With the J1 visa no longer a certainty for Irish students with the travel bug, Gavin O'Callaghan gives us his ultimate Mexico tour guide, so that you can have an alternative south of the border.
With Trump’s presidency putting the J1 in jeopardy, students may want to consider alternative arrangements next summer. An ironic alternative to the U.S. would be Mexico. Significantly cheaper, no visa required, easy to travel around, and caters for all tastes.
Swim with turtles and whale sharks, scale a volcano, stand in the spot where both Maradona and Pele lifted world cups, discuss art and feminism in Freda Kahlo’s living room, observe ancient pyramids from atop other ancient pyramids, or just sip on some Tequila in Tequila; it’s all easy and affordable.
The country’s bad reputation for corruption has no relation to its tourism; Mexico’s crime rates are almost the same as that of the U.S. Still, it is advised to be familiar with the law as you would any other country.
Travelling in Mexico is easy, and one doesn’t need to be a seasoned backpacker to do it. Its bus services reflect heavy investments undertaken by the government, as companies such as ADO offer daily transport interlinking almost every city from coast to coast and are extremely comfortable. In terms of accommodation, a hostel bed can be obtained for less than €10 on most occasions and private rooms can be gotten for as little as €20 and boast a similar standard to that of hostels in Europe.
Itinerary of course will depend on taste and time. One general route would be to go from Mexico City-Oaxaca-San Cristobal de las Casas-Palenque-Merida-Vallodolid-Tulum-Cancun which could be undertaken over the space of a month and would incorporate the following:
Nature and Wildlife
Cenotes are one of Mexico’s unique attractions, natural sinkholes that expose underground rivers. They are scattered across the Yucatan region, so rent bikes out while in cities and cycle out to them for a swim. Summer is whale shark season from Cancun to Holbox, and the area is regarded as the best in the world to swim in the open with the world’s largest fish.
In the town of Tulum, two hours south of Cancun, Akamal Beach is swarmed with large sea turtles. Snorkelling in the waters of Akamal and you are almost 100% guaranteed to see them.
Hierve del Aqua near Oaxaca is a series of rock formations resembling running water. You can swim around the pools at the top while overlooking the mountainous region at the edge of the water.
Popocatépetl is a volcano in Puebla near Mexico City and can be easily reached, although the day’s weather will depend on whether you are allowed scale it or not.
Cascadas de Agua Azul near San Cristobal consists of a series of waterfalls, due to a high mineral content the water is bright blue.
Miso Ha is another waterfall nearby and is 35m high.
Celestun Reserva near Merida is a wildlife reserve where thousands of wild flamingos are located.
Arts, History & Sport
There are ancient temples and pyramids scattered all across Mexico. Mexico City is very close to Teotihuachan which consists of two large pyramids you can climb, and many smaller ones scattered between them. For an extra buck, you can board a hot air balloon and observe from the skies. There is also Monte Alban near Oaxaca which sits in the mountains and boasts an incredible view over the province; Palenque National Park which runs deep into the jungle, Ek-Balaam near Valladolid and of course Chichen Itza, also near Valladolid and considered by many as one of the world’s wonders.
Mexico is football mad, and for a sports enthusiast, a visit to the Aztec Stadium should go down on the list. It is one of the biggest stadiums in the world with 105,000 seats and was the setting for both Pele and Maradona’s world cup final wins. It is also the stadium where Diego scored his infamous ‘’hand of god’’ against England followed by his run that was voted greatest goal of the 20th Century.
For Art, there’s Casa Azul, the house where painter and feminist icon Frida Kahlo lived and is now a museum dedicated to her legacy.
Food and Drink
Tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and much more. Every city has its own delicacies; try mole in Oaxaca or cerviche on the Northern coast of the Yucatan. Mexicans are big fans of spicy food, but for convenience when eating out, salsas are provided separately allowing diners to dictate how hot they want their meal.
Margaritas, Mojitos, Micheladas, Tequila and Mezcal among much others are all made to perfection. Many bars specialise in cocktails and source the ingredients from scratch.
More than a month could also include the cities of Guadalajara and Monterrey, surfing and whale watching on the Pacific or South Coast, a visit to the cave paintings in Sierra de San Francisco, or a hike through Copper Canyon which is bigger than the Grand Canyon.
Whatever your taste, Mexico has it.