. The lovely Parador San Juan de Dios is also highly recommended).


A walker’s delight, San Cristobal sits in a valley surrounded by pine forested mountains. Highland communities have occupied the region for millennia. Spanish San Cristobal dates to 1528, evident in the city’s handsome squares, Catholic temples, mansions, and red tiled roofs. It was a bastion of Indian conversion to European ways, a work-in-progress that yields both splendor and tragedy.

Across the Highlands, an ancient yet ‘contem­porary’ Mayan culture has survived, amidst a patchwork of independent, culturally distinct villages. Of the state’s 5.2 million inhabitants, nearly one million are Native Americans, descendants of the Maya and other ethnic groups. Much of the state’s history is centered on the subjugation of these people. Satellite communities west of San Cristobal are home to resettled and refuge-seeking Maya families, the sad reality of political, land rights, religious and international migration conflict across highland Chiapas.

Destination Dispatch: Chiapas

With a population now approaching 200,000, San Cristobal still feels like a village. A ‘Pueblo Mágico’ designation has brought gentrification and hip international dining. Take time to visit Casa Na Bolom, a step back in time homage to the Lancandon Forest and its ancestral inhabitants. Blocks away is the 12-rooom Parador San Juan de Díos, a series of lovely bungalows, an excellent gourmet restaurant and former home to the Harvard University’s Chiapas Project, a ground-breaking ethnographic field study. It ran from 1957 to 1980 and investigated social change across Mayan culture.

The region’s signature textiles are seen as daily garb and purchased at shops or mercados. The weaver cooperative Sna Jolobil is adjacent to the city’s fine Textile Museum, part of the Templo de Santo Domingo. Built between 1547-60, Santo Domingo’s baroque façade is of soft pink stone is resplendent, while the interior is exuberantly deco­rated with gilt retablos. Sna Jolobil supports some 800 weavers from twenty Tzotzil and Tzeltal-speaking communities.

Destination Dispatch: Chiapas

Destination Dispatch: Chiapas

Destination Dispatch: Chiapas

Day trips from San Cristobal highlight archaeological sites, traditional villages and nature’s splendor. Take in at least one of these opportunities when not shopping for ambar or sipping Mexico’s best coffee, relaxing in the city’s several plazas.

Have a few extra days? Chiapas is home to several of Mexico’s premier outdoor experiences. The Pacific coast (some 3.5 hours from San Cristobal to Puerto Arista) has largely unvisited stretches of beach, inter­rupted by an occasional fishing village. Highland attractions include North America’s only trop­ical rainforest, some of its deepest canyons and several wild, scenic rivers and lakes. Six of Mexico’s finest national parks and nature pre­serves are here, including Sumidero Canyon, El Triunfo, Agua Azul, and Lagunas de Mon­tebello.


It’s a one-hour taxi to state capital Tuxtla-Gutierrez and its international airport (TGZ; United to Houston or connection via MEX). Descending over 5,000 feet from the Highlands via a modern autopista, contemplate one of this hemisphere’s most complex cultural corridors, and start planning your next visit.

Learn more at

(Text and photos: Greg Custer)

Mexico City Named No. 3 Most Inspiring City in the World

2014 GOOD City Index Names 50 Most Inspiring Global Destinations; Cities That “Best Capture the Elusive Quality of Possibility” Using A Criteria of Eight Attributes

MEXICO CITY, Nov. 20, 2014 /PRNewswire/ — Mexico City is ranked No. 3 on the GOOD City Index (GCI), which ranks the most inspiring cities in the world. The annual list compiled by GOOD, media company that also publishes the quarterly GOOD Magazine, features cities that deliver on eight key attributes that “best capture the elusive quality of possibility,”: progress, civic engagement, street life, defining moments, connectivity, green life, diversity and work/life balance.

Zocalo, Mexico City, MexicoGOOD praised Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera for his progressive approach to city government and reports reasons why Mexico City is continuing to emerge as a top global destination. In addition to Mexico City’s rich cultural history and deep traditions, the capital city is gaining acclaim as one of the world’s most influential culinary destinations citing attractions such as Michelin-starred restaurant Pujol and gastro-hall Mercado Roma. Mexico City also gained recognition for its sustainability innovations such as its bike share program and key initiatives overseen by Mayor Mancera including mobile health clinics, free uniform distribution, arts discount program for teens, expanded bike lanes and technological advances.

