Mexico: Choosing Your Spot in the Sun
Mexico is not just sun-soaked beaches, frothy margaritas, and plump pinatas. From ancient Aztec, Maya, and Indian ruins to today's twinkling cliffside discos, Mexico offers a rich cultural heritage and modern mix of indulgences. Take our overview tour to decide what city -- or state or region! -- inspires your perfect honeymoon.
- Biggest Draws: Whale watching, water sports
- Location: A peninsula that dangles off California west of Mexico's mainland, Baja starts with notorious border towns such as Tijuana and ends at Los Cabos, adored by honeymooners for its snorkeling, golf, and surf-kissed beaches of Costa Azul, Playa Palmilla, and Playa Solmar. The region blossoms as you move south down the dual-coasted strip of land with sleepy fishing villages; whale-watching ops off the Pacific Coast; the high-sierra vistas of Parque Nacional San Pedro Martir; and excellent windsurfing off the East Cape.
- Biggest Draws: Cowboy culture, carne asada (grilled meat)
- Location: Northwestern Mexico; borders Arizona
Moving east across the Sea of Cortes, you'll find Sonora, a sonorous name for Mexico's northernmost state. Cowboys and rancheras (country ballads) are part of its charm, as are coastal towns such as Bahia Kino, red mountain-edged Guaymas, and beautiful San Carlos, where you can swim, snorkel, and kayak with resident dolphins, pelicans, and sea lions. Head east inland to discover Alamos, one of the country's best-preserved colonial enclaves (the whole town is designated a national monument!), hidden in the foothills of the Sierra Madre, three mountain ranges that border Mexico's central plateau.
- Biggest Draws: Canyon vistas
- Location: South of Sonora on the west coast
The awesome Copper Canyon is actually four gorges that combine to form a one-mile-deep and one-mile-wide hole four times the size of the Grand Canyon. The best way to see it is via the Chihuahua al Pacifico railroad on its Los Mochis-Chihuahua City run. It's a 15-hour ride, so you should hop off and on at whim. Along the way, don't miss Divisadero, the starting point for horseback trips or hikes down to the village of Bacajipare, canyon home of the isolated Tarahumara Indians. Also pretty: the 806-foot-high Basaseachic Falls outside of Creel.
- Biggest Draws: Sunny sands, nightlife
- Location: West coast from Mazatlan to Acapulco
Also called the Gold Coast, this prime sunset-watching stretch of stunning jungle-rimmed coastline along the Pacific includes Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta (made famous by the Tennessee Williams play and movie, The Night of the Iguana, Manzanillo (the setting for Bo Derek and Dudley Moore's 10, Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo (the first a glitzy hotel row, the second a fishing village snared in the spotlight), and Acapulco, nightlife central. The entire stretch of coast is an adult Romper Room, where water sports, golf, shopping, surfing, and that shimmering sand compete for your attention. (That is, after you've slept off the disco-fueled hangover.) Go to mellow Mazatlan or Manzanillo for fewer tourist sites, plus cheaper beds and bites.
- Biggest Draws: Mariachis, ceramics
- Location: Inland midway down the west coast
Second only in population to Mexico City, Guadalajara is a bustling city, six million residents strong, stretching across the cacti-dotted plateau of the Sierra Madre. Sure, there are the un-honeymoon crowds of a big city here, but there is also an intriguing dose of colonial charm and history (the Mexican hat dance, mariachis, and questionable "sport" of rodeo were all invented here). Guadalajara's 30-block historic center is filled with shady plazas, marble fountains, gaily dressed troubadours, and stunning 16th-century landmarks. Don't miss nearby Tequila (the source of Mexico's national elixir), or Tlaquepaque and Tonala, quaint towns where hundreds of local artisans sell some of the country's finest ceramics and glassware.
- Biggest Draws: Colonial cities, silver
- Location: Mid-Mexico
The heart of Mexico is filled with rolling farmland, pristine pockets of local culture, and the architectural charm of the Silver Cities: Guanajuato, a mountain town with colorful houses and maze-like cobblestone alleys, and San Miguel de Allende, a cultural hub with historic inns and churches. Not only does this area have a lot of heart, it lays claim to a good bit of history, too: The Mexican constitution was signed in Queretaro, a city known for its opals and proud, mansion-filled Plaza de la Independencia. Morelia, capital of the state of Michoacan, is the place for music festivals and candy lovers - don't miss the sweets market!
