The Ultimate Guide to Discovering the Best Places to Travel in Mexico
Welcome to the vibrant and diverse country of Mexico, where stunning landscapes and rich cultural heritage await you at every corner. From the ancient ruins of Chichen Itza to the picturesque beaches of Cancun, this article will guide you through the best places to travel in Mexico. Overflowing with a multitude of options, whether you're seeking adventure, relaxation, or a dose of history, Mexico promises to be an unforgettable destination that will capture your heart and leave you yearning for more. Join us as we embark on an exciting journey to uncover the hidden gems and must-visit spots in this captivating land.
The Yucatán Peninsula
When exploring the Yucatán Peninsula, there are countless destinations to choose from. To make the most of your trip, it is recommended to select a base location where you can return time and time again. The Yucatán Peninsula comprises the Mexican states of Yucatán, Quintana Roo, and Campeche, making it a must-visit region.
Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula is widely recognized as one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in the country. Situated between the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, this stunning peninsula offers a wealth of attractions and destinations. From the famous beach towns of Cancun, Cozumel, and Playa Del Carmen to other hidden gems, the Yucatán Peninsula spans an impressive area of 197,000 square kilometers (76,300 square miles), providing endless opportunities for exploration and enjoyment.
Book this incredible whale shark adventure (which we personally experienced) departing from Cancun. Whale shark tours are available from May to December in the Yucatán Peninsula. We highly recommend the company Get Your Guide, as they offer free cancellation within 24 hours of the tour.
Located on the Caribbean coast of Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula, Cancun is a world-renowned tourist destination that offers a diverse range of attractions. Visitors can expect pristine beaches, a vibrant hotel zone, ancient Mayan ruins, modern entertainment options, and an exciting nightlife.
The year-round perfect weather and stunning beaches of Cancun make it an irresistible magnet for tourists. Stretching over fourteen miles, these beaches boast powdery white sand and turquoise waters, attracting water sports enthusiasts and local vendors selling unique souvenirs. In contrast, the downtown area, known as El Centro, showcases authentic Mexican charm through its historical architecture, restaurants, markets, and lively bars and clubs.
Within Cancun, there are several small Mayan archaeological sites to explore. While some of these sites still remain hidden within the jungle, others, like El Meco and El Ray, serve as popular tourist attractions, with El Ray located within the hotel zone. Additionally, tourists can partake in various recreational activities such as jeep safaris, snorkeling, and scuba diving.
Shoppers will enjoy browsing the La Isla mall, while sports fans can catch an exciting football match at the downtown stadium or play a round of golf at one of the many courses available. As a city known for its lively nightlife, Cancun offers plenty of options, ranging from bars and nightclubs to dance halls and dinner cruises.
Although it has gained significant popularity, Tulum still boasts some of the world's best beaches.
Enjoy a delightful breakfast from the beachside balcony of the top-rated Nerea Tulum (book here), our current favorite hotel in Tulum.📍 For location details, check out Google Maps or explore our comprehensive Tulum Guide. If you're ready to book, browse the available hotels in Tulum on Booking.
Tulum was once a quiet fishing village and a hidden gem, but it has now become a popular destination, especially for celebrities seeking luxurious getaways in Tulum's exceptional hotels. The town is also famous for its beachside Mayan ruins, which attract large crowds.
Tulum has gained a reputation as a party destination, which has raised concerns about safety in the area. However, if you stay in Tulum's hotel zone and steer clear of illicit activities, you can enjoy a happy and secure beach vacation. It's important to note that during certain times of the year, seaweed may cover the beach.
🤫 Looking for a secret place to stay in Tulum? Check out the exclusive Nerea Tulum(book here). Located in the secluded and prestigious Tankah Bay community just north of Tulum, this hotel offers proximity to both the town and the beach while providing a peaceful atmosphere away from the crowds and potential safety concerns.
Rio Secreto Cenote
Discover the underground cenotes of Mexico, hidden treasures that offer a truly unique experience. The resorts along the turquoise waters of the Riviera Maya tend to be more tranquil compared to other resort areas, making them ideal for those seeking a more off-the-beaten-path vacation. If you're looking to explore cenotes, Tulum is the perfect place to start, as it boasts a high concentration of these breathtaking underground sinkholes. For more information, take a look at our collection of stunning photos depicting Mexico's extraordinary cenotes: Cenotes in Photos – Discover Mexico's Extraordinary Underground Caves
Cozumel was one of our earliest scuba diving trips, and it remains an excellent choice for diving enthusiasts. Located off the east coast of Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula in the Caribbean Sea, Cozumel is a popular tourist destination known for its remarkable underwater experiences, including vibrant marine life and stunning coral reefs. This island paradise offers some of the best scuba diving opportunities in the world. Find out more about the incredible water sports you can enjoy in the Caribbean. If you're not a certified diver, don't worry – snorkeling is also a fantastic option.
While many visitors choose to explore Cozumel on a day trip from Cancun or Playa Del Carmen, staying on the island provides an authentic Caribbean experience. Cozumel offers a range of all-inclusive resorts, opportunities to explore small Mayan ruins, and numerous beautiful beaches. The bustling downtown markets are great for shopping, and the destination offers a vibrant nightlife scene and a wide selection of dining options. For a more in-depth guide to Cozumel, check out The Best Cancun Day Trips.
Where to Stay in Cozumel
Stretching from just south of Cancun to Punta Allen, the Riviera Maya (sometimes referred to as the Mayan Riviera) is a highly sought-after resort area in southern Mexico. It encompasses the best resorts in Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, and Cozumel, making it a prime choice for those seeking an all-inclusive experience.
