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How To Travel Around Mexico Like A Culture-Obsessed ELLE Editor

by Staff

I was 10 the first time I saw The Two Fridas, one of the artist Frida Khalo’s most famous paintings. Pinned on a wall in my auntie’s house, the self-portrait depicted two figures sat hand-in-hand, gazing at anyone who entered her kitchen. Their hearts were exposed, and in the case of the woman on the left, completely torn apart. I loved it — the unsettling stormy background, the singular vein that linked the two women.

It’s an image I often return to, especially in my own moments of heartbreak. And the mysticism and magic of the painting ignited my now longstanding love of Mexican art. Its power spans all mediums, from the emotion of Khalo’s works to film-maker Alfonso Cuarón’s moving, Oscar-winning epic Roma and the designs of Mexican architect Frida Escobedo (who became the first woman to design a wing of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art) or even the pure passion that Salma Hayek brings to any role.

I’ve always found it impossible to resist Mexico’s strong allure as a cultural centre and travel destination, so seized the opportunity to visit it for a winter break of sun, sand, and art.

Yannis Vlamos / Courtesy of DIOR

Dior cruise show 2024 in Mexico City

I’m not the only one finding inspiration in the country’s thriving cultural hubs. Last year year, Maria Grazia Chiuri held Dior’s Cruise show in the thriving metropolis of Mexico City. Held in Colegio San Ildefonso – artist Frida Kahlo’s former school, and the place where she encountered her life partner Diego Riviera – it was both a tribute to Kahlo and a celebration of Mexican culture. In collaboration with local artisans, Chiuri sent plaited models down the runway in long silk skirts and voluminous frilled dresses reminiscent of the clothes in Kahlo’s self-portraits.

‘I’ll never forget the show’ says ELLE UK editor-in-chief, Kenya Hunt. ‘We were in an outdoor quadrant while it poured with rain, and Diego Rivera’s sprawling murals were the backdrop, it was magical.’

The capital’s museums are filled with works by those who lived there, including Rivera, Kahlo, Lola Álvarez Bravo and Leonora Carrington, a whole new generation of creatives are being drawn to the city. Global brands are following suit, with a Soho House (its first in Latin America) setting up in the Colonia Juárez neighbourhood.

The mysticism and magic of the painting ignited my now longstanding love of Mexican art

The past year has also seen a rise in new art-gallery spaces, including that of revered French-Somali dealer Mariane Ibrahim, who opened a gallery in the Cuauhtémoc borough. Her inaugural show featured Clotilde Jiménez, a multidisciplinary Afro-Latino artist exploring ideas around race, gender and masculinity.

The Roma Norte neighbourhood in the centre is a hotbed of cultural spaces (don’t miss Galería OMR who represent contemporary artist Pia Camil), with a vibrant nightlife scene too. ‘We spent the days before and afterward the Dior show exploring Mexico City’s maze of museums, boutiques and restaurants, but some of my favourite moments were in Roma Norte, with its delicious eateries and small independent shops,’ says Hunt. ‘Many of them were tucked away on these little lush, green hidden streets. It’s a dense city but surprisingly leafy.’

In the hip Condesa district, head to the Red Tree House, set in a Spanish Revival-style mansion. ‘It’s stylish in a mismatched sort of way, and painted in sunset shades of red, orange and yellow. The breakfasts there are some of the best I’ve ever had,’ says chef and food writer Ixta Belfrage.

Away from the bustle of the capital, lies the the Yucatán Peninsula. It’s a region of wild coastlines, miles of jungle and ancient Mayan ruins: the perfect antidote to the magical chaos of Mexico City. Stop off at the newly re-opened Maroma, a tranquil hotel that encompasses both ocean views and 200 acres of jungle in the Riviera Maya region.


The now 72 room hotel is a living gallery, famed for both its own art, and its wider dedication to supporting local creatives. It recently commissioned Fotografia Maroma, a series featuring established Mexican photographers Patricia Lagarde, Javier Hinojosa, and Ilán Rabchinskey, alongside emerging artist Margot Kalach.

