I am not even over exaggerating when I say I’m in love with Mexico. I have never expected that I will fall so hard and so fast! The first association most people have when thinking about Mexico is drugs and how dangerous it is. But for me, it’s a country with an amazing history, full of colours, gorgeous nature, breathtaking sights and lovely people. Still, most tourists would visit only Cancún or Cabo San Lucas, spend 2 weeks sitting by the pool, sipping on Pińa coladas and say they’ve been to Mexico. There is nothing wrong with it of course if that’s your style of vacationing… But there is SO much more to it! So leave the comfort of your lounge chair and go exploring 🙂
Ok ok, it’s not so easy I know. Mexico is a HUGE country. It is impossible to go for a day trip from Cancún to Hierve el Agua for example. But it all can be planned out beforehand. That’s why I have created a list of my favourite places in Mexico, omitting the usual tourist attractions like Chichen Itza, Playa del Carmen or Tulum. It goes without saying that I still recommend visiting them! But if you’re keen on exploring some more, read along.
- 1. The wonder of nature: Hierve el Agua
- 2. Charming Guanajuato
- 3. San Miguel De Allende
- 4. Go around in a golf cart on Isla Mujeres and Isla Holbox
- 5. Laguna de Siete Colores in Bacalar
- 6. Ancient city of Teotihuacán
- 7. Mosaic decorations in Puebla
- 8. Yucatan’s Cenotes
- 9. Jungle temples of Palenque
- 10. Candy floss buildings of Campeche
1. The wonder of nature: Hierve el Agua
It is a set of natural rock formations in the state of Oaxaca that resemble cascades of water. The name translates from Spanish as “the water boils” or it’s also called “petrified waterfalls”. It is my number one on purpose.
To say it’s breathtaking doesn’t describe it properly. The vast space, view of valleys and mountain ranges going for miles and miles.
You can take a dip in the natural infinity pool with a view like nowhere else, or simply take it all in and admire how beautiful the world is!
But you have to be careful and watch your every step because it’s seriously slippery 😀 I was even unintentionally pulling off a few pirouettes trying to keep my balance!
2. Charming Guanajuato
As for most of my travel inspirations, I first found out about Guanajuato from Instagram! My feed was full of photos of its small cobblestone streets, colourful houses on rolling hills and I knew I have to go there.
It was a completely different experience from all the towns and cities I had visited beforehand. The usual parallel and perpendicular streets I got used to were replaced with narrow alleys, going up and down the hill.
Falling in love with Guanajuato is so easy. It’s a city full of colour, history and unique energy. Beautiful architecture is a great example of colonial architecture in a neoclassical and baroque style. That’s why UNESCO has named it a World Heritage Site in 1988.
3. San Miguel de Allende – number 1 place to visit in 2018 according to Travel + Leisure and Conde Nast magazines
Located just a short drive from Guanajuato it makes for a perfect day trip. Many people I met referred to its main landmark as a fairy-tale-like or straight out of Disneyland. And it wouldn’t be so weird, but the main “attraction” here is a church: Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel. And its pink facade and Neo-gothic grand architecture make it look, well… pretty! 🙂
Balloon vendors strolling nearby just add to the charm!
And if you have some more spare time you should consider popping by Dolores Hidalgo – a cradle of Mexican Independence, the town where Mexico fight for independence began! It’s only a short 30 minutes drive away and it may surprise you how lively yet relaxing it feels👇🏻
4. Go around in a golf cart on Isla Mujeres and Isla Holbox
Both Islas are clear blue water paradise islands, where the laid-back Caribbean lifestyle reigns. They are located off the east coast of Yucatan – Mujeres close to Cancún and Holbox just further up north.
There are no golf courses on the islands… but plenty of golf carts, as they are the preferred mode of transport on the roads there! And let me tell you, it is So. Much. Fun. They are not expensive either, prices varying from 200 pesos per hour to 1000-1500 for full-day hire. Most importantly the islands themselves are not too big, so even one day you would be enough to explore them all.
The infrastructure on Isla Mujeres is more developed, you will enjoy regular roads taking you around the whole island. On the other hand, Isla Holbox is rougher, asphalt roads are very, VERY sparse. So if you fancy a bit of off-road golf car action – that’s your place 👌
On both islands, you can expect friendly smiles from the locals, slow lazy mornings, pristine waters and delicious meals. Meanwhile, you can decide which activity to embark on next. For example, you can go paddleboarding, kiteboarding, horseback riding or swim with whale sharks!
5. Laguna de Siete Colores in Bacalar
I feel like I shouldn’t tell you about this gem of a place and keep it a secret. But only because it was recommended to me by my travel mates, I will pass this recommendation forward: Go to Bacalar! Do it now!
Bacalar is a treat for your eyes, as you look at different shades of blue and wonder: how on earth is it even possible?!
The water is turquoise and blue and transparent and azure and dark navy. That’s why the Lagoon is called Siete Colores, which means Seven Colours.
You can hop on a boat tour around it, taking you to underwater cenotes and stopping for a spa treatment in El Canal de Los Pirates (Pirates’ Canal), where you will get covered with mud from head to toe. And that’s apparently good for your skin 😉
I can’t not mention another cool thing to do there – stand up paddleboard across the lagoon! Leave early in the morning, paddle towards the sunrise, spend some time enjoying nature, quietness and serenity.
Hit up SUP Bacalar for more info.