“It’s a huge honor for Mexico City to be recognized as one of the most inspiring cities in the world on the GOOD City Index,” said Armando Lopez Cardenas, director of the Mexico City Tourism Promotion Fund. “We welcome visitors from around the globe to experience our great city again or for the first time, whether for business or leisure. Now is an exciting time to visit Mexico City.”
North American cities include Atlanta, Detroit, Los Angeles, New Orleans and Santa Fe in the U.S. and Montreal and Vancouver in Canada. The GOOD City Index is available online now at

Mexico City is the country’s premier tourism destination, welcoming more than 12.5 million visitors a year. The ancient capital offers a vibrant, contemporary culture that combines pre-Hispanic, colonial and modern influences that span nearly seven centuries. With more than 160 museums, 30 distinct archaeological and historic sites, and 100 art galleries, the city is a mecca of fine art and treasures that speak to its vast history. The Mexico City Tourism Promotion Fund (Fondo Mixto de Promocion Turistica del Distrito Federal) supports and enhances city tourism. For more information and daily updates please visit/follow us on Facebook ( and Twitter (@MexicoCityLive).

Waiting for Huatulco

By: Lisa Coleman

Exactly 30 days from today I will look over the Pacific from my private pool at the Dolphin Cove Villa at Las Palmas in Huatulco. It seems so cliché to use words like “amazing” or “breathtaking” to describe some of the places I’ve been in Mexico, but they do the job in a place like this. Two years ago, I celebrated my 50th birthday in Oaxaca City and Huatulco, and fell in love with Mexico all over again. It was my first time in Huatulco and it reminded me of why Mexico is part of who I am. Most of our readers (and all my friends) know that my heart has always belonged to Zihuatanejo. That town and its people have spent more than 20 years atop my list of favorites. Well, times are changing, maybe I’m changing (certainly getting older), but to be completely honest, my new crush is Huatulco. Villa8 Simple, elegant in all the right places, laid back just enough, safe, warm and embracing – that sums it up. For me, this is the Mexico that soothes my soul. This is the Mexico that feels like home. It’s all here. Huatulco is that place  you have to explain how to find on a map, and most of us are happy to keep it that way. It feels like Zihua did 25 years ago, and that’s a good thing. The energy is different here. Mexico savvy travelers know exactly what I’m talking about. The days are long and slow, the scenery is gorgeous, the water is perfect, the beer is cold and I can’t wait to get there!

Huatulco’s infrastructure was put in place by FONATUR (Trust for Tourism Development -Fondo Nacional del Fomento al Turismo), back in the 70’s. FONATUR is well known for creating and building Cancun, Ixtapa and Los Cabos, as well as the off-the-beaten path communities of Loreto and the Bahías de Huatulco (the Bays of Huatulco, which has been shortened to just Huatulco.) If you love the hustle and bustle of Cancun, this probably won’t do it for you. But if you like the pace of Zihuatanejo, and you’re charmed by Loreto, Huatulco will be right up your alley. It will remind you a little of Ixtapa in design, but with the coziness of Zihua. Huatulco dances to its own beat and it’s one special song.

I’d usually tell you all about the lodging along the coastline, but I’ve only stayed in one place, a perfect place to me: Las Palmas. With an extraordinary location, perched on a cliff with incomparable views of Violin Bay on one side and Santa Cruz on the other, it doesn’t get much better. Owned by Ron and Jackie Williams, who have become dear friends, Las Palmas is like your own private paradise. With only five casitas and three villas, you’ll be part of the family from the moment you arrive. (For more details read my previous post here: Huatulco and Las Palmas: A Match Made in Heaven.)

