In 2003 the Day of the Dead was declared a masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage by U.N.E.S.C.O. and every year the Xcaret Park near Cancun, Mexico celebrates the Day of the Dead with a 5 day event known as the ” Festival de Tradiciones de Vida y Muerta”. During this celebration visitors can enjoy traditional cuisine of the region, workshops, handcrafts, visual art exhibtions, music, dances, rituals, altars, and offerings. One of the highlights of this event is the tour of their cemetery which is both a tribute to the deeply rooted attitudes of mexicans towards death and a replica of cemeteries found throughout Mexico. This cemetery is located inside the maya village on a hill with winding spiral paths that lead to the top.The path is lined with unique and imaginative headstones, plaques and ornamental structures that display a variety of spiritually oriented designs and attitudes about the dead.The photo gallery below is a sample of what to expect in the cemetery and in other locations around the park during this event.
Cozumel is the largest of Mexico’s islands measuring 53 km by 14km and is found in the Caribbean Sea about 1 hour away from Playa del Carmen on the passenger ferries which make frequent trips on a daily basis. Although, there are a variety of things to do once you get to Cozumel the main attraction has always been snorkeling and scuba diving to experience the great meso american reef system. One travel guide book has a list of 86 attractions around Cozumel but 43 of them involve different scuba diving or snorkeling locations. Other things to do while on the island are related to either cultural activities, parks or beach clubs.
Three types of beaches can be found around this island and they will be either rocky, smooth white sand or hybrids. According to people in the know, rocky beaches are a indication of good snorkeling opportunities off shore and they are plentiful. The smooth white sand beaches are not as common as the rocky type but they can be found at the northern or southern tips of the island’s western shores such as Playa San Francisco near Punta Sur. Finally, there is the hybrid variety where sand has been brought in to build a beach on top of the limestone croppings that are the norm around Cozumel.. One such man made beach is found at the Chankannab National Park to the south of town.
At the end of the day, most people head for San Miguel to enjoy happy hour, dinner or other cultural activites. This is the only city on the island and it has a population of over 75,000 people according to the last count. One of the main attractions here is the pedestrian only Plaza Centro where you can find restaurants, shops, street artist, cafe’s and nightlife. In the photo gallery below you will find images and more information about Plaza Centro, a few of the beaches as well as some other highlights.
In Playa del Carmen on the Maya Riviera, life is a beach and so it is called Playa by most everyone familiar with this area. Up until a few years ago, the main attraction to Playa was the ferry to Isla Cozumel but there has been a dramatic transformation in the past 10 years from portal to what is now one of Mexico’s most popular resorts. Some of this success can be attributed to nearby attractions such as Cancun or Ecaret theme park but Playa’s newly developed amenities and attractions make this resort an appealing destination on its own..
As far as attractions and activities are concerned, the sun, sea and beaches are the most important to consider. There’s plenty of sunshine to go around, the ocean temps are comfortable all year long, and the beaches stretch from one end of town to another. Playa Caribe is one of the main public beaches at the south end of town next to the maritime terminal where ferries to and from Isla Cozumel are located. Amenities at this beach include volleyball nets, several tiki bars, showers and massage tables. On the other side of this terminal you will find Senor Frogs beach which offers similar amenities as detailed by photo on the left, as well as there restaurant and bar.
Other conveniently located attractions include a variety of retail stores, restaurants and bars. The retailer’s directly behind Playa Caribe are for the most part independently owned and operated. Wheras, the retailers directly behind Senor Frog’s are corporate owned speciality stores that are part of the upscale La Fiesta Plaza. As you might expect, there is a considerable difference in the merchandise available at these shops and in the way they operate their business. Suffice to say, that if you are looking for a bargain on products made in Mexico, shop at the independently owned stores as seen in the photo to the right. If you want expensive name brand imports, shop at the Plaza La Fiesta. In addition to the different types of merchandise for sale, it is also interesting to compare the old world approach to retailing practiced by the independent shops versus the contemporary style of retailing at the Plaza La Fiesta.
Likewise, the choice of where to eat includes traditional mexican food served at stands or restaurants just behind Playa Caribe or restaurants like Subway, Haagen Das and Starbucks in the food court at the La Fiesta Plaza. When it’s time for happy hour, however, the choices are easy because all the bars seem to serve the same brands of mexican beer and after a few hours in the sun, they all taste good. Cheers!
September 20th to the 23rd was the inauguration of Club Hipico and Grand Prix Equestrian Show Jumping in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. It is located in the exclusive gated community of Otomi Lake and Villas close to the historic center of this world heritage site. The club features a restaurant, galleries, 3 paddocks and 3 separate courses for various levels of competition. In the future they will be hosting both national and international equestrian events.
