When you think about Mexico the first thing that comes to your mind you staring at a blue turquoise sea from white sand Caribbean beach with a tropical cocktail in your hand. I feel you. And after living 7 years in Cancun I know exactly what you mean.
But Mexico is much more than that. It’s an immense country with huge natural diversity and a deep interesting culture
“Mexico cannot be described. It must be trusted. With passion, with rage, with total surrender…” Carlos Fuentes
It’s no surprise that Cancun and the Riviera Maya are the most visited destination and for a reason, well multiple reasons.
However, there are 31 states overall, each one boasting its own culture and traditions; amazing people, proud of their own country and happy to share it with you, traveler. Not to mention the great unique food.
In this post, I will take you on a journey through the most amazing things to see and do in Mexico and I hope to inspire you to explore more of this beautiful country that never stops to fascinate me.
#1 Explore the impressive petrified waterfalls of Hierve el Agua (Oaxaca)
A spectacular natural monument just at an hour from Oaxaca city that will leave you speechless. An insider tip to appreciate it better, make sure you go on your own and not with an organized tour and leave early in the morning so that you can get there before the crowd. It’s magic!
Even better would be to stay there in one of the cabañas or camp. Hierve el Agua looks like a frozen waterfall but if you know the temperatures of that place you would know that it would be impossible for the water to freeze. I will tell you what happens then.
Two natural pools receive the waters from the springs that release different kinds of minerals, also known for their natural healing properties.
The water drips down from the pools to the cliffs creating deposits of minerals that accumulate over time and create these massive white column around the mountains that look like iced water. It’s a spectacular view and if you dare take a dip in the freezing water, watching the spectacular mountains around you it’s a magical experience. There is also a short hike that goes from above the pools all around the falls and you can see them from different perspectives.
#2 Swimm in the spectacular waterfalls of the huasteca potosina (San Luis Potosi)
This is actually one of my favorite places in Mexico. The Huasteca Potosina is a region that includes part of Queretaro and San Luis Potosi, North-east of Mexico city. The region is famous for the spectacular waterfalls scattered around the town of Ciudad Valles. You can stay there and get tours that take you around the amazing places such as El Salto, Tamul, Puente de Dios. There is so much to see. You can check out this full post where I explain in details how to organize your trip and visit the spectacular region.
#3 Get lost in the Enchanted Garden of Xilitla (San Luis Potosi)
Close to the Huasteca Potosina, you can include in your Itinerary this very original and mysterious garden build by the British artist Edward James. It was his own home and now a park and museum that you can visit and spend a full day if you wish. it’s made of a concrete construction of different shapes that look like a labyrinth in the middle of a thick jungle. It’s fascinating and worth a visit. You can check here for more information.
#4 Get up early and get to the Sotano de las Golondrinas (San Luis Potosi)
Make sure you arrive in time to watch the spectacular show of thousands of birds coming out of the cave all together in a whirlpool of wings and chirping sounds. It lasts a few minutes but it’s all worth the trip. And when you get back up to the entrance you will have a spectacular sunrise to watch.
Make sure you organize your trip with a taxi driver if you don’t have your own car, and ask him to take you around the town of Aquismon and visit the close by waterfalls. Puente de Dios and Tamul are the closest but make sure it’s not the Puente de Dios that everybody knows, it’s another one, less known but still beautiful and closer to the town. Check out this post for more information.
#5 Try famous Chile en Nogada in Puebla (Puebla)
Puebla is known to be the official culinary destination of Mexico and, although every state has its food identity and specialties, Puebla can be considered on top of the game. Its typical creative delicacies are not for every palate but appreciated by the most.
The chile en Nogada is the most popular dish and the culinary symbol of Puebla. It’s a seasonal dish because the ingredients used can be found only in the summer. So if you want to try it make sure you go between July and August when the Chile is ready to be picked up.
There is a lot of history around this traditional plate so that they even do festivals and competitions for the best chile en Nogada. If you are a foody person you should not miss it. Now they are starting to make the vegan version which might be totally different from the original one but for sure you can get an idea of flavors.
