Mexico, Old and New

September 16, 2008
These inspiring photos reveal the range of experiences waiting in Mexico: lively colonial towns, hideaway resorts with swim-up bars, sprawling Mayan ruins, and more.

We want to inspire you and share practical trip-planning advice. Check back later this fall for "Nonstop Mexico," a new article and flash map detailing all the nonstop routes between cities in the U.S. and Mexico—because nothing kills the fun like a layover.

Photo captions
1 The 16th-century Santo Domingo church, five blocks north of Oaxaca's zocalo (town square). From "25 Reasons We Love Oaxaca" PHOTO

2 Swing by Amate Books for its extraordinary selection of English titles on Oaxacan history and Mexican street art, but also for the one-of-a-kind doorway lined with a foot-wide border of red, orange, yellow, and white marigolds. From "25 Reasons We Love Oaxaca" PHOTO

3 Monte Albán, a city built more than 1,000 years ago. From "25 Reasons We Love Oaxaca" PHOTO

4 There's no rush on chairs at the Gala Beach Resort. It's the southernmost resort in the lush gated community of Playacar. From "The Easy, Breezy Riviera Maya" PHOTO

5 The popular Las Olas swim-up bar at Riu Playacar. From "The Easy, Breezy Riviera Maya" PHOTO

6 At Barceló Maya, guests learn a mix of Latin and line-dance moves to show off at Captain Morgan's disco later. From "The Easy, Breezy Riviera Maya" PHOTO

7 Tables at La Galeria in Yelapa overlook Yelapa Bay. From "Got Stress? Get to Puerto Vallarta" PHOTO

8 The beach, as seen from the path to La Punta. From "Why Haven't You Heard of Yelapa, Mexico?" PHOTO

9 Petra Puente, owner of El Mesón de la Abundancia, a hotel in the center of Real de Catorce. From "Ghosts of the Sierra Madre" PHOTO

10 Souvenirs near La Parroquia de la Concepción Purísima, Real de Catorce's main church. From "Ghosts of the Sierra Madre" PHOTO

11 The Mayan ruins at Tulúm. From "I Married a Non-Traveler" PHOTO

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Trip Coach: September 16, 2008

