Sunday, February 26, 2006

Connecting to Mexico

Type of website: Magazine-style travel and culture guide
Excellent source of...: Cultural information about all parts of Mexico has got to be one of the earliest websites all about Mexico. Its been around as long as I can remember. As such, it is a rich and deep site with vast amounts of information. Unfortunately for the casual web surfer, much of the information is now behind the Subscriber wall, an attempt on the part of the website's owner to gain some compensation for all the hard work that has been put into it. They only want $30 for a year, which seems reasonable if you are going to be reading it often. And in all fairness, the website creator deserves some compensation for the work of making the website and keeping it current.

But since the website is peppered with Google ads, I'm sure they are making some good money. And the constant badgering to sign up is a little bit annoying. The website is showing its age, as it seems to have been tweaked and messed with a few times too many. Old articles haven't been updated with the new look. Or the next one either. Now margins don't line up, colors don't match and the entire thing looks like someone's poor relative. On the About Us page, they say there are ten main areas of information on the website, and then they list 8. They claim there are seven areas of service. They list 6 of them. The areas of service are supposedly only for subscribers, and yet buying your books through Amazon, because they are an affiliate, is one of their services. This doesn't make any sense, and the lack of attention to detail or cohesive design bothers me, and for me detracts from the valuable content of the website.

But I digress. The most important thing about this website is the depth and breadth of information about traveling to, living in and appreciating Mexico. Topics on the website range from Visa and Entry Requirements to How to Buy Real Estate to Mexican Food Recipes. There is a section on Mexican Artists and one on Mexican writers. There's even four decent articles on bullfighting. The only catch is that each article is only half there...the other half is available to subscribers. There are forums about Living, Working and Retiring in Mexico, as well as a separate forum for each section of Mexico...but the forums are only available to subscribers.

The articles (they claim to have more than 12,000 articles) seem to be written by folks who live in Mexico or at least have a strong understanding and appreciation of the Mexican culture. Many of them are recent and the site is updated consistently. There is a monthly magazine structure to the index page, where the month's articles by eleven different columnists are listed on the index page, but the free website only lets you read partial articles. To read the whole thing, you guessed it, you have to be a subscriber.

I must admit, I'm not a subscriber. I have an issue with a website that asks me for subscription money AND clutters up my screen with ads TOO. One or the other is okay with me. And if I'm going to actually pay to read this website, I expect a website that is well designed and easy to navigate. Mexconnect is neither.

But that's me. I live in Mexico already and I'm a web designer. In an alternate reality, I'm a fifty-something retired dentist in Des Moines and I'm considering moving to Mexico to enjoy my retirement. My alternate self wouldn't hesitate to sign up for a year of reading the wealth of content in

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Mexican Fluffy and Fluffier

Website Title:
Type of website: Travel guide
Excellent source of...: Travel and surfing information...and advertisements.

This isn't the best website about Mexico that we've seen, but there are worse. It appears that it started out as a website about surfing spots and towns in Mexico, and then decided to expand. It is full of Google ads and other affiliate advertising, but it balances that out with a healthy dose of original writing and photography. The writers appear to live in the Zihuatenejo/Ixtapa area and seem to have spent most of their time in Western Mexico (well, that's where the surf is....) and the website is heavily weighted with information about Michoacan, Jalisco, Oaxaca, Morelos and Guerrero.

One of the reasons this isn't a better website is that it is not well organized. I find it confusing and hard to navigate....unless I want to reserve a hotel room. There's no problem finding a link to do that. This website has some good content and lovely photography... but it is close to being overshadowed by advertising and seems a little light on timely content.

Website Title:
Type of website: Travel guide
Excellent source of...: Advertising

Here's a website that promises much more than it delivers. looks like it got started quite a few years ago, and that is one of the reasons that it does so well in the search engines. And it does come up a lot for keywords involving "Mexico" and "travel". But is it full of useful content? Not hardly.

Go2Mexico appears to be all about making money when you make reservations for hotels, cars or flights. There is a general website, and then there are linked city-guide websites, such as, get the idea. Each city guide has listings of hotels, restaurants, shopping, etc. but they are far from comprehensive. In fact, they don't even attempt to be comprehensive. They are basically listings of whichever businesses pay to advertise on the website. For instance, on, there are THREE restaurants listed. Have you ever been to Cancun? There are three restaurants per 100 yards in some places in the Zona Hotelera...and far more than three restaurants that the informed traveler will want to read about.

Occasionally one of these sections has some articles associated with it. The same articles for shopping in Cancun were listed for shopping in Puerto Vallarta. And they were written in 2000 and 2001. Hardly up to date, and hardly pertinent.

There's a "What's New" link on the left, where I expected to read new information about traveling in Mexico. What I found instead was a listing of the new advertisers that had been added to the website. There is a Travel Tips page that has useful information, but nothing unusual or hard to find somewhere else.

In short, this is a website that appears to be selling a lot and not providing much in return. Mostly fluff, not much real content.

Monday, February 20, 2006

A few more blogs

Two more English-language blogs about Mexico have linked to our Yucatan Living website recently, and they are two worth exposing to our ever-growing audience.

