Lokal's Guide to Mexico

By Lokal Team

Mexico: A land as Rich and Diverse as its People

Mexico is more than just beautiful beach resorts lining the thousands of miles of coastline along the Atlantic and Pacific. While still an option for those desiring respite and relaxation, more and more visitors every year are leaving their beach chairs behind to experience the rich diversity found elsewhere in Mexico’s landscapes and culture.

With over 120 million people, Mexico is the 12th most populous country in the world. Among that population is ample evidence of the ancient civilizations and indigenous cultures that once dominated this land. United with the influences of European colonization, many of the traditions and customs of the past permeate the modern day, creating colorful, vibrant, and diverse ways of living that vary from coast to coast and north to south.

Just as wide and varied as its cultures are the country’s natural landscapes. Spanning a number of different climate zones and with a geography that includes everything from deserts and mountains to jungles and peninsulas, much of the diverse flora and fauna are endemic to the country – as are the opportunities for exploring and immersing yourself in it all.

Cultural Highlights

Making up 62% of the population, mestizo’s are the largest ethnic group in Mexico, but there is also a sizable population of Amerindian people. Many of the traditions, customs, and languages of indigenous groups such as the Mayas and Aztecs have had a tangible influence on Mexican culture. In fact, indigenous Mexican words such as tomato, avocado, and chocolate all originated in Nahuatl, and have become common even in the English-speaking world.

Just as ancient words live in today’s language, so too do ancient customs. Take, for example, tianguis. These open-air markets are bustling in almost every town in Mexico. Here, contemporary and traditional goods are sold side-by-side: branded t-shirts and electronics alongside traditional shoes called huaraches, clay pottery, and handwoven textiles.

These markets are also the best place to find Mexican culinary staples that hark back to the pre-Colombian period – maize, beans, squash, vanilla, and chiles – or to sample typical Mexican dishes, up to and including the famous tacos and enchiladas.

But perhaps one of the most memorable parts of visiting this country are the Mexican people themselves. In a place where making people feel welcome and comfortable is deeply entrenched in cultural values, it’s not unusual to be invited along to one of the many festivals celebrated throughout the year.

Grand, week-long fiestas honoring patron saints light up even the smallest of villages. Or, join in on some of the bigger annual festivals, including the notorious Dia de los Muertos or the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Diverse in Nature, Geology & Ways to Explore

Comprised of over 758,000 square miles, almost every type of geologic formation occurring in the Western hemisphere can be observed in Mexico, including rainforests, mountains, volcanoes, caves, and deserts. Thanks to this abundance of potential habitats, 10-12% of the world’s biodiversity resides here.

Over 707 known species make it 1st in the world for reptile biodiversity, 438 species of mammals place it 2nd, and 290 species of amphibians lend it a rank of 4th. But there are also over 30,000 species of flowering plants, placing it in the top 5 mega-diverse countries for its diverse and beautiful flora. Its oceans are also a primary breeding and nesting area for dolphins, whales, and endangered sea turtles.

Some of these landscapes and species can be found in the over 50 National Parks and 121 Protected Natural reserves, best explored on foot, by bike, or even on horseback. Or consider rock and mountain climbing to get aerial views you’ll never forget, camping and kayaking to bring you deep into the wilderness, or scuba diving, snorkeling, and wind surfing to see what the ocean has to offer.

Popular Destinations

The 3rd largest country in Latin America, regional differences in geography and custom across Mexico are stark. The warm, turquoise waters that earned it a reputation as a vacation destination represent but a drop of everything this country has in store.

Whether you’re a city-slicker, a history and culture-lover, or an adventurer, these popular destinations only scratch the surface of what you can do here:

  • Once the heart of the great Aztec civilization, Central Mexico is now the seat of the bustling cosmopolitan capital of the country: Mexico City. Home to over 25 million residents, this is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world and it’s packed with infamous dishes from across the country, a vibrant art and music scene, and more Mexican history than you can digest in one week. This is where you’ll find the post-revolutionary murals of famous Mexican artists like Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco, as well as the home of feminist icon Frida Khalo.

  • If ancient history is more your style, head just 30 miles outside the city to Teotihuacán, the spectacular site of the Aztec empire that was founded as early as 400 BC. There, you can climb the two giant pyramids dominating the landscape, the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon, explore the streets and caves of the site, meet local artisans, and even take part in a traditional temazcal.

