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Not Your Ordinary Guide To Mexico

Underwater art galleries, pristine swimming holes and fiestas galore.

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This feature is brought to you in partnership with 5 Seeds Cider.

Mexico. For some, it elicits visions of young Americans screaming “Spring Breeaaak!” For others, perhaps thoughts of all-inclusive resorts, bursting with tourists gorging themselves on all-you-can-eat buffets washed down with umbrella filled cocktails. Or maybe you’re envisaging tasty tamales, giant hard shelled tacos (or soft shelled, ¿porque no los dos?) and guacamole for days. It’s true that all of the above can be found in Mexico – but if that’s all you find, you haven’t looked hard enough.

It’s tempting to take advantage of Mexico’s relatively cheap prices and live the high life in five star resorts where you can enjoy all the food, booze and entertainment you need right at your doorstep. You can easily fill your days with beautiful beaches, watersports and day trips to ruins, and spend your nights sampling some tequila menus. But if you want to experience something that’s refreshingly different, you can find that too. To celebrate Cinco De Mayo (more on this holiday below), we’ve pulled together your not so ordinary guide to Mexico.


Fiesta forever!

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Break out your maracas – Mexicans sure know how to celebrate. In fact, they are so good at celebrating that they have a day dedicated to celebrating the dead – something that many cultures would struggle to crack a smile about. (Dia de Los Muertos occurs in early November, if you want to get involved.) Cinco de Mayo (or the 5th of May) is another major celebration commemorating the battle of Puebla, where the Mexican army had an unlikely victory over the French troops.

There are plenty of festivals to get involved in, whether they’re national holidays, regional holidays or just festivities, you’ll find something to parade about. And if you ever get the opportunity, be sure to attend a Mexican wedding – they often involve a parade led by a donkey bearing Mezcal ahead of a full Mariachi band with two giant effigies of the wedded couple dancing ahead of you. Don’t be surprised if the entire town comes out to cheer you on. That’s how it’s done, Mexican style.


Take a dip underground

Cenote of Saci, Valladolid. Mayan Riviera, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

(Photo: MyLoupe/Getty Images)

Cenotes are natural sinkholes that allow groundwater to surface – basically, giant underground swimming pools. Some are more exposed to light, and some are practically caves – and they can be found in plenty of spots around the Yucatán peninsula. Be sure to take a snorkel – if there’s enough light the view underwater will be breathtaking. Scuba divers can explore deeper at certain spots with huge networks of underground caves prime for exploration.

The most interesting cenotes are in Cuzamá, about an hour drive from Mérida. To access the cenotes, you’re taken on a ‘truck’, which sounds suspiciously like a familiar mode of transportation, but is actually more like a horse-drawn carriage on train tracks. The track to the cenotes involves a lot of bouncing and sweating, carrying the cart off the tracks when faced with incoming traffic and being bitten by horseflies, but it’s completely worth the effort. These cenotes are less visited than many others as they’re harder to access (both geographically and also physically – the first cenote involves a descent through a hole in the ground before climbing down tree roots into a darkened, slippery cave). The hard work pays off – with pristine fresh water, dappled sunlight beaming through cracks in the caves and a spectacular feeling of swimming in cold, underground water.


Check out an underwater art gallery

(Photo: UnderwaterSculpture.com)

Are you an art fan but also an avid swimmer, desperately seeking an activity to fulfill the slim crossover of your unique Venn diagram of interests? Are you also interested in sustainability and eco-tourism? Look no further than Cancún’s underwater art gallery – an aquatic and artistic experience like no other. The team behind MUSA (Museo Subacuático de Arte) has flawlessly brought art into nature, using materials that promote coral life so that the project is more than just environmentally friendly – it’s vital for the survival of the reef. There are over 200 tons of installations that are permanently fixed to the seabed, drawing tourists into a part of the reef that allows respite to more heavily impacted zones, and truly bringing innovation into the eco-tourism space. There are two sections, both suitable for snorkelers, with the deeper section allowing divers as well.


Splurge!

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(Photos: Ku’uk)

Street food in Mexico is plentiful, delicious and not to be missed. But while many restaurants in Mexico cater to a more Western taste, proper high end dining is not so common. So you might be a little surprised to come across Ku’uk, a restaurant in Mérida offering molecular gastronomy.

At first the prices may seem exorbitant compared to your previous dinners on the street, but the experience will not disappoint. You’ll be treated to 15 courses spanning from a fake fossil to a freeze dried dish that you rehydrate with a broth. There’s also a chewing gum made from a tree. The menu is jointly designed by a chef, a scientist and an art director and the meal includes a tour of the kitchen and laboratory. If you always wanted to eat at the Fat Duck, this is basically El Pato Grasa (Google translate, don’t fail us now).


Save some pesos with street food

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(Photo: Taryn Stenvei)

Now that you’ve completely overindulged, get back out on the street and eat from a shopping trolley. Forget your Tex-Mex nachos and cheese/sour cream/guacamole laden dishes though, you won’t find that in a typical Mexican kitchen. But if you do want your cheese fix, don’t go past tacos made with cheese tortillas. That’s right, the actual tortilla is made of cheese. And it’s damn good.

Post your cheese fix, get one of your five-per-day veggie servings from esquites, corn lovingly served in a Styrofoam cup. To be fair, the corn is sautéed in butter and you can have it served with mayonnaise, cream or cheese (or all three), so perhaps we’re overstating the health benefits – but it’s truly delicious. If you’re feeling adventurous, try a Maguey worm taco or some ant larvae (escamoles). Crickets are basically Mexican popcorn and are served with plenty of chilli. To finish, enjoy some fresh fruit – best enjoyed served with a healthy dose of chilli and lime – like most Mexican food.


Snorkel with some sharks

(Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

After all the eating, you’ll need to burn some calories, and what better way to motivate yourself to move than jumping in the water with some sharks? Admittedly, they’re whale sharks and they don’t eat people, but it’s still brag-worthy nonetheless.

The whale sharks (or tiburon ballenas in Spanish) are available for your aquatic pleasure from June through September, July and August being the peak season. Isla Holbox is a great place to set off from and a great place to pass a few days on island time.

They are mighty fast so you’ll need flippers to keep up and you’ll work up a cracking hunger. Thankfully, many tours provide a fresh feast post swim – if you’re lucky enough to catch a fish, you’ll be eating fresh ceviche. If not, don’t panic – there’s normally a back-up fish on ice. If whale sharks don’t take your fancy, you’ll find options to swim with dolphins, turtles and many other animals along the coastal parts of Mexico.

(Lead image: UnderwaterSculpture.com)

When you look at the world differently, opportunities open up. We’ve partnered with 5 Seeds Cider to offer fresh perspectives and out of the ordinary stories on travel.