[spotlight series. Kalle Carranza & Lucy Mejia]

A modern beach bohemia on the Nayarit Peninsula, an hour north of Puerto Vallarta, Sayulita was once an impoverished but picturesque fishing village when the first American surfers appeared there in the early 70s. Amid dense jungle, scorpions, and wild parrots, these brave adventurers basically had to hack their way to what would become known as one of Mexico’s most sensational boarding waves.

Not so remote or hidden anymore, Sayulita still has a super chilled vibe (and good waves). Christmas and New Year are chaos, but outside of that week (as well as the first week of April for Mexican Spring Break, apparently), the beaches are clean and beautiful, and only lightly sprinkled with bronzing bodies. Sayulita savors a slower pace. This low-key getaway lures all sorts of sun-seeking tourists from around the world who gather here to recharge on vitamin D, yoga, and surf.

Cobblestone streets circle the central plaza – where tourists and locals gather – and Huichol Indian artists sell their handwoven crafts. You will pass taco carts, fresh-squeezed juice stands, bread and pastry sellers, churro stalls, and local musicians. The streets here are tired, dusty, and somewhat bedraggled… but we don’t mind this kind of scene. And the locals are super friendly – they greet you before you greet them, but don’t harass or bother you in anyway.

Beautiful sunsets are enjoyed daily by the fisherman, the fisherman’s wives, their children, the surfers, the beach bums, the retirees, the locals, and tourists alike. It’s a fun little place to chill and recharge, or party, or both. The margaritas flow freely… and somehow, they are hangover-free. Just the way we like it.

1. To eat…

Although small, this town has a lot to offer by way of food. Eating is oftentimes the focus when livin' la vida Mexicana, and Sayulita’s weekly organic farmer's market (held each Friday) was the highlight of our foodie experience. We fell in love with Sandrita’s healthy and delicious baked treats (try her vegan slice, her blue corn & banana muffins, and her gluten-free chocolate brownies) – also available at her restaurant,Tacos on the Street. It is at the market that we also met (and instantly fell head-over-heels for!) Lucy, a beautiful Australian girl from Byron Bay, who moved to Sayulita with her Mexican husband to start La Esperanza, a delicious wholefoods café. They sell some of their healthy delights at the weekly market, including their unbelievable raw cacao balls, delicious dhal, and quinoa salads. Look out also for great breads, amazing falafel, fresh fruit & veg, and organic kombuchas. For the weeks we were there, Friday could not come soon enough.

2. For tacos…

Try these 4 spots for our absolute favorites:

* For the best fish tacos look no further than Miguel’s Fish Tacos (opposite Paninos). Miguel and his friendly crew dish up fresh and healthy grilled mahi-mahi, snapper, and shrimp tacos, day and night. Try one of Miguel’s delicious blended margaritas as well.

* For delicious vegetarian tacos, head to Naty’s Kitchen. There is always a big queue down the street at this super clean and healthy taco joint. Get there early; the fillings sell out and your options start diminishing the later you go. We love the pulled chicken (it’s not all vegetarian!).

* For our favorite, and the most wholesome and delicious, try Lucy’s fish tacos at La Esperanza.

* Finally, for the most local experience, head north on Avenida Revolucion until you spot the tacos al pastor vendor selling his marinated pork on the vertical rotisseries outside Carniceria Trunco's. Watch this grill master at work. Notice the piece of fresh pineapple on top of the meat (a Mexican tradition); its sweet juice drips over the meat, breaking down the protein and making it very tender. After you order, he'll thinly slice the crusty meat directly on a small, homemade corn tortilla and cover it with onion, cilantro, lime juice, salsa, and a small slice of pineapple.

3. For breakfast…

La Esperanza again takes the cake for their healthy spin on Mexican cuisine, with all sorts of deliciousness including quinoa bowls with coconut yoghurt and fruit, and delicious buckwheat pancakes. Another favorite isYah Yah’sfor their fruit salad, yoghurt, and granola (try this on a waffle as well!), and great lattes (choose from rice, soy, and almond milk). Just be careful of the bees!

4. For the best smoothie in town…

Go and say hi to our mate Isaac at Smoothies Mi Buenon the bridge. Isaac worked in the hospitality industry until opening his smoothie stand 3 years ago. He makes healthy and delicious concoctions that will fill you up perfectly and provide a nourishing start to your day. We were somewhat partial to the “Perfect Breakfast” – banana, spinach, oats, coconut, almond milk, and whey protein. So good!! He also knows how to spin a good tune from his ipod.

5. For lunch…

La Esperanza (again!) is our favorite, for an ever-changing menu of home-made, wholesome goodness. Think homemade dhal, quinoa salad, and Mexican slow-cooked beef. Also, amazing juices (watermelon and mint - our favorite), and delightful sweets (we love their cacao balls packed with dates and nuts). Be sure to visit the organic market on Friday mornings as well, where Lucy has a few of her offerings for sale.

6. For an afternoon coffee and snack…

Head to Taco’s on the Street (on Avenida Revolucion, across the street from the International School). Don’t be deceived by the name! Sandrita is known as Sayulita’s leading baking lady! Sandrita’s apple and blackberry crumble, her vegan bar, and her blue corn, mango, coconut, and banana muffins are all to die for. She also does a great coffee and some killer smoothies. Wifi also on offer.

Always full with gringos, and known as Sayulita’s original coffee shop and café, Choco Banana is good for a quick drink stop. A good people-watching spot right on the plaza, we kept going back for their Choco banana frappe: frozen coffee ice cubes, banana, and chocolate – blended with milk. They also do a mean frozen banana dipped in chocolate!

7. Best sandwiches….

Can be found at Paninos. They have a great range of fresh and homemade bread and pastries, and do some great baguettes – perfect if you plan on doing a day trip at another beach.

8. For dinner, our favorites include…

Green Grill: new this season, head there for a beautiful ambience (think fairy lights, open kitchen and bar, living green wall) and great, simple, healthy food. The grilled salmon and the filet mignon were standouts. Choose your sides (grilled veggies) and salads. All delicious. Great wines as well.

Pizza Venezia: (BYO) be prepared to wait, but worth it, the wait shall be! The most authentic Italian-style pizza to be found in Sayulita. Perfect thin base. Gluten-free option as well, and good salads and pasta. We love this little strip – less touristy, more laid-back and friendly. Another great spot is the Argentinian grill across the road. Say hi to Nano, the hard-working Argentinian working the outside grill on the street!

