Dave and I have often considered settling down in Mexico. Each time we visit, we love it! We haven’t visited everywhere in the country but love to add a new destination each time we go down. So when Nathan of The TRVL Blog suggested writing about his favorite places to visit in Mexico, we were excited to include his picks and add our own to the list to create the ultimate guide to the best places in Mexico.
After rounding up all these amazing destinations in Mexico we are dreaming of traveling to Mexico again soon. It is truly one of our favourite places on earth.
Top Places to Visit in Mexico
Variety is Mexico’s middle name. After a day lounging on a pristine beach, you may find yourself tucking into fresh ceviche from a modest food stand on the side of the street or hitting the clubs for an exciting night out. Another day you’ll be wandering around the narrow streets of a city discovering colonial churches amongst the brightly painted buildings. The possibilities in Mexico are endless.
After all, Mexico is a country made up of 758,000 square miles and 31 states. You’d expect a bit of variety there, right? Mexico is diverse and on our list of must-visit places in Mexico we’ve included a variety of destinations to suit all tastes. So sit back and start planning your trip to Mexico today.
1. Yucatán Peninsula
Let’s start with the most popular of places in Mexico, the Yucatán Peninsula. Jutting out between the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea this beautiful peninsula houses some of Mexico’s top attractions and destinations. At 197,000 square km (76,300 square miles) there is a lot to see and do here. Read about our whale shark adventure in the Yucatan: Swimming with Whale Sharks Cancun – A Massive Adventure
Book this whale shark adventure (that we booked as well) from Cancun. Whale shark tours occur in the Yucatan from May to December. Get Your Guide is the company we went with and they have free cancelation within 24 hours of the tour.
When exploring the Yucatan, there are so many destinations that it is best to settle on one place as your base so that you can go back again and again. Consisting of the Mexican States of the Yucatan, Quintana Roo, and Campeche chances are you are going to visit the Yucatan Peninsula. What places are in the Yucatan? Well, there’s Cancun, Cozumel, Playa Del Carmen and so much more. These are all places we traveled to on our early visits to Mexico and we still love going back. So let’s start with the Yucatan Peninsula first and break down all the places you’ll find in this part of Mexico. At some point when you visit Mexico you will end up here. Let’s see why! Read more: Things to do in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
Cancun is the most famous of all the cities in the Yucatan Peninsula. It’s party central and popular for students on Spring Break. It was the first place we visited in Mexico and probably the first stop for most people and with good reason. A lot of people will say not to go to Cancun, but we still like it. We’ve been back a couple of times and Cancun makes for a great base to explore the Mayan Riviera. Read everything to do in Cancun at Best Things to do in Cancun, Mexico
Our favorite hotels in Cancun are:
There are plenty of resorts to suit all budgets and types of travel including couple’s only and adults only resorts for a quieter more romantic escape. The last time we visited Cancun we stayed on the Cancun Riviera at The Excellence in nearby Puerto Morales and loved the luxury all-inclusive escape. From Cancun, there are countless day trips, water adventures, and Mayan ruins to explore. So don’t let its reputation turn you off, it’s popular for a reason. The long stretch of sandy beach along turquoise waters is second to none. Read more: The Best Cancun Day Trips
Famous for the ancient ruins of Tulum. While these ruins aren’t our favourite in Mexico, they do have the most awe-inspiring setting of all the Mexican ruins. Sitting atop high cliffs on the Caribbean Sea, the Mayans of Tulum had the best view in the house. What makes Tulum popular to tourists besides day trips to the ruins, is its stretch of white sandy beaches.
The resorts along its turquoise waters are quieter than the other resort areas making for a more off-the-beaten-path vacation than the busier cities of Cancun or Playa del Carmen. If you want to explore Cenotes, this is the place to do it, Tulum has a high concentration of these breathtaking underground sinkholes. Read more: Cenotes in Photos – Discover Mexico’s Extraordinary Underground Caves
One of our first proper scuba diving trips was to Cozumel and with good reason. This island has some of the best diving in the world within its waters. Don’t worry if you are not a diver, you can go snorkeling as well. Many people visit Cozumel on a day trip from Cancun or Playa del Carmen, but staying on this island truly has a Caribbean vibe. There are all-inclusive resorts on Cozumel, some small Mayan ruins, and plenty of beaches. The downtown markets are a fun place to shop and like many Mexican tourist destinations, there’s plenty of nightlife and dining. Read more: The Best Cancun Day Trips
5. Riviera Maya
This stretch of resort area spans from just south of Cancun to Punta Allen which is south of Tulum. The Riviera Maya, (or Mayan Riviera as we like to call it) houses the best resorts of Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Cozumel. Chances are if you are looking for an all-inclusive resort, you will set your sights on the Riviera Maya.
