- Check out the Marieta Islands. Off the coast of Puerto Vallarta.
- Watch the surfers in Puerto Escondido. Or if you are a good surfer, get out there!
- Explore the canals of Xochimilco (Mexico City) on a colourful boat ride. Bring some $$ for a Michelada!
- Discover the architecture and street art of Mexico City or take a free walking tour. (The Zócalo and Centro Histórico districts)
- Eat as many street tacos as you can. And try hot sauce on everything.
- Take advantage of the cycle culture in Mexico City, as some major roads are closed and open only to cyclists, runners, skateboarders, and rollerbladers on Sundays.
- Dance the night away with a salsa lesson. Some of the restaurants in Mexico City have salsa nights throughout the week.
- Go to the Frida Kahlo museum.
- Watch the Danza de los Voladores in Chapultepec Park. (Mexico City)
- Spend an evening at a Lucha Libre show. Great energy!
- Wander the streets and local food markets of Oaxaca. Eat your way through this city (Mole Negro, Tamales, Quesillo, & CHOCOLATE!)
- Try a shot of Mezcal at a Mezcal bar.
- Looking for a day trip while in Oaxaca? Go to the Monte Albán ruins.
- Go off the beaten path to Hierve el Agua mineral pools.
- Climb the steps of the Virgin de Guadalupe Church in San Cristóbal de las Casas. Amazing view!
- Get lost on the beaches of Tulum. One of my top 10 fav beaches.
- Snorkel with turtles in Akumal.
- Chichen Itza. The The ultimate ruin experience, apparently.
- Party in Playa del Carmen.
- Take an early morning dip in Laguna Bacalar.
- Swim in as many cenotes as you can. More specifically, be reborn in Cenote Ik'kil.
- Unwind in Isla Mujeres*** (rent a bike and ride to Punta Sur, hipline or kayak at Garrafon park, visit the turtle farm, or if you're an art fanatic, scuba dive the underwater museum MUSA)
- Ride a banana boat in Cabo San Lucas.
- Do Cancun. It's not nearly as great as everywhere else and it is incredibly Americanized and overpriced.
- Feel the need to go and see every single ruin. Unless you're on a quest to do that.
- Leave your bags unattended or take large amounts of money/valuables around with you. Pick pocketing and robberies are a real thing.
- Forget bug repellent. It's necessary once you leave Mexico City.
- Forget to bring £45, $65 or €48 to the border for your departure tax if you are traveling out of Mexico by land.
September 15, 2013. This date will stay ingrained in my memory for the rest of my life. This is the day where my 9 month journey through Central & South America began, changing my life for the better. There is no way in hell I would have ever guessed where a simple one way plane ticket from LAX to Mexico City would take me, nor could I have prepared myself for what this trip would bring and who it would invite along. Facing an unknown path definitely wasn't what I expected. Yeah sometimes it triggered high anxiety situations, but overall it was oddly calming because deep down I always knew that whatever was going to happen would happen and I just had to go along for the ride. Bringing me to my first life lesson: Remain calm. You're not always going to catch all of your buses or trains. You might even miss a flight or two. People will come and go and so will your personal belongings. Getting all worked up and bothered isn't going to stop any of this from happening or fix a situation. And it will stress the fuck out of everyone else around you. So the quick reality was that the best thing to do is just shrug it off and keep on keeping on. I had no idea this lesson would do me so well the next 9 months. Don't get me wrong, I had my moments. But maintaining this mindset kept me sane.
Landing in Mexico City, I wanted to experience a crazy culture shock. What I did not take into consideration was I'd been pretty much living in little Mexico for the past 4 years (LA) and I would not get the 'shock' I was hoping for. That shock actually would not happen until I reached South America. Flying into Mexico City was impressive; the city went on foreeeeeever. Now I understand why it is one of the largest cities in the world. And also one of the highest, so be prepared for possible elevation sickness. I thought I was dying, but don't worry you won't. Just drink lots of water.
