Mexico by cuiliqing




Acapulco                         Cozumel                          Los Cabos
Cancun                           Guadalajara                      Mexico City
Caribbean Coast                  Ixtapa & Zihuatanejo             Oaxaca
                                                                  Puerto Vallarta

You've got to give Acapulco credit for staying power. After falling out of favour with the
international jet set, this not-so-hot spot is heating up again. Its high-rise hotels are being
restored to their former grandeur, its restaurants are getting noticed by the critics, its famous
nightlife scene is jumping again, and its pollution-plagued beaches have been given a
thorough scrubbing. Worlds more sophisticated than Cancún, Acapulco draws a wide range
of people, though you're bound to find more party animals than fresh-faced families here. But
most people who make their way to this undeniably beautiful bay spend their days lying
around on colourful towels or napping in hammocks, a fruit-flavoured drink nearby. For those
who can rouse themselves to do some sightseeing, the nearby silver city of Taxco beckons.

Sights & Activities
The city centre is on the western edge of the bay. The streets run inland, forming a grid that's
easy to explore on foot. Avenida Costera Miguel Alemán, a wide coastal boulevard, runs the
length of the bay and is lined with hotels, restaurants, and malls. You can explore the strip by
taxi, bus, or rental car, stopping along the way to shop.

You'll also need a vehicle to get to Acapulco Diamante, farther east along the coast. Running
from Las Brisas Hotel to Barra Vieja beach, this 3,000-acre expanse encompasses exclusive
Playa Diamante and Playa Revolcadero, with upscale hotels and residential developments,
private clubs, beautiful views, and pounding surf.

Pie de la Cuesta, 10 km (6.2 mi) northwest of Acapulco, is famous for its fabulous sunsets,
small family-run hotels, and some of the wildest surf in Mexico. The village remains the flip
side to the Acapulco coin -- a welcome respite from the disco-driven big city. Only the main
road is paved, and the town has no major resorts or late-night clubs. A beach chair, a bucket
of cold beers, and a good book is about as much excitement as you'll get here.

For a break from beach life you can travel north 300 km (185 mi) to the old silver-mining town
of Taxco, a lovely example of life away from the coast, not to mention a great place to buy
silver from the country's finest metalwork artisans.

Cancún is a great place to experience 21st-century Mexico. There isn't much that's "quaint" or
"historical" in this distinctively modern city; the people living here have eagerly embraced all
the accoutrements of urban middle-class life -- cell phones, cable TV -- that are found all over
the world. Most locals live on the mainland, in the part of the city known an El Centro -- but
many of them work in the posh Zona Hotelera, the barrier island where Cancún's most
popular resorts are located.
Boulevard Kukulcán is the main drag in the Zona Hotelera, and because the island is so
narrow -- less than 1 km (½ mi) wide -- you would be able to see both the Caribbean and the
lagoons on either side if it weren't for the hotels. Regularly placed kilometer markers
alongside Boulevard Kukulcán indicate where you are. The first marker (Km 1) is near
downtown on the mainland; Km 20 lies at the south end of the Zone at Punta Nizuc. The area
in between consists entirely of hotels, restaurants, shopping complexes, marinas, and time-
share condominiums. It's not the sort of place you can get to know by walking, although
there's a bicycle-walking path that starts downtown at the beginning of the Zona Hotelera and
continues through to Punta Nizuc. The beginning of the path parallels a grassy strip of
Boulevard Kukulcán decorated with reproductions of ancient Mexican art, including the Aztec
calendar stone, a giant Olmec head, the Atlantids of Tula, and a Maya Chacmool (reclining
rain god).

South of Punta Cancún, Boulevard Kukulcán becomes a busy road, difficult to cross on foot.
It's also punctuated by steeply inclined driveways that turn into the hotels, most of which are
set at least 100 yards from the road. The lagoon side of the boulevard consists of scrubby
stretches of land alternating with marinas, shopping centers, and restaurants. Because there
are so few sights, there are no orientation tours of Cancún: just do the local bus circuit to get
a feel for the island's layout.