The Riviera Maya serves as an excellent base for exploration, as many tour operators offer convenient hotel pick-up services, and hotels often provide shuttles to major attractions. Furthermore, its location on the Gulf of Mexico ensures warm and calm waters with stunning coral reefs just off the shore, creating the perfect beach vacation. For more information on the magical cenotes of Mexico, check out Rio Secreto Cenote – Mexico's Magical Underground Caves.
Isla Mujeres is a peaceful island located just off the coast of Cancun, ideal for water sports and diving.
Discover Isla Mujeres, a relatively developed island accessible via ferry from Cancun. It stands out as one of the best places to visit in Mexico, particularly for scuba diving enthusiasts. The island offers shallow reefs protected from strong currents, providing the perfect opportunity to encounter manta rays or even whale sharks.
If you prefer a more relaxed beach vacation, Isla Mujeres is an excellent choice that offers a quieter and more affordable alternative to Cancun. Furthermore, since Isla Mujeres is an island, at least one side typically remains untouched by the sargassum seaweed often found on mainland beaches along the Riviera Maya.
Many years ago, during our visit to the ancient city of Chichen Itza, we were fortunate enough to climb to the top of the Grand Pyramid El Castillo at this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although climbing is no longer permitted, a visit to Chichen Itza remains a must-do activity, as it is recognized as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
This ancient Mayan city is considered the epitome of Mayan ruins in Mexico due to its impeccable preservation and well-maintained grounds.
Chichen Itza is one of the most popular day trips in Mexico and can become quite crowded. For a more immersive experience, we recommend considering an overnight stay near the site, enabling you to arrive early and avoid the tour buses. Additionally, if you book a day trip to Chichen Itza, be sure to combine it with a refreshing dip in one of the nearby cenotes. For a comprehensive look at the wonders of the world, explore 7 Wonders of the World – the New, The Natural, and the Ancient.
Playa Del Carmen
Playa Del Carmen is another popular Mexican beach destination that offers something for everyone. Situated an hour south of Cancun on the Riviera Maya, this charming coastal town invites visitors to immerse themselves in its lively atmosphere, abundant shopping options, and diverse culinary scene. All the day trips and activities available in Cancun can also be enjoyed from Playa Del Carmen, with tour operators offering hotel pick-up services.
Playa Del Carmen has experienced significant growth over the years, transforming it from a quiet town to a bustling tourist hub. However, quieter portions of the town can still be found. To fully experience the local beach and nightlife scene, we recommend booking a vacation rental in Playa Del Carmen, allowing you to enjoy the area like a local. You can find excellent accommodation options in Playa Del Carmen by searching on TripAdvisor.
Where to Stay in Playa Del Carmen
Los Cabos - Cabo San Lucas
Situated on the west coast of Mexico's Baja California Sur, Los Cabos is a highly popular destination, particularly for those residing on the West Coast of North America. Los Cabos is a municipality comprising two towns, San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas.
The resort strip of Cabo San Lucas lies between these two towns and offers all the amenities one would expect from a Caribbean vacation, despite being located on the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean. Cabo San Lucas is known for its lively atmosphere, partying, and vibrant nightlife, while San Jose del Cabo provides a more authentic Mexican experience, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in genuine Mexican culture.
If you're seeking alternatives to the bustling resort areas, we recommend visiting Todo Santos and San Jose del Cabo, both of which offer a variety of accommodation options to suit different preferences and budgets. For an extraordinary sea kayaking adventure in Baja Mexico, consider embarking on a remarkable 10-day journey. Learn more about it in our article on Sea Kayaking Baja Mexico.
Where to Stay in Cabo San Lucas
Chiapas, the southernmost state in Mexico, offers breathtaking scenery, extraordinary Mayan ruins, and the beautiful colonial town of San Cristobal de Las Casas. Settle in San Cristobal de Las Casas to experience a truly extraordinary Mexican vacation. The historic center of this charming town transports visitors back in time, with its cobblestone streets, exquisite churches, and captivating Spanish architecture. Indigenous residents weave through the streets in traditional attire, adding to the town's charm and providing a glimpse into authentic Mexican culture.
During your visit to Chiapas, be sure to explore the ancient Mayan ruins of Palenque, where you can climb its pyramid and hike through the impressive Canyon del Sumidero. This canyon holds the same ancient history as the Grand Canyon and reaches a height of 300 meters (1000 feet), showcasing remarkable caves, waterfalls, and playful spider monkeys.
Where to Stay in Chiapas
Mayan Ruins Mexico:
- San Cristóbal de las Casas: This charming colonial city in the highlands of Chiapas offers a vibrant blend of color, culture, and history.
- Palenque: If you're passionate about Mayan history, consider staying in or near the town of Palenque, which is conveniently close to the legendary Palenque archaeological site.
- Tuxtla Gutiérrez: As the capital city of Chiapas, Tuxtla Gutiérrez provides a wide range of accommodations to suit various budgets and preferences.
Izamal is a picturesque small town situated in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico. It is famously known as the "Yellow City" due to the vibrant color of its buildings, particularly the stunning Convento de San Antonio de Padua. This magnificent 16th-century Franciscan monastery is built on top of a Mayan pyramid. The Yellow City is built around several ancient Mayan pyramids, with Kinich Kak Moo pyramid standing out as one of the largest in Mexico. Visitors can climb this pyramid to enjoy a panoramic view of the City of Hills. Izamal holds the distinction of being one of Mexico's "Pueblos Mágicos" or "Magic Towns," which recognizes its unique cultural and historical significance. As one of the oldest cities in Yucatán, Izamal was once a significant religious center in the ancient Mayan civilization.
