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Best places to visit in mexico for 2023-2024.
With year-round warm weather and diverse destinations ranging from metropolitan Mexico City to the sands of Tulum, Mexico boasts vacation spots that appeal to all sorts of visitors. To help you determine which locale is best for you, U.S. News compiled this list of the best places to visit in Mexico by factoring in cultural attractions, food options, beaches, water-based activities and nightlife, along with traveler votes and expert opinions. Vote for your favorite vacation spots below to help us determine next year's ranking. (Note: The U.S. Department of State advises against traveling to certain Mexican states due to crime; check the website for updates before booking your trip, and be cautious if you decide to travel.)
Isla mujeres, isla holbox, mexico city, playa del carmen.
Located on Mexico's Pacific coast, Zihuatanejo offers travelers an authentic Mexico experience full of brilliant sunsets and laid-back vibes. In this fishing village, shopaholics can buy local handicrafts (think: ceramics and woodcarvings), and foodies can savor fresh fish tacos and ceviche along the beach. The city's Playa La Ropa serves as the main beach and stands out because of its clean, family-friendly atmosphere. Playa Larga, another excellent beach option, is set slightly outside of town, so it offers a quieter atmosphere and plenty of room to sprawl out. Just off the coast, divers and snorkelers can pick from several dive sites brimming with marine life.
Home to Mexico's most famous waterfront Mayan ruins, Tulum appeals to history buffs and water lovers alike. Positioned along a coastal stretch of the Riviera Maya, about 40 miles south of Playa del Carmen, Tulum offers some of the best hotels in Mexico , ranging from small boutique hotels to wellness retreats to all-inclusive resorts. Regardless of where you stay, you can spend time lounging on some of the world's most beautiful beaches (try traveler-approved Playa Paraíso or Playa Ruinas), exploring ancient ruins (consider booking a daytrip to nearby Chichén Itzá for a larger-scale site) and swimming in secluded cenotes, unique underwater caves located around the Yucatán Peninsula.
This island is probably best known for two things: coral reefs and cruise ships. Travelers love this destination's brilliant blue water and laid-back beaches, plus its abundance of water sports activities. Numerous outfitters and resorts offer kayaks, paddleboards and snorkeling gear. While you could spend every minute in the water or on the beach with a good book, Cozumel is also a quiet place to learn about Mayan culture. Visit the Mayan ruins at San Gervasio archaeological site for a dose of pre-Hispanic history.
Ixtapa's curved coastline is packed with hotels, restaurants and nightlife, giving the Pacific coast city (located just north of Zihuatanejo) a bustling vibe. Playa El Palmar, the main beach, often proves better for sunset strolls and people-watching than swimming or snorkeling due to the strong waves. Still, warm, clear and generally gentle water and coral beds farther offshore make Ixtapa one of the best places for beginner scuba enthusiasts. Anyone interested in the area's history should also explore the Archaeological Museum of the Costa Grande, a small museum that details the various cultures and events that make the region unique.
A great option for a weekend stay or a quick daytrip tour , Isla Mujeres is set off the coast of Cancún and offers beautiful beaches perfect for relaxation and coral reefs ready for exploration. In fact, it's one of the best places to go snorkeling in the world thanks to a unique underwater museum and one of the world's largest coral reefs (home to all sorts of colorful fish). See marine life from another perspective on a glass bottom boat. When you want to catch some rays, Playa Norte is the most popular beach, framed by white sand, turquoise water and swaying palm trees.
Quiet beaches, a relaxed atmosphere and stunning crystal-clear water are some of Isla Holbox's standout attributes. This up-and-coming slice of paradise is perfect for travelers looking to truly get away from it all, thanks to its car-free, off-the-beaten-path location. Isla Holbox is situated off the northern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula and only 26 miles long. Expect quaint boutique hotels, stretches of white sand beaches (Playa Punta Cocos and Punta Mosquito are two top spots), opportunities for snorkeling and sailing, and more than 100 species of birds, including vibrantly colored flamingoes.
About 25 miles north of Puerto Vallarta, Sayulita is a small beach town known for awesome surfing conditions and scenic stretches of sand. If you've never surfed before, sign up for a lesson from a local to learn. Visitors can also go whale watching, snorkeling, scuba diving, horseback riding or zip lining, or hop on a relaxing boat tour. After a day of fun in the sun, head into town to check out the local art galleries and grab a bite to eat at one of the tasty restaurants (Sayulita is a burgeoning foodie destination), which feature everything from cheap eats to fine dining.
Anglers recognize Manzanillo as a world-class deep-sea fishing destination for anyone searching for sailfish and marlin, but many types of travelers will enjoy a trip to this Pacific coast destination, located 170 miles south of Puerto Vallarta. The city's two bays mean there is no shortage of beaches for visitors to swim and sunbathe on: Top spots include Playa la Audiencia and Playa Salagua. Water sports like snorkeling and kayaking are also popular activities to enjoy here. If you have time, visit the small town of Barra de Navidad (about 30 miles northwest) for charming hotels, restaurants and stores along the beach.
Dreamy white sand , nightclubs, all-inclusive resorts and inexpensive flights from the U.S. make Cancún a go-to spot for spring breakers and vacationers seeking an easy beach getaway. But this city on the Yucatán Peninsula also sits close to lush jungles and tranquil cenotes, making it an excellent option for nature lovers. Not to mention, travelers will find diverse and cheap street food served from various carts in the downtown area. Visiting in fall or winter will ensure you see this city (one of the most-visited spots in Mexico) in its most tranquil light, but December through April is when the weather is closest to perfect.
Ornate baroque and neoclassical buildings, busy plazas and colorful homes are everywhere you turn in this UNESCO World Heritage-listed city. Guanajuato, situated about 50 miles west of San Miguel de Allende, is known for its subterranean streets and tunnels, which you can explore on a walking tour or at your own leisure. After admiring the city's cobblestone roadways and charming colonial architecture, grab a souvenir or bite to eat at the bustling Mercado Hidalgo. If you enjoy art, arrive in October when the popular Festival Internacional Cervantino takes place.
As the capital of Yucatán, Mérida's rich culture is visible around every turn. White stone mansions line Paseo de Montejo (the city's main street), while vibrant Sunday markets provide a taste of old-world Mexico. Those looking for Mayan ruins are also in luck; many ancient archaeological sites are in close proximity, including the famed Chichén Itzá just 75 miles east. Meanwhile, museum and art enthusiasts praise El Gran Museo del Mundo Maya de Mérida, as well as the city's art galleries and local murals. When it comes to lodging, travelers will have their pick of quaint boutique hotels.
The most populous city in Mexico is steeped in history and culture. Mexico City boasts delectable cuisine, ancient Aztec sites and world-class hotels – all at fairly low costs – but if you feel like splurging, you'll find an array of high-end shops along the tree-lined Avenida Presidente Masaryk in the Polanco neighborhood. Must-see attractions in Mexico City include the Zócalo, the Palace of Fine Arts, Chapultepec Castle and the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. And if you want to eat your way through the city, consider signing up for a food tour .
For a vacation packed with authentic character, head to Puebla. This city, which sits about 80 miles southeast of Mexico City, is filled with colonial architecture and numerous churches, but its main draws are its stunning Talavera pottery, its historical forts and museums, and its sweet and spicy cuisine. Visitors must try mole poblano (made with numerous ingredients, including chiles, meat, chocolate, cinnamon and garlic) and chiles en nogada (chiles stuffed with beef and served with a walnut sauce and fruit like peaches, apples and pomegranate seeds). When the sun sets, venture to Callejón de los Sapos to listen to live music.
Playa del Carmen boasts an exciting food scene, with eateries dishing out everything from delectable tacos and tostadas to sushi and expertly cooked seafood, plus an even hipper bar culture. What's more, this destination in the Riviera Maya beckons to vacationers with its soft white sand blanketing its beaches and its stunning shoreline views. Visitors can also bike to a nearby cenote for a refreshing dip or hit the links at one of the numerous surrounding golf courses. All-inclusive resorts , vacation rentals and boutique properties abound in Playa del Carmen, too, giving travelers plenty of options to find the best fit for their preferences and budgets.
This secluded vacation spot is known for its luxurious lodging options (from vacation rentals to high-end hotels like the St. Regis and the Four Seasons), golf courses and charming beaches, such as El Anclote and Playa de Punta Mita. The small resort village of Punta Mita sits on a peninsula in Banderas Bay and most appeals to travelers seeking a relaxing atmosphere. Those interested in scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing and surfing will be able to enjoy those activities here as well. If you're visiting between December and March, book a whale watching tour for a chance to see humpback or orca whales.
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The 15 best places to visit in Mexico
Oct 9, 2023 • 14 min read
Explore Mexico's stunning landscape and see the best the country has to offer © Thomas Barwick / Getty Images
Cantinas and cathedrals. Art and archaeology. Mariachis and mountains. Ruins and rainbow reefs. Mexico makes a mesmerizing escape for lovers of adventure, romance, history, culture, food, and fiery festivals .
