The Copper Canyon22The Copper CanyonIn the north of Mexico lies the remote, rugged landscape of several gorges collectively known as the Copper Canyon. The largest ravines are Urique, Sinforosa and Batopilas, which plunge downwards for more than 1,800 metres, making them deeper than the better-known Grand Canyon across the border in the USA. The area is easily accessed by air from Mexico City and the best way to see the Copper Canyon is on the famous Chihuahua al Pacifico (or El Chepe) train that runs between Los Mochis and Chihuahua, making numerous stops along the way. Chihuahua al PacificoThis magnificent feat of railway engineering includes 480 kilometres of track, 86 tunnels and 36 bridges to descend from 2,333 metres to sea level. It travels alongside parts of the Copper Canyon and offers a real taste of adventure travel in Mexico. The journey takes 15 hours to complete if travelled in one go, but to fully appreciate the grandeur of the scenery we recommend breaking the trip. We suggest starting at the colonial town of El Fuerte, an hour from the train's western terminus of Los Mochis. Embark for several days of exploration, making sure to hop off in a couple of places en route such as the mission villages of Cerocahui and Barrancas. Both offer magnificent viewpoints over the canyon and a unique insight into the lives of the Tarahumara Indians. Accommodation in the region is basic with food, heating and service somewhat limited, and only a few of the region's population speak English. The environment along the way can also be harsh, with extreme weather conditions possible and snow can fall between December and February. However, intrepid travellers will find that all this only adds to the adventure of experiencing Mexico at its 'Wild West' best.Baja CaliforniaRenowned for its sunny climate, the stretch of coast between San José del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas is lined with one beautiful beach after another. From January to mid-March, California grey whales can be spotted, either from one of the expedition cruises that ply the waters of the Sea of Cortez (see page 82) or on a day-trip from one of the aforementioned cities.Due to its proximity to the USA and geographic separation from the rest of Mexico, Baja has a more western feel. In recent years, it has become a playground for the rich and famous and there are some incredibly luxurious places to stay, such as Las Ventanas and Hotel Esperanza. A little further north, the town of La Paz also offers a number of great value options in which to base yourself to explore the region.Chihuahua al Pacifico trainBeach near Cabo San Lucas
Chillies for sale, OaxacaLocal lady, OaxacaOaxacawww.audleytravel.com/mexico l 01993 838 670 l Mexico 23OaxacaOaxaca is one of Mexico's most delightful cities. After falling to the conquistadores in 1533 it took on a Spanish flavour in the form of ornate buildings, pretty churches and charming plazas. Despite its European influence, the city remains Mexican at heart - and that's where its charm lies. Traditional markets display all kinds of crafts from various regions of Oaxaca state. This is also the place to try classic Mexican food, such as tamales (a corn-based wrap filled with meats, cheese, fruits or vegetables) or mole dishes (chilli-based sauces served in innumerable ways). Another favourite is Oaxaca's famous mezcal, a regional alcoholic beverage made from the maguey plant.Nearby is the impressive site of Monte Albán, believed to be the birthplace of the Zapotec civilisation, spectacularly perched on a hilltop with stunning views over the valley below. Hostal de la Noria, OaxacaThe Hostal de la Noria is a beautifully restored house in the historic centre of Oaxaca. The hotel has 29 great value rooms finished in a colonial style plus 23 suites. The attractive lobby features hand-carved wood furnishings and there's a charming patio, rooftop terrace, and an excellent restaurant and bar. Camino Real, OaxacaThis splendid hotel is housed in a renovated 16th century convent in the heart of Oaxaca. It has 91 rooms, all beautifully decorated with authentic beamed ceilings and furnished with locally made fabrics. The greenery-filled courtyards, lovely fountains and good-sized pool create a pleasant atmosphere, perfect for relaxing between explorations of the area.Monte AlbánCamino Real, OaxacaHumpback whale, Pacific coast Day of the DeadTo witness some unique festivities, time your trip to coincide with the first two days in November. El Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead), held on All Saints Day and All Souls Day, celebrates the reunion of dead people with their living families in order to eat, drink and be merry - much as they enjoyed doing during their lives. Hallmarks of the celebration include pan de muerto (a rich cake elaborately decorated in bone-shaped meringue), marzipan death figures, and papier-mâché skeletons and skulls (symbols of life, not death). Celebrations take place across the country but are particularly atmospheric in and around Oaxaca and the colonial cities north of the capital.Pacific coastMexico's Pacific coast is a good alternative to the Mayan Riviera to relax at the end of your trip. Though many of the beaches are not as suitable for swimming because of strong currents, there are some fine hotels with lovely pools and spas dotted along the coastline. Its proximity to Mexico City and Oaxaca also means less travelling than continuing to the Caribbean coast.Puerto Vallarta is one of the region's focal points and wandering around its streets away from the beachfront is a pleasant way to spend a few hours. The town also makes an excellent base from which to take boat trips to observe whales and dolphins. Hotel options in the region range from the good value 28 room Quinta Real Huatulco near Puerto Escondido, through to the luxurious Hotel Las Alamandas and Viceroy close to Puerto Vallarta and Zihuatanejo respectively.