Where to Stay in Izamal
Speaking of canyons, Copper Canyon in Northern Mexico exceeds the size of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Composed of six canyons, it is a popular destination for exploration via train. A breathtaking journey awaits travelers aboard the Copper Canyon Railway (The Chihuahua-Pacifico Railway) from Chihuahua to Los Mochis. For a more immersive experience, it is recommended to stay overnight in a hotel with a view of one of the deepest canyons on Earth. Copper Canyon offers a plethora of adventure activities, including zip-lining, hiking, and horseback riding.
Copper Canyon, also known as Barranca del Cobre, is situated in the southwestern part of Chihuahua. Widely compared to the Grand Canyon in the United States, Copper Canyon is actually larger and deeper. This natural wonder combines beautiful landscapes, cultural immersion, outdoor activities, and culinary exploration, contributing to its unique appeal as a destination in Mexico.
San Miguel de Allende
The beautiful colonial city of San Miguel de Allende is a favored destination among ex-pats in Mexico. It offers a laid-back lifestyle, making it an excellent choice for extended trips. Although it may not be at the top of the list for traditional vacations in Mexico, San Miguel de Allende is an ideal option for those looking to explore different parts of the country or spend winters in Mexico. This charming town is located just 170 miles from downtown Mexico City and boasts a historic center filled with rich history, stunning Spanish-colonial architecture, and the neo-gothic church of La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel standing proudly at its heart.
Where to Stay in San Miguel de Allende
Located only 2 hours from Mexico City in central Mexico, Puebla offers a captivating experience. It is beloved for its culinary scene and stunning colonial architecture. The city's Historic Centre has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, housing beautiful buildings and vibrant streets adorned with colorful tiles (talavera).
Puebla is renowned throughout Mexico for its cuisine, with dishes such as mole poblano, a rich and complex sauce often served over chicken, and chiles en nogada, a stuffed pepper dish that reflects the colors of the Mexican flag, originating from this city.
One of the prominent landmarks in Puebla is the Puebla Cathedral, a remarkable Roman Catholic church in the city's Historic Centre. Notable for its stunning architecture, visitors should also explore the nearby Chapel of the Rosary (Capilla del Rosario), considered a masterpiece of Mexican Baroque architecture.
A short distance outside of Puebla lies the Great Pyramid of Cholula, claimed to be the world's largest pyramid by volume. This archaeological site is a must-visit for those interested in pre-Columbian history.
Tecaté - Rancho La Puerta
While Tijuana may be the more famous town on Mexico's northern border, nearby Tecate offers a tranquil retreat at Rancho La Puerta. This wellness retreat serves as a sanctuary in the mountains and has consistently been named one of the best spa destinations in the world by Condé Naste Traveler. Located just outside the small town of Tecate, visitors can cross the border from San Diego to explore this lesser-visited gem in Mexico. Tecate acts as the gateway to Mexico's wine route and the state of Baja California.
Mexico City, Mexico is a destination worth exploring due to its diverse offerings. It is impossible to narrow down a single aspect that makes Mexico City deserving of a place on this list. Whether it's the food, architecture, museums, art galleries, bars, or shopping, Mexico City has it all. The city center, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, showcases prominent historical buildings such as the Metropolitan Cathedral and the National Palace.
Mexico City boasts an impressive number of museums, with over 150 in total. Highlights include the world-renowned National Museum of Anthropology, the Frida Kahlo Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts. The city's culinary scene is among the best in the world, offering a wide range of dining options from street food stalls to high-end restaurants. It is the perfect place to savor authentic Mexican cuisine, including tacos, tamales, and enchiladas, as well as regional dishes from various parts of the country.
For those looking to venture outside of Mexico City, the ancient city of Teotihuacan is a must-visit. Home to some of the largest pre-Columbian pyramids in the Americas, Teotihuacan offers a glimpse into the country's rich history and heritage.
Where to Stay in Mexico City
Most travelers to Baja California Sur head straight to Cabo San Lucas. However, it's worth including a stop in La Paz if you're in this part of Mexico.
La Paz, the scenic capital city, offers incredible beaches on the Sea of Cortez. Fun fact: this sea is recognized as one of the most bio-diverse places on Earth! The abundance of marine life allows visitors to swim with sea lions, go diving with hammerhead sharks, and embark on whale-watching adventures. To witness majestic whales, it's best to visit between January and March. After indulging in water activities, taking a leisurely stroll along the long waterfront Malecon is highly recommended. Lined with shops, restaurants, and bars, it offers a range of experiences. There is a wide variety of activities and attractions in La Paz, making it an enticing addition to your travel itinerary in Mexico.
Oaxaca CityBest place for a city meets nature getaway
Oaxaca City, located in southern Mexico, is a captivating destination for nature enthusiasts and culture lovers alike. The city basks in bright upland light, mesmerizing travelers with its inventive Mexican cuisine, stunning handicrafts, vibrant fiestas, colonial architecture, thriving arts scene, and renowned local mezcals. Oaxaca City is even considered the capital of mezcal. Nearby, visitors can explore the ancient Zapotec capital of Monte Albán, visit indigenous craft-making villages with bustling weekly markets, and venture into the cool, forested hills of the Sierra Norte, perfect for outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding.
Oaxaca City exudes charm, with its cobblestone lanes, sidewalk cafes, and exceptional baroque architecture. It boasts a unique underground tunnel network that serves as roads, setting it apart from other cities in the world. Founded in 1559, Guanajuato rapidly gained fame for its gold and silver mines, some of which can still be visited today. La Valencia, in particular, stands out as one of the richest silver mines globally. Adjacent to the mine, visitors will find the lavishly adorned Church of San Cayetano, showcasing silver and gold accents. Traditional mariachi music is also a highlight of the city, adding to its cultural allure.
