The word Mexico can conjure up images of poverty and dustbowls, revolutionaries and short-lived presidencies, and currently one of the worst illegal drug problems in the world. Hopefully, this image of Mexico will soon be a thing of the past, as an emerging middle-class and intense financial investment initiatives raise expectations of the country becoming the world’s fifth largest economy by the year 2050.
Mexico has a rich culture and long-standing traditions, enjoyed and sustained by the greatest concentration of Spanish speakers anywhere in the world. The country is the largest in South America, being comprised of 31 different states and one federal district. Mexico’s history is one of violence, exploration and conquest. In this turbulent country some of the world’s most famous ancient civilizations sprung up, most notably the Aztecs and Mayans, only to be displaced by the Spanish, who came to Mexico in search of riches and empire expansionism. It is to explore this rich history that many vacationers now travel to Mexico; much of Mexico’s past is still above ground, even from really ancient times, so there is plenty for tourists to see.
It is unknown which culture founded the city at Teotihuacan, although it is believed to have been occupied by the Aztecs and Toltecs during its history. It is a religious site – its names translates as ‘where the gods are created’ – and is most well-known for its huge step pyramids. The tallest, ‘The Pyramid of the Sun’, stands 75 meters high. This ancient city is so huge, it is estimated that only 10% has been excavated. It is one of Mexico’s most popular tourist attractions and is also home to several museums.
The Mayans, perhaps most famous for their calendar predicting the end of the world, have left us Chichen Itza, an incredibly well-preserved site containing two cities, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located in the Yucatan Peninsula, the ruins include a circular observatory called El Caracol, El Castillo and the Warriors’ Temple. Chichen Itza is thought to have been established between the 6th and 9th centuries AD by the Mayans, and was taken over by the Toltecs during the 10th century.
Moving forward to the time of the Spanish conquest, San Juan de Ulua is a 16th century fortress that was constructed to protect the port of Veracruz. As the Spaniards’ main port, it had 3-foot thick walls of stone and was defended with 250 cannons. It proved its defensibility in 1568 when an English fleet attempted to dock there, resulting in the Battle of San Juan de Ulua, which the Spanish won. Tourists can now tour the prison cells and walk around its defensive perimeter, with guides available in both Spanish and English.
There are plenty of flights available to Mexico, with some airlines, such as Air Transat, offering some great deals. Once in the country, the visitor has the choice of taking a themed tour. These include day trips of varying lengths from Cancun or Merida to Chichen Itza, guided tours to Teotihuacan, and journeys to the small, but packed, town of La Paz with its historic buildings and artists quarter. Other tours include lengthier trips, such as the 12-day Mayan Trail or the 32-day Central American Journey.