Ok, so I completely fell off the blog-wagon. The actual planned “Curious Adventure” ended. Katie is back to work in San Diego and … I sold my house and I am … not … back to work in San Diego. All of that is many, many different blogs worth of blogging but have no fear it’s all very exciting, interesting and good.
But I wanted to actually give an answer to a question many people asked over the course of our trip or at the end of our trip which is basically “Where would you recommend for an International trip?” and now I have an answer as my top #1 answer and it’s staring you right in the face.
Unless you either have at least 3 weeks of vacation time and/or you have already traveled EXTENSIVELY in Mexico, the number one answer is – go to Mainland Mexico. I say that with zero hesitation and here are the bullet point reasons why and they are not in a particular order but they all add up to the very best place for Americans to go for a unique and excellent vacation.
Before I go over these bullet points I want to forward why I feel qualified to make these statements. I have spent at this point more than 5 months of my life in Mainland Mexico. I have driven several thousand miles through the country and spent significant time in more than a dozen Mexican cities. Mexicans that I talk to all say that I have been to more of Mexico than most Mexicans and I have visited both heavily touristic places and more localized places. I also want to enforce that I believe I am a safe traveler and I want to emphasize that. When Katie and I took our Curious Adventure my motto was that there is zero reason to visit a place which is dangerous – there are too many amazing places in the world to visit that aren’t dangerous. I may have been a risk taker when I was younger but I value my safety very much at this point and I value Katie’s even more. So, with that said, here’s what I think about Mexico:
#1: You can get there extremely quickly and cheaply. If you live on the West coast it’s quicker to get to amazing places in Mexico than it is to get to the East coast, the Midwest or maybe even to Colorado. If you live in California flights to exciting and and interesting places can feel and cost like a Southwest airline hop. From the East coast it’s still not expensive and it’s just about as far as California. You can have a meaningful 4 day trip to Mexico. With a week or 10 days you can have a full on experience.
#2: It’s SAFE in the places you will be going. Yes, it’s a horrifically dangerous country for a) Drug dealers, b) People who live in the ghettos of cities that you wouldn’t visit, c) People who live in the dangerous border towns that you won’t visit. d) People who are going to Mexico specifically to get involved in drugs e) People who politically get attempt to make changes against the will of the wrong people. If you aren’t part of one of those categories, for tourists in ALL of the places that you would consider visiting it’s an amazingly safe experience statistically. Do the research and you will find that the number of incidences involving tourists having any type of crime against them is incredibly low – as low as visiting any major tourist city in the US. Don’t trust me, look it up. “What you don’t get from most reports in the US is statistical evidence that Americans are less likely to face violence on average in Mexico than at home, particularly when you zero in on Mexico’s most popular travel destinations. For example, the gateway to Disney World, Orlando, saw 7.5 murders per 100,000 residents in 2010 per the FBI; this is higher than Cancun or Puerto Vallarta, with rates of 1.83 and 5.9 respectively,
#3: It’s CRAZY CHEAP. Not only is getting to Mexico cheap but being in Mexico is cheap. Sure, you can book 5 star resort hotels in Mexico but you certainly don’t need to and without question I would argue that this type of vacation while it may be appealing certainly doesn’t allow you to experience the amazing world of Mexico at it’s natural level. Right now I am in an adorable, impeccably clean, bright, shiny hotel with pool in Puerta Vallarta in “The Romantic Zone”, 1 block from the beach and it is costing me $46 a night. Yes, my mom would love this place – and I think basically every person I know would. This weekend Katie and I stayed at a Guest house with 4 units, a pool, close to the beach, once again impeccable but even more spacious than this place – it was $75 a night.
How about food? Let’s just say this – I was REALLY grumpy one night when we spent a converted $64 on a fabulous dinner with a bottle of wine at a place as hip and cool as anywhere in the states. Normal “night out” dinner for two? closer to $40 but part of Mexico is finding the local spots and at the local spots dinner for two can run you less than $15. Katie and I have gotten completely accustomed to eating from any street vendor and generally when I am alone I will eat for about 70 pesos for dinner ($4.50) but even the gringo-ized, super clean local restaurants will still only charge you 15 pesos per taco (.95 cents). On the other hand the fine dining experiences in just about every city in the country are parallel with those in the major metros of the US. Chefs are in competition here to create the most amazing and gorgeous meals that you can imagine. While they aren’t ridiculously budget they will cost you a fraction of the fine dining experience at home and will leave you with the same level of memory of the meal.
#4: It’s not just a desert!!! Mexico is a HUGE country. Take a look on a map. Understand this. Mexico has mountains galore, jungles, volcanoes, a canyon 4 times the size of the Grand Canyon with pine trees and snow in the Winter, high plains, fertile valleys for farmland. There are places where it’s actually cold at night in the Summer and particularly cold in the Winter (if that is what you are looking for). There are gorgeous rivers, waterfalls, lakes and of course thousands of miles of beaches on multiple bodies of water. It’s on the Caribbean as well as the Pacific. Oh, yeah, and there is a part of Mexico that’s the desert – but the reality of it is that most of it is not.
