19 Destinations in Mexico You Need to Visit

February 21, 2017

Mayan Dancing

When considering a trip to Mexico you might picture sandy beaches, beach cabanas and margaritas. I like relaxing on the beach just as much as the next person, but resorts and tourist towns are such a small piece of what Mexico has to offer. In an effort to crush that status quo belief that Mexico is just overcrowded beaches and taco stands, I collaborated with some top travel bloggers to create a list of the best spots in Mexico. Prepare yourself for some major wanderlust and Mexico fever!

 Yucatan 

Mexico boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the world with over 4500 miles of coastline. The Yucatan might be one of the more developed areas in Mexico, but it does not fail to charm with its colonial cities, Mayan ruins, busy nightlife, sandy beaches and endless dive sites. Avoid Cancun and check out some of these lesser known spots instead.

Akumal

Akumal Bay is one of the most pristine marine preserves in all of the Americas. It is home to endangered green sea turtles. Dozens of these magnificent creatures come to the bay to eat the sea grass and relax in the protected bay. It’s also the perfect place for snorkelers to head out from the palm trees and the broad sandy beach to swim with these incredible animals. It is an absolutely remarkable experience. Grab your mask and jump in! There are a number of small inns on Akumal Bay or the neighboring Half Moon Bay, but most visitors stay in Playa del Carmen and take the local colectivo mini-bus down to the beach.

Playa Del Carmen

pink building in playa del carmen taquerias restaurante

Mexico is an amazing country blessed with gorgeous beaches, tasty drinks, and you can’t forget about the TACOS! My favorite part of the country is in the Yucatan on the Caribbean Sea. Most tourists fly into Cancun and stay there but I highly suggest heading an hour south to Playa del Carmen. I’d suggest 4 nights to a week but you may love it so much you move there for 5 months like I did. The town is got gorgeous white sandy beaches and inviting turquoise water. The town is set up great for tourists, 5th Ave is a walking street full of restaurants, bars, and shops. I suggest staying either right on the beach but not on 5th Ave (too loud) or in Playacar a gated community at the end of 5th Ave. I rented this Airbnb for $50 a night and it was only a 10 minute walk to the beach. There are tons of day trips from Playa del Carmen to take, renting a car is super cheap usually I paid $2-5 a day on Orbitz. For sure visit a cenote, swim with the sea turtles in Akumal, visit the Tulum ruins, and see the pink lake for yourself. No matter what you do you’ll love Playa del Carmen. 
 

Chichen Itza

Cichen Itza Mexico
Chichen Itza is probably the most famous archaeological site in Mexico and it’s easy to see why. These remarkably well-preserved ruins are located on the Yucatan Peninsula, close to the town of Valladolid. The key to a successful visit to Chichen Itza is getting there early — we were among the first few through the gates and had the place almost all to ourselves. We beat mass of tour buses by staying in Valladolid and taking the first bus to the ruins — I recommend doing the same. The most impressive part of Chichen Itza is the main pyramid (El Castillo), but there are plenty of other things to see. These include a huge ball court and various smaller pyramids and palaces. There’s also a cenote (like a cave / flooded sinkhole) nearby where you can go for a refreshing swim after exploring Chichen Itza.
 

Cozumel

Cozumel Beach

Most travelers make their way to Cozumel to experience world class diving in Cozumel Marine Park. The park spans over 12,000 hectares and is home to 105 different types of coral and 262 species of fish. Numerous dive shops are peppered along the island, offering two-tank dives to certified divers starting at just $90. With over 40 dive sites scattered around the island, there is something here for everyone! It’s no wonder Cozumel is considered to be one of the premier diving destinations in the world!

We recommend diving with Scuba Mau, an awesome crew that lives to dive and spreads their joy of diving to anyone that joins their trip to the underwater world of Cozumel.

If diving isn’t high on your list of things to do in Mexico, Cozumel is also a great destination for beach bums and those looking to explore the ruins from the ancient Mayan civilizations.

