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The Best Places to Visit in Mexico

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When it comes to the best places to visit in Mexico for savvy travelers, popular destinations like Mexico City, Cancun, and Los Cabos tend to hog much of the spotlight. In a country this vibrant, varied, and huge, that means many of the less touristed but equally spectacular locales—all steeped in their own cultures, cuisines and histories—offer intriguing pockets of Mexico that are well worth digging into (and that the masses often miss). 

Path-less-traveled types will find themselves greatly rewarded in the following underappreciated spots hiding across the country—from the edge of the Pacific’s Baja California peninsula to the foothills of Veracruz, the gallery-lined cobblestone streets of Oaxaca, and the flawless beaches and hidden ruins of Yucatán. Here and there you’ll be met with fascinating and awe-striking historical sites, colorful downtown districts, authentic cuisine, or relaxed beachside culture. So, what are you waiting for? These are the best under-the-radar places in Mexico to target for that next trip. 

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1. Best for Tequila: Guadalajara

Jalisco’s capital city, Guadalajara, is a totally underrated hub of Mexican culture, food, and art—and the perfect landing spot for those looking to embark on tequila adventures. The birthplace of mariachi offers plenty of opportunities to catch live music in the city, from classic mariachi performances to cumbia and rockabilly bands at Pare de Sufrir. After a long night of sipping tequila, bust your hangover at Tortas Toño with Guadalajara’s signature dish, the torta ahogada, or “drowned sandwich.” Also, make sure to sit down for a delicious lunch at Restaurante Casa Luna in Tlaquepaque before exploring the rest of the historic arts district, full of artisan stalls and colorful shops to peruse.

Where to Stay: The Quinta Real Guadalajara is the pinnacle of charm, with a gorgeous communal outdoor space including a pool, comfortable seating, and al fresco dining featuring climbing vines and flowering Jacaranda trees.

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2. Best for Mayan History: Mérida

History buffs will want to place Mérida—the capital city of the Yucatán and a major gateway for learning about the rich history of Mayan culture—at the very top of their bucket lists. The city’s main hub, Plaza de la Independencia, is bordered by two colonial-era churches created with the remains of ancient Mayan temples. Local markets such as Mercado Lucas de Galvéz and Mercado Santiago display the vibrant and unique produce of the region. Some of the best-preserved archeological sites are just a few hours’ drive away.

Where to Stay: For a central location that can still make you feel a million miles away from any city—Coqui Coqui is a unique and beautiful stay just a few steps away from the busy Santa Lucia Square. The hotel (and perfumery) features a rooftop pool, lush design accents, and more.

Neighboring coves like Balandra Bay (Bahia Balandra) just north of La Paz rank among the most stunning coastal hideaways in Mexico.  

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3. Best for Beaches: La Paz

Overlooking the Gulf of California, La Paz is a relaxed beachside city and the capital of Baja California Sur. It’s perhaps best known for its expansive waterfront Malecón promenade, complete with beaches, parks, and tons of local artists selling their wares. When you’re not foraging for your next favorite art piece or digging into some deliciously fresh seafood (make sure to book a reservation at Tatanka Baja Fish & Steakhouse), there are also tons of adventure activities for which La Paz is the jumping off point. Swimming with whale sharks, kayaking, and other water sports are all options here.

Where to Stay: A stylish boutique hotel inspired by La Paz’s maritime history, the Baja Club Hotel gives off a CDMX kind of cool without trying too hard. Each room has its own outdoor patio, and common spaces include a spacious rooftop bar with views of the Sea of Cortez as well as an outdoor pool surrounded by striped loungers, plants, and faded brick walls.

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4. Best for Gastronomy: San Miguel de Allende

This vibrant colonial-style city in the central state of Guanajuato never fails to enchant its visitors, right from when they enter downtown and catch a glimpse of the towering pink Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel. There’s never a dearth of discoveries in San Miguel de Allende, from culture and art museums to artisan markets full of goodies to mazes of colorful cobblestone streets made for wandering. The city is also known for its food scene, which is one of the best in Mexico. Everything from breakfast dishes like chilaquiles (don’t skip the ones at Garambullo Fonda Gourmet) to suckling pig with a view at Antonia Bistro SMA will keep you happy and full during your entire stay.

Related: These 10 Italian Cities Deserve a Spot on Your Travel Hit List

Where to Stay: Hotel Amparo is a charming boutique property in the heart of the historic city center, founded and owned by local embroidery maven, Mariana Barran Goodall. There, find artfully crafted rooms complete with stone fireplaces and wood slat roofs, as well as the acclaimed cocktail hive Bar Margaret for getting your night started right.

A couple miles south of downtown Xico, the area’s famed waterfall—Cascada de Texolo—plunges up to 80 feet into its own gorge-flanked Eden. 

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5. Best for Majestic Nature: Xico

Nicknamed “the Jewel of Veracruz,” Xico is a Puebla Magica nestled into the foothills of the Eastern Sierra Madre mountain range. Short for Xicochimalco (which means “where there are beehives of yellow wax” in Nahuatl), it’s the original residence of the pre-Hispanic Olmec civilization. Colorful buildings and cobblestone streets are a fixture here, as well as friendly people and delicious restaurants serving Veracruz coffee and regional dishes like Chiles en Nogada. Past Xico’s borders, find lush jungle and natural attractions to hike to, such as Cascada de Texolo, a tall cascading waterfall.