When you first visit El Centro, the downtown layout might not be self-evident. It's not based
on a grid but rather on a circular pattern. The whole city is divided into districts called Super
Manzanas (abbreviated Sm in this book), each with its own central square or park. The main
streets curve around the manzanas, and the smaller neighbourhood streets curl around the
parks in horseshoe shapes. Avenida Tulum is the main street -- actually a four-lane road with
two northbound and two southbound lanes. The inner north and south lanes, separated by a
meridian of grass, are the express lanes. Along the express lanes, smaller roads lead to the
outer lanes, where local shops and services are. This setup makes for some amazing traffic
snarls, and it can be quite dangerous crossing at the side roads. Instead, cross at the speed
bumps placed along the express lanes that act as pedestrian walkways.

Avenidas Bonampak and Yaxchilán are the other two major north-south streets that parallel
Tulum. The three major east-west streets are Avenidas Cobá, Uxmal, and Chichén. They are
marked along Tulum by huge traffic circles, each set with a piece of sculpture.

Sights & Activities
The Zona Hotelera is a numeral 7-shape island 4 km (2 mi) east of El Centro. It consists
entirely of hotels, restaurants, shopping complexes, marinas, and time-share condominiums,
with few residential areas. It's not the sort of place you can get to know by walking or biking,
although there is path that starts in Punta Nizuc and ends in El Centro.

Cancún's scenery consists mostly of beautiful beaches and crystal-clear waters, but there are
also a few intriguing historical sites tucked away among the modern hotels.

The 490-square-km (189-square-mi) island of Cozumel hangs 19 km (12 mi) off the tip of the
Yucatán Peninsula. Calm waters wash the white sandy beaches on its leeward side, which is
fringed by a spectacular reef system. On the windward Caribbean side, powerful surf and
rocky strands are broken at intervals by calm bays and hidden coves. Aside from the 3% of
the island that has been developed, Cozumel is made up of expanses of sandy or rocky
beaches, quiet little coves, palm groves, scrubby jungle, lagoons and swamps, and a few low
hills (the maximum elevation is 45 ft). A few Maya ruins provide what limited sightseeing there
is aside from the island's glorious natural attractions.
The island's name comes from the Maya word Ah-Cuzamil-Peten, which means "land of the
swallows." For the Maya, Cozumel was the sacred site of the fertility goddess Ixchel, as well
as a key centre of trade and navigation. For the Spanish, it was useful as a naval base in the
late 16th century. For pirates, its safe harbors and the catacombs and tunnels the Maya dug
were ideal for their treasure-gathering and -storing needs.

Despite the inevitable effects of cruise ships that dock here, the island's earthy charm
remains largely intact, and the relaxing atmosphere remains typically Mexican -- friendly and
unpretentious. A mainstay of Cozumel's mood is the isleños, descendents of the Maya who
have inhabited the island for centuries.

Isla Mujeres
The minute you step off the boat, you'll get a sense of how small Isla is. The sights and
properties on the island are strung along the coasts; there's not much to the interior except
the two saltwater marshes, Salina Chica and Salina Grande, where Maya inhabitants
harvested salt centuries ago. The main road is Avenida Rueda Medina, which runs the length
of the island; southeast of a village known as El Colonia, it turns into Carretera El Garrafón.
Smaller street names and other address details don't really matter much here.

Top 5 Reasons to Go
    Scuba diving the world-famous 20-mi Maya Reef, where the technicolor profusion of
       fish coral and other underwater creatures reside.

       Swing lazily in a hamaca at Mr. Sancho's, Nachi Cocom, or any of the other western
        beach clubs.

       Watching beribboned traditional dancers at the annual Feria del Cedral festival.

       Joining the locals at the Plaza Central in San Miguel on Sunday nights for music and

       Riding a jeep along the wild, undeveloped eastern coast, and picnicking at secluded

Mexico's second-largest city has plenty to offer. Although not the most colourful of colonial
capitals, its carefully preserved Centro Histórico is lined with many beautiful buildings. The
rest of the city is thoroughly modern, which means it can be just as chaotic as its big sister,
but it offers many of the same urban diversions, in particular good restaurants and nightlife.
Guadalajara is the birthplace of Mexico's most famous traditions: tequila (here you can
sample more than 200 kinds), charredas (the ubiquitous Mexican-style rodeo), and mariachi
music. The sights outside the city aren't as interesting as those near Mexico City, limiting your
day-trip options, but the suburbs of Tonalá and Tlaquepaque have some of the country's best
crafts. Guadalajara is reasonably close to Puerto Vallarta (about a four-hour drive), so it's a
good option if you want to see a bit of the countryside before heading to the beach.

