Ben Gritzewsky with Frosch Travel offers clients expert advice on what to see and do in Mexico. // © 2014 Ben Gritzewsky
Feature image (above): Gritzewsky often recommends that first-time visitors to Mexico head to Mexico City, or that they combine the capital with another destination. // © 2014 Creative Commons user rutlo
Joining the travel industry was a happy accident for Ben Gritzewsky, a senior independent travel advisor with Frosch Travel. Nearly 30 years ago, he was working for a shipping company in Texas when the industry collapsed. Around the same time, his sister opened her own travel agency in Houston.
“She had known since high school that that was what she wanted to do,” Gritzewsky said. “I had always loved travel and my mother suggested that I help my sister out, and 20 years just flew by. Sharing my knowledge with others and learning about my clients and the industry itself has been great.”
Since the agency’s office was located in Houston’s central museum district, many clients were arts and culture lovers. Over time, Gritzewsky found he was able to blend these interests with his own passion for a particular destination — Mexico. The country’s proximity to Texas made it easy for him to visit often. Gritzewsky recently moved to Merida, Mexico, the capital city of the state of Yucatan, and remains affiliated with the Houston office of Frosch Travel.
Gritzewsky talked with TravelAge West about cultural offerings in his new hometown and in other destinations within Mexico.
Merida may not be a city that clients have heard of before. What does it have to offer?
When visitors come to Merida, they are always surprised by the amount of cultural offerings. Not only is it surrounded by amazing archaeology at nearby sites like Uxmal and Dzibilchaltun, it also has great museums, galleries, historical attractions and live performances to choose from.
I recommend a simple stroll in Merida's main plaza, with its constant flow of families, musicians, vendors, lovers and travelers. The city and Yucatan state governments sponsor frequent festivals and concerts for the public, and various organizations offer dance, theater and literary events. Yucatan Symphony Orchestra does a full calendar of classical concerts and ends each season with a full-scale opera production featuring internationally renowned guest artists. Admission to many things is free, but when required, tickets are amazingly affordable.
What destinations in Mexico do you recommend for first-time visitors?
I think a brilliant introduction to the country is Mexico City because it’s fascinating enough to appeal to a wide range of people and different interests. It also has air connections to anywhere in the U.S. You can try it out in just one weekend or easily combine it with another destination in Mexico.
Of course, the food is fabulous, too — gastronomy is a part of travel anywhere, but traditional Mexican cuisine is even on UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists. Mexico City has fantastic restaurants, world-class chefs and restaurants for foodies to explore. It’s also just a great place for someone interested in the culture.
Are there specific parts of Mexico City people should not miss?
I advise people to visit the historical center of Mexico City, which is pre-Aztec, then also the Polanco neighborhood for its contemporary culture and art scene. Next up, go to the Coyoacan neighborhood for the museums dedicated to Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.
For a quick trip out of town, clients might go to Tenochtitlan, where archaeologists keep excavating new things. It’s about an hour-long drive outside of the city.
If a client wants to plan a trip that combines Mexico City and another location, what’s one possibility?
I really like the combination we can do with Mexico City and the city of Oaxaca, a colonial, inland mountain town with fantastic archaeology, great culture and wonderful food, plus lots of art.
It isn’t as daunting as Mexico City, and it’s full of culture and vibrant nightlife. Plus, it’s close to some of the most beautiful beaches in Huatulco and Puerto Escondido, about a half-day’s drive away. The corridor there is getting a little more developed, but it’s still relatively unspoiled. It’s also a very eco-friendly region, so new developments have great respect for nature.
Is there a better time of year to visit Mexico?
I like to schedule trips that coincide with holidays and festivals. Oaxaca has amazing events around the Christmas holiday, including the Night of the Radishes, an outrageous celebration. The Day of the Dead is also really special in Oaxaca and beyond, celebrated toward the end of October and early November. Visiting during a festival makes it all more colorful.