Mexico’s Pacific South
Comprised of the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca and Guerrero, Mexico’s Pacific South is a popular region for visitors. Whereas Mexico’s northern and central areas were dominated by the Aztec culture when the Spanish arrived, these southern states were inhabited by the Maya, as well as older cultures such as the Zapotecs and Mixtecs, who built the magnificent city of Monte Albán, near present-day Oaxaca. Some of Mexico’s best beaches can also be found in this area, including the legendary Acapulco.
The southernmost state in Mexico, Chiapas was once part of Guatemala before it became a state of Mexico. It is a state known for lush forests, rivers, canyons, and other beautiful natural surroundings. Deep in the Chiapas jungle, in a protected area named Palenque National Park, are the ruins of Palenque, one of the largest and most important Maya sites. The city peaked during the Maya classic period, about 600-700 A.D. The ruins of Palenque are a must-see for any ancient history buff. Deep inside one of the temples, archaeologists found a huge, ornately carved stone. It depicts a man amidst intricate devices, and some have named him âthe astronaut.â Another highlight is the palace, a multi-story building made of stone. The capital of Chiapas is the charming colonial city of San Cristobal de las Casas.
High in the western Sierra Madre range, the city of Oaxaca is a must-see for the visitor to Mexico’s pacific coastal region. The capital of Oaxaca state, it is an inland city and not located on the coast itself. What the city lacks in beaches, however, it more than makes up in culture and charm. The beautifully restored historical center was declared a world heritage site in 1987. The old town is full of charming cafes and restaurants, as well as a number of museums. Check out the Oaxaca culture museum, housed in a former monastery. On display are several relics unearthed from nearby Monte Albán’s famous âtomb 7.â
Barely ten kilometers outside of Oaxaca is the ancient city of Monte Albán. It was first built by the Olmecs around 600 B.C. Later cultures lived there as well, and the city reached the height of its power around 800 A.D. when the Zapotecs lived there. Later, the Zapotecs went into decline and the site was abandoned until the Mixtecs arrived in the twelfth or thirteenth century and used it as a burial ground for their nobility.? It is a sprawling ruin on top of a hill with an excellent view. There are many temples and buildings, and some finely carved stone blocks, showing human figures that appear to be dancing. There have been several tombs discovered at Monte Albán: the most important one is âTomb 7,â the contents of which are on display in Oaxaca.
Perhaps Mexico’s most famous beach resort city, Acapulco is located in the state of Guerrero about 325 kilometers from Mexico City. Nicknamed âthe Pearl of the Pacific,â it is the most popular beach resort in Mexico. There are dozens of beaches in and around Acapulco, and they are generally clean and safe. More than simply beaches, Acapulco offers scuba diving, sport fishing, tennis, golf and good shopping. The lively night life is legendary and there are good restaurants and hotels. Also in the state of Guerrero is the âSilver Cityâ of Taxco, a charming colonial city known for silver products.
The traveler who has had enough of the enormous, slick resorts in Acapulco can go a couple hundred kilometers to the south. The fishing village of Zihuatanejo is modern yet quaint, and also offers nice beaches and many of the same sorts of water sports as Acapulco. Visitors like to stroll down the cobblestone streets of the town center. Like Acapulco, Zihuatanejo has a lively night life. Nearby, the Ixtapa tourist complex offers some of the best sport fishing in the world as well as sailing, windsurfing, diving, and several golf courses.
About 320 kilometers south of the city of Oaxaca is Puerto Escondido, a small fishing village that has since become known as a popular travel destination. The beautiful green water gives the area its âEmerald Coastâ nickname. Puerto Escondido is known for surfing: there are a variety of good surfing spots, appropriate for any skill level. Expert surfers can ride the four meter high breakers off of Zicatela beach.