#5: The people are amazing. Suffice it to say that the stereotypes that you may likely have are flat out wrong. There are bad people all over the world. There are Mexican criminals and it’s clear from issues that can be read about in the news, however, I will state without hesitation that the average Mexican is a) extremely family oriented b) overly willing to help out in a situation of difficultly. There is unquestionably a trait that is extremely common in Mexicans to run TO a problem. Katie and I first encountered this actually in Texas. The RV blew a flat and we were in the middle of nowhere. A truck with three Mexican guys pulled up and they fixed our flat and wouldn’t accept cash. They did it because we looked like we were having a problem. They did take our offer of some booze we had in the RV but they absolutely would have left with no payment. This story isn’t an anomaly. Mexicans help others and the number of times it has happened with me is countless. The last mechanic to work on our RV would not allow me to pay him because he didn’t actually completely fix the RV. He worked on it for 3 weeks and he only took money for the parts he bought (and I think he didn’t actually charge me enough). The night he met me broken down he LET ME SLEEP AT HIS CONDO. This would never, ever happen in most of the US (maybe in the midwest? certainly not in California).
#6: The food. Sure, you don’t want to permanently live on it and if you aren’t careful you may gain a couple of lbs in your short trip but you can work it off when you get back! Mexican food just tastes amazing. Don’t skip the fresh fruit every morning from the street cart people – or at least a fresh squeezed giant Jugo (Taronja – grapefruit – is my fav, but Naranja – orange – is the standard) for less than $1.
#7: Cultural overload: Colonial architecture, Pre-Colombian ruins, cobblestone streets, the central Plazas (Zocalos), enough museums to visit one a day for years, the gardens, the museums, the mercados, the pushcarts, the burros (donkeys), the caballeros (cowboys), the Cathedrals, the artisans. A trip into Mexico that somehow doesn’t experience at least some form of cultural immersion seems almost impossible to me (well, unless you choose to just stay at an all inclusive resort and – hey – that’s a choice too!)
#8: Outdoor everything: As noted, Mexico in general is not the desert that many people think of. The activities from hiking to surfing to lying on the beach to mountain bike riding to ruin-exploring to city tromping (tromping around cities) to caving to jungle trekking to scuba diving to snorkeling to canyoning to rock climbing, etc, etc, etc. I just had a thought bubble – Mexico is geographically like a skinny version of the United States with a little more Caribbean and yes, a lot less snow but – it’s got an outdoor geography for every taste – all compacted into a narrower number of miles that in the US. Beaches at the edges, mountains in the middle and maybe a whole lot less of flat Kansas/Texas in between.
#9: Hippie Paradise: I sort of apologize for that word but I only am using it as a positive. It’s impossible to overlook the temperament of so many people who have relocated here to experience a wholistic lifestyle. In just about every place where Gringos visit you will find a community of people who try to achieve an organic lifestyle and do a whole lot better at it than the people who shop at Whole Foods in Los Angeles.
#10: Ten times ten other things. Personally I love driving in Mexico. It’s something 99% of people won’t actually ever do but for me it’s an amazing place to take to the road. Do you surf or want to surf? You need to come here. Some people love fishing – they will love it here as well but if they don’t love that it will be the shopping and if they don’t love that it will be people watching and if they don’t love that there are wineries to visit or horses to ride or galleries to visit or cooking classes to take or language lessons. I certainly can’t forget golf – it’s all over the place to. These are a few little things but I can guarantee that I am missing the things that most likely will excite you and most likely are here!
A couple of realities – First of all Mexico has a style of music that is called “Banda” that just about everyone here loves and that you will hate. More than likely you will never get used to it. It features the Tuba, a lot of drums, no proper timing and generally bad vocals. There may be multiple trumpets, trombones and anything else that can be found to make noise with. If there is any musical instrument that you normally like it will be in Banda and they will figure out how to play it so you don’t like it. It’s possibly the worst thing about Mexico and I don’t even know if I am kidding ……
But probably more impactful and serious – Mexico can be gritty and it’s a developing country. Katie doesn’t like the term “Third World” but it is ironic that in San Pancho where we just visited, the main drag in this jungle/beach chillax town is named “Avenida Mundo Tercer” (“Third World Avenue”). It doesn’t matter what words you use to describe it you can’t avoid or ignore the portions of the country where the infrastructure is broken and it just doesn’t work quite like life in the US. At it’s simplest there isn’t a single place in Mexico where I have ever considered drinking water from a faucet. On the other hand you may find yourself really surprised by how many ways that Mexico exudes a middle class and that it seems like many, many Mexicans are stepping far outside of a life of poverty. Mexico City feels as cosmopolitan as New York and don’t forget for a second that you (and I) wouldn’t feel very comfortable in many parts of Harlem or the South Bronx at night. I read a paragraph that talked about Mexico’s “beautiful, ugly cities” and I am pretty sure what that was describing is the near universal fact that there isn’t a Mexican city where you can’t access the great architecture and character of the place without having to drive through at least a few minutes worth of places that look at times bombed at, or maybe at times like the end of the world or at maybe times like a crazy police state. It’s a very odd balance to achieve – understanding the transitional world that you see in front of you, understanding that the people who are in those portions of Mexico actually aren’t “Out to get you” but they are more looking for the step up and trying really hard to achieve it. It’s only if you can get to this level of acceptance that you can pass through these places truly feeling that Mexico is on the rise.
Are you mildly convinced? Look for part 2 shortly and this one I guarantee I will actually post with actual itinerary ideas for where you might look to go on a Mainland Mexico trip!