By Carole Reedy
For nearly eight months COVID-19 has driven living restrictions in Mexico, as it has elsewhere. As I write, the red/orange/yellow/green semáforo (stoplight) recommendation for quarantine teeters between orange and yellow, depending on the state in which you’re situated.
The state of Campeche is notable for having achieved green status. All of Mexico is given daily updates from our Presidente at 7 am and from our Sub-Secretaria de Salud at 7 pm.
Apart from federal requirements, each state or city has its own way of managing the quarantine. For example, you may find that in San Miguel de Allende, you’re stopped by police for not wearing a mask, whereas in Mexico City this is highly unlikely. The San Miguel mayor is taking particular precautions to protect this “best small city in the world” (Condé Nast Traveler, October 2020). Mexico City has many citizens who work day-to-day, so you’ll see more people on the street than in other places, mostly masked.
If you’re tired of sitting at home, working, or just in need of a diversion, Mexican culture and adventures beckon, albeit with restrictions. Here are some opportunities open to you.
Apart from lying on a sunny beach under a blue sky, sipping a margarita on the Pacific Coast or the Yucatán, the pyramids of Teotihuacán, just a half-hour outside Mexico City, are a main attraction of this historically rich country. After being closed for six months, they’re now open to the public. Normally 6,000 visitors a day would visit the site on weekends, but the number has been cut to 30% occupancy.
Also note you will not be able to climb the Pyramids of the Sun or the Moon, and the museum remains closed. As with all other tourist attractions, museums, stores, and restaurants in the country, your temperature will be taken and your hands sanitized before you enter. You’ll be asked to wear a mask and honor social distancing of 1.5 meters (about 5 feet). Hours of operation also have been shortened. The site is now open 9 am to 3 pm every day of the week, and still free on Sundays.
(The archeological sites of the Yucatán, including the famous Chichen-Itza and Tulum, are also open with restrictions similar to those at Teotihuacán.)
Museums in Mexico City as well as other parts of the country are open with the restrictions stated above. A wonderful surprise is the re-opening and extensión of the multimedia Van Gogh Alive exhibit, sharing space on the plaza Monumento de la Madre at Insurgentes and Reforma streets. The exhibit will be held over for viewing through January. You can make a reservation through Superboletos.
Another notable exhibit is the The Paris of Modigliani and His Contemporaries at the white marble Museo Bellas Artes, one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, located in the centro histórico, Juarez and Lázaro Cárdenas streets. Open 11 am to 5 pm Tuesday thru Sunday, with COVID-19 restrictions.
Museo Soumaya, with its curving facade inspired by Auguste Rodin’s sculptures, houses more than 60,000 pieces of art, including works by Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, and Vincent van Gogh. Carlos Slim’s gift to the city is free to all and open every day of the year. Currently, just 30 percent occupancy is permitted along with other COVID-19 precautions. The Museo is located in the classy Polanco Colonia. It is quite airy and open with its high ceilings and lovely circular staircase.
Your other favorite museums are open too, but be sure to look online for shortened hours and to see if you need to reserve a place in advance. All require the strictest of Covid regulations.
A favorite pastime of visitors and residents alike is flaneuring through the streets and colonias of the city. Most parks are open, including Parque México and Parque España in Condesa.
Roaming the Avenida Reforma is a pleasure not only for the sculptures dotting the walkways, but for the people watching and window shopping. Yes, most stores are open and even offering discounts.
In Colonia Roma you can enjoy street art in the Romita section and then stroll along Álvaro Obregón where there are a number of outdoor restaurants offering everything from fine dining to street tacos. Here you will also find used and new bookstores as well as eclectic shops.
The Bajio region includes parts of the states of Aguascalientes, Jalisco, Guanajuato, and Querétaro, located to the north and west of Mexico City. Go for the natural wonders in the midst of small colonial cities.