This stretch makes for a great base as most tours pick you up right at your hotel and hotels have shuttles to Playa del Carmen or Cancun. Plus, with its location on the Gulf of Mexico, the waters are warm and calm making for the perfect beach vacation. Check out: Rio Secreto Cenote – Mexico’s Magical Underground Caves
6. Isla Mujeres
Isla Mujeres, “The Island of Women” is mostly visited on a day trip from the mainland but there are resorts on the island where you can stay in paradise. With white sand beaches, clear turquoise waters, and scuba diving and snorkeling, it is a quieter place in Mexico for a vacation. (unless you stick around the beach where daytrippers come in to party).
The small island is easy to get around by motorscooter or bicycle making for the perfect laid-back vacation. Isla Mujeres is the jumping-off point for whale shark tours and this once-in-a-lifetime tour is something everyone should do when visiting Mexico. Read more: Swimming with Whale Sharks Cancun – A Massive Adventure
7. Chichen Itza
We were lucky during our visit to Chichen Itzá so many years ago. We could still climb to the top of the Grand Pyramid El Castillo. However, it is still worth visiting as one of the new 7 Wonders of the World. This is the mother of Mayan Ruins in Mexico with impeccable grounds that have been well preserved.
This is one of the most popular day trips in Mexico and can become very crowded, so if you really want to explore Chichen Itza, consider spending the night nearby so you can get there early to avoid the tour buses. If you want to book a day trip to see it, make sure to combine it with a dip in one of the nearby Cenotes. Read more: 7 Wonders of the World – the New, The Natural, and the Ancient
8. Playa Del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is still one of our favorite places in Mexico. Located an hour south of Cancun on the Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen is a lovely beachside town with plenty of nightlife, shopping, and dining. All of the day trips and activities that you do from Cancun can be done in Playa del Carmen and tour operators will pick you up from your hotel.
Playa del Carmen has grown a lot over the years and it is no longer the sleepy town we first visited in 1998, but there are still quiet portions. We recommend booking a vacation rental when visiting here so you can enjoy the beach and the nightlife like a local. Search for places to stay on Playa del Carmen with TripAdvisor.
9. Los Cabos – Cabo San Lucas
Located on the west coast of Mexico on Baja California Sur, Los Cabos is one of the most popular places to visit in Mexico for those living on the West Coast of North America. Los Cabos is a municipality that actually consists of two towns, San José de Cabo and Cabo San Lucas.
The resort strip lies between the two towns and is filled with all the activities one would expect on a Caribbean Vacation. Albeit, this body of water is on the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean. Cabo San Lucas is a touristy town where you’ll find partying and nightlife whereas San José de Cabo has a more authentic feel where you can get a taste of true Mexican culture. Read more: Sea Kayaking Baja Mexico – A Remarkable 10 Day Journey
Chiapas is the southernmost state in Mexico and we were completely blown away by the beautiful scenery, Mayan Ruins, and the colonial town of San Cristobal de Las Casas. Make your base in San Cristobal de Las Casas for an out-of-the-ordinary Mexican vacation. The town feels as if you have stepped back in time as the Indigenous People wear their traditional dress as they walk along cobblestone streets.
Visit the Mayan ruins of Palenque and climb its pyramid in solitude and hike through Canyon del Sumidero. The canyon is as old as the Grand Canyon and reaches 300 meters (1000 fett) into the air. Explore its caves and waterfalls and spider monkeys play overhead.
11. Copper Canyon
Speaking of canyons, Copper Canyon in Northern Mexico is larger than the Grand Canyon in Arizona! Consisting of six canyons it is a popular place in Mexico to explore by train. Hop aboard the Copper Canyon Railway and take the scenic route from Chihuahua to Los Mochis. Instead of just taking the train, make sure to stay overnight in a hotel overlooking one of the deepest canyons on earth. There is plenty of adventure to be had from zip lining, hiking, and horseback riding.
12. San Miguel de Allende
One of the most popular places in Mexico for ex-pats San Miguel de Allende attracts those who wish to enjoy its laid-back lifestyle. For a vacation in Mexico, it isn’t at the top of the list, but for someone traveling around or looking to spend the winter in the country, this is an excellent choice. If you have explored most of the hot spots in Mexico, San Miguel de Allende is the place for you. Located just 170 miles from Mexico City, it is filled with history and beautiful Spanish-colonial architecture, and the neo-gothic chuch of La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel standing proud at its heart.