John Rambow: Hi everyone, I updated and edited portions of Fodor's Guide to India while living there for most of 2006 and 2007 with my partner. Although I lived mainly in the south, especially Bangalore and Chennai, I did my best to see as much as possible. Given the size and the variety of the country, I did little more than scratch the surface, but I'll do my best to answer your questions. For more on me, you can head to the blog I wrote while in India, Bangalore Monkey. So let me get started... _______________________ Brisbane, Australia: Hi, How good is the subway in New Delhi? Cheers John Rambow: Delhi's subway is clean and reliable, and it'll be even more impressive once it covers more of this sprawling city (for instance, a special line is scheduled to connect with Delhi's airport in a few years). One current route that's likely to be useful to you is the yellow line, which goes north-south and connects Connaught Place with Old Delhi's Chandni Chowk, near the Red Fort. _______________________ Lawrenceburg, Ky.: We like to travel independently, but are afraid to try independent travel in India. What do you think? John Rambow: That's impossible to answer completely without knowing you and the places you've traveled to already. Lots of people travel to India independently, and the ones that are successful tend to do a lot of reading-up (including on online forums) ahead of time so that they know what to expect. You might want to consider traveling "semi-independently." Have a travel agent book hotels and get you a car and driver for at least part of the time, for instance, but leave lots of time for your own exploring. In my experience most travel agents are willing to be flexible and give you exactly what you want. If you find yourself being pushed around or pressured, start looking for another. _______________________ Washington, D.C.: Which city do you suggest for a first trip to India—New Dehli or Mumbai? John Rambow: I've spent more time in New Delhi than Mumbai, so I'm biased, but I think that the capital's sheer amount of living history and monuments makes it a better choice for first-time travelers, especially since most of them will want to head to nearby Agr, site of the Taj Mahal. Bombay/Mumbai is amazing—I'd love to live there in another life—but its astonishing sprawl and traffic make it rough to get around. Delhi has sprawl too, but the roads are much better. (I think we can thank all the politicians who live there for that!) _______________________ Minneapolis, Minn.: Hi John! I'm a 38 year old female and be spending a month alone in India later this year. I depart from the U.S. on Dec. 20 and return on Jan. 17, flying in & out of Delhi. I'm doing a tour of the Rajasthan area for the first 3 weeks, but will then have 1 week to travel on my own from Jan. 11 until I depart on Jan. 17. I'm thinking about heading down to Kerala during that last week. First, I'd be curious if you had any suggestions for any other "don't miss" places to spend a week other than Kerala. Second, if I do stick with Kerala, do you know of any festivals worth checking out in the area at that time? Thanks much! Sara John Rambow: Hi Sara, Kerala is beautiful, and its lushness would be a good complement to Rajasthan's dusty desert. It might be that after three weeks of palaces, forts, and camels up north, you'll want to schedule a few days of lying by the sea or a pool. If you do head to Kerala, I'd firm up hotel plans soon -- the place is very popular, and many of the nicest hotels (whether luxury or cheaper) are small. I don't think there are any major festivals going on at that time, but certainly you should keep an eye open for any local celebrations that might be occurring... _______________________ Los Angeles, Calif.: I am going to Delhi to work for a few weeks. What are a few places close by that I should not miss? John Rambow: Not sure if you'll have more than the weekends to play with, but you'll obviously want to plan at least a couple days in and around Agra to see the Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri, and other sites. I'd also make sure to not neglect Delhi itself: the Red Fort and Old Delhi have more than enough for another weekend, and so does South Delhi, the location of a 12th century mosque with the impressive Qutub Minar (a huge minaret). A good day trip would be to the Swaminarayan Akshardham, a monumental modern Hindu temple in the eastern suburbs. It's full of awesome. And if you're a shopper, Delhi has lots of great options. _______________________ Napavine, Wash.: My husband and I are on a tour with Friendly Planet leaving New York Sept. 23 to New Delhi, India. We visit two other cities and then return Sept. 30th. In light of the recent bombings, do you have any advice for us? John Rambow: The Delhi bomb blasts on 13 September emphasized the unfortunate fact that modern India has and has always had a problem with terrorism -- most of it homegrown and directed at her own citizens rather than tourists. Although such violence is rare given the large population of India, it's wrong to ignore it, and people planning a visit should pay attention to the current situation of the areas they're heading to. Good sources? I'd recommend reading local editions of English-language newspapers online, including the Hindu and the