Category Archives: City Profiles

Oaxaca Now

By David Simmonds

A while back I told you about a guy, Matt Plavnick, who lives in and writes about Oaxaca. He just sent me this piece ,where he provides some very insightful comments on Ceci Connolly’s article in the Washington Post, “Oaxaca, One Year Later.” Although Plavnick agrees with much of her on-assignment article, he takes great exception to how Connolly characterizes last year’s civil unrest and the terms she uses to describe it. Anyone who wants to know more about how Oaxaca looks and feels today from an observant resident should read Plavnick’s article by going here

Rolling in D.F.

By David Simmonds 

On my several visits to Amsterdam I have always been struck by several things about the town that I really like. The first three that come to mind are: you can find a Heineken in every shop and bar in town that can be quaffed at room temperature, the people are stunningly attractive (at least the women…I don’t recall the dudes), and thousands of healthy people zip around the canal-lined streets on bicycles. This in a town not known for it’s sunny days or jovial personalities.

Mexico City’s mayor, Marcelo Ebrard, may have made the same observation as he has now proclaimed that he and some staffers would ride bikes to work, hoping to encourage other Chilangos to do the same. The hope is that the air will become cleaner and the streets less jammed with gas guzzling autos as others follow his lead. He had already banned cars from the city’s downtown avenues on Sundays, which by all accounts has been a great success, with the residents jamming around on rollerblades and bikes free from the fear of being run down by a distracted driver.  I like this idea a if they could just bring back the canals that Cortez found there over 500 years ago. For the complete story, check out this article from the San Diego UnionTribune:

Welcome to Mexico Premiere

A year ago I, along with Lisa Coleman, were geared up to launch a hard-copy, print magazine focused on Mexico. We had a very slick media kit completed and a premier issue in progress. We were ready to rock and roll…but something didn’t feel quite right. The 2006 Mexico presidential election and the Oaxaca unrest were bringing business to a standstill and no one knew with certainty what the climate would be in the near future in a country that is no stranger to revolution.

Faced with this reality we backed off for a while. In the meantime I was starting to see the future, albeit light-years later than anyone under 30. It was becoming clear that traditional media as the world has known since the invention of the printing press was in a revolution of its own. People my age with bad knees and good intents still read magazines and the daily newspaper, but monster winds are blowing against us. Traditional media is on a rapid decline…newspapers, magazines, movies, television, all losing readers. Meanwhile there are billion people online with another billion expected in the next decade. After a load of research and conversations with Lisa (the only person I know with more opinions than I.), we knew what we had to do. We both ordered a mental hard-drive replacement and jumped headfirst into the world of blog, following the advice at every step of our tech-partner, Doug Macy, who makes this page jump the way it does. We have formed a group of Mexico experts to be blog contributors, including Ron Mader, Greg Custer, Jeanine Kitchel and David Lida. Our mission is to become the place where anyone who wants Mexico information will check out frequently. Each blogger is free to editorialize, report and rant uncensored, and the readers are encouraged to post their comments.

So, that’s the short version of the genesis of Mexico Premiere. Please check us out from time to time and tell your friends about the site.

Dave Simmonds


A Week in Wondrous Yucatán
by Lisa Coleman

Sometimes writers find themselves a bit stuck. We discover a place and a feeling that leaves an indelible impression on our hearts and it so captivates us that we want to write pages upon pages about it again and again. The images are so powerful and the experience so moving that having to encapsulate it into a single article can be difficult at best. The Mexican state of Yucatán is a shining example of one of those places. It doesn’t feel like any Mexico you’ve ever known or seen; it truly is a world unto itself.

Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula is known as the “Land of the Maya.” It stands as a tribute to one of the most prolific and fascinating civilizations the world has ever known. The ruins of complex ancient cities are scattered throughout dense jungles and lush rolling hillsides. Vast undisturbed beaches line the coast while magnificent colonial architecture brings the cities to life. The peninsula includes the states of Campeche, Quintana Roo, and Yucatán. And it’s here, in the state that shares its name with the region, that the magic and enchantment of this country are at their most brilliant. If you have a week (or more), this will be an adventure you’ll never forget.