Then there are the much-lauded beaches with clear, blue waters you’ll want to step right into and silent paradise islands without a soul in sight. From the deep canyons of Chihuahua to the peaks of Veracruz, these are the best places to visit in Mexico .
1. Mexico City
Best place for art and vibrant culture
Wondering where to go for your first trip to Mexico? Start in the bustling capital that brims with skyscrapers, markets, gardens and parks , awe-inspiring museums and more than 22 million residents.
Top Mexico City sights include “Casa Azul,” better known as Museo Frida Kahlo , where the celebrated artist lived and died. High-spirited high jinks and chihuahua-sized micheladas are on offer when catching a lucha libre (Mexican wrestling) match at the sprawling Arena México .
For artsy folks, Mexico City is where many of the country's top muralists left behind their most important works. Peruse Diego Rivera's cinematic murals in the Palacio Nacional and the social-realism work of José Clemente Orozco in the Palacio de Bellas Artes .
For a taste of culture, float along the ancient canals of Xochimilco with a mariachi band serenade, or savor piping-hot tacos from the many street-food stalls in the downtown areas before catching a show at one of the city’s 160-odd theaters. You might be lost for words, but you’ll never be short of things to do in Mexico City.
Planning tip : Couple your Mexico City stay with a trip to see the pyramids at Teotihuacán . This archaeological site is located 50km (31 miles) northeast of Mexico City, and it was one of the largest in the Americas in the pre-Columbian era. Visit during the vernal equinox to celebrate spring.
2. Isla Holbox
Best island for bioluminescence and flamingos
For its size, Isla Holbox packs a strong biodiversity punch. Only a mile wide and 26 miles long, this is one of the best places to visit in Mexico to see bubblegum-pink flamingos in the wild (head to Punta Mosquito), catch a glimpse of whale sharks (between mid-May and mid-September), and witness the mesmerizing show of bioluminescent phytoplankton glimmering in the water. Comparable to sparkling underwater fireworks, these glowing micro-organisms are best seen on moonless nights.
Holbox (pronounced hol-bosh) is a laid-back dream of an island off the northern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula .
With no vehicles to disturb the peace (cars are banned), sandy streets lead to endless beaches with warm, inviting water that’s waist-deep at most for adults. The island’s one alleged drawback? Questionable wi-fi, which encourages travelers to disconnect.
3. San Miguel de Allende
Best place for craft shops and folk art
This Mexican beauty has it all: a fantastic spring-like climate, extraordinary light, breathtaking architecture, superb handicraft shopping, and well-attended art workshops. With a high gallery-to-resident ratio, San Miguel de Allende is one of the best places for creative types to visit in Mexico.
The cobbled city has been luring retirees and bewitching artists since the first art institute opened in a former convent back in the 1930s. It then enticed Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Neal Cassady, who came to drink, write and read poetry in the 1960s (the latter stayed there until his death).
Today, San Miguel de Allende’s narrow, sloped streets house boutiques and cafes that dangle multicolored ribbons from wrought iron window bars, and its vibe is akin to a sepia-toned postcard from the past.
Buildings in the historic district adhere to a color code of saffron, rusty orange, ochre, terracotta, and mustard yellow. Grab a birdseye view of them from one of the city’s numerous rooftops, like Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar at Rosewood San Miguel de Allende, a firm favorite.
Planning tip : San Miguel de Allende is a three-hour drive north of Mexico City in the state of Guanajuato . Visit in spring to see the purple jacaranda trees in full bloom.
Best place for lagoon living and Maldives vibes
Everything about Bacalar is magical. Not only was it recognized by the Mexican government as a Magic Town ( Pueblo Mágico ) in 2006, but it’s also known for its ethereal jewel-toned lagoon, serene spas offering Mexican healing rituals and a distinct bohemian vibe.
Diners enjoy live music sessions beside bright indoor murals at tropical restaurant-meets-gallery El Manati , and wellness-minded travelers experience temazcal sweat ceremonies and copal cleansings at Casa Hormiga boutique hotel.
The prized activities in Bacalar are kayaking, paddleboarding and boating on the 26-mile Bacalar Lagoon , which is known as the Lagoon of Seven Colors (Laguna de Los Siete Colores) due to its mesmerizing gradient of blues and greens.
The town also has a 90m-deep (295ft) cenote (freshwater pool) and an old Spanish fortress . Nicknamed “the Maldives of Mexico,” unhurried Bacalar is one of the best places to visit in Mexico to get away from it all.
Planning tip : Bacalar is in the state of Quintana Roo, close to Mexico’s border with Belize. To get there using public transportation, take the ADO bus from Cancún, Playa del Carmen or Tulum.
Best city for mariachi music, tequila and fine dining
Guadalajara , Mexico's second-largest city, is a dynamic cultural hub in the state of Jalisco. This is the tequila-producing region where Mariachi music was born, as well as charrería , Mexico’s national sport (don’t miss September’s annual International Mariachi and Charrería Festival).
Must-sees in Guadalajara include a lienzo (a charrería arena), the vivid frescoes of the Instituto Cultural de Cabaña – a testament to the genius of one-handed muralist José Clemente Orozco – and the three-story Mercado San Juan de Dios , Latin America’s largest indoor market.
Despite being deeply rooted in tradition, Guadalajara has recently gained recognition for its modern gastronomic excellence with multiple appearances on the coveted World’s 50 Best lists. Delight in upscale, globalized Mexican cuisine and cocktails at Alcalde and El Gallo Altanero.
Planning tip : Guadalajara's allure extends beyond its city limits. Use it as your gateway to Lake Chapala (one of the largest freshwater lakes in the country), the agave-clad fields of Tequila, or other charming Magic Towns like Tlaquepaque or Tapalpa.
6. Puerto Vallarta
Best place for sand, adventure and LGBTIQ+ events
With climactic and wild scenery, Puerto Vallarta is a popular vacation destination for Mexicans and foreign travelers alike. Framed by the Sierra Madre Mountains and the Bahía de Banderas (Bay of Banderas), it's a place where thrill seekers conquer rugged terrain and rappel down waterfalls, and families frolic on sun-kissed beaches – Playa Conchas Chinas , Playa Las Gemelas and Playa Mismaloya are noteworthy sandy spots.
The city is also popular among LGBTIQ+ travelers; there are gay-friendly Puerto Vallarta hotels, beach bars, restaurants, and nightlife establishments. Lovers take to the Zona Romantica (Romanic Zone) for alfresco meals, and strolling along the picturesque Malecon boardwalk, with its numerous bronze sculptures and street performers, is one of the best free things to do in Puerto Vallarta.
There's also plenty going on in the ocean, where you can see humpback whales breaching on the horizon, pods of dolphins rising from the waves, and mother turtles arriving to lay their eggs.
Planning tip : The best time to visit Puerto Vallarta to witness a baby turtle release is between July and December. Selected hotels like Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa host newborn turtle release ceremonies.
7. Playa del Carmen
Best place for beach-meets-city vibes
Playa del Carmen is the best of both worlds: a thriving city with a bounty of enticing restaurants and pinch-me-please white sand beaches (one is even connected to a cenote). The palm-lined Quinta Avenida is the city's bustling artery with an eclectic mix of shops, lively street performances, and gourmand-pleasing international eateries.
In this versatile beach destination, families build sandcastles alongside digital nomads and solo travelers seeking spirited adventures, while night owls congregate around Calle 12 (12th St) for throbbing nights at Mandala, La Vaquita and Coco Bongo. Another Playa del Carmen accolade is the variety of rooftop bars, from the sleek UMI Rooftop and Tokyo Kitchen to the laid-back BeRoof .
From Playa (as locals call it), day trips to Riviera Maya towns like Akumal (known for turtle encounters) are all within easy reach using colectivos (minivans). There is also a direct ferry to Cozumel with Winjet or Ultramar .
8. Chichén Itzá
Best place to see pre-Columbian architecture
If you’ve always wanted to see one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Chichén Itzá is one of the best places to go in Mexico. With origins dating back to the 5th century, this is undoubtedly the most popular of Mexico's ancient sights.
From the imposing, monolithic El Castillo pyramid (where the shadow of the plumed serpent god Kukulcán creeps down the staircase during the spring and autumn equinoxes) to the Sacred Cenote and curiously designed El Caracol observatory, Chichén Itzá is spectacular.
Planning tip : Book a Chichén Itzá tour with an English-speaking guide to learn about the mind-blowing legacy of Maya astronomers . Note that the heat, humidity and crowds in Chichén Itzá can be fierce, so try to explore the site either early in the morning or late in the afternoon, though keep in mind that the 5pm closing is a hard exit. There is also a post-sunset sound-and-light show .
Best place for an Old-Mexico feel
Zihuatanejo benefited from the fortunes of neighboring resort town Ixtapa, which Mexico’s tourism body carefully developed in the 1970s. This was a direct attempt to replicate the Caribbean splendor of Cancún on the Pacific coast.