#6 Hike the Nevado de Toluca (State of Mexico)
If you love hiking you will enjoy this day tour from Mexico City. An escape from the charming and yet chaotic city to enjoy a hike at 4000 mt.
There are different types of hikes for any level and abilities.
The best one was to me to get to the crater rim and enjoy the spectacular views of the lakes of the sun and the moon and then going down and back up on the other side. It was tough but the spectacular scenery makes up for the effort. Here is the full story of my hike and how I manage to crawl to the top.
#7 Take a dip in a mystic cenote in the Yucatan Peninsula (Yucatan)
If you are on a trip in Yucatan you cannot miss a swim these spectacular natural sinkholes.
There are thousands of scattered around the Yucatan Peninsula. Only around Tulum, there are at least 10 that you can visit on a half day trip. Or if you love to explore further, the best cenotes are close to Merida, in a small town called Cuzama’, known for the incredible quantity of Cenotes that have been discovered. It’s one dirt road lined by cenotes. You can go on your own or ask local guides to take you on their moto taxi, which adds to the fun.
On this post, I am explaining how to get there and what to see.
#8 Go whale watching in Baja California
You can see them floating and swimming around from December through March (March being the best month) and the best spot to see them in San Ignacio. I went on a road trip with two friends and we drove from La Paz to San Ignacio, which is a good 8 hours drive but it gives you the most spectacular views of the Sea of Cortez.
On this post, I will tell you all about our 1 week trip on the road in Baja California, including the Whale Watching trip. It was such an emotional experience to see that giant of the sea coming close to you and let you pet them. Incredible. I would do it over again.
#9 Climb to El Tepozteco (Tepoztlan – Morelos)
Located in Tepoztlan, a lovely town in the Mexican State of Morelos, at about 2 hours from Mexico City, El Tepozteco is an ancient pyramid dedicated to the God of Pulque but its fame is mainly credited to the steep hike that you have to take in order to get to the top. It’s a hard 2km and 500 mt elevation gain, but all worth it when you reach the top and see the spectacular views of the town.
Tepozlan became a Pueblo Magico in 2010 and it boasts many interesting historical places besides an interesting local market with delicious food, also vegan-friendly.
#10 Learn about the Mariachi Tradition
Mariachi Music is the iconic melody of Mexico that accompanies all the most important events. Welcome or goodbye parties, or any other occasion to celebrate is not complete if a mariachi band is not present. But what is a Mariachi? It’s a band generally consisting of 4 or 5 musician wearing charro suites and playing at least two violins, a guitar, a guitarrón(large bass guitar) and a vihuela (similar to a guitar but with a rounded back) and one or more of the musicians also sing.
Mariachi was recognized by UNESCO as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2011 and the listing says Mariachi is a traditional Mexican music and a fundamental element of Mexican culture” and again, “Mariachi music transmits values of respect for the natural heritage of the regions of Mexico and local history in the Spanish language and the different Indian languages of Western Mexico”.
Where to find Mariachi Music in Mexico. Well, basically everywhere. However, there are 2 famous plazas that have been known for their folklores and mariachi music, one is Plaza Garibaldi in Mexico city and the other is Plaza de los Mariachi in Guadalajara, Jalisco, the state where the Mariachi tradition was born.
However, I have to say that I am seeing lots of negative feedback about those places from visitors that felt that those areas have lost their old traditional charm and have even become even a little unsafe.
If you are interested in knowing more in-depth about the Mariachi Music you will appreciate the Mariachi music festival that takes places in Guadalajara every year.
Here is a list of the Best Mariachi song to request.
#11 Practice your surfing skills in the Mexican Surfing Mecca, Sayulita
The vibrant and busy little town of the Riviera Nayarit, was just a small fishing village in the 70s when a crowd of hippies from the US in search for the perfect wave found it here, fell in love with the place and settle down. With time Sayulita has developed into a very demanded touristic destination, not only for surfers anymore but for anyone in search of the good beach life, great drinks, sun, and a chilling vacation. The town has a lot to offer and will give you lots of reasons to fall in love with it.
