The second stop (after Havana) in our trip around Latin America was Mexico. We only spent two weeks there, and if we hadn’t pre-booked flights to Brazil, we could have definitely stayed for two months without wanting to leave.
Mexico is a large country in North America with a big population built upon a rich history of ancient Mesoamerican civilisations. The national language is Spanish. English, although widely spoken around tourist attractions and in hostels, is not a language you could expect to use to communicate with most people. So make sure to brush up on your Espagñol before you go, or carry a phrase book around!
Coming from Britain, holidaying in Mexico was so cheap, cheap enough that we ended up spending a lot of money because we were living like queens. Your whole concept of value for money will change, like towards the end of our stay we went out for a meal that came to under £4 each and we were disgusted at our extravagance.
Also it should come as no surprise that Mexican weather pretty much ranges from warm to hot all year round, so remember to pack a hat and sun cream!
One of the highlights of Mexico is definitely the food, everything you thought you were eating before as “Mexican cuisine” is just a lazy, flavour-depraved imitation. Authentic street food in Mexico City is not only scarily cheap (30p-50p for a refried bean taco) but it’s drenched in flavour, spice and colour. After two weeks of constant lashings of salsa verde and jalapeños on everything, we did get the occasional dodgy tummy, but the food was just too damn tasty to stop. Where else are you going to get a quarter rotisserie chicken, chips, soft tacos and salad for £1.50? Not Nando’s that’s for sure…
The culinary adventure will leave you having to loosen a notch on your belt and you’ll never be able to take Sainsbury’s guacamole seriously again.
We started our trip in the bubbling epicentre of the country, Mexico City. Before we left for our travels we were constantly warned of the “dangers” of Mexico by concerned family and friends, and obviously like any city there will be crime but travelling around as women of colour in Mexico was fine. We got curious stares, that we didn’t receive in Cuba, and the occasional mild episode of street harassment, but the latter was no different to being back in London.
Although we found Mexico City safe for us, this wasn’t always the case for other people we met on our travels. Needless to say, it’s important to be streetwise and keep your wits about you, keep your bag close to you in crowds and divide up any important belongings and documents so that if one bag gets lost you haven’t lost everything valuable at once. We do suggest using Ubers if you’re planning to party it up and travel at night, they are safe and registered and (slyly) much, much cheaper than taxis on the meter.
Mexico City is beautiful, with lots of neighbourhoods to choose from. We stayed in Centro Historico (the historical centre) next to the world’s second biggest square, Zócalo. We stayed in the airy and beautiful Hostel Regina but moved to Mundo Joven Catedral after a few nights because we were told it was more social. Both offered affordable dorms and were clean and good value for money.
Take a tour to Teotihuacan, an ancient Mesoamerican city situated just outside of Mexico City. You can climb the Pyramid of the Sun, which is the largest building in the Avenue of the Dead, but make sure to wear sensible shoes if you’re planning to walk up the steps and not your Havaianas like we did! If you want bang for your buck take a tour that also includes stops at the Basilica of our Lady Guadalupe, a church with a capacity of 10,000, and a tour of a traditional Mexican masonry and silverwork shop.
You have to go to see the world famous professional wrestling. It’s corny, it’s hilarious, it’s colourful and before you know it you’ll be standing up, Corona pint in one hand, cheering on your favourite masked hero. None of us are into sports and we were screaming our heads of like a bunch of footy lads.
You can buy tickets from the Arena Mexico venue before the show. We got second row tickets for £5 (an absolute steal), and you will not regret spending this money. Our one regret was being too drunk to buy a mask of our own as a souvenir after the show.
Nightlife wise, we recommend this club in Condesa with free entry and good music. They were playing heavy rock music when we went on a Tuesday but they read the room when we were the only people dancing and accepted our requests of Rihanna and Sean Paul. However, the place does get very crowded on the weekend and it’s quite hard to get a drink. They have extra bar staff on the dance floor who take your order for you so you don’t have to wait, but beware of this because we had an unfortunate incident where one of the waiters gave us the wrong change and we had no proof to argue otherwise.
Frida Kahlo’s House
The artist’s renowned Blue House has been turned into the Museo Frida Kahlo, and is a must-visit if you’re into art history. Besides showcasing the interior of her beautiful home, the museum also displayed a number of her works, personal photographs, and guided us through the story of Kahlo’s life. We used our student cards and got a discounted ticket for around £2, but would happily have paid more for the whole afternoon we enjoyed there. This being the home of Frida Kahlo, one of Mexico’s – and indeed the world’s – most famous and popular artists, the queue can get predictably very long, so it’s a good idea to make an advanced booking online to select a specific time slot to go.
