Are you planning to travel to Mexico?
It’s one of our favorite countries – there are so many incredible things to do in Mexico!
For many people, soaking up the sun on a come-hither white sand beach is one of the main reasons to visit Mexico.
But venture beyond the beach resorts – taking a closer look at the country – and you discover colorful colonial towns, world-class museums, cool cenotes (freshwater sinkholes) perfect for swimming, and so much more!
We’ve visited the country umpteen times over the years and know many parts of it like the back of our hands (though of course not all).
Our insider Mexico travel guide will help you discover the country’s diversity – from the best vacation spots in Mexico to delightful non-touristy towns.
We walk you through most of the important travel-related things to know about Mexico for vacationers, so you can plan your Mexico visit like a pro!
And when you go, we bet you’ll end up loving the country just as much as we do.
Mexico travel guide
Useful Mexico travel facts
Geography: Located on the continent of North America, Mexico covers 761,610 sq. miles (1,972,550 sq. km), making it the world’s 13th largest country.
Capital: Mexico City
Population: 128+ million
Official language: Spanish, though English is widely spoken in tourist places.
Currency: The official currency is the Mexican peso, but U.S. dollars are accepted in most tourist destinations. The exchange rate is about 1 USD to 20 Mexican pesos. Things will cost less if you pay in Mexican cash, rather than using your credit card.
Things to know before traveling to Mexico
Plugs and electricity:
Mexico’s power plugs and sockets are type A and B. The standard voltage is 127 V and the frequency is 60 Hz.
You won’t need any adapters or converters if coming from the U.S. or Canada, as the plugs are the same.
Visa and entry requirements:
Citizens of the U.S., Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and most European countries don’t need a visa to go on holiday in Mexico.
Nor do you need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or have a negative test to enter Mexico. (But check the rules for returning to your home country.)
Getting to Mexico:
United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta and other major airlines offer flights from most major cities in the United States to Mexico.
Flight times are, for example:
- Chicago to Cancun – 3 hours and 50 minutes
- L.A. to Mexico City – 3 hours and 40 minutes
- New York City to Puerto Vallarta – 6 hours and 5 minutes
From Canada, WestJet and Air Canada (the two main carriers) offer direct flights from Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver to Cancun, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and other sunny Mexican beach destinations.
Flying time is:
- Vancouver to Cabo San Lucas – 4 hours and 25 minutes
- Toronto to Cancun – 4 hours and 15 minutes
Tip: You can save on flights to Mexico with the Alaska companion fare from Alaska Airlines, as well as WestJet’s companion fare.
When to go to Mexico
The climate in Mexico is generally very pleasant most of the time.
But different parts of the country have different climates. The best time to visit Mexico depends on the region you want to visit and the activities you plan on doing.
For example, the best time to visit Cabo San Lucas depends on whether you want to go sportfishing (August to October are prime) or whale watching (January is a great month).
Mexico in winter:
In general, though, the best time to travel to Mexico is in the winter months, between December and April.
This is the coolest time (as in not scorching hot!), with very little rain.
Winter is also Mexico’s high season, however, so you have to contend with more crowds, and hotel rates are higher.
Bring a sweater and long pants if you visit some of the colonial cities in Mexico’s heartland in December or January.
For example, during the day in San Miguel de Allende, it’s balmy and short sleeves weather, but at night, temps drop and you need woollies. A fireplace in your hotel room is a welcome amenity too!
Mexico in summer:
The rainy season runs from about July/August to October in the southern parts of the country. This is the hurricane season too. It’s also steaming hot!
If you’re looking for ideal beach weather, you may want to avoid going to Cancun, Puerto Vallarta and other coastal areas during this time.
Mind you, summer in Los Cabos marks the arrival of sea turtles, so this is when you can help release baby hatchlings to the sea – a very special activity!
In Cabo, the sea water is also the warmest and visibility is at its best in October and November, so this is an awesome time for snorkeling and scuba diving.
In Cancun, July and August is the peak whale shark season. If you want to swim with these gentle giants in Cancun (who doesn’t!), summer is when you should visit.
What to do in Mexico?
There are countless amazing things to do and places to see in Mexico. We’ve actually written a whole post on 65 of Mexico’s top activities.
Still, some experiences stand out as being real highlights.
Best places in Mexico to visit
Mexico is a huge country – it’s almost three times bigger than Texas or 12 times as large as the U.K.
So it’s a hard job coming up with a list of the absolute top places to go in Mexico!
But certain cities, towns and beach destinations stand out for their popular appeal and charm.
With that in mind, here are some of the best places to visit in Mexico:
1) Mexico City
The capital, Mexico City, is well worth a visit.
