If you haven’t had a chance to explore the magic of Mexico, this is your sign from the universe that it’s time to start planning your trip. Don’t miss the pristine beaches, towering mountains, lush jungles, colorful towns and cultural gems.
25. Espiritu Santo Island, Baja California Sur
This tropical island paradise is a great place to swim with sea lions. You can sign up to do so here. Located just off the coast of beautiful La Paz, this destination is a great stop on any Baja California Sur itinerary. The area is known for its bright blue waters and has been a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site since 2005.
The contrast between the desert and the sea and the rugged volcanic rock create a picturesque landscape. With so many virtually untouched beaches, it is the perfect place to enjoy the sea without the crowds. The island is also known for paddleboarding, scuba diving, snorkeling and glamping.
24. Todos Santos, Baja California Sur
Todos Santos is one of Mexico’s many “magical towns,” which you notice as soon as you arrive. The town itself has an artistic atmosphere and offers incredible views of the Pacific Ocean. You can’t swim in the ocean here, so it’s recommended to book a place that has a pool, like this one.
You can often catch glimpses of whales jumping in the distance, adding to the dreamy atmosphere of Todos Santos. With the Palapa Society, you can tour the town’s historic houses to learn more about the history and culture of the area.
23. Lacandon Jungle, Chiapas
There are few places in Mexico that have been able to preserve nature better than the state of Chiapas. The Lacandon Jungle is a testament to this. It is the largest rainforest in Mexico and stretches across 10,700 acres of lush green terrain. Here you will find Mexico’s most biodiverse flora and fauna along with waterfalls, rivers and ancient Mayan ruins.
To get the most out of your visit to the Lacandon Jungle, I recommend taking a tour. It operates from nearby Palenque and includes a bilingual guided tour of the archaeological sites of Bonampak and Yaxchilán. Being the most remote places on this list by far, it is sure to give you the truest picture of indigenous and natural life in Mexico.
22. Agua Azul, Chiapas
If you find yourself longing to dive under a waterfall, head to Agua Azul in Chiapas. This dreamy waterfall cascades into a turquoise pool that you can swim in. It’s surrounded by a lush green landscape that provides a spectrum of cool colors worthy of any travel magazine.
Getting to Agua Azul is easy if you’re in San Cristóbal de las Casas. Here is a tour that will take you to Agua Azul and Palenque in the same day. Another option is to take a longer tour that includes another waterfall called Misol-Ha.
21. Palenque Ruins, Chiapas
The ancient Mayan ruins of Palenque are some of the best in Mexico. You seem to step back in time as you stroll through the site. The jungle backdrop makes the whole place seem surreal. Hire a guide to accompany you and tell you the history of the ancient city and its many dynasties.
There is a lot of mysticism surrounding Palenque and some people even believe that its inhabitants had direct communication with extraterrestrial life. I don’t know if I’m totally convinced, but Palenque has a particular energy that always leaves me wanting to go back and explore.
If you want to visit Palenque from San Cristobal de las Casas, check out this tour that will take you there and to Agua Azul in the same day. It doesn’t include a guide, but you can hire one on site for about $10.
20. Hierve El Agua, Oaxaca
Hierve El Agua is a petrified waterfall and a set of blue, wet pools in the high sierras of Oaxaca. You can swim in the pools and enjoy the incredible views of the mountains. From the pools you can also see the petrified waterfall, which has a surreal character that has inspired artists for centuries.
Getting to Hierve El Agua is easy to do on your own, as it’s a couple of hours from the city of Oaxaca de Juarez. When I went, it was a stop on a tour very similar to this one and I had plenty of time to swim and enjoy the beauty of the area.
19. Xoxocotlan, Oaxaca
Known as the birthplace of Day of the Dead celebrations, Xoxocotlán is the best place to experience the magic and mystery of the underworld in Mexico. The city is located just 5 kilometers from Oaxaca de Juárez, making it an easy stop on any Oaxaca itinerary.
In the spirit of the mystical and witchy, this city still observes a tradition called Witch Tuesday, which demonstrates the area’s beliefs surrounding death and the underworld. Much art and crafts inspired by these customs can be found here.
If you’re lucky enough to be in Oaxaca around the Day of the Dead at the end of October, be sure to check out the elaborate altars and vibrant decorations in Xoxocotlán.