The outcome of a Grand Prix show jumping contest is based on numerical scores determined only by whether a horse attempts an obstacle, clears it, and finishes the course in an allotted time. Obstacles include verticals. spreads, double and triple combinations of each, along with many turns and changes of direction. The object is to jump cleanly over all obstacles on a set course in the time allowed. Faults are assessed for exceeding the time allowed, knockdowns and refusals to jump the obstacles. In higher levels of competition, such as Grand Prix events, the courses present more technical and complex challenges for the horse and rider. Not only does the height and width of obstacles increase but the turns become tighter and distances between obstacles shorter making the course more difficult to complete without faults.
The main attraction to Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city, is the well preserved central historic district. The centerpiece of this downtown area is the landmark Main Cathedral with its twin 200 foot towers erected in 1848. It is surrounded by 4 distinct plaza’s named Plaza de Armas, Plaza Tapatia, Plaza de Liberacion and Plaza Guadalajara. All together they offer visitors a variety of shops, restaurants, cultural activities and events hard to find elsewhere in the country with the exception of Mexico city. One of the highlights located in the Plaza Tapatia is the Cabanas Cultural Institute which houses art exhibitions, a movie theater, a performing arts theater and an outdoor patio where ballet and musical events take place.
The Central Historic area of Gaudalajara is also a convenient base for exploring other surrounding attractions such as the suburb of Tlaquepaque and Tequila, a Unesco World Heritage sight where much of the countries national drink is produced. Only a few minutes away from Gaudalajara’s downtown visitors can also experience the artisan community of Tlaquepaque, that produces the greatest variety of handicrafts in Mexico. Here, in a large pedestrian tourist area there are over 200 stores, restaurants, galleries and other attractions. Another unique experience not to be missed while in Guadalajara, is the tequila express, a 90 minute train ride from the station in Central Guadalajara that passes through vast fields of blue agave, the village of Tequila and finally arrives at the Casa Herradura Distillery. This train ride features plush coaches, live Mariachi music on board, tequila tastings and dinner at the Casa Herradura, one of the oldest tequila making facilities in the country which is still 100% Hacienda made.
Monarch butterflies are not able to survive the cold winters in the United States or Canada, so like most birds they fly south for the winter. The migration usually begins sometime in October or as soon as the weather starts turning cold in North America. Monarch butterflies living east of the Rocky Mountains fly to Mexico and monarch’s living west of the Rockies fly to Southern California. Experts have not yet discovered how the monarchs can navigate to the same spots every year when no single butterfly can survive the roundtrip but most believe that flight patterns are inherited or they are capable of using the earth’s magnetic fields for orientation.
While in Mexico, the butterflies winter haven is found at the El Rosario Butterfly Reserve in the state of Michoacan. Here, the butterflies have an ideal combination of trees and plant food needed to survive until spring. It is estimated that 20 million monarchs stay in this place every year which is open to visitors interested in observing this natural event from November until late march when the northward migration from Mexico begins. As previously indicated, the length of these journeys exceeds the life span of a monarch, so the first generation will only make it as far as Texas or Oklahoma before the females need to deposit eggs for the next generation if the species is to survive. All together it requires 4 generations of monarchs to complete this annual migration pattern .
The Surrealistic Architectural Gardens created by Sir Edward James are also known as Los Pozas ( the pools). It is located in the village of Xilitla, Mexico, a pueblo magico since December of 2011. The gardens consist of 80 acres with natural waterfalls and cascading pools of water, as well as thirty six surreal sculptures in what is a sub-tropical rainforest environment about 2,000 feet above sea level. Its origins date back to 1947 when James bought the land which was then used as a coffee plantation. A few years later, however, most of the plants James had started cultivating were destroyed by an unprecedented frost and as a patron of the surrealistic art movement he decided to convert the coffee plantation into gardens with surreal architectural sculptures that are completely integrated into the surrounding natural environment.
Born to immense wealth and privilege, James was raised in England where his family owned a 300 room mansion on a 6,000 acre estate. Needless to say, he attended some of the most élite schools in the country and became a poet/artist who passionately supported the surrealists art movement before it became fashionable. In addition, he sponsored the work of several budding surreal artist such as Salvador Dali as well as the Montaure, a lavish surrealistic magazine published in Paris. Eventually, he abandoned the intellectual, social and artistic circles of London for the jungles of Xilitla, Mexico where he died in 1984. Sometime before his death, however, he had donated the family estate in England to a charitable trust and set up the West Dean college for the preservation of traditional arts and crafts.