#11 Go Jewelry shopping in Taxco (Guerrero)
The small town of Taxco is mainly known for the Silver mining history which was not one of the happiest for the locals but gave so much wealth to the conqueror. As a positive result, the goldsmithing became the most important activity of the local population who made Taxco one of the most important center for Silver jewelry. Now the mines are closed, except for one that has been turned into a museum, but they buy the raw product and make magic with it turning it into a spectacular decorative object, personal accessories, and houseware.
The town is also a gem, built on the slope of a mountain, you will have fun walking around the steep cobblestone winding roads or taking a ride on the VW beetles that populate the street of the Pueblo Magico. There is so much to do in Taxco that you could spend a whole week and still waiting for a dull moment. My favorite thing to do in Taxco was to visit the Pozas Azules (See next point #12)
#12 Swim in the spectacular Pozas Azules (Taxco – Guerrero)
Among the things that you can do in Taxco, swimming in the Pozas Azules was one of my favorites. It’s an easy 40 minutes ride on a combi (minivan) to the town of Atzala. The bus will take you right at the entrance and then you have a 5-minute walk to the blue water pools. It’s normally a busy place but there is a way to be alone in the water. In this post, I will explain to you how.
#13 Explore the breathtaking Sierra Gorda (Queretaro)
The small state of Queretaro is packed with things to do and see, one of them is the Sierra Gorda, a mountain range with such a diversity of landscape and territory you will not believe it. It’s difficult to explore it with public transportation so you would need to rent a car or go on a tour. I did a private tour with a local guide and I had a blast, not only because we were almost alone in the wilderness but because the places are spectacular. Waterfalls, canyon, rivers, old churches in the middle of a deserted valley, hikes on top of a bed of clouds covering the spectacular valley. It’s just breathtaking. Two days of full immersion in the Sierra Gorda mountains.
#14 Take a ride on El Chepe through the Copper Canyon (Chihuahua)
Visiting the Copper Canyon ( Barranca del Cobre in Spanish) was one of the most amazing trips of my life and I am planning to do it over again. I was there for 23 days and I was happy to do it with a friend who had the same idea of travel like me.
We explored every town and every corner and I have even done the zip line and a sort of easy via ferrata in the Adventure Park, I don’t normally like parks of that sort but this one in the middle of the Canyon was the perfect way to experience the spectacular views you get of the huge mountain range. It’s just breathtaking. But there is also the cultural part that is very interesting to learn about. The population of the Tarahumara, known for their ability to run for miles and miles barefoot. It’s a world to discover.
#15 Be inspired by the art galleries in Oaxaca city (Oaxaca)
Oaxaca is one of my favorite city in Mexico and the place where I would live when I will be back from my long journey through Latin America. Among the amazing things that conquered my heart was the artsy vibes that you can feel all around the city and you can see in the countless art galleries you can find, especially in the historical center. Also, Oaxaca is where the local indigenous culture has a louder voice and you can see it and feel it in their traditions, festivals and textiles and museums. It’s such a magic place, not to mention the surroundings, packed of things to see such as the Hierve el Agua ( See #1) or the archeological site of Monte Alban towering over the valley. Definitely a must see.
#16 Enjoy the colorful murals of La Paz (Baja California)
Baja California is a world to discover, very different from the rest of Mexico and yet so Mexican in many ways. There is a huge community of American Expatriates living there which would make you feel you are not in the real Mexico, but you are. What I loved the most about Baja California had nothing to do with culture, though. Instead, I was fascinated with the moonlike landscapes, spectacular views over the See of Cortez Gulf and the marine life. The city of La Paz is a gem, and besides offering breathtaking sunsets and a multitude of outdoor activities, boasts colorful creative murals made by different Mexican and international artists that give even more charm to the capital of Baja California Sur.
#17 Have a Glamourous Vacation in the Boho Chic Tulum (Riviera Maya Quintana Roo)
Tulum has been in the headlines of many travel magazine for a reason, the spectacular neverending wild beach, the fascinating archeological site overlooking the sea, and the laidback beach lifestyle have attracted a crowd of artists and entrepreneurs from the Hollywood scene, that have seen in this magic town, a golden mine and invested in spectacular design hotels, fancy restaurants and bars, which transformed the once laid back fishing village into the ultimate glamorous destination among the celebrities and superstars and their entourage.
