Toluca, Teotihuacan, Ixtapan de la Sal and Valle de Bravo Great Escapes near Mexico City!
|Story and Photos by Naeem Randhawa
Mexico City is flooded with tourists everyday. Take a more off the beaten path by visiting some of the best cultural, archaeological and diverse cities and towns outside the city. Toluca, Ixtapan de la Sal, Teotihuacán, and Valle de Bravo are four destinations that offer you a unique experience, one filled with history, culture, archaeological wonders, authentic cuisine, and leisurely activities.
Toluca, a short drive from Mexico City, is situated at an altitude of 8,737 feet above sea level, making it the highest city in Mexico. At this elevation, evenings can be chilly, but the days are perfect. Nearby, the volcano Nevado de Toluca protrudes from the landscape at 15,387 feet and can be seen from anywhere, providing excellent opportunities for taking great pictures. Walking around the city, soak in the history from the nineteenth century arches to the old cathedral, the Plaza Civica, Plaza de los Mártires, and the Government Palace.
One of the most beautiful and inspiring must-see spots is the the Cosmovitral Jardin Botanico (botanical gardens), housed in one of the largest glass artworks in the world. Leopoldo Flores designed the intricate 3000-square-meter stained glass windows that surround the building and feature vignettes of life and death, night and day, and other eternal themes, all visualized through colorful designs etched in stained glasswork. With the sun entering through the stained glass, the lush flora in the building, and the array of waterworks, these gardens are a great place to relax and enjoy the ambiance.
Ixtapan de la Sal
About an hour’s drive south of Toluca is the town of Ixtapan de la Sal. For those inclined to a more leisurely pace, the spa treatments and mud baths are not to be missed. This is a Mecca for thermal treatments known around all of Mexico. From private baths, massages, hair treatments, wraps, pedicures, manicures, and facial treatments, there’s plenty to help you unwind and soak in some serenity. There are activities for the family as well. Walk around and take in the local architecture and scenery, rent horses, and, of course, dine on local cuisine.
While in Ixtapan de al Sal, take a short trip to Tenancingo and visit a rebozo workshop. A rebozo is a shawl that is made by hand involving an intricate process that is unique to this area and stems from a century old tradition. The beautiful rebozos vary in size and quality of the thread and can range from 400 to 4000 pesos. Their striking and vibrant colors are pleasant to look at, and the time consuming work to create one of these pieces truly makes it a worthy gift. The process takes up to 15 steps, and the winding, threading, dyeing, knotting, starching, tying, and weaving of the cotton can take up to 5 weeks to complete a single piece. In the market, you can actually visit the workshops of the artisans that weave these rebozos, and it’s amazing to see them practicing their craft and all of the steps involved in creating one of these amazing traditional pieces.
While the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon in Teotihuacán are not the only pyramids in Mexico, they are certainly the most famous – and for good reason. The scale of these 2000-year-old structures surrounded by 40 square kilometers of a once flourishing city is massive. You can climb to the top of the pyramids but should take care to bring along water and wear comfortable shoes. Take your time to get up the 248 steps to the summit of the Pyramid of the Sun as some steps are not very wide and the angle of climb is fairly steep. Once you conquer the climb and reach the top, the expansive view of the landscape is breathtaking. You can see the entire countryside, including the Pyramid of the Moon and the nearly two kilometers long Avenue of the Dead along with the rest of the ancient structures and statues in the epicenter.
This is where 200,000 Teotihuacános once lived over 2000 years ago, forming the biggest Hispanic civilization in the area. It was later discovered by the Mexicans and became a pilgrimage point for the Aztecs, who actually named the pyramids.
La Gruta, located near the base of the Pyramid of the Sun, is a restaurant built inside a real cave! Erosion from a subterranean river created the cave, and now the underground restaurant provides a cool environment for hungry visitors to chow down on Mexican food. The restaurant features live Aztec dances, and while you eat, the performers enter, all decked out in striking period costumes, and dance to the beat of drums in a ceremonious fashion. Sunshine peeks through several of the large holes in the cave, which is lit with hundreds of candles and point-lights creating a cozy and intimate feel.
Valle de Bravo
Just about an hour from Toluca, or 90 miles west of Mexico City, amidst a beautiful pine forest and rolling hills, lies the town of Valle de Bravo. A favorite escape for folks living in Mexico City, it is an excellent stop for you to consider if you’re looking for an off the beaten path destination with plenty of healthy activities for everyone.
Appropriately referred to as the Switzerland of Mexico, the picturesque town sits on a hill overlooking a man-made lake, which is actually a reservoir created in 1946. The ex-colonial town, which was dedicated to agriculture and horticulture for three centuries, charms visitors with its white stucco houses, winding cobbled streets, red-tile roofs, and warm country-side manner. Activities include water skiing, canoeing, sailing, horseback riding, golf, and biking, and if you’re up for it, hang gliding from the peak of one of the nearby mountains. There are also several waterfalls that can be reached by foot. You can also get some great bargains in the local market on pottery and ceramics, embroideries, textiles, wood carvings, and forged iron.
Built right into the quartz mountainside on a 400-acre spread is the new world-class European spa, El Santuario. Specifically designed to cater to those looking for a natural and curative environment, the spa offers every visitor a postcard view of the lake from every room and includes all the amenities you would expect from a five-star resort. The spa offers over 60 treatments as well as an oxygen bar, boutique, beauty salon, fitness activities, and a gym. The Yenecamu Therapy is El Santuario’s own two and a half hour spa treatment offered on a pontoon boat on the lake.
La Vista Restaurant offers Mexican fare cooked with fresh locally grown produce and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are also several lounges so you can grab a drink and simply chill out. Each luxury suite is equipped with all of the amenities you’d expect as well as sliding glass wall windows with a panoramic view of the lake, an Infinity Edge pool, reflexology stone floors in the shower and bathroom, beautiful hand-blown glass Murano sinks, and slate floors.
Toluca, Ixtapan de la Sal, Teotihuacán, and Valle de Bravo are four spots that you should consider on your next vacation to Mexico. If you want a change of pace and a respite from the crowded big city, step into these picturesque towns with their beautiful natural vistas, history of the ancient pyramids, local culture and flavors, and natural and healthful retreats. Make it a point to check out the websites listed below to plan your itineraries for a memorable trip the whole family will enjoy.
For more information:
El Santuario Spa