We are planning a driving tour of Mexidonia and Belize next Spring. Some of the cities we would like to visit during our tour to spy out the land together are:
- Puebla/ Tlaxcala
- San Cristobal de Las Casas
- Belize City/San Ignacio/Hopkins/Placencia
If you have any advice about the English or Spanish congregations in these areas let us know. I have contacts in some of these cities, but not all of them. Here is just a bit of info I found on each one by visiting National Geographic, VisitMexico’s website, and Lonely Planet.
Zacatecas – Founded in 1546 after the discovery of a rich silver lode, Zacatecas reached the height of its prosperity in the 16th and 17th centuries. A mining town adapted to its valleys and mountains, Zacatecas reflects its appeal in its beautiful buildings which are actual works of art. Due to its architecture and urban lay-out, as well as due to the irregularity of the alignment of its streets, which constitute the splendor of its Historic Center recognized by UNESCO. Cross the Center of Zacatecas by cable car, and admire the city’s the beautiful pink stone monuments. Tour the legendary El Eden mine on board an underground train that reaches the bowels of the state, going by critical sites such as a chapel, the Museum of Minerals and other interesting sites. The Church of Fatima, the Gonzalez Ortega Market, the Cathedral, the El Eden Mine, the Church of Guadalupe, the Former San Pedro Bullring and the Former Church of San Agustin.
Any city is better admired from high above, and Zacatecas is no exception. The Cerro de la Bufa (Bufa Hill), with an altitude of 8,770 feet above sea level, provides an unmatched view of the city and its surrounding area. But you’ll find even more excuses get to the top: besides the views afforded of the landscape, visitors can admire several points of interest such as museums, a chapel, an observatory, a cable railway and a collection of commemorative statues. One attraction that is not to be missed is the cable railway, operating daily since 1979: it connects the hill to the city in a bracing eight minute ride and offers a spectacular panoramic view on the way down. There are two stations where you can board the railway – one on the lower section of El Cerro del Grillo (Grillo Hill), and the other at the north-western end of the Cerro de la Bufa.
Puebla/ Tlaxcala – The city of Puebla is a colorful mix of customs and history with abundant traditions and impressive architecture in Renaissance and Neo-Classical styles. Pueblan fine cuisine, traditional candies, artist’s neighborhood and museums evoke its epic past. According to historical research, the city – formally known as the Heroica Puebla de Zaragoza – was first used by the Spanish crown as a staging post between Veracruz and Mexico to help the Spaniards administrate the area.
On April 16, 1531, Fray Toribio de Benavente officially founded Puebla de los Ángeles. Puebla is one of those places everyone wants to come back to again and again; with its valleys and mountains, it has magnificent landscapes which you can enjoy in countless different ways. The state’s mountains and volcanoes offer a splendid range of adventure and eco-tourism activities. You can go rambling, hiking, walking, camping, rafting, hang-gliding, or simply watch the region’s flora and fauna while enjoying the area’s natural beauty. The rich legacy of the region’s indigenous peoples can be admired in places such as Cholula, which attracts thousands of visitors each year who come to admire the monumental pyramid – one of the largest in Mexico.The town’s historic center is so rich in architecture that it has been declared a World Heritage Site. As you wander this old part of town, you can see the unique façades of the buildings decked out in Puebla’s famous talavera pottery.
In the state of Tlaxcala’s more rural outskirts, visitors can take in the volcano Malintzin (also known as Malinche) as well as the mountains that surround it. In addition, the countryside is home to vast plains that make it perfect for getting in touch with nature through activities such as hiking, cycling and rappelling.
San Cristobal de Las Casas – San Cristobal de las Casas is situated in a fertile valley surrounded by mountains in the southern state of Chiapas, Mexico.
Chiapas is home to several indigenous groups descended from the Maya, two of the largest being the Tzotzils and Tzeltals who inhabit highland villages surrounding San Cristobal. The indigenous people of Chiapas speak their own language (often in addition to Spanish), practice their own unique customs and can be identified by their traditional dress that varies by group. They continue to depend primarily on agriculture for their economic well-being; however, it’s not unusual for them to travel into San Cristobal to sell their handmade crafts and shop in the markets for everyday items to take back to their villages.