In fact, those are the ones who can afford the ultra expensive so named “eco-chic” lodges, chicer than eco, for sure.
But worry not, if you don’t belong to the elite, even normal people like us can enjoy the trendy town and have our moment of glory. Here I am telling you how.
#18 Swim with the whale sharks, the gentle giants of the sea
It’s an experience that you will remember forever and you will want to repeat. They are called the gentle giant because they are totally innocuous and most of the time even playful creatures. They migrate from south to the north in search for food and you will be able to see them from Cancun or Holbox in the summer and in Baja California in the winter time. Don’t miss that tour if you are around.
#19 Learn Spanish
While living in Mexico I realized how many people decide to take advantage of their trip to the country to learn Spanish and add some language skills to their curriculum. Smart! Even though nowadays learning a language gets easier and you can do it online from wherever you are, you cannot deny that doing it in the same country where the language is spoken is more fun, not to mention that you can easily practice what you have learned. In almost every city there is a Spanish school but to me, the most exciting cities where you can learn the language are Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende, among others of course. If you don’t care about the beach and you want to immerse yourself in the local culture these to cities are what you need. Especially Guanajuato with a well-rooted university tradition attracts many students from all over Mexico and the world which make the city young and vibrant with lots of cultural initiatives, including the Festival Cervantino.
#20 Explore the spectacular biosphere of Calakmul (Campeche)
Calakmul is an unmissable place either if you love archeology or nature, as you get the best of both worlds. Calakmul is one of the largest protected reserves in Mexico and stretches for 7,231 km2 (2,792 sq mi) in the state of Campeche bordering with Quintana Roo in the south and El Peten in Guatemala on the west side. To visit the Biosphere you will need at least one entire day and I would recommend to hire a guide and start from early morning to get the chance to spot the unique wildlife living in the biosphere. Maybe you are lucky and spot a Jaguar.
I wish I did. After the jungle tour, you will be taken to the most interesting pyramids and explained about the history of the ancient Mayan civilization. If you chose to go on your own without a guide you will still enjoy the magic atmosphere of this place. And you still be able to see lots of birds and maybe monkeys while hiking to the top of the ancient temples.
Since it’s far away to everything you will need to plan at least a 2-night stay close to the entrance. There are lovely jungle hotels for any budgets and needs. If you have time I would suggest you extend your stay as the area is packed with amazing things to do. I stayed there one full week to see everything.
#21 Have a sophisticated weekend or week in one of the exquisite Haciendas of Yucatan
If you love luxury and sophisticated hotels you will definitely need to spend a couple of nights in one Haciendas. There are many, scattered around the Yucatan Peninsula. They are old properties that were old estate that has been turned into luxury properties, offering the charm of the retro’ feeling together with the modern comfort and style. The trend of opening a Hotel-hacienda has been increasing lately and you can find a huge variety of options from the finest property to the more laid back. Here is a guide to my favorite Haciendas in Yucatan.
#22 Fall in love for the lagoon of the 7 shades of blue in Bacalar
Bacalar is one of my favorite spot in the Riviera Maya and when you get there you will understand why. The spectacular lagoon will enchant you with its multiple shades of blues and turquoises.
There are different things that you can do in Bacalar, but my favorite is sailing on the lagoon, feel the breeze, sit back, relax and enjoy the overwhelming views, or you can take a swing on the water in Coco’s beach, swim in the cenote, or let the water take you away in the rapids, so much fun! Oh ok, there are lots of favorites things to do in Bacalar.
It’s just an exciting and yet laid back place to stay and relax. Bacalar also offers a great choice of accommodation for any sorts, from Budget hostels to eco-friendly laid-back luxury lodge on the lagoon. Trust me you will love it to pieces.
