Seven Cenotes in Yucatán

Last month I travelled to Yucatán with a friend. It’s hard to pick highlights when a trip is as cool as this one was, but I won’t even hesitate to say the cenotes were the definite highlight. Actually, I think it’s safe to say that they were one of the most memorable adventures of my life.

My friend and I stayed in Mérida, the capital of Yucatán, and had previously looked for cool spots not too far away. On our arrival to the hostel (a place I can’t recommend enough called Nómadas), we got to chat a bit with one of the guys at reception. He mentioned that the prior weekend he had been to Homún, a small town not too far from the city, not a particularly charming place, but surrounded by at least 10 beautiful cenotes. We asked him for directions and he kindly explained to us how to get there.

I had been to several cenotes in Yucatán, but nothing prepared me for what we’d see in Homún. To start, Homún is a very small and unremarkable town. Its main economical activity used to be the production of organic fibers used for hats. Sadly, most hats today are made out of plastic, which means most people in Homún are unemployed today and turning to tourism for profit. When we arrived to the main square we were met by dozens of moto-taxis (basically motorcycles which have a bench attached to their front) operated by locals. We were offered a whole day of driving around the cenotes for $200 MXN, which is less than $10 US. We were two but you can fit four people for the same price.

Our driver’s name was Roberto and he was very kind and knowledgeable. He told us a bit of the history of Homún and how cenotes have turned into a new currency, something I find quite alarming and sad. Whoever finds a cenote in their property can choose to make it into a public attraction if the environmental authorities approve. Although the cenotes we visited were owned by native Mayan people who understand and respect the delicate environments they are and their interconnection with underground currents, I’m afraid they might be overcrowded soon.

We visited seven cenotes that day. Every time time I got a first glance at a cenote I though that one must be the coolest, and every time I was wrong. They were all wonderful and different. Among the ones we visited were Canun Chen, Baal Mil, Hool Kosom, Cheel Paa and Tres Oches. These cenotes and two others form a natural ring around the town, so it’s quite easy to find your way around once you spot one. We basically had them to ourselves and it was a magical experience. If you arrive before 11.00 am they’ll probably be empty.

Some cenotes, like Canun Chen, have ropes tied to the roof so you can go all Tarzan when jumping in the water; others, like Tres Oches, are basically holes in the ground surrounded by the greenest vegetation; others are way darker, like Hool Kosom—which means swallow’s cave— are darker and offer you amazing sights of wildlife like bats and swallows. They’re all wonderful in their own way. Also, swimming in a cenote is a unique experience: the water is always cool and clear, fish swim around you and there is something definitely magical—spiritual, eerie— about the quiet around you. This was a day I will never forget and I can’t wait to travel to Yucatán again soon.

Hool Kosom

Have you ever swum in a cenote?

Five Day-Trips From Mérida

Yucatán is one of the most wonderful states in México. It has everything: beaches, lagoons, lakes, wildlife, hiking trails, museums, pyramids… No wonder it is a very popular destination. However, it is hard to choose where to go once you’re there because it’s huge! This is why I put together a few places that are less than two hours away —by bus or car— from the capital, Mérida, and which I believe will help you get an idea of Yucatán.

Uxmal

There are many archeological sites in Yucatán, most of the wonderful. However, Uxmal is my favourite so far. It is only one hour away from Mérida by bus and, unbelievably, usually not crowded. The biggest pyramid in the complex is The Pyramid of the Magician, which is pretty impressive. There are also many smaller structures in which you can get in or go up.

Celestún

Celestún is small beach town one hour and a half away from Mérida by bus. Apart from enjoying the beach, you can go on a expedition to watch flamingos and other animals that live in the Reserva de la Biosfera Ria Lagartos, a protected area. You can also swim in some of the natural pools around town, or enjoy wonderful seafood by the beach.

Progreso Beach

The closest beach to Mérida. Takes thirty minutes by bus to get there, and all you need to bring is some towels. It’s the perfect escapade after sightseeing in Mérida.

Homún

Homún is a small town one hour away from Mérida. To get here you’ll have to drive or take one of the vans that stand outside the bus station. The wonderful thing about Homún is its cenotes. There are around 10 cenotes open to the public and many more that are being worked on or belong to private properties. It’s quite far to walk from one to the other, so I recommend you hire a moto-taxi for the day (the charge $200 for the whole day, up to four people) and see as many as you can. Each cenote charges $30.00 for the entrance. It’s totally worth it and one of the most wonderful things you can do in México.

Cuzamá

Cuzamá is just 10 minutes away from Homún and it’s cool for the same reasons: cenotes. You can spend another day exploring the cenotes here.

More tips for Yucatán

  • Sunscreen is necessary in Yucatán. However, you should make sure you’re wearing eco friendly sunscreen or no sunscreen at all when going in the cenotes. Cenotes are super cool but also very delicate ecosystems for birds, fish and flora.
  • Try Yucatecan food. You’ll see “Mexican” food everywhere, but don’t go for tacos or quesadillas, instead try cochinita pibil, sopa de lima and other dishes that are typical of the region. Yucatán has one of the most unique cuisines of the country, do yourself a favour and try it.
  • Stay at an eco-hostel! Hostels are booming in the area, especially in Mérida. They offer wonderful prices and the chance to meet like-minded people, which can be helpful when organizing a trip. I last stayed at Nomadas and could not recommend it more! It was truly amazing in every way.

