The culture of Mexico is much more diverse and complex than most visitors initially expect.  With a rich ancient history of power empires, a long Spanish colonial period, and a vibrant modern culture found in its cities today, Mexico has something for any type of traveler.  Enjoy the laid back lifestyle of rural farms or picturesque surf towns.  Explore ancient Mayan ruins or head to modern Mexico City for great nightlife.  Everywhere you turn, you’ll find more cultural gems.  Below are a few of the top places to visit in Mexico, all definitely worth adding to your next trip.

Mayan Temples

There is something so magically about exploring an ancient city, once lost to the jungles.  Unlike most Aztec cities, which were attacked, built over, or destroyed by the Spanish explorers, many Mayan cities were already lost to time by the arrival of the Spanish.  Protected in the jungles until modern treasure hunters and archaeologists re-discovered them, these ancient Mayan cities offer wonderful glimpses into the past.

Chichen Itza is one of Mexico’s most popular ancient cities, located in the heart of the Yucatan Peninsula.  Dominated by El Castillo temple, the site was once one of the Mayan empire’s largest cities.  Now it is visited by over a million tourists a year.  Another great Mayan site is the ruined city of Palenque, which though smaller is even more magical.  Here you can really get a sense for how quickly the jungle can swallow up a city.  Palenque is especially known for its ancient Mayan carvings.

Mexico City

Sure, Mexico was home to some of the world’s most interesting ancient cultures but don’t forget to experience a bit of modern Mexican culture as well.  A great place to do just that is in the vibrant capital – Mexico City.  Here all the regions of Mexico are represented through food, music, and the people who has migrated to the city for work and education.  Be sure to spend some time just people watching in the vast central plazas, where you can find great local street food, often see musicians performing, and can get a sense for normal, everyday Mexican life.

If you don’t have a lot of time to explore Mexico, the city gives visitors a great introduction to the history and diverse cultures of the country through great museums, markets, and year-round cultural festivals.  Urban culture is alive and well in the city too, with modern art exhibits, trendy restaurants, and great nightlife.

Guadalajara

What makes Mexico’s culture so interesting is arguably its combination of both pre-columbian cultures and that of the colonizing Spanish.  A great place to see this combination is the beautiful mountain city of Guadalajara.  Translated from the local indigenous language to mean “Place of Frogs” and once an important colonial town, Guadalajara is now considered a cultural gem of Western Mexico.  Filled with old colonial architecture, great museums, and grand central plazas, Guadalajara is a great place to just wander the old colonial streets.

While the city is captivating enough, it is also conveniently located near the famous town of Tequila.  Listed as a World Heritage Site, here visitors can take tours of the agave fields, learn how tequila is made, and of course do a bit of tasting as well.

Photo Credit: Tomasz Wagner via photopin cc

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