Located about 18 miles from San Miguel de Allende is the archaeological site of Canada de la Virgin. It represents an important part of pre-hispanic mexican culture where many historical relics have been found. There are 7 pyramid structures of different sizes and styles that were built around 540 A.D. by Toltec and Chichimeca architects. According to experts, the site was designed and configured in such a way that all structures would be symmetrically aligned with cosmic cycles. Hence, this pattern of construction allowed the pyramids to serve as sky observatories among other things. In addition, Canada de la Vrigin is also part of a nature preserve offering a variety of recreational activities such as camping, hiking, horseback riding and astronomy tours, as well as a venue for special events.
A 500 year old cosmopolitan city, San Miguel de Allende became a Unesco World Heritage site in 2008. In summary, Unesco is an agency of the United Nations and its purpose is to promote world peace and international cooperation through education, science and cultural exchanges. To be included in the world heritage list, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one of ten cultural or natural criteria.
In addition to having outstanding universal value, San Miguel de Allende qualified for acceptance on 2 of the other criteria. According to Unesco, “San Miguel is an exceptional example of the integration of different architectural trends and styles on the basis of 16th century urban layout. Both religious and civil architecture exhibit the evolution of different styles well integrated into a homogenous urban landscape”.
Unesco also considered San Miguel to be qualified as an exceptional example of the interchange of human values. “Due to its location and function, the town acted as melting pot where Spaniards, Creoles, and Amerindians exchanged cultural influences; something reflected in its tangible and intangible heritage”. Additionally, the town exhibits an acceptable state of conservation while the legal system in place ensures protection of property and continuity.
Thanks to this heritage and a thriving community of international artist, San Miguel has become one of the worlds most popular tourist destinations. Visitor’s will find that studios, galleries and craft shops are ubiquitous in the central historical area. In addition, the art institute of San Miguel attracts many students with a variety of degree programs and workshops in the fine arts. However, San Miguel is not just for art lovers, there are many other diversions here as well; such as music festivals, concerts, plays, film festivals, and other special events throughout the year that appeal to a wide variety of interest.
Los Cabos is located at the southern most tip of Baja California Sur where the Pacific meets the Sea of Cortez. The Cabos area is anchored by San Jose Del Cabo to the east and Cabo San Lucas to the west with about 30 miles of beach, golf courses, hotels and condominiums in between. There are recreational opportunities here to plealse just about everyone including golf, big game fishing, surfing, scuba diving, snorkeling, horseback riding, atv adventure tours, and kayaking, As well as, luxury spas and upscale nightclubs that stay open to dawn.
Cabo San Lucas is known to be a contemporary high end resort with a lot of vitality and a world class marina that features over 380 slips which can accommodate vessels up to 200 feet, along with high quality services and amenities only found at luxury yachting marina´s. San Jose Del Cabo, on the other hand, is more of a traditional mexican village that consist of historical sites such as the renovated Jesuit mission named Iglesia San Jose, an estuary with a variety of colorful birds and wildlife, in addition to, a botanical garden featuring desert flora called Cacti-Mundo.
Along the shores of Banderas Bay, there are numerous beaches that are divided into three zones; north of town, in town, and south of town. Four of the most popular beaches south of Puerto Vallarta Central include Mismaloya Beach, Boca Tomatlan, Las Animas and Quimixto. Mismaloya and Boca Tomatlan can be reached by car, bus, or taxi but Las Animas and Quimixto can only be reached by boat or by hiking thru long jungle trails from Boca Tomatlan.
Mismaloya Beach is about 6 miles from the center of town and happens to be where ¨Night of the Iguana¨ starring Richard Burton was filmed in 1963 before the condo´s and hotel´s were constructed. More recently, much of the ¨The Predator¨starring Arnold Schwarzenegger was filmed in the jungle behind Mismaloya. Boca Tomatlan beach is about 10 miles from the center of town and is the last of the south shore beaches which can be reached by car. This beach lies at the the mouth of the Rio Horcones, so besides salt water there are fresh water pools for swimming, restaurants for other kinds of refreshment and water taxi´s for trips to the other beaches not accessible by car. The boat ride from here to Las Animas or Quimixto is only a short distance and relatively inexpensive. At Las Animas, there is an adventure park with zip lines, rope bridges and climbing activities. The main attraction at Quimixto is a 30 meter high waterfall which feeds into a natural pool of pristine mountain water about 15 meters deep and can be reached by horseback or by hiking across several hills and 2 rivers. Both of these beaches offer a variety of restaurants and shops that sell locally made merchandise.