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Pink Flamingos: Discovering Celestún

There are two things that come to mind when I think of Yucatán now, and they’re both pink: flamingos and salt lakes. They were one of the reasons I chose Yucatán for my last trip. I travelled with a friend and we stayed in Mérida. Incredibly, after almost 24 years of living in México I still, somehow, manage to misjudge distances: when we were at the hostel planning our days out, I realized that while Celestún, the place where you can see pink flamingos, was fairly close to Mérida, but the pink lakes, Las Coloradas, were actually pretty far.

Our transportation options were very limited. A bus would take almost 5 hours, which seemed excessive for a day trip, and renting a car was too expensive for my budget —and it would take three hours. The most reasonable thing would have been to spend a night in Las Coloradas or nearby, but that was again an extra expense. As much as we wanted to see the pink lakes, we decided to set more realistic goals for our days there and leave the pink lakes as an optional adventure for our last day in Yucatán.

Pink flamingos were still on the list though, so the next morning we took a bus to Celestún, a small town in the Yucatán peninsula just one hour and a half away from Mérida. I was also queasy about this trip. Although the flamingos are not the only reason why you’d visit Celestún—they have a natural reserve called Ria Lagartos, habitat to thousands of species—, the flamingos were certainly the most compelling one for us, and we were offseason. The best time to visit Celestún is during March and April when they are mating. In June and July, they’re not that active and handed to spot, but we had to give it a chance.

Celestún

Once in Celestún, a picturesque but definitely not prosper town, we went straight to the beach, where we saw a couple of boats on the shore. Most boat drivers offer a two-hour flamingo-watching ride, the problem is boats can fit up to 8 people and if you’re in a small group you’ll still have to pay full price. A boat ride is expensive, at around $1,600 MXN. Thankfully we met an awesome boat owner who arranged for us to share with two other girls, so we paid only $400 each.

These boat rides are operated by a Mayan cooperative whose members, as I gathered from our driver, are also concerned with conservation. The boats never get too close to the flamingos and the drivers make sure no one disturbs them or tries to feed them. Our driver William explained all of these as we made our way from the beach towards the Ría Lagartos reserve.

It’s a long ride in which all you can see is water, some pelicans and birds, even small alligators. And then, as if out nowhere, flamingos appear. Now, I don’t think I have ever been so fascinated by birds before. William stopped the engine when we were some 20 meters away from a group of 20 or so flamingos, and we stayed there, watching. The birds came and went, flew close to our heads, landed in the water, fought each other, played around. At some point, there must have been 50 or 60 birds around us, some of them still young and white. The flamingos, we were told, get their pink colour from the waters where they feed. Unlike most birds, flamingos feed on plankton and have no teeth but some kind of filters in their beaks, like whales.

They are a really weird species, gracious and somehow clumsy at the same time. I felt very humbled to be among them but I couldn’t help but doubt if it was okay to intrude in their habitat, even if we were assured that there was no harm being done. It was, as our guide said, not the right time to go and I wonder if many more people disturb them during the mating season.

On this trip, I learned that tourism is basically the only thing supporting people in small towns like Celestún nowadays. There are so many people that will take you on a boat to watch flamingos even though they’re not prepared or informed, only because there are no other jobs. Once again it’s clear that there is a very strong link between poverty and environmentally harmful practices.

Speaking of environmentally harmful practices, I have to say that I am very saddened about the amount of plastic lying close to the beach and on the roads of Celestún. In just a short walk I picked up a full bag of trash, mostly plastic bottles. This is extremely alarming considering how close the public beach is to the “protected” reserve of Ría Lagartos.

Speaking to our guide William on our way back to the beach he mentioned that flamingos were probably the most famous “attraction” of the area apart from the pink lakes. He mentioned most people travelled to Las Coloradas for that, which wasn’t really necessary since salt lakes could be found in many places in Yucatán. In fact, he knew a pink lake not five minutes away from where we were. After that, we spent five minutes convincing him to take us for a small extra fee ($50 each). He turned to boat around to shore just before where the river comes into the sea, we got off and walked for ten minutes among mosquitos and under a scorching sun and we finally came to it, a pink lake.

The colour pink comes from all the minerals and salts dissolved in the water, and it changes a bit depending on the light. This lake was actually very shallow, perhaps up to my waist in the middle, and the water was very hot and slimy. The sand underneath was also slimy and weirdly sticky. I had not experienced something similar before but I can tell you I didn’t want to go all the way in, not even to see if I would float like in the Dead Sea (which I have heard happens).

The area was completely empty, although you could see salt deposits in the distance and tools like shovels and buckets, there even was a truck parked not very far away. Most pink lakes like these are still worked for salt. That day, however, it was peaceful and eerie-looking.

