Mexico Things to Do Tips by TheWanderingCamel Top 5 Page for this destination
Mexico Things to Do: 616 reviews and 760 photos
Capilla del Santo Christo
Tlacolula is one of the small towns in the vicinity of Oaxaca that makes a great side trip - especially on Sunday when the huge market - one of the oldest in all Mexico - is in full swing. Anything and everything is for sale here, mountains of colourful fruit and vegetables, more varieties of the local hooch - Mescal - than you thought existed (be careful how many free samples you try - it's potent stuff!), wonderful crafts of every description - weaving, carving, ceramics, basketware and more. You'll see Zapotec Indian women in traditional dress - though they don't like having their photo taken and even the politest request will probably meet with a shy denial - and hear Zapotec being spoken.
If you can tear yourself away from the market take a few moments to look inside the church - the Capilla del Santo Cristo, built by Dominicans in the 16th century and, with its large red domes, typical of the churches built by the Spanish throughout this part of Mexico. The church at Tlacolula has an extraordinary collection of religious statues, many of which are both very old and very beautiful.
Back outside the church into the brilliant sunshine and dive back into the market - it stretches all around the church and into the streets beyond - some of it a makeshift Sunday affair of canvas tarps and wooden stalls, some of it under cool colonnades - all of it a riot of colour and lively crowds.
Address: 31km from Oaxaca
Directions: Buses to Tlacolula run from Oaxaca's 2nd class bus station. The 30 km trip takes about an hour.
Codz Poop - click for panoramic view
If Uxmal was quiet, Kabah was positively deserted - we literally had the place to ourselves - fantastic!
The most impressive building here by far is the Codz Poop - the Palace of Masks - no need for further explanation of that name when you see the hundreds of masks - alternating Chac and Quetzalcoatl - that cover the facade! Near the Codz Poop, you'll see the El Palacio, with its distinctive Puuc columns - a feature of the architecture of this period and place - in the doorways, and a rather insignificant Pyramid a little further on. After that you'll need to walk a fair distance to see anything else - the Temple of Columns is a fair way off in the jungle and the other main sights are actually right over on the other side of the main road that runs right through the site.
The spread out nature of Kabah and, by the time we got there, the heat and the long day from Merida (we'd already visited Uxmal) saw me really flagging. Next time, we're going to stay at Uxmal overnight to give ourselves more time to appreciate both places properly - and take advantage of the early morning coolness.
Directions: Kabah is 18knm from Uxmal. The two sites can be seen in one day.
Click fpr panorama view of Uxmal
Legend says that Uxmal (pronounced Oosh- maal) was founded by a dwarf magician - one explanation for the proportions of the steps on the Pyramid of the Magician which are very short and shallow, and very difficult to walk up for a person of normal height and leg length.
I loved Uxmal - there were even fewer people here than at Chichen Itza (which we had struck on a very quiet day) and, to me at least, more evocative and with an elegance and refinement to many of the buildings that Chichen Itza lacked. The Pyramid of the Magicians.with its smooth sloping sides and strange, small steps fascinated me and I loved the way you could see it rising above the treetops from many points around the site. The Governor's Palace and the Nunnery Complex with its multitudinous faces of Chac are very fine indeed.
Chac, the Rain God, was the premier deity here in this arid place, but there are also many representations of Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent. The architectural style here is regarded as being particularly sophisticated and there are some interesting and innovative (for Meso-America) features to look out for - rudimentary corbelled arches, columns and half-columns, unusual ornamentation.
The site is very spread out, and there is still a huge amount of excavation to be done - all those mysterious mounds covered in vegetation are hiding something.
Directions: Uxmal is 80km from Merida
Flamingoes - lots more if you click
The Yucatan isn't only about Mayan ruins and the colonial past. Whilst I was quite happy to give the beach resorts a miss - seen one beach resort town full of high-rise hotels, bars and clubs, you've seen them all - a day spent going to see the flamingos of Celestun was another matter. It was a bit late in the season and we knew we wouldn't see huge flocks of these amazing birds but it was a magic day, and we saw enough to keep us quite happy.
