WHEN most people think of Mexico, they envisage a dry, arid landscape, with cactus after cactus on a rocky sunburnt backdrop.
Wwhile this is the picture painted in some of the country's northern regions, the south offers an entirely different scene.
My partner is Mexican so during a recent visit, we took the opportunity to unravel some of Mexico's hidden secrets and some of its not-so-hidden gems on a four-week road trip into its heart and soul.
Guadalajara is a city of colonial architecture, monumental design and the birthplace of some of Mexico's trademarks: tequila, sombreros and the Mariachi, who you hear serenading in every street.
We spent five nights exploring Guadalajara by foot, bus and in a horse and carriage; a strange sight among thousands of cars competing for a space in the urban sprawl.
‘Downtown' is bursting at the seams and the contrast of old and new in a city settled in 1542 is breathtaking.
It takes a full hour to exit the city landscape but when you do, you really do.
Golden fields littered with agave plants, used to make tequila, followed us on a four- hour drive from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta.
We passed through Tequila Town, home to the tequila distilleries, saw men riding cowboy style on horseback and were surrounded by towering mountains covered with ruins and molten rock; remnants of past volcanic eruptions.
As you near the coastal town of Vallarta the scenery changes yet again. The rocks are swapped for jungle and the agave for palm trees; a beautiful combination.
We spent over a week lapping up this laidback piece of paradise.
In Vallarta we took in the boardwalk, or Malecon, and ate fresh seafood offered by still wet fishermen on the sidewalk while watching indigenous Mexican men perform religious rituals at sunset.
We even went horse riding alongside literally hundreds of others to an inland waterfall where the horses swam with us in the cool water.
I'm not usually a fan of driving long distances but in Mexico long distances don't really exist because there was something to look at, somewhere to stop and something to do almost everywhere we went.
When we set off from Vallarta – my now favourite place in the world – we drove on winding (and I mean winding) roads through dense bushy hills and along coastline like I'd never seen before.
After a full day of sightseeing from our open windows, we stopped for the night at Barra De Navidad in a small, colourful Casa.
Although our time there was short, we drank in as much of the town as we could.
A night walk through the market stalls, an early morning stroll on the beach for sunrise and a boat ride through the canals with a friendly fisherman before enjoying the fresh made pastries at a little French bakery.
Our next stop was Colima, in the state of Colima: we had crossed state borders for the third time.
This sleepy town was like something out of an olden day movie where they show you big cities before they were big. The buildings are similar to what you might expect to see on a Parisian street during the 1950s.
That night we explored the town by foot watching jazz musicians and crowds of locals dancing under moonlight.
Without photos I couldn't describe our next stop.
A village I'll call it, set in the mountains and stuck in a time warp.
Tapalpa had very narrow cobblestone streets, and hardly any cars, just horses and carts with the occasional old truck transporting logs, animals or people.
I can safely say we were the only white people in town.
Every small building was snuggled closely together, all whitewashed brick with old red tiled roofs; not a unique building in sight until you stepped inside.
The town centre boasted a cathedral, a few stores and scattered eating places, which could be more accurately be described as people's dining rooms.
It was almost sad to leave, back to reality and modern life.
GOOD TO KNOW ABOUT MEXICO
Getting there: A number of airlines will fly you to Los Angeles.
From there, you can get a direct flight to Guadalajara.
Local currency: Mexican Pesos – generally about 10 pesos to one Aussie dollar.
Visas: To visit Mexico, you will need a tourist visa from the airport on arrival.
The visa will last you for three months.
Health: Obtain vaccinations for Hepatitis A and Typhoid.
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.