When I was a child, I remember gazing up at a huge map of the world displayed on the wall in my parents’ study, and being drawn to Mexico. I didn’t really know anything about it. I think it was probably the name that attracted me initially – a 3 syllable country with an X in the title. It sounded somehow bright and fun. Two things which happen to be absolutely true.
Mexico is more than just beautiful beaches, tequila and sombreros. It’s more than Cancun, all-inclusive resorts, tacos and guacamole. In reality, Mexico is a huge fricken country – and it can be difficult to plan, because unless you have limited time, you’re almost always gonna have to forego something. And you have to do your research. Unfortunately, certain parts of Mexico are not particularly safe, which makes consultation of travel warnings mandatory. But so long as you stick to the tourist areas, you should be pretty okay (but like all tourist areas, keep an eye on your pockets and bags).
We were fortunate in Mexico to meet up with a friend of the husband who was actually living in Mexico City. And he was not at all shy when it came to talking about safety. Initially meeting up with him in the capital, we were flying down to Ixtapa where his parents owned an apartment on the beach. For those that are familiar with The Shawshank Redemption, Ixtapa is the neighbouring city/town to Zihuatanejo – the beach town where Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins finally meet up at the end of the movie. While Zihuatanejo has obtained notoriety, Ixtapa is mostly frequented by local tourists, the beach is wild, and safety remains on the agenda. The advice given to us by the husband’s friend when we ended up arriving in Ixtapa separately from him – when getting a taxi from the airport, only use the official airport taxis. Do not use the private or unaffiliated taxis if you want to avoid being taken on a joyride to the outer limits of the city and lose your wallet.
Which brings me to the next point. Why were we flying to Ixtapa separately from the rest of the group? Well. Let me be perfectly clear. Mexico City airport – for domestic flights anyway – is a fricken nightmare and the sole reason why all 6 of us ended up missing our flight. If you’re connecting through Mexico City or travelling to another city in Mexico you’ll likely encounter the somewhat unique boarding system. See, when they call you for boarding, there are 4 or so “sub-gates” within your gate. For example, you might be boarding from Gate 16 – but so are flights to Oaxaca, Guadalajara and Acapulco. And each of these are allocated sub-gate A, B, C or D, which are all lined up next to each other like cattle rows. So, at boarding time, you each scan your boarding pass which lets you into your cattle row and then you follow the queue down into a big holding area – with all the other people from all 4 domestic flights. Then, you stand and wait, in a crowded, noisy, room until they call your flight. So, we waited, all 6 of us, until finally, one of us noticed that the flight to Ixtapa had stopped showing on the screen, and had in fact left. None of us heard a call to board, even the Spanish speakers missed it. In fact, we’re all pretty sure there wasn’t one. But that is how we all ended up on different flights. Moral of the story? Prepare for chaos. Listen bloody carefully. And when boarding, get to front.
If venturing to Mexico City itself, remember one thing (although it will be impossible to forget once you’re there). It’s huge. The city has almost 9 million people itself. And it sprawls for miles – the traffic is something else. Always ensure you allow extra time to get ANYWHERE if travelling by car. We travelled by car to and from the airport, but also out to the pyramids Teotihuacan with a driver we arranged through our hotel (partially due to laziness, partially due to safety – it is possible to get to the pyramids using public transport). At the pyramids, be prepared for crowds as it’s a popular place with tour groups and school groups. Bring a hat and slip, slop, slap as it’s very exposed and gets HOT, damn HOT.
In the overly popular era of “food tourism” Mexico is one of those destination that attracts people who just want to eat. It’s undeniable, the food is fantastic. Fish tacos in La Paz, chicken with mole sauce in Oaxaca, chicken with chocolate sauce in Oaxaca, actually, just all of the food available in Oaxaca will make you never want to leave the city (or its market for that matter). The market in Oaxaca is sweating with its scent of spices and chocolate, barbecued meats, vendors making tortillas before your eyes. In fact, the husband and I loved Oaxaca so much that in the 5 days we spent there, we only left the city for actual “tourist attractions” once. The rest of the time was spent wandering the markets, tasting the food, sipping Mezcal and watching the impromptu street fiesta which popped up late one afternoon, with music, dancing and a parade where the locals encouraged us to sip some kind of fermented fruit wine straight from the bottle they were clutching.
But getting back to the food. So yes, it is fantastic. However, unless you have a digestive system made of iron or steel, I’m sorry, but you are gonna feel the effects of its deliciousness. Even the husband who generally tolerates everything pretty well, spent a day or two making unexpected urgent dashes to the bathroom, which even immodium couldn’t seem to combat. You can eat at the most expensive, cleanest restaurants, and it won’t matter. The thing is, you don’t feel sick or unwell with it – so you want to continue trying all the wonderful food, but the after effects can sometimes threaten to ruin your sightseeing or your sleep. For someone with my stomach, going back I wouldn’t think twice about taking immodium preventatively, and would also ensure I was well stocked up with antibiotics such as cephalexin or norfloxacin (which fight travels diarrhoea) if only to avoid having to send the husband to request more toilet paper from the hotel reception in the middle of the night.
If you’re looking for some relax time with an option to party in between, recommended is Cabo San Lucas in Baja California. A steady nightlife for those so inclined, including party boats, and a multitude of restaurants with plenty of room for families, plus there’s always the option of a sunset yacht ride.
Remember, Mexico is big and there is a tonne of things to explore. When planning our trip we had to drop plans for the likes of Copper Canyon and Guadalajara. The difficult thing if returning, is deciding which places you also want to go back to. Mexico is fabulous. The people are friendly, the Spanish is slower, and there is always time for a beer in a bar. What more could you possibly want!
- Pack your pills (immodium, norfloxacin) basically anything to help you from running to the toilet all day long.
- Pay close attention in Mexico City airport.
- There is much more to the cuisine than tacos & margaritas.
- There is much more to the country than Cancun & Acapulco.
- Check travel warnings for particular regions before you go.