It’s mid-winter and you’ve had it. The snow is piled up outside, the perma-frost extends to your finger tips and you see shadowy reflections of palm trees and beaches in your rear view mirror as you sit in the traffic jam during your morning commute. You desperately need a break. The problem? You blew all of your vacation time visiting your Mom over Christmas. No problem! Here are five long weekend getaways in Mexico that will rejuvenate your soul. Fly out Thursday night to make the most of your time!
Though certainly not a beach destination, the second largest city in the world will provide a change of pace. Both gritty and cosmopolitan, this capital city presents a sampling of the very best of the history, culture, art and dance that Mexico has to offer. Visit the fantastic pre-Aztec ruins of Teotihuacan, climb to the top of the third tallest pyramid in the world and look out over this amazing city, built as a scale model of the solar system.
Spend a long afternoon wandering the cool halls of the National Museum of Anthropology and wonder at the size and complexity of the huge Aztec Sun Stone, the Olmec heads and partially reconstructed Mayan temple on display. After the museum, be sure to hang around the entrance long enough to watch the Voladores (flying men) climb to the top of a narrow pole and rotate slowly to the ground by ropes tied to their waists.
Enjoy the rest of the day wandering the expanse of Chapultapec Park, in the shade of ancient trees. Rent a rowboat and paddle among the ducks, or purchase a cup of fruit or deep fried potatoes drizzled with chile and limone to munch as you walk. Spend an evening at the Ballet Folklorico, the most famous dance extravaganza in Mexico. The unique glass curtain of the stage in the Palace of Fine Arts rises three nights a week and transports the audience through time and culture by the magic of dance. Try to book your tickets in advance!
Spend your last day taking a quick walk through the Presidential Palace on the zocalo and taking in the amazing floor to ceiling murals depicting the history of Mexico, painted by Diego Rivera; admission is free! Finish the afternoon by exploring one of the many colorful arts and crafts markets dotting the city; buy some black Oaxacan pottery, silver from Veracruz or a pair of huarache sandals and kick it old school Mexico when you get home! We recommend the Ciudadela Market which is located near Almeda Park.
Looking for something a little more restful and pampering than the nitty gritty of Mexico City? Book a luxurious weekend at the Four Seasons Punta Mita and relax in five star style. Sip your drink as you float around the lazy river. Nap on one of the serene open-air day beds in a private poolside cabana. Watch the sun set over the sea while dining al fresco on the beach. Take a free scuba lesson in the pool. When you come up for air and want a little excitement, book an excursion through the concierge and enjoy a horseback ride on the beach, go deep sea fishing, scuba diving, play a round of golf on
their private course, or head out on a cultural excursion into the neighboring town of Punta Mita.
Taking the kids? No problem! Between the beach, the multiple pools and the engaging kids programs they’ll stay happy and you can rest. Our daughter’s favorite Punta Mita memory? Ordering a smoothie each day that matched her dress!
It might be the classic Mexican getaway, but that doesn’t mean it has to be stereotypical. There is so much more to the Yucatan than the purpose built resort town of Cancun. For a truly private, quiet getaway rent one of the freestanding cabanas or a room in the new hotel at Paamul and walk right out onto the beach. Paamul has long been a camping spot for travelers; my family spent two winters there twenty years ago. Much has changed, but it is still the best place to stay if you want to be off the beaten track and yet close to it all.
The on site dive shop, Scuba Mex, runs guided dives to one of the best remaining reefs on the coast. Looking for activities to fill your weekend? Don’t miss Xel-Ha, a marine preserve featuring dolphin swims and snorkeling in a protected lagoon. What makes their dolphin swims different from the cheaper ones at the big hotels? How the dolphins are cared for, for one thing. The dolphins at Xel-Ha are kept in a special lagoon with careful attention from trainers. The two dolphin swim programs at this park are focused on education and preservation, not just exploiting the animals for fun. Spend a day exploring X-Caret, an eco-park dedicated to the preservation of local wildlife and the discovery of Ancient Mayan culture. Be sure to stay for their nighttime extravaganza of dancing and drama and watch the Ancient Mayan world come alive.
Yucatan Archeological Tour
Of course you can take a bus from every major hotel in Cancun to Chichen-Itza or Tulum and walk, lemming style, through the ruins, but where’s the adventure in that? Why not rent a car and make a long weekend tour of three of the most important sites on the Peninsula?
Start with Coba, less frequented by tour buses and therefore better for quiet exploration. Walk a long mile back into the jungle to Nohoc-Mul, the tallest pyramid on the Yucatan, and the only major pyramid you can still climb! You’ll want to hold on to that chain… and don’t look down!
Chichen-Itza is a must see, even if it is becoming a bit cliché. The architecture is amazing, the size of the city is impressive and it is all very well preserved, thanks to the tourist dollars pouring in daily. Be sure to visit the sacred lake and to make the effort to find the jaguar throne. Do you want in on a little known acoustical secret? Stand about a hundred yards out in front of the main pyramid and clap your hands, you’ll hear a bird chirp echo back!
If you’re looking for a place to stay before heading on to the next archeological site, consider the Delores Alba, Chichen-Itza. It is a well-maintained, quaint little hotel not far from the ruins on the main road to Cancun. Swim in their reef bottomed pool or relax in a hammock and sip a pina colada.
Far off of the well-beaten tourist path you’ll find the ruins of Uxmal. This was my favorite site when I was a kid… back when the ridiculously steep Pyramid of the Magician could still be climbed. It was so steep that I cried at the top and my dad had to carry our dog down! Unique to this set of ruins are the phallic pyramid and the stone phalli dotting the grounds… go ahead, straddle one and take a picture.
The capital city of the state of Yucatan, Merida is a hidden gem. You’ll find few tour buses here and if the “real Mexico” is what you’re hoping for, look no further. Home to one of the best authentic mercados on the peninsula, the four block square, two story market is worth a whole weekend by itself… and it’s easy to lose a child in, we know, we did!
Use the well-appointed Delores Alba Merida, with its tranquil courtyard pool and complimentary daily breakfast as your home base from which to explore this beautiful city. Listen to a mass sung in Spanish in the oldest Catholic Church on the continent (notice the slits cut into the walls from which the unruly “converts” could be shot when the church turned fortress!)
Visit the Palacio Gobierno on the main square and see Mexico’s history laid out in a series of larger than life paintings and murals, created by local artists. Note the plaques below each painting giving the details in three languages: Spanish, English and Mayan.
Dance a Saturday night away on the zocalo when the local hot spots overflow onto the streets, and the whole city turns out to play. Merida is a great place to pick up an authentic Mayan hammock at a very good price, bargain with any of the many vendors around the zocalo. Be sure to stop in at the bakery on the corner across from the church and fill a brown paper bag with local pastries. The ones that are butterfly shaped and dusted in sugar are our favorites.