Mexico: Main Sights
A land of contrasts straddling temperate and tropical zones
Mexico enjoys a wealth of historical sites and archaeological wonders, 27 of which have made it to the World Heritage List. Millions of people visit the country to soak in its grand historical past! The natural wonders of Mexico account for a large number of tourists, from the Coyuca Lagoon in Acapulco to the Rocky Point located on the northern bank of the Cortez Sea; Monterrey, the third largest city of Mexico is home to several tourist attractions such as the Macro Plaza, Cathedral, Museum of Mexican History, Paseo Santa Lucia; the beautiful pyramid of El Castillo is a famous Mayan Indian Pyramid dedicated to the Wind God and considered as one of the major attractions of the country. The Mayan Riviera is one of the most admired tourist attractions in the whole world. The famous Mayan Reef, the largest reef of coral in the western hemisphere, is the main attraction of Mayan Riviera.
El Zócalo (Plaza de la Constitución)
The Zocalo is Mexico’s religious, political and geographical center located in the heart of the historic center of Mexico City. Also referred to as the ‘Constitution Square’ , the huge square is used as a venue for venue for official ceremonies, city celebrations, demonstrations, rallies, impromptu performances and artisans displaying their works. The square is one of the largest in the world’ covering an area of 240 meters. The Zocalo is made up of a number of important buildings which surround the square. On the north side of the Zócalo is the Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Cathedral), which is the largest and oldest cathedral in Latin America. The Templo Mayo (Main Temple) has its ruins located beside the Cathedral in a museum that displays artifacts found in the main pyramid of Aztec Tenochtitlán. The Palacio Nacional (Presidential Palace) occupies the eastern side of the Zócalo. This palace houses the Federal Treasury and National Archives. The Museo Nacional de Arte (National Art Museum) is located a few blocks away from the Zocalo and is an Italian Renaissance style palace that is home to an exhaustive collection of Mexican art from every school and style.
The Zocalo is open Monday to Saturday from 10:00am to 5:00pm. Entry is free but an ID card is required at the entrance. The Main Temple is open Tuesday to Saturday from 9:00am to 5:00pm with a free entry on Sunday. The National Art Museum is open from 10:30am to 5:30pm, Tuesday to Sunday.
The National Anthropology Museum (Museo Nacional de Antropología)
The National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City is undoubtedly the finest of museums in the entire country. The entire museum is huge and one day is not enough to go through its artifacts. Most of the civilizations that existed in Mexico have their artifacts displayed in this museum making it a royal treat for history lovers! Some of the most fascinating exhibits are the famous Aztec ‘sun' stones, the giant stone Olmec heads from Tabasco and a replica of a Mayan tomb from Palenque. On the upper level, the rooms are dedicated to how modern Mexico's indigenous people live. Daily performances staged outside of the museum's main entrance are publicised by voladores - most re-enact ancient ceremonies in colourful, traditional costumes and involve daring acrobatics using suspended ‘flying'.
The Museum is located to the north of the Chapultepec Park and is open Tuesday to Saturday from 9:00am to 7:00pm, and on Sundays from 9:00am to 6:00pm.
The Teotihuacán Pyramids
50km north of Mexico City lays the enormous archaeological site of the Teotihuacán City and its pyramids in the Valley of Mexico. The ceremonial center of the city is laid out in symbolic representation of two axes; the north-south axis is named the Avenue of the Dead from which, akin to the wings of a butterfly, buildings, palaces, plazas and altars extend to either side. At one end stands the Pyramid of the Moon and off to one side, rising in an immense stone mass, looms the Pyramid of the Sun; two massive structures representing the duality of creation between nature and the men who built these walls with volcanic rock and limestone. Teotihuacán is not only a monumental city, but also a place where the mural paintings allow visitors to delve into a world of mythical figures of Gods, jaguars, nocturnal beings and liquid skies. Also known as the ‘City of Gods’ a visit to Teotihuacán is a must if you plan to visit Mexico on an archaeological tour; from an historical perspective, it is one of the most important archaeological places in the world. If you're in Mexico City or somewhere just north of it, then a visit to see this archaeological site will prove a fascinating and worthwhile experience. The site is open every day of the week from 9:00am to 5:00pm.