San Cristobal, one of Mexico’s best-preserved Spanish colonial towns, is made up of a series of traditional barrios (neighborhoods), each of which is known for a particular trade or custom, such as iron working, carpentry and woodcarving. Along the main plaza you’ll find the architecturally stunning city hall and Cathedral. Five blocks north of the plaza, you’ll also discover San Cristobal’s Museo Templo y Convento Santo Domingo (Museum Church and Convent of Santo Domingo). A steep stone staircase leads up to the Templo de San Cristobal (San Cristobal Church) and the town’s best mirador (lookout point). Climb to the top to enjoy spectacular views overlooking the town of San Cristobal, the surrounding mountains and countryside.
Campeche – Located in Mexico’s southeast, the state of Campeche is blessed with natural and cultural diversity, making it an ideal place for adventures and discovery. Complemented by beautiful islands such as Isla del Carmen and Isla Aguada, the state’s extensive coastline sits between the lagoons and the sea and colors the region’s rich landscape and vegetation.
Campeche’s roads are filled with heroic archeological sites created by the Mayan civilization, luxurious haciendas that date back to the 16th century and varied architectural masterpieces such as the Campeche Cathedral, the Carvajal Mansion and Palacio Municipal (City Hall). A ride through the region brings visitors into contact with the San Francisco walls, which protect San Francisco de Campeche, a colonial city and the state’s capital, which was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999, thanks to its architecture and enigmatic bastions and forts.
Merida – Merida is the capital and largest city in Yucatan state and the cultural and financial capital of the region. It’s a modern, cosmopolitan city with museums, art galleries, restaurants, shops and boutiques. A major center of commerce, Merida Yucatan is considered the crossroads of the region and one of the most important places to experience the Mayan heritage.
Mérida was founded in 1542 by Francisco de Montejo “el Mozo” (the son), and built on the site of the ancient Maya city T’ho, meaning “city of five hills.” T’ho was the center of Mayan culture and activity in the Yucatan region. After the arrival of the Spanish, the ancient city’s five main pyramids were destroyed and their ruins used in the construction of Merida’s cathedral and other important buildings. Merida was built as a walled city and several of the old Spanish city gates remain.
The city boasts the second-largest historic center in Mexico; only Mexico City’s historic center is larger. Mérida gets its nickname, La Ciudad Blanca (The White City), from the predominance of white limestone that was used as a building material; although locals today will tell you that it also has to do with the cleanliness of the city’s streets and public areas, not to mention how safe is Merida, Mexico.Merida’s centro historico (historic center) is one of the largest in Mexico and laid out on a grid pattern. Many of the buildings in the historic center of Merida, including those on and around the Plaza Grande (central plaza), were built during the colonial period through the 18th and 19th centuries. Located on the south side of the central plaza is the Casa de Montejo (Montejo House), a 16th century Spanish plateresque-style building and former home of the Montejo family. A visit to the Montejo House, with its monumental carved stone facade, is one of the important things to do in Merida. Another of the important things to do in Merida is to tour the interior of the Palacio Municipal (City Hall). The interior of the City Hall building is decorated with murals by Yucatecan artist Fernando Castro Pacheco. The murals depict scenes from Merida’s history. The adjoining building houses a cultural center and frequently hosts performances and exhibitions.
Valladolid – Located mid-way between Mérida and Cancun, colonial Valladolid is the third-largest city in Yucatan and a good base from which to explore the surrounding region. Visit Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza and Ek’ Balam, the Balankanche caves and Rio Lagartos, a coastal fishing village and flamingo colony located within the Reserva de la Biosfera Rio Lagartos (Lagartos Biosphere Reserve).
Valladolid is built over the ancient Maya ceremonial center of Zaci. The city centers on the Parque Francisco Cantó Rosado (Francisco Cantón Park) where you’ll find the Iglesia de San Servacio (San Servacio Church). There are seven colonial churches located in Valladolid Yucatán, and the city is nicknamed the “Sultan of the East,” because of its rich colonial splendor. Head southwest of the central park and main plaza to arrive at the 16th century Iglesia y Convento de San Bernardino de Siena (San Bernardino Church and Convent). Locally known as the Sisal Convent, the San Bernardino Church and Convent is one of the most beautiful colonial buildings in Mexico.
