Our Mexico is complex; yummy cuisines, mariachi music, centuries-old pyramids, unique indigenous cultures and beautifully lit narrow passageways thru colonial cities.
Most people imagine white sandy beaches and turquoise waters when they think of Mexico and it is that, that’s actually where we live full time in the Rivera Maya, but when we want to get away from it all we head for Chiapas to experience old Mexico and the ancient world of the Maya and be revitalized by art, cuisine and a people that time forgot.
Exotic birds and butterfly species, howler monkeys and an occasional scarlet macaw might be spotted as we take a misty boat ride up the Usumacinta river to one of the more challenging ruins to visit, Yaxchilan.
Your imagination runs wild thinking of the Mayans in these ancient dwellings located deep in the jungle. You almost expect Indiana Jones to crash through the jungle with the bad guys in hot pursuit. Bonampak and Palenque are a little more manicured and give you a sense of the art and lifestyles of the Maya with their preserved murals, reconstructed buildings and ball courts.
Our favorite city in Mexico is San Cristobal de las Casas, which was founded in 1528 and is one of the best preserved colonial cities in the country. Located in a mountain valley surrounded by pine-covered hills you’ll be captivated walking the narrow cobblestone streets, passing the brightly colored buildings and fabulous open air markets.
The mix of contemporary Mexicans and the influence of the local indigenous populations can be felt in the restaurants, cafes and shops and creates a relaxed, bohemian atmosphere.
The markets are amazing and overflowing. The mild climate and the rich soil give rise to tremendous variety in the food markets and restaurants, and fabulous food opportunities abound.
The many distinct indigenous groups that live in the outlying villages bring their vibrant crafts and tapestries to the crafts markets, creating a kaleidoscope of color that would make any photographer drool. The textiles of Zinacantan, in particular, are influenced by the local green houses full of colorful flowers grown for export.
Frequently, there is live music in the plaza (zocalo) and it’s nearly impossible to walk more than 20 meters without coming across a cafe or a chocolate shop since Chiapas produces nearly 60% of Mexico’s coffee and is the country’s second largest producer of cacao, the raw ingredient for chocolate.
Festivals are common, announced by fireworks, music and jubilant locals. The largest is the celebration of the Virgin de Guadalupe in the first part of December. The Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) observances are also celebrated in nearby villages and are authentic with few tourists.
All these things are a magical mix for the senses and feed our photographer’s souls. They are what we yearn for when we are sitting on the beach drinking a margarita talking about where we want to go next. I hope you, too, will discover our Mexico
Michael S Lewis has been a professional photographer for more than 35 years, first as a staff newspaper photographer and eventually working as a photographer for magazines and National Geographic books. He and his wife, Jennifer, operate a destination wedding photography business and a travel photo tour business from the Caribbean island of Cozumel.