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Mexico in the Rainy Season: Buckets of Fun

Things are greener in the summer.

by Jane Onstott

By about 3 PM the rain clouds began to bunch in on a previously cloudless sky. A slight wind rose, and by the cocktail hour the heavens opened, unleashing several inches of rain. Our summer afternoon of sightseeing in Mexico City interrupted, my travel companions and I sprinted for the nearest watering hole, shook the rain from our jackets, and ducked inside.

Several hours later my two friends and I remained sensibly glued to our barstools. The rain banged on the roof and steamed up the windows, producing a warm and cozy feeling in this neighborhood pub of sparkling brass and hand-polished wood. We spent a deliciously unproductive afternoon playing cards. From the bartender and the barflies we learned bits of neighborhood trivia. By the time the rain began to let up, we were relaxed, refreshed, and armed with a half dozen recommendations for “locals-only” restaurants.

Rather than being a downer, a rain storm is a blessing in smoggy Mexico City. It rinses the dust from trees and flowers, refreshes the air. Even colonial gems like Oaxaca City and San Luis Potosi benefit from a good scrubbing. When the sun comes out their old historic centers look positively youthful.

All is clear after the storm.

Photographers who shudder at the sight of a flat, gray sky love the dramatic storm clouds that the rainy season brings. They make an excellent backdrop for travel photos. And the more subdued lighting brings out nature’s colors and is flattering to people.

Another benefit of rainy season travel is the profuse vegetation and green, green hills. In tropical Mazatlan and Acapulco, scraggly gray-brown vegetation seems out of place. But that’s what the native flora looks like well into the dry season before being revived by the first summer showers. By July, bright green corn stalks are pushing up through loamy fields, receiving the rain like a gift. By August, waterfalls and rivers are full and quick; kayakers and rafters bounce along boisterous rivers in the country’s interior.

On the down side, iffy infrastructure in older coastal cities means that after a heavy rain, significant amounts of sewage may find its way into the ocean. This is especially a problem in enclosed bays, like Acapulco’s. Also, hurricanes touch land in the Caribbean several times a year, although fewer make landfall along the Pacific coast. Hurricane season is mid-September through mid-November, and while odds are in the traveler’s favor, names like Gilbert and Stan remain indelibly etched in our memories.

The clouds are beautiful over the ocean.

Swimmers love the warm ocean temperatures that summer brings, but divers and snorkelers experience reduced visibility. Surface temps in the Pacific and the Caribbean can reach the 80s in summer, while dipping into the 60s during the coolest, driest months: January and February.

Personally, I adore the rainy season in Mexico’s interior colonial cities: Guanajuato, Tlaxcala, Oaxaca, and Queretaro. No hurricanes there, and the afternoon dumping is mostly predictable and refreshing. Tourists are few. Locals come out of hiding and head for their favorite discos and bars. Spanish once again becomes the lingua franca. And I get to play cards to my heart’s content, guilt-free.