What are neighbors for? Well, if you’re Texan, the neighbor is Mexico, the answ Involves adventures as old, as new and exhilararing as the country itset.

Mexico, although only one-quarter the Size of the continental U.S., never setti For being runner-up in the category of excitement, In fact, it could give India Jones a run for the money, In this land that dates back to the Stone Age of 10,000 B. C. And swings forward to jets crisscrossing The Sierra Madres, adventure reigns Suprem

Whether the American traveler is dreaming of something as tranquil as a seaside hammock beneath a thatchedroof cabana or a big city whirlwind of museums, shops and nightclubs. Mexico tucks something for almost everyone into its package of pleasures. Climb an ancient pyramid, float beside hibiscus blossoms in a mountaintop swimming pool. Sample torillas, tequila and turtle soup. Shop for primitive falk an or up-to-the-minute European designs, revel in the color and fourish moving at its own pace under the Broad brim of a Latin sombrero.

Whether the visitor is looking for a glimpse of ancient civilizations, an expedition into Latio culture, a respite at the beach or even a dash to a close-to-home border town, adventures abound. Here are seven of thom, selected for diversity, Entertainment. Enlightenment. Conveniance for traveling Texans and just plainfun.

1.colonlal Mexico

Mexico’s colonial cities pay homage to the influences of the Spanish, the conquerers of this land of the Aztecs in 1521, The enduring charms of this 16th century era live on in the colonial hearts of the country’s two largest cities. Mexico City and Guadalajara, and in nine other cities. Here, amid the brisk air of elevations from 5,000 to 7000 feet, visitors find romantic images of the old Mexico: domed churches, red-tiled roofs, shady arcades, patios refreshed by splashing fountains and plazas or zocalos built around bandstands, markets and buildings whose walls bear the ancient patina of time.

Two of the more modestly-sized colonial cities. San Miguel de Allende and Morelia, remain tried-and-true favorites for American visitors. Secluded from the more frantic pace of the larger cities, this duo beckons with talismans of historic architecture, beguiling ambience and a pair of beloved hostetrles

Founded in 1542 by a Franciscan friar, Juan de San Miguel the city of San Miguel today looks just like the pipedream image many Americans at home in their armchairs conjure up for Mexico. It all comes true here: cobblestone streets, beautiful Spanish buildings with gracefully aging facades, flowers and fountains and fiestas. All that seems likely to continue, since San Miguel was declared a national monument in 1926, thus protecting the city from any new construction [hat doesn’t match the colonial style. No wonder, then, that the city proves to be a popular home for American artists and writers and visitors shopping for distinctive woven and embroidered cloth goods.

Located about halfway between Mexico City and Guadalaiara, the 1541 city of Mcrelia lies in the heart of the lovely state of Michoacan. One of the drawing cards here is Tarascan Indian folk art. The line drawings of fish, animals and people appear on wooden and pottery objects coveted by collectors. Local markets and shops are full of them, and a Tarascan Indian market still endures in nearby Patz-cuaro Beyond that, the colonial architecture in Morelia rates its own legion of admirers Most notable is the city’s magnificent cathedral, which took more than a century to build

Where to Stay: In San Miguel, the Casa de Sierra Nevada, located in a former archbishop’s residence dating back to 1735. It’s small (four rooms, 14 suites), but immaculate and beguiling, with high-ceilinged rooms filled with antiques and an international cuisine. In Morelia, one of Mexico’s finest inns, the Hotel Villa Montana, overlooks the city from its mountamtop perch a short drive to the south. With 65 rooms and suites with fireplaces and colonial furnishings, the Villa Montana is a hacienda to write home about.

2.The Ruins

Nothing in Mexico reveals more about the country’s rich Indian heritage than the remnants of its archeological past. A staggering total of 11,000 sites, ranging from evidence of the archaic cultures of the Olmec and Tlatiloco Indians (dating from before 1000 B.C.) to the pyramids, sacred temples and urban communities of the Aztecs, awaits visitors. Veiled in mystery and thrilling to behold, these ruins of ancient civilizations afford the ultimate Mexico adventure.

The major archeological sites include Teotihuacan near Mexico City, Monte Alban in Oaxaca, Palenque near Villahermosa and Ux-mal near Merida. Two other locations in the Yucatan peninsula, Chichen Itza and Tulum, may draw more Texas visitors, simply because of geography. Both are accessible on driving tours from Cancun, which in turn is easily reached by air service from Texas cities.