18. Mazunte, Oaxaca
I fell in love with Mazunte the moment I set foot on its sands. This beach is loved by hippies from all over the world and has an eclectic vibe that sets it apart from other beaches in Mexico. It is not uncommon to see groups of musicians playing in the street, barefoot and swaying to the rhythm.
El Rinconcito beach is the easiest to access and is crowned on both sides by rocky cliffs, which provide great shade in the afternoon. The water here is great for swimming, but further to the left you’ll see bigger waves where surfers hang out.
You can get to Mazunte from Puerto Escondido, which is about an hour away. Puerto Escondido has its own airport and you can take a taxi to Mazunte for about $500 pesos ($25 USD) or take public transportation for a fraction of the cost.
17. Punta Allen, Quintana Roo
I know you’ve heard of other places in Quintana Roo like Cancun, Tulum and Playa del Carmen. If you want to experience the beauty of the Caribbean without the tourist traps, consider going to Punta Allen. This paradise is located just south of Tulum and is adjacent to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere. With those protected lands behind it, the water at Punta Allen seems much more pristine than anywhere else in the Yucatán.
Getting to Punta Allen requires a bit of planning, but it’s definitely worth it. I recommend that you book your accommodation in advance and ask your host for directions. You can get there by car fairly easily, but public transportation is unpredictable.
Consider booking an adorable A-frame tent for a more luxurious glamping experience.
16. Mahahual, Quintana Roo
Mahahual is another beach paradise that doesn’t have the same crowds as other places on the Yucatan Peninsula. Best known for its diving and snorkeling, this quiet beach town has a great mix of local charm and natural beauty. It’s no longer a secret like it used to be and the town is steadily growing, but it’s still a far cry from other Caribbean destinations.
You’ll find Mahahual between Tulum and Bacalar. You can take a bus there from either of those towns, or you can easily drive there if you’ve rented a car. This hotel is highly recommended, but you can also find options on Airbnb.
15. Holbox Island, Quintana Roo
Between bioluminescent pools, pristine beaches and car-free streets, Holbox really does have everything you need for a relaxing vacation. The last time I went to Holbox was just before the pandemic, just in time for Carnival. If you can, I recommend you go at this time because the island becomes a wonderland of lights, music and colorful costumes.
You can easily book a day trip to Holbox from your hotel in Cancun, but there are also many great places to stay on the island. This one has stunning views and amazing amenities.
14. Tulum, Quintana Roo
As much as Tulum has changed in the last decade, it is still one of the most beautiful places in Mexico. The combination of white sandy beaches and crystal clear cenotes is truly extraordinary and well worth a visit. In this magical town there are two distinct areas: the hotel zone and the center.
The hotel zone is the gateway to the beach and features luxury resorts, elegant restaurants, and thoughtful architecture. Downtown is where you’ll find cheaper accommodation, local food and fun street art. I recommend renting a bike to get between the two. You can even get to some of the best cenotes in the area by bike.
13. Bacalar, Quintana Roo
Bacalar is located on a lagoon that is colloquially known as the “lagoon of 7 colors” because of its different shades of blue. If that doesn’t arouse your curiosity for this Caribbean paradise, I don’t know what will. This charming “pueblo mágico” is located about an hour and a half south of Tulum.
There has been a lot of talk about Bacalar becoming the “next Tulum” because of how much it has gained in popularity in recent years. Although increased tourism has led to a construction boom, the town remains relatively small and quaint. You won’t find the same kind of party scene you’d find elsewhere in the Riviera Maya and the lagoon itself has a totally different vibe than the beaches of the Caribbean.
In Bacalar you can tour the lagoon by boat, rent a kayak to explore it or rent a paddleboard. My favorite place to hang out in the lagoon is Cenote Cocalitos, which has hammocks hanging over the water to relax in. Another great place to enjoy the water is the Albergue Tortuga, which has a dock, hammocks and a small bar where you can have a drink if you’re not staying there.
12. Celestun, Yucatan
If you’re a nature enthusiast like me, Celestun should be on your list of things to do in Mexico. This quiet coastal town has a beach, mangroves and a biosphere reserve. But the main attraction is the flamingos. The shallow waters of the Ria Celestun Biosphere Reserve create the perfect ecosystem for hungry flamingos to flock to during the months of November through April. The best time to see them is from December to February, as the young are just being born and the flock is much larger.