First, you’ll need a place to stay. There are several chains to choose from in Mérida, the capital city, but I prefer to stay about 16 miles outside of town at the extraordinary Hacienda Katanchel. Since Yucatán once flourished as the world’s premiere henequen purveyor (henequen is also known as sisal, the fibers from the henequen plant are used for rope products.) there are countless haciendas in the area that once stood as massive working estates. Some have been transformed into either museums or hotels and Hacienda Katanchel (a little of both) is the finest of the bunch. Built in the 17th century, and situated on 740 secluded acres of pristine tropical jungle, this Spanish colonial masterpiece is unlike any hotel you’ve ever seen. Its 40 unique and luxurious rooms sit quietly amongst extraordinary gardens and exotic wildlife. You’ll be embraced by rustic beauty, exquisite food and unprecedented personal service. Hacienda Katanchel is one of those astonishing properties that fall into the category of “you have to see it to believe it.

Though you may be tempted to spend your days at the Hacienda lounging by the pool or lying in your hammock on your private patio, Yucatán awaits. Many of the great sites and experiences are off the beaten path, so unless you have a real taste for adventure, it may be best to hire a car and English speaking guide to show you the ropes. (The hotel staff will make arrangements for you.) Here are some ideas for your excursions.

Mérida –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.

Uxmal – Located 58 miles south of Mérida, this breathtaking Maya ruin is architecturally speaking said to be one of the most significant sites in the ancient world. Founded around 600 A.D., Uxmal (meaning “three times built”) was created in various stages of complex façades and arches, majestic columns, and massive terraces facing broad plazas. The centerpiece of Uxmal is the 100-foot tall “Pyramid of the Magician.” In the same area, you can also discover the ruins of Kabáh, Labná, and Sayil.

Izamal –Just east of Mérida and known as “the yellow city,” this charming town is highlighted by its bright mustard-yellow 16th century Franciscan convent and framed by small, yet intriguing Maya ruins. The convent itself is built atop the base of a destroyed Maya temple and boasts the largest enclosed atrium in Mexico. You’ll be particularly taken by the intimate eateries and the kindness of the townspeople who won’t let you pass without a smile.

Telchac – This absolutely unknown seaside fishing village just might be the highlight of your trip. Houses line the sandy white shores of the Gulf of Mexico and you’ll practically have the place to yourself. Tiny local restaurants offer superb seafood as you watch the waves rolls to shore. It has a mystical feel to it.

Cenotes – Difficult to explain, but amazing to see, a cenote (say-no-tay) is like a giant freshwater well. The Yucatán peninsula is actually a limestone shelf honeycombed with underground rivers, caverns, and sinkholes that create cenotes. They are all over the Yucatán and to go into them and swim in their crystal clear mineral waters is an unforgettable treat.

Sometimes it’s a good idea to embrace the unknown. And so it is with Yucatán.

Southern Baja

Treasures of the Southern Baja
by Lisa Coleman

The 880-mile long Baja Peninsula is divided into two Mexican states – Baja California Norte (north) and Baja California Sur (south). On one side of the Baja is, of course, the Pacific Ocean, and on the other lies the magnificent Sea of Cortez. Until the early 1970’s, the secrets of the southern Baja (Baja Sur) were only known to the heartiest of travelers. But these days Los Cabos is booming and the lesser known destinations like La Paz, Loreto and Mulegé have worked very hard to become recognized as contenders in the Baja market – And they are doing a great job!

La Paz means “peace” in Spanish. It is the capital of the state of Baja California Sur and is the second largest city south of Tijuana on the Baja Peninsula. La Paz has a simple energy and an easy feel. Though framed by beautiful beaches, the city itself is more provincial atmosphere and lacks the occasionally overwhelming hustle and bustle that seems to come with traditional beach resorts. And even though La Paz is surrounded by desert, the town itself is set amidst ancient laurel trees and coconut and date palms.

Fishing and watersports are a given in La Paz, but what you may not know is that it is also arguably the ecotourism capital of North America. Just outside the city itself are countless deserted beaches, calm bays and ecologically pure offshore islands. The region’s complex wildlife, plant life, and geology are truly astonishing. The Sea of Cortez is one of the world’s unique ocean environments, considered by some to be the most biologically rich body of water on earth. More than 850 species of marine life make their home in its temperate waters making it a year-round fishing utopia. In fact, this sea is said to be the greatest fish trap in the Western Hemisphere. Colonies of sea lions, pods of Humpback, Blue, Sperm, Fin and seasonal migrating Gray whales are a very common site.