Ixtapa’s hotspot status trickled 6.5km (4 miles) south to Zihuatanejo, which feels like a sleepy fishing village elevated by a handful of relaxed seaside sanctuaries like Thompson Zihuatanejo on Playa La Ropa .
In this blissed-out traditional Guerrero town, there are storied, curiously named beaches that are great for surfing, diving, fishing and seafood-feasting in the presence of crashing waves.
Take a walk on Playa Las Gatas (Cat Beach), reportedly named after land wildcats or the whiskered nurse sharks in Zihua’s waters, or make a dash for the aforementioned Playa La Ropa (Clothes Beach), the town’s most popular beach, which incorporates a legend of a Spanish shore wreckage containing washed silk clothes.
Best place for quiet beaches
La Paz , the capital of Baja California Sur, has something for every kind of beach lover. The city is a delightful springboard to adventures on the Sea of Cortez, home to 39% of the world’s marine mammals.
Around 40 minutes from La Paz, Playa El Saltito feels tranquil and isolated during the sweltering days, and its crystal waters come alive with bioluminescence at night. Though competition is tough, Playa Balandra , with its unique mushroom-like rock formation, is heralded as one of Mexico’s most beautiful beaches.
The impossible-to-miss destination in the region is the Unesco-listed Espíritu Santo island, where you can camp under a canopy of stunning stars, snorkel with playful sea lions and even peek at congresses of clumsy blue-footed boobies. A number of operators run activities here, including kayaking and snorkeling.
Best place for wellness and boho vibes
Over the years, Tulum shed its former name (Zama), and its position as a secluded and sleepy beach-meets-jungle town in Riviera Maya and subsequently ripened into a world-famous pilgrimage for honeymooners, hedonists and holistic tourists. The spirituality-focused traveler will find a host of things to do in Tulum ranging from cacao ceremonies to pre-Hispanic sound healing and open-air rooftop yoga classes.
Tulum is a well-rounded destination with scrumptious restaurants and bars, and accommodations for all budgets, from waterfront shacks to top-end resorts and thatch-roofed boutique boltholes like La Valise Tulum .
The beaches are postcard-ready, the most celebrated stretch being Playa Ruinas with its strikingly well-preserved Maya ruins perched on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea. There are also numerous attractions in the surrounding area, such as the massive Reserva de la Biosfera Sian Ka’an , the secluded fishing village Punta Allen and the ruins of Cobá .
Planning tip : Tulum Pueblo (the town center) is where the really cheap eats and sleeps are found, but it’s a 20-minute bike ride or 12-minute taxi to the beach. Plan ahead to find well-priced beach accommodations if that’s where you’d prefer to stay.
12. Los Cabos
Best place for glitz, glamor and parties
Sister cities Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo need no introduction. The former is notorious among party-hearty North American crowds, while the latter is more sedate with art galleries, celebrity-frequented luxury resorts, upscale boutiques and over-the-top decadent tequila tasting rooms.
Together, these perennially sunny spots on the southernmost tip of the Baja California Sur peninsula have become two of the top places to see in Mexico.
Under the blazing Cabo sun, golfers chase their dreams on emerald greens designed by legendary champion Jack Nicklaus, and surfers tackle world-class surf breaks.
Not many beaches are safe for swimming, but other outdoor pursuits like deep-sea fishing, spotting sea lions and whale watching (from mid-December to mid-April) keep water babies coming back.
13. Pico de Orizaba
Best place for a superlative trek
Pico de Orizaba is a symmetrical, snow-capped volcano on the border of Puebla and Veracruz states. Also called Citlaltépetl, it’s the highest peak in Mexico and the third-highest mountain in North America, with a summit elevation of around 5636m (18,491ft) above sea level.
Dormant but not extinct, the last recorded eruption was in 1846, and it is one of the most popular places to visit in Mexico for serious climbers – professionals prep there before taking on Mount Everest. Treks start from the small village of Tlachichuca, and the ascent requires some technical skills – Pico de Orizaba is the ultimate trekking and climbing challenge in Mexico.
If sea-level thrills are more to your liking, there's plenty on offer in the town of Orizaba, including a beautiful riverside walk, a couple of impressive museums and galleries and a unique "Iron Palace. " The perfect introduction to Veracruz state's most appealing town is to hop into the cable car up to the park atop 1240m (4068ft) Cerro del Borrego.
From this lofty, green perch, you can admire the domes and bell towers of the city's many historic churches and the surrounding mountainous terrain, including the snowcapped summit of Pico de Orizaba.
14. Copper Canyon Railway
Best train ride
The Ferrocarril Chihuahua Pacífico (Copper Canyon Railway) remains one of Latin America’s best rail trips. Also known as the Chepe Express (from the “Ch” of Chihuahua and “P” of Pacífico), trains climb from sea level at Los Mochis to the town of Creel via the sensational rocky landscapes of the rust-hued Copper Canyon (the “Grand Canyon of Mexico”).
Vistas from your window during the train journey include alpine forests, subtropical valleys, Tarahumara villages and glimpses of some of the world’s deepest canyons.
Overnight en route at cinematic lodges overlooking the canyon's edge, or stay for days of exploring, hiking, horseback riding and even zip-lining in one of the best places to see in Mexico.
15. Oaxaca City
Best place for mezcal and cultural celebrations
Once the capital of the Zapotec Civilization, the state of Oaxaca is now better known as Mexico’s primary mezcal-producing region. Fine mezcals distilled around the state make their way to low-lit, atmospheric establishments in Oaxaca City like La Popular, El Destilado and La Mezcalerita, and savvy locals guide thirsty patrons on popular tours to experience the city one smoky sip at a time (check out Mezcouting and Oaxacking ).
The frequent colorful fiestas in Oaxaca City also win smiles from cultural travelers. The city’s population swells at the start of November during Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festivities, when Mexican families honor and celebrate their lost loves with round-the-clock vigils, joyful offerings, and parades.
One of the most unique things to see in Oaxaca City is the merrymaking during Noche de Rábanos (Night of the Radishes) on December 23. During this competition dating back to 1897, the young and old carve radishes into scenes that are displayed in Zócalo to much fanfare.
Planning tip : Venture two hours outside of Oaxaca City to reach Hierve el Agua , a jaw-dropping petrified waterfall-like formation. You can take a bus, rent a car or hire a driver to take you to these mineral-rich infinity pools.
This article was first published June 2021 and updated October 2023
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21 Top-Rated Attractions & Places to Visit in Mexico
Written by Bryan Dearsley and Meagan Drillinger Updated Apr 25, 2022
Long a favorite vacation destination for North Americans, Mexico is also becoming increasingly popular with tourists from Europe seeking to enjoy the country's seemingly endless sunshine, stunning scenery, and beautiful sandy beaches , not to mention its astonishingly rich cultural heritage.
So important are Mexico's ancient Aztec and Mayan sites and historic colonial cities that many have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites , ensuring they'll remain unchanged for generations to come. Interestingly, these Mayan ruins – including places like Guanajuato, Chichén Itzá, and Uxmal – are often as popular as traditional beach vacation spots like Cancún, Puerto Vallarta, and Playa del Carmen.
Topping the whole experience is the country's rich culture, a fascinating mix of native people, as well as colonial influences from Spain, that shows up in everything from the country's culinary creations to its vibrant musical and dance traditions. It's also a country rich in flora and fauna, as it is spread across climate zones that encompass everything from arid deserts to lush tropical rainforests. To ensure you plan the very best Mexican travel itinerary possible, check out our list of the best places to visit in Mexico.
1. Cancún and the Mayan Riviera
2. puerto vallarta, 3. cabo san lucas and the los cabos corridor, 4. copper canyon: mexico's grand canyon, 5. mexico city's historic center, 6. chichén itzá: the mayan metropolis, 7. guanajuato, 8. ixtapa and zihuatanejo, 9. the ancient fortress of tulum, 10. cozumel: island life, 11. guadalajara, 12. mérida: yucatán's white city, 13. oaxaca: a taste of real mexico, 14. historic morelia, 15. riviera nayarit, 16. mazatlan, 17. cenotes, yucatan peninsula, 18. costa oaxaquena, 19. palenque, chiapas, 20. isla holbox, 21. huasteca potosina, san luis potosi.
Lying along a beautiful stretch of coastline on the Gulf of Mexico are the resort destinations of Cancún, Playa del Carmen, the island of Cozumel, and beyond. Collectively these are known as the Riviera Maya.
This magnificent area along the eastern edge of the Yucatán Peninsula attracts some five million visitors each year, in the process generating huge tourist revenues. Despite these numbers, you're unlikely to feel like a part of a crowd due to the Riviera's wide beaches, endless crystal-clear water, and plethora of best all-inclusive resorts .
The area also boasts numerous fun things to do , such as dolphin and stingray swims; snorkeling among reefs and tropical fish; as well as scuba diving in the world's largest underwater museum, a spectacular collection of sculptures submerged at depths of up to eight meters.
