25/05/2024

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Beyond Beaches: The Fascinating Culture & History of Mexico

4 min read
Beyond Beaches: The Fascinating Culture & History of Mexico

It’s easy to take a trip to Cancun or Tulum and tune into a playlist of sun, surf, tacos and tequila on loop. Who could blame you? With a 5,800 mile coastline spanning the Pacific and the Caribbean, plus a gorgeous slice of the Sea of Cortez, Mexico offers irresistibly diverse beach destinations.

While a beach vacation at a world-class resort is always a good idea, we suggest you extend your stay for some thrills and surprises away from the shoreline. Here are three curated experiences to start you off on a deep dive into the incredible history, culture and traditions of Mexico.

Mission Mole: Feast on the Flavors and History of Oaxaca 

From burritos to birria, Mexican flavors are fun, spicy and addictive. But their roots run deep. Celebrated by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, Mexican food is a holistic journey of communal participation in the entire traditional food chain, from planting and harvesting to cooking and eating.

Beyond Beaches: The Fascinating Culture & History of Mexico

Our top choice for a standalone foodie vacation is Mexico’s extraordinary culinary capital, Oaxaca City. Known as ‘The Land of the Seven Moles’, the culinary history of Oaxaca has strong indigenous roots, led by the Zapotec and Mixtec tribes. Book a five hour personalized tour along with a home-cooking class, led by a Zapotec woman to get an authentic feel of Oaxaca’s history, culture and gastronomy.

Visit lively local markets to pick out fresh chili peppers, agave, black beans, Oaxacan cheese, huitlacoche (corn smut, your new favorite ingredient), and even chapulines (grasshoppers) if you’re feeling adventurous. Snack on memela – a thick tortilla topped with pork lard, refried beans, crumbly cheese and choripapa (potatoes and chorizo), while your hostess narrates stories of her traditions and indigenous culture, including the unique Day of the Dead celebrations when the women serve tamales and atoles (warm cornmeal drinks) to guests.

Oaxaca traditional food
Quesillo Oaxaca Cheese

Make aromatic memories in a quaint local Oaxaca kitchen while grinding spices with a stone mortar and pestle, charring chili peppers, folding quesadillas and preparing a mole under her watchful eye. The tour concludes with a group meal on the patio, paired with smoky, fragrant mezcal poured in copitas (small clay cups). Salud!

Walk in the Footsteps of the Maya

Great Sorcerer's Pyramid, Uxmal

If you’re planning a Cancun summer getaway on the Yucatán Peninsula, we suggest you extend that beach fiesta to explore the traditions, culture and history of Mexico. From Chichen Itza and Tulum to Coba and Ek Balam, Yucatan’s Mayan ruins may already be on your agenda. Allow us to nudge you towards a rare gem, the ancient city of Uxmal (Oosh-Mawl). The Mayan ruins at this off-the-radar UNESCO World Heritage site are as archaeologically significant as Chichen Itza, and Tikal in Guatemala.

Settle into a luxurious resort set in a former plantation estate before heading out to retrace the steps of the Mayans. Admire the imposing Step Pyramid of the Dwarf and the incredible acoustics at the Nun’s Quadrangle. Marvel at some of the finest specimens of Mayan Puuc architecture, stone sculptures at the House of the Turtles, the upper temples of the Pyramid of the Magician, and the imposing House of the Governor.

Uxmal, Mexico
Beyond Beaches: The Fascinating Culture & History of Mexico

Experience a marvelous example of Mayan engineering as you travel on the sacbé from Uxmal to the nearby site of Kabah. This ancient 11-mile elevated road, paved with “sascab” (limestone sand found in the Yucatan), takes you to the fantastical Codz Poop (Palace of the Masks). Giggle at the name now, but prepare to be dazzled by this ancient ceremonial temple with a facade of 250 masks of the Mayan rain god, Chac. Round off your Mayan history tour with a sumptuous lunch at a local restaurant.

Mexico City: Historical and Hip

The capital of Mexico is famous for its historic center. You can spend a relaxed weekend exploring 13th century Aztec temples, baroque monuments and the impressive National Palace.

Beyond Beaches: The Fascinating Culture & History of Mexico

Modern-day Mexico is amazingly sophisticated, and has a lot to offer in the form of world-class museums, luxury hotels, chic cafes, upscale restaurants and stylish bars. Check into one of the city’s most fashionable hotels, Las Alcabos, in the upscale residential colonia of Polanco, which is often described as ‘Mexico’s Beverly Hills’. Savor a fabulous meal, indulge in some retail therapy, visit Chapultepec Park or enjoy an evening of dance and music at the beautiful Palacio de Bellas Artes. Art and culture aficionados must visit the Museo Nacional de Antropología and Museo Frida Kahlo, also known as Casa Azul for its striking cobalt blue exterior.

Soak in the bohemian vibe of the districts of Roma and Condesa, which are less than 10 minutes away from Polanco. A guided walking tour of their bars and galleries is the best way to experience these trendy neighborhoods.

Roma’s renaissance is especially noteworthy. Once an upper-class district, it fell on hard times after the 1985 earthquake. Now full of Art Deco mansions, colorful street art and vibrant restaurants, it is a hip hangout. Grab a coffee and muffin from Panadería Rosetta and stroll across Plaza Villa de Madrid, enjoying the jacaranda blooms and stopping at the statue of Cibele, the goddess of Nature.

Spend a few hours visiting eclectic pop-up markets, cafes in art nouveau buildings, vintage bookstores and taco stands. A tailor-made tour of Mexico’s modern financial capital adds a fresh, contemporary dimension to your journey into the intriguing culture and traditions of Mexico. Once you’re hooked, you’ll never stick only to the beaches again. Hasta luego, amigo!

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