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Mexico travel guide

Ahhh! Mexico. It’s one of our favorite countries – there’s so much to discover when you travel to Mexico!

For many people, soaking up the sun on a beautiful white sand beach is the main reason to visit Mexico.

But venture beyond the popular Mexico beach destinations, and you discover colorful colonial towns, ancient Mayan ruins, world-class museums and lush jungles peppered with cool cenotes (freshwater sinkholes) perfect for swimming.

Mexico travel guide

Mexico Travel Guide

We’ve visited Mexico umpteen times over the years and know the country like the back of our hands. We’ve chilled out on beaches everywhere from Cozumel to Cabo San Lucas, explored dozens of cities, hiked the mountains near Morelia, snorkeled with whale sharks and so much more.

This 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 pretty well all the important things to know about Mexico, so you can plan your Mexico trip like a pro!

 And when you go, we bet you’ll end up loving the country just as much as we do.

Fast facts: Travel to Mexico

About
Located in 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 city
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 places. The exchange rate is about 1 USD to 21 Mexican pesos. Things will cost less if you pay in Mexican cash, rather than using your credit card.

Plugs
The 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
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.

Flights
You can save on flights to Mexico with the Alaska companion fare from Alaska Airlines.

5 Fun facts about Mexico

How about some fun facts? We bet these will surprise you:

1) Color TV was invented in Mexico (by Guillermo Gonzalez Camarena).

2) Mexico has the oldest university in North America (National University of Mexico).

3) Jaguars live in Mexico’s southern jungles.

4) The largest pyramid in the world is the Great Pyramid of Cholula in Mexico.

5) Mexico City has 150+ museums – it ranks second after London as the city with the most museums in the world.

Mexico Travel Guide

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. And depending on what you what to do and where you go will affect when you want to go to Mexico.

In general, though, the best time to visit Mexico is in the winter months, between December and April. This is the coolest time, with very little rain.

Winter is also Mexico’s high season, so you have to contend with more crowds, and hotel rates are higher.

Mexico beach hotels

Bring a sweater and long pants if you visit some of the colonial cities like San Miguel de Allende in December or January.

During the day it’s balmy and short sleeves weather, but at night, temps drop and you need woollies. A fireplace in your room is a welcome amenity too!

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 Mexico beach destinations during this time.

Mind you, summer in Los Cabos marks the arrival of sea turtles, so this is when you can help release the baby hatchlings to the sea. The sea water is also the warmest and visibility is at its best in October and November – this is an awesome time for snorkeling and scuba diving.

July and August is also the peak whale shark season in Cancun. If you want to swim with these gentle giants in Cancun (who doesn’t!), summer is when you should visit.

Interested in knowing more about the weather in Los Cabos? Read our post on the best time to visit Cabo, with a monthly blow-by-blow account of which activities are best when.

What to do in Mexico?

Here are some of the top experiences to be had in Mexico:

1) Chill on the beaches of Zihuatanejo.

2) Visit the Mummy Museum in Guanajuato (a little macabre, this goes on the list of “unique things to do in Mexico”).

3) Go scuba diving in Cabo Pulmo, described by Jacques Cousteau as “the aquarium of the world.”

4) Sample exquisite regional cuisine in Oaxaca, an international culinary destination. Braised rabbit mole enchiladas, anyone?

5) Swim with whale sharks in La Paz.

6) Experience the joyful Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos) festival, when Mexicans celebrate the lives of their loved ones who have passed. The colonial town of Patzcuaro is especially well-known for its authentic and colorful celebrations.

7) Explore the beautiful Mayan ruins of Tulum.

8) Ride the Copper Canyon Train over 37 bridges and through 86 tunnels.

9) Swim in a cenote in the Riviera Maya. Cenotes are natural freshwater underground pools, dream-like places often filled with stalactites and stalagmites.

Read more: Dive into our post on 55 of the most amazing things to do in Mexico

Best places in Mexico: Where to go?

Mexico is a huge country (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!

Still, certain beach destinations, cities and towns stand out for their popular appeal or charm.

Here, then, are the best places to visit in Mexico:

Mexico City

The capital, Mexico City, is well worth a visit.

In fact, you may be surprised by the oodles of cultural sights and attractions the city has! Did you know it has more museums in the world than any other city?

On Sunday mornings, the city’s grandest boulevard, the Paseo de la Reforma is closed to traffic so locals can ride bicycles and do other outside exercises and activities.

Be sure to join them if there on a Sunday! 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.