Querétaro is a vibrant city located in central Mexico. It is renowned for its well-preserved Spanish colonial architecture and remarkable wine. Querétaro stands out as one of the best places to visit in Mexico due to its Historic Centre, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its beautifully preserved colonial architecture. The city's baroque buildings and narrow cobblestone streets create a truly impressive atmosphere.
One of Querétaro's most iconic landmarks is its massive aqueduct, constructed in the 18th century. Spanning a distance of 1.3 kilometers, the aqueduct comprises 74 tall stone arches, offering a sight to behold.
Querétaro is also considered one of the safest cities in Mexico, making it an appealing destination for travelers. Its central location allows for easy exploration of other parts of central Mexico, including Mexico City, San Miguel de Allende, and Guanajuato.
My personal favorite small town in Mexico encapsulates a wealth of history, culture, vibrant colors, delectable Mayan cuisine, and stunning cenotes.
The word is getting out about my favorite traditional Mexican town, but Valladolid remains a hidden gem. Only a two-hour drive from Cancun, Valladolid provides an opportunity to experience Mexican culture amidst the Riviera Maya. Take a leisurely stroll through the colorful historic downtown, indulge in the flavors of Mayan cuisine at one of Valladolid's many authentic restaurants, and explore the cenotes. Cenotes are underground jungle swimming holes that resemble scenes from an Indiana Jones movie, offering some of the best cenotes in Mexico near Valladolid. Numerous boutique hotels in Valladolid provide affordable and comfortable accommodation options. By staying overnight, visitors can beat the tour buses to the nearby Chichen Itza Mayan ruins, another prominent destination among the best places to visit in Mexico.
Puerto EscondidoA laid-back beach town on the Pacific Ocean in Oaxaca, known for attracting surfers, sunbathers, and digital nomads.
Although once a hidden gem, the small Pacific Coast beach town of Puerto Escondido is gaining popularity. Travelers are drawn to its relaxed atmosphere and exceptional surfing spots. If you're looking for a smaller beach town to spend a significant amount of time in Mexico, Puerto Escondido is an excellent choice.
If you have a fondness for food, especially seafood, Ensenada is a destination you will adore. Every corner of Ensenada houses no-frills food stands that serve delectable deep-fried prawn or fish tacos.
Imagine biting into a soft flour taco loaded with deep-fried prawns, shredded crunchy lettuce, zesty lime juice, a dollop of sour cream, and fiery chili sauce – a treat for your palate. But it doesn't stop there; Ensenada is home to the award-winning ceviche stand, La Guerrerense. This stand, considered one of the best, serves up enticing ceviche tacos that will leave a lasting impression.
Learn all about tequila in the town of Tequila, Mexico. No trip to Mexico can be complete without visiting the birthplace of tequila, Tequila itself. I know, it can get a bit confusing. Tequila the drink is named after the town of Tequila, situated in central Mexico. This traditional Mexican town is where the renowned tequila is produced. So get ready to fully embrace the theme of your day in Tequila – plenty of tequila tastings!
Various distilleries are spread across the town, offering visitors the chance to learn about the transformation from humble agave plants to one of the world's most beloved beverages. Of course, sampling their unique styles of tequila is a must. One place you cannot miss while in the town of Tequila is La Capilla, named among the top 100 bars in the world.
BacalarLocals know that the clearest water in Mexico is not found at the beach! It can be found at Bacalar, which is known as Mexico's "Lake of 7 Colors."
Despite its proximity to Tulum, Bacalar remains a relatively undiscovered destination in Mexico. This is likely to change as more people learn about the wonders of Bacalar. As an alternative to the seaweed-covered beaches to the north, Bacalar offers an expansive lagoon with some of the bluest water imaginable. If possible, choose accommodation or rentals with a dock, as Bacalar is the perfect place to relax, disconnect, and unwind.
Guanajuato, the capital of the eponymous state, captivates visitors with its charm. Cobblestone lanes, sidewalk cafes, and stunning baroque architecture make it reminiscent of a European city. Guanajuato is also known for its unique underground tunnel network, which serves as roads and adds to the city's distinctiveness.
Founded in 1559, Guanajuato quickly gained fame for its gold and silver mines. Some of these mines can still be visited today, including La Valencia, one of the richest silver mines in the world. Adjoining the mine is the lavishly adorned Church of San Cayetano, showcasing silver and gold accents. Traditional mariachi music is also a highlight in the city, adding to its cultural tapestry.
Querétaro is a bustling city located in central Mexico. It is renowned for its well-preserved Spanish colonial architecture and exceptional wine. Querétaro stands out as one of the best places to visit in Mexico due to its Historic Centre, recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site for its beautifully preserved colonial architecture. The city's baroque buildings and narrow cobblestone streets create a truly enchanting atmosphere.
One of Querétaro's most iconic landmarks is its massive aqueduct, constructed in the 18th century. Comprising 74 tall stone arches that stretch over a distance of 1.3 kilometers, the aqueduct provides a remarkable sight.
Querétaro is considered one of the safest cities in Mexico, making it an attractive destination for travelers. Its central location provides convenient access to other parts of central Mexico, such as Mexico City, San Miguel de Allende, and Guanajuato.
My personal favorite small town in Mexico provides a wealth of history, culture, vibrant colors, delicious Mayan cuisine, and stunning cenotes.
Although Valladolid is becoming more well-known, it remains a hidden gem. Located just two hours from Cancun, Valladolid offers a taste of Mexican culture amidst the Riviera Maya. Take a leisurely stroll through the vibrant historic downtown filled with colorful buildings, dine at one of Valladolid's many authentic Mayan restaurants, and explore the stunning cenotes. Cenotes are underground jungle swimming holes that resemble scenes from an Indiana Jones movie, and Valladolid is home to some of the best cenotes in Mexico.