Then, of course, there's the region's many ancient Mayan ruins, with some of the closest sites within walking distance of the beaches, while the largest and most impressive – Chichén Itzá and Tulum – are just a few hours away.
Accommodation: Top-Rated Family Resorts in the Riviera Maya
- Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Cancún
Another of Mexico's increasingly popular beach destinations is the Pacific coastal city of Puerto Vallarta. Often shortened to just "Vallarta," the city first appeared on the vacation radar in the 1960s as a playground for North America's social elite and has since become extremely popular among foreigners looking for second homes in a sunny, warmer climate. Many parts of it remain untouched by modern development.
Nowadays, thanks to the many things to do in Puerto Vallarta , the city is as likely to attract an older cruise ship audience looking to swim with the dolphins as it is younger travelers looking for adventure, found here in activities as diverse as paragliding and jet skiing.
For those who like vacationing at a little slower pace, the city also boasts many locations to shop for arts and crafts or to simply stroll along pleasant beachside promenades with their many green spaces and sculptures.
Of course, like any good resort destination in Mexico, you can't leave the city without visiting the best beaches in Puerto Vallarta .
Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Puerto Vallarta
At the southern tip of the beautiful Baja Peninsula, Los Cabos – often referred to simply as "Cabo" – is one of Mexico's top beach destinations. Consisting of a large stretch of coastline that extends from the towns of Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo and known as the Los Cabos Corridor (Corredor Turistico), this 30-kilometer stretch of pristine beaches attracts visitors the world over for its clear waters, diving, snorkeling, and fishing (it also hosts the world's largest marlin contest).
Numerous resorts have sprung up that cater to all tastes and budgets, from luxurious spas to golf-centered properties offering some of the best courses in North America. For the most part, however, Los Cabos most appeals to big-budget travelers. It is one of the luxury capitals of Mexico.
In addition to spending time on the beaches and exploring Cabo San Lucas, one of the most popular things to do is swimming and snorkeling around the famous natural landmark El Arco de Cabo San Lucas , a huge archway carved out of the coastline where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific.
- Read More: Top-Rated Things to Do in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Chihuahua, one of Mexico's most northerly states – it shares the border with New Mexico in the US – is home to one of the country's most visited natural attractions, the stunning Copper Canyon (Barranca del Cobre).
Located in a region known as the Sierra Madre Occidental and consisting of a spectacular group of deep canyons, Copper Canyon is in fact larger and deeper than its better known cousin, the Grand Canyon. Taking its name from the distinctive copper green coloring along its steep canyon walls, these amazing natural structures were formed by six rivers that converge in the Rio Fuerte before draining into the Gulf of California.
Thanks to the area's increased popularity as a travel destination, there are numerous options available to those wanting to explore this area of outstanding natural beauty, from scenic rail trips aboard the Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacífico to more adventurous excursions by bike or even on horseback.
Mexico City (Ciudad de México) is not only the capital of the country and the seat of government, it is one of the country's most popular alternative travel destinations thanks to its many world-class museums, art galleries, and attractions. Don't be put off by its size. Instead, focus your efforts on the historic city center (Centro Histórico de la Ciudad), a 15-square-kilometer UNESCO World Heritage Site boasting more than 1,400 important colonial buildings from the 16th to the 19th centuries.
It's here, you'll find most of Mexico City's major highlights , many within walking distance of Constitution Square (Plaza de la Constitución), the city's bustling main plaza, including the National Palace , the Metropolitan Cathedral, and the Templo Mayor with its Aztec relics. Adding to the whole experience are the huge volcanic mountains overlooking the city, Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl , each over 5,000 meters tall and offering a perfect excuse to get out and explore the stunning scenery in this part of the Mexican Highlands.
A popular day trip for those visiting Cancún and Playa del Carmen or the Yucatán capital of Mérida , the magnificent Mayan city of Chichén Itzá is one of Mexico's most visited archaeological sites, as well as one of the biggest and best restored. Highlights of a visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site are numerous. A must-see here is the massive El Castillo , also known as the Pyramid of Kukulkán, and at 30 meters high, the site's tallest structure.
Another noteworthy point of interest here is the magnificent Caracol , an almost 1,000-year-old observatory that stands testament to just how advanced the Mayans were. The building is notable for the narrow slits in its walls allowing the sun to penetrate twice per year, so priests could accurately determine the date. Also of interest are the site's numerous statues, including many examples of the famous Mayan Chacmools holding their sacrificial vessels as they continue to protect these old temples.
- Read More: Visiting Chichén Itzá from Cancún: Highlights, Tips & Tours
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its many old colonial buildings, winding lanes, and narrow alleys, Guanajuato is a city that just begs to be explored on foot. A particularly pleasurable experience is visiting its many plazas, including the delightful Jardin de la Union , the city's main square with its splendid old architecture. It's here, you'll find the beautiful old San Diego Church and the majestic Juárez Theater , along with fountains and flower beds, cafés, and restaurants.
Afterwards, head underground to the city's subterranean streets, part of a network of tunnels that once carried a river but are now used by cars and pedestrians wanting to get around the city quickly.
Known as an art city, Guanajuato is home to many fine galleries, as well as interesting museums, none more so than the Museum of Quixote , dedicated to the works of Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes. The city also hosts Latin America's most important festival in honor of the writer, the International Cervantino Festival . And if you've got the stomach for it, check out the city's famous Mummies of Guanajuato exhibit, with its many naturally mummified remains of locals who died during an outbreak of cholera in the mid-19th century.
- Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Guanajuato
While there's no denying the appeal of Mexico's larger beach resorts, there's much to be said for paying a visit to some of the country's many smaller vacation destinations. Two of the very best are the towns of Ixtapa and its neighbor, the much smaller former fishing village of Zihuatanejo on the country's Pacific coast.
Although the larger of the two, the former coconut and mangrove producing town of Ixtapa has been carefully master-planned as a tourist hub to good effect – its streets and beaches are uncluttered and easy to get around. Be sure to book one of the best all-inclusive resorts in Ixtapa .
The contrast to traditional beach resorts is even greater in beautiful Zihuatanejo, which has worked hard to keep its small-town feel. Still, the town offers a lengthy list of things to do . Lying along a small, well-protected bay, it's a delightful and safe town to explore, home to a number of fine hotels and restaurants. Fun activities include shopping in its fish market or, better still, taking a fishing excursion to catch something of your own.
Famous as the only fortified Mayan settlement located on the coast, the ancient city of Tulum is one of the Yucatán Peninsula's most visited attractions. In the Mayan Riviera and within easy reach of the beaches of Cancún, Playa del Carmen, and Cozumel, the site's well-preserved ruins can be seen for miles around due to their location atop 12-meter-high cliffs overlooking the beautiful Caribbean Sea.
Tulum is also famous for its tall walls, giving the site the feel of a fortress and suggesting a military, as well as religious significance. Dating from the 13th century, the town was inhabited up until the Spanish arrived in 1544 and contains many other important archaeological finds, including the Temple of the Frescoes (Templo de los Frescos), with its sculptures and reliefs, and the Castillo , the site's largest building, famous for its cliff side location.
Accommodation: Best All-Inclusive Resorts in Tulum
- Read More: Visiting Tulum: Attractions, Tips & Tours
The island of Cozumel has pretty much everything needed for a perfect Mexican getaway. Located 20 kilometers from the Yucatán Peninsula, this lush tropical paradise takes its name from the ancient Mayan, "Ah-cuzamil," which translated means "land of the swallows," and has long been inhabited. And while the first visitors to the island were reputedly Mayan pilgrims, followed by European smugglers and pirates, modern-day travelers are drawn here by the promise of endless sunshine. The top beaches for these sun-seekers are Playa San Juan , Playa San Francisco , and Playa Santa Rosa , to name but a few.
Many are attracted to Cozumel by the superlative diving experiences to be enjoyed around its coral reefs. These beautiful locations are rich with fish and other marine life, and it's relatively easy to include at least a little underwater activity by booking a diving experience through your resort (or ahead of your travel), or simply grabbing a pair of flippers and a mask when you get here.
If you're into serious diving, head to the Palancar Reef on the southwest tip of the island. Here, you'll be rewarded with an undulating seabed that plunges from its shallow spots to depths of 80 meters. A relatively new experience includes diving around man-made landmarks, including sculptures and bronze figures, as well as structures deposited to encourage coral growth.
Be sure to drag yourself away from the island's crystal-clear waters long enough to see at least a little of the island's capital, San Miguel de Cozumel. Here, you can grab a ferry for a day trip to either Playa del Carmen or Cancún , or explore top tourist attractions such as the Island Museum with its fascinating displays relating to the island's history, or partake in some shopping or dining.
- Read More: Top-Rated Attractions & Places to Visit in Cozumel
Second only to Mexico City in size, Guadalajara, capital of the state of Jalisco, has successfully conserved its unique mix of colonial and native Tapatíos influences. Famous for its broad avenues flanked by picturesque parks and fine old buildings notable for their European flair, Guadalajara is a hotbed of traditional Mexican culture, from the mariachi music that seems to emanate everywhere, to its fascinating Charreadas, a type of rodeo that is usually accompanied by festivities such as dancing, singing, and plenty of great food.