Website Title: Sparks Mexico
Type of Website: Personal Blog
Excellent source of...: Recent photos off the beaten tourist track and hidden gems of information is a combination travel and photo blog written by an expatriate living in Jalisco, it appears. The website really does not have much information about the writer, but that is not necessary to enjoy the information presented. The author has recently traveled around central Mexico and has posted extensive photo collections of areas like Patzcuaro, Costalegre, Mexico City, Cuernavaca and the Michoacan Coast. The photos are usually accompanied by a short explanation, but the real value is in the photos themselves. They are well composed photos of subject matter not always covered by travel websites. After you've read up on Patzcuaro, how many different photos of the central square do you need to see? But if you are interested in traveling there, it's helpful to see photos of side streets, typical hotels, restaurants, etc.

And the website has a few little hidden gems. One of my favorites is the Fruit Calendar, a simple table showing which months are the best for buying all the different fruits that you find in a typical Mexican mercado.

Website Title: KATravels
Type of Website: Personal Blog
Excellent source of...: Philosophical and often poetic insights with a fresh eye on the Merida experience. Also, perhaps, the experience of someone (dare I say it...?) younger than most of us!

Karen Taylor is in Merida for the next year on a Fulbright Scholarship. Lucky Karen! And lucky to those of us who remember to read her blog regularly. Written with wit and intelligence by a young woman with a degree in education, this blog seems to be a fairly regular report of her experiences here. She is working with the local university, becoming a regular guest on a local talk show about learning English and, apparently, learning how to cook frijol con puerco like a pro (I'm so jealous...). KAT isn't just one of those kids who saw teaching English as a way to travel for less...she's really into the technology of teaching language. If you are too, follow this link to her other blog, the one with the long name: Instructional Technology Greenhouse.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Are you Experienced?

If you are planning to travel to Mexico, is probably the most helpful website you will find. It was conceived and is mostly written by a young British gentleman by the name of Matt Harrup. What's most unique and valuable about this website is Matt himself. He grew up in Mexico and only recently relocated back to Great Britain. He still has various siblings and friends living in Mexico and travels to Mexico a few times a year. He knows a lot about the country and knows how to find out what he doesn't know. And he understands what English-speakers want and need to know about Mexico before and during their travels.

His intention with this website is to organize information about Mexico based on the kind of experience you want to have when you get there. As he knows, Mexico is a vast and varied country that offers more than one person can possibly see in a lifetime. His website allows you to explore the country and make some decisions about where you want to go *before* you buy your ticket. Or if you've been to a place in Mexico that you enjoyed, the website allows you to find similar places based on characteristics such as beach, big cities, archaeological sites, nature & adventure, etc. without knowing specific names before you get started.

The website has many hidden tools for choosing your Mexican vacation. If you are interested in a spa vacation, the website helps you understand how to choose a spa, how spas are priced in Mexico and then directs you to the SpaQuest service to compare specific spas in Mexico. There are currency conversion tools, tutorials on types of insurance available when going to Mexico, tips on traveling with children and a collection of over 2000 photos of different parts of Mexico. Matt also publishes a free monthly newsletter that you can sign up for on the website.

The advantage of this website is that it is written by someone who really knows the territory. He has organized a comprehensive treasure trove of information in ways that make it easy to access, and he's kept the website simple and clean and easy on the eye. There are some holes in the travel guides...they seem to be missing a lot in the way of restaurant recommendations, for instance...but it is amazingly comprehensive, considering the ground it is covering.

The website won the Silver Lense Award in April 2005 for the best travel website about Mexico written outside of the country. I think it deserved it....see what you think.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Tales of a Foreigner Living in Mexico

Website Title: Guajiro Dreams
Type of website:
Personal blog
Excellent source of...: Cultural and experiential details you only learn about living in Mexico.

Guajiro Dreams is probably my favorite (so far) expat blog out of Mexico. The author lives in San Juan del Rio in the state of Guanajuato, so he really is deep in the heart of Mexican culture. Like many expats here, he has some strong political opinions about both Mexico and the United States. He writes in a familiar and conversational style. And I don't know...seems like he goes through so many of the same experiences that we do. Recently he posted about having his DNS address blocked by Prodigy, which is of course the only ISP we can use here in Mexico. They do this. It's such a pain. They always say they didn't do it, but those of us who understand what is going on *know* they did it. It's infuriating. See, this guy knows this stuff. And this is the stuff of day to day life in Mexico. (Not all of it is about technology, by the way...)

Related websites: Gemstones of Mexico and Casa de Mexico
Type of website:
Gems and Clothing from Mexico
Excellent source of...: Handmade jewelry, leatherwork and one-of-a-kind treasures from Mexico.

The author of Guajiro Dreams appears to sell gemstones from Mexico from websites linked to this blog. sells work by a few hand-picked artesans who create jewelry and leather items. sells Mexican fire agate, crystal opals and fossil specimens. I must admit I don't like the website designs much...but all the information is there, and hey! the website works, which is more than I can say for a lot of them.