The Vallarta Botanical Gardens were created in 2004, on 20 acres of what was previously half overgrazed cattle pasture and half deciduous forest. The ongoing mission of this non-profit organization is to create Mexico´s foremost Botanical Gardens for the propagation, study, discovery, conservation, and display of native mexican plants that both local residents and visitors will be able to enjoy.
As of now, the Vallarta Gardens main attractions are the orchid conservatory, mexican plant collections, butterfly gardens, tree fern grotto, jungle trails, mountain river swimming, tropical fruit trees and atv tours. In addition,the Hacienda de Oro inside the Visitors Center is one of Vallarta´s most famous destination restaurants famous for brick-oven pizza and fine mexican cuisine.
Vallarta is located on the pacific coast of Mexico at the foot of the Sierra Madre mountains. It is an alluring blend of modern sophistication and old world character with many luxury resorts fronted by beaches and the warm waters of Bandaras Bay. Despite the presence of luxury hotels and condominiums, Puerto Vallarta remains a very casual resort where shorts and t-shirts are standard attire.
Although Vallarta started attracting tourist in the 1940´s, it was the filming of ¨The Night of the Iguana¨, starring Richard Burton in 1963 that eventually put Puerto Vallarta on the international tourist map to stay. With the development of the Marina Vallarta Complex in the mid 90´s, the city has also become a major port of call for cruise lines. As a result, American discount chains such as Walmart and Costco have set up shop to accommodate the growing population of ex-pats and tourist that come by land or sea.
Since Banderas Bay is protected by its shape and surrounding geography, the water remains calm and clear most of the time. So, conditions are ideal for many water sports such as boating, deep sea fishing, snorkeling and parasailing. Other popular recreational opportunities in the area include golf, tennis and a variety of eco-tours into the Sierra Madre mountains for the more adventurous.
Featured in the John Steinbeck novel ¨La Pearl¨, La Paz is the capital of Baja California Sur and has a population of around 250,000 people. It also has one of the highest standards of living and quality of life in Mexico. As a result, La Paz has become a popular destination for many Canadians and Americans seeking alternative retirement havens. It is also favored by water enthusiasts for its marina´s, boatyards, marine supply stores and cruiser clubs.
La Paz is also Baja´s Eco-tourism center offering a variety of tours guided by professionals dedicated to preserving the environment. Thus, eco-tourism is by far the leading source of tourist income in this area; as most people come to enjoy snorkeling, diving or kayaking in the pristine waters or to explore the 244 islands in the sea of cortez which are under UNESCO protection as bio-reserves such as the Espiritu Santo group of islands only a few miles off the shores of La Paz.
San Miguel de Allende may be a tourist town but what attracts visitors to this area is the atmosphere created by the art institute and all its related activities. Although the art institute was created around 1950 by Enrique Martinez, a former governor of Guanajuato, his wife Nell Harris, a retired Naval Officer named Sterling Dickinson and Peruvian artist and diplomat Cossio del Pomar, everyone seems to agree, that Sterling Dickinson is most responsible for San Miguel becoming an international art center.
Initially, the art institute offered a master´s in fine art accredited by the University of Guanajuato but over the years the institute has grown in size and scope and now offers BA and AA degrees in the visual arts along with workshops in painting, drawing, jewelry, weaving, photography and more. Additionally, there are many spanish language learning
programs and an art school for children.
A Canadian Olympic Bronze medalist in figure skating, Toller Cranston has also lived in Russia, Mongolia, and Paris but eventually settled in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico where he has lived for the past 20 years. In addition to figure skating Cranston is a renowned artist who paints, designs tapestries, lamps, and carpets. He also owns several homes in San Miguel and personally designs each of the interiors in his own unique and eclectic style as seen in these photos.
The Balandra Bioshpere is a complex of beaches, hills, dunes, and mangroves on the sea of cortez. It is one of many protected environments in Baja California Sur about 20 kilometers from La Paz, Mexico. The bay of balandra is very shallow with clear, warm water ideal for snorkeling and kayaking. It also forms several beaches but the main beach offers palapa´s and barbeque pits, in addition to, campsites.
Less than an hours drive south of La Paz lies the Bay of Ventana which is one of the best locations in the world for windsurfing and kiteboarding. The best time of year for both of these sports begins in November and ends sometime in March when the strong northeasterly winds slowly die out. During the peak season there are kite boarding expos and several major events such as the La Ventana Classic which is an international competitive event for windsurfers and kiteboarders.
Other popular activites in the La Ventana area include snorkeling, camping, swimming and fishing for marlin. There are campsites for both tents or motorhomes all along the shoreline; some offer showers, toilets and trash barrels while others are more primitive.