It's a fun city to explore on foot due to the four large squares that together form the shape of a cross and comprise the old city center. The best of them, Plaza de Armas , is the perfect place to begin a sightseeing tour and includes such notable buildings as the 17th-century Government Palace (Palacio de Gobierno) and the beautiful Baroque Guadalajara Cathedral (Catedral de Guadalajara), built between 1558 and 1616.
- Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Guadalajara
The capital of Yucatán, Mérida is one of Mexico's finest old colonial cities and is perfectly located to serve as a base from which to explore the region's many fine Mayan sites, including Chichén Itzá and Tulum. It's an equally popular day trip or overnight stopover from the resorts of the Mayan Riviera. Established in 1542 by the Spanish, Mérida is laid out on a grid pattern, making it easy to explore its numerous attractive parks and fine old buildings.
The European influences are everywhere, particularly in the old city squares and plazas where evidence of French architecture can still be seen. It's also a remarkably neat and tidy city, something of a badge of honor for its citizens who like to dress in white, giving the city its long-standing nickname of Ciudad Blanca, the "white city."
- Read More: Top Attractions & Places to Visit in Mérida
Capital of the state of the same name, Oaxaca is one of the most popular city destinations for travelers interested in sampling a taste of the real Mexico. An interesting mix of native Indian and Spanish elements, the city has remained largely untouched by the kind of large developments that have sprung up in some of the country's other popular destinations, and as a consequence, it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site .
In addition to its unspoiled city center and old architecture, the city has become a cultural hub that draws crowds for its numerous events and festivals, including the spectacular Guelaguetza , an indigenous festival that takes place each July and includes traditional dancing, costumes, music, food, and crafts. The city also makes a great jumping-off point to explore the splendid surrounding scenery, along with numerous ancient ruins such as those of the Monte Alban .
If you happen to extend your stay in Oaxaca, it's worth a trip down the mountains to the coast to experience some of the state's very best beaches .
- Read More: Top Tourist Attractions & Places to Visit in Oaxaca
A gem of a city, the colonial-era Morelia is a delightful place to linger in Mexico, whether you're here for a few days or longer. Little change has been made to the layout of this historic city, founded in 1541, and thanks to the more than 200 well-preserved buildings that date back many hundreds of years, the entire downtown core has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site .
A highlight of a visit is spending time in the magnificent Plaza de Armas . Laid out nearly 500 years ago, this large public square is perfect for those who like to explore on foot. In addition to its many great cafés, restaurants, and shopping opportunities, here you'll find everything from statues of revolutionary heroes to attractive stretches of gardens and pleasant fountains, making for one of the prettiest cityscapes in all of Mexico.
Nearby attractions you'll want to visit include the attractive Morelia Cathedral , built from local stone over a period of 100 years, starting in 1640, and still dominating the skyline to this day. Be sure to pop inside, too, and spend time examining interesting features, including its amazing artwork. A short walk from here is another must-see: the Morelia Aqueduct . Completed in 1789 and featuring over 250 arches, it, too, was built of local stone, and for years was the city's main source of drinking water.
- Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Morelia
If you haven't heard of it yet, chances are you will very soon. Riviera Nayarit is the stretch of coastline north of Puerto Vallarta that begins in the neighboring state of Nayarit. Familiar towns that stick out might include Sayulita , or the luxury enclave peninsula that is Punta Mita. But Riviera Nayarit has so much more to explore and is practically overgrown with natural beauty.
While Puerto Vallarta was building and expanding, surfers for decades have been flocking to the jungle-beaten paths and virgin beaches to the north. The picture is a little different these days, as once-fishing villages have turned to sleepy boutique hotel towns. Five-star resorts and villas dot the hillsides, and former surf towns have been reinvented as havens for yoga retreats and boho-chic galleries. The ultra high-end luxury is well on its way.
Still, the more north you go up the coast, the more you'll be traveling back in time to a simpler time of Mexico beach beauty – complete with rolling, emerald-colored peaks, craggy cliffs that plummet into the ocean, and nothing but a string of shady palapas along golden-colored sand, as far as the eye can see.
Mazatlan is one of the most underrated places to visit in Mexico. It's one of the only historic cities on the sea, which means visitors to Mazatlan have the best of both worlds. Starting from the Centro Historico, you can walk the cobblestone streets of Mazatlan's history. The Spanish colonial architecture reveals beautifully decorated cathedrals, broad plazas, and buildings bathed in bright, almost vibrating, colors.
The Centro Historico is where you'll find the charming, boutique hotels of Mazatlan, as well as its best restaurants. Directly across the main street from the historic downtown is a stretch of beautiful shoreline, which is a rarity in Mexico's historic cities.
Up the coast is where the beach resorts can be found. These all-inclusive beachfront resorts have beautiful pools, rooms with strong air-conditioning, and sweeping views out to the Pacific. Mazatlan is also a wonderful home base for outdoor activity, from surfing and hiking to ATVing on the beach.
Read More: Top-Rated Things to Do in Mazatlan
One of the best things to do in Mexico is to head underground into its mysterious world of cenotes. Most prevalent on the Yucatan peninsula, Cenotes are large sinkholes in the earth that give entrance to a web of underground rivers and caves carved out of the ancient limestone bedrock. You can find more than 6,000 cenotes in this part of Mexico.
The Mayan people believed that cenotes were the entrance to the underworld, and are still considered to be sacred spots. Many of them are on privately owned land and are protected, but visitors can explore them through organized tours. The gorgeous, crystal-clear pools of water are mesmerizing, and can be wonderful places to visit for snorkeling or scuba diving.
Exploring the caves underneath the earth's surface is another popular activity, with centuries-old stalactites and stalagmites that give these cavernous spaces an eerie, other-worldly vibe.
Down from the mountains of Oaxaca City – a 10-hour bus ride, to be exact – the elevation descends rapidly towards the stunning coast of Oaxaca. This stretch of Pacific is one of the last wild coasts of Mexico. Over the years, it has managed to evade mass development, remaining one of the truest, raw and wild places to experience undeveloped beaches.
The main town along the Oaxacan coast is Huatulco , a series of nine bays carved out of the coastline. Here is where you will find the majority of hotels and restaurants, as well as a port. As you go farther north, things become much more rugged and remote. You'll pass through the hippie beach havens of Mazunte and Zipolite, before you reach the surf mecca of Puerto Escondido.
Today Puerto Escondido is seeing a flurry of hotel and restaurant development, and before long it will probably become one of the many Tulums of Mexico, with boutique hotels, trendy restaurants, and shopping. But the spaces in between these hives of activity are where you truly get lost in the craggy, mountainous splendor of the Oaxacan coast.
Read More: Top-Rated Things to Do in Puerto Escondido
The beauty of Mexico's Mayan ruins is that many remain tucked away in thick, lush jungle. Coming upon them only helps to set the tone of these "lost" cities. Palenque, located in the jungles of the southern state of Chiapas, is one of the most magical Mayan archaeological sites. And seeing as it's not as easy to get to as Tulum or Chichen Itza, you'll feel like you've stepped into another world when you visit.
The ruins of Palenque date back more than 1,000 years and are thought to be one of the rival cities with other Mayan cities like Calakmul and Tonina. The site is most famous for its Temple of the Inscriptions, a pyramid temple with hieroglyphics that have been integral in helping archaeologists interpret the Mayan language.
A huge portion of the city remains unexplored, the rest shrouded in the surrounding jungle. Still, what has been uncovered is breathtaking to explore.
Flecked off the northeastern corner of the Yucatan peninsula, Isla Holbox is about as close as Mexico gets to its own Caribbean island. The car-free, skinny barrier island is accessed via a very quick ferry ride from the port town of Chiquila.
Once on-island, visitors will find the pace slows way down. Sandy roads run the length of the island, from the small main town all the way to the farther, palm-fringed reaches. This island is all about taking it slow, from the daily yoga activities to the laid-back beach restaurants and the boutique hotels.
Barefoot and casual, this island has long been on the backpacker and digital nomad trail. It started to gain serious traction in the last few years, and more brand hotels are taking interest in it. But for now it still remains one of the best-kept secrets along the Mexican Caribbean.
Mexico has many deep canyons and raging rivers, but none is as beautiful as the La Huasteca Potosina region. The Huasteca region of Mexico is the area home to the Indigenous Huasteca people, and it spans many states. But the region in the state of San Luis Potosi is particularly known for its epic waterfalls.
This hot and humid jungle is simply bursting with tropical flowers that explode from the thick, green foliage. Its veins are coursing with bright blue water, which give way to beautiful ribbons of gushing falls – and swimming holes to go along with them.
Huasteca Potosina is not terribly convenient to get to, but it is particularly appealing to adventure travelers who want to see a side of Mexico that few international travelers get to experience.