I began my travels with my long-time friend and randomly assigned freshman college roommate, who shared a common interest of traveling the world. Her brother picked us up from the airport and we stayed with him and his girlfriend at their awesome apartment in the city for a week. From there we were able to come and go as we pleased. The day we arrived the city was celebrating La Día de la Independence, so we were able to experience all the parades, customs and food that came along with it. The streets were filled with Mexican flags and people buzzing off the ¡Viva Mexico! energy. Make sure to try a custom soup called Pozole, which is a traditional dish for this holiday. From my experience, it usually consists of pork, peppers and chiles, spices and avocado, radishes, onion and salsas for garnishes.
We spent the rest of our days wandering around Centro Historico checking out the street art and getting caught up in a riot, taking a boat ride through the canals of Xochimilco, watching a Lucha Libre match, visiting the Frida Kahlo museum, salsa dancing our nights away, walking around Chapultepec park and most importantly experiencing the energy of the city. I noticed that people put chile sauce on everything, even their mangos. Definitely try it! On Sunday's, some of the main streets are blocked off so that cyclists and runners can utilize the paths instead. I spent my whole morning running around the circuits and I got to see a good part of the city that way.
Trying to find a weeks worth of activities while also binge watching Parks & Rec, we wanted to take in as much of our 'normal' life as we could (access to Netflix, warm water, and a good mattress) before departing to the next place where we would officially be on our own and beginning our backpacking adventure: Oaxaca.
When I say eat your way through Oaxaca, I mean it. It's one of the foodie capitals of the world. Try Mole, or Mole Negro which is authentic to the Oaxaca region, tamales, and quesillo. If you're feeling daring enough try Chapulines- spicy grasshoppers. I was not up for the challenge and I don't regret it. If you're there in October go to the Oaxaca Film Festival, which brings filmmakers from all over the world to Oaxaca for about a week. We managed to go to some viewing parties at bars around the town and spoke with some pretty cool indie film makers. We quickly learned that the main plazas were basically the 'city centers' of each town and it would be where most of the life is. I found it good to familiarize myself with the location of a main plaza because they can be used as reference points when figuring out the map of a town especially if you tend to get lost. After 4 days, a trek to Monte Albán (if you want a day hike walking is doable. If not, you should probably take a taxi), and a day trip to Hierve el Agua mineral pools, it was time to go.
We made our next stop in San Cristóbal de Las Casas and climbed the never ending steps of the Virgin de Guadalupe Church. So worth it! The view of San Cristóbal from the top is amazing. When we went, there were hardly any tourists, so it was really tranquil and still at the top. It felt like a classic late summer Sunday morning where all you can here is a breeze and the slow movement of a sleepy town. Side note: I would recommend going in the morning/late afternoon as it gets really hot midday. We quickly figured out there's not much more for us to do, especially since we were itching for some salt water. So 3 days later we made it to our next destination: Tulum.
I was incredibly restless from being landlocked for the past few weeks, but this next stop definitely made up for it.
Hitchhiking Part 1: We heard that there was a decent hitchhiking culture in Mexico and it was fairly safe to do near the coast. So we decided to give it a go. What could go wrong right? We needed to get to Tulum from where our bus dropped us off. We were hesitant at first but it all worked out and we ended up getting picked up by two girls around our age. It was a great first ever hitchhiking experience. We arrived in Tulum and headed to the main beach for the day. It had the whitest sand I had seen at this point in my life. I felt like I was in a postcard.
Hitchhiking Part 2: We wanted to check out another not so popular beach but of course needed a ride. Our luck was on another level today. Not only did we get picked up by an incredibly nice Mexican man within 2 minutes of placing our fingers up, but we got dropped off near a private beach where we snorkeled a reef all to ourselves. As if laying under a palm tree on an beach all to ourselves wasn't enough, we found a baby sea turtle who was trapped in a nearby pool and released it back into the ocean. Oh and some nice Mexican men with machetes cut down a couple of coconuts for us since we were parched. It's the simple things right? We were liiiiiving! I'm still dreaming about it over a year later. It was the first of many worry free days I would have on this trip where it seemed as though the stars aligned. I could not have written it better myself.
