5 PLACES: 5 DOs OR DON’Ts
Mexico City, Oaxaca, Puerto Escondido, San Cristobal de las Casas, Tulum
(January & February 2017)
25th March 2017
We recently spent three and a half weeks in Mexico. We started in Cancun, then went to Mexico City, onto Oaxaca, before stopping for a couple nights in San Jose del Pacifico. After here we went to Puerto Escondido where we celebrated Holly’s birthday, before heading to San Cristobal and heading back to the Yucatan province, via the jungle in Palenque to spend our final few days in Tulum.
I have picked out 5 places that we visited and have given you 5 things in each that we recommend you either do, or don’t do.
Since we loved our time in Mexico there are more “do’s” than “don’t’s”!
1. LUCHO LIBRE
One of the stereotypical images of Mexico is the masked wrestling spectacle known as Lucho Libre.
Our hostel (see No. 2) organised a trip to see this at the Mexico City Arena, and Holly and I had a fantastic evening of giant beers, ironic boos and cheers, pantomime villains and incredible choreographed moves.
2. HOSTEL MUNDO JOVEN CATEDRAL
If you zoom in on the Mexico City marker on the map, most will be located in the Plaza de la Constitucion (if you have seen the Bond Film Spectre, it is the large square at the start of the movie with all the Day of the Dead celebrations). Hostel Mundo Joven Cathedral is located right next to the Cathedral right behind this square, and features clean spacious dorms, free breakfast, premises security round the clock and to top it all off: a rooftop bar with an incredible view.
Note – Mexico City does not and has never held any parades on the Day of the dead – it was all Hollywood bullshit!! However after the release of the film, there are plans to start doing so – read more here!
Views of Mexico City from the Bar at Hostel Mundo Joven Catedral from the rooftop bar
Located around an hour drive from the city are the remains of a once powerful Mesoamerican City, named Teotihuacan.
Most notably the site contains two large pyramids, which unlike some other sites in Mexico you are allowed to climb up.
We had a great day exploring and taking some beautiful pictures. Aside from the usual collection of people relentlessly peddling shite you don’t want or need, be prepared to be accompanied by a chorus of puma cries made by the wooden mouth whistles made by the locals (also for sale). This was our favourite ruin site in all of Mexico.
4. SHOP FOR A CAMERA CHARGER
Holly lost hers in Cuba and was hopeful of being to easily replace once we got to Mexico City (after bombarding every Fujfilm owner she could find). Unfortunately not so easy. Really hard to find for sale – no one sells Fujifilm, and thus even harder to find at a good price. After wasting a day searching (Fujfilm not responding to calls or e-mails), we finally found only one shop that could get hold of one. It wasn’t in stock in the shop but after a phone call a bloke turned up with one in a plastic bag. We had no idea where he or the charger came from.
5. TAKE A TAXI
(Take an Uber instead – quicker, cheaper and safer – we took them everywhere including airport transfer and to Teotihuacan)
1. EAT CHAPULINES
Bowls of chapulines (grasshoppers) in Oaxaca, Mexico.
A delicacy in the state of Oaxaca and widely available, Chapulines are grasshoppers. Cooked until crisp and flavoured with spice and served with lime – they are surprisingly good if you can get past the idea of eating a grasshopper.
2. COOKING LESSON
We both love Mexican food, and Oaxaca state is widely regarded as the food capital of the country.
We took advantage of both to do a cooking school for an afternoon. We went to Oaxaca Cooking School ,and after a trip to the market to buy our fresh ingredients, made, amongst other things, a delicious black Mole sauce.
(OCS was 800 pesos each for the afternoon and includes transport, market shopping, lesson, dinner, wine and mezcal!)
Purchasing ingredients in the Markets with Oaxaca Cooking School, Oaxaca, Mexico
3. NOT EATING LUNCH BEFORE THE COOKING LESSON
The afternoon started at 2pm, and we assumed we would be eating late afternoon. As a result we skipped lunch in order to prepare for our feast. We didn’t eat until around 8pm; we were pretty hangry.
4. MERCADO TLACOLULA
The market is absolutely massive and the most authentic I have experienced in all of Mexico.
You walk through tunnels made of tarp into large warehouse buildings covering the range of wares on sale: live chickens, pig skin crackling bigger than a person, hanging meats, potted plants, local materials, pestle and mortars the size of your head, hot chocolate, fruit, vegetables, trinkets… just about anything, but none of it tacky or the same thing stall to stall – as you would find around Oaxaca town.
Mezcal is a Mexican drink made from any type of Agave plant native to Mexico. Oaxaca is known as the Mezcal capital of Mexico, with the most varieties, flavours and manufacturing techniques. Ranging from less than 50p per shot to £10, some varieties come with the Mezcal worm (gusano rojo) often found in the agave plant in the bottle for added flavour.
This worm is considered a delicacy in the region and often ground and added to food. We spent a few hours seeing away a bottle between us in a bar in Oaxaca.
(Decide for yourself if you want the worm – it adds a very strong distinctive edge – neither Holly nor I were fans).
Holding a tube of pricy Mezcal worms (gusano rojo) for cooking – yuck!
1. SPORT FISHING
There are tour operators all over the town offering the chance to go deep sea fishing in the fertile waters off the coast. They offer promises of Marlin, Swordfish and Sailfish. Neither Holly or I had ever fished before, but we were with Matt, one of the owners of a fish restaurant in Copenhagen (Hooked – check it out!). He convinced us, and we spent six hours out at sea.
We didn’t have a nibble all day and thought all was lost. On the verge of turning round we got two bites at once. One got away, and on the other line we reeled in a 38kg Sailfish.
The day turned from gutting disappointment to elation in seconds. The result? We ate like kings for the next week.
DO! (…if you can live with the risk of not catching anything).
We paid 1000 pesos (250 pesos each) for the boat trip and equipment with Disfruta la Pesca con Gume.
The steak from the 38kg Saifish we caught in Puerto Escondido, Mexico – after giving away half to the captain.
We were lucky to be guided by a huge pod of dolphins and countless turtles!
2. PLAYA CARRIZALILLO
A short taxi ride from the main centre of Puerto Escondido lies this stunningly beautiful beach – Playa Carrizalillo.
We spent two days there sunbathing, surfing and drinking fresh coconuts. Not a crowded beach, good surfs and with blue warm waters. Apart from the gruelling stair climb to get out (the beach is at the bottom of a cliff), what’s not to love?
3. LOCAL FOOD
Puerto is awash with restaurants geared toward tourists. Venture a little further out of town in any direction and you can find some fantastic local restaurants. Whilst they will typically only offer three or four dishes each day (they usually change each day – ask for the “Menu del Dia”) you can eat really cheaply, and in our experience the food is incredible.
Or, just perch yourself on a table on the Playa Principal, buy a few drinks and let the food sellers come to you! You can purchase anything from nuts and crisps to dulce bananas and 12 oysters for $1!
4. VISIT THE MAIN STRIP
We were staying a short (5 min) taxi ride from the tourist side of Puerto Escondido. The evenings were normally fairly quiet, with the pool table at the hostel we stayed at, Hostel Mayflower, seeing most of the action.
For Holly’s birthday evening we ventured to the bright lights of the centre – where we had a great night with a good mix of indoor dance floors and beach front party shacks.
It had that great balance of being lively, but not overcrowded or angsty. A good mix of locals and tourists drank together well and partied until the early hours
5. COOK FOR YOURSELF
We were under the illusion that cooking our own supermarket bought food would save us money.
Despite the fact that we had all our own fish to cook (see point 1!), we still spent significantly more than we would have had we dined out at the local restaurants in the town.
The simple fact is that good local food is so cheap in Mexico that if cost is your only concern it really doesn’t pay to use the hostel kitchen for your meals.
(Or, DO, as we did have some of the best food we have eaten in all of our trip, but I don’t think many people travel with someone so talented in the kitchen – Matt!)
SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS
San Cristobal is a wash with backpackers, many of which of a more ‘hippie’ variety. The roads are laden with organic shops selling food produce, to foot scrubs and discounted massage treatments and plenty of place to practice Yoga and meditation.
Other than the slow pace, which is purely personal, the instructor himself was great. There was only 4 of us in the class, two who spoke English and two who spoke Spanish. Every direction was given in two languages and he spent time correcting our postures. Definitely worth the dollar (or ‘peso’)!
70 pesos for 1.5 hours at Casa Plena
2. SAN JUAN CHAMULA CHURCH
San Juan Chamula Church is a church in a neighbouring village, around an hours taxi ride from San Cristobal, famed for (at least to us westerners) strange religious rituals performed by the locals.
The floor is covered in pine needles (slippy), families sit in small groups, knocking back fizzy soft drinks over the floor (as a substitute for their local rum: Pox), and sacrificing live chickens. An incredibly interesting, if not slightly bizarre, experience.
With two caveats:
1. Get a guide – we didn’t and couldn’t figure out what was going on.
2. Don’t go if your not comfortable with the idea of seeing a chicken being sacrificed.
3. GUADALUPE CHURCH
To the east of the cities cobbles, up a flight of stairs, lies the Guadalupe Church which has great view across the city.
4. GUADALUPE CHURCH AT NIGHT
It may be tempting to climb up to the church to see a view across San Cristobal at night.
The locals and guidebooks will tell you to avoid this, and we have heard a first hand account of a walk up at dusk having a sour outcome, with an attack on a group of girls just before they reached the church. A stark reminder of the need to take precautions in this amazing country.
5. COMIDA THAI
Lying a short walk from the centre lies the Thai restaurant Comida Thai. We were craving any food that wasn’t tacos and went to check it out.
Owned by a Thai lady living in San Cristobal, the food is out of this world. Pay heed to the signs warning that “the food is slow” – cooking everything from scratch takes time – time that it is definitely worth investing.
Follow it up with a 25 peso wine and tapas at La Viña de Bacco
A Cenote is basically a huge hole in the ground that creates a network of underground caves and passageways all filled with water. You can snorkel and scuba dive inside, and there are a host of eerie landscapes and fish that call them home. When in Tulum you have a host of Cenotes to choose from – we spent half a day at the Dos Ojos Cenote (so called because there are two holes (ojos – eyes) at the surface that are connected under the ground) and paid to do a snorkelling tour.
Turquoise waters and beautiful trees cover the cenotes of Dos Ojos, Tulum, Mexico.
2. ORGANISED CENOTES TOURS
Pretty much all the hostels will offer an organised tour to the Cenote of your choice with transport and snorkelling included. We opted against this and made our own way there (20 pesos in a collectivo each way), and paid to do a tour on the door. We overheard someone ordering a taxi for $15 on the way back.
3. LA EUFEMIA
On one of the many incredible white sandy beaches lies a beach front bar, serving cheap beer and incredible fish tacos (amongst other things). We spent a day there on hammocks, beach mattresses and sun loungers… and it was bliss.
4. CYCLE BACK
After a day of drinking we attempted to cycle the 8km back to our hostel (Hostel Che in the centre) on our rented bikes. A great idea, and a lovely cycle in the day time. At night, however, pretty much the whole way is lacking in lighting and is in almost complete darkness.
After a day of indulgence it is not recommended…(we saw a girl full on stack it…). We had some hairy moments. Either leave when its still light or take a taxi!
5. TULUM RUINS
Tulum has some ruins sat right on the beach. We cycled to them with the intention of having a look around (they look pretty incredible in pictures). However, we arrived to see a line longer that those for internet in Cuba. We tried to find our way round to the beach to see them without having to pay or wait to enter, however we found a secure fenced off perimeter to prevent such attempts. We gave up and left frustrated as we had been assured it was possible to see from the beach.
We later found out that to do so you have to approach from the North along the beach, and not along the main road from the resort to the south as we had done…
Cut the queues and cost and approach from the North
SAY HELLO, HOLA, CIAO, BONJOUR!
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