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Gruesome reports of decapitated bodies, kidnapped Americans, and cartel shootouts - these days it’s hard to read anything about Mexico that doesn’t relate to drug-related violence. Even popular tourist destinations like Acapulco and Cancun have made news headlines.  And while violence is an issue travelers should take into consideration, especially in border cities like Ciudad Juarez and Monterrey, it has become an outright U.S. media obsession.


Despite the media’s trend, there are plenty of areas of this beautiful country to visit that have not been affected by the violence.


DFMy central Mexico trip started in Mexico City, the Distrito Federal or D.F. as it is more commonly known.  It was overcast as the plane landed, so I didn’t get a good look at the city until making it up to the Torre Mayor, the tallest building in D.F. I spent almost an hour on the observation deck, it just took that long to take the enormity of the city in.

 

 

 

 

 

Museo De Bellas ArtesMexico City has so much to see, it’s impossible to do it all in a few days.  As the largest city in the Americas (and the third most populous in the world) I knew D.F. was going to be big, but it far surpassed my expectations. Starting on the Paseo de Reforma we walked to the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes to see the murals of Diego Rivera and José David Alfaro Siqueiros. From there we headed to the Zocalo, the city center square, one of the biggest in the world.  Our trip coincided with the end of Mexico’s Bicentenario celebration, and the bright red, green and white decorations and lights had not yet been taken down.

 

 

 

 

Plaza De ConstitucionThe Plaza de la Constitución is surrounded by historic buildings and sites, including the National Palace, from which the president makes his annual Independence Day “yell,” the Metropolitan Cathedral, and behind that stands the Templo Mayor – the ruins of an ancient Aztec temple.  Vendors set up outside the cathedral offering everything from tacos el pastor, fresh fruit, jewelry and handbags; you can even pay for a traditional spiritual cleansing ceremony.

 

Spiritual Cleansing Ceremon


We took a short bus ride from downtown to Coyoacán, a bohemian area southwest of the city. Plaza Hidalgo, the main square in Coyoacán, is usually packed with buskers and street vendors.  The plaza has plenty of bars and cafes with outdoor seating, perfect for people watching.


Frida Kahlo HouseThe Frida Kahlo Museum is a must-see for a stop in Coyoacán.  La Casa Azul is where Frida was born, grew up, and spent the last years of her life.  The bright blue U-shaped house encircles a courtyard and holds Frida’s artwork and personal belongings, as well as paintings, photographs and prints from her husband Rivera and other artists. One area of the house that particularly stood out was her bedroom.  Frida was involved in a streetcar accident at 18 that left her spine horrifically injured and required a number of surgeries.  Affixed to her bed is the painted plastic back brace she was forced to wear daily, and the mirror hung under the canopy so she could paint self-portraits while recuperating.


On our second day in Mexico, we hit the road to San Miguel de Allende, a small town about two and a half hours north of D.F. San Miguel’s hippie vibe stems from the number of artist colonies that were founded there in the 1950s, including the famous Instituto de Allende. With its cobblestone streets, colonial charm, and laid-back atmosphere, it’s easy to see why so many American expats and retirees have made it their home.

 

 


San Miguel 2Driving is next to impossible in San Miguel’s narrow alleys, so as soon as we booked a room in a local posada, or inn, we ditched the car and headed off on foot.  After having a dinner of tortilla soup, enchiladas suizas (enchiladas in red sauce) and Negra Modelo micheladas (beer mixed with a shot of tomato juice, lime, and chili) we wandered around the El Jardín, the main square, and into the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel, the stunning, pink granite parish that is iconic to the town. While there is a nightlife to speak of in San Miguel, our plans for taking some banderitas, (shots of tequila, lime juice, and tomato juice – green, white, and red just like the Mexican flag) were cut short by torrential downpours.


Leaving San Miguel the next morning armed with a bag of super sweet Mexican candies, we headed on to Guanajuato, the last stop on our trip.  Guanajuato is the capital city of the state that bears the same name and it is where much of the Mexican Revolution was fought.


PipilaAlhondiga2The bloodiest battle took place at the stone granary called the Alhóndiga de Granaditas, where Spanish soldiers led by Miguel Hidalgo had taken refuge. A young Mexican miner named Juan Martínez, also known as El Pípila, set fire to the doors, allowing the Mexicans inside to slaughter the Spaniards. Today the Alhóndiga is a museum and features murals and other artwork.  There is a statue of Pípila, a tribute to the Mexican rebel, atop a hill at the edge of the city. For a few pesos you can ride a funicular railway to the top for a fantastic view of the city.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


One of the best things you can do in Guanajuato at night is see the estudiantinas – strolling minstrel groups that tour the city’s cobblestone streets while playing music and telling jokes and stories about the city.  The estudiantinas gather outside El Jardín Union on weekend nights.  The tours are given entirely in Spanish, but you don’t need to be fluent to follow along.


EstudiantinasThe most memorable stop on the route is the Callejón de Besos, the alley of kisses.  Before making your way down callejón, the musicians share the legend of two young lovers that lived on either side of the alleyway, forbidden to see each other. The couple met a tragic end when the girl’s disapproving father caught them sneaking out to meet one night. As the legend goes, when you pass through the alley, couples must kiss on every third step to avoid a lifetime of bad luck in love.


After our few days of touring the central colonial towns, it was back to Mexico City for a night and then home to the U.S.  So if Mexico is on your travel radar, try to look beyond the lure of all-inclusive beach vacations – and the headlines.



©Kristen Hamill

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