There are so many stories and myths surrounding the Maya Mexicans who are the indigenous people in Yucatan. They were blood thirsty warriors, had mystical religious ceremonies involving human offerings yet they also developed an advanced understanding of astronomy, a complicated set of calendars and hieroglyphic writing.
The Spanish conquistadores arrived in the early 1500s to colonise and hunt for golden treasures for the Queen of Spain. When after a few attempts, they finally conquered the land, they built European-style towns and set out to convert the Mexicans to christianity. Part of their legacy to us today are some beautiful colonial towns and churches. Travelling around Yucatan gives you a fascinating insight into the history of both these cultures which are now interwoven.
Valladolid, a charming colourful town about 150km inland from Cancun, is a great starting point from which to explore. It was built by the Spanish in the mid-1500s and follows the classical lay-out of a centr...
Right now things are happening in Mexico City! We felt it in the energy which in some parts of town reminded us of New York. Since I was last here about 10 years ago the historical centre has been restored and become more accessible but even back then gentrification had already started in the Condesa neighbourhood which now has enough cool cafes and bars to compete with Brooklyn.
But don't imagine that the city has lost any of its Mexican flavour. To get in the swing of things we spent our first evening at a Lucha Libre wrestling match. It's a popular night out for families and groups of friends who wear masks of their favourite wrestlers bought from the souvenir stalls outside. Taking a selfie with the ring in the background whilst wearing a 'Demonio Rojo' mask is definitely de rigueur (on your phone as cameras aren't allowed).
Here are some other recommendations for making the most of your visit: Book tickets in advance for Casa Azul, the Frida Kahlo museum. We unfortunately did...
Thursday's and Sunday's are market days in Chichicastenango. The small town turns into a kaleidoscope of colour, noise and people. The population swells and the narrow laneways fill up with goods. We weren't shopping due to a constant battle with our bursting backpacks so we were there just for the show.
Chichi, as the town is generally called, is located at an altitude of 1965 metres in Central Guatemala and has been one of the largest trading centres for the Maya population since pre-Hispanic times. Overall 40% of the population in Guatemala is Maya and a large proportion are at home here in the western highlands.
Vendors arrive from across the highland the evening before to set up and most overnight in their makeshift booths to be ready for an early start. The stalls take over the centre of town spilling over on to sidewalks, the church steps are taken up by ladies selling flowers and the side streets are the place to buy machetes, tools, spare parts and second hand goods.
Nicaragua isn't on most people's travel bucket list, but that's quickly changing. Go now while it's still raw and not yet tarnished by tourism. We left Mexico on a bit of a whim and landed in Managua without knowing what to expect and with a fair bit of trepidation - would it be safe, what could we eat other than rice and beans, would we manage with very limited Spanish, would we find somewhere comfortable to stay?? The civil war ended 20 years ago yet our mental image was of a troubled country ravaged by guerrillas and the CIA.
How wrong were we! From the get-go people were helpful and what we found (once we left Managua which is potentially risky) was an exotic country of immense natural beauty with plenty of small hotels and a mix of cuisines. We were amazed by the variety of interesting places in the west of the country - choose between volcanoes, lakes, Ometepe Island, beaches, colonial towns and the coffee-growing highlands, all are easy to explore on guided treks or horse rides...
Just hearing the word volcano conjures up exotic images and on the small island of Ometepe, there is not one but two! It was one of our favourite destinations during our month in Nicaragua and talking to other travellers it's one of those special places that everybody loves without knowing exactly why! The island is located a 75 minute boat ride into Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America. You can get there on a small rickety panga (fishing boat) or a larger ramshackle ferry - based on our crossing we definitely recommend the latter.
The day after arriving on Ometepe we hired a motorbike and set out to discover the island. The single road runs as a figure 8 around the island's two volcanoes. Pigs and chickens roam freely with no regard for traffic and we passed tiny dusty villages and farmers moving their horses and herds of cattle. It's a simple life with most locals earning a living from farming (bananas, maize and beans) or fishing.