Just over two hundred miles north of La Paz, Loreto is making a name for itself as a secluded beach resort with ecological attractions and stark desert beauty. In the shadow of the rugged Sierra la Giganta Mountains, the small in scope, almost village-like Loreto can certainly be classified as remote. Nonetheless, its surprisingly complete historic past has made it a point of interest for cultural visitors for years. It was the first capital of the Californias and has become somewhat famous for its well-preserved Jesuit missions. In fact, the town’s official slogan is “300 Years Old and Still Undiscovered.” The downtown area is a mix of shady plazas, small shops, picturesque churches and a hotel or two. The views here are magnificent and the nearby cobalt waters of the Sea of Cortez are calm and clear. The beaches are a bit rocky, but the crystalline waters are ideal for kayaking, sailing, windsurfing and above all, fishing. Helping to put Loreto on the map is also one of Mexico’s finest John McEnroe Tennis Centers, a small marina, and an 18-hole scenic seaside golf course.

And not to be forgotten is the friendly, tiny town of Mulegé (moo-leh-HAY). This tropical oasis can be found about 80 miles north of Loreto and has a population of only about 6,000 residents. Nestled along the southern Baja’s only fresh water river, Mulegé is mostly lush and green year round. There isn’t too much going here, but the location is key for those searching for some really untouched land along the Sea of Cortez. The village sits at the mouth of the Bahia Conception (a national marine preserve), and is a great starting point to discover the pristine waters and deserted coves of stunningly beautiful isolated beaches. The diving is excellent! The southern Baja is truly a treasure worth discovering.


Tlaquepaque –Mexico’s Shopping Paradise

by Lisa Coleman

Tlaquepaque…. Maybe you’ve seen the name before or maybe you’ve heard the clip of the syllables in passing, but if you’ve never experienced its enchanting shops, colorful buildings, quaint restaurants, and gorgeous handicrafts, you’ve missed one of Mexico’s true treasures. Tlaquepaque, (pronounced “tla-kay-PAH-kay”) is known throughout Mexico as the mecca for authentic arts, crafts and furniture. The combination of fine quality products and affordable prices brings shoppers from around the globe to this delightful “pueblito” (little town).

Not far from Guadalajara’s center, Tlaquepaque was once a separate town on the outskirts. Today growth has reached out and now it’s included as one the four municipalities (Tonalá, Zapopan, Guadalajara) that make up the metropolitan area. Though surrounded by Mexico’s second largest city, Tlaquepaque manages to retain the atmosphere of a colonial village. Winding down the narrow streets, the beauty lies beyond the facades. Lush greenery, tropical foliage, fountains and picturesque courtyards open up behind intricately hand-carved doors. Pedestrian arcades are lined with former mansions that now house galleries, fine restaurants, stylish cafes and amazing craft shops. Known for its innovative hand-blown glass, stoneware, ceramics, leather goods and colonial style furniture, you had better bring an extra suitcase to tote your findings home. And if you want to furnish the entire house, the local factories and stores are more than happy to arrange shipping. It can get pricey if you do it piece by piece, but if you make some good size purchases (enough to fill a large truck) it can very well be worth your while to consider it as an option for the majority of your home furnishings.

Tlaquepaque isn’t for those in search of hot nightlife and big hotels; this is a rather quiet place that embraces the traveler who wants a touch of culture and a big helping of charm. Life here revolves around shopping so restaurants have a tendency to close early. If you want to go out, you’ll have to head to Guadalajara (only about 15 minutes by cab) because Tlaquepaque itself is not traditionally a late night town. As for lodging, it’s quality not quantity here. Some of the most alluring (and unbelievably affordable) Bed and Breakfast hotels you can imagine lie hidden behind brightly colored doors just from the town center. Usually having eight to twelve rooms, these are some of the most wonderful places to stay in the country. Each with its own personality, you’ll feel as though you have been invited into the home of good friends. Cozy and special, these family-run establishments are something unique. I stayed at the lovely La Villa del Ensue o (the house of the dream), and a dream it was.

Still more shopping exists in neighboring Tonalá where an outdoor enormous outdoor market comes to life on Thursdays and Sundays. There are also plenty of shops as some of the craftsmen from Tlaquepaque have their factory stores here. At some point, you may actually tire of shopping. I heard it can happen but I have never personally discovered this phenomenon! Nonetheless there is plenty to do and see in the area. A tour of around the historic center of Guadalajara by horse drawn carriage is a must and well worth the taxi ride to town. A day spent touring the towns of Tequila and Amatitan visiting the Herradura Hacienda, Sauza, Cuervo and other distilleries, is a fascinating discovery on how Mexico’s famous drink is grown, harvested and produced. You may also want to visit the colonial town of Ajijic on the shores of Lake Chapala.

The people of Tlaquepaque refer to it as the “soul of Mexico,” I must say it certainly feels that way. So next time you want to travel some place just off the beaten path but filled with possibility, treat yourself to some time in this magical little town.