February 2, 2023 | By Jamie Jackson
James Taylor once sang “Oh, Mexico, I never really been but I’d sure like to go…”
Vacationers often only keep the coastal areas of Mexico in mind for travel. The shores just scratch the surface of this large and diverse country. The DMC I traveled to Mexico with, NUBA Mexico, wants advisors to know they can offer itineraries that are much more than just sun and sand. The country offers so much history, biodiversity, culture, and gastronomy. With luxury hotels, excellent tour guides and opportunities to customize experiences based on the interests of each individual traveler, Mexico has so much to offer and is so close to the United States, with the added benefits of competitive rates, shorter flights than going to Europe, and having time zones similar to home. Your clients will be forever grateful for opening their eyes to the other destinations that Mexico offers.
Many people don’t think about how big Mexico is. Here are some fun facts that help put the size of Mexico into perspective:
-Mexico is the 14th biggest country in the world based on the area (the U.S. is #4).
-Mexico is the 10th biggest country in the world based on population (the U.S. is #3).
-Mexico City is the 5th biggest city in the world with a population of over 21 million people. (NYC is #11).
-San Miguel de Allende is a haven for ex-pats with foreigners making up about 10% of the population.
And now, our adventure….
NUBA Mexico provided a very special program for some advisors to experience two regions of the country where we had all not been before, Mexico City and San Miguel de Allende.
Two nights is not enough time to experience Mexico City. Do yourself a favor and make sure you have at least 3-4 nights here. And with the city being as large as it is, it’s really not a place where you can just show up and not have an agenda. You need to plan out what neighborhoods, museums, activities, and restaurants you want to visit in advance. NUBA can make sure to build an itinerary based on your interest. One example of a very special experience they can curate is for The National Museum of Anthropology, the largest and most visited museum in all of Mexico. You can enter before the crowds, enjoy a private breakfast and explore the museum all to yourself!
A great selling point for Mexico City is that it is considered a good value for a cosmopolitan destination. The hotel rates, dining, and activities are often much less than in other big cities. So, for those that like fine dining, it’s a great place to enjoy a special meal for much less than that in NYC. Mexico City is also a destination that can be visited at any time of year. At 7,000 feet above sea level, the city has relatively consistent and comfortable weather year-round.
Our host hotel was the Four Seasons Hotel Mexico City, located on the grand boulevard of Paseo de la Reforma. This oasis in the city has the most inviting courtyard that is the center of the property. Here you will find guests strolling among the foliage, enjoying a meal on the patio of Zanaya Restaurant, or sipping on cocktails, possibly in the quiet nook under the “our little secret” sign. For our first evening and welcome activity we enjoyed a tequila tasting on the beautiful pool deck provided by the head bartender of the hotel’s gastropub, Fifty Mils followed by a dinner at Zanaya Restaurant featuring authentic flavors from Mexico’s Pacific Coast.
With just one full day in the city, the NUBA and Four Seasons team helped us take in some key highlights including The Frida Kahlo Museum which really opened our eyes to the lasting impression she has had on the art community/culture of this region. We enjoyed a stroll through the Centro de Coyoacán, which has been for many years a meeting place and refuge for artists, philosophers, writers, and aristocrats. Its streets are full of stories because its constitution is woven together with the construction of Mexico City. One square offers artists a place to share and sell their work along with other vendors offering gifts and food. Moving into the southern part of the city, a must-do experience is Xochimilco. Here you hire a trajinera (boat) to ride through its channels. Each boat holds as many as 15 people. You can bring your own food/drink or arrange in advance to have it get catered. This was such a fun and unique experience moving through the canals with other boats while vendors sold things like street corn, candies, drinks, jewelry, flowers, and even mariachi bands that go on your boat to sing you a song.
While exploring the city and getting to know the people, I saw how important music is to Spanish culture. Everywhere you go you hear beautiful, upbeat music. A local mentioned, “It just makes you feel good!”. It really does! You’ll hear music coming from radios, individuals or groups practicing in parks, and performers playing in markets for tips that really add to the positive vibe of the people and city.
That evening we enjoyed a mariachi performance in the Four Seasons courtyard, as a band plays each Saturday evening for guests. Dinner was an Italian feast at the hotel’s, Il Brecco Restaurant. Sunday morning, we sadly had to say goodbye to Mexico City to continue our journey.