The Chapultepec Castle is located on the highest part of the Chapultepec hill, 2325 meters above sea level. It is a Neo-classical building that has been expanded and remodelled since its construction as a summer palace and now houses the National Museum of History. The building is spread over 10,000 square metres, including structures built against the slope of the hill itself, as well as gardens, walkways and exterior staircases that were integrated into the topography. Access is through a ramp that starts off at the foot of the hill, and leads all the way up to the Castle's exterior gates. As the official residence of presidents and celebrities throughout Mexican History, Chapultepec Castle has witnessed from high up important events in the Valley of Mexico, all of which have shaped its historic and symbolic character that remains to our days. Many traces of Aztec culture can still be found around Chapultepec. In the park at the foot of the hill below the castle and between the entrance to the park from the Paseo de la Reforma and the Avenida Chapultepec, there can still be seen in the living rocks of the hillside Aztec carvings, and several old stone heads found on the grounds. The castle has an entrance fee of 38 pesos ($3).
The Copper Canyon
The largest state of Mexico, Chihuahua, is home to the Copper Canyon which comprises almost a third of the state. The Copper Canyon is essentially a group of canyons formed by 6 rivers which drain the western side of Sierra Tarahumara. The walls of the canyon are a copper and green color which is where the name originates. It is seven times larger than the Grand Canyon in the United States of America to which it is often compared. The best ways to explore the canyon is by hiking, biking or driving or horse riding through it. A rail route runs through the canyon, making it the most popular mode of travel. The famous CopperCanyon train ride accesses the home of the Tarahumara Indians near Creel where you are likely to see Tarahumara Indians lay out their foods, crafts and artifacts for sale. To experience the tremendous beauty of this natural wonder along with the native culture of the Tarahumara Indians, then embark on the train journey which is an experience of a lifetime! Tour packages in the Copper Canyon are available with lodging and travel included in your package.
Located in the Yucatan Peninsula in the state of Yucatan, the Chichen Itza was built by the Mayan civilization and covers an area of 6 square miles where 30 of the most popular Mayan ruins have become famous tourist spots. The pyramids of Itza are over 1500 years old. The fusion of Mayan construction techniques with new elements from central Mexico makes Chichen-Itza one of the most important examples of the Mayan-Toltec civilization in Yucatán. Several buildings have survived, such as the Warriors’ Temple, El Castillo and the circular observatory known as El Caracol. The site is divided into three sections. The North grouping of structures is distinctly Toltec in style while the central group appears to be from the early period. The southern group is known as ‘The Old Chichén’. The main attraction is the central pyramid, El Castillo del Serpiente Emplumado, which means “Castle of the Plumed Serpent”. At the entrance to Chichén Itzá, there is an informative museum, a dining room, clean restrooms, a few gift shops, and vendor stands. An entry fee of 80 pesos ($8) is charged. The Chichen Itza is one of the New 7 Wonders of the World and definitely worth a visit.
Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe
The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a major Catholic shrine in the outskirts of Mexico City and the most visited Catholic shrine in the world. Many make the pilgrimage to the Basilica of Guadalupe, some crawling on their knees for miles, to pray to the Virgin of Guadalupe. Pilgrims arrive year-round, but millions flock to the shrine on December 12, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The original basilica was built in 1536 and still stands, but has weakened considerably over the years. A new basilica has been built and houses the miraculous apron containing the image of the Virgin that hangs behind bullet-proof glass above the altar. Moving walkways going in two directions transport the crowds a distance below the cloak. Located next to the new basilica is the original basilica known as the Antigua Basilica which now houses a museum of hand-painted depictions of miracles, dedicated to Mary or a saint in gratitude and popular religious art, paintings, sculpture, and decorative and applied arts from the 15th through 18th centuries. Outside the Antigua Basilica is a statue of Juan Diego, who became the first indigenous saint in the Americas with his canonization in 2002. Outside the basilica is a plaza with a visitor information center and a museum.
National Museum of the Cultures (The Museo Nacional de las Culturas)
The National Museum of Cultures is a majestic palace from the 18th century that has in its folds cultural manifestations of ancient cultures and precious objects of art belonging to different epochs. The museum houses more than twenty halls devoted to art, archaeology and to the prehistoric era, exhibiting from the latter, and objects proceeding from ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Japan and several African cultures among others. The museum has sixteen permanent display rooms and three rooms for temporary exhibits. Some of the rooms are dedicated prehistoric cultures remains such as cave paintings and implements associated with the origins of sedentary, agricultural societies. The museum is housed in a colonial-era building that used to be the mint for making coins. Prior to this, the site was the home of the location of Moctezuma’s “Black House.” The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 9:00am to 6:00pm.