Valladolid

pink house in valliodad

Valladolid is a charming, peaceful and colourful colonial city situated in the heart of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. This small city is often visited by big bus tour groups for an hour at the most, on their way to or from the popular Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza. But in my opinion, Valladolid is worth a longer stay than this (at least two days) as it is truly an amazing and magical place! The city even made the list as one of Mexico’s “Pueblos Magicos” (Magical Towns). The city is laid out in a grid pattern (making it easy to find your way around) and the cobblestone streets are lined with both vibrant and pastel-coloured colonial buildings featuring gorgeous architecture. This city is a photographer’s dream! It is the perfect place to simply wander around, explore the streets and absorb the tranquil atmosphere while immersing yourself in the local culture.

There are a variety of interesting things to do and beautiful things to see in and around Valladolid. You can swim in underground cenotes (natural freshwater filled sinkholes in the ground – Cenote Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman and Cenote Zaci were my favourites), climb and explore Mayan Ruins (Ek Balam was my favourite lesser-known ruins site nearby but the popular Chichen Itza is also only 45 minutes from the city), rent a bicycle and explore some of the surrounding countryside and traditional villages, explore inside the San Bernardino de Siena Convent within the city, relax in Valladolid’s central park and admire the beautiful cathedral or watch a traditional music and dance performance there in the evenings. There is really no shortage of things to do!

When you book your stay in Valladolid, I would recommend Hostel La Candelaria. It is a very pleasant and friendly hostel that is centrally located and perfect for budget-conscious travelers.

What I loved most about Valladolid were the city’s gorgeous and colourful streets, friendly locals, charming and peaceful atmosphere, and variety of beautiful sights! I would highly recommend a visit to this pretty colonial city in Mexico’s Yucatan.”

Merida

Mayan Dancing
The city of Merida is a vibrant, fascinating, and beautiful city in the heart of the Yucatan. It’s also the Cultural Capital of the America’s for 2017 (a title they’ve won a few times) which means there is always something going on! From live concerts, to traditional dancing, art galleries, food trucks and more Merida has something to offer everyone. Oh and the traditional Myan food is to die for!!! The best area to stay is Centro, here you will be walking distance to all the action. Also we recommend staying in one of the beautifully restored colonial homes or hacienda’s. Casa Dos Tortugas is one of our personal favourites.
 
While you’re in town make sure you visit some of the restored cantinas for some snacks and a few drinks. El Cardinal & La Negrita’s are two great cantinas that offer nice surrounding, live music and affordable drinks.
 

Bacalar Lagoon

bacalar lagoon and dock

I loved the Bacalar Lagoon in the southern part of Quintana Roo state in Mexico cuz it’s both fun and relaxing. It’s an incredible and magical place that has nothing to envy other dreamy destinations: the water is beautiful, crystal clear and with sevens shades of blue. Here you can just chill on a hammock, relax on a private wooden jetty or have some pretty much fun on a kayak, on a SUP, on a boat or by simply jumping into the fresh and unsalty water. Not to forget sunsets.. they’re just awesome! I stayied at Casa Corazon, a little yellow house with a few rooms and a wooden roof with private access to the lagoon. I’d really recommed it for a cheap but comfortable stay in a very special site of the lagoon with a wonderful jetty adn colorful hammocks. How many days? I’d say minimum 3 days but I’m sure you won’t regret it if you decide to stay longer!

Tulum

Boat on the Beach tulum
 This small town with great beaches is an excellent destination for most travelers. You can stroll around town for hours and there are so many good bars and restaurants. For me, the best thing about Tulum are the beach cabanas. Though most cabanas are pretty expensive, it’s possible to find affordable cabanas to give you that time-stands-still feeling. For budget travelers, I’d recommend the Zazil Kin cabanas. The beach huts are basic but have everything you need. There’s also a restaurant and beach bar.
 
There are multiple things you can do in and around Tulum. My favorites are the Tulum ruins and Si’An Kaan. The Mayan ruins in Tulum are very well preserved and you can actually swim in the ocean in the ruins. Don’t skip the swimming! It’s a special experience.
 
