Does the thought of lying on a picture-postcard perfect beach, sipping tequila while listening to the sound of the surf gently lap the shore make you immediately think of Mexico? Probably—after all, Mexico is considered one of the most beautiful beach resort vacations in the world and the millions of Americans who flock there every year would definitely agree that Mexico ticks all their boxes.
However, there also are many other reasons to visit Mexico. For one thing, it is steeped in culture and rich in a fascinating, blood soaked history that deserves at least some of your attention when you travel to Mexico.
It is astonishing when you consider that 2700 years of some astounding civilizations crumbled within a few years of the Spanish Settlers invading South America. The Mayans, the Aztecs, and their predecessors, the Olmecs, were light years ahead in many ways—both intellectually and artistically gifted, compared to other civilizations of their times. Even today, many of the Mayan’s beautiful structures still stand. Awestruck tourists frequently gaze in wonder at the ancient temples of Palenque and Uxmal while howler monkeys screech from the moist green jungle.
The peaceful Mayans are best known for their artistic and archaeological achievements. They built huge ceremonial temples and lavishly decorated them with animal carvings. They created intricate stone mosaics, often incorporating faces of their gods. Today, there are several key Mayan sites, but the carvings and reliefs made of stucco at Palenque are particularly fine examples. The Mayans also invented a sophisticated writing system which, unfortunately, died out the wake of the Spanish colonization.
However, the Aztecs are probably the most famous of all the indigenous South American people. Stories of their gruesome sacrifices continue to keep generations of school kids enthralled. History books are filled with tales of how thousands of unfortunate prisoners were sacrificed to the greedy Gods, but for all the Aztec brutality and intense religious beliefs, their civilization was remarkably sophisticated and politicized. Agriculture was productive and on the whole their society ran very smoothly.
In the end, it was superstition and a generous helping of luck that brought about their downfall. The Aztec Emperor, Montezuma II Xocoyotzin, was no match for the Machiavellian scheming of the ambitious Cortez.
But despite the decimation of the Aztec Empire by Cortez, and subsequently the ravages of disease, their legacy has not been forgotten. Most modern day Mexicans are a mixture of indigenous blood and European Spanish ancestry. Mexico City, founded on the ruins of the Aztec capital city, Tenochtitlán, retains many of the original names. Mexican cuisine, popular throughout the world, is based on and flavored by foodstuffs originally used by the Aztecs and other Mesoamerican peoples.
It would be a tragedy to ignore the fascinating stories that make Mexico such a fascinating and diverse vacation destination. From the ancient temples, to the beautiful colonial palaces left behind by the descendants of Cortez, you can’t fail to be moved by the turbulent history of such a vibrant country.