The Cascadas de Agua Azul are a series of waterfalls found on the Xanil River in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. They are located in the Municipality of Tumbalá, 40 miles from Palenque and 80 miles from San Cristobal de las Casas. The waterfalls get their name, Agua Azul (meaning Blue Water), perhaps rather obviously because the water thundering down has a bright blue hue. Their incredible colour is in fact because of the high mineral content of the water which deposits itself on the rock. The limestone-rich deposits also give the waterfall an interesting, undulating shape. In the rainy season, when water pounds down the falls with a higher intensity and picks up silt, the blue colour is less obvious, but the cascades are impressive nonetheless. At the entrance to the falls, where the water pools, you can generally swim and enjoy the view of the cascades from below. There are also other areas higher up the falls where you can cool off in the clear waters. Visitors can also climb the man-made path up the side of the waterfall, where it's possible to see how smaller falls join together to create the larger cascade that pours down in the pools at the bottom. The power of nature is clearly visible by the trees clinging to the banks by just their roots at a 90-degree angle. The farther up you get the more you can enjoy the falls away from the hustle and bustle of people and market stalls.
Bacalar sits in the extreme south of Quintana Roo (the south-eastern state near the Belize border that makes up about half of the Yucatan Peninsula and borders the beautiful Caribbean Sea). It’s on Lake Bacalar, also called the Lagoon of Seven Colours due to its blue and turquoise hues. Fuerte de San Felipe is an 18th-century fort that now houses a piracy museum displaying colonial-era weapons and artifacts. The colonial San Joaquín Parish Church has a vaulted ceiling. To the south is Cenote Azul, a small, deep lake with underwater caves which offer a once-in-a-lifetime cavern diving experience. At 90 meters or 295 feet, this cenote is one of the deepest in the Yucatán and boasts stunning illuminated caverns.
Balamkú (meaning Jaguar God), a small Mayan archaeological site located just a few miles from Calakmul in the state of Campeche, has the largest surviving stucco frieze found at any of the excavated Mayan settlements. The Four Kings Frieze is protected from the sun and inclement weather in the House of the Jaguar. There are three groups of buildings in Balamkú – the Central (The Temple of the Jaguar), Southern (four small plazas) and Northern groups (unexcavated as yet).
Located in Campeche, Mexico, Calakmul is only 22 miles from the Guatemala border. Located within a protected UNESCO Biosphere and a UNESCO site itself, Calakmul has vast jungle, monkeys, and over 230 species of birds. Remote and beautiful, the Calakmul Ruins is a unique settlement that deserved its award for its cultural and environmental importance. Calakmul is one of the most structure-rich sites within the Maya region and the site contains 117 stelae in paired sets representing both rulers and their wives. The largest water reservoirs are on this site, over 8 sacbes (raised paved road built by the Maya) can be walked to various structures, and one of the highest pyramids in the region is the main pyramid standing at 148 feet.
San Francisco de Campeche, or Campeche as it’s known locally, is a city in one of the safest states in Mexico and also one of the country’s most scenic. The city is one of the most charming and least-visited gems on the Gulf of Mexico. It is a Mexican port city on the Gulf of Mexico known for its preserved baroque colonial buildings, military architecture and walled historic district. In response to pirate attacks, the city was fortified in the 17th century and 2 hilltop fortresses are now museums. Just a 20-minute drive from Campeche’s historic centre you can find the ancient Mayan ruins of Edzna, founded around 400 BC. The historic fortified town of Campeche is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is also one of the two intact colonial cities left in the Americas, the other being Cartagena, Colombia.
Cancún is a city in southeast Mexico on the northeast coast of the Yucatán Peninsula in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. It is recognized for its spectacular white sand beaches and its fascinating turquoise blue sea alongside its unique natural places including majestic mangroves, the lush jungle and mystic cenotes. Cancun is also renowned for its surrounding Mayan culture, water activities, international cuisine, spectacular golf courses, sophisticated spa facilities, exclusive shopping centres, typical handicraft markets as well as shows, bars and nightclubs.