There is an abundance of affordable boutique hotels in Valladolid, providing comfortable accommodation options. By staying overnight, you can beat the tour buses to the nearby Chichen Itza Mayan ruins, another must-visit destination among the best places to see in Mexico.
Isla Holbox, a hidden gem beach destination, is reminiscent of Tulum before it became crowded. This tranquil island offers an array of activities such as kayaking in a bioluminescent bay, snorkeling with whale sharks, or simply unwinding on its car-free shores.
During our visit to Mexico, Clara and I quickly fell in love with Isla Holbox. This small paradise, located north of the Yucatan peninsula, is technically a sandbar. Despite its growing popularity, Isla Holbox remains a hidden gem where only golf carts are permitted, leaving ample space on the pristine beaches.
One of the remarkable features of Isla Holbox is its bioluminescent bay. Embarking on a night kayaking tour, as we did, allows for a breathtaking experience witnessing the water illuminate around us.
However, the highlight of visiting Isla Holbox is between the months of June and September when majestic schools of whale sharks migrate to the area for breeding. To witness these incredible creatures up close, there is no better place than Isla Holbox. Booking a snorkeling tour well in advance is advised, as spaces tend to fill up quickly.
Nicknamed the “White City” due to its dazzling white stone buildings, Merida serves as the capital of Mexico’s Yucatan state. Nestled near the northwestern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, the city boasts its distinct dialect, cuisine, and culture shaped by influences from Mayan, Caribbean, and colonial traditions.
Founded by Spanish Conquistadors in 1542 atop an ancient Mayan city, Merida showcases numerous colonial structures, including the former palace of a Conquistador leader. In the heart of the city lies the prominent plaza, known as "el Zocalo," home to historic landmarks such as a 16th-century cathedral, the Governor's Palace, and the Old City Hall.
One must not miss taking a stroll along the enchanting tree-lined street, El Paseo Montejo, adorned with grand mansions that reflect the city's past as the world's rope-making capital. This street offers an enjoyable evening walk, especially when the tropical weather is at its peak. The locals usually work in the mornings, taking a break during the hottest hours of the day to indulge in lunch and a siesta.
Visitors to Merida will find an array of attractions and activities to enjoy. From relaxing in public parks to exploring vibrant markets for unique souvenirs and venturing to nearby Mayan archaeological sites, the city offers an enriching experience for all curious travelers.
Guadalajara, the second largest city in Mexico after Mexico City, serves as the capital of Jalisco state. It is renowned for its rich culture, being the birthplace of mariachi music, a symbol of Mexican heritage. The city proudly hosts the annual International Mariachi Festival, a grand celebration featuring captivating performances, colorful parades, and spirited competitions.
Just outside the confines of Guadalajara lies the town of Tequila, where the world-famous spirit is produced. Engaging in a tour of the tequila distilleries unveils the secrets of this renowned beverage, offering insights into the blue agave fields and the intricate process of crafting tequila. Guadalajara also thrives with a vibrant arts scene, boasting numerous galleries, captivating street art, and a showcase of local crafts.
In addition to its cultural offerings, Guadalajara showcases an impressive architectural heritage. From the grand Guadalajara Cathedral to the Hospicio Cabañas, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the modernist buildings in the Colonia Americana neighborhood, the city is a captivating blend of the past and the present. Guadalajara is also home to several remarkable parks, including the renowned Guadalajara Zoo, which stands as one of Latin America's most important zoos, and the awe-inspiring Barranca de Huentitán canyon located on the city's outskirts.
Acapulco, situated on Mexico's Pacific coast, has long been revered as a beloved beach resort city for both domestic and international travelers. Renowned for its picturesque golden sandy beaches, the city's bay is graced with high-rise hotels and waterfront restaurants. Playa Condesa and Playa Icacos, among others, provide idyllic settings for sunbathing, swimming, and engaging in various water sports.
Beyond its breathtaking beaches, Acapulco is known for its vibrant party atmosphere, offering numerous venues for dancing and reveling into the early hours of the morning. No visit to Acapulco is complete without witnessing the iconic La Quebrada Cliff Divers, a group of professional divers who perform awe-inspiring jumps from cliffs as high as 35 meters, plunging into the ocean below, delivering an unforgettable spectacle.
While Acapulco embraces modernity, the city also boasts captivating historical attractions. The 17th-century Fuerte de San Diego, a star-shaped fortress, stands as a testament to Acapulco's past. Today, it houses the Historical Museum of Acapulco, offering an insightful exploration of the region's rich history. The Chapel of Peace (Capilla de la Paz), located atop one of the city's highest points, provides visitors with breathtaking panoramic views of Acapulco Bay.
Where to Stay in Acapulco
Monterrey, situated in northeastern Mexico, proudly stands as the country's third-largest city and one of its vital economic centers. Characterized by a modern skyline adorned with noteworthy structures such as the Torre Ciudadana and the Pabellón M, Monterrey remains a beacon of progress. An iconic sight within the city's Macroplaza is the Faro de Comercio, a dazzling green laser monument that adds a touch of enchantment to the city's landscape.
Speaking of the Macroplaza, it holds the distinction of being one of the largest city squares worldwide and features prominent buildings such as the Metropolitan Cathedral of Monterrey, the Government Palace, and several museums.
Despite the bustling cityscape, Monterrey is blessed with access to impressive natural attractions. The Cumbres de Monterrey National Park encompasses the majestic Cerro de la Silla mountain, while the Grutas de Garcia, accessible via a scenic cable car ride, unveil stunning cave formations.