Times of India as well as the U.S. State Department's page on India, which has links to updated notices from the local embassy. _______________________ Sacramento, Calif.: I'm traveling to India end of October. And I just found out that I need a Visa to get in and out of India. Do you know how long it takes to get a Visa? Also, is it safe for a single female to travel in India? John Rambow: You have time to get a visa, but apply ASAP. The Indian Government now outsources its visa process to an outside company. It's possible to get a visa in person in a day, but the nearest location is San Francisco. Getting one via mail takes about 5 business days, but I'd allow lots more time just in case. It is safe for a single female to travel in India, and lots of my friends have done just that. You will want to read up a bit on what to expect and common-sense precautions you can take: one common piece of advice is to consider wearing a wedding ring to fend off questions about why you're not married, when you think you'll be married, do you like Indian men etc. etc. _______________________ Washington, D.C.: Hi John, My dream is to visit India, and I plan to do so within the next few years. How plausible is it to try to hit up Mumbai, Calcutta, and New Delhi (along with a few must-see cities in each corresponding region) in a span of 3 to 4 weeks? Thanks! Jill John Rambow: I think you'll be tired out at the end of your visit. That itinerary only leaves you about 5-6 days in each place, once you count travel time and travel delays. Traveling in India is frequently tiring, and things rarely go exactly according to plan. I'd try to pare down the list and add more rural locations that are reachable from one of the major cities on your list—perhaps a nature park or just a small village. That'll give you a chance to see another side of India without traveling so much. _______________________ Guanajuato, Mexico: How is the oceanside state of GOA these days? My wife and I are considering a visit there after we spend sometime in Calcutta in late January 2009. Thanks for the input, Digger 35. John Rambow: Goa's great, and it can be a huge party as well as a relaxed, peaceful place. Personally, I like the extreme southern part, which is much less hectic. _______________________ Key West, Fla.: I am 75 years old, have seen all the remaining wonders of ancient world except the Taj Mahal, which I want to see before I die. Please tell me who gives a short week tour of Northern India for a single person, and the best time of year to go. Thank you very much. Lou John Rambow: The weather in December and Jan. is the best, but that's when the Taj is most crowded (it's astonishing, and not in a good way). You could wait until mid-March or so, but after that it will be scorching until the monsoons hit in mid-July. So go in winter. There are lots of good tour companies. I used Four Wheel Drive India to put together my own tour of the area, and they were very responsive. _______________________ Naperville, Ill.: John, We will be traveling to India for a wedding. We will be leaving Chicago on December 12th traveling to New Dehli, Jaipur and the wedding is in Jodipur(sp). What should be worn to a Indian wedding. It will be a 3 day event. What will the weather be like I have checked and it appears to be comforatable this time of year. I read that you should not wear black to a wedding. What about gifts? What is the accepted gift for the married couple? Cash? Thanks so much for your help. Nancy John Rambow: I think you'll find people wearing a variety of clothes to an Indian wedding. I'd wear a nice dress shirt and pants—for women, something equally "business casual." As for a gift, I think that cash is a good present. As for how much, relentlessly ask everyone you know who's going to find out how much they think is an appropriate amount. If you know the couple somewhat well, then maybe something cool from the US would also be a good option. _______________________ Newark, N.J.: What can I do around Hyderabad for 4 days? I am a woman alone awaiting my spouse to be done with his business dealings. Is it safe? John Rambow: I love Hyderabad, which combines some amazing Muslim monuments and fortresses with the dash of modern India. The main don't-misses here are Golconda Fort, a small former city-fortress a few miles west of the city; and the Old City of Hyderabad, where many things haven't changed since it was first settled in the 1600s. Also, if you have a weakness for malls, there are some good ones, including the Hyderabad Central. Although lots of tourists and local cringe at the hyper-capitalism on display in such places, I think they're as much India as the most ancient monuments. Uglier, perhaps, but still India! The city is very spread out, and aside from the oldest areas, it's can be a hard city to walk through. Major growth in recent years has led to serious problems with sprawl. I'd suggest getting a car and driver for sightseeing. Hyderabad is generally safe, but there were some serious bombings there last year. See the safety warnings I mentioned above. ______________________ John Rambow: Thanks for all the questions, and I hope the answers were helpful. Check out the Fodor's Guide to India for more help; I also recommend my former colleague Diane Mehta's Trip Coach from 2007.

Which Costa Rica Is Right for You?

SWIM BY CORAL REEFS AND WILDLIFE On the Pacific side of Costa Rica, lush rain forest enfolds Playa Manuel Antonio, a crescent-shaped stretch of white sand just outside the sportfishing town of Quepos. This popular beach and national park hits all the right notes for a tropical beach fantasy, from the capuchin monkeys that try to filch your possessions to the casado (a traditional mix of rice and beans) with mahimahi for $12 at oceanfront Marlin's Restaurant (506/2777-1134). The best snorkeling opportunities are in the waters above Costa Rica's most extensive coral reef, which lies off the southeastern coast near the Panamanian border. One fishing community here, palm-fringed Playa Manzanillo, offers a particularly irresistible laid-back vibe, with fishing boats drawn up on the sand and reggae music drifting from funky beachside bars. Activities in the area stretch beyond snorkeling to include boogie boarding and mountain biking. The Nicoya Peninsula in northwestern Costa Rica is the ultimate diving destination. Pinch your nose and plunge into a huge concentration of eagle rays, giant mantas, marine turtles, and whale sharks. Among the many fine dive sites here, the standout is Playa Ocotal, a silvery beach surrounded by craggy headlands (Ocotal Beach Resort diving safaris, GO DEEP INTO THE FOREST Wildlife abounds along the trails that lace many of the national parks and reserves in Costa Rica. For a misty and mystical jungle trek through a cloud forest, unsung Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve (, outside Santa Elena, fulfills everything an ecotourism enthusiast could desire. It crawls with quetzals, kinkajous, and howler monkeys. Unlike neighboring Monteverde Cloud Forest—more famous because it came first and helped put Costa Rica on the ecotourism map—Santa Elena has a handy observation tower. Keep an eye out for endangered spider monkeys, named for their unusually long gangly limbs and prehensile tails. Tucked away in Costa Rica's far southwest, near the surfing community of Pavones, the mountainside fruit farm Tiskita Jungle Lodge ( serves as a fantastic base for ecotourism (rates from $250, closed September and October). It stands in a rainforest reserve teeming with creatures like scarlet macaws, toucans, and agoutis, huge rodents the size of housecats. Tiskita's resident guide Luis Vargas enthralls visitors with explanations of the area's ecosystems on his day and night walks to local deep-forest waterfalls. If you opt instead for budget digs—like nearby Rancho Burica's thatched cabanas (, from $8)—you can still take advantage of Vargas's services by contacting the lodge. For a true challenge, attack the Sendero El Termometro trail in south central Costa Rica. The ascent takes two days. Depart from the nearby town of San Gerardo de Rivas, rise through cloud forest and alpine savannas, and reach the summit of the country's highest peak, the 12,530-foot Cerro Chirripó. Before your trek, contact the Parque Nacional Chirripó ranger station in San Gerardo de Rivas and reserve beds at the cozy mountain lodge Centro Ambientalista El Páramo, the sole lodging, a short distance below the summit; no camping is permitted (506/2742-5083). Guides can be arranged at the ranger station. GET YOUR ADRENALINE PUMPING Monkeys howl and toucans screech as you career down the Reventazón River, experiencing white-water