When I was in Mexico, I tried its culinary offerings, experienced two major festivals and made friends with a great number of amazing Mexicans. If we were to use colours to measure Mexico, the measuring chart would explode with bright, vibrant, exciting hues!
The 23-day overland journey from Mexico City to Cancun was a splendid, colourful and definitely one of the most joyful times in my life. It is true what they say: travelling is not only about the destination, but the journey itself. And my journey around Mexico was a riot of cultures, festivals, delicious food and warm hospitality.
Mexico is simply rich in culture and history, and there are over 68 native language groups currently spoken in Mexico-making it the most diversified nations in America continent after the United States. Relatively, Mexico is a youthful country with 30% of the population below 15 and only 6% above the age of 65.
Like any other multi-cultural nations in the world, the indigenous people in Mexico still practice their own culture while co-existing with modernity. Spoken languages like The Nahuatl of the Aztec or the tongue of the Mayans, including Mixtec, Otomi, Trascan and Zapotec, are still being uttered, indicating Mexico’s rich indigenous heritage.
Most of the cities and towns in Mexico began as Native American communities. The arrival of the Spaniards changed the landscape of these settlements, with Spanish-influenced plazas and homes with patios. Nevertheless, Mexicans maintain their ancient native customs during the Spanish colonial period. In the beginning of 1900s, Mexico transformed rapidly as the cities began to modernise, while the people in villagers still follow the old ways.
Based on my observation, the people of Mexico are outgoing and fun, besides expressive and loving. They willingly and openly offer help whenever you need it. I totally recommend travellers to visit the small towns in Oaxaca and Puebla to get to know more about Mexico’s grassroots.
If you want to experience different kind of cultures in Mexico, Ed recommends:
- Oaxaca for its various tribes of indigenous groups that still observe their traditional practices in daily life, especially the Zapotecs.
- Yucatan Peninsular to experience the Mayans, an indigenous tribe that built a dominant civilisation throughout Mesoamerica.
- San Cristobal de Las Casas in Chiapas to see how a community of indigenous Muslims observe the Islamic faith and practice their belief.
- Mexico City to observe how all kinds of cultures and ethnicities interact within a modern society but at the same time maintaining their respective cultures and traditions.
The people of Mexico are festive too. Most of the celebrations in Mexico relate to religion and faith. The festivals in Mexico range from conservative to liberal. There are festivals where conservative people dance in costumes and masks as a tribute to either pre-Hispanic Gods or Christianity. And then there are also festivals where men dress in women costumes despite the much touted Mexican machismo.
Mexicans tend to celebrate festivals wholeheartedly. I was lucky to observe the celebration of All Saints’ Day (Dia de Todos Los Santos) on November 1st and Day of the Dead (Dia de Los Muertos) on November 2nd. Mexicans believe that the souls of children return to the world of the living on November 1st, followed by the souls of the adults on November 2nd. It is a celebration where family and friends pray in remembrance of the deceased with joy and happiness.
Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday celebrated throughout Mexico, particularly in the Central and Southern regions, and acknowledged around the world. In 2008, this celebration has been declared as UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The new James Bond movie, Spectre, has an epic opening sequence of a parade depicting Dia de Los Muertos Festival.
Mexicans started putting on costumes and make-up even a week prior to the day of the celebration itself and wear them to school or work. Almost every city in the south organise parades for the festival, including activities like concerts and gatherings.
If you want to experience different festivals in Mexico, Ed recommends:
- Oaxaca and Puebla to experience All Saints’ Day and Day of the Dead because the celebration at these places are more vibrant and fun.
- Veracruz and Mazatlan to experience a carnival-like atmosphere that features flamboyant parades, grand scale party, dance performances, and live music. The festival is held for nine days and usually takes place in March.
- Oaxaca for its month-long cultural festival called the Guelaguetza, which features Oaxacan dance from the seven regions, music and a beauty pageant for indigenous women.
I reckoned that all of Mexican cuisines must be eaten with corn or wheat tortillas such as tacos, tostadas, enchiladas, and tamales. The fillings are usually filled with guacamole, mole, red beans and salsa.
Interestingly, Mexican cuisine consist of fusion of European and indigenous Mesoamerican cooking that bring out strong and distinct new flavours. The native diet mainly consist of corn, beans and chilli pepper while the European aspect comprises beef, chicken, pork, dairy products and various herbs and spices. Influences from African and Asian continents during the Spanish colonial times are evident too. This heady mix of cultures makes up the Mexican cuisine of today, leading it to be inscribed as UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010.
Mexico is also famous for its street food called antojitos, prepared by street vendors and at small traditional markets in Mexico, but known throughout the world. Most notable ones are burrito, chorizo, ceviche, empanadas, enchilada, ensalada de fruta, flautas, nachos, quesadillas, tamales, tortas, tortillas and tostadas. Do not miss the opportunity to try these Mexican dishes when you happen to be in Mexico.
If you want to experience different type of food in Mexico, Ed recommends:
- Oaxaca because you can find the amazing restaurants and cafes here where they serve great Mexican foods. There are the famous seven different kind of moles and chapulines that usually added to tlayudas – a giant tortilla.
- Puebla because they are famous with their chile en nogada, which is seasoned meat cooked with nuts, raisins, local fruits and roasted poblano chilies. You can also find taco arabe, Arab-style tacos! There is also a candy street where you can find some traditional Pueblan sweets.
For more info, browse http://www.visitmexico.com.
There are 204 cities in the world that have been conferred as the Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO – 10 of these cities are in Mexico and I am proud to say that I have visited 3 of them: Mexico City, Puebla and Oaxaca. Besides, Mexico is also the country that has the largest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in America, brimming with 27 cultural sites, six natural sites and one mixed cultural and natural site, out of which I have visited nine during my visit. But those are just what have been awarded by UNESCO. The truth is, Mexico offers more than that!
- Mexico City
One of the oldest cities in America, seems to ooze charm 24 hours a day. Although it is a big metropolitan city with a population of roughly 21.2 million, it still preserves many of its heritage. I visited three important heritage sites within Mexico City: the Historic Centre, the City Campus of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), and Teotihuacan.
The magical town of Puebla is located three hours from Mexico City, is one of the Heritage Cities that hosts several important heritage sites. Legend has it that Puebla was created by angels for the mortals to enjoy. Here, travellers get to visit the Great Pyramid of Cholula, the biggest pyramid in the world. The city also has other heritage sites like the Historic Centre; Bibilioteca Palafoxiana, the first library in America; and Capilla del Rosario, the remarkably ornate Baroque chapel. I also managed to take a three-hour bus ride to Cantona to visit the archaeological site of the largest urban centre ever discovered in Mesoamerica.
Like Puebla, Oaxaca Historic Centre consists of many heritage sites that are accessible within walking distance. Monte Alban and Mitla is one of it. The heritage sites in Mexico are not just in these three cities but more. Other places that I recommend travellers to check out are the Mayan heritage in Palenque, Uxmal, Chichen-Itza, Coba and Isla Mujeres.
Tips : travellers are advised to wear sunblock and hot as the heritage site is located at open space.