Chunk of pink salt

After exploring a bit we went back to the boat and straight to the beach. It was a pretty interesting day and we crossed two things off our checklists, which gave us an extra day to stay in Mérida and chill. We had a pretty good lunch that day, too, shrimp and octopus, and hung out at the beach waiting for the last bus to Mérida. It was a pretty good day, “best day here so far”, we thought at the time, but we were quite mistaken.

Also, made a friend at the beach.

Falling in Love with Mérida

Mérida, Yucatán is currently the safest city in Mexico, which is in itself a luring aspect for female travellers. It was really one of the reasons why I chose it for my last holiday: I wanted to show a foreign friend around while keeping a very tight budget, which meant public transport, hostels and as little shopping as possible. I was looking for cheap and safe, and Mérida was the right answer.

My friend and I stayed in an eco-hostel called Nómadas, which I can’t recommend enough. It was a small, homey place with a beautiful pool surrounded by tropical plants and hammocks. It was also packed with young travellers, so we felt at ease always, plus the staff was wonderfully kind (everybody in Yucatán was awfully kind, come to that). I have stayed in many hostels over the last few years and I can honestly say this is one of the best. Also, it is very, very cheap.

Immediately after we arrived we wanted to go to the beach, so we dropped our bags and asked for the nearest beach. The only possible downside about Mérida is that it doesn’t have its own beaches. This is not a problem, however, as you can easily drive or take a bus to one of the many beaches nearby. This time we took a half-hour bus ride to Playa Progreso.

Apart from its closeness to beautiful beaches, Mérida is a wonder in itself. Also known as “the white city”, it has a rich history and played an important part in during the Spanish Conquest, when the Yucatán Peninsula was an important spot for trading with Europe. So it’s not strange that it is full of old, baroque buildings that almost seem out of place in a 40ºC weather. Its most remarkable building has to be the cathedral, an austere two-towered structure surrounded by trees. Another great spot for architecture lovers is Paseo de Montejo, where the poshest and nicest houses in town used to be. Now it is full of restaurants and cafés, and it is the perfect spot for a walk. My favourite café was Latte Quatro Sette.

Speaking of restaurants, I don’t think I have ever enjoyed food as much as when I was in Mérida. Whether you go to a food stand in the centre or a fancy restaurant, food is amazing. My favourite spot was a restaurant called Micaela Mar & Leña, close to our hostel. It is one of those places that offer a “food experience” rather than just food. It is also reasonably priced and the service is excellent. Seafood is amazing in Yucatán, but so are the traditional “cochinita pibil” (pork) and “sopa de lima” (soup with sweet lime).

Nightlife in Mérida is also pretty awesome. If you’re into Latin music I definitely recommend going to Mercado 60, where you’ll find live Cuban music (there’s a lot of Cuban influence in Yucatán’s culture due to the closeness between the two countries). There you can even learn to dance and have some cocktails or artisanal beer. The food is also pretty good.

We just stayed five days in the white city, and spent some travelling to some cities nearby, but I just fell in love with the city! Its culture, vibrance and most of all the kindness and good humour of its citizens—not to mention it is a pretty international spot, specially for young backpackers— make it, in my opinion, one of the greatest cities in Mexico. There’s just so many things to see and do! I can’t wait to go back.

Have you visited Mérida?

Walking Mexico City

Let’s say you’re in the city for a day and want to walk as much as possible.

Last Friday I got to show a foreign friend around Mexico City. She arrived on Thursday afternoon and we would leave for the coast on Saturday morning, so we only had a whole day to look around. It is impossible to get to see everything even when you live there, so I just tried to incorporate a bit of everything into the day: museums, food, architecture, nature.

Moreover, all these places would have to be reachable by foot. I obviously had to choose one area of the city, and to be honest it wasn’t that hard: Polanco/Chapultepec, to the north, is where many of my favourite places are and it’s far less crowded than the centre. I have to say that the main reason I wanted to walk was budget (no car, Uber is expensive and traffic is terrible, plus I don’t really feel safe using public transport in Mexico City anymore). In the end we walked about 7 miles and had a great time. This is what we did we went.

Brunch at Ojo de Agua, Masaryk

First things first. We started our day in one of the fanciest areas of the city, but in a place that was both affordable and delicious. Ojo de Agua combines a boho vibe with folkloric elements, and offers a healthy, chic (avocado toast kind of place) menu with a hint of traditional cuisine. It really is Mexican cuisine with a twist. The restaurant is beautiful, decorated like a market, with a comfy, spacious terrace you won’t want to leave.

Museo Jumex

The Jumex Museum is not far from Masaryk and it currently hosts a Marcel Duchamp + Jeff Koons expo that is pretty… photogenic (sorry, I’m not much for contemporary art). The entrance is free for students (and not very expensive if you’re not) and you get to walk along three floors of artworks. The Jumex Museum is famous for its daring expositions and its wonderful museography. If this is too hipster for you, the Museo Rufino Tamayo would be my second option: it’s also beautiful in its architecture and holds some of the most interesting pieces by Mexican artists. It’s also on the way to our next stop.

Walk along Polanquito and Lincoln Park

Polanquito is one of my favourite parts of the city. Its beautiful houses turned into restaurants and cafés, its art galleries, boutique stores. This is the part where you get yourself some coffe. Some personal faves: Joselo and Biscottino. Get it to go and enjoy it while walking through Lincoln Park towards Paseo de la Reforma.

Paseo de la Reforma

Walking along Mexico City’s most famous avenue is always rewarding. Depending on the season you’ll see different beautiful gardens featuring seasonal flowers. This time we walked from the National Auditorium towards Chapultepec Castle, our next stop.

Chapultepec Castle

Must you go here? Yes. To get there you’ll enter Chapultepec Forest, one of the last green lungs of the metropolis. Then you’ll walk up a small hill and come to the castle. It may not be impressive in size, but you’ll find its stairs and balconies pretty amusing. Its gardens are also very pretty and the views of the city are wonderful.

Paseo de la Reforma II

Chapultepec was really the last stop on my list, but I could not let my friend leave the city without a picture in front of the Angel of Independence, the city’s icon. So we left the forest and continued walking along Paseo de la Reforma. We were lucky because there was a flower festival going on, so the whole boulevard was covered in flowers and other plants.

The Angel was our last stop. I have to confess we didn’t walk home from there, we took an Uber. However, if you’re already at the Angel of Independence and you don’t feel like going home yet, you can take another 20 minute walk towards la Roma and end your day at my favourite restaurant in the city, Mog Bistro. From there you’ll find plenty to do since the area comes alive at night.

I am amazed at the many faces of Mexico City; I’m also surprised at how much our means of transport affect the way we perceive a place. I discovered many things in familiar places, I saw curious ensembles of people, squirrels climbing bizarre surfaces.

Have you been to Mexico City? What do you think of it? Also, let me know if you find any of these recommendations useful!

A Monday Morning in Guanajuato

First of all I have to begin by stating that I love Mondays. I love that they’re a fresh start: a new week begins and I’ll probably be well rested and in an awesome mood because on Sundays I sleep 14 hours. I also get a lot of things done on Mondays, they’re my heavy-duty day. I had been meaning to drive to Guanajuato City to run some uni errands for a while and I finally did it yesterday. It is only a 1-hour drive but the traffic inside the city is terrible, so I just thought I could spend the whole morning there.

I’d love to say that by now I am familiar with the city, but the truth is I always get lost. That is perhaps why I like it so much, its alleys are like Hogwarts’ changing stairs. This time I parked on Paseo de la Presa, a street which circles a both the dam after which it gets its name and a small park. This used to be the posh part of the city in colonial times, so the houses here are very big and old, with flowers hanging from their balconies and crooked, thin trees climbing their walls. It is a part of the city I like very much because it’s away from the general hubbub of the city centre.

This time I was looking for a coffee shop I have heard much about, La Victoriana. By the time I discovered it is closed on Mondays I had already walked a bit too much to give up on coffee, so I just kept walking. And it was good that I did, for not too far from there I saw a small sign of a cat standing on a coffee cup over the letters CAFÉ-TAL. The entrance was enigmatic enough to make me want to go in, only a big staircase could be seen from the outside.

Isn’t it wonderful to find places we like by accident? CAFÉ-TAL immediately became one of my favourite coffee shops ever. Not only because the coffee is ridiculously cheap, but because it is very good. The place is quiet and spacious, there are only a few tables distributed along a huge room which is minimally decorated. I had one of the best soy lattes of my life and honestly I don’t ask for much more to begin my week.

Rediscovering My Hometown

When I was in kindergarten, the local government of León, my hometown in Mexico, bought the land my school was on and we had to leave. Staff and students helped move everything from blackboards to chairs to the new premises which were, as it seemed to me at the time, in the middle of nowhere. I spent less than a year in the “old school”, and many years waiting for the workers to finish building whatever it would become.

In 2010 they finally finished and inaugurated a gigantic area dedicated to culture and arts. It is called the Cultural Forum and it’s composed of a huge library, a museum, and a theatre. The whole place is gorgeous and one of the only things I feel has changed for the better here. The gardens are usually quiet and well-kept, the museum has a wide variety of expositions and the theatre, oh boy, the theatre.

The Bicentennial Theatre, for that is its name, is a very unique place. Very modern in its looks, it can hold up to 1,500 spectators. Its acoustic is one of the best in the world and the best in Latin America. I often think it’s funny that such a wonderful architectural wonder is here, in León, for it surpasses the country’s most famous cultural enclosure, the National Auditorium in Mexico City. It is a well-kept secret, perhaps. Many kinds of performances take place here, mainly operas. In the four years that I lived in Mexico City, I still came back to several operas and concerts, the most memorable being a performance by Diana Damrau (she sang two songs from My Fair Lady and it doesn’t really get much better than that).

Today, after several months, I took a walk to work instead of taking the car, and I passed the Forum. Few things have changed, if only it seems prettier now. A few people were basking in the sun, a few others sitting under a tree. There’s a new section to the gardens where many statues by national artist stand, watched by a stern-looking guard. I still think it funny that such a place stands like an oasis between the busy city centre and a soccer stadium.

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Hidden Corners of Mexico City

About a year ago, when I was still living in Mexico City, a friend and I found ourselves in what seemed to be a small town in the middle of the city. It is not surprising to see this kind of thing here—think, for example, of Coyoacán or Tlalpan, actual towns that were at some point devoured by the metropolis and are now part of it—. What I found surprising was that this place was so close to where I lived, somewhere nearby the Parque Hundido, a very famous park surrounded by tall buildings in the Del Valle neighbourhood. One minute we were walking in the city, and suddenly we found ourselves in a cobblestone street, in a small plaza with a seemingly very old church, a fountain and barely any people.

There was, too, a beautiful, small, quirky bookshop in which we spent almost an hour. Then we left, met some other friends back in the city and I forgot about the church and the bookshop. That is until I wanted to find them again and I couldn’t. I didn’t know the name of the church or the bookshop and didn’t come across them while walking around the park.

Now I no longer live in Mexico City, but I haven’t managed to move all my stuff, so I find myself making monthly trips in which I try to fit as many things as I can in my car. Last month I used one of those trips as an excuse to go on a hike nearby. On my way back, the other hikers dropped me at a gas station in Mixcoac, which meant only a 20 or 30-minute walk home. I guess I was overconfident about knowing my way in the city because at some point I got lost in a series of streets bearing the names of famous painters—Rodin, Millet, Perugino, Carracci—. I knew I was not far because the names were familiar and pride prevented me from using Google maps. And suddenly, just around a very modern, normal-looking corner, there it was: the plaza with the church and the bookshop.

As I saw it, I was walking in the city and then I was not. I was somewhere else altogether. To one side, there was an old church surrounded by palm trees, its roof peeling off, its bells in a bad state, ivy climbing up its walls, squirrels perched on its bell towers. To the other side, across the cobblestone street, there was a small plaza with a fountain, a couple of (old) people sitting in its benches and a few, colonial-looking houses behind (one of those was the bookshop!). This time I made a mental note for I had no time to stay: the street was Rodin, just a few blocks behind the Parque Hundido.

And yesterday I went back, this time knowing where I was going, sure that I could find it. And I did. The church is called Parroquia de San Juan Apóstol y Evangelista (Parrish of Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist) and the bookshop is named José María Luis Mora (a 19th-century historian). The plaza is called Gómez Farías after an 18th-century politician. I couldn’t help thinking how cool it is that everything there is named after obscure characters: a historian no one has heard of, one of the only Mexican presidents no one hates because no one remembers him and, let’s put it this way, not one of the most famous apostles.

To get there I just walked past the Parque Hundido—which means “sunken park” because the park is actually in a hole. It’s famous because it’s pretty and because Octavio Paz spent his afternoons there. Or perhaps because Roberto Bolaño said he did in his novel The Savage Detectives. Right behind the park, going East, there’s a strange intersection, and turning left on Rodin street you just have to walk a few yards until you find the plaza. Yesterday there were only three old men scattered on the benches and the church was closed. It is a small miracle to find an empty place in a city like this, so I sat there a while, listening to the birds and wondering how many hidden gems like this are in the city. It was like stepping into a time machine, this place where every building was named after forgotten heroes and thinkers, where everybody around seemed to be old and even the cars parked around were “vintage”. I always find it amusing how little I know of Mexico City.

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Budget Travelling in Central Mexico

The question I get asked a lot by foreign friends is if I know any cheap ways to travel to the “hottest” spots in Mexico. If I am completely honest, I think there’s no way you won’t end up spending a lot when visiting, say, Cabo, Cancún, Playa del Carmen or even Puerto Vallarta.

While they are wonderful places in which nature and ruins do live up to the hype, the truth is they’re often overcrowded, negected and very expensive to stay in. There are some hacks such as renting houses in the outskirts of these cities, but they might not be the safest alternatives.

This is why I’m putting together a few places in the centre, an area I’m much familiar with, that are much cheaper and that will give you a real taste of my country.

Guanajuato City, Guanajuato

How to even describe Guanajuato? It is one of the oldest Spanish establishments in Mexico because of its silver mines (now silver is gone, but you can still go on an expedition in the mines and even dig up some quartz). “Guanajuato” means something like “place full of frogs”, although I’ve never seen one there. It is one of those cities in which time seems to be forever still; its crooked alleys, old Spanish mansions and ample parks with kiosks and flowers certainly take you back to colonial times.

During the day, the city is alive in its many markets, live music in odd corners, historical tours and museums. Food from the markes is delicious and very cheap, and so are drinks in most bars. During the night you won’t be bored, either, since its nightlife is legendary.

Although it’s a very hot spot for American expats, Guanajuato has remained a simple city. The only time of the year in which it gets many tourists is during the Cervantino festival, in October. The rest of the year it is easy to find old houses converted to hotels and cheap hostels. Food and drinks are also very cheap (some bars sell beer for MXN$20.00, which is like US$1.00), and most museums give you a huge discount if you have a student card. Some places I recommed are Molino del Rey * (especially cheap for large groups!) and La Abadía,* which is a bit more fancy but still very affordable. You can also read more about the city here!

San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato

San Miguel is probably the most popular city in Guanajuato, which means it’s still not very crowded compared to any beach. While it’s gotten famous for the number of Americans living there, it’s also a big scene for art galleries, wine and gastronomy, and of course, nightlife. However, recently a lot of small eco-hotels and youth hostels have sprung out of nowhere, making it a great time to visit the city.

San Miguel is in many ways similar to Guanajuato: crooked alleys, churches everywhere, baroque mansions. But it is a cooler city in many ways, it is certainly more relaxed and has a boheme vibe about it. The food here is incredible, and although restaurants might not be the cheapest, street food is also awesome and cheap. Last time I went I stayed at Casa de los Soles. You can read more about San Miguel here.

San Luis Potosí, city and state

San Luis Potosí is the perfect weekend getaway. The city itself is full of museums, plazas, gardens, churches and restaurants, and it’s not hard to fing traditional hotels in the city centre. It’s also close to many other beautiful towns, such as Real de Catorce.

However, the real highlight of the state is the town of Xilitla, famous for the surreal gardens designed by Edward James, the many waterfalls and the Leonora Carrington museum. Xilitla is awesome for hiking, too! And there are plenty of wooden cabins where you can rent a room or even a bed, like in a hostel. The places of these are arounf MXN$200 per night. I would recommend renting a car to get around the state and visit as many towns as you can.

Bernal, Querétaro

The small town of Bernal is right at the skirts of one of the biggest monoliths in the world, the Peña de Bernal. The monolith itself is awesome for hiking and climbing, and the town is full of food stands, small restaurants and quirky spots, as well as live music and parties in the weekends.

It’s very cheap to get to Bernal by bus from Mexico City or from Querétaro, and once there you can rent a cabin or a room for affordable prices. Hiking the monolith is also free and, if you have equipement, so it climbing. Food is also very cheap if you avoid the two or three steak houses in town, stick to street food, specially gorditas! You can read more about the town here. Last time I went I stayed in a very comfy and very cheap cabin in a property called Villas la Bisnaga*. At night we could actually see the stars and the only sounds were the coyotes howling.

Xichú, Guanajuato

Xichú is a pretty unknown town in Guanajuato, partly because it’s high on the mountains of the Sierra Gorda. If you do go here, you’ll have to get a room in a guest house there, as they don’t have online booking services. You’ll also have to blend in with the locals, since there are no “attractions”, the town itself is just a plaza and a few ice-cream shops, a church and a small garden. It’s a town lost in town, if you want wifi you’ll have to rent an old PC. But it’s a real taste of Mexico, no doubt one of the last genuine experiences you can have here.

Also, very close to it there’s a set of waterfalls called Ojo de Agua, where you can swim in crystal-clear waters. The journey to Xichú is not easy though, the roads are very crooked, so be safe and drive during the day.

León, Guanajuato

I couldn’t skip my hometown! Although León is one of the biggest cities of the country now, it still feels like a town. There are many luxurious things you can do here, big hotels and golf courses, but there’s also a cheap side to it, if you know where to go. The city centre is the best alternative—I recommend this beautiful hotel* only two blocks from the centre—, since you’ll find cheap accommodation, great street food, cheap restaurants, cool cafés, and many historic landmarks such as the Cathedral, the Expiatorio church, the Arco de la Calzada, the Manuel Doblado Theatre.

If you’re into outdoor activities, León is also great. The Metropolitan Park is huge and offers camping areas, picninc areas, cycling and running tracks, a huge dam where you can fish, etc. And it’s free unless you use the parking lot, which is very, very cheap. You can even go to the Sierra de Lobos and rent a cabin, do horseback riding and other extreme sports. If you visit the state of Guanajuato, it’s cheaper to rent a car and visit all the highlights: León, Guanajuato, Dolores Hidalgo, San Miguel de Allende, they’re really close from each other. Also, don’t hesistate to ask for any personalised recommendations, I’d love to help!

Have you been to the centre of Mexico? Which places are your favorites?

*Disclaimer: If you book any of the hotels mentioned above via these links, I receive a commission from Booking.com. This does not affect the price whatsoever!

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A Walk in the Woods… of Mexico City?

Last Sunday I woke up at 6:00 am to pack a small backpack and make some pb&j sandwiches. I dressed quickly and walked some 20 minutes to where I was supposed to meet with other hikers, a lonesome gas station near Coyoacán in Mexico City. For the first time in a long time, I was early. We left the spot before 8:00 am and headed south.

“This place is, no kidding, just thirty minutes away from the city”, our guide was saying. If you’ve ever been in Mexico City, you probably know that there is no such thing as undisturbed nature close to it, so I was skeptical about the hike. We passed huge malls, taco stands, gyms, dirty roads and trafficked avenues heading towards San Jerónimo, one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city. At some point the fancy houses gave way to smaller, older buildings, small churches and cobblestoned alleyways that make you feel like you’re not in Mexico City anymore.

And eventually it all ends. What follows, if you keep going south, is neither a road nor a highway, but some sort of rural path wide enough for two cars, with food stands all along the way. All I could think was,”where the hell are we?”. In front of there was a forest. Thousands and thousands of trees seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. I lived in the city for almost five years and I had no idea that this existed, a green lung still providing oxygen for the monster city. This was not, however, anything like Chapultepec, the most famous forest/park in the city, made tame with paved paths and trash cans. This one was just a forest, a real one.

The van made its way into it and I was relieved to see there were rangers blocking the way under a green sign that read “Parque Nacional Los Dínamos“. They asked us if knew where to go and how to behave. “It’s a protected area, one of the last clean rivers of the area is here”, they explained, “be careful and don’t get lost”. We drove further up to a place called La Bodega, where there were a few parking spots, a small restaurant and toilets. We parked and got out of the van.

Many of my visits to natural areas in Mexico have been marked by the fact that there is trash everywhere. It is so in many beaches, mountains and parks, so I was pleasantly surprised to see this place was clean once you made it past the entry sign. The restaurant didn’t offer disposable packaging and people living in the area—for there were some houses at the very beginning of the forest—seemed to take care not to let any trash reach the river. The only other place I remember to have been so clean was the Iztaccíhuatl

We refilled our water bottles, adjusted our shoes and backpacks, gor out our trekking poles and started upwards, for there is nowhere to go but up. There were three peaks we wanted to reach, each one higher than the other. We started fairly high already, some 10,500 feet above sea level, and finished at around 11,500. 

The first part of the hike, about one hour long, was the hardest, for the rise of the terrain was steep and there were logs blocking the way, as well as loose stones that seemed fairly steady at a first glance. The higher we went, the livelier the sounds of the forest became: chirping birds, bubbling brooks, creaking trees, croaking frogs and an ocassional unidentifiable sound. The forest comprehends 429 hectares, so I can only guess that many animals live there, although I just saw birds. Right when the terrain gets more even you get the first views of the forest, an expase of nothing but trees and rocks rising towards the sky, undisturbed. I am still baffled at how a forest like this can exists so close to Mexico City.

After the first peak we walked for another 30 minutes or so, this time on easier terrain, towards the second one. The most difficult thing here is the loose ground, which makes it kind of slippery. The temperature here starts descending and the fog rising—speaking of which, can anyone recommend good hiking boots for both warm and cool weather?—. The vegetation also changes, now there are mostly pines whereas at the start there are many ferns and brackens too. The second peak offered a view that I can only describe as beathtaking.

To get to our last peak we just had to walk half an hour more. The terrain became steep and more slippery now, but it was easier than the first bit. The fog came and went, and the air felt cold and fresh. At the beginning I was wearing a polar jacket, but that proved too hot once I started walking, so I took it off. Now, almost at the top, I was cold again, so I took a very thin cotton sweatshirt from my backpack, it was enough. In the last peak we met another group of hikers and a dog, so we talked and had lunch together there for a while before making our way down. The views from the last peak are like nothing I had seen before: trees and trees, each one a different shade of blueish green, and behind them only mountains and rocks.


Not many things can compare to a walk in the woods. This forest is like an oasis in the middle of a concrete desert, and I could not be happier to know I’m so close to it.

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Hidden Waterfalls in Vallarta

This week I had the chance to escape to the beach for a few days. I went to Puerto Vallarta, a place I have visited often since I was a little girl. So this time I wanted to do something different and hopefully discover new places. Fortunately we were able to find someone to guide us to a beautiful set of waterfalls in the middle of the rainforest, near Mismaloya beach.

To get there we did a 40 minute hike trough streams, rocks and huge tree roots. As we walked through the rainforest we saw different birds, squirrels and an iguana, a common find in the area. It was not a difficult hike, we mostly followed a small stream to the waterfalls, so the main obstacles were rocks and puddles. It is, however, a mountainous area, so the hike was mostly uphill. Now in spring there’s not much water, so the landscape might not be as pretty as during the rainy season, but the weather was lovely: 26ºC and only a few scattered clouds in the sky.

We arrived at our first stop after 40 minutes: a beautiful waterfall surrounded by rocks, flowing into a small pool hidden by trees, an idyllic spot… except for the fact that there were around 10 very loud American ladies already there. Nevertheless, we still got to jump into the water from about 3 meters high, something I hadn’t done before (come to it, I was really scared). Our guide taught us how to jump, where to stand, and signalled the spot we should aim for. It was a thrilling experience, the vertigo and then the shock of cold water made it very exciting. Moreover, we jumped in while the American ladies cheered for us. The water was really deep and clear and cool.

After swimming a bit, we continued up towards another set of waterfalls. This part of the hike had to be done holding on to support cables that were tied to the rocks along the trail, something I hadn’t done before either. It wasn’t very dangerous, only felt so when you looked down to the waterfalls. As it usually is with hiking or climbing, once you find your balance and move intently and slowly, one foot (and hand) at the time, I found a rythm I was at ease with. What I like about hiking, and specially these more technical hikes, is that it requires all your attention, you’re all there, doing it with all your energy, there’s no time to be scared.

To this last spot I arrived alone with our guide, as the rest of our group didn’t feel like going up. It was a breathtakingly beautiful place, a couple of natural pools and a set of waterfalls surrounded by walls and vegetation, with sunlight filtered green by the trees above. From there we coulnd’t see or hear ayone else, just the birds and the flow of the water, the wind rustling through the trees. We swam there too, and the water was even colder, so it was refreshing after the hike. Hiking is never about the destination, but there’s some pride in knowing you got to someplace beatiful using your feet and hands and mind and heart.


Even though I’ve been visiting Puerto Vallarta at least once a year since I was three, I never knew places like this were so close to the crowded beaches and fancy resorts. I had seen the quiet beaches of Nuevo Vallarta and the caribbean-looking corners of Mismaloya, but never such a secluded spot in which a hike felt like a hike and not as some touristy expedition.

Now, I have to be honest and say that the last spot we arrived to was the only one where we did not see plastic bottles or bags. Even though these waterfalls are not very popular —I had never heard of them and don’t even know if they have a name, there are no signs — we constantly found forgotten plastic bottles and beer cans along our hike, specially at the beginning and even close to the first set of waterfalls. I assume most people don’t go all the way up with picnic stuff because it’s tough and you need all your extremities. Fortunately, my friend had a bag with her and she picked up most of what we saw, but I’m ashamed to admit that environmental education is not common in my country.

The basic rule, “leave no trace”, is not known by many people, mostly locals, who visit these places, but I believe that sharing our experiences with nature can help educate more people on this issue. Environmental protection is also the reason I’m not geotagging this location, or sharing the directions in here, but if you’re interested in doing this hike just send me an email and I can contact you with our guide.

This was an epic hike for me, both because the locations were beautiful and because I did some cool stuff I was a bit scared to try (such as diving). I had probably driven close to this place on my way to Mismaloya or Puerto Vallarta many times before, and I never saw it. I am always happy to discover new places in familiar areas and so I will keep sharing with you my new findings in Mexico.

Have you visited Puerto or Nuevo Vallarta? I like it much more than other more popular places, like Acapulco. I’d love to hear of similar hikes or favourite beaches, I’m really considering moving to the coast soon.

Least Crowded (and Still Awesome) Beaches in Mexico

It is one of the many ironies of life that we have a harder time looking at what is right before us. If you ask me where the most beautiful beaches of the world are, I won’t hesitate to say Mexico, but I sometimes forget it when I’m here. Planning my Easter holiday, I made a list of affordable and underrated beaches, I present you with the results.


La Paz, Baja California Sur

When people think of Baja Sur, they usually think of Los Cabos. While Los Cabos is beautiful, it is far too produced for me, and far too crowded. La Paz is definitely not as chick, but the vibes there are amazing. You can take long strolls down the port or along the Magdalena Bay, even catch a glimpse of whales. The Malecón is the perfect place to ride a bike, and you can take a bus to Todos Santos, a small, pintoresque town some 40 minutes away.

La Paz is very chill. If you’re into snorkeling and whale-watching you can take a boat to some of the neighboring islands. You can even camp in some of them, like Espíritu Santo. La Paz is one of my favourite cities in Mexico, and the food, specially the lobster, is just amazing.

Sayulita, Nayarit

Not far from busier beaches like Puerto and Nuevo Vallarta, Sayulita is an alternative destination especially popular to surfers. It’s beaches are usually busy but not crowded, and it’s a place in which you can get a quite afternoon and then join a party later.

The streets of the town are very picturesque, with papel picado and street art in every corner. There are many eco-friendly hotels along the beach, as well as local-produce restaurants. Perhaps the coolest part of Sayulita is the conservation projects you can take part in, such as turtle camps where you can help baby turtles into the sea and help the night patrols.

Rincón de Guayabitos, Nayarit

Guayabitos is basically a huge bay. It was a very popular destination some years ago, but now it’s very calm. There are two islands close by in which you can do snorkeling with a certified guide. It is mainly frequented by locals, and there are many small bungalows for rent, as well as eco-friendly hotels. Although the nightilife is good, it is mostly a family spot.

A few notes

  • The Easter Holidays draw thousands of tourist to Mexico’s most popular beaches every year: Acapulco, Cancún, Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos. As a consecuence of irregulated tourism and big touristic complexes, all of these once beautiful places are now polluted, mistreated and even dangerous. The impact of irresponsible tourism has taken its toll on the environment, and it painful to see the beloved beaches of my childhood covered in trash, its locals moving away and selling their land to big companies.
  • That’s why I hesitate to recommend beaches in my country, but after some thought I decided it was best to point out some not-so-popular destinations that are beautiful and, more importantly, have now eco-friendly options of accomodation. These are not destinations to get trashed and party, but to take a (responsible) look at nature and wildlife, explore small towns and go on a hike or two.
  • If you’re interested in doing some snorkeling or hiking in any of these beaches, I recommend you go to a certified guide. Also, many locals will offer you whale or shark swimming/watching experiences in Mexico, but most of them are not qualified to work near wildlife and would end up harming them. Please don’t buy on-the-spot wildlife tours.
  • Taking with you metal straws, reusable water bottles and thermos is essential when traveling, specially so close to the ocean. Every time i go to the beach I’m so sad to see how many cigarette butts are in the beach, if you smoke don’t throw them in the sand, they’re plastic!
  • Be sure to remember the 7 principles of Leave No Trace.

I would love to hear what you think of these places if you travel there!

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