Celestún is a fishing village on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula which is home to secluded beaches backed by thatched-roof restaurants. It is the gateway to the Celestún Biosphere Reserve (‘Reserva de la Biosfera Ria Celestún’) a large coastal wetland reserve and wildlife refuge for thousands of plant and animal species. Spanning an impressive 146,000 acres, the Celestún Biosphere Reserve is one of the most beautiful natural areas in Yucatán state and comprises one of the largest areas of mangroves in the Gulf of Mexico. The reserve is shallow, overgrown with vegetation and dotted with lagoons, salt flats and cenotes (underwater sinkholes) and is part of a fragile eco-system. Freshwater from the ria (estuary) mixes with saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico creating a habitat that is perfectly suited to flamingos and waterfowl, and the reserve is home to more than 300 species of birds including egrets, pelicans, herons and a large flamingo colony numbering into the thousands.
Chicanná is located at the base of the Yucatan Peninsula in the State of Campeche in the Rio Bec Region and is one of 45 ruin sites located in that area. Chicanná, meaning ‘House of the Mouth of the Serpent’, is a small archaeological zone considered to have been a centre for the surrounding regions elite. It was dependent on the nearby site of Becan. At Chicanná there is a range of architectural styles that includes Puuc and Chenes, though most of the standing structures exhibit strong Rio Bec influence. The site is known for a very impressive temple containing a large doorway framed by the gaping mouth of a giant earth deity. The site takes advantage of a natural elevation found in the region so structures seem higher and, for the Maya, closer to the gods. This settlement was used for important Mayan spiritual ceremonies and rituals, so the closer to the Gods they could be, the better.
Chichen Itza is a complex of Mayan ruins centrally located on the northern half of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. In ancient, pre-Colombian times, it was a vibrant city with a diverse population of Mayan people extending well into the tens of thousands. Today, the site is home to the remnants of many ancient Mayan structures, including the famed El Castillo pyramid that dominates the site’s centre. Other architectural and natural wonders include the Great Ball Court, the Temple of the Warriors and the Sacred Cenote. The growth and development of Chichen Itza span several centuries and most estimates put the city at well over 1,500 years old. Chichen Itza was founded by the Maya, an ancient people native to the Yucatan Peninsula and historians believe that it was built due to its close proximity to the Xtoloc cenote.
About half an hour from downtown Puebla, the town of Cholula is both a historical and scenic highlight in the region. Built around the 3rd century BC, the Great Pyramid of Cholula or Tepanapa (also known as Tlachihualtepetl) is the largest pyramid ever built (even surpassing the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt). Cholula actually consists of seven overlaid pyramids built over twelve centuries. Thanks to the brush and grasses that have overgrown its walls, the largest man-made pyramid in the world has been mistaken for a hill. Even today, it is understandable how this came to pass, thanks to the old Spanish chapel (La Iglesia de los Remedios) perched at its summit. Stylistically, the pyramid is an oddity, puzzling archaeologists to this day by incorporating architectural elements of both the Teotihuacan and El Tajin civilizations.
Archaeologists believe the Mayan ruins of Coba were an incredibly important city for the Maya people, however, due to its remote location, the site is not as popular with tourists as other ruins in Mexico. Because Coba doesn’t see as much tourism as places like Chichen Itza or the ruins of Tulum, you can actually still climb some of the structures for a totally different and unique perspective. Coba’s claim to fame is the largest network of stone causeways in the ancient Mayan world, called sacbes (white roads). Over 50 of these roads have been discovered at the site, with 16 of them open to the public. The raised stone pathways connect clusters of residential areas to the main pyramid area of Nohoch Mul and small lakes used as a water supply nearby. There are 3 cenotes just a 10-minute drive away from the ruins - Cenote Choo-Ha is a shallow water cenote with crystal blue water and many stalagmites hanging from the ceiling, Cenote Tamcach-Ha is a deep underground cavern with two jumping platforms at 5 and 10 meters high and Cenote Multun-Ha is a bit further away in the jungle and boasts a large wooden deck.
Edzna, stylistically and visually, is a very impressive site. Located in a valley, its highest pyramid can be seen well before one enters the archaeological zone. The site is a mixture of several architectural styles spanning over 1500 years from 300 B.C. to 1200 AD and it was an influential political and economic regional capital. The site features 4 main complexes with numerous individual palaces, platforms, and residential structures. Several sacbes (raised paved road built by the Maya), man-made irrigation canals, and reservoirs are located within the zone. Over 32 stelae (carved stone markers) have been discovered so far, as well as a rare hieroglyphic stairway.
While many people will visit Mexico for its incredible resorts and its big tourist centres like Tulum, Cancun, Punta Cana, or Cozumel, too often travellers ignore the rest of the country. From the vivid wall paintings at Bonampak to the mighty temples of Chichén Itzá, the sheer variety of archaeological sites in Mexico is astounding. Add to this the brilliance of the Caribbean Sea, huge canyons and dense jungles and you have an invigorating cocktail of culture and landscapes.
Congested, polluted and gloriously manic, Mexico City was originally founded by the Aztecs. Beyond the capital, the pace slows. Colonial cities, founded on the wealth of silver mines, provide an architectural paradise. Within easy striking distance of Mexico City, the mountains and desert plains of Querétaro are another world where people quietly go about their business as they have for centuries - farming and producing crafts for sale at the local markets.
The city of Oaxaca is the jewel in Mexico's gastronomic crown, home to colourful markets and a wide array of restaurants and street stalls serving regional specialties such as mole amarillo and empanadas stuffed with courgette flowers and molten quesillo (a mozzarella-like cheese).
Adventurers flock to Mexico to climb the volcanic peaks, to descend into the deepest cenotes or to spill down the white waters of the Antigua and Pescado rivers. The Caribbean offers superb diving off the Quintana Roo coastline, while on the west coast surfers ride the giant rollers beside the beautiful beaches of the wild Pacific and Baja California. In the far north-west, the Sea of Cortéz is one of the planet’s richest marine feeding grounds where, if you’re lucky, you’ll spot hammerhead sharks, dolphins and California grey whales.
When to Visit
Spring (March to May) Easter is an important event in Mexico, so you can anticipate plenty of local celebrations if you visit around Easter time. During Easter transport is often disrupted as virtually the whole country is on the move and many places close for the whole of Holy Week, and certainly from Thursday to Sunday, so this is not the best time to travel around Mexico. May (and June) sees some of the hottest weather in Mexico, with peak temperatures in much of the country.
Summer (June to August) is in theory the rainy season in Mexico, but just how wet it is varies a lot from place to place. In the heart of the country, you can expect a heavy but short-lived downpour virtually every afternoon whilst in the north hardly any rain ever falls. Chiapas is the wettest state and in the south and low-lying coastal areas summer is extremely humid. June to August are usually rainy months on the Pacific coast.
Autumn (September to November) is not the best time of year to visit Mexico’s beaches, as hurricane season means wet weather, choppy seas and mosquitoes, if not a full-on tropical storm. September is peak hurricane season, so you can expect intense rainfall on the coast, if not thundering storms. This turbulent period of weather in Mexico peters out by mid-October, and by November the rains have stopped, and the landscape is at its most lush. For many, November is the best time of year to visit Mexico as this is when the Day of the Dead falls (Nov 1–2).
Winter (December to February) is the traditional tourist season in Mexico. Christmas is a major holiday in Mexico and one of the more bizarre Christmas events takes place in Oaxaca, where there is a public display of Nativity cribs and other sculptures made of radishes. Carnival is one of the biggest fiestas in Mexico, and while the dates change, it usually falls in February or early March.
The local currency is the Mexican Nuevo Peso, known colloquially as the ‘Peso’. It is abbreviated by the Dollar $ sign but to distinguish it from US Dollars you might see it either as MX$ or $MN, (MN stands for Mondeca Nacional, or National Currency). Notes are printed in denominations of 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1,000 Pesos and
Peso coins are minted in 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents (or centavos as they are called locally).
It’s easier to exchange US dollar travellers’ cheques and notes into local currency than Sterling and it’s not usually possible to exchange cash at hotel receptions - this can only be done at banks and bureaux de change.
UK debit and credit cards are widely accepted for payment and in ATMs.
Visas and Vaccinations
You must have all visas (and vaccination) certificates that are necessary to enter or pass through Mexico.
Visa requirements are subject to change so please check with a Visa Service Company in the country in which you are located, or you can check details online instantly with companies such as CIBT Visas (https://cibtvisas.co.uk/. Visas can be obtained through the relevant embassy or consulate.
General Note: Some countries refuse admission to travellers not meeting their accepted standards of dress or appearance (even if they hold a visa). Entry may also be refused to certain countries if your passport bears stamps or visas (valid or expired) for Israel.
A useful general health advice website for travellers is http://www.who.int/ith/en/ and there are also advice sites in individual countries.
Please note it is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct, current visa and vaccination information and that you act on it.