San Luis Potosí
San Luis Potosí, both a city and state in central Mexico, played a pivotal role in the country's independence and revolution. Consequently, it proudly showcases numerous historical monuments, buildings, and museums that chronicle Mexico's rich past.
The historic center of the city, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a treasure trove of well-preserved colonial architecture. From the ornate Cathedral of San Luis Potosí to the Government Palace and Plaza de Armas, visitors can immerse themselves in the grandeur of the city's history.
San Luis Potosí also boasts the captivating Huasteca Potosina region, renowned for its lush jungles, cascading waterfalls, intricate cave systems, meandering rivers, and otherworldly landscapes found within the Las Pozas garden in Xilitla.
A visit to Real de Catorce is highly recommended. Located in the state of San Luis Potosí, this former silver mining town has been designated as a "Pueblo Mágico" (Magic Town), captivating visitors with its remarkably preserved colonial architecture and its spiritual significance, as it is often hailed as a place of energy and healing.
Thanks to its central location, San Luis Potosí serves as an excellent base for exploring other regions of Mexico. It boasts close proximity to several major cities, including Guadalajara, Monterrey, and Mexico City.
San Cristóbal de las Casas
A truly unique destination in southern Mexico, perfect for immersing oneself in Mexico's indigenous culture.
During your exploration of Mexico's southern Chiapas state, be sure to visit the captivating San Cristóbal de las Casas. This extraordinary city offers an exceptional opportunity to delve into the indigenous cultures that thrive within Mexico. Additionally, San Cristóbal de las Casas serves as an ideal base for venturing to nearby archaeological sites and natural wonders.
Puebla, an overlooked gem in Mexico, proudly stands as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, set against the magnificent backdrop of the Popocatépetl volcano.
When exploring Mexico, you must not miss Puebla, the country's fourth-largest city, located just three hours south of Mexico City. Situated against the majestic Popocatépetl volcano, Puebla captivates visitors with its unparalleled charm.
While in Puebla, immerse yourself in the world of pre-Columbian art at the Museo Amparo, marvel at the historic Biblioteca Palafoxiana library, witness the ancient pyramid ruins at Cholula, or indulge in the uniqueness of Africam Safari, a remarkable zoo experience. With its diverse offerings, it's no wonder Puebla is often hailed as one of Mexico's best places to visit.
Despite its notorious reputation, Tijuana still offers plenty of fun and delectable cuisine to be explored.
Believe it or not, Tijuana can be easily visited as a day trip from San Diego. In fact, the Mexican city of Tijuana is so accessible that the airports of San Diego and Tijuana are interconnected by a footbridge.
While Tijuana may not boast the same excitement as other destinations on this list, many tourists are drawn to its vibrant nightlife, excellent shopping options, and, of course, the mouthwatering street food, particularly the iconic tacos. Although safety concerns do exist, careful planning and adherence to travel guidelines ensure that a visit to Tijuana can still be a thrilling experience.
Campeche, a hidden treasure among Mexican port cities, charms visitors with its safety and stunning aesthetics.
Prepare to be enchanted by the beauty of Campeche, a serene port city nestled along the Gulf of Mexico. Boasting the status of a World Heritage City, Campeche allures visitors with its wealth of colonial architecture and historic forts. Moreover, the city is celebrated for its reputation as one of the safest places to travel in Mexico. If you seek a destination off the beaten path, Campeche is a must-see.
Chichén Itzá, one of the "New Seven Wonders of the World," holds immense historical significance and captivates countless tourists each year.
Chichén Itzá stands as a remarkable testament to the rich history of Mexico. This ancient Mayan archaeological site, located in the heart of the Yucatan Peninsula, is a must-visit destination. To fully experience the wonder of Chichén Itzá, consider planning your visit alongside a trip to the nearby town of Valladolid. This approach ensures an early arrival at the archaeological site, beating the crowds and the heat.
San Juan Teotihuacán
A colossal archaeological complex, shrouded in mystery, awaits explorers just north of Mexico City
As you make your way through the arid desert north of Mexico City, an awe-inspiring archeological complex known as San Juan Teotihuacán unveils itself. The ruins signify the remnants of a civilization dating back two thousand years, predating the Aztecs. Notable attractions within the complex include the towering Pyramid of the Moon and the grand Pyramid of the Sun. For an extraordinary experience, consider embarking on a hot air balloon ride over Teotihuacán.
Akumal, a paradise along Mexico's Riviera Maya, is renowned for its exceptional snorkeling opportunities and breathtaking beaches.
A mere 30-minute drive south of Playa del Carmen brings you to the tranquil coastal town of Akumal. Alongside its stunning beaches, Akumal holds a special allure for snorkeling enthusiasts, specifically those yearning to swim alongside gentle sea turtles that grace the crystal-clear waters. Akumal is an ideal spot for a day trip from Tulum or Playa del Carmen, as it offers both guided snorkeling tours and the opportunity to swim independently with your own gear. Seize the opportunity to witness these marvelous creatures before the crowds flock in.
Ixtapa & Zihuatanejo
Two serene and picturesque beach towns on Mexico's Pacific Coast offer peaceful retreats to travelers seeking tranquility.
The neighboring towns of Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo invite visitors to experience the joys of beach life on Mexico's Pacific Coast. Ixtapa boasts a small-scale beach resort ambiance, while Zihuatanejo exudes the charm of a rustic fishing village. Both destinations appeal to travelers seeking a laid-back beach vacation experience immersed in natural beauty.
Mazatlán, with its stunning beaches, enjoys popularity among both cruise ship passengers and sunseekers alike.