13. Puerta Vallarta
I first heard of Puerta Vallarta on the Love Boat when Captain Stubing took his passengers on a Mexican cruise during one of its special episodes. It only took about 30 years to finally make it there, but we thoroughly enjoyed one of the earliest resort areas in Mexico. Located on the Pacific Coast, it has been a top draw for tourists for decades. With all-inclusive resorts similar to the likes of Cancun, visitors can indulge in food and nightlife, beaches, and watersports. The colonial town sits among the jungle mountains reaching up from the sea and it is one of the premier places on earth to see humpback whales as they migrate through the Pacific Coast from December to March.
14. Riviera Nayarit
Located a little farther up the Pacific Coast is Riviera Nayarit. Less visited than the likes of Puerta Vallarta, Riviera Nayarit has been a popular surfing spot for years. Sayulita has been a secret to expats and bohemians who enjoy the artistic lifestyle, beaches, and world-class surfing. Explore its fishing villages and enjoy the laid-back beach life as you relish in the slow pace of its relaxing beach vibe. Explore Parque Nacional de la Tovara which is fed by the Pacific Ocean as you enjoy some of the best bird watching in the country. Keep an eye out for crocodiles, and turtles as you enjoy a boat trip through this scenic park. Enjoy the port city of San Blas and stay in a small boutique resort to enjoy its many beachs and colonial history. Or enjoy the authentic Mexican charm of the small fishing town of Bucerías:
15. Tecaté – Rancho La Puerta
Tijuana may be the more famous town on Mexico’s northern border, but nearby Tecate is where we took a quiet retreat at Rancho le Puerto. This wellness retreat is a sanctuary in the mountains and has consistently been named one of the best spa destinations in the world by Condé Naste Traveler. Located just outside of Tecate, we crossed the border from San Diego to explore this lesser visited place in Mexico. Tecate is the gateway to Mexico’s wine route and to the state of Baja California.
16. Mexico City
What can I say about the Mexican capital? It’s impossible to pinpoint one sole aspect of Mexico City, as to why it deserves its name on this list. Is it the food, architecture, museums, galleries, bars, shopping? The list could go on and on, but you get the drift. Mexico City has it all. It will smash all your expectations out of the park.
You’ll spend your days stuffing your face with flavorsome tortas and exploring the incredible architecture across the historical center. Be sure to wander around the gigantic Museum of Anthropology, and grab some Mexican cuisine with a modern twist from Mercado Roma. End your nights drinking mezcal and tequila in one of the dive bars around the city. Read more and start planning your visit with 10 Best Things to do in Mexico City for an Epic Trip
17. La Paz
The Baja Californian capital is a charming city with creative street art and strong coffee. Having said that, what truly cements La Paz’s place on this list is Balandra Beach. Think white sands and crystal clear waters hidden away within a bay. Within the bay the water doesn’t rise above your legs, making it possible to walk all the way to a deserted castaway-style beach on the opposite side.
Development is forbidden around the area of Balandra Beach, so there are no ugly resorts lining the beach. In fact, there are no buildings for miles. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? Not only is Balandra Beach the best beach in Mexico, but it’s also one of the best beaches in the world. Read more and start planning 19 Best Things to do in La Paz, Mexico
18. Oaxaca City
If you’re a foodie, you’ll be right at home in Oaxaca City. Around every corner in this city, you will find local Oaxacan delights to stuff your face with. If you’ve never tasted Oaxacan cheese, now is your chance. Mole is also the thing to try here. Mole comes in many different flavors, so prepare for a serving of hot chicken smothered in a flavorsome thick sauce.
As with many Mexican cities, the colonial architecture will keep you occupied for hours upon hours. When you’ve finished eating your way through and exploring Oaxaca City, take a day trip to Hierve el Agua. Roughly translating to ‘the water boils’ Hierve el Agua is the site of natural springs, where solidified minerals cascade down the cliff’s edge to look like waterfalls. Pretty impressive if you ask me.
If you adore food, especially seafood, you will love Ensenada. Every corner in Ensenada is home to no-frills food stands serving up simple-yet-delicious deep-fried prawn or fish tacos.
