There are a many reasons to vacation in Mexico: relax on the beautiful beaches of the Pacific Coast or Quintana Roo, check out the pyramids in Palanque, Tulum or Teotihuacan or visit the ancient temples of Monte Alban.
Then there´s shopping for artesanías in popular markets, savoring delicious regional cuisine like black mole in Oaxaca, marinated suckling pig in the Yucatan or BBQ goat in Monterrey. Mexican food: that is reason enough!
According to the Mexican Department of Tourism (Secretaría de turismo), in 2013 tourism brought in a record “trece mil millones de dólares” in revenue.
Mexico is no doubt a hot tourist destination. But no matter where you go or what your reasons for choosing Mexico as a place to vacation, I suggest you spend an afternoon or evening at the town’s main plaza.
The plaza, a place to discover the Mexican culture
Because to really feel Mexico you want to experience daily life there, and the plaza is the one sure place where you can truly get the feel for Mexican culture, no matter what town you´re in.
Traditional Mexican towns were laid out around a central square from the time of the Conquista.
In 1573 the King of Spain, created what was called the “Law of the Indies,” which set forth rules for colonial life, including a decree stating that all new towns must have a central plaza surrounded by important buildings; usually the church and government offices.
Larger towns, such as Mexico City, Queretaro and even San Miguel de Allende, have multiple plazas or parks, which are usually at the heart of a neighborhood.
But even the smallest towns have a main plaza, which in Mexico is also called a zócalo.
On Friday or Saturday evenings, people of all walks of life flock to these colorful and peaceful squares to meet their friends and socialize.
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Plazas are great for people watching
Find a place at one of the wrought iron benches that surround the plaza, and observe the locals: young people dressed in their Sunday best strolling around the square with friends; girls walking briskly, arm in arm, giggling; children chasing each other, playing with balloons or kicking a soccer ball; older people and peasants from the nearby villages crowding the benches; the town drunk stumbling around looking for a friend.
Most plazas have a kiosk at the center where there might be a concert going on.
Oftentimes there is a conjunto of musicians playing, hoping to find a couple in love or a family that will pay them a few pesos for a serenade.
You can sit there for hours observing life revolve around you.
But on holidays, such as The Day of the Dead, Mother’s Day or Independence Day, you might get swept away by the festivities, because that’s where it all happens.
The plaza is the center of activity
No matter what your age or your culture, you might just find yourself dancing and singing along with new friends.
No matter where in Mexico you go, you’ll find it is a warm and friendly place, despite everything you hear and see on the news.
I lived in Mexico as a kid and later in life traveled there often on work assignments as a photojournalist.
Do yourself a favor on your next Mexico vacation and instead of hitting the local bar, spend an afternoon at the plaza and feel that vibe that makes Mexico such a colorful and unique country.