Day of the Dead (or Día de Muertos) seems to be ever on the rise as a Halloween theme. Painted faces, decorated skulls and vivid flowers are becoming more and more mainstream in America and the rest of the world, while in Mexico it all dates back nearly 3,000 years. A multi-day Mexican holiday where family and friends celebrate deceased loved ones, it’s a surprisingly uplifting and happy tradition.
So with the Day of the Dead just around the corner, plus the fact that Mexico City is now a global trending destination, what better time to explore its cultural heritage, culinary prowess and fascinating ancient history?
To help you find the best spots in Mexico to do so, Booking.com dug into its own internal data. The data experts divided recommendations by Booking.com customers into three relevant topics; culture, history and cuisine. The Mexican destinations that scored most highly for those categories are listed below…
Seafood features prominently in Tepic dishes; you’ll see a variety of succulent species from shark and sea bass to shrimp and oysters. And lots and lots of grilling. One particular dish that every visitor really needs to try is Mezquite grilled fish – marinated in lemon juice, soy sauce and chili then smoked over a fire before being served on a platter of salsa and salad. Exotic ingredients like coconut and bananas flourish in the region’s fertile soils, so you can expect a variety of exciting produce.
The capital city of the Mexican state of Baja California has an unusual hybrid cuisine. Its huge Chinese diaspora has influenced culinary traditions so much so that you’ll get fresh Mexican grilled fish and meat dipped in moreish Asian sauces. Visit ‘Chinesca’ (Mexicali’s Chinatown) to try out these combinations and you’re in for an unexpected treat.
Sit down at a restaurant table in Córdoba to a bowl of cut limes and a cerveza followed by a distinctly Spanish meal. Though the Spanish influence is notable, you can still get the most Mexican of experiences (and dishes). Mexico is the first country in the world to have its traditional cuisine included on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List and it seems its national gastronomic offering is finally being recognised as rich and complex as it is; Córdoba is a great showcase of this diversity. It’s also famous for its coffee, best enjoyed wandering through the city park or in one of the Córdoba’s typically bohemian cafés.
San Juan Teotihuacán
This holy city is an awe-inspiring display of the technological prowess of its ancient inhabitants. All thanks to its main attraction – the Teotihuacán complex of imposing pyramids laid out on detailed and fascinating geometric and symbolic principles. One of Mexico’s most photographed sites, walking down its Avenue of the Dead and gazing up at the Pyramid of the Moon reveals the power of the Teotihuacán civilization, to humbling effect. A civilization that long spread its cultural and artistic influence throughout the region. If you can face it in the heat visitors may climb the steps to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun, supposed to bestow energising qualities on those who do.
Pachuca de Soto
Though often a launch pad for the nearby mighty mountains of Sierra Madre Oriental, the capital of Hidalgo state has more than enough going for it to entice you to stay. The town centre of brightly-coloured, oddly-arranged houses rises and falls over steep hills, from the top of which you get a great panorama. Visit the tall and opulent clock tower and vast statue of Christ if you want a bit of sightseeing. It’s worth noting that while it’s a city steeped in heritage and culture, it’s also an inviting place to relax and get close to local life.
Hugely culturally important, this unassuming, small town was the birthplace of the Mexican independence movement. It’s named after one of the nation’s most celebrated heroes, Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, who first called for independent Mexico and who also started the ceramics industry for which the town is known. The mood of the place is friendly and laid-back. Perch on a park bench in the elegant plaza for people-watching, enjoying the dappled shade and carts selling ice cream. Lime green lawns, fragrant flowerbeds, fountains, statues make this place a welcoming gathering place.
Instantly recognisable as the home of the eponymous spirit, Tequila is a firm tourist favourite for that reason. Museums are dedicated to its tradition of distilling the blue agave plant, which has been produced since the 16th century, and tours of distilleries are very popular.
Tlaxcala de Xicohtencatl
The city of Tlaxcala has a very visible colonial history, marked by monuments such as the elaborate baroque Basilica of Our Lady of Ocotlán. On Constitution Square, you can admire murals that depict local history. And if you’re interested in Mexican artist and feminist icon, Frida Kahlo, the Art Museum of Tlaxcala houses some of her early paintings.
A mind-blowingly sophisticated complex built by the ancient Mayans, Chichén Itzá is a well-known historical site. And as one of the most visited in Mexico, you’d be best advised to go earlier in the day to really enjoy the intricate stone carvings and vast pyramids. The Mayans’ astronomical knowledge is astonishing; they were so advanced that they could predict solar eclipses. And at the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, the morning and afternoon sun casts a light-and-shadow illusion of a serpent on the side of one of the staircases. Though the crowds do heave around this time, you can also see this vision recreated by nightly light and sound shows that illuminate the buildings and their incredible geometry.
- The data experts looked at recommendations for cuisine, culture and history. Destinations included had to have over 50 recommendations.