You can easily spend three days in Mexico City. In fact, the first time you visit, you’re likely to be surprised by the oodles of cultural sights and attractions the city has!
We’ve already mentioned that it’s one of the cities with the most museums in the world…
If you happen to be in Mexico City on a Sunday morning, head to the Paseo de la Reforma.
The city’s grandest boulevard is closed to traffic on Sunday mornings so locals can ride bicycles and do other outside exercises and activities.
It’s a hoot watching the roller-bladers, dancers, clowns and pretty well everyone else who lives in the city having fun and keeping fit.
Known for tequila and mariachi music, Guadalajara is Mexico’s second-largest city – but it’s more relaxed and easy-going than Mexico City.
The historic center is sprinkled with colonial buildings and great museums.
3) San Miguel de Allende
Mexico is full of beautiful colonial cities, with mansions and buildings dating back to the 16th century era of Spanish colonization.
Many of these smaller towns and cities are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
One such city is San Miguel de Allende (SMA) in central Mexico.
A favorite with expats from North America and Europe, San Miguel de Allende has a cool artsy vibe and gorgeous colonial architecture.
Very visitor-friendly, it also boasts a range of excellent accommodation, including ultra-deluxe hotels and delightful boutique inns.
About an hour away from San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato is another lovely colonial city with a silver mining history.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Guanajuato has a large university student population, so there’s plenty going on in terms of restaurants, bars and theater.
One of the most unique features of the city is its network of underground tunnels used as roads for cars – making the narrow streets above very pedestrian-friendly.
Unlike some other colonial cities, Morelia is quite non-touristy.
But there are still lots of tourist attractions in Morelia. Like the candy market – yes, it has a sweet candy market!
Morelia is also the jumping-off-point for visiting the Monarch butterfly sanctuaries in the Sierra Madre mountains.
Tip: It’s helpful to know a little Spanish if visiting Morelia.
6) Los Cabos
The place on the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula, where the desert meets the sea…
Where celebrities like Jennifer Aniston like to holiday.
Where the weather is always (well, almost always) sunny and dry.
Where you can do everything from golf to scuba diving.
Say hello to Los Cabos – one of the best places to vacation in Mexico!
And pssst! Don’t take a taxi from the airport!
No, you’ll want to book one of these Los Cabos airport transfers (they’re cheaper than a taxi, and you’ll get better service).
Where to eat in Cabo?
When you’re craving pasta and pizza, these Italian restaurants in Cabo hit the spot.
Dig into the best tacos:
Some of the best shrimp tacos you’ll ever bite into are found at Gardenias, a hole-in-the-wall taco joint in Cabo San Lucas.
Enjoy farm-to-table dining:
A 25-acre organic farm, Flora Farms dishes up yummy farm-to-table eats in a magical setting.
7) Puerto Vallarta
Located on the Pacific Coast, Puerto Vallarta (PV) perfects the idea of the classic Mexican resort town. The cobbled streets and colorful buildings lend its Old Town (Zona Romantica) an authentic colonial Mexico feel.
You may initially be drawn to PV for its sandy beaches. But wait until you check out its arts and delicious food scene!
Unlike some Mexico beach destinations, it’s a real thriving city with lots of culture – you’ll love the captivating bronze sculptures on the Puerto Vallarta Malecon (boardwalk) and all the art galleries around town.
And the food?
Mmm… We’re drooling just thinking about the local restaurants there! See these 31 best restaurants in Puerto Vallarta for foodies.
Zihuatanejo is a laid-back resort town, close to big sister Ixtapa, with a range of good restaurants and excellent boutique hotels.
There are some beautiful beaches in Zihuatanejo too (like Playa La Ropa).
9) Cancun and Riviera Maya
On the Caribbean coast in the state of Quintana Roo, Cancun dazzles with its beaches, resorts and nightlife.
But the beaches don’t stop there.
The 100-mile stretch of beachy coastline south of Cancun is known as the Riviera Maya.
Playa del Carmen is a resort town about 45 miles south of Cancun, with palm-lined beaches, lively bars, cool boutiques and a Euro-Mex vibe.
Continue further down the coast and you reach the town of boho-chic Tulum, set on the dazzling white-sand Tulum Beach.
If you’re wondering where to go in Mexico for an adventurous beach vacay, the Riviera Maya is a winner!
Keen to learn more?
There’s lots more holiday fun to be had in this region. Check out our post on all the totally awesome things to do in the Riviera Maya!
Then there’s the island of Cozumel, located off the coast from Playa del Carmen.
You can visit Cozumel on a day trip from Cancun. (Take the ferry from Playa del Carmen).