Mazatlán serves as a favored stopping point for cruise ships along Mexico's Pacific Coast. Located in the northern state of Sinaloa, Mazatlán is primarily known for its magnificent beaches. However, the city is also home to one of the best-preserved colonial towns in this region of Mexico. Whether you are visiting Mazatlán as part of a cruise excursion or seeking an affordable and quick beach getaway, Mazatlán offers a range of attractions that make it worth considering.
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Celestún, a charming village located west of Merida, offers visitors a fantastic opportunity to witness flamingos, explore mangroves, or simply relax on its beautiful beach.
Out of all the hidden gems in Mexico, Celestún might not be as well-known, but it is definitely worth considering, especially if you have a love for nature and wildlife. From November to April each year, the Celestún mangroves come alive with thousands of flamingos. After taking a boat tour to observe these majestic creatures, you can indulge in freshly caught seafood from a beachside restaurant while enjoying the serene view of the nearly empty, yet stunningly beautiful, Gulf of Mexico beach.
Nestled in the dense jungle of Chiapas State, Palenque is a renowned Maya city that reached its peak during the seventh century. Although it may not be as expansive as Chichen Itza or Calakmul, this archaeological site boasts some of the most remarkable Mayan carvings, sculptures, and architecture.
Palenque offers several grand temple and palace complexes for exploration, and these structures are exceptionally well-preserved. Thanks to the intricate hieroglyphics and bas-reliefs, we have gained extensive knowledge about the site, its past inhabitants, and the enigmatic mythology they believed in.
One structure that stands out is the Temple of Inscriptions, a funerary monument dedicated to Hanab-Pakal, Palenque's most famous ruler. Its elaborate carvings provide us with valuable insights into the events and rituals of bygone eras. Within the tomb, a magnificent sarcophagus and death mask were discovered. Other significant ruins, such as the Temple of the Cross and the Temple of the Sun, may not reveal as much about their images and iconography, but they remain important pieces of Palenque's history.
The famous pink lakes at Las Coloradas, although not natural, are still captivating sights to behold and photograph.
You may have come across photos on Instagram featuring Mexico's famous "pink lakes." However, it's important to note that Las Coloradas is not a natural wonder; it is an arrangement of artificial salt evaporation ponds. Despite this, the vibrant pink color of the lakes is truly mesmerizing.
Las Coloradas is one of the tranquil fishing villages lining the northern Gulf of Mexico coast in the Yucatan Peninsula. It is possible to visit Las Coloradas on a day trip from Valladolid or by embarking on an ATV journey from El Cuyo.
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FAQs About the Best Places in Mexico
Wouldn't it be delightful to spend your time on unspoiled beaches? If this idea appeals to you, then planning a trip to the stunning region of Oaxaca is a must.
Huatulco boasts nine bays, thirty-six pristine beaches, and many of them have been designated as ecological preserves to prevent any form of development. It is the only resort area in Mexico that has received the prestigious Green Globe award due to its strong commitment to ecological preservation.
Apart from sunbathing, you can also visit nearby coffee farms, explore enchanting waterfalls, or engage in thrilling activities such as rafting or cycling. While Huatulco remains a hidden gem mostly sought after by domestic tourists, its appeal will undoubtedly reach a broader audience soon.
Make sure to include nearby Puerto Escondido in your travel plans when exploring Oaxaca.
Once a quiet fishing village, Zihuatanejo experienced a surge in tourism after the nearby resort city of Ixtapa was developed.
However, if you want to avoid the usual crowds, head to Zihuatanejo, fondly known as "Zihua" by the locals. Stroll along its charming cobblestone streets, indulge in the freshest catch of the day, and lose yourself in the tranquility of its idyllic beaches.
Film enthusiasts will recognize Zihuatanejo as the paradise where Andy and Red found solace in The Shawshank Redemption. After a few days spent basking in the laid-back atmosphere of Zihua, you'll likely find yourself contemplating an extended stay in this captivating destination.
Looking for accommodations? Click here to find a beautiful villa, apartment, or house to rent during your visit to Zihuatanejo.
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Even though Morelia is often included in lists of Mexico's most beautiful cities, it continues to remain off the beaten path for many travelers. As the capital of Michoacan state, this splendid colonial city has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1991.
The city boasts over 200 historic buildings constructed from the iconic pink stone that characterizes the region. Morelia is not only a testament to architectural beauty but also a thriving cultural hub in Mexico. It hosts a myriad of events and festivals throughout the year, covering a wide range of interests such as food, dance, and film. No matter when you visit, there will always be exciting activities and attractions to keep you engaged and entertained in Morelia.
If you desire an authentic Mexican experience along the Riviera Maya, away from the bustling crowds of Cancun or Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos is the ideal destination. This peaceful beach town is perfectly situated between these tourist hotspots, allowing you to enjoy the best of both worlds.
Although geographically close, Puerto Morelos stands in stark contrast to the glitz and glamour of Cancun. Along its coast, you won't find imposing resorts as the town restricts buildings to a maximum of three stories to preserve its small-town charm. However, if you're in search of a luxurious vacation, there are exceptional resorts lining the coastline.
Just off the shore lies the Great Mesoamerican Reef, the second-largest reef system in the world. Puerto Morelos is a paradise for snorkeling and scuba diving enthusiasts, offering unparalleled underwater experiences.
Located just south of Guadalajara, Mexico's largest freshwater lake, Lake Chapala, awaits. Renowned for its pleasant climate, breathtaking scenery, and warm hospitality, this destination should not be missed when exploring Mexico.