Best in 3-5 Days Itinerary
Spend your first day in the Centro Histórico. The next day, spend the morning and have lunch
in Tlaquepaque, and visit Tonalá in the afternoon. These two towns are the best places in
Guadalajara to shop. On your third day, see some of the city sights outside the Centro
Histórico and take in a show.

Tour the Centro Histórico on your first day, and then devote a day to Tlaquepaque and
another to Tonalá. Visit Lago de Chapala on Day 4.
Spend your final day back in Guadalajara, perhaps visiting the Zoológico Guadalajara, or the
Basílica de la Virgen de Zapopan and nearby sights, for which several hours are required.
Plan an afternoon of strolling past the mansions that were built by Guadalajara's upper
classes in the glorious twilight before the 1910 revolution; the best area is in a six-block radius
around Avenida Vallarta west of Avenida Chapultepec. If you'd like to get your feet on the
ground in more natural surroundings, hike in the nearby Barranca de Oblatos.

Ixtapa & Zihuatanejo
Although they couldn't be more different, Ixtapa (eesh-tah-pa) and Zihuatanejo (zee-wha-ta-
NEH-ho) are marketed together as a single resort destination. Zihua, as it's often called, was
a remote fishing village with minimal tourist traffic for hundreds of years. Ixtapa was created in
the 1970s when Mexico's National Fund for Tourism Development (FONOTUR) cleared away
a coconut plantation and constructed hotels, shops, and a marina.

Although Ixtapa is quite self-sufficient in terms of services, its designers were unable to give
the place a soul. Many visitors wander 7 km (4 mi) south to enjoy the authentic ambience of
Zihua, which has been steadily adding its own restaurants and beachfront hotels -- so far
doing so without destroying its small-town essence. Neither Zihuatenejo nor Ixtapa have
much in the way of must-see attractions, but both are pleasant places to stroll and have
gorgeous bays and marvellous beaches.

Zihuatenejo's bay was a retreat for indigenous nobility long before Columbus and Cortés
sailed to the Americas. Figurines, ceramics, and stone carvings found in the area verify the
presence of civilizations dating as far back as the Olmec (3000 BC). Weaving was likely the
dominant industry. The original Nahuatl name, Cihuatlán, means "place of women." Ixtapa,
originally spelled Iztapa, means "white sands," and was ceded to (but not used by) one of the
Spanish conquistadors.

In 1527 Spain launched a trade route from Zihuatanejo Bay to the Orient. Galleons returned
with silks, spices, and, according to some historians, the Americas' first coconut palms,
brought from the Philippines. But the Spaniards did little colonizing here. A scout sent by
Cortés reported back to the conquistador that the place was nothing great, tagging the name
Cihuatlán with the less-than-flattering suffix "ejo" -- hence "Zihuatanejo."

Sights & Activities

The Zona Hotelera extends along a 3-km (2-mi) strip of sandy beach called Playa del Palmar.
It's fun to walk along the shore to check out the various hotel scenes and water-sports
activities. Swimming is so-so because of how the small waves break close to shore. You can
walk the length of the same zone on the landward side of the hotels, along Paseo Ixtapa. This
landscaped thoroughfare -- essentially, Ixtapa's only street -- is an access road that feeds the
hotels on one side and strip malls filled with chain restaurants on the other. It's nicely
landscaped and includes a broad path for pedestrians and cyclists. Entering Ixtapa along this
road from the south you'll see a large handicrafts market, Mercado de Artesanía Turístico.
Ixtapa's law against roving vendors confines local artisans -- from painters and sculptors to
sellers of tank tops and key chains -- to this group of stalls. The Zona Hotelera's southerly
end is also home to the 18-hole Palma Real Golf Club; at the resort's northwest end is the
anemic Marina Ixtapa development. Although it has a 600-slip yacht marina, the 18-hole
Marina Golf Course, and a small enclave of pretty good restaurants and shops, it bustles only
in high season. Zihuatenejo