- Biggest Draw: Aztec history
- Location: Just south of Mexico's "Heartland"
Although Mexico City is not considered honeymoon heaven, it has the distinction of being the oldest and highest city in North America. The Plaza de la Constitucion, called the Zocalo, at the city's heaving heart, was once the capital of the Aztec empire. Here you'll find the 16th-century Catedral Metropolitana, Latin America's oldest and largest cathedral, and Templo Mayor, the Aztec temple of human sacrifice. Daytrip to Teotihuacan, a must-see pyramid complex Aztecs believed to be the birthplace of the gods; the mystical town of Tepoztlan; Xochimilco, famous for its floating gardens; and Puebla, where you can visit beguiling colonial churches (don't miss the entirely gilded Rosary Chapel at the Iglesia de Santo Domingo), buy Talavera pottery, and indulge in fresh camote, a candy made from sweet potato and fruit, along the Calle de los Dulces (Sweets Street). Hike it off on the banks of the ominous 17,887-foot-high volcano Popocatepetl, which looms over the valley and Mexico City.
- Biggest Draws: Seafood, cafe society
- Location: East central Mexico
The coffee bean fields blanketing the tropical highlands near the city of Jalapa, home of the wily jalapeno chile, no doubt fuel the buzz of this state on the eastern coast. Foodies flock to Veracruz City, the birthplace of the dreamy dish huachinango a la veracruzana (red snapper covered in tomatoes, onions, olives, and herbs). After dinner, take an evening stroll and be serenaded by street entertainers - the song "La Bamba" was written here, after all! Visit the nearby Pyramid of the Niches at El Tajin for a haunting reminder of the Indian civilization that once ruled the coast.
- Biggest Draws: Surfing, architecture
- Location: Southwestern coast of Mexico
This state just south of the Gold Coast is loved for its 300 miles of coastline -- Zicatela is one of the world's top surf spots thanks to its daily pummeling by the "Mexican Pipeline" - but the main attractions are the vibrant Baroque buildings from the Spanish conquest in Oaxaca City; seven types of mole (a spicy sauce made with chocolate); mezcal (an alcoholic drink made from cactus); and the spirited festivities for Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead/All Souls' Day), which run from October 31 to November 2. Off the beaten path, don't miss the city ruins of the mountaintop Monte Alban, which was a thriving city 2,500 years ago.
- Biggest Draws: Maya ruins, Mother Nature
- Location: Southern Mexico, just west of Yucatan
Less well known than its neighboring state of Tabasco, home of the ubiquitous sauce, Chiapas offers natural wonders and breath-stealing Maya ruins. The lovely and inexpensive colonial town of San Cristobal de las Casas makes an excellent home base for daytrips to the spectacular Caves of San Cristobal and the village of San Juan Chamula, but you'll have to rent a car for other worthy excursions. Some highlights include the 58 multihued Lagunas de Montebello (Lakes of the Beautiful Mountain); Sumidero Canyon, a 4,000-foot-deep gash cut by the Grijalva River; and ancient cities such as jungle-clad Yaxchilan and must-see Palenque, a stunner that emerges out of the rain forest with stoic majesty.
- Biggest Draws: Archeological ruins, underwater sights
- Location: Southeast tip of Mexico
The southeastern tip of Mexico is renowned for the country's best beaches and a bevy of archaeological ruins, including the seaside city of Tulum, the temple pyramids at Chichen Itza, elegant Uxmal, and eerily silent Coba and Cenote Xkeken, a swimmable sinkhole. When you're saturated with deserted cities, refuel in the spunky city of Merida or indulge your senses beside and beneath the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean Sea. Cancun was carved out of the jungle specifically for your merrymaking, and the mellow islands of Cozumel -- near the world's second longest barrier reef -- and Isla Mujeres beckon just offshore.
For more information about Mexico, contact the Mexico tourist board, (800) 44-MEXICO.
Photo: Mexico Tourism Board