Si’An Kaan is a nature reserve close to Tulum. When you’re well past all the hotels, you’ll enter a strip of land between the Caribbean and a lagoon. Si’An Kaan is great for spotting wildlife and canoeing. I recommend to find a place to sleep in the reserve, so you can spend the evening on the beach and wake up in the middle of nature with a stunning view of the ocean.
 

Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres dock in the sea

Isla Mujeres is a must-see island off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. It has the beautiful, white beaches and blue water of Cancun, but more laid-back and relaxing. A ferry runs from Cancun every half hour. It is close enough that you can visit just of the day, but we recommend staying for a few days. Rent a golf course to ride around the island and see the breathtaking Caribbean. Don’t forget to spend some time on Playa Norte, rated one of the best beaches in Mexico. If beaching isn’t your thing, there’s always snorkeling, swimming with the whale sharks, or a visit to the turtle farm. The beauty of Isla Mujeres is the calm, laid-back atmosphere and the charm of the island life, so close to hustle of Cancun.


Western Mexico 

Western Mexico is where sandy white beaches, urban cities, and nature converge. The weather is beautiful and the the environment diverse. Surf the world-class waves, kayak, and eat local seafood at local villages. Head inland for waterfalls, lakes, mountains, and a myriad of agave plantations, cattle ranches, and avocado groves. Trek inland to visit the  colonial cities filled with museums, ancient churches and divine eats. 

Sayulita

Sayulita is a sleepy, hippy-surfer town just 20 miles from Puerto Vallarta. Although it’s not as sleepy as it once was. In the past decade it has been “discovered” by American and Canadian expats who see it as an ideal location for a winter home. Still, it has an easy, laid back-vibe to it and has not yet succumbed to mass tourism, unlike many other Mexican beach destinations.

There’s not a whole lot to do here other than chill on the beach, take surfing lessons, rent a paddle-board, browse the health food market or enjoy an icy margarita and some tasty tacos at one of the colorful restaurants or bars. In other words it’s pure heaven if what you want is to relax in a beautiful, tranquil spot with perfect weather and just enough low-key, evening activities to keep you entertained.

Guadalajara

Guadalajara

Guadalajara is often overlooked as a tourist destination, perhaps because big brother “Mexico City” is the place most people think of when choosing to visit a big metropolis in this exciting country. However, in our opinion Guadalajara has plenty to offer and is definitely worth a few days of exploration.

For starters, as the birthplace of the mariachi, you can always count on great live music and entertainment in the many squares and restaurants. Then there’s the beautiful architecture and social atmosphere of the Centro Historico with its great cathedral and surrounding plazas. Also, the modern Chapultepec neighborhood, the upscale suburb of Tlaquepaque and the grass roots area of Tonala are great for strolling, shopping and dining. Finally, Guadalajara makes a good base for visiting nearby, pretty Lake Chapala and the town of Tequila where you can see how this local drink is made.

  Yelapa

If you are looking to slow down and relax in a hidden paradise often frequented by the rich and famous, then Yelapa may be the perfect destination. We took a day ferry from Puerto Vallarta to this idyllic fishing village and always regretted not staying longer.  (Boats are the primary way to arrive). We had time for a short hike to a waterfall, a swim in the plunge pool, a visit to the local church, and a seaside drink at one of the local cafes. It’s a town catering to visitors, with iguanas to hold, parasailing, horse riding, and knick-knacks. However, the laid-back atmosphere let us just hang out and relax.

San Pancho

One of my favourite places in Mexico is San Pancho, Nayarit. The neighbouring town of Sayulita is quite well known, and incredibly touristy; I call it the Disneyland of Mexico, as the whole town seems like what a foreigner would imagine Mexico to be like. I much preferred San Pancho, a place with locals and expats, though with fewer tourists. It’s a beautiful and quaint little town, where I camped on the beach for a month. Yes, you read that right – I wasn’t even in a campground, just on the beach, and was never bothered once. Every day I would wake up to the ocean and to watch the local fishermen sail out to get their catch of the day. I truly cannot wait for my return to this little slice of paradise!
 