Cancun – Just around the corner from all of Cancun’s modern day resorts are ancient Mayan temples. The Mayan culture is considered one of the most advanced ancient civilizations. Their legacy and culture still thrives today through and can be witnessed at their elaborate and highly decorated temples. If possible, include a day trip to Chichen Itza, the largest site of the most impressive Mayan ruins. The two-hour drive from Cancun is worth it.
Xcaret is another must-see location. It is a nature preserve that allows you to swim with dolphins, snorkel in the lagoon, and walk through botanical gardens-a perfect place for any nature lover. There are many other interesting eco-parks and historic sites and ruins for those who visit the Cancun area for a longer time. In 1970, the entire population of Cancun consisted of about 1,000 people. Today, the population of 350,000 is primarily supported by tourism mainly from the Unites States, Japan and the Far East. I found Cancun to be safe, the people very polite, and the weather beyond enjoyable.
Tulum – Tulum holds the honor of being the most picturesque archaeological site in the Riviera Maya and the only one to have been built overlooking the ocean. A visit here offers spectacular views of the Riviera Maya beaches, Caribbean Sea and surrounding coastal region. Tulum was an ancient Mayan fortress city that rose to power toward the end of the Classic period.
The most iconic of its structures, the Castillo, is perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the clear turquoise blue waters of the Caribbean. The cliff-top Castillo, with its beachfront location and lush green landscape, is the image most often associated with the Mayan Riviera.
You’ve probably seen the postcards. An expansive walkway extends out around the ruins and a staircase nearby leads down to the beach where you can swim and sunbathe. Tulum is one of the few archaeological sites in Mexico where it really does make sense to bring a swimsuit. The best way to experience Tulum is to combine a tour of the ruins with some beach time—maybe even a refreshing dip.
Chetumal – Founded by sailors, Chetumal is a city divided between the ocean and the jungle, where the colors contrast and combine with the Caribbean exuberance. The city is much more than a pretty landscape: it is a tourist resort where you will be able to participate in almost every activity you can imagine, from nature walks, water sports, swimming, snorkeling, sports fishing and diving; to enjoying its delicious cuisine and admiring a city full of history and folklore. Chetumal is located right at the end of the coast of the Mexican Caribbean, in the beautiful state of Quintana Roo. This corner of the Yucatan Peninsula is called the “cradle of the mingling of races” because it was here where the Mayan princess Zazil Ha married the Spanish shipwrecked sailor with whom she bred the first generation of mixed blood Mexicans. From afar you will be able to see its boulevard, the longest in all of the Yucatan Peninsula, tour it on foot or on a bike and enjoy its cool breeze, scenery and beautiful sunsets.
Belize City – Belize City does not exactly top the list of tourist destinations in Belize. In fact, many visitors choose to bypass the country’s only major urban area. This may be because the country’s main attractions are natural and nautical, rendering superfluous a prolonged visit to its only metropolis. An additional explanation is that the city has a bad reputation for poverty and crime.
San Ignacio/ Hopkins/ Placencia – San Ignacio is the heart and soul of the Cayo District, a vibrant traveler center from where all roads and activities fan out. Together with twin-town Santa Elena, on the east bank of the Macal River, this is the main population center of Cayo, with lots of good budget accommodation, decent restaurants and frequent transport.
But San Ignacio is no inland San Pedro, existing only for tourism. It has a very positive and infectious local vibe, with a bustling market and a steady influx of immigrants. Residents are mestizos, Maya and Garifuna, as well as a bunch of free-spirited expats from Europe and North America. San Ignacio is on the west bank of the Macal River, a couple of miles upstream from its confluence with the Mopan River – a meeting of waters that gives birth to the Belize River. Pedestrianized Burns Ave, running north–south, is San Ignacio’s main thoroughfare, with the central plaza and market area a block to the east.
Some have suggested the following cities:
- Morelia – temperate year round, 3-hour drive to Ixtapa for beach, 3 hours to Guadalajara or D.F. for big city outings, gorgeous colonial downtown, modern shopping, very green.
- Puebla/ Choula – international university and tons of amenities plus very historical with large middle class.
- Queretaro – for padel and pickleball, 2 mil population, several universities, 1 hour from San Miguel de Allende. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Querétaro_City and http://www.visitmexico.com/en/queretaro
- Progreso – cost of living is 1/3 of US, beach, close to Merida.
- Guanajuato – college town.
- Cuernavaca – smaller than Guadalajara, great climate, very green, close to Mexico City.