Central Mexico's Pre-Columbian Treasures in a Week
Most of Mexico's great archaeological sites, aside from those left by the Maya, lie in the country's center, from Mexico City to the east. This trip takes you to the best of these and to the three most impressive archaeological museums in Mexico. The area in which all of this is located is relatively compact. It doesn't require a lot of travel time to cover, unless you add on a side trip to Oaxaca for the ruins of Monte Albán and Mitla.
Days 1, 2 & 3: Mexico City
If you arrive early, go straight to the heart of the nation: Mexico City's zócalo, the third-largest public square in the world. There, poetically situated between the nation's first cathedral and its National Palace, lie the ruins of the Aztec empire's Templo Mayor, buried and forgotten until 1978. Dedicate your second day to the Museo Nacional de Antropología and Chapultepec Park. By the third day, you should have adapted to the altitude and will be ready for a day trip to Teotihuacán, "City of the Gods," where you can explore palaces and pyramids and climb to the summit of the Pyramid of the Sun.
Day 4: Tlaxcala
Drive or take a bus to colonial Tlaxcala to view the vivid murals of Cacaxtla and the hilltop stronghold of Xochitécatl. The murals are painted in an intriguing Maya style, with rich symbolism that invites speculation. Stay the night and enjoy the town's slow rhythms and street life. Stroll over to the Government Palace to view modern murals of artist Desiderio Hernández Xochitiotzin, which chronicle the history of the Tlaxcaltecans, ancient rivals of the Aztecs.
Days 5 & 6: Puebla, Cholula & Xalapa
From Tlaxcala, it's a quick car or bus ride to colonial Puebla. In the afternoon, visit the Museo Amparo to see its stunning collection of pre-Hispanic art. The next day, head over to Cholula to view the ruins of Mexico's largest pyramid, with the majestic volcano "El Popo" as a backdrop. Visit the local churches of Tonantzintla and San Francisco Acatepec for their Indian baroque design. From Puebla, it's on to bustling Xalapa, a 3-hour drive from the dry central plateau to the misty slopes of the Sierra Madre Oriental. Visit the city's wonderful Museo de Antropología, with a collection of megalithic Olmec heads and expressive Totonac art.
Day 7: Veracruz City
Travel to the old port city of Veracruz. Enjoy a relaxing day in this lively town, with its coffee shops, tropical music, and dance. From here, you can fly out directly or via Mexico City. To extend your trip, consider heading north to the ruins of El Tajín, or south to Oaxaca to Monte Albán and Mitla.