The countdown is on. I can almost feel the sand in my toes and the Pacific sunshine on my face. I know it won’t disappoint! See you soon Huatulco…


Pueblos Magicos: Real de Asientos Stands Decorated with History, as Well as Mystery

Mexico Today News

History, art, nature and a culture of mining come to life in Real de Asientos, Aguascalientes, Mexico. An ancient city, Real de Asientos dates back to 1548, when it was founded by the congregation of a religious group. Over the past few centuries, Real de Asientos transformed into a mining town, and then to a city of great mystery.  Read more…

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Thinking Pink in Celestún

By: Lisa Coleman

The entire state of Yucatán is magical to me.  Whether it’s exploring the mystical ruins left behind by the Mayas, swimming in a cenote or strolling the streets of Mérida, there seems to be an adventure around every corner. And when it comes to an adventure in nature, there are few places in Mexico that compare to Celestún. Located 60 miles south west of Mérida, Celestún (meaning “painted stone”) is a colorful coastal town known for its sandy beaches, excellent seafood… and its famous “pink” residents.

The charming town of Celestún is surrounded by the breathtaking 147,000-acre Parque Natural del Flamenco Mexicano, better known as the Celestún Biosphere Preserve. This massive wetland reserve is an extraordinary and unique ecosystem that combines fresh water from the estuary (ría) and salt water from Gulf of Mexico. More than 300 species of birds call this region home… most notably the huge population of brilliantly pink flamingos.  The Nature Conservancy has said that “nearly 90 percent of all the world’s pink flamingos migrate to two breeding and nesting grounds: Celestún and Ría Lagartos (also in the state of Yucatan).”

This is the ultimate destination not only for bird-watchers, but for anyone who wants to get up close and personal with nature. In addition to the parade of pink, you’ll also see plenty of herons, egrets, frigate birds, ospreys, hawks and countless others. (Keep an eye out for the occasional alligator, too!) Though the flamingos can be seen year round, the population swells to its largest numbers in the winter months (primarily December)  with as many as 20,000 of the feathered phenomenon posing for perfect pictures. Since flamingos are social birds, you’ll being seeing them in large groups, usually dining on algae, insects and small crustaceans. All of these “flamingo favorites” contain beta-carotene, which is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange coloring. Flamingos are actually born white, and as they eat these beta-carotene rich foods, it tints their feathers pink.

The best way to see this pink spectacle is to hire a boat and travel up and down the ría, explore the mangroves, and take a dip in fresh water springs that bubble up into the estuary at Ojo de Agua. Boats can be rented at the main entrance for around $50 USD an hour, but you can negotiate a price to stay out as long as you’d like. There are 90 minute excursions as well, which gives you plenty of time really get into the feel of things. The captain will most likely speak only Spanish, so ask around if there is an English speaking guide that you can hire to go with you…It’s worth it if you need the translation. The boats are comfortable and shaded, but it won’t hurt to bring some sun screen just in case. (You may also want to put on some bug spray for when the boat slows down and takes you deep into the mangroves.) Even though you might get tempted to get really close to the birds, the boats will keep at a reasonable distance not to disturb the feeding grounds. Be sure to have your zoom lens handy and it wouldn’t hurt to bring some good binoculars.

Celestún can be done as a long day trip from Mérida, but this laid back gem of a town is worth a little exploring so you may want to spend a night or two. Long stretches of white sand beaches are lined with great restaurants offering some of the best fresh seafood you’ll ever taste. My husband and I spent an afternoon at the incredible La Palapa restaurant and had maybe the best ceviche I’ve ever tasted in Mexico… and that is a very tall order! Open air with great views of the rolling shoreline, it’s easy to pass the hours sipping cold beer and sampling everything from lobster and octopus to fish fillets and shrimp. And no matter how you like your seafood favorites prepared (breaded, in garlic, raw, etc.), it will be a memorable meal. The owner, Rodrigo Solis, is from Mérida and knows the importance of a good meal. We were told that he often travels to Europe and always returns with a new idea for the menu.