Further down the coast is Tulum, where this writer spends a week in search of the most coveted of luxuries: rest. I’m joined by my friend Nellie, with whom I’ve been going on holiday with for the best part of a decade. We’re aligned in our holiday objectives: no laptops, lazy days and a joint appreciation for reading lists over small chat.

a man and woman sitting on a bench at a beach

Nellie Eden

Coastal cool: Shannon Mahanty and Nellie in Tulum.

For many years Tulum was a top destination for influencers and celebrities (Leonardo DiCaprio, Dua Lipa… the list goes on), which, in turn, fuelled its popularity with the chronically online in search of photogenic places to post on social media. The increase of tourism led to higher pollution and more pressure on the local infrastructure. But now, the town is fighting back. And in recent years, there’s been a marked shift towards sustainability.

We stayed at Olas, an intimate beachfront guesthouse, which is entirely solar-powered and equipped with a state-of-the-art water-waste system. Meals prepared by César, Olas’ resident chef are served around a large outdoor table underneath a canopy of palm trees. Each day we’re joined by a rotating cast of Cesar’s many rescue dogs, or Bernie, the leader of the neighbourhood gang of cats. Ingredients come from the local land and sea; at breakfast we eat huevos rancheros and tropical fruit smoothies made with coconuts fallen from the property’s trees. Meanwhile, lunch meals usually features locally caught fish, such as an excellent ceviche.


Tulum town has a thriving food scene that ranges from fine dining to delectable street food. We visited Wild, a leafy restaurant owned by Karen Young, an activist and former music industry executive who moved to Tulum in 2010. And while we sipped smoky mezcal and ate delicious sea bass with salsa verde and caramelised fennel purée, raccoons peered down at us from an overhanging tree. Here, the animals appeared more inquisitive and dare I say, adorable, rather than menacing (a raccoon sighting in most major cities would normally send people running).

Down the road is Nü, inspired by the Mayan word ‘Nuhuk’: it speaks to the restaurant’s ethos of ‘community, nature, and culinary arts’. With over 30 varieties of tequila on offer, the bespoke cocktails are a great precursor to Nu’s somewhat experimental menu, again, made from locally-sourced produce.

The Beach Planner, a Tulum digital concierge service became our secret weapon throughout the holiday. From organising airport pickups to restaurant bookings – and even doing grocery shopping – Maddie Boomsma, who heads up the team on the ground in Tulum, had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the area, and a sprawling contacts book to match.

In recent years, Tulum has become something of a wellness hub, and on Boomsma’s recommendation we’re tipped off about Matt Wise, a popular yoga instructor who runs classes at the nearby Samsara hotel, situated in a beautiful glass studio overlooking the ocean. On another morning we go to Holy Bodies Pilates, a Mexican-owned, female run reformer pilates studio in La Valetta, a short taxi ride from the town centre. It’s a deceptively capacious space, mirrored on every wall and largely attended by super chic locals in coordinating pastel kits designed by the teacher, Fernanda and available to purchase at the studio.

‘Mexico is, ‘a constellation of places that spark emotion.’

For our final night, we try a massage with Miguel and Louise of Cielo Mistico, or mystical sky. The pair are deeply spiritual and offer a whole array of healing treatments including temazcales – traditional Mayan sweat lodges thought to detoxify the body and relieve stress – typically found in the jungle. They arrive at Olas and set up in our bedroom, burning sweet-smelling incense and playing ambient music quiet enough that we can still hear the crashing of the nearby waves, while a gentle, full-bodied massage coaxes us into total relaxation. We leave Mexico with the sense of restful composure we were after.

As a destination, Mexico offers travellers so much. I was excited to experience its rich history and culture and – of course – the mezcal, but found something humbling about the quieter moments and the power of being surrounded by wild, restorative landscapes. Maria Grazia Chiuri put it best; for her, Mexico is, ‘a constellation of places that spark emotion.’ I couldn’t agree more.

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