San Miguel de Allende
Just a few hours north of Mexico City lies a mountainous region that is flowing with cultural and historical treasures. The province takes its name from its largest city, Guanajuato, but also comprises smaller gems like our final destination, San Miguel de Allende.
It is about a 3-hour drive from Mexico City to San Miguel without traffic. We stopped at the 2-hour mark in the town of Queretaro. This is a great town to stretch your legs, go for a stroll, enjoy lunch, and do some shopping.
If San Miguel is your only destination you would fly into the Leon Airport (BJX) and you would arrange a transfer for the 1.5-hour drive to the city. This airport is new and nice. They have a fair number of flights to U.S. cities and other parts of Mexico that it is not difficult to get to.
The appeal of San Miguel de Allende goes beyond its architecture and the beautiful 17th-century church which was inspired by the beautiful Gothic churches of the Old Continent. The draw lies in the juxtaposition of everything that can be enjoyed here. There is a mix of pop culture, art, and craft galleries, glamour, a bohemian vibe, and Mexican traditions all coming together.
Our crew could not wait to explore the hilly, cobblestone streets, but first, we had to get settled in. Our host hotel was Casa de Sierra Nevada, a Belmond property where 17th- and 18th-century buildings reveal inner courtyards, terraces, and gardens. Here, history is woven into every stucco wall, tiled bath, and curved ceiling, all balanced with modern luxuries. While just housing 31 rooms and suites, the property, made up of a few separate buildings offers more than some big resorts including a pool, gym, spa, two restaurants, and a range of custom activities that were included in our itinerary. During our stay, we had a taste of all things Casa de Sierra Nevada dining in both restaurants, Andanza, with its colonial-style setting in the main house, and Restaurante del Parque in a relaxed setting a few blocks from the main building with views of the gardens. We enjoyed a yoga session by the pool in the morning, followed by their cooking school experience. The cooking class began with a visit to the market with Chef Ruben and then over to the Sazon kitchen where he and Chef Eduardo guided us in making black bean soup, chili rellanos, and baked apples with mamey that we greatly enjoyed. In the afternoon, our art skills were put to the test as we were the first guests to take part in the new art workshop to make mojigangas with their artist-in-residence Hermes Arroyo, who is very well-known and highly respected in the city. Mojigangas are big puppets that are made for a bride and groom. After weddings, there is a party parade in the streets for the couple where the mojigangas are included in the procession and all the locals join in the celebration. The new art experience allows you to paint a mini mojiganga of yourself that you get to take home as a souvenir.
Beyond our lovely hotel, NUBA arranged for us to explore San Miguel with a local guide, Anjelica, who knows everyone and everything in the city. She was kind, knowledgeable and patient (as we often got excited walking past boutiques and would pop in to shop) as she led us on a tour of the city. While providing us with all the tips on the best restaurants, bars, and sites, Anjelica set up some fun experiences for us including a mixology class at a speakeasy followed by drinks at the best rooftop bar in town, Quince, with us arriving just in time to see the exciting evening high wire act. We also ventured 25 minutes outside of town to visit Tres Raices Winery. Here we had a tour of the impressive property and enjoyed a wine tasting that was paired with tasty tacos.
On our last evening in the city, we enjoyed a relaxing night strolling the cobblestone streets, peaking in art galleries, and shopping in boutiques to buy hats, dresses, and linen gifts. As the sun began to set, we made our way towards Rosewood to have a drink at the rooftop Lunas Tapas Bar while taking in the stunning skyline as the sun went down.
We all agreed that San Miguel lived up to and exceeded our expectations. Offering a colonial Mexico vibe and yet a feel similar to that of exploring historic European towns in a city that was easy to navigate, safe, close to the U.S., and is a good value makes it a destination that so many Americans who never even heard of San Miguel would fall in love with. Being in such a demanding and fast-paced industry, I think we all marvel at towns and the locals that are able to really be in the moment where they live. Seeing families going for walks, chatting on park benches, or getting an ice cream are the moments they look forward to each day. These were things we noticed and admired as we strolled through San Miguel. Our last mission of the trip was to find the famous street taco vendor our guide told us about that is said to come out at night and be so popular that it often sells out quickly. We found the spot and enjoyed some of the most delicious tacos we ever tasted, and at the price of just 18 pesos (@ 90 cents) per taco. It was the perfect evening!
“Oh, Mexico. It sounds so sweet with the sun sinking low. Moon’s so bright as to light up the night. Make everything all right.” – James Taylor