Tesquisquiapan Wine and Cheese Tours
Charming Pueblo Mágico (Magical Town) Tequisquiapan is known as La Ruta del Arte, Queso y Vino; it’s also famous for its mineral spas as well as its hand-woven crafts. The climate is perfect year-round, and it’s the jumping off point for the wine and cheese tours of the region. From Mexico City it will take about three hours by car or bus (from Mexico Norte bus station). It sits a mere 52 kilometers from Querétaro, the capital of the area, another interesting, but larger, colonial city.
Most of us think of the fine Mexican wines as those from Enseñada, Baja California, but this region boasts several excellent wineries: Ezequiel Montes, Freixenet, and Viñedos Azteca. Take your own car or join a tour from Tequisquiapan.
Speaking of wines, I’d like to mention my favorite Mexican wine, though it is from the state of Coahuila, not the Bajio region. The winery is Casa Madero, the oldest in Mexico. The wine is Casa Madero 3V, a dry, fruity, full-bodied red. Another favorite is the Casa Madero Chardonnay, a dry crisp white. Tours of the winery take place in Parras, Coahuila. Put it on your list!
A short drive from Tequisquiapan is yet another Pueblo Mágico, Santiago de Bernal. The highlight for most travelers is the hike up the Peña de Bernal, the third largest monolith in the world. At night, you can see the dancing fountains at the foot of the monolith.
There are places to get shamanic cleanses or detoxing temazcal steam baths in the area. It is also a good place to purchase hand-made and loom-woven textiles.
Consider, too, exploring the San Antonio de Cal community behind the Peña de Bernal. Otomí-Chichimeca customs remain intact within this community, which is why UNESCO named the region a World Heritage Site.
San Miguel de Allende
Not only have readers of Traveler magazine repeatedly named San Miguel the “best,” but they’ve also given top marks to some hotels, including #1 status to The Rosewood. Even if your budget doesn’t allow for a sleepover at this deluxe inn, go for sunset drinks on the terrace.
San Miguel is a shopper’s and artisan’s delight. Just roaming the cobblestone streets is a delightful adventure (watch your step and wear sturdy shoes!) and good exercise. The Jardín (garden) in front of the Parroquia (main cathedral) is a popular meeting place and the center of Sunday meetings, dances in the evenings, and other entertainment.
International restaurants abound, as well as great taco places. Here you’ll find Lebanese food (La Fenice, my personal favorite), Peruvian (La Parada, another favorite), and Argentinian beef (Buenos Aires). The best bakery is Petit Four, now also serving a full breakfast in their new digs on Jesus, just around the corner from the Jardín. Do try the chocolate mousse cake. Outdoor terrace dining and drinks are always fun at Azotea, just off the Jardín.
Some of the more popular tours in the city have been canceled due to the virus. Visitors have enjoyed the regular Sunday morning House and Garden Tours as well as the History Tours offered by Patronato, which closed for the pandemic in March, but may be offering private tours or smaller tours (https://historicalwalkingtour.org/, firstname.lastname@example.org./, 415 152 7796). Investigate when you arrive as both tours are informative.
A few hot springs – La Gruta, Escondido, and Taboada – lie just a short drive outside of San Miguel, accessible by car, taxi or bus. Enjoy a day here dipping in the thermal waters and taking in the sun and the fresh air of the countryside away from the dust of the city. Food and drinks are served at some locals.
Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary
The brightly colored Monarch butterflies find their home in the mountains west of Mexico City. Morelia or Pátzcuaro are good bases for the tours, though there are tours out of San Miguel de Allende as well. November through March is the season, with mid-January being peak viewing. Look at the Mexperience.com site for more information about tours and access to this natural wonder.
La Ruta de la Independencia
A few other towns a short distance from San Miguel de Allende – Querétaro, Dolores Hildago, and Guanajuato, among others – are well-known as the Route of Independence because this is the place where Padre Hildago, Ignacio Allende, and others plotted and executed their plan for independence from the Spanish in 1810. It is a bloody, intriguing history and a trip to these well-preserved colonial sites is a must for Mexico travelers.
All of Mexico is vigilant about safety during this pandemic. Although your visit may be impeded somewhat by restrictions, the warmth of the people remains just as strong as ever.