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Going loco in Mexico

Published March 14th, 2014

Beach playgrounds, trippy mystic ruins and the heaving humanity that is Mexico City aside, there’s a reason why sunlight-starved US students throw off their pale and pasty demeanours and inhibitions to go wild at Spring Break in Mexico – and it ain’t just the legal drinking age (it’s 18, btw).  It’s the opportunity to have an ah-mazing holiday in the tropics in a diverse country that abounds with beautiful beaches, awe-inspiring coastlines, hidden ancient ruins, spiritual finds, cultural festivities, traditional markets and all the yummy, gooey cheese-and chilli-laden cuisine you can handle. So, smooth your Frida monobrow, adjust your poncho, practise your Spanish and throw down on a 9-day Contiki Mexico Fiesta tour.

 

 

Mexico City

Touchdown in the capital first up. So yes, there’s lots of people, the population that comes with a teeming metropolis and, shall we say, a certain rep for corruption and crime. Don’t let that put you off. Scratch the surface to find a city with plenty of arty hipster barrios, boho haunts and sophisticated scenes. Do the queso (cheese) with a visit to Xochimilco canals and markets on a vibrantly hued longboat past mariachi bands where vendors hop from boat to boat with souvenirs. Get in touch with your spiritual side at Templo Mayor and the massive city of Teotohuacan with a glimpse into Mexico’s Aztec past and pyramids, then get a history lesson at the sinking Palacio Nacional where governmental walls are decorated with murals by Frida Kahlo’s main squeeze, Diego Rivera. For more on Frida, check out her Casa Azul (Blue House), which is filled with the famous Mexican’s art plus a beautiful garden.

 

 

Morelia

For more on the conquistador heritage of Mexico, hit up the Spanish colonial town of Morelia next. The UNESCO World Heritage listed centre is peppered with architecture from the 16th and 17th centuries. Named for the Mexican revolutionary, José María Morelos, the central Mexican town also has a great sweets and handicraft market (Mercado de Dulces y Artesanías) where you can sample the area’s famous confectionery – just follow the bees! Try ate (slow-cooked guava dusted with chilli and sugar), tequila-infused dulce de leche (crème caramel), candied coconut, tamarind balls and pure cacao. At night, there’s free shots of mezcal at the markets before the fireworks over the cathedral.

 

 

Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo

Balmy breezes, palm trees swaying, shimmering ocean and white sandy beaches - yeah, we’re at the Mexican Riviera, baby! Soak up the sun at the stunning Playa de Ropa, or rip up the beach on a ATV. You can even go kayaking in the ocean or ride along the beach on a horse. Nearby Zihuatanejo (a.k.a Zihua) is a laidback fishing village with plenty of traditional folky art, artisan studios and niche boutiques to peruse along cobblestone streets. In Ixtapa, splurge your pesos on high-end boutiques and the pumping after-hours scene and try the fresh seafood at friendly restaurants and cafes.

 

 

Acapulco

Famed as Hollywood’s playground in the ‘50s, Mexico’s original party town of Acapulco needs little introduction. It’s a spot full of retro hotels where Frank Sinatra, Elvis (Hello? Fun in Acapulco) and JFK used to play, plus the location where daredevil divers get their thrills plunging off the steep cliffs into the beautiful bay below in La Quebrada. You can also go on a buccaneer adventure here at the Fuerte de San Diego, which used to protect Spanish galleons from rogue Dutch and English pirates. After a day of sun and sightseeing, check out the night lights of this urban resort city where you can still experience the hedonistic ways of the Rat Pack et al.

 

 

Taxco

Travel over the Sierra Madre Mountains to the hillside town of Taxco de Alarcón for another slice of Mexican life. With its dramatic hilly backdrop and sloping cobblestone streets with charming stucco homes topped by terracotta roofs and abundant squares, Taxco is pretty as a picture and cute as a button with its VW Beetle cabs. This is also the spot to buy big trinkets and jewellery as Mexico’s silver capital. Watch artisans make the precious hammered metal pieces and intricate styles as they have for centuries. Taxco is also known for its regional delicacy of jumiles– a six-legged stink bug insect that enjoys its own festival every October (Jumil Fair). It’s eaten raw, roasted, fried and ground and has an acquired taste...

 

 

Handy phrases to know in Mexico:

¿Dónde está el baño? Where is the toilet?

¿Dónde está la tacqueria? Where is the taco stand?

¿Cuánto cuesta? How much does it cost?

Una cerveza fría, por favor. One cold beer, please.

¿Puedo tomar una foto? May I take a photo?

El queso está viejo u podrido. The cheese is old and mouldy. (Just kidding, that one’s from the  1992 film Encino Man, but hey, if it works...).

 

For more great Contiki around the world deals, head here.

 

Cassandra Laffey

Consumed with unrequited wanderlust, I get my fix in 24/7 cities and hippie retreats. I'm still looking for the ultimate combo of secluded beach and major metropolis, and my happy place is a 5-star hotel room all to myself - sigh.