Puerto Vallarta

boats on the beach
Puerto Vallarta used to have a place on my bucket list, but now it is on the been there, done that, want to do it again list.  I love the small beach town center, with its cobblestone streets and vintage buildings.  One of my favorite things to do is take a water taxi to the isolated city of Yelapa to spend a few hours in the sand drinking beer.  I have stayed at the all-inclusive Barcelo, which is away from town on a lovely bay where John Huston filmed “Night of the Iguana” in the 1960s.  Unfortunately, Casa Kimberley–Elizabeth Taylor’s former abode located right in town–has been converted into condos and is no longer a B&B.  So next time I’m in town, I’ll try to rent one of those condos through Air B&B.
 

Northern Central HIghlands & Central Mexico 

Central Mexico is essentially unchartered territory in regards to tourism, but man are you missing out! This area has recently flourished due to its boom in industrial, manufacturing, and agricultural industries. Come feast on the rich history, vibrant art scene, and diverse cuisine of the Northern Central Highlands and Central Mexico.

San Luis Potosí

San Luis Potosí

San Luis Potosí, Mexico is the capital and the largest city of the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí. The city sits at an elevation of 6,700 feet and is named after Louis IX of France who is the city’s patron saint. The exploitation of silver and gold mines in Cerro de San Pedro near San Luis, was the main reason for the founding of the city in 1592. Most of the silver is gone, but there is a large manufacturing base. With a population over a million potosinos, San Luis is considered one of the fastest growing cities in Mexico. 

Go for a walk through the cobblestone streets of San Luis Potosí’s Historical Center or take a trolley tour. Rent a tandem bicycle in Mexico’s Central Park– Tangamanga Park or join the locals and have a picnic. Embark on a historical journey at one of the many museums that San Luis has to offer or take a day trip to the silver mining city of  Zacatecas or sleepy mountain town of Real de Catorce. For great eats, be sure to try the local enchiladas potosinas, similar to small empanadas filled with cheese.

San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel de Allende Cathedral

San Miguel de Allende is in the eastern part of the state of Guanajuato and an expat haven. The town is super artsy and has attracted foreign retirees, writers, artists and tourists alike. There are over 12,000 foreigners believed to live or own homes here. The city is filled with historical buildings dating back to the 17th and 18th century, narrow cobblestone streets and colorful shops. 

Take the time to walk around the cobblestone streets and check out the best shops and cafes or to simply stare at the colored walls enveloped in flowers. When walking be sure to steal a peak inside all of the open doors to find hidden shops and leafy camouflaged courtyards. Visit EL Jardin, where the city comes alive and you can buy some Elote (corn), listen to the Mariachi bands or simply people watch.

The botanical gardens are about 1.5 km Northeast of the main part of town in San Miguel de Allende. This 88-hectare (over 170 acres) space is not only a garden, but also a recreational and ceremonial space and a wildlife sanctuary. El Charco hosts an extensive botanical collection made up of cacti and other succulent plants, many of which are rare, threatened or in danger of extinction.

Mexico City

Girl walking down street in Mexico City
If you want to see real Mexico, you should totally visit Mexico City. It’s so huge and it offers endless things to do. Most of them include walking in beautiful colourful districts, tasting traditional Mexican food and drinking margaritas.
 
Is Mexico City dangerous? Well, no and yes. In the touristic districts like Coyoacan or in the posh zones like Polanco it’s safe. In case you’re going to Mexico City, check carefully in advance, which districts are safe and which are not. The main rule in Mexico City – don’t draw too much attention to you and you’ll be fine.
 
I truly love Mexico City because everybody is really friendly there. I haven’t encountered any rudeness during two of my visits to the Capital. If you want to see the best part of Mexico City – head to Coyoacan, it’s a fabulous place! What is there to do in Coyoacan: well, apart from tons of restaurants, shops, a huge street market and colourful streets, there are also beautiful churches and the museum of Frida Kahlo.
 

