During a recent visit to Mexico, a woman on a bus in Cancun told me she was puzzled that anyone would choose to travel to her country right now.
After a lengthy description of the violence in her hometown of Veracruz, she left me with emphatic advice: “No confia en nadie,” meaning “Trust no one.”
That advice seems extreme. With a well-developed tourism sector, there are legions of people whose livelihood depends on helping you have a good time, and beyond that, most locals are warm and friendly. The drug violence that grabs most of the headlines shouldn’t define a country so rich in world-class attractions.
Yet safety should always be taken into account. The U.S. State Department warns against travel to many Mexican states, mostly in the north and west. Though southern Mexico goes about business as usual (and the State Department does not warn against travel to the area), it’s important to exercise caution and remember that danger can arise anywhere.
I’ve visited Mexico three times and have got a lot more to see, but here are three undeniably good reasons I’ve discovered to visit Mexico:
Gastronomy: Fried grasshoppers, perhaps?
Mexican food as a category needs little introduction; It was even recognized by UNESCO as part of world heritage in 2010.
But regional specialties abound. Oaxaca in southwestern Mexico is famous for multiple moles, complex stewed sauces served over meats. The Oaxacan treatment of the tortilla is the tlayuda, an open, crispy tortilla slathered with a bean paste, topped with cheese, meat or other toppings.
Chocolate, Oaxacan style, served warm with water.
More adventurous Oaxacan offerings are the famous chapulines — grasshoppers fried to a crunch and spiced with chile and lime. They are better than they might sound (unless you’re wise enough to realize that anything crunchy with chile and lime is going to be good).
Chocolate originated in Mexico, and they still make it best.
Oaxaca is ground zero for chocoholics, where chocolate shops show visitors the transformation from beans into bars in the store. Chocolate here is most popular as a hot drink with water served alongside a sweet roll, but you can get it with milk or in bar form.
Coastal cities such as Campeche or Cancun on the Gulf of Mexico have great seafood, notably ceviche. Mexican ceviche usually adds tomato to the citrus marinated fish and shrimp. Also often added is ketchup, though this usually is called coctel instead of ceviche. (The tomatoes are acceptable, the ketchup is an abomination).
Read more: Wes Little, CNN