rafting at its rollicking best. The rapids are roughest in the fall, when the water level is highest. The top outfitter is Ríos Tropicales ( in San José, which has more offerings than its competitors and a great reputation for trips down the Reventazón and Pacuare rivers; it even has its own isolated lodge on the Pacuare as a base for multiday trips. Get your heart pounding by taking a zip-line ride through the forest canopy. Among the dozens of options, the best is Sky Trek ( at Arenal, where you'll whizz along 1.7 miles of cables slung between towering trees. To get to the zip-line, you'll ride the Sky Tram (included in the Sky Trek experience), which offers views of Arenal volcano, a dramatic sight when it's venting. Children as young as 8 can enjoy the experience. Hop on an ATV for a four-wheel joyride. Paraíso Adventure (, at the Pacific beach resort of Jacó, about two hours southwest of San José, gets high marks for its Jungle & Safari Tour (from $85 per person for a half day). The company makes it easy for you to add to the thrill of an ATV excursion by showing you where you can splash through mud, roar up mountain slopes, and stop to swim under a chilly waterfall. 7 INSIDER TIPS 1. Costa Rican hotels are notorious for not honoring reservations. If you book by phone or fax, be sure to get a written confirmation. Prior to arrival, reconfirm. 2. Staying at a mid-priced hotel? Bring your own shampoo, washcloth, and even sink plug. Quite a few hotels lack these. 3. Planning to view birds or other wildlife? Pack khaki clothing, so you can blend in with the rain forest. And once you're on the trail, be patient. If a troop of monkeys passes overhead, wait quietly for a few minutes. Ground-dwelling animals may emerge afterward to feed on fruits dropped by the monkeys. 4. Even drivers of official taxicabs—red with a yellow sign with the plate number on each front door—can be reluctant to use the meter (la maria). Insist that yours does so, or expect to pay more than the meter rate. Alternately, check with your hotel concierge for the appropriate fare to your destination, and settle on a rate with the driver before you set off. 5. Parking a rental car at a surfers' beach? Don't leave anything in your vehicle. Break-ins have reached epidemic proportions, especially along the Nicoya Peninsula. 6. Riptides—narrow, fast-moving ocean currents that flow away from shore—claim many swimmers' lives each year. Ask locals about sea conditions before you dive in. Most riptides (also known as rip currents) are not identifiable to everyday beachgoers. If you get caught in one, swim parallel to shore to escape. 7. Rainforest Publications' waterproof, pocket-size, foldout field guides are handy for identifying wildlife species. They're widely available in gift shops in Costa Rica and from the company directly ( TIMING Costa Rica's dry season (November through April) has the best weather, but it is also the high season, when rates increase. The May through October wet season is cheaper and less crowded. PRICE INDEX • Pint of locally brewed Imperial beer: $2 (1,115 colones) • Plate of gallo pinto, rice and beans with traditional salsa lizano: $3.25 (1,800 colones) • Hand-painted ox cart souvenir: $7 (3,899 colones) • Taxi ride ( from the airport to downtown San José: $16-$20 (8,912-11,142 colones) • Average rate for a two-star hotel in San José: $50-$60 (27,855-33,426 colones)

