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Going Out

Food and Drink

Corn, beans and potatoes are the main staples of Mexican cuisine, with fish and chicken on most menus. International cuisine is available at large hotels and many restaurants. US and Mexican fast food chains are easy to find. Imported spirits are expensive, and cheap local spirits can be an acquired taste, but rum and tequila are relatively safe bets. Corona and Sol are the most popular beers - light and refreshing, and often drunk with a wedge of lime.

National specialities: Mole refers to several very different sauces, based around garlic and chilli. Mole poblano is a chocolate sauce poured over turkey.

Green mole verde is made from fresh herbs. Guacamole is an avocado mole with red peppers, onions and tomatoes.

Tortillas are corn pancakes often eaten like bread.

Enchiladas (soft tortillas) and tacos (crispy tortillas) are filled with pork, chicken, vegetables or cheese and chilli.

Look out for exotic fruits like zapote (brown fruit resembling an avocado), and tuna (juicy prickly pear, fruit of the cactus).

National drinks: Tequila is a double or triple-distilled spirit made from the blue variety of agave, which is not a cactus, but a plant related to the lily. Young blanco tequilas can have a rough 'cowboy edge' to them. Older anejo varieties are woody and sometimes as smooth as a fine brandy.

Mezcal is similar to tequila, but is distilled only once and can be made from different varieties of agave. It is not generally used in cocktails like tequila, but consumed in shots. Sip slowly to savour the taste.

Mexico's coffee liqueur, kahlua, is world famous.

Legal drinking age: 18.

Tipping: Service charges are rarely added to hotel, restaurant or bar bills and many of the staff depend on tips for their livelihood. 15% is expected and 20% if the service has been very good.


Like any Latin American destination, things in Mexico do not really get going until late, with nightclubs often opening around midnight and closing at daylight. In family resorts, planned entertainment begins earlier; expect to be entertained at dinner with live mariachi music, Spanish flamenco dancers, gypsy violinists and Aztec re-enactments.

Mexico City attracts international rock and pop acts, Latin music stars, and the world's best ballet and orchestra companies. Zona Rosa, in the centre, is the traditional home of chic, but has expensive bars and restaurants. West of there, hip new bars have been popping up in the wealthy residential district of Polanco. Further south is the arty district of Coyoacan (where Trotsky used to live). The bars here are relaxed and cheaper than the Zona Rosa. West of Coyoacan is San Angel, a traditional neighbourhood with decent reasonably priced bars and restaurants. Connecting this area back to the Zona Rosa is the longest avenue in the capital, Avenida Insurgentes. Along its length are a wide selection of international restaurants, lively bars and nightclubs to suit the diverse tastes of the 20 million people who live here.

Acapulco is known as 'the city that never sleeps' with bars and discos lining the streets. Worth seeing is the impressive light show, with accompanying sound show, at the archaeological site of Teotihuacan. The history and mythology of this ancient civilisation are recreated through a gorgeous display of coloured lights, poetic dialogue and music. The season runs from October to May.

Cancun conjures up images of US spring-break college students going wild in carefree all-night beach parties. However, with hurricanes causing damage here almost every season (September to October), it is a perennial struggle to piece things back together in time to welcome America's youth. Every year however, top-name international DJs come to the city's megaclubs - one of which has a capacity of 15,000.


There is no shortage of shopping opportunities in Mexico, from fashionable clothing boutiques to bustling market places selling traditional indigenous crafts. Taxco is renowned for its fine jewellery, and silverware - Oaxaca for its gold. The best woodworkers are in Guadalajara, but furniture from the region is on sale in Mexico City, as are crafts from all other parts of the country. For large items, overseas shipping can be arranged at reasonable rates.

In the markets, good buys include ceramics and pottery - particularly black clay dishes from the Oaxaca region. Woven wool blankets (sarapes), brightly coloured scarves in wool or silk (rebozos) and richly embroidered charro hats make great presents.

In Mexico City, head to the artisan's markets in La Ciudedala and Plaza del Buen Tono for the best bargains. Hammocks, rugs, baskets, carved wood and embossed leather can be found almost everywhere, but are overpriced close to beach resorts. Skip the stalls in Cancun's Hotel Zone and head downtown instead, to the Ki Huic Open Air Market.

For women's clothing, try on some huipiles (white Mayan dresses embroidered with colourful flowers); for men, look for a guayabera (a fine pleated shirt in cotton voile) or huaraches (traditional sandals).

In Acapulco, the Mercado de Artesanias is a good bet, but haggle. Guadalajara's sprawling Mercado Libertad is one of the biggest in the country, a bustling metropolis of commerce, selling everything from bananas to monkeys.

Malls are very popular in all the beach resorts, and range from pricey palaces full of designer boutiques, such as Plaza Caracol in Cancun to more modest affairs such as Acapulco's Marbella Mall. Most have a mixture of local shops and international chain stores.

Shopping hours: Mon-Sun 1000/1100-2000/2200 (big towns and cities); Mon-Fri 0900-1400/1600 (rest of the country). Check locally for details.