How to stay fresh in Mexico

Why on earth, after a year spent going to work every day, zig-zagging through city traffic, enduring crowded public buses and metros, at times with temperatures as high that would remind you of living hell, would you ever embark on a tiring car or bus trip, sitting next to some unknown person, on a curvy, bumpy road, when you are supposed to be on holidays? Well, it looks like only if you do so you will manage visiting some of the most paradisiac places in Mexico, which are not completely invaded by foreign tourists and where you can relax and finally escape the terrible heat – the best season to visit Mexico is between March and April, when the weather is dry, days are hot but bearable and nights are cooler.

There is a magic place which, even if slightly isolated, is a must see and is quickly turning into a travellers’ favourite. This is San Cristobal de las Casas, a colourful city in Chiapas, located in a wonderful valley surrounded by pine forests, and at the heart of one of the most indigenous areas of the country. Located at about 1 and a half hours by car from Chiapas capital Tuxtla Gutierrez (which is connected to Mexico City by plane), San Cristobal is the meeting point for zapatistas. It is a lovely labirynth of traditional houses, cobbled streets and crafts shops. However, the market of San Cristobal is its main attraction. Aside from the traditional handicrafts, you will fall in love with its colours and smells, and be amazed at how those tomatoes, peppers, strawberries and tens of varieties of chillies are displayed.


The colourful market of San Cristobal de las Casas – photo courtesy of Plumerio Pipichas (flickr)

San Juan Chamula, a lovely village of about 3000 people, is not far from San Cristobal. Chamuleans, who belong to the indigenous group Tzotzil, all attend the beautiful Templo de San Juan, a church where they pray and make offers to the saints in rituals which are a mixture of christianity and paganism. You can look for as long as you want, but do not take pictures. Tzotzils are convinced that pictures may steal their soul. The church is small, illuminated only by candle light, and there are no seats. The pavement is completely covered in pine needles, and the atmosphere turns into something slightly magic and surreal between the dim light and the smell of pines. Chamuleans pray seated on the pavement, in front of the statues of their favourite saints, offering whatever little they have. You may even be able to assist to the sacrifice of a chicken. It is difficult not to be touched by the atmosphere of the church.

san juan chamula chiapas

The lovely church of San Juan Chamula, in Chiapas – photo courtesy of Eduardo Robles Pacheco (flickr)

Be brave, and from San Cristobal de las Casas catch a colectivo to Palenque. Should you feel the need to travel more comfortably, rent a car (but book online) but be ready to drive along a curvy and bumpy road, so curvy and bumpy that the “topes” (speed bumps) placed to reduce speed will look completely useless. You won’t be able to speed at any point, because the road is covered in holes and in some points even collapsed and you will be frequently stopped by children who, nearby “pueblos” (villages) stay at the sides of the road selling fruit and small handycrafts. Expect a sudden army check point: soldiers, a bit bored and sleepy because of the heat, will ask for your documents and may want to check your bags, but they are usually very friendly.

About 4 hours later, when you think you can’t take the heat anymore (even though you may be travelling during winter) you will reach Agua Azul and will conclude that those hours spent in a car or in a combi were completely worth it. Admission charge should not be more than 10 Mexican Pesos (around 70 cents of a dollar). You will feel like you are in paradise: a series of waterfalls that end up in natural pools of clear, turquoise water. Jumping in that water will make you feel like a new person. Agua Azul is not a very famous tourist destination, and you may likely be the only foreign traveler there, depending on the season. However, there will be plenty of locals, especially in the winter season when the dry weather makes the river go down a bit so that it doesn’t carry mud and debris and the water is thus very clear. Mexico is full of as many natural wonders as opportunities to relax. There are more gorgeous waterfalls that you can’t miss if you find yourself in Mexico. Indeed, after cooling down in Agua Azul, carry on your way to Palenque, but first make a quick stop at Misol Ha waterfalls, where you can access for 20 Mexican Pesos (1.50 US dollars). There is a jump of 20 meters which you can see from a variety of angles, including from its backside through a small path.

Agua Azul, Chiapas

When they say Agua Azul, they MEAN Agua Azul

Two more hours on the road will take you to Palenque, from where you can visit one of the most interesting archeological sites of Mexico, completely immersed in the jungle.

From here, go North, to Villahermosa, capital of Tabasco, and then towards Tapijulapa, pretty village of white houses with red roofs and flowers on the windows. Pay attention on the road: it is not uncommon that enormous iguanas cross the road. However, Tapijulapa is not your final destination. If you love nature and adventure, do not miss Koleem Jaa, a small, ecologic resort fully immersed in the forest. You can only reach it by boat, so you will have to ask for a lancha to pick you up. Koleem Jaa has very reasonable prices, and you will have your meals there. Once there, you can forget the noise of civilization: no television, no internet, no cell phone signal. Your sleep will only be interrupted by the scream of monkeys and of parrots. You can spend the day in one of the many activities available: from a simple hike and visit to the waterfalls, to ziplines that take you from tree to tree, to canyoning. You will leave Koleem Jaa completely recharged and possibly a bit sad at the thought of having to go to a big, dusty and dirty city.

Once you leave Tabasco, you will most likely want to visit YucatanMerida, the white city, is the biggest city: it is crowded and lively and the perfect starting point to visit the internationally famous archeological sites of Chichen Itza and Uxmal.

Uxmal, Mexico

Uxmal is a gorgeous archeological site

However, there also are less touristy places in Mexico. Once you have fried under the sun and fought against the crowds in Chichen Itza and Uxmal, enduring 35 degrees celsius (and that is in the winter!), you can escape the heat by reaching Chunkanan, about 3 km east of Cuzamà. Here there are Los Tres Cenotes de Cuzamà, 3 limestone underground lakes, where you can surely cool down. Once you negotiate a price (it is fairly cheap, really), you will board a cart pulled by a horse, you will cross the forest and will reach the cenotes, where you will find clear and cool water and if you are lucky you may be able to see various species of fish.

Done exploring these treasures? Now you can finally move to the party scene, and go to Playa del Carmen, but not before having visited the ruins of Tulum . And if you want to keep on relaxing and be quiet, you can go to ecological oasis in Tulum Playa: a long, white, sandy beach lined with palm trees, and almost deserted. It’s one of the best beaches in Mexico.

Tulum, Riviera Maya

The gorgeous site and beach of Tulum

It goes without saying that it is recommended that you always carry a towel and a swimsuit, because you won’t miss the chance to freshen up even if you are not laying at the beach in one of the wonderful caribbean beaches. So… enjoy your Mexican vacation!