While everyone knows that Mexico is a country, not everyone knows that Mexico is also a state. The State of Mexico is deep in the heart of the country. It’s only about the size of New Jersey, but it’s big on culture, history and food.
Most journeys through the state begin in its capital city of Toluca. The city is a cultural hub, full of museums and monuments.
The most unexpected work of art is the Cosmovitral, an enormous stained glass conservatory. Created by artist Leopoldo Flores Valeds, it is made up of nearly 9,000 feet of glass brought in from around the world.
The structure was completed in 1910 as part of Mexico’s centennial celebrations, and was meant to show time and movement in the colored glass.
With running water, music and more than 400 plant species, it’s a great way for locals to escape city life. The central wall is a stained-glass sunset, and it lines up with the actual sun as it sinks on the horizon. When the two line up it’s a special effect you don’t want to miss.
For a closer look at this stained-glass beauty, click here.
The State of Mexico may be modern on the surface, but its roots are deeply tied to ancient civilizations like Olmecs, the Toltecs and the Aztecs. Those old ruins are still standing and some are even accessible to the public.
Some visitors to the state of Mexico will often stop at the pyramids of Teotihuacan. But if you really want to avoid the crowds, the buses and still get a great experience, then head to Malinalco—with an ancient, surprising Aztec site that’s truly stunning.
Carved on the side of the mountaintop, the temple of Cuauhtinchan is the only monolithic temple in all of Mexico—that means it’s cut out of a single stone. The Aztecs built it over a span of fifteen years for their most elite warriors.
This was the home, and the place of training and dedication of the Eagle and Jaguar knights, the guardians of this magical place. And even today, it takes a warrior’s spirit to get to the temple, since there are 426 steps to the top.
It may be a trek, but this is one location worth every step.
Check out this video to see Peter climbing the 426 steps.
If you’re looking for art, there’s more to the State of Mexico than Aztec architecture. The state is full of traditional handicrafts, and some are as old as the pyramids.
It’s one thing to go to a local market and bring home a souvenir, but it’s another to learn about the process behind it. In the State of Mexico, many local artisans will not only show you their work, but they will give you a hands-on experience you’ll never forget.
That way, when you bring home a souvenir, you’ll also bring home the story of how it was made.
A very common craft in the State of Mexico is a type of clay sculpture called a Tree of Life. These were originally created to teach stories from the Bible, but today you can find sculptures depicting anything from history to childhood toys.
Many artisans will actually open up their studios to you so that you can see how a Tree of Life is made.
One good place to visit is the home of Javier Ramirez Hernandez, who has been making these sculptures for nearly 30 years. Some of his creations reach up to nine feet tall and weigh two tons.
Javier’s creations have been seen all over the world, in venues ranging from museums to the Vatican. But you can just go to his workshop in Metepec to take a look at his latest creations.
Another great place to get hands-on experience is an hour away in the pueblo of Malinalco. There you can take look something a little more fashionable: the art of shawlmaking.
Artisan Camelia Ramos Zamora carries on her father’s lifework, making silk and cotton shawls with pre-Hispanic methods that involve all-natural dyes and handlooms.
You might even get a chance to try weaving your own creations, and you’ll definitely go home with a wearable piece of art. And that’s definitely not something you can buy in any gift shop.
To get a closer look at how these artisans make their products, check out this video.
The State of Mexico is known for its traditional handicrafts. But there’s a region within it called Almoloya that is known for something else.
Now you’re not going to find these fireworks factories in the brochures, and you won’t see them advertised, but if you ask the locals they’ll bring you here for a truly hands-on experience that can only be described as an explosive art form.
For a closer look at Almoloya’s firework industry, the man to visit is firework maker Fernando Fuentes Medina and his family of master craftsmen. They’ve been creating fireworks for four generations, and they’ve even won awards for their creations.
Now these aren’t your typical Fourth of July fireworks. They are huge and explode into geometric and animal shapes. They’re also brilliant and colorful.
If you visit the Medina family, be sure to ask them to take you into their workshop. It might look like a mad scientist’s laboratory, but this is how the fireworks get made.
Click here to see Peter trying his hand at mixing explosives.
If you’re traveling through the State of Mexico, and you get hungry, well you better be prepared to eat well, and nowhere better than La Marquesa. It’s a combination of wildlife park and foodie road stop right between Mexico City and Toluca.
La Marquesa is the nickname of the Parque Nacional Insurgente Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. This national park may be full of hiking, biking and horseback riding, but its real claim to fame is its food.
No need to bring a picnic. It’s already here. The park is loaded with food stalls, serving regional and sometimes exotic dishes from around the state.
The best part is that you can see the food being prepared right in front of you, and that’s half the entertainment.
For starters, you can get a fruit cocktail unlike any you’ve seen before. Then take look at tacos made from blue corn, homemade cheese, green chorizo and get this — corn fungus.
You might even get a chance to lend a hand. On second thought, it might be a better idea to just sit back and let the professions take over.
From corn fungus cuisine to a true piña colada, La Marquesa is a must stop for authentic Mexican street foods.
Check out Peter’s experience at the food stalls of La Marquesa.
Want to know more about the adventurous side of the State of Mexico? Check out zip lining on the Xalpa Aqueduct and paragliding in Valle de Bravo.