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Destination Guide


Destination Mexico Horse

If there is one destination that can speak in colors, it is Mexico. Distinct hues such as Maya blue, Aztec red, and Quetzal green provide a glimpse into the history and culture of this fascinating land. Dating back to the Mayan civilization, these colors have been created from plants, insects, and minerals.

Destination Mexico Car (1)

Biological diversity Mexico encompasses desert, tropical, swamp and Alpine ecosystems

Destination Mexico Color

Aztec red The carminic acid in the cochineal beetle creates the hue

Destination Mexico Puerto Escondido

At the time of the Conquest, the bright red of the Aztec textiles was everywhere in Tenochtitlan—what is now the historic center of Mexico City. Upon query, the Spanish learned the color came from the prickly pear cactus grown for the dye. They quickly shipped the plants back to Europe without realizing the locals had duped them. The plant was not the source at all, but the small white bugs called cochineal that grew on its stems.

The popularity of natural dyes went down drastically after the introduction of chemical dyes but there are rays of hope. Concern for the environment, local availability, and sustainability has brought cochineal farming back into production after a centuries-long hiatus. On the Oaxacan coast, the Mixtec people continue to create a vivid purple dye using purpura panza, a sea mollusk related to murex.

Destination Mexico Oaxaca Craft

“If there’s one place you have to see in Mexico because you don’t have the time, you should probably go to Oaxaca—it is the essence of Mexico in a city.”

Carlos Couturier, Grupo Habita

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Back to the roots architecture

This interest in bringing back traditional techniques and blending them with new global trends has brought an exciting cultural rebirth in Mexico. In Yucatán, architects are reviving the ancient Mayan stucco technique called “chukum” for contemporary buildings, merging modern architecture with regional history and culture. Made with chukum tree bark, the material has several defining qualities that separate it from traditional stucco, including impermeable properties and a warm earthy color. In Oaxaca, Grupo Habita tapped architect Alberto Kalach to rehabilitate the adobe interiors and high ceilings of an early 19th-century family home while conjoining it artfully with a new Brutalist build to create Hotel Escondido Oaxaca.

“Into the deep wild where the next wave can sweep us higher, show us what else is possible in this marvelous place.”
Jacob Nordby

Destination Mexico Escondido (1)

Hotel Escondido Traditional palapa architecture

The design scene, concentrated in Mexico City, is also excavating inspiration. A new crop of young talent is creating a new language rooted in the handmade traditions of the country. The Dutch-Mexican designer Emma Gavaldon van Leeuwen Boomkamp is working with a weaving community in Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca to create modern versions of traditional Mexican wool rugs and with artisans in Yucatán for braiding sisal pieces, typically used for bags, into large wall hangings. In 2015, Fernando Laposse began collaborating with Mixtec farmers and herders in Santo Domingo Tonahuixtla, Puebla to reintroduce heirloom corn (many varieties were lost and farmland ruined when chemical additives and pesticides were introduced in the 1990s). Now, they harvest the crops, and use its colorful oft-discarded husks to create Totomoxtle, a decorative veneer made with marquetry which can be applied to walls or furniture.

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Handmade Traditional red clay pots

02 Mexico Guide Bocadeagua (1)

Boca de Agua Here, one finds custom pieces from leading Mexican brands and local artisans

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A culinary tale

Not to be left behind, Mexico’s gastronomy has also seen a regional renaissance. The country's richly varied regional cuisine is driving the culinary experience to a whole new level. Restaurants such as Guzina Oaxaca in Mexico City by Alejandro Ruiz—which drew a rave review in The New York Times—is a celebration of Ruiz’s home state, a mountainous region known for its huge diversity of ingredients and deep culinary traditions. Taking a different approach to Oaxacan cuisine—one that focusses on the coast—is Nayarit-born chef Saul Carranza at Hotel Escondido. Highlights include Carranza’s green ceviche, a spicy, sour, tantalizing mix of fresh-caught fish, tomatillo, lime juice, and habanero chili. In San Miguel de Allende, a city known for its inventive cuisine, restaurant Moxi at the award-winning Hotel Matilda incorporates Mexican heritage with contemporary techniques.

Destination Mexico Puerto Escondido Food

Hotel Escondido One of chef Carranza's popular dishes

Destination Mexico Food

Culinary complexity The cuisine has many outside influences

Destination Mexico City

Antojitos Street food underlines the regional variety

Mexico stretches from the deserts of the northern border to the tropical forests of the south, with long Caribbean and Pacific coastlines in between, giving it immense biodiversity and a sprawling palette of ingredients. Its flavors are also shaped by its complex history, blending influences from its many indigenous groups, the Spanish conquistadors, European elites, slaves from Africa, immigrants from all over, and the ever-present United States. Go beyond the tacos and enchiladas to try lesser-known Mexican classics like cochinita pibil, the impossibly flavorful, slow-roasted pork dish from the Yucatán peninsula or escamoles, the ant larvae from central Mexico known as "insect caviar". All you have to do is wander the streets and learn about its antojitos or street snacks.

Destination Mexico Escobedo (1) Destination Mexico Ordonez Amescua Destination Mexico Veloz

Three of the most prominent Mexican architects you should know.

Three of the most prominent Mexican architects you should know.

Destination Mexico Escobedo (1)
Destination Mexico Ordonez Amescua
Destination Mexico Veloz

Beyond Frida Kahlo

While it’s true that most people still think of Frida Kahlo when they think of Mexican art, Mexico City is quickly becoming a haven for artists across the globe. Big, bold arts projects have bolstered the city’s cultural cred and transformed it into a heavyweight on the global stage. Disused warehouses and factories have been replaced by, among other things, two formidable museums: the Jumex (housing an impressive collection of modern Mexican art owned by Mexican juice magnate Eugenio López Alonso) and the Soumaya (housing Carlos Slim’s vast private art collection).

A gaze out of a bus window, an afternoon on a beach, a long swing in a hammock. If you’re road tripping through Mexico, here’s a soundtrack to fill the gaps between each city’s buzz. 

Following in the tradition of the great muralists, many of Mexico’s most exciting modern artists go beyond the canvas to present their work. Urban art, or street art consisting of graffiti installations, posters, and even fashion, is exceedingly popular in large cities. A surprising number of murals can be seen running the length of Playa del Carmen’s Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue). In Puerto Vallarta, thanks to a project promoting the protection of coral reefs, there are tons of colorful murals smattered around the place. Finally, Monterrey was the birthplace of a now Latin America-wide street poetry movement, Acción Poética. This movement focused, at least at the beginning, on forefronting poetry and music through writing stanzas and lyrics in bold black paint against clean white backdrops. While these ditties can be seen across Mexico, Monterrey remains the spot to find them.

Destination Mexico Further Art

Emanuel Tovar The Guadalajaran visual artist contrasted coal and gold in sculptural paintings

Destination Mexico City Mood (1)

Mexico City Scenes

Destination Mexico Oaxaca Ruin

Monte Albán A pre-Columbian archaeological site in Oaxaca

Destination Mexico Luis Barragan

Luis Barragán The architect's house and studio in Mexico City

Words Vidula Kotian      Date 05 November 2020

Images most by Vivek Vadoliya for Design Hotels

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A Gallery for Turbulent Times

Since opening a decade ago, Pamela Echeverría’s Labor gallery has made waves in the booming Mexico City art world and beyond by highlighting provocatives, research-based work that engages with the burrent events.

View more

Blurb Pamela Echeverria

Since opening a decade ago, Pamela Echeverría’s Labor gallery has made waves in the booming Mexico City art world and beyond by highlighting provocatives, research-based work that engages with the burrent events.

View more

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