Celestun is a great day trip from Merida and this tour will take you right to the flamingos. If you want to spend a couple of days exploring, you can find affordable lodging right on the beach. This place is a great option. Celestun beach is my favorite beach in the Yucatan, but it’s definitely not on the same level as the white sandy beaches of the Caribbean.
11. Valladolid, Yucatan
You may have heard about the historic charm of Mérida, but have you ventured to Valladolid yet? This kitschy colonial town is often a stopping point before reaching the nearby cenotes and Chichén Itzá. In my humble opinion, Valladolid is a much better base for these day trips than Cancun.
Like many smaller towns in Mexico, Valladolid has a couple of pedestrian streets that are lined with nice shops and restaurants where you can sample the local cuisine. It’s a city with a great gastronomy because of the mix of ancient Mayan recipes and Spanish gastronomy. I recommend you to try the papadzules.
Valladolid is a very Mayan city. You will see women wearing traditional Mayan clothing, usually white dresses embroidered with colorful flowers and lace hems. You will also notice that the height of the local population is much shorter than what you might find in other places in Mexico or the United States. I’m only 5’6″ and I felt like a giant.
I recommend taking a tour of the city to learn about the history, visit the nearby cenotes and take a quick trip to see the archaeological site of Chichen Itza.
10. Izamal, Yucatan
Izamal is another of the jewels of the Yucatan peninsula. This small city is known as the “yellow city” because of the yellow paint that covers almost every building downtown. In pre-Columbian times, Izamal was an important city for the Mayas. When the Spanish arrived, they built their city right on top of the existing Mayan monuments and places of worship. Archaeologists continue to uncover Mayan artifacts under the existing colonial architecture.
So why all the yellow buildings? Historians believe that the Spanish painted the city yellow to represent the sun, as the city of Izamal was considered by the Maya to be the home of the sun god. To learn more about the history of Izamal, take a walking tour. The city is also close to the cenote Ik Kil, which is my favorite of the Yucatan Peninsula.
Izamal is a great day trip from Merida. It includes a stop at Cenote Xooch and a visit to the city.
9. Las Coloradas, Yucatan
Las Coloradas is the pink lake you dreamed of as a kid, but it’s actually real. The lake is man-made and was dug by a salt company. After a while, the water that accumulated in the lake started to turn pink due to the plankton, red algae and saltwater shrimp that inhabit the saltwater.
The area surrounding the lake is part of the Rio Lagartos Biosphere Reserve, which is an extensive wetland. The biosphere is home to flamingos, crocodiles, birds, sea turtles and even jaguars. A visit to Las Coloradas would be a great day trip from Merida, Valladolid or even Cancun. I recommend taking a tour of the lake rather than going alone, as the lake itself is on private property and is quite difficult to access without a tour guide.
8. Marietas Islands, Nayarit
These beautiful islands are located just off the coast of Punta Mita, in the state of Nayarit. They are one of the most protected islands in Mexico due to their unique biodiversity, which is often compared to that of the Galapagos Islands. Due to the Mexican government’s conservation efforts, there is a limit on the number of people who can access the islands per day to give the coral reefs a break.
An excursion to these uninhabited islands can be made from nearby Sayulita. A typical excursion might include snorkeling around the islands, visiting the coves, and even access to a secret beach called Playa de Amor. Playa de Amor can only be reached at low tide, when the cave entrance is accessible. If you visit between December and March, you may see humpback whales and dolphins.
7. Bernal, Querétaro
This magical town is the perfect destination for an authentic Mexican experience. Located just a short drive from Queretaro de Santiago, your stop in Bernal is a great addition to any road trip.
Bernal’s beauty is mainly attributed to the incredible and imposing Peña de Bernal, one of the largest monoliths in the world. The monolith is almost 300 meters high and can be seen from almost any point in the city. You can easily walk to the base and then begin the adventure of climbing to the top to get a view of the city from above.
After climbing to the top of Peña de Bernal, take a stroll through the town and enjoy the quirks of a small Mexican town. Like many magical towns, one of the main attractions and gathering places is the cathedral, located in the center of town. Check out the old colonial architecture at the Parroquia de San Sebastian, El Castillo and the Capilla de las Animas.
6. Lake Patzcuaro, Michoacán
The state of Michoacán is known for having some of the friendliest and most hospitable people in Mexico. That alone I find beautiful, but there are also many places in Michoacán that are breathtaking. Lake Patzcuaro is one of those places.
