Visiting Mexico, Land of the Aztecs

Our colorful Hispanic neighbors have a lot to offer in the way of tourism. Mexico is a prime travel destination for many Americans who don’t particularly enjoy the idea of flying or taking long, tedious cruises. Be warned that trying to visit this huge and wonderful country in the span of a few days will leave you longing for more. If you never get any further than Mexico City you will sorely regret it!

Mexico’s vibrant clash of cultures and ethnicities helped to make it the bright, beautiful and exotic land it is today. Thousands of years ago, when Europeans had not yet dreamed of colonizing the continent now known as North America, many different highly advanced Native American cultures carved out what was to become a great nation. The Aztecs were one of these indigenous groups, and their presence can still be felt in the traditions (and many ancient ruins) of Mexico. Many Mexican words (such as the name Mexico itself) are thought to have come from Native American terms.

So many places to visit, so few days to experience it all! By all means start at Mexico City, a modern, vibrant city with centuries of history hidden deep underneath. A few decades ago, the remains of a huge Aztec temple were uncovered by Mexico City’s archaeologists. It is a strange feeling, wondering what ancient Indian ruins might lie beneath your feet as you walk the modern streets, but Mexico City is full of parallels, old and new, Spanish and Indian.

For a view of grandeur, you might decide to visit the Castillo de Chapultapec. Built in the 1700s, the palace has many things to see and do and the history is enough to draw you in. The Castillo’s gardens are reason enough to visit if just to stop and admire their beauty. Until the late 1930s, the Mexican president lived here, but now you can find a museum of natural history to occupy your time.

A trip to Mexico, which because of its Spanish conquerors became a bastion of the Catholic faith, would not be complete without seeing the church of Nuestra Senora (Our Lady) de Guadalupe. The story tells of a man who viewed the Virgin Mary herself in the 16th century, and from this spot a magnificent church soon sprang. During your visit to the church you can see the shawl where the face of Mary was said to be imprinted.

Be warned that thousands of other people will wish to visit the church as well. Millions have visited each year and the number shows no sign of dropping. You will want to either arrive early or stay in the background until the crowd thins enough for you to properly enjoy your visit. The trick is to let other tourists hustle and bustle and rush through their tour; they are a hurry and won’t see much, but if you are patient, you will get more time to stand and appreciate what you’re seeing.

After you’ve spent your sightseeing time in Mexico City, another destination option is Guadalajara. Although not as well-known as some of its Mexican neighbors, the city still offers many things that may be of interest.

Guadalajara’s Parque Mirador Independencia, an awe-inspiring park lookout, provides views of the beautiful canyon known as Barranca de Oblatos. You can find terrific scenery here in the canyon, such as a waterfall, walking paths and many other places of interest. It is always a refreshing idea to leave the big city atmosphere for awhile and see something that will make your heart flutter and your jaw drop.

You will find museums, historic buildings, an opera house and many other “tame” attractions in Guadalajara if hiking isn’t to your liking. Los Arcos, an arch commissioned in the 1940s, was created for the city’s founding (1542). One of the most historic buildings is a chapel known as Capilla de Calvario; it is said to be the site where Mass was first celebrated in this part of the country. The year was 1530. For a reverent and peaceful attraction without the fuss of the big city, come here to unwind.

After you’re quite sure you’ve had enough of the “big city” traffic, hop over to the Yucatan peninsula to Chichen Itza and check out one of the most amazing wonders of Mexican engineering. El Castillo, a temple dedicated to the god Quetzalcoatl, has stood on this site since the 900s and is beautifully preserved. Many people don’t consider a visit to Mexico worthwhile unless they visit one of the country’s romantic Aztec or Mayan pyramids. It is amazing to look up the seemingly endless steps to the top of the temple and imagine life in Mexico before the first Spanish invaders ever arrived.

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