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Pyramids of Mexico
Down Mexico Way
Mexico is a fascinating country, with a huge variety of cultural things to see and do and an amazing history. There are a lot of ancient ruins in a good state of repair, some set in wonderful jungle settings.
Here is a review of my cultural tour of Mexico, visiting Mexico City, Merida, Uxmal, Oaxaca, Palenque and "Monte Alban, using planes and busses. This article is a review of the places to visit in this interesting country and includes travel tips, advice and recommendations and photographs of this stunning destination.
Getting To Mexico
The journey to Mexico from London Heathrow was easy and uneventful (apart from being upgraded to first class then being forced to use the Concorde Lounge. The First Class Lounge was being renovated) A direct BA flight taking just over 11 hours. From the US it is of course even easier.
Map of Mexico - Where are the Pyramids in Mexico?
We had nothing booked on arrival apart from the first night's accommodation at the Best Western Majestic Hotel. This was a lucky choice as it must be one of the best in Mexico City, on the west side of Zocalo, the main square, with a 7th floor roof-terrace and restaurant overlooking the enormous plaza de la Constrictucion, Catedral Metroplitana and Palacio National. An absolutely fantastic location, and the roof terrace makes a great place for breakfast or a drink to end an exhausting day's sightseeing.
Zocalo is enormous with many things to keep you occupied for at least a day. The Catedral Metroplitana and "Museo de Stitio Del Templo Mayor" are an essential part of any itinerary and are just next to Zocalo and the Teocalli of Astec Tenochtitlan demolished by Spaniards in 1520s also stood here, so there are several layers of history right in the city's central square. Templo Mayor has been excavated and the colonial buildings demolished so the older ruins may be observed. The whole of the Zocalo area can be seen on foot and gives an excellent informative introduction to the Astec, Maya and colonial history of the country.
Plaza de la Constrictucion "Zocalo", Mexico City - Alomeda Central
For a different perspective on the city we later stayed at the Bamer Hotel, which, while not a great hotel and fairly characterless, did have a great view from my 10th floor room overlooking the park "Almeda Central" about a mile from Zocalo. All of the points of interest for most tourists are in a small area in the centre of this sprawling city. The Alomeda Central park makes a great place for a walk with many statues, fountains and trees and the Palacio de Belle Artes at the east end of the park. This white marble concert hall and arts centre was started in 1904 in art nouveau and neoclassical style, it started sinking and was finished in 1934 in art deco style making it a rather intriguing building. This is a great place to spend an hour or two, then just round the corner, the excellent art deco (ish) La Opera Bar is also a good place to stop for a drink and listen to the resident musicians. Museo Franz Mayer which mostly exhibits Mexican art and crafts, opposite the hotel on the other side of the park and the 16th century hospital de san Juan Dios are also worth visiting. The lovely courtyard restaurant in the museum makes a splendid place for lunch. Museo Rufino Tamayo is also worth a visit with its fine collection of modern art.
Teotihuacan Pyramids, near Mexico City
We took a fairly standard touristy tour, arranged at our hotel, to the enormous Teotihuacan Pyramids outside Mexico City, stopping en route at "Three Cultures Square" which has Aztec pyramids, a colonial church (made of stones taken from Pyramids) and modern structures all in one square, which is fairly interesting. Then on to "Virgin of Guadalupe" where there are three churches: one high up a hill, a newer one in the square and one that collapsed due to earthquake damage and subsidence, and on to the new circular cathedral built in 1974 made of concrete. We were then diverted into a polished stone statue and rug shop, which pretended to be a museum about tequila. We were shown how the maquey plant (a big cactus or succulent plant) could be made into paper, fibres, needle and thread, rugs and of course tequila, Mezcal and Pulque. Then we learnt how to drink it... I had four free shots, but still didn't buy anything from the over-priced shop, so I was tempted with two more shots and still didn't buy anything. The shopkeeper congratulated me and said no one had ever drunk six shots and then not bought something. I still didn't buy anything.
Teotihuacan Pyramids and ancient city are worth at least a two-hour visit. Huge pyramids in quite a desolate spot with cacti surrounding it. I climbed the pyramid of the moon, then the pyramid of the sun, for a wonderful view of this enormous old city, although rather regretting all of that tequila.
Xochimilco. The Venice of Mexico
Xochimilco. The Venice of Mexico - The canals of Mexico City. Mexico's equivalent of Venice
We arranged a trip to Xochimilco the Venice of Mexico, 180 km of canals full of colourful boats, in a suburb of Mexico City. It was very busy because it was a Sunday, with traffic jam of gondolas, but great fun, colourful and a wonderful setting, with old ladies in small boats selling flowers and various people selling food etc.