Or you might want to stay in Cozumel for your holiday.
Not sure how to decide between Cancun and Cozumel?
Cozumel is the perfect place if you’re an avid scuba diver or want a quieter vacay.
Pick Cancun if you want a more happening resort destination, love luxury and like the idea of exploring archaeological sites and cenotes.
11) Pueblos Magicos
The Pueblos Magicos of Mexico are special small towns that the Mexican government has designated as “magical towns.”
What makes a town magical? It could be the town’s beauty, natural wonders or historical significance.
For example, Bacalar on the Yucatan Peninsula (about 4 hours south of Cancun) hugs a vast gorgeous lake called the Lake of Seven Colors. One of the most laid-back places in Mexico, it’s a great place to do nothing but relax.
Swing in a hammock over the water (or perhaps in the water!) and take in the different hues of teal and turquoise wavelets lapping the lush mangrove-fringed shoreline.
Over in the state of Chiapas, the colorfully painted colonial architecture in San Cristobal de las Casas is an absolute delight.
Built in 1528, the egg-yolk yellow cathedral which overlooks the town’s main plaza welcomed Pope Francis in 2016.
The town has a large indigenous population; many are skilled artisans. Markets as well as high-end shops sell their Mayan textiles, jade sculptures, artworks and amber jewelry.
Then there’s Cholula, considered one of the oldest cities in the world, in the state of Puebla.
Its rich history, traditions, legends and the Great Pyramid of Cholula make it a Pueblo Magico.
From a distance, the pyramid, known as Tlachihualtepetl (which translates to “man-made mountain”) looks like a small hill with a golden-colored Spanish church on top.
But upon exploring the archaeological site, you see rock steps and walls – evidence that a great Aztec pyramid, believed to be the largest monument ever built on Earth, is hidden under the grass.
Where to stay in Mexico
Mexico offers every type of accommodation you can think of.
From 5-star hotels in the big cities to boutique places in coastal towns to deluxe all-inclusive resorts in beach destinations like Cancun, you’ll find accommodation to suit you.
Be aware, of course, that hotel rates soar during high season and over major holidays like Christmas and Easter.
Hotels in Mexico City:
The Red Tree House is the #1 bed-and-breakfast in Mexico City, located in the leafy Condesa neighborhood.
We also enjoyed our stay at the Four Seasons Mexico City – a luxury boutique hotel in a great central location in Mexico City.
Hotels in Los Cabos:
Perhaps you’d like the uber-luxe One & Only Palmilla?
It pretty well ticks off all the boxes for a luxury beach resort in Cabo.
For an all-inclusive stay, the Grand Velas Los Cabos will pamper you silly with large suites, gourmet restaurants and superb service.
Or maybe the artsy Hotel El Ganzo, a boutique hotel in Puerto Los Cabos is more your style?
We’ve stayed at all of these top Mexican hotels in Cabo – and many more. Head on over to our reviews of 23+ best resorts in Cabo San Lucas for all the luscious details!
Hotels in Puerto Vallarta:
We’re partial to the beautiful boutique hotels in Puerto Vallarta.
Casa de Mita, for example, is a true beachfront gem (with just 8 rooms and suites) in the Punta Mita area, outside of Puerto Vallarta.
And Hacienda San Angel has heavenly suites in the heart of Puerto Vallarta’s Zona Romantica.
Come to think of it, you might want to split your stay between these two hotels to get a taste of both the beach and colonial PV in one holiday.
Hotels in Tulum:
Tulum has gone upscale in recent years.
You now have plenty of choice when it comes to chic, boutique and cool digs in Tulum on the Yucatan Peninsula.
We love these 30+ best luxury hotels in Tulum.
Other places to stay in Mexico:
We’ve stayed at all of the following individual hotels in Mexico.
(For most hotels, clicking on the link will take you to our review of that hotel.)
Food and drinks in Mexico
We don’t want to forget mentioning all the tantalizing local cuisine!
One of the best tips we can offer is to try different Mexican culinary creations.
Don’t think just tacos and burritos.
One of the facts about Mexican food you may not know is that it can be very creative. The state of Oaxaca, for example, is renowned internationally for its complex cuisine.
Tortillas are a staple local food in Mexico.
A type of pancake, tortillas are traditionally made with corn and eaten with pretty well everything! They can be stuffed with veggies and chicken, beef or seafood. Or turned into enchiladas (stuffed with cheese and meat, topped with sauce and baked).
We happen to like our tacos made with flour tortillas and so order them made with flour.
And to go with those tacos? Mexican margaritas of course!