We hired a boat on the beach and were taken around the spit - past huge numbers of pelicans and other seabirds - and around into the shallow lagoon where the flamingoes gather. They were an extraordinary sight - glowing iridescently shrimp-pink in the sun - they almost seemed to hold the light in their feathers, the way a full balloon does.
This was a really memorable day - fishermen pushing their boats through the shallow waters of the lagoon, a petrified forest - ghost tree trunks rising out of the swampy ground, a swimming hole fed by a hot spring, the sleepy little township with its long beach of white, white sand - and a delicious lunch of fish and crab claws, visiting a Mayan lady in her simple thatched house - admiring her garden, her chickens and the beautiful embroidery she was working on a huipil for her daughter. Sadly, I've lost most of the photos I took that day, but the memories of what I saw are still clear in my mind's eye.
Directions: Celestun is 195 km from Merida. Our hotel organized the trip for us through a local tour company - an excellent arrangement.
Arriving in Chichen Itza a few days after the Spring Equinox , we missed the appearance of the famed serpent created by the sun on the steps of El Castillo - the main temple/pyramid here - but we also missed the hordes of people who come to see it, packing the area all around the base of the pyramid. As you can see from the photos - we had the place virtually to ourselves, which was just great.
The site is huge, with a wonderful collection of temples, platforms, an enormous ball court and other buidings. Restoration and preservation work is extensive, and the results are awe-inspiring. Be prepared for a long, long day if you want to see it all. Bring a hat and wear your most comfortable shoes. You'll be hot and tired by the end of the day, but it's worth it. This is the most complete pre-Hispanic city on the Yucatan Peninsula and a visit here will leave you with a good idea of the power and sophistication of the civilizations that built it, lived and worshipped here - both the Chac-worshipping Maya and the Qetzalcoatl- worshippers of Central Mexico - over several hundred years.
Directions: Chichen Itza is a popular day excursion from Merida, Cancun, etc with plenty of choice of tours on offer. An excursion bus also runs from Merida for those who don't want to take a tour. At 115 km one way, be prepared for a long day.
Casa de Montejo
On the surface, Merida - the White City - has a quiet and sleepy charm that I found quite endearing. It's all a bit frayed around the edges - the heat and humidity of the Yucatan takes its toll on buidings and people alike, but the reality is this is a thriving city with a long history, a proud cultural bent, attractive parks and public spaces, good restaurants and much to offer the visitor beyond simply being a base from which to explore the great Mayan sites of the Yucatan peninsula. With its green heart in the Plaza Mayor and the equally attractive Parque Hidalgo (look out for the white painted love seats - ideal for courting couples to be able to gaze into each other's eyes but suitably seperated - a chaperone's delight) and other parks, 16th century cathedral, colonial era palaces and mansions, the city certainly shows off its gracious, and affluent, past.
It's also a shopper's paradise, with lots of outlets for souvenirs and top quality crafts. One thing you really should consider taking home with you is a genuine Yucatan hammock - the fine string ones in undyed cotton are my favourites - I even had a special hammock arbour built in my garden to use the ones we bought to their best advantage! The huge covered market and the shops in the surrounding streets are fun to wander around but this area is notorious for pickpockets and purse-snatchers, so do take care.
One good way to take in the sights of Merida is an evening horse- drawn carriage ride - somehow the slow pace seems to suit the ambience of the town perfectly.
God and Mammon
Not that there's a lot ... the ruins are the main reason to come here.
Apart from the 17th century church of San Pablo (Saint Paul) - much of it built using stone from the demolished palaces - and the usual collection of souvenir and handcraft shops - Mitla doesn't have a lot to offer once you've seen the ruins. Much of the handcraft is locally made, some of it to distinctive Mitla designs. The museum probably isn't worth bothering with unless you're a real fan of old pots and the minutae of archaeological digs.
However, this is a most important site as well as being very attractive. It seems far less haunted to me than many of the other pre-Hispanic ruins of Mexico, well worth the trip out from Oaxaca, with or without a guide.
Directions: Buses run out to Mitla all day and into the early evening. It's 90km return, the fare shouldn't cost more than a $1 each way. There are lots of tours available from Oaxaca which can include a visit to an Indian market town - depending on the day.
Tree and church
El Tule's ancient ahuehuete (water cypress) tree is reputed to be the biggest tree (around its trunk) in all the Americas. It may be, it may not - one thing is for sure - it is one big tree. 58 metres around - that's getting on for 200 feet!! It is also incredibly old - possibly as much as 3,000 years. It really is a venerable giant and deserves all the attention it gets.
There's not much else to see at El Tule, the church is nothing very special - though the nuns who sell their almond cookies and bottles of dolce de leche are very sweet and demure and there's a pleasant garden to walk around. Tours to Monte Alban usually include a quick stop here, otherwise you could catch a bus from Oaxaca - it's only 10km and a few cents fare from the city and buses run every 10 minutes or so.
Monte Alban panorama - click for full-width photo
The Zapotec people who built Monte Alban really understood the mantra of estate agents the world over - location, location, location! They also must have had a vast army of cheap labour - building the ceremonial heart of the city involved levelling a huge chunk of mountaintop to create an enormous flat surface on which to erect the extraordinary collection of terraces, palaces, temples and - most extraordinary of all - the "observatory " that still today astounds us with its mathematically precise alignments to other parts of the city.
Like so many of the great ruins of Mexico, Monte Alban had a long history of successive stages of building, each one grander and more elaborate than the one before, starting somewhere about 500BC and finally falling away by about 950CE. Whilst there is much to see here it really is only a small part of the city as a whole that has been excavated along with scores of tombs - including a much later burial (Mixtec rather than Zapotec) that yielded a fabulous treasure trove that you can now see in the Oaxaca museum.
Whether you visit the site with a guide (either with a tour group or by picking up a local guide once you get there) and thus gain a really good insight into what the place was (probably - there are no certainties in archaeology) all about, or simply take it all at your own pace, guidebook in hand, you cannot fail to be awed by what you see. Once again, the achievement of these ancient people - remember they did all this without the aid of either wheel or beast of burden - this is all sheer human endeavour - will astound you and, even if you are suffering from a surfeit of ruins, the views are stunning.
There's a small museum near the entrance - most explanations are in Spanish only.
Directions: Monte Alban is only a 20 minute bus-ride from Oaxaca. There are pleanty of tours available from the city or you can catch a local bus.
I loved Oaxaca (pronounced Wa-ha-ca)and was so glad that we had opted to spend an extra couple of days here when we were organizing our Mexican trip. It is just such a lovely place to wander in and explore around with its narrow streets lined with colonial-era buildings, beautiful churches, shady plazas and pretty courtyards. You can sit for ages in one of the cafes around the Zocalo in the evening ,watching the passing parade or join the strollers yourself. The markets are fantastic - an explosion of colour and smells, such a feast for the senses. There are some really good restaurants- and great cheap eats.
Among the excellent museums two are real stand-outs - the Museo Regional de Oaxaca up the hill at the Santo Domingo monastery ( an exquisite place - worth a visit just for the pleasure of the building alone) and the Museo Rufino Tamayo, where the pre-Hispanic collection of artifacts is displayed to perfection in a lovely old Oaxaca house.
The whole region is renowned for the richness and variety of its local crafts - you'll find them all on display in shops around town, at the craft markets and simply set out on makeshift stalls around the Zocalo.
The city also serves as the most likely base from which to visit the ancient Zapotec sites of Monte Alban and Mitla as well as the other ruins, villages and markets of the Valles Centrales.
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