Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Mexico & Colombia Photos: Francisco Collazo
Cuba Photo: Brayan Collazo
Back in December, Lola Akinmade invited me to participate in the Tripbase Best-Kept Travel Secrets Project. Time got away from me and I never followed through.
Earlier this week, Katie Erica, the writer who started the project, invited me to participate- again- so this time, I won’t let her down!
The idea behind the project is to crowd-source an epic list of travel writers’ favorite places, preferably places that are “secret.”
Now you can argue whether sharing “secret” places is a good idea, as the excellent writer David Page did in the article “Travelers’ Omerta: Is There No Place We Should Keep Secret?” It’s a valid question and one that leads to important reflections.
But the places where I travel aren’t really secret. They’re pretty much in plain view for everyone to see and visit… they simply choose not to.
So here are my three “best-kept travel secrets” and my defense of why you should visit each of them:
Mexico City, Mexico
If I could have any job other than the one I have, it would be a full-time evangelist for Mexico City.
Seriously, this is THE most exciting city on the planet, and if you know me or read my writing regularly, you know I don’t use words like “most” or “must-see” frequently.
I will spend my life trying to write a more persuasive, poignant description of Mexico City than David Lida, but until then, I’ll simply cite him with gratitude for articulating my exact feelings about “el DF”:
“I had been utterly seduced by the constant sensations of contrast, surprise, even tumult.”
“[I]t has absorbed and swallowed all the centuries of its history, yet most of them are still in evidence in some regurgitated form on the streets.”
“Mexico City is constantly improvising a new invention of itself.”
I could go on and on, but do yourself a favor and read Lida’s book, First Stop in the New World: Mexico City, The Capital of the 21st Century. Start reading his blog. And then, put Mexico City on the top of your travel list.
And once you’re there, make sure you witness the daily flag ceremony in the Zocalo. Go to a lecture at Casa Lamm and then visit their restaurant for an overpriced but totally worth it martini (try carambola). And throw yourself into a visit to Mercado San Juan like it’s the most important thing you’ll do all year. Just don’t forget your camera.
First, understand this: Cuba is not closed.
It’s very much open for tourism and business and even if you’re an American you can go there.
I explain how in “How to Travel to Cuba and Why You Should Do It Now.”
I guarantee that you’ll come back from Cuba a changed person, one who has begun to understand what a complex nation it is, one that exists outside of all the polarized rhetoric about it. And if you don’t, well, I’ll take you out for dinner and we can talk about it.
What should you do while you’re there? I’ve written about some favorite Havana attractions for TravelMuse and favorite nightlife spots for Matador.
3. Mompox, Colombia
You’ve got to be determined to get to Mompox. You have to cross a river in a sketchy boat, then take a motorbike or sturdy vehicle to this UNESCO World Heritage site.
But if you do, it will be worth the effort, especially if you plan a visit of a week or longer.
Colombia’s legendary river, the Magdalena, runs right through the town, which is rumored to be the inspiration for novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s imaginary town of Macondo. There’s not a raucous nightlife here, or dozens of museums, but there are lots and lots of stories.
If you visit, book a bed at Matador contributor Richard McColl’s La Casa Amarilla, which Francisco and I tended for a month in 2008.
What are your favorite travel “secrets”? Share them–or not!–in the comments.
And be sure to check out the blogs of these writers, who I’m “tagging” to participate in the Tripbase project:
Hal Amen: WayWorded
Donna Arioldi: Prepare for Crosscheck
Megan Hill: See.Write.Live.
Reeti Roy: Clickety Click Click
Michelle Schusterman: MusicTravelWrite