Before I spent a month in Mexico my knowledge of the country was very limited. Like many college students before me I spent some nights getting drunk in Tijuana. I remember watching a lot of westerns that seemed to fill my mind with the idea that every corner in Mexico was occupied by a dusty cantina with mean hombres just waiting for a fight. I had also seen lucha libre Mexican wrestling on TV a few times. Besides that, Cancun had long been a party destination for Americans. Both my high school and my college mascots were the Aztecs but I only had a vague notion of where they were from. Mexican food has heavily featured in my diet since I moved to Southern California when I was ten years old. When I spent a year in Southeast Asia one of the things I missed was Mexican food. I came away from my month in Mexico impressed by the history, culture and beauty of the country.
I started off my time in Mexico in the capital, Mexico City. I spent 8 days as a tourist in the city. I visited superb museums. I saw the pyramids of Teotihuacan and Templo Mayor. I went to my first live lucha libre Mexican wrestling match. I saw the National Palace in the Zocalo. I went to the zoo and was surprised that a free zoo could be so big and filled with so many different animals. I also found out that Mexico City was built on top of a lake and that because of this it is sinking! I went clubbing in the trendy Condesa neighborhood. I saw Mexican Hairless Dogs for the first time. I also experienced my first shots of Mezcal. I visited one of the most sacred places in Catholicism, Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Mexico City is a fascinating place with a lot to see and do. I could have easily spent 2-3 weeks exploring it. The city is hectic and crowded and I was glad that my next destination was Oaxaca.
In Oaxaca the pace of life was much slower than in Mexico City. I took a few day trips around Oaxaca. I went to see the Zapotec ruins of Monte Alban one day. Another day I went to see Hierve El Agua, The Biggest Tree In The World, and also went to see the Zapotec ruins of Mitla. During my time in Oaxaca I was amazed by the splendor of Santo Domingo Church. Oaxaca was a city with a charming, pleasant and artistic atmosphere. It would have been easy to stay longer but I took a long and winding bus ride to the Pacific coast.
On the coast I spent a few days soaking up the sun in Puerto Escondido. After some beach time and nice seafood I headed over to the cosmopolitan city of San Cristobal de Las Casas in Chiapas. In San Cristo I enjoyed a lot of international cuisine and sampled some live music. I even stumbled into an after-party. Unfortunately San Cristobal marked my first illness of the trip, but I won my bout with Montezuma and moved on.
I suppose most people reading this post would want to know if I felt Mexico was a safe place to visit. My answer to that question would be an undeniable yes. I never felt remotely threatened during any of my time in Mexico. I don’t doubt or deny that there are serious problems in Mexico. I also lived in Los Angeles for the past 9 years so I guess everything is relative. I do think it is important to take precaution and to research possible destinations thoroughly. However, I wouldn’t hesitate to tell an experienced traveller, especially a backpacker, to visit Mexico. Another way to put it would be to say you wouldn’t warn people about visiting Seattle because of a series of robberies in New York. It is common knowledge that Juarez is a dangerous place and certain areas of Mexico might present more danger than others. However, if you practice common sense you can almost certainly avoid violent crime for the most part. I do feel that as a foreigner you are more susceptible to petty crime, but that you can limit your risk by adjusting your behaviors. In general, always ask the locals. Check the media, but DO NOT believe everything you read.
I enjoyed my time in Mexico. I learned a lot about the history of the region. I soaked up some of the culture and saw some amazing sights. I talked to some locals and gained a little more insight into their lives. My time there made me want to visit again to hopefully gain a deeper understanding of the country and to see the things that I missed out on this time. I felt like I had only scratched the surface and that I needed to learn more Spanish so I could talk to more Mexican people. Mexico has a lot to offer people. Wonderful food, vibrant culture, amazing history and picturesque landscapes. It is a fascinating place to spend your time. I would happily go back to Mexico. There are quite a few places I still would like to visit and I wouldn’t mind revisiting the places I’ve already been to. Simply put, one month in Mexico is not enough!