Miro Vino: for home made pasta, decent pizzas, and great fish dishes. Lovely outdoor setting, just steps up from the main square.

Don Pedro: on the main beach. This upscale restaurant (for Sayulita, anyway) is where we spent our Christmas dinner. Beautiful views and a lovely ambience, the food here did not disappoint. The highlight was the whole snapper. More expensive than most, this makes for a beautiful (more fancy) night out.

9. Others that we tried, and liked…

Café Sayulita: located on the main street coming into town, half a block from the plaza. We loved their beef fajitas and grilled fish dishes. The margaritas here are also something special!

Don Juan: slightly out of town, but lovely, romantic setting.

Mar Platain San Pancho, 15 minutes from Sayulita, but amazing food and ambience. Great seafood. 

10. To drink…

La Zouave de Hotel Hafa…our absolute favorite! Next to Le Petit Hafa, Christophe’s cute adjoining bar is the perfect place to while away a night after dinner. They make a killer cucumber margarita!! Or try their delicious berry caiprinha. Good tunes as well.

El Barrilito is a cute little red bar on the corner of the square. Fun for an evening drink, or even a quick lunch. The coconut shrimp was delicious.

11. To sleep…

Petit Hotel d'Hafa: owned by Christophe and his Spanish wife Marina, this gorgeous six-room boutique hotel is a winsome bit of Morocco in the middle of town, just steps from the water, with barrel-vaulted ceilings, chartreuse polished-cement floors, and pierced-tin wall lights in the shape of angel wings. Our favorite place to stay in town.

Casablancawe liked the beachside location of this white-colored resort. A great pool that hugs the beach, the hotel is perfectly situated away from the hustle and bustle of the centre of town.

Villa Amorsweeping ocean vistas from these hill-hugging suites, and a sexy room concept that does away with outside walls and invites you to see Sayulita through a rustling fringe of palm fronds.

Haramara: a serenely stylish, magnificently groomed yoga-and-meditation compound that accepts nonpractitioners without making them feel like second-class guests. Sixteen palapas scattered on a jungle bluff overlooking the Pacific a few minutes out of town have no electricity, only kerosene lamps and candles.

If you are looking for something more budget-friendly, we highly recommend both Hostal Casa Amistad and the Sayulita Trailer Park & Bungalows. The private rooms at the Hostal are spacious, clean, and accommodating (USD50 per night); and we had a great 2-bedroom apartment at the Sayulita Trailer Park, with sunroom, bathroom, kitchen, and living room, for only USD80 per night.

Another option: check out for a wide variety of Spanish-style vacation homes, apartments, and villas.

12. To do…

* Hire paddleboards/surfboards from Kalle at Lunazul Surf School, and book in for some surf lessons as well. We loved nothing more than starting our day with an hour-long paddleboard session out from the main beach. On our last morning, we were completely blessed to be out in the ocean with two enormous, peaceful humpback whales playing in the waters just 100m in front of us. We named them Esperanza and Fortuna! Awe-inspiring creatures. Kalle (half Mexican/half Finnish) and his team are super friendly and can offer up some sweet recos for surf spots off the tourist map. Kalle gave us a great tip about La Lancha - a surf beach 20mins south of Sayulita.

* Day trip to La Lancha (700 peso/USD55 return trip in a cab) – great surf spot 20mins south of Sayulita. The only catch is you have to have a board to enter this spot. The entrance is guarded by security, and they wont let you in unless you have a surfboard or boogie board. Grab a board from Lalunazul. Stop at KM5 (in Higuera Blanca) on the way home, for a beer and guacamole on the rooftop. Great tunes and views over the jungle.

* Yoga, yoga, and more yoga. We recommend the beautiful yoga classes and yoga shala up on the hill (with breathtaking views over the ocean) at Mexifit. We also love Nara’s classes at Yoga Paraiso.

* Massage: try a Thai massage with Nara at Yoga Paraiso (USD65), or any variety of massage at the more commercial Nirvana, in the centre of town, just one block from the square.

* Weekly Organic Food Market (Mercado del Pueblo): every Friday on Calle Miramar.

* Arrange a private chef: Carlos Rojas works for catering company ITAKATE. He is an excellent chef and extremely professional. Our tastebuds were spoiled by his delicious homemade shrimp ravioli, sautéed sea bass with cauliflower puree, and red wine pears with homemade ice cream. For more information, email:

* Rent a car / golf buggy / boat!

* Day trip to San Pancho: just 10mins north of Sayulita (200 peso/$15 return cab ride). A smaller, somewhat quieter, version of Sayulita. A beautiful long, white, sandy beach and some cute spots to eat/drink.

* Walk and explore! Continue along the beachside road in Sayulita to visit the city's cemetery. On many of the graves you'll see decorations and flowers from the Day of the Dead, when local families go to visit their dead relatives. If you go to the cemetery, pack your bathing suit and walk through to the secluded beach called La Playa de Los Muertos. It's where local families like to go, and the surf is calm. Nice place for a picnic.

13. To shop…

Gypsy Gallery is our favorite store in town. Colorful, chaotic, and jam-packed full of Mexican tiles, pareus, antique oriental rugs, textiles, leather bags, Day of the Dead papier-mâché figures, plates, tray, jewelry, and Frida Kahlo-inspired anything and everything.

Pachamamathis colorful, gyspet boutique is on the main brick path down to the beach. Inside you’ll find cute leather bags, jewelry, beach towels and homewares. Sininen Surf Shop, a few doors down, has some good surf-friendly bikinis on offer.

El Revolution del Sueno for home goods embroidered in ultra neon colors. Think tees, hoodies, cards, posters, bags, beach towels, sarongs, jewelry, and sunglasses.

14. Things to note…

Getting there: From Puerto Vallarta, you can take a taxi for approx. 650 pesos (USD50) one-way. Otherwise, walk over the pedestrian bridge outside the entrance and get the bus (for only 25 pesos, USD2). This only takes a little longer than a cab, and drops you off near the centre of town. Another option is to organize ashuttle service from Sayulita for about USD130 round trip.

Money: There are several ATMs in Sayulita – but they often run out of cash! A bit of a problem, given Sayulita is almost entirely a cash economy. You can use US dollars at some stores, but it's definitely better to use pesos. Try to grab pesos at the airport first if you can.

Weather: Winter is a perfect time to visit: clear skies, highs in the low to mid 80s, and lows in the high 60s or low 70s. Summer is the rainy and hotter season (crazy humidity at times) – but still paradise.

Tourist Cards: This applies for any trip to Mexico. Do not lose this card. You need it to leave the country. You will get one on the plane going to Mexico and it will be stamped by Mexican immigration upon entry. Should you lose the card a new one will be issued at the airport, but it will take time and cost money.

San miguel de allende

san miguel de allende.

[spotlight series. harmeet kaur sidhu & jim blakley]

[our San Miguel soundtrack]

The timing could not have been better…the day after returning from my first trip to San Miguel this past October, Condé Nast Traveler announced the winners of its 26th Annual Readers’ Choice Awards. As they do each year, CNT readers vote on a number of different travel-related categories, including the world’s best cities. Paris, for example, was surprisingly down the bottom of the “Top 25 Cities in the World” list at number 22, however quaint little San Miguel came in as number 1 !! A big call, perhaps, but it certainly was love at first sight, when I arrived in this special sixteenth-century city. I was completely swept away by the magic.

This artist colony town – only 4hours North-West of Mexico City - is full of beauty and romance, cobblestoned streets, art galleries, beautiful churches, amazing views and great restaurants. It is also heaving with expatriates (particularly Canadian and American retirees) – largely the reason San Miguel was on my radar in the first place. One of my oldest and best friends from Canada’s father - Jim - has lived here for the past eight years. And it was on invitation by Jim, that I made my first trip to San Miguel in October. The Mayor of San Miguel, as I like to call him. There was no better tour guide.

Always alive with color and sound – expect to be woken by the ringing of church bells, firecrackers, brass marching bands, or if you are there in December – the sounds of Las Posadas. Christmas is always our favorite time of year – but especially so in San Miguel – where the streets are aglow with fairy lights, Christmas decorations, nativity plays, stalls selling brightly red poinsettias, las posadas, food markets, Christmas trees and so on. There is a special magic in the air.

Having been given the opportunity to sublet a friend’s casita for a couple of months, I decided to make San Miguel my temporary home in the lead up to Christmas... here are a few of my favorite things.

1. For breakfast and coffee…

Start the day with coffee and an omelette on the rooftop at Buen Dia Cafe. Carlos the owner/barista, has a kind face and warm smile, and does the best lattes in town. We love the William omelette (egg whites, cheese, mushrooms, spinach and avocado) with your choice of salad, potatoes, beans, and then fruit juice or fruit salad, as well! This is our daily stop.

For something a little more special…venture beyond the red façade of this hidden gem. Posada Corazon is a beautiful B&B and organic garden, serving healthy and high quality, organic breakfasts (available to non-guests as well), using fruit and vegetables from their own garden. All sauces, tamales, bread, granola, yoghurt and orange marmalade (a traditional San Miguel recipe) are homemade at the Posada. For 165 pesos ($13)…you will be offered tea, coffee or homemade Mexican hot chocolate (which is a must: this rich, creamy, sweet sensation, is quite possibly the best cup of chocolate you will ever experience), freshly baked cookies, homemade tamales and then your choice of main meal (eggs (try the “divorced eggs”), homemade granola and yoghurt, oatmeal etc).

2. For lunch…

Mesa Grande is a cute corner bakery/café with amazing homemade breads (we love their sourdough baguette), pastries, salads, sandwiches and wood-oven pizzas. Decent coffee as well. They also open for dinner some nights, check menu on the door.

El Café de la Mancha: cute little place, tucked away on Recreo Street, just two blocks from the Jardin. Run by young and friendly locals. Great coffee, delicious chai, juices, smoothies, paninis etc, and very happy service.

Café Rama: down the street from the Rosewood Hotel, Café Rama has a lovely ambience. Open fireplaces keep the space warm in winter. Big, comfy sofas you can relax on. Interesting and diverse menu. Good juices too.

Via Organica: this cute organic café and providore, is a fabulous healthy option. Part of the not-for-profit Mexican organization – Organic Way AC, whose mission is to promote healthy eating through organic agriculture, fair trade, a healthy lifestyle and protecting the planet. Local farmers provide organic produce. Come here for lunch or dinner. Great soups, salads, vegetarian lasagna and other delicious healthy options. Alcohol served as well.

Rent bikes (see below) and pedal out to: La Temporada– an organic farm and restaurant, 20mins out of town. Be warned that it’s a bumpy ride along the cobblestoned streets to get there…but the ride is worth it. You will find a lush and sprawling organic farm, with a cute store selling organic greens, and a little café (made from shipping pallets) with a changing organic menu. Friendly service, in a quiet and peaceful setting. A lovely afternoon outing.

3. For an afternoon treat…

Stop by Helado Italiano, for all-natural homemade ice cream, just meters from the Parroquia. My friend was a happy man when he discovered their mantequilla (peanut butter) flavor! A delicious range of yoghurt and sorbets as well.

4. To drink…

Visit the rooftop terrace of the Rosewood Hotel at dusk, for a sundowner. Watch the beautiful colors of San Miguel change in front of you. There is no better view. If it is summer when you are visiting San Miguel, be sure to spend a day by the pool: non-guests can use the pool if they spend USD20 per person on food and drinks.

Happy hour at Hanks (previously known as Harry’s!) - a mainstay (according to Jimbo!) on any San Miguel Itinerary. Owned and operated by an American expat. Known for its two-for-one specials – sit amongst other expats, enjoy a couple of Coronas (the complimentary popcorn) during happy hour! Very gringo, but a busy and fun atmosphere. A good place to start the night.

5. For dinner…

La Sirena Gorda (The Fat Mermaid) is a must. Originally a cantina in the 1800’s – where women, members of the military and police officers were not allowed – this old-style gentlemen’s club still has its swinging bar doors, dim light and the original urinal in the wall of the bar (so men didn’t have to stop drinking in order to relieve themselves). Great tacos. We favor the marinated octopus on flour tortilla. also loved the white fish ceviche tostadas. shared an artichoke as well - the biggest thing I have ever seen so far!! and fish tacos were great as well. Super strong margaritas (order their signature ginger or tamarind ones), great cosy little vibe.

Or, street tacos…there are dozens of taco carts to choose from. We favor the big taco stand on Insurgentes, near Calle Relox. Order tacos, carnitas, tortas and tamales!

The Restaurant: Donnie Masterton is the well-renowned chef/owner of this high-end restaurant, with its “ultra-urban-hacienda” décor, and famous for its “burger night” each Thursday. The burgers are delicious. We love “La Hippy” – the veggie burger with quinoa, carrot, garlic, onion, sprouts, cucumber, tomato and tahini yoghurt; the “La Griega” – ground lamb with roasted tomatoes, feta, pickled onions and spinach; or the “El fillet o fish” – a wasabi salmon burger with apple-jicama slaw, sesame ginger mayo and sweet potato chips. All burgers are served with house cured pickles and crisp potatoes. Be sure to hit up Hotel Matilda for a post-dinner drink, to take advantage of the Thursday night “ladies’ night” drink specials!

La Parada: a beautiful space, La Parada is a Peruvian bistro on Recreo serving up some seriously good ceviche! Our favorite, the house ceviche is a lovely combo of white fish, sweet potato, corn and coconut milk. We also love the “arroz afrodisiaco”: the Peruvian version of paella, jam-packed full of delicious seafood. Good selection of wines. Nice, airy room. Attentive (but somewhat over-bearing) service.

Fenicia: a great option when you are craving something from the Middle East! This little Lebanese restaurant is nothing fancy, but offers great hummus, babaganoush, falafel…and all the other mainstays.

6. To market, to market…

Visit the Organic Market, held near the Instituto Allende, each Saturday morning from 8:30am-2:30pm. Make sure you are hungry for lunch, as you will find some delicious tacos, tamales and burgers on offer. Grab a seat at one of the long tables, and hang out with other locals. You will find stalls selling everything from organic ice cream to cheese to chocolate to olive oil to fruit and veg, plus a lot more.

Natura: visit this cute organic store (opposite the Instituto Allende) – for all your organic groceries – their granola is a stand-out. Also, home made peanut butter, soups, and salads.

7. To sleep…

Casa Calderoni: we love the location of this cute Bed and Breakfast, opposite Buen Dia Café, in a cute cobblestone street. Lovely views from the rooftop terrace, Travel and Leisure Magazine ranked Casa Calderoni “one of the two best valued accommodations in all of San Miguel”.

Rosewood: if you are looking for something more high-end, this large-scale luxury boutique hotel is perfect. The rooftop terrace/bar here offers undeniably the best vantage point over San Miguel – the views are insane. There is a large pool, with comfortable daybeds, gym, spa, yoga etc.

Hotel Matilda: this modern boutique hotel – with 32 rooms and suites – is nestled among the brightly colored houses of Calle Aldama. Featuring an eclectic collection of art – including a Diego Rivera portrait of the hotel owner’s mother Matilda in the lobby – this hotel was voted one of the best hotels in Mexico by Conde Nast Traveler Magazine in October 2013.

La Cocina Cooking School and B&B: we found this cute spot on AirBnB. Located in San Antonio, one of San Miguel’s neighboring suburbs (only 15mins walk to the center), this is a nice, more local and quiet alternative. Kristen Rudolph (an American) and her Mexican partner are lovely hosts. Their colorful casita has a few lovely, well-appointed rooms with views over the mountains, comfortable beds and spacious bathrooms. Kristen has lived in Mexico for many years, and has been running La Cocina Cooking School for sometime. La Cocina offers one day classes in Mexican cooking – from basic guacamole, to more complex moles. Kris generally teaches classes twice a week, by reservation only (

8. To do…

Rent bikes and explore San Miguel and its surrounds.

For some pampering, visit the Jasmine Day Spa: run by a lovely local guy – Carlos Ortega (whose art adorns the walls). Come here for a massage, waxing or nails. Lovely staff. Nice, airy space, upstairs in the centre of town.

Visit Fabrica La Aurora: a former textile factory that has been turned into a beautiful art and design center – housing artist studios, contemporary art galleries, antiques, and cafes.

Learn Spanish!!...take some private lessons with Griselda. A lovely, gentle local woman, and wonderful tutor – Griselda charges 130 pesos per hour (for one person), or 150 pesos per hour (for two). You can choose where you meet for your lesson. My pick: Buen Dia Café, on the sunny rooftop, with a Carlos latte in hand.

Jump on a horse…we highly recommend getting out into the countryside on horseback. No better way to experience the amazing rivers, canyons, mountains and stunning vistas of San Miguel’s surrounds – alongside local cowboys. We suggest booking with Beth at Leisurely Country Horseback Riding. Originally from New Jersey, Beth has lived in San Miguel for 8 years, and started this horseback riding business, working with a local community, about 2 years ago. For a 2.5 hour trail ride (tailored to your experience level) expect to pay USD60. Beth and her team of local cowboys, will take you on a wonderful journey. For an extra 70pesos (USD5), enjoy a delicious home made lunch of fresh homemade chaya (a green superfood) juice, home made corn tortillas, quesadillas, cactus salad, guacamole, rice, and beans.

Do yoga…plenty of options available, but our favorite is Alejandro’s 8am class (Mon/Wed/Fri) at the Arthur Murray Dance School. A bargain at 70pesos (USD5)for 1.5hours. A Hatha yoga class, this is a beautiful way to start your day. We also tried an Ashtanga yoga class at the Rosewood Hotel – held in a small, sunny room inside their gymnasium.

Spend an afternoon by the pool at Shanti San Miguel. 20mins out of town, this Indian-style haveli is run by an American woman, Brett, and is a lovely place to sit and chill and enjoy the sunshine. Brett can pick you up from the Mega supermarket in town, to drive you out to her property.

Do what the locals do, and hang out in the Jardin. Park yourself on a park bench and watch the world go by…witness locals selling ice cream or blackened corn; balloon-sellers; tourists taking photos of the Parroquia; old men in cowboy hats soaking up the sun; and the mariachis playing their tunes. There is always something going on. I am still completely awe-struck every time i look at the beauty that is the Parroquia, my most favorite church in the world. I could sit there and stare at it for days! 

Day trip to Guanajuato: a colorful (even more so than San Miguel) university town, less than 2 hours away. Get a bus or cab. Wander the steep streets. Grab lunch at the huge undercover market (Mercado Hidalgo) and meander through all the stalls – from food to handicrafts and everything in between.

Getting there…

The closest airport is in Leon/Guanajuato…one hour from San Miguel. Alternatively, fly into Mexico City and then take the bus. We love the buses in Mexico. More comfortable (and more leg room) than a first-class flight, you will travel in comfort and style, receive a lunch bag, and have wifi for your journey! There are many different bus companies to use: a one-way trip will cost you around USD30-40. From the bus station in San Miguel, it is a short 5-10min cab ride into the town center.

Mexico City

mexico city.

[spotlight series. “isra” jesus ortega  & andres isoardarrangoiz]

[our Mexico City soundtrack]

Someone once said, "Mexico City, like tequila, is an acquired taste"...for me, it was a taste I liked immediately.

Sure it can be loud and congested – and potentially overwhelming for some – but this city, packed full of high culture and lowdown fun, is exciting, lively and impressive – and the energy is intoxicating.

Lush green parks and gardens, sprawling tangles of wide European boulevards, stunning colonial architecture, modern design, an up-and-coming food scene, friendly locals, hundreds of galleries and museums, and enviable fiestas! Mexico City sure knows how to party.

Having not made a visit since 2005, it made complete sense to spend a few days in this energetic city on my way back to LA, after a short visit to the Pacific Coast in October. Three nights was just enough time to re-scratch the surface; to pound the pavement; and to unravel some new and exciting finds. Enough time too, to work out I need to get back here fast. This city has a whole lot more to offer.

1. To sleep...

Roma Norte (think art-nouveau mansions, tree-lined streets, artists aplenty, and cute boutiques) or Condesa (Mexico City’s answer to the West Village in New York City) are our pick of the neighborhoods for somewhere to rest your weary bones. We often favor an Airbnb rental (over a hotel), and there is no better place than in Mexico City. We have rented apartments in Condesa, Roma and the Hippodrome over the past few months…and can especially recommend any of the apartments on offer from Fernando. Check out some of his cute pied-a-tierres here.

If you would prefer a hotel experience, we recommend the cute, boutique hotel CondesaDF – tucked away in a quiet, tree-lined Condesa street, across from the Parque Espana. Part of the Mexican hotel group, Habita, there is a great rooftop bar, restaurant and spa. We have a penchant for some of their other properties as well – their one Downtown, simply named Downtown Mexico - two blocks from the Zocalo, is a former palace which has 17 rooms, many with exposed brick walls and wood-beam ceilings, as well as a great rooftop pool and bar. Hotel Habita – in ritzy Polanco – is super minimalist, glass and lots of white-on-white. It also has a killer rooftop pool. Our favorite though is definitely CondesaDF, firstly for its perfect location and next, the aesthetic. We had also been recommended Hotel Brick in Condesa, but were sad to find it was all holed up and no longer operating when we went to check it out.

2. Start your day... 

With a fresh fruit “jugos” (juice) from one of the local jugos stands on the street. For approx. 18 pesos (US$1.40), you can fuel up on any combination of fruit, or even a “Licuados” (a shake/smoothie).  Choose your potion – fruit, milk, oats, nuts, granola, protein powder, cinnamon etc. There are stacks of these around town. We seemed to frequent a great little one however, near the corner of Puebla y Orizaba, in Colonia Roma.

3. For breakfast...if we are not eating Mexican tortas from the friendly street vendors (we voted the senorita on the SW corner of Alfonso Reyes and Tamaulipas in Condesa, as best on ground – the queues for her juicy bollilos (crusty bread rolls) packed full of slow-cooked pork, chicken or steak, refried beans, queso, avocado, jalapeno etc – speak for themselves) – try the chilaguiles and milanesa combo; we found a couple of cute cafes, for a more Western fix.  We liked the ambience and delicious homemade breads at Delirio Monica Patino on Alvaro Obregón. We also just discovered their little sister– Abarottes Delirio –located on the tree-lined Colima Street, which offers similar fare and great coffee as well. Panaderia–  across the road on Colima Street – is our new favorite though! A tiny little hole in the wall, sit at the bar and order delicious lattes, and the most spectacular bread and pastries in the city! We also love their fruit plate, with granola and yoghurt.

Another surprise - a cute, new Sunday brunch pop-up concept. American Juliet Lambert, owner of Spice Catering, decided to open a temporary Sunday brunch spot in the basement of Hostel 333 in the Roma Norte district. Open only on Sundays from 10am-4pm, Spice Everywhere, is a great place to hit up if you are feeling slightly hungover after some fun Saturday night shenanigans. Think Bloody Marys and American-style brunching. Perhaps the “Straight Up, No Bullshit” eggs will tickle your fancy, or in our case, Papa Richard’s Eggs Benedict hit the spot. All dishes come with a side of seasonal fresh fruit, and if you like your fruit Mexican style, there is always the option to add some Tajin (tah-HEEN), powdered chili prepared with salt and lemon, to sprinkle on top! A cute concept and a cute spot.

Lastly, we love a Saturday morning spent rambling around the markets and street stalls in Coyoacan. Start by caffeinating at Café Alleveneda (see below)…one of our most favorite lattes in the city. Next, swing by the food court at the top of Calle Higuera for a fresh jugos, and then wander around the Jardin and markets. Stop for brunch at Papalotl – healthy, organic, super healthy and lovely local feel.

4. To caffeinate...(aside from Panaderia), there are only two options in our mind. Firstly – check out Café Alleveneda. Always in search of the best artisan coffee on our travels, we had heard a whisper about this great little espresso-based coffee house in Coyoacan, off the beaten track a little, not far from the Museo de Frida Kahlo. We loved Coyoacan - a beautiful, bohemian neighborhood filled with narrow cobblestone streets, small plazas, and beautiful colonial mansions in tree-lined streets. A relatively quiet place during the week, the neighborhood becomes packed on the weekends, with locals and tourists alike. There are some fantastic market stalls nearby, live music in the plaza and a really great buzz in the air. Apparently, this is the most-visited place in Mexico City after the Zocalo. Café La Alleveneda (is a tiny spot, with limited seating), but a big heart and warm soul. We make sure we stop by on every visit to the city, and each time there are always 4-5 baristas working the tiny room, all super friendly and helpful. They make a killer latte (they even do a flat white!), with their own blend of beans from Oaxaca. Their chocolate brownies are probably the best things we have ever tasted! They do a few delicious tortas as well (we love the turkey one).

The other contender for best coffee in the city: Café Passmar. Tucked away in the Mercado Lazaro (a food and nic-nac market, about 30mins walk from Condesa) – this tiny café and brew bar, has a big reputation amongst locals. Be sure to try their specialty, a “natilla de espresso”: a shot of espresso, with a big whack of condensed milk! More like a dessert than a coffee. We love the ghetto-style nature of this spot, tucked away amongst the piñata stalls, the dried prawns, the torta joints and a hair salon! A mission to find, but worth it. This market is also great for fresh fruit and veg, Christmas decorations (if it’s the season!), juices, even a haircut – we had a wash, cut and blowdry here one day for approx. USD$11!!

5. Foodtrucks!!

We love that food trucks are now starting to take off in Mexico City. We were excited to find a couple of trucks, roaming the chaotic streets, serving some seriously good and interesting chow. The bright red and yellow Ñham Ñham Food Truck, parks near the Plaza Rio de Janeiro, and serves up amazing Banh Mi (Vietnamese-style torta) and Pho. A nice break from the taco grind! Tostaderia Barra Vieja’s, which pulls up in a parking lot in Pedregal, serves up some amazing fresh ceviche tostadas: pulop and callo de hacha (scallop). Seafood tacos are also on offer, and on weekends, a paella as well. Worth hunting down if you have the time and desire. Follow them on twitter for location details.

6. Our favorite taco joint...has to be El Pescadito CondesaDF: a cute, corner taqueria in Condesa. Packed full of locals.

7. For the best seafood lunch...(and some seriously good people watching)…a mid-week lunch atContramar is essential. Only open until 6pm, this is not a dinner spot. A beautiful, light and airy space – the seafood here is exceptional. We loved the tuna tostados, as well as the people watching! Likewise,MeroToro (owned by the Contramar crew), serves up Baja Californian fish dishes, and offers some impressive wines from the Valle de Guadeloupe area of Baja (now being compared to the Napa Valley circa 50 years ago).

8. Treat dinner at the 17th Best Restaurant of the world: Pujol, where 33-year-old chef Enrique Olvera reinvents Mexican street food for sophisticated tastes at this chic little Polanco bistro. The 10-course set menu is shockingly good value at 794 pesos (US$62).

9. Others restos we like and recommend:

Maximo Bistrot and Felix (more a bar, than restaurant, but still great food).

10. When you need a break from Mexico City food staples such as Mexican and Italian, head to the only (apparently) decent Thai joint in the city…Pad Thai. Their Pad Thai definitely represents.

11. For home made ice cream and sherbet, go to the local’s favorite: Neveria Roxy (a number of locations around the city). We are a sucker for the old-school, aqua blue, diner-style set-up.

12. To drink…so many options…but we don’t mind if we do at any of these guys below:

* Anywhere along Alvaro Obregon in Roma Norte…but our favorite: Felix. Arrive early and claim one of the sidewalk tables, prime for people-watching along Colonia Roma’s main drag. Locals burst out on to the streets, and the dark and cosy rooms inside are always full. Order cervezas, delicious cocktails and the oversize sliders.

* La Nacional: For mezcal cocktails, aguardiente (firewater), and local microbrews beneath an undulating brick ceiling and Edison bulbs.

* MOG and El Paquieunto – also on Alvaro Obregon.

* For drinks and a dance…try La Pulqueria Los Insurgentes – three levels, and often live music.

* Drink mescal on the open-air terrace of Corazon de Maguey. Order “Tlayudas” (Mexican-style flatbreads) to go with your drinks. 

11. For live music…check out the Imperial. A great bar – both upstairs and downstairs – and an ever-changing roll up of bands.

12. To shop…our favorite place to shop is in Colonia Roma. Check out Calle Colima – full of great boutiques, and lots of places to stop for caffeinate hits when needed (see above). Some of our favorites: 

Goodbye Folk: vintage and reconstructed vintage, and their own line of classic, handmade shoes. The prices, compared with New York, are not expensive at all. And there’s also an old-school barber out the back. Get a haircut or blow-out while you are there! Follow them on instagram here: @goodbyefolk

Lucky Bastrd: street wear labels from NYC and around. We swooned over awesome caps, tees and sweaters. We are loving our 10.DEEP hoodie.

Tatujes: if you are in the mood for a tattoo (and why wouldn’t you be?), walk a little further down Calle Colima to Insurgentes, and visit our dear friend Isra (see Spotlight Series). Clean and super professional, this is the only place to get inked in Mexico City – and Isra is the man!

13. To do…culturally, there is so much to do in this City. Museums and galleries galore. Here are a few of our picks: 

* Visit the Centro Historico – easy to spend a full day wandering around here, if that’s your thing. Lots of monuments and sights to check out. 

* We love the Museo Frida Kahlo: Frida Kahlo and Diego Riviera’s blue house in Coyoacan. Even if you are not fans of their artwork, this is a beautiful casa (and neighborhood) to cruise around. Frida Kahlo was not only a revered artist, but a fashion icon as well, and appeared on the cover of American Vogue in 1937. As she said "Not all Mexicans are picturesque Indians in big straw hats".  We particularly love her quote, "Who needs feet? I've got wings to fly".

* Rising from the ground like a silvery cloud, the glittering Museo Soumaya has cemented itself as one of Mexico City’s few iconic architectural landmarks. Built by business mogul Carlos Slim Helu in memory of his wife, this aliminium-tiled Museo is like a modern-Mexican version of the Taj Mahal. The "impossible to build" facade, covered by silver honeycomb tiles, was designed by Helú’s son-in-law. Free admission.

*Dolores Olmedo first modeled for artist Diego Rivera when she was 20. At her eight-acre estate, now theMuseo Dolores Olmedo, visitors find one of the world’s largest collections of Rivera paintings, drawings, and lithographs as well as 25 pieces of his wife, Frida Kahlo. 

* Architecture fans, add this one to your list (but don’t be fooled by the concrete exterior) - Casa Luis Barragan is the midcentury home and studio of the Pritzker Price winning architect Luis Barragan. Inspired by Barragan’s travels through Europe and Morocco and by the work of the designers Le Corbuiser and Ferdinand Bac, the home became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004. 

* We also love the long walk back from Polanco to Condesa, along beautiful Paseo de la Reforma, and past the Botanical Gardens. On the way, be sure to stop into the Museo de Arte Moderno in Chapultepec Park, to check out the exhibitions of national and international contemporary artists.

* If you happen to be in Mexico City in October, and if you are music lovers like we are, be sure to grab tix for the Corona Capital festival. The line-up in 2013 included some of our favorites: The XX, The Dandy Warhols, The Arctic Monkeys, Phoenix, Portugal.The.Man, MS MR, Sigur Ros, Matt and Kim, Vampire Weekend and Blondie…to name just a few. Sunny days, fun crowd and good set-up (just be prepared to walk, a bunch). Do it. 

14. To market, to market…for a seriously local market experience…visit the La Lagunilla Sunday market. Get the metro to Lagunilla/Garibaldi early on Sunday morning, and get ready to experience the craziness and chaos of this weekly institution. The market is one of the largest in the city and consists of three sections: one for clothing, one for furniture and one for foodstuffs, mostly selling to lower income customers. 

Also check out Mercado de la Nueva Viga – the largest seafood market in Mexico, and the second largest after the famous Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo - be blown away by ocean goodies here from every port of Mexico  - the Gulfs, Caribbean, and the Pacific. Pretty much every chef in the city shops here, and you will be able to sample fish dishes at most of the stalls. Get stuck into ceviche or caldo de pescado (fish soup). Also try the chocolate clams (sounds weird, yes); their shell is brown like chocolate. Top with fresh cilantro, chopped onion and lemon! Trust me.

15. Stroll around…it is worth having a stroll around the green, leafy streets of Polanco. Definitely more fancy than any of its neighbors, Polanco is bustling with cafes, bars, restaurants, book stores and boutiques. The Hotel Habita (see above) has a cute bar downstairs in its lobby, as well as on their rooftop terrace - overlooking the pool - where movies and music videos are projected on the wall of an adjacent building; there is not so much a dayspa here, whereas just one small, white room that is used for treatments. We treated ourselves to a heavenly facial, and a deep-tissue massage, perfect after another day walking the streets. 

16. Drive out to…the Teotihuacán Pyramids. Just an hour outside the city, these pretty amazing feats of engineering are both humbling and impressive. 

17. Get cultured…and spend a night at the Opera in one of the most beautiful theaters in all of the Americas, the Palacio de Bellas Artes. A grand experience. Art Nouveau dominates the exterior of this grand old 1930s palace, while Art Deco dominates the interior.


Having heard endless praise for the Yucatan’s capital of Merida – seemingly so rich in culture (architecture, food, design and music) - it seemed the obvious choice whereby to hang for a couple of days, as the rain continued to fall relentlessly in Playa del Carmen back in November. Only 200 miles (approx. 4 hours) from the coast, Merida is an architectural jewel. Peaceful, sleepy and full of colorful, restored Yucatecan haciendas, hidden courtyards, wide and beautiful tree-lined avenues and green plazas...this friendly, walkable town is one of the safest in Mexico.

A magnet for both Mexican and expatriate artists – as well as those travelers who want to venture off the Riviera Maya’s beaten path - Merida was listed in 2005 by Fortune, as one of five foreign cities in which “to invest and live one’s golden years”. Most likely the reason an astute group of early adopters (mainly artists, architects and designers) are flocking here to scoop-up nicely priced real estate, with the view to transform dilapidated haciendas into boutique hotels, casas and gourmet food retreats.

We only had two short nights here, but in that time, were able to suss out some great little corners of town – enabling us to confidently share these recommendations:

1. To sleep…

Hotel Hacienda Merida VIP: given we had arrived into town, on a whim, with nowhere to stay – we thought we would head straight for Hotel Hacienda, after reading they were named in 2013 as one of Conde Nast’s best new hotels in the world under USD200. Unfortunately however, fully booked, the sincerely friendly and welcoming staff at the hotel happily recommended us their VIP property instead, a little further down the street. At first, somewhat out of our budget, the lovely staff (Julio – who works the weekend shift!) offered us an incredibly generous deal, and upgraded us to their upstairs, poolside suite for a price we couldn’t refuse (the fact that it was low/rainy season, certainly helped). Hidden behind a beautifully restored colonial façade, this little gem of a boutique hotel has only 4 rooms, and a lovely little swimming pool, which runs the length of the manicured garden. Close to the town center – on Calle 62 – this hotel is perfectly located. When the electricity went out on the first night we were there, the generous and hospitable staff provided us with plentiful candles, complimentary bottles of wine and margaritas, and a cheese plate! Breakfast is served by the pool, or to your room, each morning – freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee, eggs, and fruit –bountiful and delicious.

Rosas y Chocolate: located on Paseo de Montejo, this hard-to-miss, hot pink, 17-room luxury boutique hotel is a calming oasis, housed in two 1930s renovated mansions. Designed by Mexican architect Salvador Reyes Rio, guests are lavished with (as the name suggests) fresh roses on arrival, as well as rich organic chocolate from local chocolatiers (we only recently learnt that chocolate derives from Mexico! It was the Mayans who first discovered the cacao plant!). A small pool, set within the interior courtyard, is edged by palm trees and is perfect for a quick dip. An inviting boutique – offers organic chocolate by label, Ki’Xocolatl (whose owners have their own cacao plantation about 2 hours from Merida), and other tempting goodies. On top of that, Rosas y Chocolate has a well-renowned restaurant (see below) – whose Executive Chef is ex-Pujol – and a fabulous rooftop terrace, where there is often live jazz in the evenings.

Coqui Coqui: this dreamy one-suite hideaway, is located above the Coqui Coqui perfumerie in the middle of Merida’s Centro Historico (just around the corner from Hotel Hacienda Merida VIP). Laden with vintage marble floors, gilded mirrors and the wafting scents of tobacco and orange blossoms, this terribly romantic and heavenly suite, surrounds a small, but inviting interior courtyard. We were completely awestruck by the dual vintage clawfoot bathtubs - a central feature of the suite – and the stunning vintage four-poster bed, ornate tiles, and red velvet sofas. Completely blissful.

