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With its sun-drenched beaches, jungle-shrouded ruins and fun-filled fiestas, Mexico is awash with colour and ripe for adventure

Ancient civilisations come alive among fascinating Aztec and Mayan ruins. You’ll find them dotted all over the country, whether hidden deep in the jungle, perched on the Caribbean coast, or basking in the sun on the high plains around Mexico City.

With a cornucopia of natural wonders too, from the mountains of Chiapas, to misty cloud forests and the wild Pacific coastline around Puerto Escondido, this vast country is filled with natural beauty. And when it comes to arts and culture there’s plenty to captivate the senses – the bold strokes of artists like Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo, the joyful notes of Mexico’s brass bands and mariachis, the heat of its chilli-spiked cuisine, and that potent shot of gold tequila to get the fiesta started.

 

Things to do

Marvel at Mayan ruins, swim with dolphins and tuck into lobster on a luxury catamaran. On our stay and relax holidays to the Yucatan Peninsula you’ll do all this and more, and all within easy reach of your beachfront hotel. We’ve chosen a prime spot for you too, just down the coast from Cancun and Playa del Carmen.

On our escorted tours you can travel a little further afield, taking in the sights and sounds of Mexico City and exploring the archaeological giants of Palenque, Chichén Itzá and Teotihuacán.

Or else book one of our cruises, perhaps exploring the Caribbean, sailing down the Pacific coast from the United States, or circling through the Panama Canal and stopping off in the port cities of Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and Huatulco along the way.

Mexico City

This high-altitude metropolis has a vast and varied history, encompassing pre-Hispanic civilisations and colonial rule. Watch the world go by in the massive Zócalo, the city’s expansive main square, or wander the character-packed streets and drink in the history of the old colonial centre and the archaeological ruins of Tenochtitlan.

Baja California

Bordering California USA, the long thin arm of the Baja Peninsula is a sandy stretch separating the Pacific Ocean from the Gulf of California. This is where you’ll find the infamous party town of Tijuana, not far from San Diego just across the North American border. The city of Cabo San Lucas sits on the peninsula’s southern tip.

Oaxaca

This southern state is famed for its eponymous capital city. With its mellow yellow stone buildings, elegant colonial centre, lively arts and crafts scene and sophisticated culinary flare, this is the spot for both foodies and culture vultures alike.

Chiapas

Green and serene, this southern state borders with Guatemala and has many a Mayan ruin to discover – including Palenque. Its cool highlands and shady rainforests are home to a whole host of wildlife, and the countryside is dotted with colonial towns, such as San Cristóbal de las Casas.

The Yucatan Peninsula

Made up of two regions, the Yucatan and Quintana Roo, this sun-soaked peninsula has coastlines on both the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Ocean. Lined with the golden beaches of Playa del Carman, Cancun and the islands of Isla Mujeres and Cozumel, this is where you’ll find the sun worshippers. The dramatic cliff-top Mayan ruins of Tulum lie on its southern coast and the laid-back atmosphere is perfectly suited to holidaying.

 

Culture and history

Around 90% of Mexicans are Catholic and a high value is put on hierarchy in business and family matters. Throwing parties at home is an important part of Mexican life and visitors are made to feel very welcome. That welcome often involves the offer of food and drink, which more often than not will be tacos, enchiladas, and of course tequila.

Mexicans tend to dress similarly to people in Europe and the United States, although one distinguishing article of traditional men’s clothing is the sarape – a large blanket-cum-poncho as worn by Clint Eastwood in the Fistful of Dollars trilogy. Another recognisable outfit is the studded suit and sombrero worn by folk musicians (mariachis), whose music goes back hundreds of years. But Mexico’s history is of course much longer than that.

The great civilizations of Mexico began to organise and take shape around the 1st century AD. This is when the first stones of the great city of Teotihuacán were laid, not far from present day Mexico City. The Teotihuacán led the way for several centuries, but their inevitable decline made way for a new power – the Mayan Empire, particularly strong around the Yucatan, Chiapas and the Petan forests of Guatemala. In the 15th century the Aztecs rose in the north and founded a city on the site of present day Mexico City.

Meanwhile, the Spanish, keen to find a new route to the spice-rich Orient, had ventured as far as Cuba. Then in 1519, the legendry Cortés set sail for Mexico. With the help of many other indigenous tribes and the general confusion and indecision of the Aztecs, the Spanish conquered Mexico in just two years. The usual story ensued, with the indigenous put to work in the mines and on the land.

Many died of epidemics brought over from Europe and the gold and silver from the mines fuelled Spain’s wars in Europe. As the centuries rolled by Mexico’s ‘criollos’ (those born in Mexico to Spanish parents) began to whisper of rebellion, and in 1810 they got organised. Eleven years later in 1821 the terms of Mexico’s independence were finally negotiated.

 



Climate

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