The Sierra Laguna mountain range is located in the cape region of Baja California Sur and as a bioshpere reserve this area is a protected environment which prohibits development. At higher elevations, the sierra laguna´s also qualify as a cloud forest during the summer months when the peaks are consistently shrouded in mist or rain. This type of climate supports a mix of desert, tropical and sub-alpine flora which are unique in North America. Likewise, a variety of fauna such as deer, coyote, tree frogs and mountain lions can also be found in this area. As a result, the Sierra Laguna´s are a popular destination for hikers and backpackers who come to enjoy the impressive scenery which surrounds the numerous mountain trails of this reserve.
Todos Santos is a lushly vegetated village on the pacific coast of California Baja Sur about half way between La Paz and Cabo San Lucas. It is one of Mexico´s pueblo magico´s and is just a few miles west of the Sierra Laguna Mountains which provides an underground stream of water that local farmers use to grow mangoes, avocados, guavas, papayas, citrus, coconuts and other organic produce. The population of Todos Santos is under 10,000 people which includes a small colony of artist, writers, entertainers and surfers who live there on a year around basis. The main attractions for most are the beaches, restaurants, cafes, art fairs, hotel california and climate.
Located in Baja California about 3 hrs drive southeast of Ensenada is the Parque National Sierra San Pedro Martir which was founded in 1947. It is about 170,000 acres and has a variety of flora and fauna similar to the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the USA. As visitors start the ascent to this national park off the main highway from Ensenada the terrain changes rapidly from arid coastal plains, to high chaparral and once above 1500 meters it becomes thickly forested glens with many trails and campsites for hikers and backpackers. In addition to a recreational area, the Mexican government selected this site for its national observatory and largest telescope because of its exceptionally clean air.
Bahia Pulmo is both a national marine preserve and UNESCO world heritage site found on the East Cape of Baja California Sur about 60 miles from the Los Cabos resort area of Mexico. Bahia Pulmo is unique in that it has the only hard coral reef in the sea of cortez and is one of only 3 living reefs in North America. The abundant coral growth on the rocky reefs provides plenty of shelter for a variety of colorful reef fishes, many of which are not found anywhere else. This in turn is what attracts many scuba divers and snorkelers from all over the world to the Cabo Pulmo area.
If you are traveling in Baja California Sur in the vicinity of La Paz, Mexico, don´t pass up the chance to see the islands of Espiritu Santo and Partida. Both of these islands are connected by a narrow isthmus and can be reached by arranging a powerboat tour or by a kayak trip which is about 4 miles away from the La Paz area. These islands are protected by UNESCO as bioshperes and are popular eco-tourism destinations.
While there are a variety of recreational opportunities both in and out of the water; the highlights include diving, snorkeling, kayaking, sea lion colonies and hot springs. In addition, Isla Partida has one of the world´s top 12 beaches called Ensenada Grande which has spectacular red rock formations, white sands and clear water.
Bahia Concepcion is located on the East Coast of Baja California Sur, Mexico. The entire bay is a national marine preserve that is reportedly one of the cleanest bay systems in the world and commercial fishing is prohibited. However, it is ideal for anglers, small boats, windsurfers, divers and kayakers. The bay area attracts many visitors from the USA, Canada, and Europe who usually stay in tents, palapa huts or motor homes since motels are few and far between. These photos show just a few of the many beaches in the bay area including Playa El Requeson, Playa El Coyote and Playa Los Cocos.
Mexico hosts Latin Americans largest balloon festival and it is located in the city of Leon where the skies are filled with several hundred balloons over a three day period. This is an annual event which is held around the 3rd week of November. In addition to the colorful balloons; the event is packed with exhibitions, presentations, and live music concerts.
This chapel sits on a hill which was the scene of a defining moment for the republic of Mexico. Here, on June 19, 1867; the verdict of the war tribunal was carried out when Maximillan of Hapsburg together with his generals Miguel Miramon and Tomas Mejia were executed by a firing squad. This act sealed the triumph of the Republic and returned sovereignty to Mexico. In 1900 the government of Austria asked permission to build a chapel on the spot. Today this hill is a national park called Cerro de las Campanas and is located in the city of Queretaro. It also includes a large statute of former President Benito Juarez, a museum, the University of Queretaro, and a recreation area.
La Ventana Beach on the sea of cortez is one of the best locations in the world for both kiteboarding and windsurfing, It is located less than an hours drive to the south of La Paz, the capital of Baja Sur in Mexico. La Ventana is host to both kiteboarding expo’s and the La Ventana Classic, an international competitive event for both windsurfers and kiteboarders. Usually, these events take place in January or February when weather conditions are best for both sports.