#23 Hike the Peña de Bernal (Bernal Peak) – Queretaro
At a couple of hours from the beautiful colonial city of Queretaro, you can find Bernal, one of the Pueblos Magicos of Mexico. The small town is known for being at the foot of the Peña de Bernal, one of the highest Monolites in the World. It’s a spectacular massive rock that you might have seen standing proudly in the frame of any picture of the town.
There is nothing much to do there, besides hiking the peña. It’s a very short hike that you can do in half a day, quite steep but the views are worth all the efforts. It’s suitable for families too. If you are a climber you can certainly find your playground there. Just make sure you go with the right equipment and with a professional partner. I went there with a friend on my way to the Sierra Gorda. And it was definitely worth the visit.
# 24 Join the local spirit and folklore and participate in a Callejoneada in Guanajuato (Guanajuato)
Well, it’s better if you know some Spanish but it’s still an interesting event to join, every night university students gather in the main square to take you to explore historical corners of the colonial city, while singing and telling story and legends, of course in a funny way and most of the time involving the public, with mockery and jokes. It’s a popular old tradition that involves a lot of skills and training by the students who do it, not only to keep the traditions alive but also to raise money to support their studies. It’s such a great entertaining show that you will be happy to leave them a tip at the end of it.
#25 Take a stroll on the Malecon in Puerto Vallarta
Almost every touristic city built on the beach has a Malecon, which is a promenade that stretches along the beach or by the sea. I am not sure whether the one in Puerto Vallarta is one of the best and longest in Mexico, but I am certain that it is the most entertaining.
In fact, among all the amazing things to do in Puerto Vallarta, a stroll on the Malecon is the most popular and cheapest, and the most interesting. Depending on which time of the day you take your walk, there is always something to entertain you. In the morning you will enjoy the fresh breeze and the peaceful atmosphere, and a good number of doggies taking their human out for a walk :).
In the evening you will enjoy the colorful food stalls where you can try local delicacies while admiring the spectacular sunsets. But the highlights of the Malecon are the magnificent copper statues by Sergio Bustamante, a productive Mexican artist from Guadalajara, and the Voladores of Papantla, demonstrating a traditional ritual of the ancient civilization that occupied what is now the state of Veracruz and which was recognized as Intangible cultural heritage (ICH) by UNESCO in 2009.
Most of the time you can also admire beautiful sand statues made by local artists, not to mention, paintings and other creative handicrafts.
#26 Eat tacos like there’s no tomorrow
Mexican food is popular all over the world but nowhere the real Mexican cuisine is to be found if not in Mexico.
You really need to travel to Mexico in order to taste the real and authentic Mexican food. No, taco bell is not Mexican, I am sorry.
As a professional foodie, you will notice how every state has its own flavors and dishes, but you will see tacos everywhere you go. It’s the iconic Mexican food that overcomes any social or boundaries.
It’s the savior of every meal and the solution to every problem, oh well, maybe that’s a little too much.
Anyway, you haven’t been to Mexico if you haven’t tried a taco or 2. The best place to eat them is usually at the market but you will also see tacos in gourmet restaurants and fine dining.
Tacos cannot be missing in any Mexican menu and, to make everybody happy now you will be able to find vegan tacos, even though many Mexican might complain that if there is no meat it’s not a real taco. But I assure you Vegan tacos are delicious.
You can have them with Tortilla de Mais ( Corn tortilla) or Tortilla de harina (made with flour) although in many places you can only find the corn one.
It’s really my favorite Mexican food and a lifesaver when you can’t find anything else you like. Here is an interesting article on the origins of the Taco.
#27 Learn about the Indigenous Textil Tradition in the colorful San Cristobal de las Casas
San Cristobal de las Casas is one of my favorite places in Mexico and although it’s been growing a lot in the past years with a huge amount of tourist arrivals and foreigners moving there (I don’t blame them), with everything that it implies, the vibrant city didn’t lose its charm.
Walk around the 3 caminadores, streets with no car access, check out the jewelry shops, walk around the market, that’s what I loved the most about San Cristobal. The textiles market is one of a kind, an outburst of color.