Read more about Mexico City in The Top 5 Things that Inspired Me in Mexico City by Lifestyle Enthusiast

Puebla

buildings in puebla, mexico

Puebla is a great city to visit if you want to get off the tourist trail in Mexico. There are heaps of things to see there but many people skip it — it’s definitely worth stopping off for a few days if you’re travelling overland from Mexico City to the south. The historic part of town is full of beautiful buildings, including some amazing churches. The old town is a great place to explore day or night — the streets have a vibrant atmosphere, which is mostly created by locals enjoying their city. Cholula is right next door to Puebla (it’s basically the same city) and is a cool place to visit if you’re in the area. There you’ll find one of the largest pyramids in the world and lots of colourful colonial buildings, including a huge monastery. I stayed in the old part of Puebla – there are a few hostels and hotels around and there are plenty of places to eat and drink.


Southern Mexico 

I have heard many locals say that this area is the most beautiful in all of Mexico. Venture off the beaten path to see the rainforest jungles and cascading waterfalls or visit the Mayan ruins and colonial cities strewn throughout the region. B and I are taking notes because we plan to spend 2 weeks this summer exploring Oaxaca and Chiapas in Southern Mexico. 

San Cristobal De Las casas, Chiapas

I love Mexico, I have been there three times and I hardly think I will ever be done exploring it. One of my favorite places to visit in the country is Chiapas, and in particular I enjoy going to San Cristobal de las Casas, a beautiful colonial city surrounded by the mountains. Yet, what I like the most is visiting the villages scattered around the city, where the indigenous communities live, preserving their culture, way of life and religious beliefs.

San Juan Chamula is my favorite: the beautiful church has a colorful facade, while the interior is completely different from that of a typical catholic church. In fact, it is used by the locals to perform rituals which are typical of the Maya but which are held in front of the icons of catholicism. It’s a surreal thing to experience.

My advice to those wishing to visit Chiapas is to allow at least 3 days in San Cristobal, to get a decent feel for it. A good place to stay is Hotel Casa Mexicana, which is a restored colonial home. For visiting the villages, I recommend to go on a guided tour. It is nice to have a proper explanation as to why things are done a certain way, rather than just see images that would otherwise remain empty.

Zipolite

My favourite place to visit in Mexico is easily Zipolite, Oaxaca. The entire town rests on the beach, making it the perfect place to laze the day away in a hammock, sipping on a Corona. Plus, the whole beach is clothing optional, which makes everyone so open. People of all different walks of life join together in this magical place that is reminiscent of the 60s. Anything goes in Zipolite, and you can be 100% yourself.

 

The beautiful destinations in Mexico are truly endless and we weren’t able to compile them all here on this list. We look forward to continuing to explore spots throughout Mexico and hope to share some lesser known areas with you this year!


What is your favorite spot to visit in Mexico?

Is there a city or spot we missed?

Do you have any plans to visit Mexico this year?


top destinations in Mexico  19 Destinations You Need to Visit in Mexico Now

More about Eemma Iseman

14 Comments
    1. I just love Mexico. I have been to most places you listed except Central Mexico. I would love to explore more. I want add one more place to your list, Huatulco. I loved the seven bays and exploring the area.

      1. Yes, Guadalajara is on my next list since it is so close to San Luis Potosí! Just around 2 hours away! I hope to visit the Yucatan this summer as well! Hope you make it down soon!

    1. This. Is. SO. Comprehensive!!! WOW!!! I really don’t think you missed a thing. Def inspired me to get to Mexico very soon!

    1. I haven’t made it to Mexico yet but you’re really showing why I need to: the charm and the history.

    1. Mexico is certainly Beautiful. I would love to go there someday. These are really nice places to visit and I loved the pic of ISLA MUJERES. Beaches of Mexico must be really awesome. 🙂

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