Short excursions to places around Mexico city gives a fantastic insight into the diversity of the country
Mexico city or Ciudad de Mexico is a huge city and I was tempted to spend a whole week checking it out. However I have this thing about big cities – while I like them, I am never keen to explore them fully. That’s because I keep thinking that there might be other times in the future I’d visit Mexico city. Thus, I ended up spending more time in towns around Mexico city rather than the city itself.
Mexico city has 4 huge bus terminals serving various cities in the four cardinal directions: North, East, South, West. Starting from here, it was very easy to organise visits to all the places listed below. Check them out:
↑ Taxco’s cute cobblestone streets with beetle taxis
Taxco (तास्को) is a little hilly town on the mountain ranges (Sierra de Guerrero) and was once known for its silver mines. I love mountains and I thought this little town was cute and just the right size, with lots of stores selling the popular Taxco silver jewelery handicrafts. I stayed here for 2 nights, ate Pozole, dodged vehicles zooming on the tiny streets and generally had a relaxing time. On my next visit to Mexico city, I am seriously contemplating spending upto a week here.
Taxco is about 3 hours from Mexico city and there are a number of comfortable buses from Mexico city’s Terminal Sur. The road winds up and down the mountain ranges and one person in my bus got mild motion sickness.
2. Grutas de Cacahuamilpa
↑ Brilliant stalactites and stalagmites at Grutas de Cacahuamilpa national park
Exploring these underground cave systems is approximately a 2 hour task in darkness and high humidity. You can enter only in a guided tour but since I didn’t understand Spanish, I asked to be left alone and the guide didn’t care. I saw some of the most wonderful stalactites and stalagmites and I wished I knew how to photograph them appropriately.
There are collectivo mini-vans every two hours from Taxco’s bus terminal, or you could hop on a bus to Ixtapa and walk for a couple of kilometers from the ‘Grutas’ intersection, as I did.
↑ Decorations on Xochicalco’s temple of the feathered serpent.
Xochicalco (so-chee-kal-co/(शोचीकाल्को) is an archeological site with a large ceremonial centre built on top of a flattened hill. The site is spread over a large area and a lot of it is unexcavated. This site was constructed after the fall of Teotihuacan and one can clearly see the differences in pyramid construction. I went here after meeting a CS travel buddy in Cuernavaca, (she had come to the bus stop with a sign that said my name! Cute!!)
Xochicalco can be easy or difficult to get to depending on how you go there however its possible to take a bus from Cuernavaca’s downtown bus station.
↑ Taco with pork and green sauce and chili on the side. Very greasy but oh so good!
I didn’t get to spend much time in Cuernavaca (क्वर्नावाका) due to logistical issues. From walking around in the Saturday markets for two hours and spending an long time in the passenger bus that went around the city, I got a very good impression of Cuernavaca.
Buses between Mexico city’s south bus terminal (Terminal Sur) and Cuernavaca are very frequent (about every 15 minutes) and take less than 90 minutes depending on traffic.
↑ Main tourist street of Cholula
Cholula (चोलुला) has the second largest pyramid in the world. So large was the pyramid that when the Spanish arrived, they thought it was a hill and they built a church on top. The pyramid is now being excavated so entry to the tunnels underneath is closed for now. However, I liked walking in the little town and climbing to the top of the ‘hill’ (pyramid) from where the town looks very sprawling.
Cholula is about 2 hours from Mexico city and there are a number of buses from TAPO (Terminal de Autobuses de Pasajeros de Oriente) bus station, several of them terminate in Puebla, the next big city.
↑ Puebla – the whole city is a world-heritage site.
Puebla (प्वेब्ला) is a very colonial city with a large cathedral at its central zocalo. So close to Mexico city yet so different and reasonably cheap too – the internet cafe cost me only 7 pesos. Puebla is among the top five important cities of Mexico and the entire city is a world-heritage site. It was here that I came across a student protest (demanding reduction in tuition). Later I ate dinner at a vegetarian place that was tucked behind a large colonial building.
Puebla is about 90 minutes from Mexico city’s TAPO terminal and buses here are quite frequent.
↑ Western wall of the citadel at Teotihuacan. The temple of the feathered serpent is inside this complex
Teotihuacan (तेव्तीवकान) is a huge archeological site and very close to Mexico city. It has the third largest pyramid in the world and you can climb it (Pyramid of the Sun.) Additionally, the excavated zone is pretty large and there’s lot to explore.
Getting to Teotihuacan is convenient from the North bus terminal and the ride takes about an hour.
↑ Clock tower at in Pachuca’s historic centre. Very colourful at night
Pachuca (पाचूका) is the capital of Hidalgo province and is a noisy, crowded, dusty town. However, I had a wonderful time here because the place is virtually untouched by tourists and Pastes, the local specialty, are to die for. Pachuca’s historic centre has few nice squares, clocktower, market, museums and a cathedral. The view of the city from the hills surrounding it is less than stellar but the ride to the top through the city is fun.
Pachuca is less than 2 hours from Mexico city’s terminal Norte and buses (first and second class) are frequent.
9. El Chico
↑ Central plaza of El Chico village. The passenger minivans stop here
The area around Mexico city is quite arid but once you get to the El Chico (एल् चिको) national park, everything changes to green. The place has a crisp winter breeze that refreshed my mind, and lots of vivid shades of green and blue that were therapeutic to my eyes. I (inadvertently) got off about five kilometers before this town but that was useful because I could hike to some lookout points off the road very easily.
El Chico is a 40-minute ride from Pachuca’s collectivo stop. The mini vans are marked ‘Mineral del Chico’ and leave every hour or so.
↑ Profile of a Toltec warrior.
These massive stone columns depicting Toltec warriors at Tula (तुला) were once the pillars that supported the roof of a temple that stood here. Rest of the archeological zone (zona archeologica) is being excavated and restored and I wonder what might be uncovered there.
Tula is only 90 minutes or so away from Mexico city and buses between Mexico city’s Terminal Norte and Tula run frequently. I stopped here on my way back from Pachuca, a journey that took me less than 90 minutes. The pyramids and the statues are 30 minutes away from the central plaza, but the walk through the neighourhoods is very entertaining. Little kids wanted to get their pictures taken.
So as you can see, there is tons to do in the little towns, cities and ruins around Mexico city. A 2-3 week stay dedicated just to these (and other) satellite locations around District Federal is a good duration to leisurely explore these places.
Have you been to these places? How was your experience?