  • On the Yucatan Peninsula, there are more archeological ruins than there is budget to unearth them. Among the most famous are the Mayan pyramids at Tulum as well as Chichén Itzá. Formerly one of the largest Mayan cities, there’s at least 1.9 square miles of archeological treasure to explore here, including the 98 ft high Temple of Kukulcan. After exploring the site, why not cool off in the clear, cool, fresh waters of a hidden cenote? A result of collapsed limestone bedrock that exposes the groundwater underneath, at least 7000 of these picture-perfect swimming and diving holes dot the peninsula.

  • Mexico is one of the few countries in the world that boasts more coastline than land borders, and that of the Baja Peninsula is some of its most stunning. Among one of largest peninsulas in the world, picturesque white sand beaches and majestic cliff vistas are second only to the unique species of marine life living here. If swimming with sea lions, spotting Flying Mobulas, and whale-watching sound like the stuff made of dreams, be sure to head to Isla Espíritu Santo, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve located in the Sea of Cortés.

Directing Tourism Toward a Sustainable Future

Increasingly, national, regional, and local authorities are recognizing the need to protect the natural and cultural heritage of Mexico. This is closely tied to the belief that a commitment to sustainable development attracts more revenues from tourism, which is already a key economic pillar.

This is why both the National Infrastructure Plan 2014-2018 and Regional Development Programmes 2014-2018 indicate the importance of harnessing the tourism sector to stimulate local economies and communities.

As part of this plan, the Mexico Tourism Board started the Indigenous Paradises Program: an award-winning program that encourages tourism to destinations that are home to large indigenous populations.

The Programm for Sustainable Regional Tourism Development and ‘Magic Towns’ is another example of these plans. The Pueblos Magicos program supports culturally rich towns in their tourism efforts and channels funding that can be used to diversify the economy and improve infrastructure.

In terms of protecting land and its flora and fauna, Mexico involves federal, state, municipal, community, ejido, and private entities. Primarily, the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas supervises the stewardship of Mexico’s 25, 394,779 hectares of protected area – about 13% of the national territory. Within this, there are 39 Biosphere Reserves, 68 National Parks, and 34 protected areas of flora and fauna.

Experiencing the Best of Mexico, The Lokal Way

Lokal connects travelers who crave awe-inspiring experiences with local tour operators who have a lifetime of knowledge about Mexico and embody the growing spirit of conservation.

In partnership with local individuals, groups, and communities, we are committed to providing an amazing culturally immersive and sustainable trip. We choose partners that:

  • improve the wellbeing of local communities
  • preserve cultural traditions
  • conserve fragile environments

Whether you’re choosing from our reputable network of a la carte experiences or designing a more personalized travel experience with our custom trip planner, you can do it all with Lokal.

But Lokal takes cultural connection one step further with our immersive community experiences.

In stark contrast to mass tourism, the emphasis of community tourism is social, economic, and environmental sustainability. This is a type of local-led tourism wherein individual entrepreneurs and small communities facilitate experiences that are part of their livelihoods, ultimately helping them develop alternative sources of income and a more sustainable future for themselves.

Take, for example, a community that has produced coffee as their primary source of income for generations. With coffee production stagnant in recent years, the community might facilitate coffee tours and set up a separate community lodge and restaurant, giving travelers the chance to actively participate in their daily lives. Engaging with these tourism projects provides the community an opportunity to continue to sustain themselves and even develop.

Community tourism is transforming an industry in which primarily big business and large development projects previously benefited, wherein environmental stewardship is more highly valued, and where travelers can have a positive impact.

On Lokal’s unique day and overnight trips, you’ll gain an understanding of rural and indigenous Mexico in a way that few travelers do – and you’ll do it all while empowering local entrepreneurs and communities to maintain control over their land, livelihoods, and traditions.

Lokal’s Top Excursions in Mexico

#1 Huasteca Potosina Rafting & Rappelling Adventure
Spend 3 days and 2 nights among the rainforests and mountains of the Huasteca Potosino region with your local guide and fellow adventurous spirits. Start your adventure rappelling down one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the Huasteca Potosino before cooling off in the turquoise waters of Grotto Xilo. After a comfortable night of rest in your personal cabin, the next adrenaline-filled day will take you rafting down the fast currents of the Tampaon river. Other than your final day spent walking the waterfall circuit, this challenging trip is not for the uninitiated.