Don’t miss in Mexico City

The grand-daddy of Mexico city museums?

Yep, it’s the National Museum of Anthropology.

Best café in Mexico City:

Over 100 years old, Café Tacuba is a charming traditional restaurant, located in the historic Zocalo district.

Explore more of Mexico’s capital city: Here’s the perfect 3-day Mexico City itinerary for a first-time visit

Guadalajara

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.

What to do in Guadalajara?

Explore Tlaquepaque:

Wander around lovely Tlaquepaque (technically a separate city), brimming with antique stores, art galleries, furniture shops and funky restaurants.

Visit Zapopan:

Attracting a million pilgrims each October for a special celebration, the Basilica of Our Lady of Zapopan is eye-popping. And it’s home to a tiny revered Virgin statue.

See the Orozco murals:

You’ll gape in awe at the fiery murals painted by Jose Clemente Orozco.

Colonial Mexican cities

San Miguel de Allende Mexico

Mexico is full of beautiful colonial Mexican cities, with mansions and buildings from the 16th century era of Spanish colonization.

Many of these smaller towns and cities are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

San Miguel de Allende:

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.

What to do in SMA?

Have fun at the Toy museum:

Get in touch with your inner child at the playful San Miguel de Allende Toy Museum.

See Mexico’s Sistine Chapel:

Don’t miss the Sanctuary of Atotonilco!

Discover more! Check out these 22 fabulous things to do in San Miguel de Allende you won’t want to miss

Guanajuato:

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 about the city is its network of underground tunnels used as roads for cars – making the narrow streets above very pedestrian-friendly.

Best things to do in Guanajuato

Gape at the Juarez Theater:

Built between 1873 and 1903, the ornate Teatro Juarez will blow you away with its Greek columns and bronze statues of the Greek muses.

Learn about Diego Rivera:

There’s lots of cool art at the Diego Rivera Museum. The museum was once the home where Diego (Frida Kahlo’s lover and husband) was born.

See the mummies:

Yes, there’s a Mummy Museum in Guanajuato. You can see real mummies from a six-month old fetus to a woman who was probably buried alive after people mistakenly thought she’d died from cholera.

Morelia:

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.

Oaxaca and other great colonial cities? See our post on the 11 most beautiful colonial cities in Mexico

Beach vacation spots in Mexico

Los Cabos:

Mexico beach

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!

We’ve written a lot about Cabo (aka Los Cabos). Check out these Cabo articles of ours:

1) Don’t take a taxi from the airport! No, you’ll want to book one of these 6 Los Cabos airport transportation shuttles (they’re cheaper and you’ll get better service).

2) We think these are the 12 most beautiful beaches in Los Cabos. But be careful. Not all are swimmable.

3) December to April is the time to go whale watching in Cabo – the whale shows are epic!

4) Our insider guide to the best snorkeling in Cabo lets you in on the best places to snorkel and the best snorkeling tours.

5) On Thursday nights in high season, sip wine and stroll around the art galleries on the free Art Walk in San Jose del Cabo.

6) Oh my, swimming with gigantic whale sharks at La Paz is surreal!

7) Surfing. Sunset cruises. Glass bottom boat rides to El Arco. Beach babes love Cabo’s fun water activities.

8) The Cabo San Lucas Marina is where it all happens in Los Cabos. Boat tours leave from here. The bars and restaurants are fun too.

9) Should you swim with dolphins in Los Cabos? If you want to go, we suggest Dolphin Discovery in Puerto Los Cabos.

10) Scuba diving in Cabo San Lucas (and elsewhere in Los Cabos) is an underwater world of wonders!

11) Here’s how to visit Santa Maria Bay for snorkeling on your own. It’s one of our favorite snorkeling spots! Get there before the tour boats arrive though.

12) Rent a bicycle – or walk – around Puerto Los Cabos to the Wirikuta Botanical Cactus Garden.

13) Escape to wild and wonderful Cabo Pulmo for snorkeling, diving, kayaking with playful sea lions.

14) Browse the art galleries in Todos Santos. Soak in natural hot springs in the mountains. When you’re ready to ditch your beach chair for a while, these are some of the best Cabo day trips.

Where to eat in Cabo?

Go Italian:

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.

For tons more great travel information on Cabo: See our ultimate Los Cabos travel guide

Puerto Vallarta:

Located on the Pacific Coast, Puerto Vallarta (PV) is a wonderful resort town.

You may be initially drawn to PV for its sandy beaches. But wait until you check out its arts and food scene!

