Thursday, February 16, 2012

Mazatlan's Annual Carnaval Gets Underway

 Election of the 2012 Carnaval Queen in Mazatlan

Mazatlan's 114th annual Carnaval got underway this week. It is held every year prior to Ash Wednesday and is billed as the third largest carnival of its kind in the world (after those held in Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans). Carnaval's parades, concerts, and cultural festivals attract thousands of visitors to this Mexican resort city popular among Canadian vacationers.

The theme of this year's celebration is "Fiesta of the Empires." Highlights of the 2012 Mazatlan International Carnaval schedule include the following events:

February 16th
·Coronation of the King of Joy – Olas Altas.

February 17th
·Coronation of the Queen of Floral Games – Teodoro Mariscal Stadium.
·Live music and dancing on the streets - Olas Altas.

February 18th
·Coronation of the Queen of Carnaval – Teodoro Mariscal Stadium.
·Burning of Bad Mood and the Naval Battle Festival of Lights – Olas Altas.

February 19th
·First Carnaval parade – Fishermen’s monument.

February 20th
·Coronation of the Child Queen – Teodoro Mariscal Stadium.

February 21st
·Second Carnaval Parade – Fishermen’s monument.

Flights to Mazatlan are available through WestJet, Sunwing, Alaska Airlines and U.S. Airlines from several Canadian cities. Please visit for more information about Mazatlan and this year's Carnaval.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Are Canadian tourists still safe in Mexico?

The recent murders of two Canadians in resort areas on Mexico's Pacific coast have once again raised questions about how safe the country is for Canadian tourists. While neither of these killings has been linked directly to the ongoing war among Mexico's powerful drug cartels, there can be no doubt that many Canadian snowbirds are thinking twice about visiting Mexico for fear of being swept up by the violence.

In an attempt to get some answers to the question of safety in Mexico, the CBC recently interviewed Walter McKay, a former Canadian police detective who is now a security consultant living in Mexico City. McKay has been keeping track of narco related violence in Mexico since 2006, and he maintains that Canadians who stick to tourist areas and stay away from the drug trade and other risky activities still have little to worry about. Included in the CBC interview is a useful list of some popular areas considered to be safe, not safe, and somewhere in between.

On a personal note, as someone has spent a lot of time in Mexico and who will continue to go there, I feel that much of the country remains secure for cautious and well informed travellers despite the daily grim reports. However, the current situation could deteriorate rapidly for Canadians if drug cartels start targeting foreign tourists and the Mexican tourism industry in general. But so far there is no real evidence of this happening (touch wood).

Traveler Safety in Mexico Map

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Getting Around Mexico City

In my last post, I suggested that Mexico City is a rewarding destination and convenient starting point for Canadian travellers wishing to explore Mexico. However, the prospect of getting around this huge metropolis can be intimidating. The good news is that Mexico City's transportation systems have evolved dramatically in recent years. Despite its infamous congestion, La Capital is now not as difficult to explore as you might think.

Fortunately, many of Mexico City's most important sights are located in the Centro Histórico (Historical Centre), which is easily toured on foot. Much of the traffic in this area has been rerouted and some streets (notably Avenida Madero) have been turned into pedestrian walkways. There is also a new fleet of green and white eco-friendly pedicabs that ferry both tourists and locals through the downtown core.

The most popular way to navigate Mexico City is in one of its ubiquitous gold and maroon-coloured taxis. Fares are inexpensive and the drivers are experts at negotiating traffic jams. Guidebooks often advise travellers to telephone for a taxi rather than flag one down on the street due to the risk of being robbed by a "pirate" cabbie. Personally, I've never had any problems in this regard, but calling for a cab is definitely the right thing to do at night. It's also a good idea to ask the driver to see his or her official identification card before stepping into a taxi.

Often overlooked by tourists is Mexico City's efficient and extensive Metro (subway) system built by the Canadian company Bombardier. It is similar to the Métro in Montreal in that the trains run on rubber tires rather than on metal tracks. The main advantages of riding the subway are the incredibly low fares (3 pesos or about $0.25) and the fact that you zip along in relative comfort beneath the clogged streets. On the downside, there can be a lot of underground walking to do between stations when changing trains, and the Metro gets very crowded on some routes, especially during the morning and evening rush hours.

Mexico City's latest addition to its urban transportation scene is the Metrobús. The principal line of this new rapid transit system runs north-south along the entire length of Avenida Insurgentes, which is said to be the longest urban avenue in the world. There are also two secondary Metrobús lines crisscrossing the city (see below for link to a system map). The bright red articulated buses have their own dedicated lanes and stop at clean, modern stations where you pay the fare electronically with a rechargeable “smartcard.” At five pesos (less than $0.50) per ride, it’s a real bargain.

Mexico City subway map

Metrobús system interactive map

Mexico City maps