by Alisha Lockie
When telling people I was planning my honeymoon in Mexico it attracted some mixed reactions and definitely more than a few comments about safety, drugs and cartels. It’s such a shame that these are some of the first things that seem to spring to peoples’ mind when they think of Mexico because it is such a mind-blowingly beautiful country with so much to offer!
This was mine and my husband’s second trip to Mexico, and this time we chose to focus on Mexico City, followed by the colonial heartland of Mexico just to the north (Queretaro, San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato), home to the independence movement of Mexico.
Our last visit was a backpacking trip, and I absolutely loved it, so I was eager to see whether much had changed and to experience things from a slightly different perspective and of course see some different parts of Mexico. My first impression on arriving into Mexico City and driving through the city to our hotel in the Centro Historico was one of vibrancy and colour, the whole city felt so vivid and alive.
Mexico City has to be one of the most exciting cities in the world – every day we enjoyed watching people go about their daily business: getting their shoes shined, perusing the paper in the sun in the Alameda or wiling away the time at road-side taco stands enjoying fresh, authentic local cuisine. There were a million different stories playing out every minute and we loved enjoying breakfast or an afternoon cerveza while taking it all in.
One of our first impressions of Mexico City (and in fact of everywhere we travelled in Mexico) was that there were hardly any tourists anywhere. It didn’t feel like there were any gimmicky things put on just for the benefit of tourists, which gave a real feel of authenticity. We also felt very safe in the Centro Historico, it was well lit and clean and in all honesty it felt much safer than Los Angeles where we’d just come from, or even Christchurch our hometown. Plus the people in Mexico are just gorgeous, these have to be some of the friendliest, kindest people in the world.
One of our Mexico City highlights was wandering through the weekend markets close to the Zocalo. There was so much colour, life and hustle and bustle and definitely an all around assault on the senses with delicious aromas and energetic music helping to set the scene.
We also absolutely adored Xochimilco, which has a canal network often referred to as Mexican Venice. We cruised along the canals admiring the scenery with to the soundtrack of Mariachi bands on neighbouring boats, it was fantastic!
Our next stop was stunning Queretaro, where we stayed as a base to explore the nearby ‘Pueblo Magico’ of Bernal and to climb the imposing Pena de Bernal, the worlds tallest monoliths. We weren’t expecting much of Queretaro but we quickly fell in love with the charming cobblestone streets framed by sunset coloured colonial casas, bougainvillea and leafy sunlit plazas. It was hard to believe we weren’t in a quiet town somewhere in Tuscany or Spain!
The town of Bernal more than lived up to its magic town moniker. Pena de Bernal is supposed to have magic powers, and after a rewarding climb up I kind of believe it! It could have just been the endorphins after a challenging hike, but I think there could be some truth to the stories of magic and magnetic energy that is said to emanate from Pena. Enjoying the sunset from the rooftop hot tub at our boutique hotel with a cerveza after the climb was the perfect way to finish off the day.
Next up we moved on to San Miguel de Allende. We had heard it was the jewel in the crown of this area, and with its colonial architecture, arty vibe, and of course more of those stunning cobblestone streets it did not disappoint. One thing that really stood out to me was the colours, everything was painted in rustic sunset colours of terracotta and rust which was just stunning.
One thing we didn’t do, was a hot air balloon ride from San Miguel. Watching the sunrise over the vibrant colours of San Miguel is a must and I’m so disappointed we missed this – my advice is book early with your Eclipse Travel consultant to avoid missing out.
This whole region is well known for its wine and cheese and also natural hot springs, so along with the obvious attractions of charming colonial scenery, it’s also a foodie haven (much like the rest of Mexico although just in a different way!) and a great spot for relaxation. I’d highly recommend stopping in at a winery and sampling some of the local wines while you enjoy the local scenery.
Perhaps due to the thriving expat and artist community in San Miguel there is also a great vegan and vegetarian scene, and of course there are many gorgeous rooftop bars which are the perfect setting for enjoying the sunset and warm evening air with a local wine, michelada or cerveza.
Guanajuato was another highlight, and possibly my favourite of the three heartland towns we visited. The city is set on rolling hills, so wherever you are it feels like you have a view of something beautiful. The buildings here were of all colours, not just the terracotta’s of Queretaro and San Miguel. And the city, while still feeling very safe, had a somewhat grittier vibe.
Everywhere we walked there were gorgeous plazas populated by locals stopping to enjoy the sunshine, a coffee or cerveza and watching the world go by. European style churches and fountains are dotted throughout the city, as well as a network of underground tunnels and mines.
In Guanajuato (like everywhere we visited) we enjoyed excellent food and drink, and we also paid a visit to one of the city’s more morbid attractions, the Mummy Museum. This quirky attraction houses a number of naturally mummified bodies that were interred during a cholera outbreak in Mexico City. This was a truly sobering experience, but I would highly recommend a visit.
The abundance of quirky and authentic boutique hotels is also a highlight of this area. There are gorgeous options from 2 to 5 star, many of which are converted mansions or casas which allow you to get a feel for the layout and architecture of the local buildings. We were surprised to find after entering many buildings from the street that within the doors there were courtyards with mature trees and beautiful rooftop gardens and terraces. Each building hosts its own labyrinth of beauty and mystery.
My husband and I found that English wasn’t widely spoken outside of our hotels, but armed with the Google Translate app and our Lonely Planet guide to Mexican Spanish we had no troubles. In fact it was quite a fun ‘team-building’ experience working together every night to decode menus and learning phrases to impress the locals. The people are honestly so accommodating and kind that we never felt too embarrassed or afraid to try out our very rudimentary Spanish and it often resulted in some laughs and plenty of Spanglish!
If you love Europe, food, drink and stunning scenery (but hate crowds and tourists) then I would without a doubt recommend a visit to this fabulous and underrated region.
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