Founded in about 450 A.D. in the classic Maya age, Chichen Itza survived the general collapse of Mayan Civilization around 900 A, D. and found new life under Toltec dominion a century later. It nourished for another two centuries before being abandoned in 1224, Its astonishing ruins include the great Kulkulkan pyramid, temples, the largest ancient ball court in Mesoamenca, an observatory and numerous smaller buildings, all rising from the boggy green floor of the Yucatan jungle.

Smaller in size but awesome in its location atop a cliff overlooking white beaches and Caribbean waters, Tulum is a Mayan site popularly known as “the city on the sea.” The principal structure among several is the Castillo, a pyramid topped by a small temple.

Where to Stay: All in all, the Camino Real rales as the finest among Mexico’s chains of luxury hotels. The Cancun version is a 300-room pleasure palace virtually surrounded by the waters of the Caribbean as well as a multitude of pools.

3.The Beaches

The best known Mexican destinations among American travelers all command a waterfront view, whether the waters in question are those of the Caribbean, the Pacific or the Sea of Cortez, The popularity is easily understandable; not only are the coastal cities nearly always a hop, skip and an airline jump from the U.S., they offer the magic elixirs of sun, sand and water. From Cozumel to Cabo San Lucas, the Mexican beaches win friends and influence people in search of suntans, sports and sunsets over the water.

Finding the right beach depends, of course, on what you want to find when you get there. In a very general sense the younger crowd seems to opt for Cancun, Acapulco and Puerto Valiarta. all three a little livelier and more inclined toward after-dark diversions. On the other hand, the more laid-back diversions of such places as Manzanillo and Ixtapa-Zihuataneio (the latter two towns are only five miles apart) prove right up the alley of those who vote for tranquility amid beautiful surroundings. And lor magnificent settings, the clear, aquamarine waters of Cozumel and Cabo San Lucas can’t be topped for nature lovers, big league fishermen and scuba enthusiasts.

Where to Stay: In Cozumel, El Presidente was the original luxury hotel and still holds forth in style. In Acapulco. Las Brisas is the pink-and-white hideaway of movie stars, astronauts, honeymooners and ordinary travelers who like its private pools filled with fresh flowers, its armada of jeeps and its hillside vista of the bay. In Manzanillo, the Moorish rococo architecture and the white-on-white elegance of Las Hadas, built by an eccentric Bolivian tin magnate and made famous by the move “10.” prows irresistible. In Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, the Camino Real commands respect as a clean-lined dramatic statement in architecture atop coastal cliffs and a secluded bay. In Puerto Vallarta, the 500-room Posada Vallarta near the airport is large enough to duality as a mini-city and pleasant enough to draw repeat visitors.

4. Shopping

“We’ve got to go shopping before we leave,” the woman beside the pool of the Ixtapa hotel was explaining to her companion. “If we don’t take something back with us, how will anyone know we’ve been gone?”

That’s merely one way of rationalizing shopping in Mexico. Others abound Not only does the devalued Mexican peso produce a bounty of bargains for American visitors, but its remarkable folk art and handmade crafts in cloth, stone, pottery, glass and metal bear the stamp of individuality and beauty. The gamut of places to shop goes from native markets where food is sold alongside handcrafts to hotel lobby boutiques with a considerably more refined atmosphere and the elegant Zona Rosa (pink zone) in Mexico City,

The best places to begin a shopping tour of Mexico may well be the FONART stores, government stores in the larger cities that display and sell native arts and crafts. In the smaller cities, native markets called tianguis can sometimes offer beautiful craftsmanship and remarkably low prices. In the craft-rich regions of Mexico, such as the states of Oaxaca and Michoacan, the cities and villages can be counted on for colorful, bountiful local markets.

Many experienced shoppers count on finding the very thing they can’t live without in Guadalajara. Not only does this second largest of Mexico’s cities have an immense public market, Liberlad, with vendors selling everything from pigs’ ears to witches’ herbs, Guadalajara also boasts an excellent government-owned shop, the Casa de las Artesamas de Jalisco, in Agua Azul Park. Nearby, the suburb with the unpronouncable name, Tlaquepaque, exists solely for the purpose of attracting shoppers. Its several dozen stores and factories (where visitors can watch glassware and pottery being made) can always be counted on (or finding the good, the bad and occasionally the wonderful.