Everything in Zihuatenejo radiates out from the main beach. Although this stretch of sand is
probably the worst in town for swimming, it's the best place to get a sense of the timeless
local rhythm. Fishermen still set off in outboard-motorized skiffs and return a few hours later
to sell their daily catch to villagers. From the adjacent municipal muelle (pier), a group of
waterfront companies take tourists on hours-long fishing adventures of their own, or on a 10-
minute trip across the bay to one of the best swimming and snorkeling beaches, Playa Las
Gatas. The pier also marks the beginning of the Paseo del Pescador (Fishermen's Walk), or
malecón. Follow this seaside path, which is only ½ km (1/3 mi), along the main beach and is
fronted by small restaurants and shops. Along the way you'll pass the basketball court that
doubles as the town square. Most of the budget accommodations are in downtown
Zihuatanejo; the glamorous hotels are on or overlooking Playa la Ropa. For more seclusion,
venture to the growing beach town of Troncones, a 20-minute drive northwest of Zihuatanejo.

Los Cabos
If humans pulled out of Baja it would rapidly regress to its natural dry, brown, uninhabitable
state. But man has wrought wonders here. Enormous swaths of desert and coast are carved
into exclusive developments, and the demand for more marinas, golf courses, and private
homes seems never-ending. In some places hotels command $500 or more a night for their
enormous suites, restaurants and spas charge L.A. prices, and million-dollar vacation villas
are all the rage.

With the completion in 1973 of the Carretera Transpeninsular (Mexico Carretera 1), travelers
gradually started finding their way down the 1,708-km (1,059-mi) road, drawn by the wild
terrain and the pristine beaches of both coastlines. Baja California Sur became Mexico's 30th
state in 1974, and the population and tourism have been growing ever since. Still, Baja Sur
remains a rugged, largely undeveloped land. Many people opt to fly to the region rather than
brave the often desolate Carretera 1.

Whale-watching in Scammon's Lagoon, San Ignacio Lagoon, Magdalena Bay, and throughout
the Mar de Cortés is a main attraction in winter. History buffs enjoy Loreto, where the first
mission in the Californias was established. La Paz, today a busy state capital and sportfishing
hub, was the first Spanish settlement in Baja. At the peninsula's southernmost tip fishing
aficionados, golfers, and sun worshippers gather in Los Cabos, which sits like a sun-splashed
movie set where the desert and ocean collide.

Connected by a 28-km (17-mi) stretch of highway called the Corridor, the two towns of Cabo
San Lucas and San José del Cabo were distinct until the late 1970s, when the Mexican
government targeted Baja's southern tip for resort development and dubbed the area Los
Cabos. The setting is both foreign and familiar, an easy getaway with all the comforts of
home. Today the population is about 100,000, an unofficial estimate that includes the growing
number of Mexicans migrating from the mainland in search of jobs as well as foreigners
who've bought vacation homes. New towns are rising inland, and the infrastructure is
stretched to its limits.

San José del Cabo is the government center and traditional Mexican town, albeit with a
strong foreign influence. Massive all-inclusives have consumed much of its coastline, making
San José the favored destination for families who just want to stay put on a safe, self-
contained vacation. Outrageous, action-packed Cabo San Lucas is the Cabo you see on
MTV. It's spring break here year-round, making it the preferred home base for the let-it-all-
hang-out crowd. Connecting the two towns is the Corridor -- a strip of designer golf courses
and super-luxe resorts set in a desert landscape. Celebrities lounge poolside at Corridor
hideaways, their privacy ensured by exorbitant room rates.

Sights & Activities
The best way to sight see in Los Cabos is on foot. Downtown San José and Cabo San Lucas
are compact. Buses run between the towns, with stops along the Corridor. You only need to
rent a car if you plan to dine a lot in the Corridor hotels or travel frequently between the two

San José's downtown is lovely, with adobe houses and jacaranda trees. Entrepreneurs have
converted old homes into stylish restaurants and shops, and the government has enlarged
and beautified the main plaza. A nine-hole golf course and residential community are south of
Centro (town centre); a little farther south the ever-expanding Zona Hotelera (hotel zone)
faces a long beach on the Sea of Cortez. Despite the development -- and weekday traffic
jams -- San José is relatively peaceful.