Your host, Ruta Huasteca, is a Mexican tourism company specializing in outdoor adventure and comfortable lodging. Taking visitors off the beaten path to connect with the natural world, they put environmental consciousness at the forefront of everything they do.

Best Times to Visit

As large of a country as it is, regional variations in the Mexican climate are the most important thing to note when planning your trip. But, other than hurricane season, which runs between September and the middle of October, there isn’t ever a bad time to visit.

The coastal regions have year-long hot weather, perfect for taking a dip in the ocean – though the Pacific water tends to be a little on the cooler side than those you’ll find in the Caribbean.

If you’re adverse to the heat and humidity, the best time to visit the beach is between October and May. You’re also less likely to encounter late afternoon or evening showers during this time of year.

Central Mexico sits at higher altitudes and, as such, has chillier weather. If you’re planning to visit Mexico City, daytime highs hover around the mid-to-high 70’s all year, with nights getting a bit chillier. Rainy season in Mexico mostly affects this part of the country, and the short afternoon downpours occur between June and October. In the north, famous for its deserts, there is hardly ever any rain.

Safety

Despite what Western media has chosen to portray over the last few years, most of Mexico is generally safe for tourists to visit, even off of traditional resorts.

While the security situation varies across the country, the majority of incidents are geographically limited to places where cartels and authorities clash, namely, along the northern border and in some isolated towns along the Pacific Coast.

Traveling anywhere requires a certain degree of precaution, though. Start with these general safety tips regardless of where in the world you’re travelling next:

  1. Do your research. Know where you’re going, areas to avoid, and the safest ways to travel. Check up-to-date travel information and notices with the State Department's website, read reviews, and ask questions when you’re on the ground and unsure about something.

  2. Make copies of your travel documentation. Nobody wants to find themselves without a passport when it comes time to head home at the end of their holiday. Make copies of your passport, driver’s license, and other important documentation before you leave.

  3. Protect your valuables. Petty theft is a problem in most popular tourist destinations. Ensure your valuables are always in sight and use lockers and safes to lock up things like laptops, phones, jewelry, and travel documentation.

  4. Be aware of your surroundings. Use good judgement when talking to new people and don’t wander into areas you aren’t familiar with.

  5. Get your phone working. Consider purchasing a local SIM card to stay in touch with family or friends back home, find your way around, and talk to locals using translation services.

Exercise normal precautions while traveling and you shouldn’t encounter any issues. And should you run into problems, locals tend to be friendly and helpful.

In terms of food, visitors would be remiss not sample some of the famous Mexican street foods or foods served in mercados. But here, too, you should exercise caution. “Montezuma’s Revenge”, or dysentery, is a common occurrence in Mexico, often the result of unsanitary preparation conditions or cross-contamination in kitchens.

You should never drink water from the tap here. Take caution when purchasing drinks on the street, as they might not be using purified ice.

Before hopping on the plane, talk to your doctor about any recommended vaccinations for Mexico.

Getting There

If you’re planning a trip to Mexico City, you’ll be flying into Benito Juarez International Airport. The biggest airlines in the US all have direct flights to Mexico City, including American Airlines, Delta, United and US Airways. Aeromexico offers direct flights from a number of US cities and, while the number of options are fewer, there are some budget Mexican airlines offering direct flights here as well.

From Canada, you can fly directly to Mexico City from both Toronto and Vancouver and Aeromexico offers a direct flight from Montreal. In Europe, direct flights to this hub are available from London, Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, and Madrid. If you’re flying to another destination in Mexico from Europe, you’ll have to change planes along the way.

To get to the Baja Peninsula, the main hub is Los Cabos International. From major US cities including Los Angeles, Denver, Phoenix, and Atlanta, flights are available through Aeromexico, Aero California, Alaska Airlines, as well as airlines such as Delta and United.

Departing from Canada, you can find flights through Air Canada and WestJet. You’ll have to connect through Toronto or Vancouver, but departing flights leave from most major cities, including Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Regina.

The Yucatan Peninsula can be accessed via Cancun International Airport. One of Mexico’s top destinations, both big and small US airlines have connections here. Air Canada has direct service to this airport from both Toronto and Montreal, but for a wider selection of direct flights, WestJet is the best option if you’re coming from Canada.

Plan Your Next Trip With Lokal

We are committed to a unique travel concept that provides unforgettable experiences and also helps preserve cultural tradtions and conserve nature. We look forward to being a part of your next Mexico trip!

Lokal Team

From the entire Lokal Team.

Explore Mexico!