Lots of friends have asked me for tips for going to Mexico. The first thing that comes to mind is the route. Coming from Europe, I would recommend you to take a non-stop flight from Europe rather than transit in the US. All non-stop flights are listed below (recommended transit points from Helsinki in italics).
- Air Comet from Madrid
- Air France from Paris Charles de Gaulle
- British Airways from London Heathrow
- Iberia from Madrid
- KLM from Amsterdam
- Lufthansa from Frankfurt am Main
- Mexicana from London Gatwick
- Aeroméxico from Barcelona, Madrid, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Rome Fiumicino
Paris Charles de Gaulle is a nightmarish airport where they always lose my luggage, so I wouldn’t go there (which is unfortunate since I like Aeroméxico’s long-distance flights, but they don’t have a Finnish alliance partner yet) .
Finnair unfortunately co-operates with Iberia, whose long-haul flights to Latin America should be avoided like the plague unless of course price becomes an issue. There’s a reason why we nickname Iberia “Siberia”.
What to see
Take into consideration that Mexico is huge in European terms: almost 6 times the land area of Finland, and the largest state is slightly larger than the UK(there’s 31 and a Federal District). Furthermore, large swathes of the country are very abrupt terrain, so no wonder distances are usually measured in hours, not kilometres. That’s why it’s probably a good idea to divide the country in different sections and try to tackle it piece by piece rather than in one gulp like most guidebooks do: Central Mexico, Yucatán Peninsula & Chiapas, Gulf coast, Western Mexico and the North.
Getting around is easier by plane or bus. There’s only a few railroads.
Since you’ve already arrived in Mexico City, that’s the first place you should explore first. Tales of impending Apocalypse due to crime, high-altitude and pollution are highly exaggerated. Although you do have to be careful at night and always take a taxi from the marked “sitios” rather than the street, if you’ve survived New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, London, Paris or Shanghai you’ll definitely do at least the same here. Below a recommended itinerary (if that’s not enough, there’s always Monocle’s recommendations)
- 1st day: rest, it’s a long way and the high altitude will take its toll if you’re already tired.
- 2nd day: Turibus in Mexico City, great way to discover downtown and start to get oriented.
- 3rd day: Anthropology Museum, one of the best in the world (not my quote).
- 4th day: Downtonw, Chapultepec Park & National history museum
- 5th day: Pyramids in Teotihuacán
A lot of people also want to visit the beach when they go to Mexico, and with coasts in both the Atlantic & the Pacific there’s plenty of places to choose from. I’m only listing the big resorts here, there’s plenty of smaller towns to choose from.
- Acapulco is the closest from Mexico City and great for the nightlife. The beach is so-so (I’d only stay at a hotel at Revolcadero beach outside of the bay).
- Ixtapa is great for relaxing, but there’s not much more there. Two hours away from Acapulco by car.
- Manzanillo is also a very beautiful, relaxing place. I haven’t been there in some time so I can’t say really how it is now.
- Puerto Vallarta is quite nice as well, but for some reason it has never been one of my favourites.
- Huatulco has great nature and is the one beach resort in Mexico I think fits European tourists best, but would recommend flying unless you do a tour of Oaxaca as well which happens to be my favourite city in Mexico.
- Los Cabos is very scenic. It is also a little bit more expensive than other beach resorts.
- Mazatlán is probably the only famous beach town in the country where I have never been, so can’t say much.
- Some people go to Veracruz for the beach, but I think that’s not a reason to go there. The old city itself is much better than the beach.
- Cancún has great nightlife and the beach is beautiful, but it’s like going to the States. I’d rather stay in one of the smaller places in the area.
If you’re interested in history Mexico is the place to be. For starters, there’s plenty of Precolumbian Mesoamerican sites around the country besides Teotihuacán. Some of my favourite include:
- Yucatán Peninsula & Chiapas: Palenque, Chichén Itzá, Uxmal, Tulum. I’m dying to go to Bonampak.
- Oaxaca state: Monte Albán, Mitla. Haven’t yet visited Zaachila.
- Central Mexico: Templo Mayor in Mexico City, Cacaxtla, Cuicuilco.
- Northern Mexico: I haven’t been neither to Paquimé nor to La Quemada yet.
- Western Mexico: I haven’t been yet to Tzintzuntzan.
- Gulf coast: El Tajín. Furthermore, you can see good collection of Olmec heads at the Parque-Museo de La Venta in Villahermosa.
The country is also littered with many Spanish colonial sites, big and small. Some cities and towns not to miss:
- Yucatán Peninsula & Chiapas: San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mérida, Valladolid.
- Oaxaca state: Oaxaca
- Central Mexico: San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Querétaro, Cuernavaca.
- Western Mexico: Guadalajara, Tlaquepaque, Morelia.
- Northern Mexico: Zacatecas, Real de Catorce, Todos Santos.
- Gulf coast: Veracruz, Campeche.
Of course there’s a lot of places missing, but this is a start.
If you want to have a better idea of what is there, you can check my Mexico trip photos and videos:
- Mexico City & Los Cabos
- Mexico City, Acapulco, some other places in between and Cancún
- Mexico City, Northern Mexico & the Gulf coast
- Mexico City & Acapulco
- Cancún & Mexico City
Being such a huge and varied country, there is defnitely nice landscapes and natural attractions to be enjoyed. Those that I’ve seen or have been recommended include:
- Yucatán Peninsula & Chiapas: Agua Azul waterfalls, Montebello lagoons, cenotes, Isla Holbox, Cozumel coral reefs.
- Oaxaca state: Huatulco untouched bays.
- Central Mexico: Popocatépetl volcano, Tepoztlán, La Marquesa National Park, Ixtapan de la Sal springs.
- Western Mexico: Bahía de Banderas, Lake Pátzcuaro, Monarch butterfly reserve.
- Northern Mexico: Copper Canyon, whale watching in Guerrero Negro, Cola de caballo waterfall.
- Gulf coast: Texolo waterfall, Jalcomulco rapids near Xalapa.
What to buy
Mexican handcrafts are a must, with varied textiles, pottery, silverware, glass, woodcarvings, and the like (I recommend buying direct from the crafters or at Fonart stores) but with the emergence of modern design in the country there is also some interesting stuff going around. Monocle had a couple of interesting local designers in their Mexico report.
If you speak Spanish (not essential, but it does make life much easier), books are also a good idea. Music, either traditional or modern, might also be interesting.
What to eat
The list is endless, and yummy. Just remember that what you probably consider Mexican food is nowhere to be found in Mexico itself. Please avoid street stalls even if they look great and drink only bottled water. We don’t want you to hit a snag.
When to go
Any time is a good time as long as you give yourself some slack to do what you want to do. Might be good to check the local festivities. Just take into consideration that the summer is usually rainy and the hurricane season runs from June to November, so check your weather forecast.
If you’re a Finn, I also recommend checking the information provided by the Finnish embassy in Mexico City before going there. It does solve quite a few doubts from the Finnish perspective: