As I scooped up the last morsels of my Chiles en Nogada, I couldn’t help feeling a wave of sadness. This was my last night on our 13 day Mexico tour and I was sitting in a restaurant in downtown Cancún, away from the garish hotel zone, feasting on a deliciously hot habanero coated in a walnut sauce – traditional of the Yucatan region.
I am a self-confessed ‘foodie’. Eating out is a way of life. Even before I have stepped off the plane, I am googling restaurants as part of my upcoming travel plans. Just ask my worn out shoes as I walked from midtown Manhattan to Brooklyn just to try a pizza! (For the record, worth every step.) With this in mind, Mexico had always been on top of my destination list of somewhere I knew I needed to eat my way around. It was at the end of 2016 my dream became a reality and I jumped at the chance to take Tucan Travel’s Magical Mexico tour. The journey begun in Mexico City and was to take us across the country to Cancún.
As one of the world’s most populated cities, Mexico City is a chaotic bustling hub of energy. Our taxi weaved past throbbing markets, as vendors prepared for Christmas with giant Father Christmas piñatas. That night we met our group and our fantastic tour leader Bec, who took us for tacos at a restaurant filled to the brim with local families. This was where our penchant for tacos begun and any pre-conceptions of Mexico food were quickly eliminated (i’m looking at you Old El Paso.)
One of the most important things to know about Mexico is that it’s BIG. Our tour crossed vast distances as we travelled from one destination to the next, each different from the last. We fell in love with colourful colonial cities like Puebla, a perfect place to try the distinctive mole poblano sauce. Legend has it that it was nuns who created this dish. After a surprise visit from the archbishop they had to whip up a meal with leftovers! Spicy and rich, this blend of chocolate and spices coated over chicken was moreish, and I am yet to find a London restaurant which matches it. Puebla itself was a highlight, the buildings were bursting with colour and each corner offered a photo opportunity. We spent the afternoon getting lost in the city before following a mariachi band into a local cafe for a well-earned cerveza.
Oaxaca was another destination which left our stomachs sated. We wandered the Benito Juarez street market, tasting the local cheese whilst the brave few of us opted for the local delicacies – grasshoppers! It was here that we experienced a traditional cantina. Wooden swing doors led us into a dusty taverna, usually only occupied by men. No fancy cocktails here! Oaxaca is also in the heart of Mexico’s Mezcal region, so it would have been rude to leave without sampling some of the strong stuff.
The itinerary included stops at some of the most major ruins in Central America. We scrambled up the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, stopping to catch our breath as we gazed over this site of ancient civilizations gone by. Chichén Itza was the grand finale of our tour, but my personal favourite were Palenque, nestled deep within the tropical jungle. Wandering amongst these Mayan ruins, as toucans flew overhead, was a truly magical moment.
Optional excursions were plentiful. Swimming in the subterranean freshwater sinkholes known as cenotes was an incredible way to spend a hot afternoon, and the shades of blue at Agua Azul waterfalls will stick in my mind forever.
Mexico is much more than a beachy playground for spring breakers and young families on holiday, it’s truly a cultural and culinary haven. Our tour opened our eyes to the traditions of the country and the people that live there, from the young girls preparing for their quinceanera, to the indigenous communities that live in spiritual harmony amid the hills above San Cristobal de Casas. Witnessing a local Shaman performing a traditional cleanse was a moment that will be with me forever and trying the tortillas made from village elders was a taste I’ll never forget.
As a country, it can sadly fall to stereotype. We all have the image of the man in his sombrero, drowning his tequila while chomping down on a burrito but it couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s the unexpected and the unexplored that we experienced which brought the real Mexico to life. Go expecting anything and you’ll experience everything!
Rosanna is on the Marketing Team at Tucan Travel. She travelled on the Tucan Travel Magical Mexico tour. You can find out more about this tour here.