Several towns dot the shores of Lake Chapala, with Chapala and Ajijic being the most popular. While a day trip from Guadalajara allows for a glimpse of the lake, it is highly recommended to stay a few days to fully immerse yourself in its beauty. Be warned, Lake Chapala has captured the hearts of many visitors, leading them to consider making it their permanent home. It is no wonder this area ranks amongst the world's most sought-after retirement destinations.
Nestled amidst rolling hills, valleys, and mountains, Taxco is located approximately 170 kilometers southwest of Mexico City, in a truly picturesque setting. Renowned for its colonial architecture and exquisitely crafted silverware, it is an absolute delight for visitors.
Presiding over the city is the magnificent Santa Prisca Cathedral, a beautiful example of baroque architecture and the symbol of Taxco. From the cathedral's bell towers, you can indulge in breathtaking panoramas of the surrounding landscapes and catch a bird's eye view of the narrow, steep streets that wind their way up the hillside.
Wealth derived from nearby mines aided in the construction of much of Taxco, and remnants of this rich history can still be found today. The city thrives on tourism, attracting visitors with its fascinating past, vibrant culture, and remarkable architecture. The All Souls processions held during Holy Week are particularly special, showcasing the deep-rooted faith of the locals.
Copper Canyon Railway
An unforgettable train journey
The Ferrocarril Chihuahua Pacífico (Copper Canyon Railway) ranks among the most spectacular rail trips in Latin America. This incredible journey takes you from the coastal lowlands of Los Mochis to the captivating town of Creel, immersing you in the sensational rocky landscapes of the Copper Canyon. Your window reveals awe-inspiring vistas of alpine forests, subtropical valleys, Tarahumara villages, and glimpses of some of the world's deepest canyons. En route, you have the opportunity to spend nights at lodges overlooking the canyon's edge, experiencing the magic of this breath-taking destination through exploration, hiking, horseback riding, and even zip-lining.
Historic center of Oaxaca city with its landmark Santo Domingo church, Mexico (part of Unesco world heritage site) © Maria Swärd/Getty Images
Discover secluded beaches
Don't miss the chance to explore this region. Unlike the bustling and overdeveloped areas of Cancún and Riviera Maya, the Costa Maya offers tranquil fishing villages that prioritize sustainable development. Mahahual and Xcalak are among the charming villages within this area, known for their excellent dive sites along the Caribbean coast. If you venture further inland, you'll discover Laguna Bacalar, a peaceful lakeside town with mesmerizing natural scenery, a 295ft-deep (90m) cenote, and a captivating Spanish fortress.
Monarch butterflies in the Biosphere Reserve, Mexico ©Noradoa/Shutterstock
An escape from it all
Part of the UNESCO-protected Biosphere Reserve, Espíritu Santo island is a true spectacle in every sense. Its pink sandstone formations, sculpted by wind and waves, create a unique landscape filled with enchanting coves. But the natural beauty doesn't end there—diving alongside whale sharks, exploring vivid reefs, camping under a stunning canopy of stars, snorkeling with playful sea lions, and leisurely paddling along azure bays are just a few of the extraordinary experiences to be discovered here. Various operators offer activities such as kayaking and snorkeling, ensuring an unforgettable adventure in this captivating destination.
Overview of Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel church © Justin Foulkes/Lonely Planet
With its verdant coves embraced by lush tropical mountains, expansive stretches of untamed sand, and mangrove-fringed lagoons teeming with birdlife, Mexico's Pacific coastline showcases unparalleled natural beauty. Sprinkled along the coast are vibrant resort towns like Mazatlán, Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo, Ixtapa, Zihuatanejo, and Acapulco, offering access to world-class surf spots such as Barra de Nexpa, Boca de Pascuales, Troncones, and Puerto Escondido.
Immerse yourself in all the tropical clichés: relish sublime seafood beneath palm-frond roofs, sip chilled coconut water while reclining in a hammock, or enjoy refreshing cocktails by the poolside at upscale resorts. The cities come alive at night, and each beach showcases its own unique charm—whether it's towering high-rise hotels or cozy, rustic cabins. The ocean itself offers even more excitement, with opportunities to spot breaching humpback whales, witness mother turtles laying their eggs, marvel at pelicans soaring in formation, or witness pods of dolphins playfully leaping from the waves.
The crater of Paricutín volcano, Mexico © AmericanWildlife/Getty Images/iStockphoto
An exhilarating volcano climb
As far as volcanoes go, Paricutín is a relatively young one. It erupted suddenly from a maize field in Michoacán in 1943, making it one of the world's youngest studied volcanoes. Its dormant cone, standing at 1345ft (410m), offers a relatively manageable climb. Some opt to hop across barren lava fields to reach the peak, while others prefer riding horses through the hot black sand before embarking on the final scramble up volcanic scree. Regardless of the chosen path, reaching the summit rewards climbers with a chance to stand atop a geological marvel.
To ensure a comfortable climb, it is recommended to leave Angahuan before 9 am. Many guides with horses are available at the tourist center, offering their services to guide you to the volcano and back, including a stop at the ruined church. The cost for horses and a guide averages around M$500 per person per day.
Temple of Kukulcán © Sergio Germano/Lonely Planet
With its vast array of stunning destinations, Mexico truly spoils travelers for choice. Whether you're seeking ancient Mayan ruins, pristine beaches, vibrant cities, or picturesque colonial towns, this vibrant country has it all. Immerse yourself in the mystical beauty of Chichen Itza, unwind on the breathtaking shores of Tulum, or explore the enchanting streets of San Miguel de Allende. From the natural wonders of Copper Canyon to the bustling streets of Mexico City, there is no shortage of incredible places to visit. So grab your passport and get ready to embark on an unforgettable journey through the best that Mexico has to offer.
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