With all the bad news coming from Mexico these days, it’s easy to forget that if you choose your destinations with a bit of care, it’s still a beautiful and welcoming place to travel.
When you travel to Mexico you can find spectacular scenery, mind-blowing pre-Colombian ruins, and beautiful colonial cities and towns. Mexico has 32 sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List scattered throughout the country. It’s a country full of warm, friendly people who love to laugh, and there’s lots of great food to be had. And of course, there’s tequila. For those who would like to travel to Mexico armed with some knowledge that will set them apart from other turistas (knowing a little of the Spanish language goes a long way too), I’ve compiled a list, in no particular order, of facts and places of interest.
Get ready to travel to Mexico!
- We’re not the only United States. Mexico’s official name is Estados Unidos Mexicanos (United Mexican States). The country has 32 States. Unfortunately, 16 of them are currently under U.S. State Department travel advisories, but that still leaves many options for safe travel to Mexico. The list of states that our government recommends avoiding can be found here.
- Mexico formally abolished slavery in 1820, 53 years before the U.S.
- You can see the oldest olive trees in the Western Hemisphere. The town of Tzintzuntzan, in the state of Michoacán, in addition to having a really cool name, is home to the monastery of San Francisco, where you’ll find olive trees said to have been planted by Vasco de Quiroga in the 1500’s. There’s also a glass coffin housing a wax figure of Christ whose arms and legs, according to the locals, are continually growing – an extension was added to the coffin to accommodate them.
- View a volcano that ate two towns (slowly). On February 20, 1943, a farmer and his wife in Michoacán saw ash and stones erupting from a fissure in their field. The eruptions soon grew into a full-blown volcano, which slowly engulfed the villages of Paricutín and San Juan Parangaricutiro.
The residents of the two villages safely relocated to land nearby. The Paricutín volcano continued to erupt until 1952; it was the first time the entire life cycle of a volcano was witnessed by scientists. Today, when you travel to Mexico, you can hike to San Juan Parangaricutiro to see the remains of the town, including the church bell tower and altar, which were left exposed.
- There’s no worm in tequila, though sometimes you’ll find one in mezcal, which is made from a different variety of agave. “Tequila” is a controlled appellation: in order to bear that name, the spirit has to be produced in the state of Jalisco or in certain areas of 4 other states: Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit and Tamaulipas, the area surrounding the town of – that’s right: Tequila! Travelers in Mexico interested in learning about tequila’s production and history can take a trip on the José Cuervo Express, a train from Guadalajara to Tequila that allows visitors to tour distilleries, sample and purchase tequilas and other spirits, and return to Guadalajara without having to drive.
- Travel through Canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon. The Barranca del Cobre (Copper Canyon) is a group of canyons in the Sierra Madre Occidental in southwestern Chihuahua. The more remote areas are home to the Rarámuri, or Tarahumara, Indians, renowned for their endurance running. A popular train takes visitors from the city of Chihuahua through the canyons to the West Coast at Los Mochis.
- See amazing murals. From the 1920s to the 70s, a large number of murals were painted on public buildings in several cities. The most famous muralists of the era, Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siquieros, painted many masterpieces filled with social and political messages, which can be seen at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, the Hospicio Cabañas and the Jalisco Governmental Palace, both in Guadalajara, as well as many other sites.
- Great reefs for snorkeling & scuba diving can be found on both coasts, including areas in Veracruz and Quintana Roo on the Gulf Coast and Baja California Sur on the West Coast.
- Visit beautiful colonial cities. Visitors who find Mexico City a bit overwhelming can enjoy a number of charming smaller cities. San Miguel de Allende, Oaxaca, Mérida, and San Cristóbal de las Casas are a few fine examples.
- Indulge in the food, from simple to sophisticated. One of the perks when you travel to Mexico is that you can find great meals for all budgets, from small tacos made with double tortillas to hold their bulging contents, to complex and picturesque dishes such as chiles en nogada and an infinite variety of moles. The adventurous can also try different types of larvae, crickets, and other crawly things! Like many things in Mexico, there’s something for all tastes.