Quite the opposite is true of Cabo San Lucas -- famous for its rowdy nightlife, its slew of
trendy restaurants, and its lively beaches. The sportfishing fleet is headquartered here, cruise
ships anchor off the marina, and there's a massive hotel on every available plot of waterfront
turf. A pedestrian walkway lined with restaurants, bars, and shops anchored by the sleek
Puerto Paraíso mall curves around Cabo San Lucas harbour, itself packed with yachts.

A five-story hotel complex at the edge of the harbour blocks the water view and sea breezes
from the town's side streets, which are filled with a jarring jumble of structures. The most
popular restaurants, clubs, and shops are along Avenida Cárdenas (the extension of Highway
1 from the Corridor) and Boulevard Marina, paralleling the waterfront. The side streets closest
to the marina are clogged with traffic, and their uneven, crumbling sidewalks front more tourist
traps jammed side-by-side. At Playa Médano, tanned bodies lie shoulder-to-shoulder on the
sand, with every possible form of entertainment close at hand.

The short Pacific coast beach in downtown San Lucas is more peaceful, though humongous
hotels have gobbled up much of the sand. An entire new tourism area dubbed Cabo Pacifica
by developers has blossomed on the Pacific, west of downtown. There's talk of a new
international airport in San Lucas, along with golf courses and more resorts. The way things
are going, San Lucas will soon rival Cancún as Mexico's gaudiest tourism capital.

Mexico City
Mexico's sprawling capital is making headlines as the newest urban playground for hip globe-
trotters. Its trendy (and affordable) restaurants, freewheeling nightlife, and outstanding
museums are just a few of the things responsible for this buzz. Nowhere is the transformation
more obvious than around the central square, where long-neglected streets have been
repaved with cobblestones and lined with trees. New hotels and high-rise apartments are
drawing executives and families downtown and people even stroll here at night -- unheard of
a few years ago. Some people are daunted by the city's size, but the clean, speedy subway
system makes it easy to get to even the most distant neighbourhoods. Or you can hop on the
Turibus, which is the easiest way to visit many of the main sights. But what about the old
problems, like the crime? It's a little better, but you still need to keep your wits about you.
Traffic? About the same. Smog? Dramatically better. This Mexico City is a breath of fresh air.

Founded by the Aztecs as Tenochtitlán in 1325, Mexico City is both the oldest and the highest
(7,347 ft) metropolis on the North American continent. And with nearly 22 million inhabitants,
it is the most populous city in the world. It is Mexico's cultural, political, and financial core --
braving the 21st century but clinging to its deeply entrenched Aztec heritage.

Sights & Activities
Most of Mexico City is aligned on two major intersecting thoroughfares: Paseo de la Reforma
and Avenida Insurgentes -- at 34 km (21 mi), the longest avenue in the city. Administratively,
Mexico City is divided into 16 delegaciones (districts) and about 400 colonias
(neighborhoods), many with street names fitting a given theme, such as a river, philosopher,
or revolutionary hero. The same street can change names as it goes through different
colonias. So, most street addresses include their colonia (abbreviated as Col.). Unless you're
going to a landmark, it's important to tell your taxi driver the name of the colonia and,
whenever possible, the cross street.

Mexico City's principal sights fall into three areas. Allow a full day to cover each thoroughly,
although you could race through them in four or five hours apiece. You can generally cover
the first area -- the Zócalo and Alameda Central -- on foot. Getting around Zona Rosa,
Bosque de Chapultepec, and Colonia Condesa may require a taxi ride or two (though the
Chapultepec metro stop is conveniently close to the park and museums), as will Coyoacán
and San Angel in southern Mexico City.