Capital bus tour
There are several hop-on-hop-off bus tours to choose from in Mexico City, and they have stands next to the Cathedral in Zocalo square where you can compare the deals they offer. We went with Capital Bus because it was cheap, and to be honest, because the buses were bright pink. It isn’t an essential way to see the sights, but we found that it was a great way to escape the sun on the hottest part of the day, and it was an easy way to learn about the history of the city at the same time.
After a week in Mexico City, we flew to the city of Cancún on the Caribbean coast of Mexico. Our initial impression (due to the dreadful Spring Breakers and that one season of Geordie Shore) was that Cancún was North America’s answer to Magaluf, but thankfully we were wrong. Yes, it is very touristy and is home to rows of flashy hotels, but it is also ridiculously beautiful and not completely trashy.
The beaches are fresh off a postcard, the sea goes from crystal-clear turquoise, to sky blue and is lined by sugary white sand. If you’re looking to spend your days kicking back and relaxing on the beach, and your nights hitting pool parties and clubs the size of football pitches then Cancún is for you. But a word of warning, unlike the rest of Mexico, it is not cheap to go out here.
We stayed in a hostel called Mezcal and the price for board included a breakfast and a small dinner. This was our favourite place that we stayed during our travels, and it also had the best breakfast, serving huge American-style pancakes and not over-ripe papaya. It was a relatively small hostel too, so was very close-knit and sociable, and by the end of our three day stay we had made a huge group of friends. It also had massive beds, a small swimming pool with hammocks, and was situated right by the bus station and a huge supermarket…what more could you ask for!
For some time away from the party scene, you have to visit the archaeological site of Chichen Itza. Our tour of the spectacular ancient Mayan ruins also included a visit to a modern-day Mayan village, a buffet lunch and a trip to an underground cenote.
By far the most beautiful beach in Cancún, and potentially in the world! Beware of the water as the waves can get very choppy and make you perform somersaults you have no control over. Take it from us and our sunglasses that are now lost at sea.
Playa del Carmen
Our final stop in Mexico was Playa del Carmen, about a 2 hour coach journey down the coast from Cancún. Playa has great nightlife, with a strip of bars and clubs all within walking distance, and it’s a real thing for women to get free entry and free drinks all night at the bar. It’s ridiculous and a pretty medieval concept, and we were fully aware that we were the commodities in these situations…but hey, if the patriarchy wanted to give us free tequila cocktails then so be it.
Swim with turtles
One of the highlights of our trip was snorkelling with green sea turtles in Akumal. You won’t find them in SeaWorld-style captivity, but just in the ocean where they belong, and you can only swim within a sectioned-off part of the sea. You hire a snorkel and a life jacket from vendors on the beach, it’s not necessary, but you can also pay for a tour– though it’s much more fun to search for them yourself!
This part of Mexico is well known for its cenotes, which are natural sinkholes filled with freshwater. Azul Cenote is one if the more affordable ones and is great for paddling in its clear, refreshing waters with catfish and rock diving. After experiencing the atmosphere of a cenote, you can see why the Mayans held these sites as sacred.
Ruins at Tulum
By bus, it is quick and easy to get to Tulum from Playa del Carmen. Walking around the ruins of the Pre-Columbian Mayan walled city was a serene experience, with the waves lapping against the cliffs and iguanas sunning themselves all over the site.
“Travelling as women of colour in Mexico was fine, it was mainly our fellow Western travellers who were more concerned with our race and not actually the native Mexicans. In one particular case an older white American woman was stunned that a “white” girl (referring to Hannah who is in fact mixed-race) and a black girl could be friends and just how truly wonderful it was to see diversity in friendship. She then continued with her verbal vomit to reassure me that (thankfully) I wasn’t “too black, not like the Nigerians”. So as far as ignorance and microagressions are concerned whilst travelling, you will most likely experience is from other travellers and gap yah kids.” – Niellah
“I got mistaken for being Mexican twice by actual Mexicans, and also for being white twice by other tourists. Both were novel experiences. On the whole I think as women of colour we stood out, but this was never an issue among the locals.” – Hannah