Fresh lime margaritas are the most popular. But we also love tamarind margaritas and mango margaritas.
The fresh fruit is always a juicy pleasure to eat too.
Have you heard of the chocolate pudding fruit? No?
Well, it’s delicious! Check it out in our post on 17 delicious types of fruit in Mexico.
How to get around Mexico
The main form of public transportation in Mexico is the bus.
One of the biggest surprises for us was the first-class bus service in Mexico for traveling between cities.
We were delighted to discover big reclining seats for lying back, with raised footrests offering lots of legroom in front to stretch out one’s legs.
Think business class on an airplane. That’s what it almost feels like.
The first-class buses are clean, comfortable, inexpensive and the best way to travel between cities.
Taking the deluxe buses makes getting around the country easy – and it’s less of a hassle than flying.
Some of the most reliable bus companies with deluxe class seating are:
- Primera Plus
- Estrella de Oro
In general, getting around by taxis within cities or resort areas is fairly inexpensive.
The exception is Los Cabos, where taxi rides are quite pricey. (Mind you, the distances sometimes warrant that.)
What about Uber in Mexico?
You’ll find Uber operating in several cities in Mexico, including Guadalajara, Mexico City, Cancun, Cuernavaca, Merida and Aguascalientes.
But in places like Cancun and Los Cabos, Uber isn’t allowed to cover the airport – and we believe this is true for the rest of Mexico too.
You’ll also discover that the taxi drivers hate Uber.
That being said, we’ve used Uber for certain rides in Mexico without any problems. But for getting to and from the airport, we’d suggest booking a transfer in advance (or hopping in a cab).
Other Mexico travel tips
From tequila to Day of the Dead figurines, silver jewelry and Talavera pottery, you’ll want to bring back some authentic Mexican souvenirs as mementos of your Mexico holiday.
And bargaining? Yep, it’s expected at local markets and when shopping from beach vendors. It’s part of the shopping fun!
Here’s how to bargain like a pro in Mexico.
It’s customary to tip between 10 to 20% of your bill in restaurants.
In hotels, give the porter 10 to 20 pesos per bag. And it’s nice to leave housekeeping a little something on the bed before you check out.
You usually don’t need to tip taxi drivers.
Can you drink the water in Mexico?
In most places, tap water is not okay to drink straight from the tap.
Play it safe and drink bottled or purified water.
Learn some Spanish:
Knowing Spanish is a big help, especially when exploring beyond the most popular destinations in Mexico.
It’s not really needed in the main tourist places, where most everyone in the hotel and restaurant industry speaks decent English.
But it’s always nice to know a few words and phrases of the local language. You’ve got to know at least “Gracias!” and “Dos cervezas, por favor.”
Communicating in the local language shows you’re trying to connect with the locals – and they’ll appreciate your effort, even if you end up mangling your Spanglish.
Travel in the shoulder season:
Don’t expect to find good deals if you travel to popular vacation spots in Mexico over Christmas, New Year’s, Easter or spring break. You’ll also need to book your accommodation early if you’re fussy about where to stay.
While we often vacation in Mexico over Christmas, we’ve found the shoulder season is a better time to travel for fewer crowds and better rates.
November (avoiding the U.S. Thanskgiving holiday) and early December are especially good times for beach vacations for the best combination of great weather, fewer people and appealing rates.
Get travel insurance:
It’s most important to buy solid travel insurance to protect you against injury, illness, theft and trip cancelations. We never travel anywhere without insurance!
World Nomads is excellent for adventurous travelers. It offers coverage for things like overseas medical expenses, evacuation and baggage loss/delay.
Is it safe to visit Mexico?
Most of Mexico is safe for visitors. Violent crime against visitors is rare, and millions of tourists visit every year with no problems.
The areas most affected by drug cartel crimes are places tourists don’t visit.
We’ve never felt unsafe.
Petty theft is the biggest crime risk in the tourist areas in Mexico. Take the normal precautions you would when visiting anywhere in the world. And if you don’t hang out in dodgy areas, you should be fine.
More Mexico travel information
Mexico trip planning:
Find useful flight, hotel booking and other tips in our Resources guide.
Mexico guide books:
For additional information and travel tips for Mexico, check out the Mexico travel guides available on Amazon. (As an Amazon associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.)
Also see the Mexico Tourism Board’s Visit Mexico website.
That’s a wrap for our Mexico destination guide!
You now know many of the best places to go in Mexico – for both a beach holiday and for a cultural city escape. Hopefully you feel better prepared for planning a trip to Mexico.
So adios amigos! And enjoy your Mexico vacay!
The Mexican people are warm and friendly, and they know how to show you a good time.