Unlike some beachy places, 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!

Places in PV with the best food?

See these 31 best restaurants in Puerto Vallarta for foodies.

Which Mexican hot spot is better for you? Check out our post on Puerto Vallarta vs Los Cabos (we compare the two, from weather to activities to dining)

Zihuatanejo:

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).

Cancun and Riviera Maya:

Cenote in Mexico

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.

For adventurous fun, get out and explore Chichen Itza and other Mayan ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula.

Other totally awesome things to do in the Riviera Maya include snorkeling with sea turtles in Akumal, floating down a lazy river in Sian Ka’an and taking a dip in one of those magical cenotes we mentioned earlier.

Then there’s the island of Cozumel. 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?

Pick Cozumel 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.

Help! There are too many great beach places to vacation in Mexico! This post will help you choose between Cabo vs Cancun

Where to stay in Mexico

Luxury hotel in Mexico

We’ve stayed at all of the following hotels in Mexico – and have reviewed them all.

(For most hotels, clicking on the link will take you to our detailed review of that hotel.)

Top hotels in Mexico

Red Tree House | The #1 bed-and-breakfast in Mexico City, located in the leafy Condesa neighborhood (Mexico City)

Four Seasons Mexico City | Urban luxury boutique hotel in a great central location (Mexico City)

Villa Ganz | Beautiful villa hotel, with a garden, right in the city (Guadalajara)

Casa de Sierra Nevada | Gorgeous colonial-style hotel with 37 rooms in various casonas or mansions (San Miguel de Allende)

Quinta Las Acacias | A 19th century French-style mansion (Guanajuato)

Cantera 10 Boutique Hotel | Hip 5-star boutique hotel in a 300-year-old building (Morelia)

20+ Best hotels in Los Cabos | Our reviews of the best beach resorts, boutique hotels and all-inclusive resorts, from the uber-luxe , from the uber-luxe One & Only Palmilla to the artsy Hotel El Ganzo (Los Cabos)

La Casa Que Canta | Romantic boutique hotel in Mexican style, with stunning pools and sea views (Zihuatanejo)

5 Beautiful boutique hotels in Puerto Vallarta | Reviews of the best smaller PV hotels, from Casa de Mita (a true beachfront gem!) to Hacienda San Angel (heavenly suites in the heart of the city) (Puerto Vallarta)

Grand Velas Riviera Maya | Sophisticated all-inclusive resort with deluxe suites and superb restaurants (Riviera Maya)

Banyan Tree Cabo Marques | Seductive hideaway with 45 villas, all with private pools (Acapulco)

Food and drinks in Mexico

We can’t forget about chowing down on all the tantalizing Mexican specialties!

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. This is especially true in Oaxaca, which is renowned internationally for its complex cuisine.

Mexican tortilla

Tortillas are a staple local food, however.

A type of pancake, tortillas are traditionally made with corn and eaten with pretty well everything! They can be stuffed with veggies and chicken or beef. 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.

Lime margarita

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

One of the biggest surprises for us was the first-class bus service in Mexico.

Think business class on an airplane. That’s what it’s like.

The first-class buses are clean, comfortable, inexpensive and a very convenient way to travel between cities.

Taking the deluxe buses makes getting around the country easy – and it’s less of a hassle than flying.

Mexico itinerary by bus

Not keen to rent a car in Mexico, we rode the bus from Guadalajara to Guanajuato, then to San Miguel de Allende, Morelia and finally Zihuatanejo.

Within the cities, we took taxis when distances were too far to walk.

Other Mexico travel tips

Shopping:

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.

Can you drink the water in Mexico?

In most places, tap water is not okay to drink straight from the tap.

An eco-friendly solution to buying throw-away plastic bottles is this cool water bottle with a 2-stage carbon filter. Just fill up the convenient travel bottle with ordinary tap water – and let the heavy-grade filter remove bacteria and parasites as you drink.

Is Mexico safe?

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 affected by drug cartel crimes are places tourists don’t visit.

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.

That said, it’s a good idea to check the latest travel advisories for Mexico before you go. See the US Travel Advisory and Canada Travel Advisory on Mexico.

Mexico trip planning:

Find useful flight, hotel booking and other tips in our Resources guide.

Mexico guide books:

Check out the Mexico travel guides available on Amazon. (As an Amazon associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.)

That’s a wrap for our Mexico destination guide!

Hopefully you now 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.

Mexico Travel Guide