There is an amount of stylish beautiful boutique hotels, where you would want to stay, and vegan-friendly restaurants where to have great meals at a reasonable price, not to talk about the cute little cafes. The surroundings of San Cristobal de las Casas are also unmissable, waterfalls, lagoons, and other natural beauties to explore. I am going to write a great guide about it. Stay tuned.
#28 Be mesmerized by the beauty of the Waterfalls Velo de Novia and the Montebello Lagoon
I was mentioning in the paragraph above about the natural wonders in the surroundings of San Cristobal. Well, this is one of them. I cannot say my favorite because the competition is high, but you will surely want to go and check it out. You are really better off going on a tour unless you have your own car.
The tour would take you to the Montebello Lagoons and then to the waterfalls. It’s a spectacular easy hike on a boardwalk following the river flow until you get to the spectacular falls. So breathtaking and wet 🙂
#29 Meet the spider monkeys in Punta Laguna
Not many people know about it, but Punta Laguna is a protected area located on the way to Valladolid coming from Tulum. There you can spot playful and sometimes naughty spider monkeys at a very short distance and if you are lucky you might also see howling monkeys. There is also a lagoon that you can navigate and a tiny cenote that you can explore with a little adventure. It’s a nice short trip if you are in Tulum.
#30 Visit the spectacular archeological site of Kohunlich
Nobody talks about it, but it’s one of the most spectacular archeological sites I have ever visited. It’s located on the way to Calakmul and you should make time to visit Kokunlich and you might want to stay in the nearby all-inclusive property Explorean Kohunlich, an oasis in the jungle. Especially if you have been traveling for a while this is the best place to rest.
#31 Walk around the yellow town of Izamal
Izamal is a beautiful and quaint colonial town located 68km from Merida and 254km from Cancun, it is one of the two towns in Yucatan (the other one is Valladolid) to have been included in the list of Pueblos Magicos of Mexico, due to its interesting history and culture, and its peculiar location, surrounded by Mayan archeological sites and cenotes.
In fact, the picturesque town was also given the name, “the town of the hills,” because of the numerous Mayan settlements which have been discovered in the surrounding area.
As soon as you get there you will know why it’s called the yellow town.
#33 See the pink flamingoes in the biosphere of Celestun
It’s a show that you will never forget. Just at about 2 hours from Merida, Celestun is a very small and insignificant town on the cost of the Mexican Gulf, the beach is not particularly interesting, but they have a special unique treasure.
A huge lagoon, home of a flamingo colony. There are thousands of these graceful creatures that fly across the lagoon and mingle with other bird spices. You can take a tour either from the bridge at the town entrance or on the beach as well.
It’s definitely worth the trip.
#34 Explore the archaeological site of Uxmal
To me the most interesting site within the Ruta Puuc in the heart of the Yucatan Peninsula. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Uxmal is the most representative settlement of the Puuc region architecture, with its hieroglyphic panels and mascarons and the peculiar layout of the buildings which reveals their mastery in astronomy. If you can hire a guide it will be great to learn about the history behind the magnificent prehispanic city. In this article, you will find more detailed information.
35) Spend a few days in Valladolid and familiarize with the Yucatecan culture (food included…if you are not vegan)
Valladolid is the first colonial town when you leave the ultra-touristy Riviera Maya and it’s a special place to me. It’s becoming more and more of a popular hub for travelers in search of an authentic cultural experience in Mexico but despite the growing number of visitors, it’s keeping the genuine vibes of a local town and yet with a lot to offer. Spectacular colonial houses refurbished in design hotels restaurants and showrooms, museums, great food, and natural beauties. In fact, Valladolid is surrounded by spectacular cenotes to discover and there is even one in the heart of town. You should definitely go and here is a useful guide to help you get around.
36) Visit the archeological site of Chichen-Itza one of the seven wonders of the world
You cannot go to Mexico and ignore this spectacular archeological site, a symbol of the impressive genius of the Mayan civilization, their constructing abilities, and astronomical knowledge. It will blow your mind. I assure you. My best advice is to get there very early in the morning at 8 am when the gates open so that you avoid the crowd. Here I will tell you more detailed information. Scroll down to “things to do in Valladolid” #10.