The town of Patzcuaro is only a 45 minute drive from the charming city of Morelia and the lake itself is only 2 miles outside of town. Along the shores of the lake you will find quaint fishing villages that are a delight to explore. From the docks of Patzcuaro you can take a boat to an island called Janitzio, famous for its giant statue of Jose Maria Morelos, which you can climb to see the lake from above.
The best time to visit Lake Patzcuaro is during the Day of the Dead, Christmas or Easter. The city of Patzcuaro, the small lakeside towns and Janitzio Island are famous for their large festive celebrations, which are a great way to get to know Mexico.
5. Morelia, Michoacán
The city of Morelia was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991 and remains one of the most beautiful cities in Mexico. Its quintessential pink stone buildings and baroque architecture make the city romantic and timeless.
Strolling through Morelia you will discover that its urban beauty blends perfectly with the magnificent landscapes that surround the city. Visit the Cathedral of Morelia, explore the Aqueduct or pass by the Fountain of the Tarascas and the Alley of Romance. Day trips from Morelia will take you to Lake Patzcuaro, Los Azufres, which has geothermal pools, and the Tziranda caves.
Hotel Cantera Diez is highly recommended to stay at for its location and luxury – book here!
4. Las Barrancas del Cobre, Chihuahua
The Copper Canyon, in the state of Chihuahua, is easily one of Mexico’s most impressive natural wonders. It’s even several times bigger than the Grand Canyon in the U.S. And the best part? You can travel through it by train.
The railroad through the Copper Canyon is called Ferrocarril Chihuahua Pacifico or “El Chepe” for short and travels between the cities of Chihuahua and Los Mochis. Los Mochis is the preferred starting point because the best views are closer and in winter, when the sun sets earlier, you run the risk of missing those views if you start in Chihuahua.
The Chepe Express is a luxury train designed for tourists. This train ride takes about nine hours and winds through the canyon at high speed with plenty of windows to enjoy the views. If you like the American Southwest, this is the trip for you.
3. San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato
San Miguel has a magnetic quality that makes visitors consider moving there permanently. No wonder it has become such a cosmopolitan city. Despite its ever-growing foreign population, it remains relatively off the beaten track. It is one of Mexico’s most architecturally significant cities and is known for its intricately detailed facades and brightly coloured buildings.
Take a historic walking tour of the city or venture out for a wine tasting at a local vineyard. Just outside the city is the Santuario de Atotonilco, an ecclesiastical complex built in the 18th century. It is known as the “Sistine Chapel of Mexico” for its impressive murals.
2. Las Pozas in Xilitla, San Luis Potosí
Unlike any other place in the world, Edward James’ Las Pozas de Xilitla is both strange and alluring. It’s a great day trip from the city of San Luis Potosi and includes gardens, ponds and truly unique architecture. Laz Pozas is a surrealist sculpture garden that is nestled within a thick jungle.
The concept of Las Pozas is to invoke curiosity and wonder. The site includes doors that lead to nowhere, man-made pools next to natural pools, staircases that extend upward with no destination, and many other oddities. In its mystery, there is much beauty to behold here.
1. Puebla de Zaragoza, Puebla
Last but not least is Puebla de Zaragoza (Puebla for short), one of Mexico’s most culturally diverse and colorful cities. Being so close to Mexico City, Puebla is often overlooked by tourists. However, it has almost everything that CDMX has to offer, but has a much more relaxed atmosphere.
Like many of the cities on this list, Puebla has amazing architecture and is known for its baroque style. Here you’ll find the International Museum of Baroque Art, which is a testament to the city’s international influence. With so much cultural diversity, Puebla is a treasure trove for foodies. Try the traditional mole or go for some Arabic tacos, created by Lebanese immigrants to Mexico.
The best thing about a visit to Puebla is the number of amazing places you can visit just outside the city. This tour will take you to the pyramids of Cholula and has incredible views of the Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl volcanoes.
I may be biased, since Mexico has been my home for a couple of years, but I honestly think it’s the most beautiful country in the world. You know that feeling that melts your heart when you see someone you love? That’s what I feel when I travel in Mexico.
Each of these destinations has something special to offer and will have you pulling out your camera for photos often.Traveling alone to Mexico? Check out our guide for solo travelers to Mexico. You can also find more off-the-beaten-path destinations in Mexico by checking out this post as well. Happy planning!
This post was written by Emily Becker, BMTM’s Mexico correspondent.
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