A soft flour taco, topped with deep fried prawns, shredded crunchy lettuce, zesty lime juice, a squirt of sour cream, and fiery chili sauce. What more could you ask for? It doesn’t stop there, Ensenada is home to an award-winning ceviche stand. La Guerrerense is the award-winning stand in question. The awards are well deserved. There’s not a day that’s passed where I haven’t thought about that mixed ceviche taco I devoured from La Guerrerense.
20. San Augustinillo
On the Pacific coast of Mexico lies the small fishing village of San Augustinillo. The neighboring towns Mazunte and Zipolite often get the acclaim for this area of the Oaxacan coast, but I’d recommend making a beeline straight to San Augustinillo and forget about the more popular and built-up neighboring towns.
There are minimal hotels, cabanas, and restaurants lining the beach in San Augustinillo, so there are no crowds of tourists here. The chances are you’ll have a large area of the beach to yourself. If your thing is relaxing on the beach or catching some waves with the surf or body board, the charming village of San Augustinillo is the place for you.
Could any trip to Mexico be complete without visiting the home of tequila, Tequila? OK, this could get a bit confusing. Tequila the drink is named after the town Tequila, where the drink tequila is produced.
Too much tequila? Get used to it, the one and only theme of your day in Tequila will be drinking lots of tequila.
There are distilleries spread across this town, so head for one and learn how the humble agave plant transforms into one of the world’s most popular drinks and of course, sample their own style of tequila.
One place where you cannot miss while you’re in the town of Tequila is La Capilla, named in the top 100 bars in the world.
I’ve seen some stunning lakes in my time, but the bright blue waters of Bacalar Laguna knock every one of them out of the park. Bacalar is one laid-back place, so it’s nice to kick back and relax for a couple of days.
Don’t spend all your time chilling out and relaxing by the tranquil Laguna though, there are 16 square miles of lake to explore. Rent a kayak and explore the lake yourself. The water is nice and calm, ensuring the perfect conditions for kayaking. Also, take a speed boat tour and spend the morning exploring the cenotes around the lake.
The first word that springs to mind when I think of Guanajuato is colorful. If there’s one thing they do well in Guanajuato, it’s sprucing up their buildings with bright colors. All those colors make for a stunning city. My tip for getting that Instagram-worthy picture is to head to the viewpoint. After obscene amounts of tacos and beer, the walk up the stairs to the viewpoint can be exhausting. You’ll soon forget about the tiresome walk when you get the full view of the multi-colored Guanajuato City and the surrounding mountains.
There are a few places on the Yucatan Peninsula that I couldn’t possibly leave off this list. The town of Valladolid is beautiful. There’s a central plaza overlooked by a stunning cathedral with plenty of bars and restaurants housed in pastel-colored buildings, serving up local specialties.
Having said that, the main reason Valladolid makes this list is down to the cenotes which you’ll discover around the outskirts. Rent a bike and cycle to Cenote X’Keken and Samula. Take a dip in the refreshing waters of the limestone cave cenotes and marvel at the endless stalactites hanging down above you.
25. Isla Holbox
If you haven’t heard of Isla Holbox yet, where have you been? The popularity of this Mexican island has rocketed in the last few years and it’s easy to see why. People are flocking from all corners of the globe to Isla Holbox. At the moment, the island isn’t as developed as the likes of Isla Mujeres. However, who knows in the future.
The main draw of Isla Holbox is the opportunity to get up close and personal with whale sharks from June-September. As well as swimming with whale sharks visit the ecological reserve Yum Balam, kayak in the mangroves, go flamingo spotting, grab yourself a beer at a beach bar or spend the day floating around in the crystal-clear waters.
Mexico has Variety
Picturesque beaches are found north, south, east, and west of Mexico. What’s that I hear you say, you want more than beautiful beaches? From Cancun to Tulum and La Paz to Isa Mujeres, the beaches of Mexico are endless soft white sand that you can walk for days upon.
Don’t worry, the architecture in Mexico’s colonial towns and cities will have you occupied for days. Also, there’s the food, how could I go this long without mentioning Mexican cuisine. The variety of local dishes across the country will have you tucking into something new each meal. Forget about the tacky Tex-Mex restaurants in Cancun and Playa del Carmen, get some traditional Mexican food down you at all of these other places to visit in Mexico.
Places to Visit in Mexico – Map
And these are the top places to visit in Mexico. Where is your favourite?
Plan Your Next Trip to Mexico Woth These Resources
This post was originally written by Nathan of The TRVL Blog. His website is no longer active and it has now been updated by The Planet D.
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