More on Mexico
10 Places in Mexico to Visit for Food, Beaches, and Amazing Sights
Here are several places that should be on everyone’s must-visit list..
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Yes, Mexico has superior beaches, but there is much more to the country besides sun and sea.
Courtesy of Roman Lopez/Unsplash
With centuries of Indigenous cultural history, ancient ruins , and resplendent cities, Mexico is brimming with beautiful places. But this can make choosing a place (or several places) to visit in Mexico a challenge. Do you want to spend your days stretched on a beach in the Yucatán Peninsula or in idle relaxation sitting beside a pueblo plaza? Then again, why not both?
To help you decide, here are our top picks for the best places to visit in Mexico.
- Location: Oaxaca
- Come for: a heady mix of traditional and experimental cuisine, ancient ruins, and a vibrant arts scene
- Where to stay: Hotel Sin Nombre
Tucked high up in the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca, Oaxaca is a place where overflowing baskets of spices and textiles sit beside cafés serving up artisanal coffee. Cuisine is a pillar of the city’s soul, whether in the form of crispy, coal-grilled tlayudas on the street or high-brow rooftop cocktails.
A capital for mezcal artistry, Oaxaca is known for its dozens upon dozens of mezcalerias . Pull up a chair at La Mezcalerita , a veritable library of mezcal, with three downstairs rooms and an appealing rooftop patio—perfect for sunset.
How to get to Oaxaca
The most direct way to get to Oaxaca is to fly into the Oaxaca International Airport (OAX). Travelers can also connect in Mexico City for the nearly 90-minute flight.
Drive a couple of hours south of Riviera Maya, Tulum and a wonderful world awaits on the banks of a lagoon.
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- Location: Quintana Roo
- Come for: tranquil lagoon life that is still flying relatively far below the typical tourist radar
- Where to stay: Hotel Makaaba Eco-Boutique
Laguna de Bacalar is the second largest lake in Mexico, with colors that change from aquamarine to cobalt because of the different depths of the water, earning it the nickname “The Lake of Seven Colors.” Bacalar has a reputation for eco-friendly resorts, hidden cenotes, and mangrove channels for kayaking. Life is slow-paced here—lights are usually out by 9 p.m., and that’s how the locals like it.
How to get to Bacalar
Bacalar is a four-hour drive south of Cancun, which helps it retain its remote vibe. In December 2023 , the opening of the airport in Tulum will cut that drive nearly in half. Travelers can also fly into the city of Chetumal and drive for 30 minutes.
Barefoot surfers and long-time fishing families commingle on broad beaches where world-famous surf pounds the sand.
Courtesy of Lorraine Mojica/Unsplash
3. Puerto Escondido
- Come for: epic surf and the culture that comes with it, plus undeveloped beaches, bioluminescent bays, and hot springs
- Where to stay: Villas Carrizalillo
Mexico is in a constant state of development and some foreign investors have set their sights on coveted real estate. But in this port town, visitors can still eat fish tacos underneath shady palapas , grab an open-air collective van (a one-way ride will cost roughly 10 pesos), travel to the market downtown, and surf along windswept beaches at dawn, in large part thanks to efforts from tourists, expats, and locals to control development.
How to get to Puerto Escondido
Puerto Escondido has a very small airport. For an accessible alternative, travelers can connect in Mexico City or Guadalajara. A larger international airport is in Huatulco, which is about 90 minutes away.
Step onto the sugary shores of Isla Holbox and it’s like you’ve stepped into a secret.
Courtesy of Michiel Ton/Unsplash
4. Isla Holbox
- Come for: idyllic car-free island living with spectacular beaches, yoga, and a growing foodie scene
- Where to stay: Ser Casasandra
This island off the coast of the Yucatan peni nsula feels as much Caribbean as it does Mexican, with a blend of car-free streets and the lilt of steel drums. Though admittedly less Robinson Crusoe–esque than it used to be thanks to an infusion of boutique resorts like Nomade Holbox and NÁAY Boutique Hotel Punta Coco, this remains a place for freshly caught and grilled seafood and beaches that seem to stretch on forever.
How to get to Isla Holbox
Fly into Cancun International Airport and take a two-hour taxi, or hop on an ADO bus up for a four-hour ride to Chiquila. From there, take the 15-minute ferry to Isla Holbox.
Puerto Vallarta is a far cry from the quiet fishing community it once was.
Courtesy of Chris McQueen/Unsplash
5. Puerto Vallarta
- Location: Jalisco
- Come for: a beach-meets-city scene where locals and tourists mingle
- Where to stay: Casa Kimberly
Puerto Vallarta is a vibrant mixture of visitors and locals, where bars, restaurants, and shops are unlikely to use U.S. dollars outside of tourist centers. The city buzzes with action, whether through the pulse of the Malecon boardwalk until the wee hours or lively cobblestone streets of Zona Romantica. At the end of the day, travelers can enjoy sunset above the Bay of Banderas.
How to get to Puerto Vallarta
Several U.S. airports, including New York (JFK), San Francisco (SFO), and Los Angeles (LAX) offer direct flights to Puerto Vallarta.
Cancún is a popular place for travelers to the Mexican Caribbean
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- Come for: all-inclusive hotels, white-sand beaches, and a lively downtown
- Where to stay: Belmond Maroma Resort & Spa
Cancún is what put the Mexican Caribbean on the map, for good reason: Few places offer better white-sand beaches or all-inclusive resorts than this spot on the Yucatán Peninsula. Cancun’s once locals-only downtown is starting to gain traction from travelers who want to venture outside the Hotel Zone. Here, visitors can get another taste of the city when encountering its street art, taco trucks, and bustling markets like Mercado 28.
How to get to Cancun
With the second busiest airport in Mexico , it’s one of the easiest places in the country to access.
Guanajuato offers an explosion of colorful architecture and a maze of cobblestone streets.
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- Location: Guanajuato
- Come for: colorful architecture and growing wine tourism
- Where to stay: 1850 Hotel Boutique
Guanajuato is a great jumping-off point for exploring the state’s growing wine route (there are more than 30 wineries in the Guanajuato Grape and Wine Association) as well as regional dishes like enchiladas mineras —head to Enchiladas de Lupe for a delicious one. The city also hosts the annual Festival Internacional Cervantino , which invites musicians, theater performers, and other artists from all over the world to showcase their culture.
How to get to Guanajuato
The main airport in the state of Guanajuato is in Leon, about an hour’s drive from the city. It has a few direct flights from the USA, but travelers can get to the airport with direct flights from Tijuana, Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, and Monterrey.
This city of more than 9 million people is one of the world’s most exciting and complex.
Courtesy of Bhargava Marripati/Unsplash
8. Mexico City
- Location: Mexico City
- Come for: world-class hotels, museums, and restaurants
- Where to stay in Mexico City: Circulo Mexicano
No visit to Mexico is complete without exploring the world-renowned restaurants , Aztec ruins, and 24/7 vibe of its capital city. Walk around Roma Norte and other vibrant neighborhoods, each one offering something different from the next. Thanks to its efficient (and cost-effective) mass transit, devouring everything from Diego Rivera murals to inventive cocktails from the top floors of luxury hotels is possible.
How to get to Mexico City
Mexico City’s airport has direct flights from all major U.S. gateways.
The food scene in Puebla is one of the best in the country.
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- Location: Puebla
- Come for: mole, mole, mole!
- Where to stay: Banyan Tree Puebla
Puebla has fostered a scene that is just as proud of its heritage and tradition (it’s said to have a church for every day of the year) as it is of its experimental restaurants, with eateries like Moyuelo and Áttico 303 fusing traditional Mexican ingredients with international techniques and recipes. The city’s kitchens and street carts offer temptations like mole (a dried chile sauce) in every shade, overstuffed bread roll sandwiches known as cemitas , and tacos arabes stuffed into fluffy lavash-style bread.
How to get to Puebla
Puebla has its own international airport with direct flights from Houston (IAH), but consider flying into Mexico City, which has ample connections. From the Benito Juarez airport, you can hop aboard an express bus and ride two hours to Puebla.
San Jose del Cabo’s art district brims with boutique art galleries and restaurants.
Courtesy of Mary West/Unsplash
10. San José del Cabo
- Location: Baja California Sur
- Come for: Cabo beaches and fantastic dining without the overwhelming hum of tourists
- Where to stay: Acre Baja
Los Cabos consists of Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo, which are connected by a long stretch of resort-lined roads known as the Tourist Corridor. As Cabo San Lucas is the more visited of the two, San José del Cabo is where travelers go to escape the crowds. Those visiting San José del Cabo can experience a thriving farm-to-table scene thanks to organic farms Flora Farms, Tamarindos, and Acre Baja that double as outdoor restaurants.
How to get to San José del Cabo
San Jose del Cabo’s international airport is the gateway to Los Cabos. It has direct flights from most major U.S. hubs.