Where to Stay: A favorite among Americans for the last couple of decades, Hotel El Tapatio covers a hillside overlooking the city; go there tor the large, comfortable rooms, the tropical gardens and the cobblestone walkways

5. Baja Callfornia

As far as Texans are concerned, Baja remains Mexico’s best-kept secret. But for years the beautiful people of California have known about Baja’s pristine beaches, the sparkling waters of the Sea of Cortez, the abundant natural shore and sea life, the still undeveloped fishing villages and the charming hotels, many of them backed by California investors The 900-mile-long Baja peninsula has remained unspoiled, largely because of the difficulty of traveling within its boundaries (although improved air service is changing that to some degree}. Baja” is a splendid example of how much bad roads can do for a country,” naturalist Joseph Wood Krutch has observed,

Today the most tempting of Baja’s areas is surely Los Cabos, the government’s name tor the coastal region at the Southern tip of Baja, incorporating the two dusty villages of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo and the 21-mile stretch of virtually deserted beaches between them. Serious sport fishermen flock there to follow the call of the wild in search of marlin and other deep sea trophies. Other visitors simply cherish the natural wonders and the unbothered calm reminiscent of a Mexico of many years ago, But regardless of the motive for visiting Los Cabos, no one can pass up the opportunity to venture down to the Cabo San Lucas manna and embark on a trip on the glass-bottomed boat to see marine life, rugged cliffs, gorgeous cobalt and emerald waters, a colony of sea lions and the much-photographed Los Arcos, the natural arch formation in the rocks marking the end of Baja, where the Pacific joins the Sea of Cortez.

Where to Stay: Hotel Palmilla, crowning a point overlooking the sea some five miles out of San Jose del Cabo and the nearby airport, merges the appeal of a small (60 rooms and suites), intimate and romantic inn with the reassuring efficiency of an American-trained staff.

6. Food

The Mexicans introduced the supposedly more sophisticated Europeans to such foods as chocolate, vanilla, potatoes, corn, pumpkins, squash, peppers, avocados, tomatoes, pineapples, papayas and mangoes. And the world’s food has hardly been the same since.

Today Mexican cuisine is anything but ordinary and everything but the standard Tex-Mex to which so many Texans profess an addiction. Instead, it blends pre-Columbian and colonial traditions, international dishes and regional ones from the country’s 32 states, fresh seasonal produce from field, grove and sea and too many holiday and fiesta specialties to mention. Sure, Americans will find an enchilada or two mixed into their resort hotel restaurant menus, but those seem strangely mundane amid the rest of the culinary exotica

Americans on vacation often seem timid about ordering unfamiliar foods from a restaurant menu. Instead, they opt for the same meals they’d order at home, and, of course, they’re disappointed when the food doesn’t taste the same as before. That’s as much of a shame in Mexico as it is elsewhere,

Hotel food in Mexico runs the gamut from bland to exciting, so Americans should be adventurous enough to look beyond the nearest hotel dining room to find recommended local restaurants. In Mexico City, for example, dining out can become an almost regal experience, with an abundance of first-class restaurants only a short taxi ride away from any centrally-located hotel.

7. Out of the Way Discoveries

For those brave souls willing to shed the travel agency hoopla and escape into the little-known nooks and crannies of Mexico’s secret hideaways read on. Here are three such possibilities:

Costa Careyes. Rent a car at the Man-zanillo airport and drive north for about an hour to this remote coastal area, surrounded by mango and papaya plantations and cooled by breezes off the Pacific. Slip into the unhurried pace of the first-class Hotel Playa Careyes, a small but special seaside inn with all the amenities except clocks, which would be irrelevant here, anyway.

Las Mananitas in Cuernavaca. Although this extremely popular inn is hardly undiscovered, its exclusivity marks it as remarkable. Built around a turn-of-the-century mansion, the inn has only 15 suites: some guests stay for weeks and months, so enamored are they of the resplendent setting, excellent food and the ratio of about three hotel staff members per one guest. So getting a reservation requires planning ahead. It’s about an hour’s drive, heading south, from Mexico City

Tepoztlan Not to be confused with Tepotzotlan north of Mexico City, this quietly picturesque town lies to the other direction, south on the highway to Cuernavaca and Acapulco. Time has made few inroads into the life of this beautiful Indian village with steep, cobblestone streets, temples and pyramids, a lush, green mountain setting, a Sunday crafts market and a tiny (8 rooms, 3 suites), marvelous old hotel, Posada del Tepozteco You can rest assured that no one here will try to sell you a condo on the beach (there isn’t one) or tell you about the hottest disco in town (ditto). But, if you’re lucky, somebody will whisper in your ear that there’s this little village that nobody knows about yet, and it’s not too hard to find, and. .


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