Official Rules: My Budget Travel Kickoff Contest

Contest Start Date: September 17, 2008 Official Rules. No Purchase Necessary HOW TO ENTER: No purchase necessary. The contest begins on September 17, 2008 at 12:01 p.m. EST and ends on November 17, 2008 at 11:59 p.m. EST (the "Entry Period"). Enter this contest by visiting during the Entry Period. No more than fifteen (15) entries per person will be eligible. ELIGIBILITY: Open to legal residents of the 50 United States and its territories, except Arizona. Employees and their immediate families, including household members, of the Sponsor, Newsweek Budget Travel, Inc. ("Budget Travel" or "Sponsor"), Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive ("WPNI"), Air Pacific Holidays, Sonaisali Island Resort and each of their parents, affiliates, subsidiaries, divisions, dealers and advertising and promotion agencies are not eligible. CONDITIONS OF ENTRY: You must be the registered subscriber of the e-mail account which you used to create your my Budget Travel account at the time of entry. To enter a journal, photo or video in the contest, log in to my Budget Travel and upload your entry. Your first five (5) submissions each of journals, photos, and videos submitted during the Entry Period will be the only submissions that will be considered (i.e., nor more than 15 entries total per person, and no more than five (5) in each category). Videos must be in FLV, WMV, ASF, AVI, MOV, 3GP, MPG, MPEG, or MP4 format and less than 100MB in size. Photos must be in JPG, GIF, or PNG format and less than 8MB in size. Incomplete entries will not be accepted. All entries become the property of Budget Travel. By participating, entrants agree to these Official Rules, including all eligibility requirements. By entering this contest, you consent to Sponsor's use of your name for promotional purposes, including online announcements, without additional compensation, except where prohibited by law. Neither the Sponsor, its parents, nor respective affiliates, subsidiaries, divisions, advertising and promotion agencies, or any telephone network or service providers are responsible for the incorrect or inaccurate transcription of entry information; any human error, technical malfunctions, or lost/delayed data transmission; any omission, interruption, deletion, defect, or line failures of any telephone network, computer equipment, or software; inability to access any website or online service, or any other error or malfunction, or late, lost, or misdirected entries. PRIZE: One (1) grand prize winner will be selected for the best travel journal, as determined by the editors, that also receives a high rating from the my Budget Travel community. Two (2) first prize winners also will be selected, one (1) for the best photo submission and one (1) for the the best video submission, each as determined by the editors and which also receive a high rating from the my Budget Travel community. The grand prize winner will receive the "Fiji Vacation" prize package supplied by Air Pacific and Sonaisali Island Resort, which includes: Roundtrip economy tickets for two (2) to Nandi, Fiji from a major airport nearest winner's home, seven (7) nights hotel stay for winner and guest with daily buffet breakfast, ground transfers to and from the airport in Fiji and one (1) jungle cruise for winner and guest. Blackout dates may apply. Estimated retail value of the prize package is $6,300. Airport taxes, customs fees and 9/11 security fees are additional and the responsibility of winner. All travel must be completed within ninety (90) days from the date the ticket is issued, but, in any event, no later than December 15, 2009. The two (2) first prize winners will each receive a $500 American Express gift card. The winners will be selected on or about December 15, 2008 by's editors from all eligible entries received during the Entry period. In determining the winners, in addition to the quality of the submission, the editors will consider the rating the submission receives from the my Budget Travel community's members. Odds of winning depend upon the number of eligible entries received during the Entry Period. All taxes are the sole responsibility of the winner. Sponsor will report any individual winnings over $600 (in cash or fair market value of goods or services) in a one year period to the Internal Revenue Service. Winners will receive a Form 1099 from Sponsor if Sponsor reports any winnings to the Internal Revenue Service. No prize substitution, cash substitution, or assignment or transfer of prizes is permitted, except by Sponsor for reason of unavailability, in which case a prize of equal or greater value will be awarded. Prizes not claimed or claimed unlawfully will not be awarded. Sponsor reserves the right to cancel this promotion at anytime. Contest is void where prohibited by law. Subject to availability, nontransferable, nonnegotiable. By entering this contest, entrant agrees that Sponsor has the sole right to decide all disputes arising from the contest and its determination of the winners and decisions with respect to all aspects of this contest are final. Winners must be at least 21 years of age and hold valid identification at time of travel (including, for the grand prize winner and his/her guest, a valid passport at the time of travel); all travel is based upon availability; trips are nontransferable and not redeemable for cash; all decisions are final. The winners will be notified by email only. Each winner is required to sign an affidavit of eligibility/publicity (except where prohibited by law), confirming that he/she has complied with contest rules, and a liability release, and return them properly executed, within fourteen (14) days of attempted notification as a condition of awarding the prize. Grand prize winner's guest (or, if guest is a minor, guest's guardian) will also be required to sign a release. If prize notification is returned as undeliverable or the winners (or grand prize winner's guest) fails to return the affidavits, authorization and release as specified, the winner will be disqualified and an alternate winner will be selected or, if sufficient alternates cannot be notified prior to January 30, 2009, un-awarded prizes will be forfeited. If, in Sponsor's opinion, there is any suspected or actual evidence of electronic or non-electronic tampering with any portion of the contest, or if technical difficulties compromise the integrity of the contest, Sponsor reserves the right to terminate the contest and determine the winner to whom the prizes will be awarded using all entries received as of the termination date. Any attempt to deliberately damage the content or operation of this contest is unlawful and subject to legal action by Sponsor or its agents. Sponsor reserves the right to terminate, modify or suspend this contest due to extraordinary circumstances. GENERAL: This contest is subject to all federal, state, and local laws. Void where prohibited. Each winner agrees that Sponsor, WPNI, Air Pacific Holidays, Sonaisali Island Resort and each of their parents, affiliates and agencies and each of their respective officers, employees, managers, agents, successors or assignees shall not be liable for injury, loss or damage of any kind resulting from participating in this contest or from the acceptance or use of any prize awarded. Sponsor reserves the right to verify eligibility qualifications of any winner. U.S. law governs this contest. WINNERS LIST: For the name of the winner, after December 20, 2008, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to: Contest, 530 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10018. Requests received more than sixty (60) days after December 20, 2008, will not be honored.