Touropia Travel Experts
Tours & Top Tens
17 Best Places to Visit in Mexico
Last updated on November 17, 2023 by Becky Griswold - 4 Comments
Gorgeous beaches, a delicious culinary scene, festive culture and ancient pyramids all make Mexico a popular tourist destination. Mexico is a land of color and contrasts. Crowded beaches lead into quiet colonial towns while resort cities open gateways to jungles ringing with parrots and howler monkeys.
Majestic mountains descend to remote deserts. Traditional pueblo houses sit near Spanish haciendas. Ruins of Mayan cities lie excavated outside of modern metropolises.
The capital, Mexico City, is a huge metropolis boasting a historical center, top museums, and chic shopping opportunities. Another popular destination on our list of the best places to visit in Mexico is the enigmatic town of Oaxaca – home to colonial architecture and a fantastic Day of the Dead festival. Traces of it’s Pre-Columbian past can be found in Teotihuacan, with its pyramid dating back to 200 CE; and the archaeological site of Chichen Itza in the Yucatán Peninsula.
Map of Places to Visit in Mexico
In this post, we'll cover:
Founded in 1531, Puebla , in central Mexico, is the fifth largest city in the country with over 2 million inhabitants. Its strategic location, halfway between the port of Veracruz and Mexico City, made it an important city.
Today this charming colonial city pairs perfectly with hungry travelers, since it’s known as the gastronomic capital of Mexico. Be sure to try mole poblano, a traditional Mexican dish said to be invented here.
Standing in the shadow of the volcano Popocatepetl , Puebla visitors also won’t want to miss the Catedral de Puebla, with its onyx statues and domed ceiling patterned after St. Peter’s in Rome. The nearby town of Cholula boast one of the largest pyramids ever built, though the structure has been badly neglected over the centuries.
Once a popular destination among spring breakers, Acapulco is the largest city in the state of Guerrero. This large beach resort city is situated on a semi-circular bay that is characterized by traditional architecture on one side and luxury high-rise hotels on the other side.
Beautiful beaches are Acapulco’s primary crowd-puller. Most of the popular beaches like Hornos, Icacos, Papagayo and Tamarindos are found along the bay area known as Las Costera. Favored for their cleanliness and direct location on the ocean, the beaches of Langosta and Caleta are good choices as well.
Those who desire more than just the beaches may find the Fort of San Diego an interesting visit for its historic buildings and on-site museum that details the history of the area. Another good museum is the House of Masks, which showcases a collection of masks from all over the world. Shaded by palm trees, the city’s main square is where tourists can visit a stunning cathedral, watch street performers, dine in cafes, shop and experience the local culture.
A must-do in Acapulco is watch the city’s famous La Quebrada Cliff divers plunge 147 feet into a shallow inlet. A tradition since 1934, this spectacle can be viewed from a platform on the cliff tops or from nearby restaurants.
15. Playa del Carmen
Commonly referred to as simply “Playa,” Playa del Carmen is a lively resort town in the state of Quintana Roo on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Formerly a quiet fishing village of distinct European influence, the town has expanded in recent years into a vibrant resort town of beautiful beaches and entertainment venues. However, Playa still retains its relaxed atmosphere and friendly locals.
As it is situated within the Riviera Maya region, Playa del Carmen is a frequent cruise stop and within easy reach of other popular tourist spots like the Xcaret Eco Park and Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve . With the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef just off the shore, there are also plenty of opportunities for scuba diving and snorkeling.
Quinta Avenida, or 5th Avenue, is the heart of Playa. Along this 20-block thoroughfare are shops, boutiques, restaurants, bars, clubs and hotels.
Nicknamed the “White City” because of its white stone buildings, Merida is the capital of Mexico’s Yucatan state . Due to its geographical isolation near the northwestern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, the city has its own unique dialect, cuisine and culture shaped by Mayan, Caribbean and colonial influences.
Founded by Spanish Conquistadors in 1542 upon an ancient Mayan city, Merida features numerous colonial buildings including the palace of a former Conquistador leader. The city’s main plaza, “el Zocalo,” is the location of many historic structures such as a 16th century cathedral, the Governor’s Palace and Old City Hall.
The tree-lined street of El Pasea Montejo with its beautiful mansions reflects the city’s former glory days as the rope-making capital of the world. This street is a nice place to enjoy an evening walk after the heat of the day. Most locals here work in the mornings and take a lunch and siesta when the tropical weather is at its peak.
Tourists will find a variety of things to see and do in Merida like relaxing in public parks, browsing colorful markets for souvenirs and visiting nearby Mayan archaeological sites.
Surrounded by rolling hills, valleys and mountains, Taxco is set in a very scenic spot, some 170 kilometers to the southwest of Mexico City. Besides the lovely landscapes and breathtaking views, the city is also known for its colonial architecture and intricately carved artisanal silverware.
Presiding over everything is the beautiful baroque architecture of Santa Prisca Cathedral – the city’s symbol and main sight . From atop its belltowers, you can enjoy fabulous panoramas over Taxco’s surroundings, as well as a bird’s eye view of the narrow, steep streets weaving their way up the hillside.
Much of the city was built from the wealth mined from the nearby mountains. Exquisite silver jewellery can still be bought to this day. Nowadays, however, Taxco’s economy is mainly based on the steady stream of tourists who come to delve into its rich history, culture, and architecture. Holy Week is a good time to visit Taxco because of its All Souls processions where residents turn out to show their faith.
12. Los Cabos
Regarded as the marlin sport fishing capital of the world, Los Cabos has rapidly gained popularity over the last few decades as a top tourist destination in Mexico due to its beautiful resort beaches, excellent scuba diving, whale watching experiences and lively party scene.
Located in the Mexican state of Baja California Sur, Los Cabos is composed of two towns, San Jose and San Lucas, that are divided by twenty miles of scenic highway known as “the Corridor.”
While the former mission town of Cabo San Jose is a traditional Mexican town with colonial architecture and a relaxed, quiet ambiance, Cabo San Lucas is one of Mexico’s fastest growing tourist destinations, featuring luxury resorts, upscale restaurants, championship golf courses and a glittering party scene. San Lucas is also a hot spot for water sports that include scuba diving, parasailing, snorkeling and glass-bottom boat tours.
Sporting a splendid coastline dotted with gated residential communities and high-end resorts, the Corridor is home to beautiful beaches like Chileno Beach, which is favored for its crystal clear waters and marine life.
Cabo San Lucas is also known for its natural attraction, Land’s End , which features a cluster of rocks shaped by the sea and wind into distinctive formations. One particular rock, El Arco, is a good spot to view sea lions.
Located in the Caribbean Sea on the Yucatan Peninsula, the thirty-mile island of Cozumel is one of the top diving destinations in the Western Hemisphere. For this reason, dive shops abound all over the island.
Except for the calm beaches at Chankanaab National Park , the island’s ocean current and wind conditions are not ideal for swimming, but Cozumel’s beaches are ripe for surfing and parasailing. However, there are many beach hotels that offer swimming pools. Other water activities include deep-sea fishing and glass-bottom boat tours.
Cozumel is one of Mexico’s most visited cruise port-of-calls , and tourists will find the cruise docks bustling with vendors selling a variety of souvenirs from t-shirts to tequila. The main town on the island, San Miguel, offers a myriad of shops, entertainment venues and restaurants.
In addition to beach fun, Cozumel offers other fascinating attractions such as the Mayan archaeological sites of San Gervasio and El Caracol. Chankanaab National Park is a great place to explore nature trails, stroll along beautiful botanical gardens and view numerous iguanas.
Nestled away among the dense jungle of Chiapas State, Palenque is a famous Maya city that flourished around the seventh century. Although the archaeological site is much smaller than Chichen Itza or Calakmul, it boasts some of the best Mayan carvings, sculptures, and architecture.
Palenque has several large temple and palace complexes for visitors to explore. In general, these are exceptionally well-preserved. Thanks to the marvelous hieroglyphics and bas-reliefs, much is known about the site and its former inhabitants, as well as their mysterious mythology.
The most arresting structure is the Temple of Inscriptions which is a funerary monument to Hanab-Pakal – Palenque’s most famous ruler. Its elaborate carvings document and depict events and rituals of centuries gone by, and a splendid sarcophagus and death mask were found within the tomb. Other important ruins include the Temple of the Cross and the Temple of the Sun, although less is known about their images and iconography.
9. Copper Canyon
Named after the copper-green color of the canyon walls, the Copper Canyon is a network of six canyons that combined measures larger than the Grand Canyon in the United States. Located in the Sierra Madre of the state of Chihuahua, this canyon system offers some of Mexico’s most extraordinary scenery.
Copper Canyon is rich in biodiversity with many different species of trees, flowers and wildlife as well as waterfalls and intriguing rock shapes such as the San Ignacio formations that resemble the likes of humans and animals. A number of traditional Mexican towns are found throughout the area including Creel, Hidalgo de Parall, Batopilas and Urique.
There are many ways to explore Copper Canyon, but the most outstanding way is by the Chihuahua-Pacific Railway , commonly called “El Chepe.” The track passes over 37 bridges and through 86 tunnels, rising as high as 2,400 meter (7,900 feet) above sea level featuring some of the Copper Canyon’s most spectacular scenery.
