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Secret places in Mexico

Marvin West

 

As a child, I sometimes read comic books for entertainment. I did not believe in flying dragons but they certainly stimulated the imagination. As an old-timer, older than dirt, I read travel writers just for fun. I do believe some write at great length about Mexico without ever visiting.


Case in point: Smarter Travel magazine had a headline about Mexico secret places. That got my undivided attention. "Ready to discover the real Mexico? If you haven't yet ventured beyond the mega resorts and Senor Frog franchises, here's help. In these 10 cities, undiscovered by most American travelers, you'll see another side of Mexico."


The thought of learning about 10 places “undiscovered by most American travelers” was exciting. For many years we have traveled widely but, unlike the Hank Snow long-ago song, we have not been everywhere.

The magazine promised “charming historical plazas, an affordable wine country, and a canyon bigger than …”


I smelled the proverbial mouse. The Copper Canyon is indeed bigger than the Grand Canyon but I and many thousands of other visitors have been there. It is no secret place. The train ride is famous – it crosses 37 bridges, passes through 86 tunnels and rises 8,000 feet in the 410 miles from Los Mochis to Chihuahua city.

Tarahumana
Ojo de Lago 1997
Tarahumana Ojo de Lago 1997


If you get a glimpse of the native Tarahumara people, count it as a special treat. They seem shy but they sometimes appear at train stops with food and woven baskets for sale.

Copper Canyon is a secret place? Are you kidding me?

I was astounded to learn that San Miguel de Allende is a secret. In fact, there are enough gringos there to form their own government. English is the second language but in some art galleries, boutiques and restaurants, it is first.


San Miguel thinks of itself as an international artists' colony. I am not a certified art critic but for some reason, I find the art not quite as good as the artists think.


SMA is a great place if you want to "live in Mexico" without actually living in Mexico. It has most of the services the 10,000 affluent Americans and Canadians expect (demand). It holds the world record for number and variety of charities and self-improvement projects, all inspired by do-gooders with time on their hands.

Actually, I like San Miguel. There are theaters, music, colonial architecture and a hint of history.

Alas and alas, one of my caustic friends disagrees. He says SMA is full of people with puffy opinions of themselves who love self-indulgent pursuits. He even takes an occasional dig at elderly women with blue hair. I would never poke fun at hairstyles or colors.  Never, never...well, not often.

I might stoop so low as to chuckle at travel writers who think San Miguel de Allende is a secret city in far-out Mexico.


Smarter Travel magazine would have you believe Tlaquepaque is a secret site. Oh my.

In 2015, the Guadalajara airport accommodated 9,758,516 travelers. Just guessing, without checking passports, some were probably Americans. A few others arrived by bus or car. Some may have hit the road to Tequila, a very popular place to see and sip. Some may have checked out nearby Lake Chapala.

A few million went shopping in Tlaquepaque. It offers almost everything, small shops, big stores, modest or luxurious, ceramics, glass, hand carved or woven art objects, sculptures with a scrap-iron framework, even graceful figures made of papier-mâché.


Our favorite street scene is pedestrian-only Independencia. Food, flowers, crafts of all kinds are there for a few pesos. Come to think of it, take a few more, just in case.
Among the bonus treats are mariachis at the Parían, built in 1883 with portals that serve as makeshift food stands and a stage for show biz. What a scene!


Secret place? Not so much. We have a set of four hand-crafted metal geckos on our living room wall. They were purchased long, long ago in Tlaquepaque – or maybe it was Tonala.


The magazine has Merida among the 10 secret places. It is one of the hubs for day trips to the Maya archaeological sites of Uxmal and Chichen Itza.

Streets and sidewalks are alive. There is a gigantic market. Hammocks are always on sale. Don't pay the first price you hear. Do see the Cathedral of San Ildefonso.It was built in the early 1500s with stones taken by the Spaniards from the Maya pyramid that stood just across the street.


I never would have thought of Merida as a secret city. It is showing its age but it remains the cultural capital of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Other secret sites? Puebla, Oaxaca, Akumal in Quintana Roo.

Campeche is a maybe. We haven't been there but we know Highway 180 connects it with Merida. We also know about the seaside forts and pirate legends and that it took 150 years to build the church.

Campeche is on the Gulf side of the Yucatan Peninsula, opposite Cancun.

The "secret and still somewhat affordable" wine country is Ensenada, in northwestern Baja, on the rim of Valle de Guadalupe. Been there and done that, 78 miles south of San Diego, connected by a four-lane toll road.

We didn't go for the wine. Ensenada is the starting and finishing point of the Baja 1000, an off-road race unlike anything else in Mexico.

Believe me, it is no secret.

 

 

Published or Updated on: March 31, 2016 by Marvin West © 2016
Contact Marvin West

Marvin West, mostly retired after just 42 years with Scripps Howard newspapers, is senior partner in an international communications consulting company. This column is from his forthcoming book, “Mexico? What you doing in Mexico?”  West invites reader reaction; his address is westwest6@netzero.com.
 

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