6. Ancient city of Teotihuacán
You might have heard about Chichen Itza, yes? One of the Seven Wonders of the World? It is magnificent and definitely worth a visit, yes. But did you know that across the country lies an ancient Mesoamerican city that in its glory had been populated by 150,000 people? It was at least the sixth-largest city in the world during its epoch! (in the first half of the 1st millennium CE fyi).
May I introduce you to Teotihuacán. Located 50km northeast of Mexico City, in the Valle de México and it is known for its two massive pyramids, the Pirámide del Sol (Pyramid of the Sun) and the Pirámide de la Luna (Pyramid of the Moon). Though ancient Teotihuacán covered more than 20 sq km, most of what can be seen today lie along nearly 2km of the Calzada de Los Muertos (Avenue of the Dead).
Apart from the pyramids, Teotihuacán is also significant for its complex, multi-family residential compounds, its vibrant murals that have been exceptionally well-preserved and fine obsidian tools that are found throughout Mesoamerica. But crafting wasn’t the only thing concerning the city’s residents, as plenty of archaeological evidence points towards the fact that human and animal sacrifices were carried out here too.
Teotihuacán remains one of the most visually breathtaking archaeological sites in the country and after visiting it I can totally agree. The views from both the Pyramid of the Sun and the Moon are to die for. Almost literally, because the climb itself might be a challenge for some 😉 So take a short bus ride from the Mexican capital city, see it for yourself and let me know which one do you prefer: Chichen Itza or Teotihuacán?
7. Mosaic decorations in Puebla
If you travel around Mexico you might notice that the architecture of the cities and small towns is usually quite simple, walls are covered in colourful paints, you might see some street art and murals, you can tell that it’s not the richest area. But that changes when you come to the city of Puebla.
Puebla is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and considered to be the “cradle of Mexican Baroque” both in architecture and in the decorative arts, and one of the five most important colonial cities in Mexico.
The city is well worth a visit, with 70 churches in the historic centre alone, more than 1000 colonial-era buildings decorated with the Talavera (painted ceramic tiles) for which the city is famous, and a long culinary history that can be explored at any restaurant or food stall (especially mole poblano! 😋)
Talaveras ceramic is used to decorate many of the façades in the historic centre of Puebla. These tiles are called azulejos and can be found on fountains, patios, homes and churches, forming an important part of Puebla’s Baroque architecture. This use of azulejos displayed the family’s or church’s wealth. And it led to a saying “to never be able to build a house with tiles”, which meant to not amount to anything in life.
Side note: Another great example of azulejos can be found in Mexico City, like this one:
8. Yucatan’s Cenotes
There are over 6000 cenotes in the whole Yucatan Peninsula. Just think about this number for a second. OK. Maybe 1/3 of them are actually documented and a fraction is suitable to visit.
Ok but wait, what a cenote is actually, you ask? According to Wikipedia: “A cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. Especially associated with the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, cenotes were sometimes used by the ancient Maya for sacrificial offerings.”
The most famous is Ik Kil Cenote, located 40 km west of Valladolid and only 5.7 km from the famous site of Chichen Itza. It’s like a hidden paradise, with vines and roots hanging 26 metres down, cool waters (yes you can swim in it!), it is truly remarkable. That’s why it is probably the most instagrammable cenote 🙂
The waters of Ik Kil were considered sacred by the Mayans who performed here human sacrifices to their rain god.
Few other ones deserving a mention are 👇🏻
Grand Cenote in Tulum:
Oh and have I already mentioned that you can swim in them?! It’s such a treat, especially when you walk around in Mexican heat and dream about a cold dip! Put on your snorkelling gear and you might be surprised how deep down they go. Unless you’re scared of deep black waters – then do not look down 😉 Me too, when I can’t see the bottom, I feel tinny tiny bit uncomfortable!
Some of them are close to other attractions, so you can cycle or walk or hire a bike-taxi. However, most of them are off the beaten track. So if you don’t have a car or a friend with a car, they might be a bit challenging to reach.
9. Jungle temples of Palenque
The ancient Maya city of Palenque is like a sanctuary surrounded by lush tropical jungle and has a serene, mystical atmosphere.
The particularly exciting thing about Palenque, beyond how impressive the structures look surrounded by the jungle, is that the hieroglyphs found there have informed scholars about hundreds of years of Maya history.
Only about 10% of the site has been explored. In other words, the jungle still hides 90% of it! Also – you can climb one of the pyramids for this gorgeous view:
Palenque is located in the north of Chiapas state and you can visit it on a one day trip from San Cristobal de Las Casas or as a stopover on the way to Campeche (like I did 🙂 )
10. Candy floss buildings of Campeche
Called Mexico’s Rainbow City, a fairyland and a picture-perfect city, San Francisco de Campeche is so charming that it definitely stole my heart. Colourful buildings, narrow cobblestone streets, beautiful colonial port and pirates thrown into the mix, make it a place well worth visiting.
Campeche was added to the UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1999. The city’s outer fortification walls and fortresses are available to visit and provide you with lovely views.
It feels like time passes slower here, the atmosphere is more relaxed and easy. Because what’s better than strolling around the old city and among the bright, pastel-coloured houses?
That makes it for the whole list! And I could add a few more places to it, as Mexico is a country full of surprises, beauty, diversity and history and I’m completely in love with it 🧡
What places would you add to the list? Let me know in the comments below!