9 Must-Visit Places in Mexico
Featured destinations: Mexico, Mexico City
Published 01 September 2016
Growing up in Mexico, most of my early travel experiences consisted of family road trips to various destinations within the country. Luckily for me, Mexico is a land rich in culture and history, with friendly locals, delicious food and beautiful beaches, so I never felt like I was missing out, despite my lack of international travel.
Nowadays, having travelled extensively around the world, and lived in multiple countries, my home country is still one of my favourite places to visit. I return nearly every year, and I always end up discovering a new thread of the never-ending tapestry that is Mexico.
© Claus Gurumeta
The bustling metropolis of Mexico City, the country’s capital, never ceases to amaze me. The historic centre, built around the Zocalo (main square), is home to the largest Cathedral in the Americas, the archaeological ruins of an Aztec-era temple, and the National Palace – adorned with magnificent murals by renowned artist Diego Rivera. Chapultepec Park, a relaxing oasis in the centre of the city, has 686 hectares of forests with multiple walking and bicycle paths, and is also home to the impressive Chapultepec Castle and various other museums, most notably the National Museum of Anthropology. For a taste of pre-Hispanic Mexico, I love cruising in a trajinera boat around the floating gardens of Xochimilco, a unique cultural experience complete with local foods, tequila, and a song or two by a mariachi band.
© Claus Gurumeta
Located only 30 miles away from Mexico City, the ruins of ancient Teotihuacan are one of the most impressive archaeological sites I’ve ever visited. The city of Teotihuacan, which predates the Aztec empire by centuries, was built over 2000 years ago and was at one point one of the largest cities in the world. Today, the site is a conglomerate of temples, including the enormous Pyramid of the Sun, (the third largest pyramid in the world), and the slightly smaller Pyramid of the Moon – both of which visitors can climb for magnificent views over the site and the surrounding valleys. Well-preserved living quarters, vibrant murals, and an array of ancient artifacts found on site all add up to Teotihuacan’s well-deserved UNESCO world heritage designation.
The classic Mexican town of Puebla is worth visiting for its beauty alone, but my favourite reason to drop by is for its food. Puebla is the country’s beating heart when it comes to Mexican cuisine and it is here that many of the country’s favourite dishes originated. Mole Poblano, a beloved national dish created with over 30 ingredients (including a variety of chilies and spices, and a generous amount of chocolate), was created here, and is unmatched anywhere else. The city also serves delicious Chiles en Nogada, stuffed chillies covered in a creamy walnut sauce, and a variety of Mexican snacks that can be bought at the markets, including tasty sweets. If you’re not happy with simply eating, and want to try your hand at cooking traditional Mexican dishes, Puebla is the best place to learn. Either way, bring your appetite – you’ll need it!
Located in southern Mexico, Oaxaca is another city that has left a big impression in my heart. Oaxaca has a pleasant mild climate year-round, and is a hotbed for culture, history, and art. The Zocalo, Oaxaca’s main square, which is often home to cultural events, is surrounded by the city’s cathedral and a number of regenerated buildings which now house museums, art galleries, and restaurants. For food lovers, Oaxaca is home to the traditional Mexican spiced hot chocolate as well as mezcal, and for those looking for a culinary adventure, trying the local spiced grasshoppers is a must. The archaeological site of Montealban, one of the earliest cities in Mesoamerica which was inhabited by multiple cultures for period of over 1300 years, is located a mere 6 miles from the city and makes for an interesting day trip.
A visit to Campeche feels like taking a step back in time, to a place where walled cities and pirate pillagings were commonplace. Campeche has been named a UNESCO world-heritage site for its well-preserved 16th Century architecture, including over a thousand original buildings with Baroque Spanish facades, two of the city’s forts, multiple defense towers, and more than 1600 feet of its original walls still standing tall. I loved exploring the walled city, but Campeche has much more to offer than that; the restored seaside walkway is great for a morning run or a leisurely bike ride, and cultural events throughout the year will keep you busy, especially if you’re in town during the country’s oldest carnival parade, celebrated every year around lent.
© Claus Gurumeta
Playa del Carmen
The seaside town of Playa del Carmen has seen incredible growth over the last decade, and although now a major tourist centre, I never tire of journeying to this Caribbean paradise time and time again. The town boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the country, a glistening turquoise sea, and a lively cosmopolitan atmosphere. The heart of the city is centered around Fifth Avenue, a pedestrian street lined with hundreds of restaurants, bars and shops, all of which remain vibrant even through the low season. For those looking to relax, you can rent a canopy bed at Mamita’s Beach Club and be treated like royalty, or go swimming in one of the stunning underground cenotes. If culture is more your thing, the archaeological site of Tulum, boasting a stunning seaside location, is easy to reach, so grab your camera and go check it out.© Claus Gurumeta
The ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza is one of Mexico’s most-visited archaeological sites, especially since receiving the title as one of the Seven New World Wonders in 2007. Located about 122 miles away from Cancun or Playa del Carmen, the site is easily accessible on one of the many daily tours leaving from these tourism hotspots. The site’s main temple, known as El Castillo (the castle), is perhaps Mexico’s most recognized monument worldwide; however, Chichen Itza has a number of other memorable structures, including the round astronomical observatory dating to the 10th Century and the Great Ball Court, the largest court for the ancient Mayan game of ball discovered in all of Mesoamerica.
Located on Mexico’s golden Pacific Coast, the town of Puerto Vallarta has become one of the country’s premier beach destinations. This is due in large part to its easy accessibility from many North American cities (perfect for adding a beach break onto a USA holiday), but mostly because, aside from the beautiful golden sand beaches, Puerto Vallarta maintains a Mexican town feeling at its core. The seaside walkway known as the Malecón, a 20-block esplanade lined with beautiful sculptures, hosts a number of local artists selling their handicrafts, and makes a great souvenir-hunting spot. For foodies, Puerto Vallarta is a seafood paradise, with many fellow Mexicans claiming the best ceviche is to be found here.
© Claus Gurumeta
Another relaxed beach destination, the dual-city resort of Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo is a paradise of golden sand beaches in the Pacific Coast of Mexico. The small fishing village of Zihuatanejo, built into the green hills of Zihuatanejo Bay, retains its traditional charm, with a pretty seaside walkway lined with multiple seafood restaurants, streets brimming with shops and bars, and four beautiful beaches to choose from. Nearby Ixtapa consists of glamorous resorts lining a large stretch of beach, topped off with lively nightlife spots and a shiny marina. For a unique experience, I recommend taking a boat out to Ixtapa Island for the day, where the beachfront restaurants serve fresh tuna steaks and a colourful coral reef provides ample snorkelling opportunities.
Inspired to visit Mexico? Jet off on our Best of Mexico small-group Journey or chat to your Expert today.