North America Information:

The information presented here focuses on Mexico, where I traveled for four weeks during late 2003.

Recommended Hotels in Mexico:

Hotel de la Soledad in Morelia (Ignacio Zaragoza No. 90; Tel: (443) 312-1888; Fax: 312-2111). This hotel, built in the early 1700s as a private home, was converted into an inn by 1752 and has remained so ever since. In traditional Spanish colonial style, it has two beautiful interior courtyards, one of which features an excellent restaurant. The rooms are reportedly larger off the front courtyard (and ours was certainly spacious) so you may want to view both locations before deciding. The hotel is very professionally run. Off-street parking is available in a lot several blocks away (a valet takes care of the driving). The hotel is a two-minute walk from the main cathedral and central historical district.

Mesón Santa Rosa in Querétaro (Pasteur Sur No. 17; Tel: (442) 224-2623; Fax: 212-5522). This wonderful hotel faces the Plaza de Armas and is within easy walking distance of the sights in the central historical district. One of three inner courtyards features a large restaurant (though make sure to try Restaurant 1810, which is just across the street on the Plaza) and another contains a swimming pool. Parking is available in a nearby, secure lot.

Hotel Maria Christina in Mexico City (Río Lerma 31; Tel. 55/5703-1212, 55/5566-9688; Fax: 55/5566-9194). This moderately-priced hotel on the north side of Paseo la Reforma (about a 10-15 minute walk to Zona Rosa) was a wonderful place to stay. A so-called "Junior Suite" – really an upgraded regular room – was roomy, comfortable, well-appointed, quiet and clean. A small restaurant in the lobby is a good spot for a quick meal, a spacious lawn makes a relaxing location for a margarita and free off-street parking is provided.

Hotel La Finca del Minero in Zacatecas (Matamoros No. 12; Tel. (492) 925-0310/13). This recently renovated hotel was a lucky find in Zacatecas. It's a few extra blocks from the central historical district, but still within easy walking distance. The room was clean and spacious, there is a small restaurant in the lobby for breakfast (or other meals) and off-the-street parking. While you may give up some views with an interior room, it will be much quieter.

Some Great Restaurants in Mexico:

Fonda del Rufugio, in Mexico City's Zona Rosa district, was without a doubt our favorite restaurant in the city. It features traditional Mexican food (and some delicious mole sauces) in an informal, house-like building. The service was wonderful and one waiter in particular made us feel like regulars. Make sure to try the fried quesadilla appetizers. ¡Muy bueno!

Tezka, also in the Zona Rosa district of Mexico City, is a more formal restaurant (reservations advised) that offers very creative Basque-inspired cuisine. If there is room in your budget and you need a break from more traditional Mexican food, Tezka offers an intriguing alternative (we liked it so much we ate here twice).

Restaurant 1810 in Querétaro, on the Plaza de Armas, proved to be our favorite restaurant in this wonderful city. In fact, although we tried a few other places, we kept coming back to Restaurant 1810 (mil ocho ciento diez) and one day ate here for breakfast, lunch and dinner, all of which were delicious. There is usually a lively crowd of local residents (always a good sign when looking for a restaurant in a foreign town) and the service (like just about everyplace in Mexico) was top-notch.

Recommended Books:

The Art of the Maya Scribe, by Michael D. Coe and Justin Kerr (1998). This magnificent book is filled with sumptuous illustrations of Maya art and writing. Included are photographs of the few remaining Maya codices (the Spanish systematically destroyed all they could find). As the chroniclers of history, scribes held an exalted station in Maya society, meriting their own palaces. From possible Olmec or Zapotec beginnings, the Maya developed a sophisticated system of writing capable of expressing anything in their language (the only such system in the western hemisphere when the Spanish arrived). The Maya scribes were instrumental in developing and preserving this system. But the scribes were also illustrators and many of their expressive drawings have a surprisingly modern look to them.

Guns, Germs & Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, by Jared Diamond (1999). While traveling through many parts of the world, I frequently wondered why civilizations developed at such different rates. This Pulitzer Prize winning (and very readable) book offers answers to those questions. In short, plants and animals capable of being domesticated were unevenly distributed around the world (most in the Fertile Crescent). Where available, societies developed agriculture and most other things stemmed from that: denser populations, the rise of specialized artisans, more elaborate political systems to govern the large communities, rapid development of technology (including advanced weapons), writing to keep track of it all and, inadvertently, highly contagious diseases that were often far more deadly than the advanced weaponry.

Useful Travel Links:

It is always a good idea to check the U.S. State Department's Travel Warnings & Consular Information Sheets early on in your travel planning. You can learn whether the countries you plan to visit require entry visas and whether there are any safety warnings that apply to your intended destinations.

Another important web site to check early in your planning is the Travelers' Health page maintained by the Centers for Disease Control. They have up-to-date information on infectious diseases for all areas of the world, plus information about required and recommended vaccines.

For information about U.S. National Parks and other scenic and historic areas, visit the web site of the National Park Service.