Mexico's Caribbean coast
Above all else, beaches are what define the Caribbean coast of Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula -
- soft, blinding white strands of sand embracing clear turquoise waters; shores that curve into
calm lagoons, coves, and inlets; waves that crash against cliffs. Mexico's Caribbean coast is
in the state of Quintana Roo (pronounced keen-tah-nah roh-oh), bordered on the northwest
by the state of Yucatán, on the west by Campeche, and on the south by Belize. Quintana Roo
existed as only a territory of the country until politicians decided to develop the area for
tourism. It officially became a state in 1974 -- the same year the first two hotels popped up in
Cancún, where development was first focused.

Coastal destinations are varied and eccentric. Puerto Morelos has the relaxed atmosphere of
a Mexican fishing village. Playa del Carmen is filled with resorts -- some of them all-inclusive -
- that are as glitzy and hectic as those in Cancún and Cozumel, embodying the coast's vida
loca (crazy life). The beaches here, from Punta Tanchacté to Tulum, are beloved by scuba
divers, snorkelers, bird-watchers, and beachcombers.

Against this backdrop is Maya culture. Although the modern Maya live in the cities and
villages along the coast, their history can be seen at the ruins. At Tulum, dramatic ruins sit on
a bluff overlooking the Caribbean, welcoming the sunrise each morning. Cobá, a short
distance inland, has towering jungle-shrouded pyramids, testaments to its importance as a
centre of commerce in the ancient Maya world.

Farther south, digs at Kohunlich have unearthed temples, palaces, and pyramids that have
vestiges of the distinct Río Bec architectural style mixed with other styles. These structures
have been restored but are still largely unvisited. At the Belizean border is the capital of
Quintana Roo -- Chetumal. Although it's a modern city, a sprinkling of brightly painted wooden
houses left over from an earlier era combine with the sultry sea air to make it seem more
Central American than Mexican.

Top 5 Reasons to Go:
    Visiting the stunning ruins of Tulum -- the only Maya site that overlooks the

       Casting for bonefish off the Chinchorro Reef near the Reserva de la Biosfera Sian

       Indulging in a decadent massage or body treatment at one of the Riviera Maya's
        luxurious spa resorts.

       Diving or snorkeling at Puerto Morelo's Natural Reef Park, a preserve filled with parrot
        fish, spotted eagle rays, and other sealife.

       Exploring the inland jungle south of Rio Bec, where you might glimpse howler
        monkeys, coatimundi, and Yucatán parrots.
Oaxaca City
Of the hottest 21st-century tourist destinations in Mexico, Oaxaca City, officially called
Oaxaca de Juárez, is also the most urban. This vibrant city of about 260,000 still feels
surprisingly authentic for a place that has been so "discovered" of late. Perhaps no small city
better embodies the bundle of contrasts that is modern Mexico, with a commingling of sights,
smells, and sounds both ancient and new. You'll hear the singsong strains of Zapotec, Mixtec,
and other native languages in the markets, Spanish rock in the bars and restaurants, and hip-
hop in English blaring from passing cars. Scions of affluent families sip tea or tequila in classy
restaurants; out on the streets, men, women, and children of significantly more modest means
sell pencils, sweets, and ears of delicious grilled elote (corn) -- and let's not forget the
plethora of often bohemian, savvier-than-average American tourists who roam the streets.

Spreading south and east from Oaxaca City, the Valles Centrales, or Central Valleys, are well
worth exploring. You could easily fill a week visiting the dozens of villages here. Looking for
colonial-era splendor? There are charming squares dominated by graceful churches in
Ocotlán and Santa Ana del Valle, to name but two. Unique crafts? San Bartolo Coyotepec is
known for its beautiful barro negro, or black pottery, made without the benefit of a pottery
wheel, while in Teotitlán del Valle the streets are lined with shops selling tapetes, the woven
wool rugs that are known all around Mexico. Colourful markets? Take your pick. There are
outdoor markets each day of the week, and each is different. In Zaachila, for example, you
could pick up some animals -- either small carvings or the real thing. Best of all, most markets
are geared toward locals, so you really get a sense of each village.

Oaxaca's 520-km (322-mi) coastline is one of Mexico's last Pacific frontiers. The town of
Puerto Escondido has long been prime territory for international surfers. Its pedestrian
walkways, crowded with open-air seafood restaurants, shops, and cafés, is indeed lively, but
also incredibly relaxed. Fishing boats pull double duty as water taxis, ferrying folks to lovely
scallops of sand up the coast. Across the highway, the "real" town above provides a look at
local life and a dazzling view of the coast.