The train makes several vista stops such as the popular one at Divisadero where travelers can enjoy breathtaking views and purchase foods and handicrafts from the Tarahumaran people.
Guanajuato, capital of the state with the same name, doesn’t lack for charm. Cobblestone lanes, sidewalk cafes and some of the most stunning baroque architecture in North America give it a European flavor and are among Guanajuato’s drawing cards. The city also has a network of underground tunnels that serve as roads making this place really unique in the world.
Founded in 1559, Guanajuato quickly became famous for its gold and silver mines. Some of the mines can be visited today; this includes La Valencia , one of the richest silver mines in the world.
Next to the mine is the Church of San Cayetano, lavishly adorned with silver and gold. The city is a good place to enjoy traditional mariachi music.
A world famous tourist destination on the Caribbean coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula , Cancun presents a complete vacation package of fabulous beaches, a first-class hotel zone , Mayan ruins, modern attractions and an exuberant nightlife.
Cancun’s year-round perfect weather and gorgeous beaches are the island’s top tourist magnets. With fourteen miles of powdery white sand bordering turquoise waters, these beaches offer a wide range of water sports and locals selling souvenirs. The downtown area, known as El Centro , beats to a more authentic Mexican tune with its historic architecture, restaurants, markets, bars and clubs.
There are a few small Mayan archaeological sites in Cancun. While some remain covered in jungle, others are popular tourist attractions such as El Meco and El Ray , with the latter found within the hotel zone. Tourists will find a variety of recreational activities around Cancun like jeep safaris, snorkeling and scuba diving.
Shoppers can browse La Isla mall, and sports fans can watch football at the downtown stadium or play golf among the island’s many courses. Cancun is known for its vivacious nightlife, and tourists will find no shortage of choices that range from bars and nightclubs to dance halls and dinner cruises.
The capital city of the state by the same name , Oaxaca is located in a valley below the Sierra Madre mountains. Colonial architecture, archaeological sites, a pleasant climate and tranquil atmosphere make it a popular tourist destination in Southern Mexico.
At the heart of Oaxaco is its charming town square, Zocalo , where tourists can admire beautiful colonial landmarks like the Santo Domingo church, tour museums, shop for souvenirs and relax at an outdoor cafe.
Several archaeological sites around the city can be explored such as Monte Alban. Perched on a mountain, Monte Alban was the site of the ancient capital city of the Zapotec inhabitants. A visit here presents impressive views of the valley. The site of Mitla is intriguing for its walls of geometric patterns.
Oaxaca is also known for its unique food dishes such as mole, which involves the likes of a sauce made with chocolate and chiles. The city’s favorite drinks, Mezcal and hot chocolate, are easily found in every restaurant and bar.
Traditional Oaxacan handicrafts are regarded worldwide, and the city’s markets are good places to purchase popular items like Zapotec wool rugs, wood carvings and black pottery.
One of the best Day of the Dead festivals in Mexico takes place in Oaxaca as well as the Guelaguetza, a festival exhibiting the traditional dances of local indigenous cultures.
5. Mexico City
The capital of Mexico, Mexico City is one of the world’s largest cities comprised of many ethnic groups from all over the globe. Not only is this vast city the most important political and cultural center in Mexico, but it is also one of the most important financial centers in Latin America. Moreover, Mexico City boasts one of North America’s oldest and largest universities.
While there are no beaches in Mexico City, tourists will discover a great number of exciting things to see and do . The Historic Center is teeming in prominent landmarks such as the Plaza de la Constitucion, the Metropolitan Cathedral , the National Palace and the ruins of an ancient Aztec temple .
With hundreds of museums, art galleries and performing arts centers, Mexico City is one of the world’s leading cities of arts and culture. In addition to public parks like the impressive Chapultepec Park, the city also boasts the must-see Xochimilco Floating Gardens .
Many of Mexico City’s neighborhoods can be easily reached by the large metro system. For safety reasons avoid hailing a cab in the street. Instead, ask the hotel to call a cab. A good way to see the city’s main attractions is by taking the Turibus, a hop-on, hop-off sightseeing bus.
4. Puerto Vallarta
Situated on the Bay of Banderas along Mexico’s Pacific Coast in the state of Jalisco is the popular vacation city of Puerto Vallarta. Landscapes of gorgeous beaches and lush jungle mountains envelope this picturesque town of colonial landmarks, first-class resorts, gourmet restaurants and dozens of nightclubs.
The city’s main attraction , the golden sand beaches, offer relaxation and water sports such as sailing, kite surfing and deep sea fishing. As Puerto Vallarta is a popular diving destination , there are many dive shops located throughout the beaches. Giant manta rays and dolphins can be viewed here while humpback whales can be seen between December and March.
Lined with shops, restaurants and bars, the beautiful boardwalk, the Malecon , is a great place to shop, dine, socialize, watch street performers and view the ocean.
Outside of the city, tourists can tour mango and papaya plantations or visit quiet fishing villages and secluded coves. The lush hills and mountains offer hiking and horse riding trails in addition to canopy and ziplining adventures.
Located just 50 kilometers to the northeast of Mexico City , Teotihuacan is home to some of the largest and most awe-inspiring pyramids on Earth. While its origins and the identity of its founders are shrouded in mystery, the city later became one of the most impressive and influential cities in the Americas.
At its zenith in the first half of the first millennium, the sprawling metropolis boasted countless buildings, as well as huge temples and palaces, squares and stadia. Although it was already abandoned by the time of the Aztecs, they named the ruined city ‘Teotihuacan’ – or ‘ birthplace of the gods ‘ – as they believed that it was here that the universe was created.
While its star waned long ago, the might of the ancient Mesoamericans is still on show at the extensive and astonishing archaeological site. Well-preserved murals and buildings can be found along the famous Avenue of the Dead. The massive Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon are its two standout attractions.
The Tulum ruins are a walled Maya city perched on a rocky cliff overlooking the Caribbean in the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico. The site is of modest scale and was built during the post Classic period when the Mayan culture was in decline and therefore lacks the elegance of some other famous Mayan ruins. The tropical beach backdrop however makes this a unique site which should not be missed.
The most imposing building in Tulum is the 25 feet (7.5 meter) tall El Castillo (the castle) set above the cliff. It was once covered in with stucco and painted. A small shrine appears to have been used as a beacon for incoming canoes. On the beach below, where the canoes came ashore, tourists combine a visit to the Mayan ruins with a dip in the Caribbean.
It is important to know that there are really three different areas all referred to as Tulum, located near each other, but not close enough to walk to and from.
The town center, sometimes referred to as Tulum Pueblo , lies across the highway south of the Coba junction. There are frequent buses to Cancun, Merida, Playa del Carmen and Valladolid from the town center. Tulum Playa or Zona Hotelera extends for more than 6 miles (10km) of great white sandy beaches along the Caribbean coastline while Tulum Ruinas is the archaeological site where the Tulum Mayan ruins stand.
1. Chichen Itza
Situated in the Yucatan Peninsula, Chichen Itza is the most famous, most visited, and most impressive of the country’s many Mayan sites. This is somewhat ironic because its most famous structures do not have a typical Classic Mayan architecture but show strong influences from other civilizations from Central Mexico.
While the scorching sun and teeming crowds can put some people off, it is not without reason that the astounding archaeological ruins were selected as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Built between the ninth and twelfth centuries, the once-great city covers a huge area, and many of its buildings, temples and palaces are still in remarkably good condition. These feature a wide array of different architectural styles and offer a fascinating insight into the Mayan civilization.
The undoubted highlight is The Pyramid of Kukulcan – or El Castillo – which is the site’s most famous landmark. The hulking temple’s stone terraces dominate Chichen Itza and were ingeniously constructed to give the illusion of serpents crawling down the side of the pyramid.
Many tourists visit Chichen Itza as a day trip, especially from Cancún or Merida but it is also possible to stay a night or two here.
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November 28, 2019 at 6:15 pm
Chichen itza is a toltec maya site once a part of the mayapan federation
June 16, 2019 at 2:45 pm
I am sorry to say that there are no safe places in Mexico to vacation. It is a country where government are murdered, you are rosking your lifes by visiting Mexico. The corruption, and organized crime runs to deep.
November 2, 2017 at 9:16 am
It didn’t make the list, but I’m totally a fan of the mayan ruins at Palenque. The complex is immense, and built on a hill which makes it quite picturesque. Not overly crowded (it’s a little tougher to get to than Tulum, etc) and not as sterile as Chichen Itza (where you can’t climb or touch ANYTHING).
January 10, 2016 at 2:43 pm
If you’re going to the coast area (cancun, playa del carmen..) I recommend you visit the cenotes, go to tulum, spend a day in cancun and visit isla mujeres. This is a beautiful country and I can’t see how you could possibly not be happy here, try and get enough time though I was only 7 days and I didn’t get time to visit everything I wanted to.
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