La Hacienda Xcanatun: although we didn’t get a chance to visit La Hacienda Xcanatun: an 18th century farm-turned 18-suite luxury hotel, we believe a trip out to this oasis (just 15 minutes from the city center) is worth it. If you don’t fancy staying at the property, we suggest dinner at their much-lauded restaurant - Casa de Piedra – serving up modern international cuisine with Yucatecan flair – showcasing local providores.

2. To eat…

La Chaya Maya: somewhat touristy, but also full of locals - on arrival, you will be greeted by a Mexican woman donned in traditional Mayan dress (hui­pil ), making corn tortillas in the window. This is your best bet to sample authentic dishes such as salbutes (fried tortillas with chicken or turkey and pink pickled onions) or cochinita pibil (slow-cooked pork marinated in achiote and sour orange) served in banana leaves. We loved the house specialty - Los Tres Mosqueteros (The Three Musketeers) - which combines three classic Yucatecan dishes: relleno negro (a black sauce made from burnt chiles and spices) over pork; papadzul (an egg dish); and pipián (a sauce with a pumpkin seed base) over turkey. Affordable, fun and great margaritas to boot. A good Yucatecan experience.

For a traditional street breakfast, try tacos and tortas from the Wayan’e street stand – which has been operating for over 20 years. Popular fillings include smoky chicken; scrambled eggs with acelgas (Swiss chard) or chaya leaf; and castakan (twice-fried pork belly). A bargain at only 60c a pop! Locals come early, to stock up for their biggest meal of the day. And for Merida’s best fish tacos, check out El Cangrejito: an elbow-room-only hole-in-the-wall. Soft tortillas stuffed with shrimp, bacalao, lobster, and octopus. Yum.

For something more fancy, there is Rosas & Xocolate– more high-end – this is modern new-Mexican cuisine. Think roast duck with local longaniza sausage, chilixcatic, and melon; or deconstructed fish panuchos with cured nopales; and tuna tartare with cocoa butter, pepitas and quail egg. Also popular,their fish of the day prepared on a fried tortilla accompanied by prickly pear salad or duck served with singed corn, local sausage, melon compote and a chile and raisin sauce. Enjoy scrumptious homemade bread as well.

Nectar: this high-end restaurant is well known for one of the best formal dinners in town. We were impressed to hear that Roberto Solis, the young chef and owner, travels to a different country each year to apprentice in an important kitchen—think Per Se, Noma or The Fat Duck—all in the service of expanding his cuisine.

3. To drink…

Cantina la negrita – our favorite and most friendly neighborhood cantina. This cute corner spot offers artisan beers from the Yucatan region, as well as “Micheladas” – these spicy Mexican cerveca drinks, are served chilled with tamarind around the rim, lime juice and assorted sauces, peppers and spices. Sit up at the bad and enjoy good tunes, a fun hip crowd, friendly bar staff, and great drinks and bar food.

Piedra de Agua hotel – for mojitos by starlight – the outdoor bar here has a spectacular view of the brilliantly lit cathedral. Local groups play jazz and blues on Fridays. Try a mojito (or two), and one of their basil-infused, lemon daiquiris.

4. For dessert….

With a few locations around town, Dulceria y Sorbeteria Colon is the only place for something sweet. Enjoy ice cream, sorbets, soft merignues, and champolas (milk shakes containing vanilla ice cream and coconut milk)! A Meridan institution since 1907. Ice creams are so fruity and delicious, and as well as all the favorites, you will find other tasty flavors such as tamarind and peach.

5. To do…

Mercado Fresco de Slow Food: every Saturday from 9am-1pm: A little hard to find (located on Avenida Reforma, just north of Colon), we were happy we eventually stumbled across this quaint little organic market. The purpose of the market is to promote Slow Food values in the Yucatan, by nurturing organic production and supporting regional culinary traditions. Our advice is to arrive early because the vendors tend to sell out fast! Think organic herbs and greens, French cheeses, breads, pastries, fresh organic tofu, organic peanut butters and local honeys, organic kale, juices, etc. regional produce that comes from no more than 50km outside Mérida. We got sucked in by the French patisserie guy’s accent and passion for his craft, and ended up walking away with terribly decadent almond croissants and beautiful bread from his stall (Monique’s Bakery). We also loved the homemade almond milks, and the fresh juices of watermelon and mint.

Wander along: Paseo de Montejo - an elegant tree-lined boulevard, often referred to as Merida’s “Champs Elysees”. Home to the Monumento a la Patria (Monument to the Fatherland) – this magnificent structure built in 1956, is responsible for telling the story of the Yucatan and the country throughout its carved stone surfaces. 

Stroll through the Plaza Grande in the evenings, and watch this beautiful plaza come alive – it seems the whole city tends to congregate in this leafy plaza, under the towers of Merida’s 16th century Cathedral of San Ildefonso. Horse-and-buggies wait for potential customers, and musicians play guitars and maracas and are available for rent (you can pay them by the hour to play for your loved ones!!).

Check out the shops and galleries: art galleries are everywhere, but there is a cluster around Calle 60 from Calles 41 to 47. Admittedly, we were a little underwhelmed by the offering here…but its worth a wander nonetheless.

Coqui Coqui Perfumeria: one of our most favorite spots. Enjoy succulent scents, romantic jewelry and beautiful candles. The boutique also features the Bonatos and Ravagnan Hacienda Montaecristoaccessories line, which includes locally hand-crafted gold filigree necklaces and even hand-crocheted hammocks.  

Visit the Cenotes: just one hour from Merida, these cenotes are located at the Mayan site of Dzibichaltun. Meaning “old village”, it is an open ground level cenote, perfect for swimming. It is more than 140ft deep at one end.

Live music on the city stages: every Saturday, enjoy folk dancing, comedy, mariachi, marimba and romantic trova music. You can watch from the street or have a drink on the terrace of the Hotel Casa San Angel.

Visit Chichen Itza: 1.5hrs from Merida (halfway between Cancun and Merida), this impressive architectural site was built by the Mayan people c.AD 600-900. A number of different architectural styles are exhibited here.

To get there…

We took the bus from Playa del Carmen…200 miles (approx. 4hrs) west. An easy ride…we love Mexican buses! Super comfy, affordable and complete with wi-fi.