There are a few hotel options in town, but your best bet is a few miles away at the Hotel Eco Paraíso Xixim (who has recently changed their name to simply the Xixim Hotel). This eco-friendly, luxury property is for those who truly want to disconnect from civilization.  With 32 bungalows designed to be a part of the landscape, Eco Paraíso is one of more unique properties I have visited in Mexico. At home on a pristine and deserted stretch of beach, Paraíso appeals to the adventure traveler who also enjoys the perks of a fine hotel. You won’t find air conditioning or television in the rooms, but you will find two beautiful pools, a wellness center, an excellent bar and restaurant (complete with vegan and vegetarian menu items), and top notch service. Don’t panic about the lack of air conditioning! The palapa-style rooms have multiple ceiling fans and screens to the patio that allow for cross ventilation and cooling. We found the days comfortable and the nights perfectly cool. (If you stay June – September, it might be a bit warmer, but comfortable nonetheless).

We visited before the hotel was busy so we had the place almost to ourselves, which was a real treat! Our morning coffee was delivered to the room and it was easy to spend the day lounging in our hammock and searching for shells on the beach as another perfect sunset gets swallowed into the horizon. We also ventured to one of the pools and enjoyed wonderful appetizers in oversized chairs in the comfort of a steady ocean breeze. A couple of notes when you visit the hotel: Because the Paraíso is built in harmony with nature, you will want to bring your bug spray. They provide bug repellent bracelets in the room, but I would recommend bringing some extra for your legs and feet. There is a good Internet connection in the lobby if you need it, and be sure to try the “Cauliflower Ceviche” on the vegetarian menu, it’s out of this world good! Check out their website for more information ( but it’s certainly worth a night or two to really get away from it all.

In my opinion, no trip to Mérida or the state of Yucatán is complete without a stop in Celestún. This is nature at its finest, Mexico at its best and an experience not to be missed.

My pick for the best day-trip from Mazatlán — Concordia and Copala

By John Mitchell

The main plaza and Church of San José in the Spanish colonial mining town of Copala. Click on photo above to see larger version.

In a recent Mexico Premiere post, David Simmonds named Mazatlán as his “City Pick for 2011,” so I thought I would chime in and give my choice for the best day trip from this popular resort — the old Spanish colonial mining towns of Concordia and Copala in the foothills of the Sierra Madre Occidental. With their winding cobblestone streets and unhurried ways, these two communities offer glimpses of a Mexico that has all but disappeared in Mexico’s bustling urban centers.

Concordia, which lies about 25 miles east of Mazatlán, has a peaceful main square dominated by the ornate baroque facade of its 18th-century San Sebastian Church. In front of the church, vendors sell colorful pottery and hand-carved wooden furniture that are fashioned in workshops around town. There is also an absurdly large rocking chair that looks as if it is waiting for a friendly giant to come along and sit in it.

Inside the nearby Municipal Palace, a lively mural chronicles key events in the area’s history from the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors to the 20th century. One panel shows Concordia’s buildings in flames after they were sacked by marauding French soldiers during the 1860’s. Another depicts the long-tailed urraca bird, which supposedly led the Spanish to Concordia’s rich silver deposits.

A few miles up the road from Concordia sits the mountain village of Copala. Smaller and more bucolic than Concordia, Copala still feels a bit like the virtual ghost town it once was. Brightly painted colonial-era buildings line Copala’s narrow streets, but the town’s most prominent landmark is the 18th-century Iglesia de San José. A statue of a dour-looking priest peers down menacingly from atop the church’s baroque facade, no doubt checking to make sure that parishioners attend mass regularly. Sunlight streams through high wooden doors illuminating an airy interior with a vaulted ceiling and neoclassical-style altars.

After Copala’s silver and gold mines ran dry, many of its citizens left in search of new livelihoods. But the re-opening of the abandoned mines for tourism has revitalized the town. Quite a number of foreign visitors liked Copala so much that they decided to stay. Some have started up funky hotels and restaurants such as the the Copala Butter Company facing the main square and Daniel’s Restaurant, famous for its “world-class coconut banana cream pie” that — as much as anything else — has helped put Copala back on the map.

Concordia and Copala can be visited on an independent day trip or organized tour from Mazatlán. There is bus service to both towns from Mazatlán’s second-class bus station. Passenger trucks called colectivos also ply the route between Concordia and Copala.

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Concordia and Copala, Mexico – Images by John Mitchell