No matter where you hole up along Mexico's southern Pacific coast, you'll find that it's all
about the beach, the water, and the waves. Surfers and bodysurfers whoop it up at Zicatela
and less famous breaks; snorkelers hug rocky coves in search of new and unusual
specimens; and divers share the depths with dolphins, rays, eels, and schools of fish instead
of shoals of other humans. Friendly locals, superb vistas, and first-rate beaches combine to
make Oaxaca's coast a stunner.

Budgeting Your Time in Oaxaca
Though the state of Oaxaca may not look that big on paper, tackling both city and coast in
less than a week isn't possible without exhausting yourself in the process. Driving from
Oaxaca City to Puerto Escondido, for example, takes a minimum of six hours. Flying is a
better option, but can be extremely expensive. If your time is limited, you should choose one
or the other.

Many people love Oaxaca City, but it's pretty small, so you really won't need more than two
days to explore the whole thing. However, you could easily round out a week by using it as a
base to explore the Oaxaca Valley.

Keep in mind that Oaxaca casts its spell easily. You may head out into Oaxaca Valley for an
obligatory day trip and find yourself wishing that you'd factored in more time to explore the
countryside. Make sure to build some flexibility into your schedule. Bus tickets and car rentals
can usually be arranged at the last minute, and, unless you're visiting during one of Oaxaca
City's many festivals accommodations are usually easy to come by.
Puerto Vallarta
The second most popular destination in Mexico, Puerto Vallarta occupies a nice niche
between the other big resort cities -- it's more sophisticated than Cancún, but more laid-back
than Acapulco. Part of its popularity is owed to the fact that development has left its Old Town
unscathed, so there are cobblestone streets and graceful churches in the city center instead
of glass and concrete towers. Moreover, the city has the best dining and shopping on the

Although Puerto Vallarta has spread north and south over the years, every attempt has been
made to keep its character intact. City ordinances prohibit neon signs, require houses to be
painted white, and dictate other architectural details downtown, where pack mules still
occasionally clomp along the streets. Above downtown, steep roads twist through jungles of
pines and palms, and rivers rush down to meet fine sand beaches and rocky coves.

The beautiful Bahía de Banderas (Banderas, or Flags, Bay) provides shelter from storms at
sea and has been attracting outsiders since the 16th century. Pirates and explorers paused
here to relax -- or maybe plunder and pillage -- during long trips. Sir Francis Drake apparently
stopped here. In the mid-1850s, Don Guadalupe Sánchez Carrillo developed the bay as a
port for the silver mines by the Río Cuale. Then it was known as Puerto de Peñas (Rocky
Port) and had about 1,500 inhabitants. In 1918 it was made a municipality and renamed for
Ignacio L. Vallarta, a governor of Jalisco State.

In the 1950s Puerto Vallarta was essentially a hideaway for those in the know -- the wealthy
and a few hardy escapists. When it first entered the general public's consciousness, with
John Huston's 1964 movie The Night of the Iguana, it was a quiet fishing and farming
community. After the movie was released, tourism boomed, and today PV has some 300,000
residents. Airports, hotels, and highways have supplanted palm groves and fishing shacks.
About 2 million people visit each year, and from November through April the cobblestone
streets are clogged with pedestrians and cars.

5 Reasons to Go to Puerto Vallarta
1. Legendary restaurants: Eat barbecued snapper with your feet in the sand or chateaubriand
with a killer ocean view.

2. Adventure and indulgence: Ride a horse, mountain bike or go four-wheeling into the
mountains, dive into the sea, and relax at an elegant spa -- all in one day.

3. Natural beauty: Enjoy the physical beauty of Pacific Mexico's prettiest resort town, with
cobblestone streets to climb to emerald green hills, and the big, sparkling bay below.

4. Authentic art: PV's artists and artisans -- from Huichol Indians to expats -- produce a huge
diversity of exceptional folk treasures and fine art.

5. Diverse nightlife: Whether you're old, young, gay, straight, mild, or wild, PV's casual and
unpretentious party scene has something to entice you after dark.

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