We flew to Merida with Mexicana airline and checked into the Gran Hotel overlooking Parque Hidalgo just one block from Plaza Mayor, an excellent location and rooms with balconies and pleasant views, costing less than Â£50 ($100).
We found some good restaurants in Merida. Amaro is a pleasant courtyard restaurant, formerly the house where Andres Quintana Roo, the poet, statesman and drafter of Mexicos Declaration of independence was born 1787. Restaurante Partico de Peregrino is a colonial courtyard restaurant specializing in Yucatecan dishes.
Other interesting things to see in Merida include another Cathedral, Banamex Bank on Plaza Mayor with its interesting colonial architecture, formerly Palacio de Montejo built in 1549, Palacio de Gobierno on the northern side of the Plaza, now executive government office, built in 1892 and MACAY, the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo Artenfo de YucatÃ¡n.
Good Compact Cameras
Chichen Itza is the most famous of Yucatan Peninsulas Mayan sites and the best restored. First settled in Late Classic Period abandoned in about 9th century resettled in 10th and finally abandoned in 14th century. It has regular, steep sided pyramids with steps that can be climbed, running up the middle of each side.
Chichen Itza Pyramids
We took the bus to Chichen Itza from Merida and walked through the site to our hotel, Hacienda Chichen. This was where the archeologists lived, their bungalows now form some of the accommodation. Big lazy lizards wander around the garden. It is only a couple of hundred yards from the Chichen Itza site, quite peaceful once the coach parties have gone back to the Yucatan beach resorts and probably the perfect place to stay.
The site was far cooler and more pleasant, with fewer tourists at 8am the following day, than there had been mid afternoon when we arrived, with most people arriving at 11:00 to 15:00 in huge coach-tours, but we also visited in the evening. We had a couple of enormous, excellent Margaritas at the hotel to prepare us for the evening light show, which was entirely in Spanish with English headphones doing a poor job of translating. It was mostly laughably bad, but nice to see the pyramids illuminated.
Chichen Itza to Uzmal
We took the bus back to Merida, where we got off at the wrong terminal and walked all the way across town to the correct one to get the bus to Uxmal.
Guidebooks for Mexico
Uxmal (Oosh Mal) is another fascinating ancient site which was occupied between 600-900 AD and means "thrice built" in Maya, but was actually rebuilt 5 times. It didn't have much water and a large population, so Chac the rain god was very significant. It was excavated in 1929. The nearby Kabah is not so impressive and has hardly been restored at all yet.
Camera Equipment: DSLRs
Palenque - Palenque, surrounded by jungle
The bus to Palenque takes up to 10 hours, so we opted for a US$200 plane journey. There is a bus to the ruins, from the town, which is only 6.5km away, but takes a while to get there.
Paleque Ruins with their excellent Jungle setting were my favourite. Starting from the main entrance we walked round the main plaza, then down through the jungle to lower exit, back up again through jungle to the rest of the site, howler monkeys and other jungle-life making lots of noise all around us. Fantastic. An absolutely beautiful setting. There is also a small museum at the ruins.
Oaxaca and Monte Alban Ruins
We took the 15 hour bus journey to Oaxaca City
After a 1.5 mile walk, we checked into Hotel Monte Alban on Alameda de Leon, the plaza next to Zocalo and near Oaxaca Cathedral and the cultural museum for Oaxaca region "Instituto Nacional De Anthropologia e Historia" a beautiful building in colonial Spanish style and interesting exhibits and the Museo de Arte Contemporareo de Oaxaca which was not very good, but also a great colonial building. We did not find any good restaurants in Qaxaca.
From Oaxaca we took the bus to Monte Alban, which goes from Hotel Meson des Angel near Zocalo. Monte Alban is another ruin, the ancient Zapotec capital 400 metres above valley floor a few kilometres west of Oaxaca. Great ruins in a reasonable state of repair and still being rebuilt, as with most of the sites. A very good condition ball court with stone hoops for a game similar to Basketball. It was first occupied in about 500 BC and at its peak, between 300 and 700 AD, had a population of about 25,000, but was abandoned between 700 and 950 AD.
A wonderful enjoyable trip going to some of the more out of the way places in Mexico. The most striking pyramid sites are in Palenque and Chichen Itza, the rest were rather harder to get to, but worth the effort, although there is also a lot to see without leaving Mexico City
Summary: Jungly Palenque is the best