Where to Stay: Arguably the best spot in town is Las Magdalenas, a boutique property with tall wooden slat ceilings and authentic charm set in an attractive colonial-style building. The property’s lovely courtyard and garden is just steps from the main plaza and Parish of St. Mary Magdalene in Xico’s historic center.

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6. Best for Charm: Todos Santos

Fifty miles up the coast from Los Cabos, find one of Mexico’s officially designated “magic towns” (pueblo mágicos)—all handpicked for their historic significance, culture, and beauty. Though quaint in size, Todos Santos is packed with sweet shops, delicious restaurants, and beautifully restored haciendas. Don’t miss a meal at farm-to-table restaurant Jazamango or a sunset drink at beachside spot The Green Room. Waiting for you just outside the city is both desert and surf, depending on what your adventurous heart is currently seeking.

Where to Stay: For the ultimate Instagrammable experience, Paradero is not to be missed. The property’s organic-yet-industrial design is stunning, with features such as an infinity pool overlooking the desert and a below-ground spa where you can participate in an authentic temazcal experience or sound healing ceremony.

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7. Best for Local Artisans: Oaxaca City

Oaxaca City’s star has been on the rise over the past several years, and the growing hype is there for good reason. Delicious cuisine, charming cobblestone streets, and intimate mezcalerias, like Mezcaleria In Situ, are all major draws to the city. Arguably the most unique attraction is Oaxaca City’s local art scene, which ranges from distinct black pottery and vividly painted alebrijes (wooden spirit animals) to gorgeous weavings and more. Galleries like Cooperativa 1050º and Voces de Copal are good places to start, but you can find artisan shops scattered throughout the historic downtown.

Where to Stay: Hidden amongst other historic buildings smack dab in the middle of Centro, GRANA B&B opens up into an incredible courtyard with a fountain and plants galore. Rooms are airy and rustic with clay soaking tubs. Head to the property’s rooftop for great views of the city beyond.

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8. Best for Spanish Colonial Architecture: Santiago de Querétaro

Once the wealthiest city in the country, Querétaro in central Mexico is still rich in many ways, with several rivers flowing along stunning pink aqueducts here. The historic city center is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site full of colorful buildings, fountains, plazas, and more. Surrounded by desert and five mountain ranges, the area is blessed with reliably arid, sunny weather. Besides delicious food to eat and picturesque streets to wander, Querétaro is home to over 1,400 unique monuments. Make sure to check out some of the most iconic ones, including the Monument of La Corregidora, which pays homage to feminist icon Josefa Ortiz, and the dog-themed Fuente de los Perritos.

Related: A First-timer’s Guide to Mexico’s Islands of Loreto

Where to Stay: Centrally located in a colonial style historic building, Casa de la Marquesa features walls that are hand painted by local artists and an abundance of plants and local flora. Colorful rooms with lavish decor and comfortable bedding make this the perfect landing pad for your Querétaro adventures.

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9. Best for Hiking: Tepoztlán

The perfect weekend trip from Mexico City, Tepoztlán is less than a two-hour drive from the sprawling capital. A lush mountain town with tons of spiritual significance, it’s known for its temple devoted to the god of pulque—a fermented spirit with psychoactive properties made from the pulp of the maguey cactus. Travelers from all over the world come to Tepoztlán to hike directly up from the town to the ruins of the Pyramid of Tepozteco. The steep climb rewards you with a stunning view of the landscape and a chance to see the ancient stone temple. Make sure to visit the Museo del Hongo María Sabina, a healing mushroom museum, and grab a delicious meal with a view at El Ciruelo.

Where to Stay: Find a tranquil stay at Posada del Tepozteca, a boutique property with stunning grounds that include a lotus pond, an outdoor pool, and a communal library. Enjoy views of the mountains in El Tepozteco National Park from the terrace of many of the hotel’s suites.

Yucatán’s cenotes were formed by limestone-rich earth collapsing into subterranean rivers. An estimated 10,000 of these natural sinkholes are spread throughout the peninsula. 

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10. Best for Cenotes: Valladolid

A hidden gem, Valladolid is a small city located deep within the Yucatán—and another one of Mexico’s aptly named “magic towns.” Must-stroll streets such as Calzada de los Frailes in this relaxed yet vibrant spot date back to the 16th century. The famed Mayan archeological site of Chichen Itza is less than an hour’s drive away, and the city is known for its close proximity to many of the Yucatán’s best cenotes—natural swimming holes that will feed your need for adventure as much as your camera roll. An easy five-mile drive east from town, Cenote Suytun is a must-visit, as is spectacular Cenote X’canche, about 15 miles north. 

Where to Stay: Arguably the nicest hotel in town, Le Muuch is located in Valladolid’s historic center and is inspired by Mexican art and culture. The vibe is cozy and tropical, with access to a small pool and complimentary parking down the street.


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