Ahhh! Mexico. One of our favorite countries to visit! There’s so much to discover when you travel to Mexico – and the country offers many different vacation experiences.
Beaches? You bet! For many people, sipping lime margaritas on a beautiful white sand beach is the main reason to visit Mexico.
Go beyond the popular Mexico beach destinations, though, and you find there’s lots more to this alluring country. From colorful colonial cities and ancient Mayan ruins to warm and friendly locals, Mexico knows how to show you a great time. And let’s not forget about chowing down on fresh shrimp tacos and other delicious Mexican specialties!
We’ve visited Mexico dozens of 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 the museums of Mexico City and Guadalajara. Hiked the mountains near Morelia to see where Monarch butterflies migrate to in winter. Climbed up Mayan temples. And gotten lost in fairy-tale colonial cities like San Miguel de Allende.
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 bet you’ll end up loving the country just as much as we do.
Fast facts: Travel to Mexico
9 Best Things to Do 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?
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.
Places in Mexico: Where to go?
Because it’s such a big country – almost three times bigger than Texas or 12 times as large as the U.K. – it’s difficult to narrow down the list of top places to see in Mexico. But certain beach destinations, cities and towns stand out for their popular appeal or charm.
Here, then, are some of the best places to visit in Mexico:
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.
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.
Colonial Mexican cities
Mexico is full of beautiful colonial Mexican cities, with mansions and buildings from the 16th century era of Spanish colonization. Many of these towns and cities are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
San Miguel de Allende:
A favorite with expats and out-of-towners, San Miguel de Allende (SMA) has a cool artsy vibe. 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 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.
Unlike some other colonial cities, Morelia is quite non-touristy. But there are still lots of 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.
Other great colonial cities? See:
11 Most Beautiful Colonial Cities in Mexico
Beach vacation spots in Mexico
The place 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 scuba diving at Cabo Pulmo to whale watching.
Say hello to Los Cabos!
For lots of great travel information, see our ultimate:
Los Cabos travel guide
There are some beautiful beaches in Zihuatanejo (like Playa La Ropa). A laid-back resort town, close to big sister Ixtapa, Zihuatanejo has a range of good restaurants and excellent boutique hotels.
You may be initially drawn to Puerto Vallarta (PV) for its beaches. But wait until you check out its art scene! Unlike some beachy places, it’s a real thriving city – and Puerto Vallarta is a hot spot for art and culture.
Cancun and Riviera Maya:
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 and floating down a lazy river in Sian Ka’an.
Where to Stay 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.)
Food and drinks in Mexico
Don’t think just tacos and burritos. Mexican food can be very creative, especially in Oaxaca, which is renowned internationally for its complex cuisine.
Tortillas are a staple, however.
A type of pancake, they’re 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, then baked). We happen to like our tacos made with flour tortillas, and so we order them made with flour.
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.
Other Mexico Travel Tips
Yep, it’s expected. 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.
More on Mexico
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