By Men Tay
New year, new resolutions. If you are looking for a rich cultural experience that provides numerous opportunities for beautiful travel photography within a small budget, I have a suggestion for you.
Just south of the United States is a neighbor that is widely misunderstood. Americans think of Mexico as Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, Rocky Point, etc. A Mayan civilization that goes back to about 3,000 years, Mexico is a country full of history, culture and color. Get away from the dull beaches and you will find a kaleidoscope of colors in places like Mexico City, Oaxaca, Puebla, Merida, etc.
Start your trip in Mexico City, the capital city of Mexico with a population of about 22 million people. Not much landscape photography here but the sights of people, shops, food, museums, will overwhelm you. The city revolves around the Zócalo. In front of it is the massive Catedral y Sagrario Metropolitano with its baroque-style façade. Worshippers inside pray at the Altar de los Reyes, a gilded wood altarpiece that took nearly 20 years to complete. You may run into a group of indigenous people performing their traditional dances. Stroll the streets and watch the locals shopping for clothes, food, hardware, etc.
About an hour from Mexico City is the colorful city of Puebla. A city famous for its colorful buildings, ceramics and namesake dish, mole poblano. Strolling around an outdoor market, you will find colorful pottery, artwork, street musicians, and handicrafts.
Next stop is Oaxaca, a beautiful colonial city that has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Much of the activities center around the plaza of Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzman. You find cafes, locals strolling around, food vendors and if there is a festival, dancers parading the square. Nearby is the 20th of November market, where you find spices, mescal, fruits, and even roasted crickets, a local delicacy. A mad display of sights, sounds, and smell.
If you love history, there is the nearby ruins of Monte Alban, built by the Zapotecs around 500 BC. Pyramids, palace, ball court, and bas reliefs are the attractions. Come early for the best photography or you will run into large crowds.
Next is the popular expat town of St. Cristobal, located in the highlands of the state of Chiapas. Like most Mexican towns and cities, life revolves around the zocalo. However, if you branch further out from the city, you will find many of Mexico’s indigenous people, with their rich traditions and colors. Weavers still use hand looms to make colorful blankets and tapestry.
Lastly, Merida is an old city that has many colonial buildings and old churches. Get up early and walk the streets and you will find many opportunities for some interesting photography. The zocalo comes alive in the late afternoon and evening. Street musicians, food vendors, friends and family meeting each other. The type of scenes that you don’t see too often in the United States.
A question that is often asked when I travel to such places is: Is it safe there? The places I mentioned above are all quite safe. However, there are precautions that one must take no matter where you travel in the world. I’ve written a post on my travel blog that talks about how you can protect yourself when traveling to unfamiliar places: https://mengineurope.blogspot.com/2017/08/
If you can be randomly shot at a concert, nightclub, theater, school, parking lot and even a church here at home, then everyplace else is much safer. You have to venture out of your comfort zone and enjoy the world.
Meng Tay is a Volunteer Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes