Marvelling at a 1300-year-old Maya palace at Palenque as parrots screech and howler monkeys growl in the sweaty emerald jungle around you. This is Mexico. Sliding from a palm-fringed sandy beach into the warm, turquoise waves of the Pacific at Puerto Vallarta. This, too, is Mexico. Dining on salmon enchiladas and chrysanthemum salad at a Mexico City fusion restaurant, dancing through the night at a high-energy Guadalajara nightclub, kayaking at dawn past a colony of Baja California sea lions – all these are unique Mexican experiences. Every visitor goes home with their own unforgettable images. Such a large country, straddling temperate and tropical zones, reaching 5km into the sky and stretching 10,000km along its coasts, with a city of 19 million people at its center and countless tiny pueblos everywhere, can hardly fail to provide a huge variety of options for human adventure.
Mexico is what you make of it. Its multi-billion-dollar tourism industry is adept at satisfying those who like their travel easy. But adventure is what you’ll undoubtedly have if you take a just a few steps off the pre-packaged path. Activity-based tourism, community tourism and genuine ecotourism – the type that actually helps conserve local environments – are developing fast in rural areas. The opportunities for getting out to Mexico’s spectacular wild places and interacting with local communities are greater than ever – from world-class canyoneering near Monterrey or cooking lessons in the Veracruz countryside to hiking the Oaxaca cloud forests and snorkeling the coral reefs of the Yucatán.
Planning your first trip to Mexico? Be ready for more crowds, noise, bustle and poverty than you're accustomed to, especially if it's your first trip outside the developed world. But don't worry – most Mexicans will be only too happy to help you feel at home in their country. Invest a little time before your trip in learning even just a few phrases of Spanish – every word you know will make your trip that little bit easier and more enjoyable.