Ultimately we didn't spend too much time here because there aren't a lot of things to do/see in Tulum, but we would be spending the next few weeks hugging the coast so I didn't mind our move to Playa del Carmen.
Oh Playa. We knew we would spend a while here. But we didn't realize how much Playa del Carmen actually sucks people in. It's kind of unexplainable but when you have no where to be, there's no point in leaving. It also gave us the time to develop a travel family at the lovely (sarcasm) Che Hostel. Two Aussies, a lad from MANCHESTAH, a South African and an American guy (if you're reading this you still owe Madi and I money you freeloading jerk). After a week long party binge, we all eventually decided it was time for a change of pace, and made a decision to rent some cars and take a road trip around the Yucatan. 7 backpackers, a jeep and a car, we definitely overestimated what we could accomplish. We began in Akumal near Tulum to snorkel with turtles and check out the ruins which are directly on the beach. The boys also visited Chichen Itza, but I was pretty ruined by the ruins at this point, so I waited at the entrance.
The next place was a dream. Laguna Bacalar. For some reason it was hard for us to find, especially since we arrived at night. We stayed a decent hostel with mosquito nets around the beds (clutch), had a BBQ and went to bed. When we woke up, we found ourselves right on the lake! The sun was rising and the water was so shallow you can basically walk to the middle of the lake and have the water be at your shoulders. I wanted to float here forever. You haven't lived until you've had a morning swim in Laguna Bacalar. Unfortunately, we had to leave by midday in order to cover more ground.
Jumping into Cenote Ik'Kil was the highlight of this road trip. It is such an intense blue, and was one of the sacred cenotes used for rituals by the Mayans. Vines hang down from the top and it's like you've fallen into an lush Mexican Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole and you never want to leave. Until it's cold and dark. We spent our time jumping off the ledges and even when it was closing time we just couldn't leave, so the guard let us stay a bit longer. Eventually our caravan of travelers made it's way back to Playa, but we weren't quite ready to settle in just yet.
Next stop: Isla Mujeres. This ended up being my all time favourite place in Central. Everything about it. The beaches, the laid back lifestyle, not to mention a great place to detox from nights of partying. The hostel we stayed at (Poc-na) offered free daily yoga classes and was in walking distance to pretty much anything I needed. There's a lot to do on the island, but I spent my time maxing and relaxing, taking in as much salt water as I could. We biked to Punta Sur cliff to check out the sculpture garden and iguanas. I almost didn't leave, but because I had my travel family, it was time to move along.
Hitchhiking Part 3: We all caught the ferry back to Cancun, but since hitchhiking had come so easy to my friend and I recently, we decided to skip out on spending $48 to get back to Playa and try our luck once more. Except this time we unknowingly hopped into a truck of two drunk Mexican men. At first it was harmless and my friend and I both tended to have good instincts on when a situation could turn bad. Little did we know that 45 minutes later these men would be completely drunk and talking about wanting pieces of my friend's hair, grabbing a strand of it that flew into the air since the windows were open. Prior to the trip, my friend's mom had told us that people would target travelers with blonde hair and cut it to sell on the black market. With this in mind, suddenly we realized: We're in a moving car with two men we didn't know and no phones. Hmmm. Saying I was at a beginning Spanish level at this point in time would have been a compliment, so my friend was the only one immediately understanding the dialogue that was going on while everything went over my head between the language barrier and the speed at which they were talking. We even found out that they had not been going to Playa at all, and really they just gave us a ride to do something for the day. Nice I suppose? But in hindsight really creepy! So we had them drop us off blocks away from where we were staying and as soon as I opened the door my friend pushed me out and began walking rapidly around a street corner. Of course I didn't know the extent of what had been happening so I followed quickly behind her. This was the last time we would be hitchhiking for a while.
After returning to Playa AGAIN, partying a bit more, and adding two rad Icelandic girls to our family, we decided we should probably move on or we'll never leave Playa let alone Mexico. What was meant to be a two week stint through the country, ended up being an unexpected 5 week long adventure. However, we were eager to move on to the next country and culture, still in search of that culture shock.
Next up: Belize.