Beyond Beach Resorts and Tourist Towns – finding the real Mexico

9. San Juan Chamula:
Retire in San Juan Chamula, MexicoJust six miles from San Cristobal de las Casas is the township of San Juan Chamula, home to the fiercely independent Tzotzil Maya ethnic group. Every Sunday a market fills the open space in front of the church. Hundreds of Tzotzil from the surrounding villages descend on the town to shop and socialize, and to visit the church. San Juan Chamula is the main centre for some distinctive spiritual practices, combining pre-Colombian religious beliefs with the Catholicism brought by the Spanish Conquistadores. Entering the church is like entering another world. There are no pews. The Chamulans pray on their knees on a floor carpeted with pine needles before rows of candles, and Shamans perform healing rituals. The rituals involve coloured candles, eggs, and occasionally the beheading of a chicken. It is an entirely authentic scene dating back hundreds of years. Photography is strictly forbidden.

10. Rio Secreto:
Rio Secreto, MexicoWearing wetsuits, a life jacket and a miner’s helmet we follow gentle slopes of slippery stone and narrow passageways until we are more than 65ft underground. We are in the channel of an underground river that has carved out a system of caves over thousands of years. It is known as Rio Secreto, the secret river. There is no light save for our headlamps and our guide’s small flashlight. We wade through the shallow river of clear brilliant blue and green water, finding ourselves in huge magnificent caverns of stalactites and stalagmites. We move forward through the river system, at times having to squeeze through narrow passageways with only our heads above water, at times having to swim, always emerging into another expansive cavern. And then we are standing in shallow water in a wide, open space and we all turn our lamps off. In uncompromising darkness, so dark we cannot see our hands in front of our faces, we listen – to the drip drip drip of the water from thousands of stalactites hitting the water below, to the far off squeaking of bats, to the soft lapping of the water. I feel the moist air on my face, and the chill of the water, and smell the earthy smell. It is a moment of aching beauty.

Rio Secreto is located in the state of Quintana Roo near Playa del Carmen.

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  1. Beautiful article Alison! such evocative photos 🙂 We spent a few days in Guanajuato some years ago, and small-town Mexico is so beautiful. Plan to travel more there in the future! Thanks for the inspiration.
    cheers, Danila

  2. Such a great summary of some of Mexico’s stand out cities and things to do.
    Having visited several of these places during our own travels in Mexico, it was so much fun to read Alison’s summary on each as well as enjoy her fabulous photos. Makes me want to pack my bag and head back to Mexico!

  3. Eileen O Norman

    April 25, 2017 at 6:37 pm

    This is exquisite and amazing. I hope you are compiling a book or books. Your writing and your photos, never the less the unusual places you visit, are far above most travel books or articles. Loved this. Pure delight. Eileen

  4. Thanks so much Danila. Oh we loved Guanajuato! I hope you get back to explore Mexico further – it has so much to offer – including some amazing dive sites I’ve been told 🙂

  5. Thanks Anita. It’s a pretty amazing country isn’t it? I don’t know if we’ll ever gat back – we’ve been four times and there’s so much more of the world to see. Still – I’ve read about some amazing places on the Baja that could entice me back.

  6. Thank you so much Eileen! What wonderful compliments. We’ve been talking about a book for a long time and maybe it will happen one day. The idea is certainly there on the back burner.

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