Map Source: Lonely Planet
Mexico is a nation rich in history, tradition, culture and incredible natural beauty that offers unique opportunities to “get off the beaten path”. So while the allure of snow-white sandy beaches and sparkling azure blue waters of the Caribbean Sea or Pacific Ocean are reason enough for millions of who travel to Mexico each year, Mexico offers so much more than simply some of the world’s most perfect beaches. Engaging in exhilarating adventure sports and activities, discovering magical towns frozen in time, immersing yourself in the country’s deep rooted cultural traditions, having the unprecedented opportunity to experience nearly every ecosystem known to the world, or exploring the easily accessible ruins of the ancient Maya civilization are the perfect complement to relaxing at some of the most luxurious beach resorts on the planet.
Top Attractions and Places to Visit in Mexico
There are too many amazing attractions to see and places to visit throughout Mexico’s 32 States to be able to count. But starting from the western part of Mexico, the list below details a good place to start to get familiarized with some of Mexico’s most popular attractions and interesting places to visit.
Los Cabos de San Lucas
The breathtaking resort area known as Los Cabos in the Baja California Sur area is comprised of two distinct areas. San Jose del Cabo is simply an old and traditional Mexican town that offers a true authentic Mexican experience. For its part, Cabo San Lucas, which is at the tip of the Baja Peninsula, was nothing more than a sleepy little fishing village before it was discovered as an adventure traveler’s playground.
More than 2 million people visit Baja California each year in search of:
The Baja Peninsula is just waiting to be discovered. Whether you are looking for spectacular beaches and world-class scuba diving, desert and championship golf, incredible deep sea fishing, sultry nightlife and dancing, or charming colonial Mexican town squares offering first-class shopping and fine dining, Los Cabos has something for everyone.
Las Barrancas del Cobre, otherwise known as Copper Canyon, is located in the heart of the Tarahumara Mountains in the northeast corner of Chihuahua State. Spanning a remarkable length of 37,000 miles the canyons are longer and deeper than the Grand Canyon. And the mighty walls of the canyons conceal amazing legends, traditions and surprises.
In the spectacular region of Copper Canyon, there are nine major canyons, with most being over a mile deep, that carve through the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountain Range. Copper Canyon boasts the tallest waterfalls in the country, beautiful winding rivers, alpine forests, verdant meadows and ancient cultures.
The most spectacular way of experiencing Copper Canyon is to take one of the world’s greatest train rides on the famed Chihuahua al Pacifico (Chihuahua to the Pacific) railway. Acclaimed as one of the world’s greatest engineering marvels, the 387 mile trip crosses 39 bridges with the highest being nearly 1,000 feet above the Chinipas River as well as passing through 86 tunnels. It climbs from Los Mochis, which is at sea level, all the way up to nearly 8,000 feet above sea level through some of Mexico’s most magnificent natural scenery including thick pine forests, jagged peaks, and shadow covered canyons. The finale is when the train descends to the city of Chihuahua where the incredible journey concludes.
One of the great cities of the world, Mexico City sits atop the ancient ruins of Tenochtitlan, once the capital of the mighty Aztec Empire. Mexico City attracts saavy travelers from every corner of the world who go to explore its fascinating museums, historic monuments, traditional neighborhoods, beautiful buildings and one-of-a-kind cultural centers. The shows at the Bellas Artes Museum are a must see for music lovers. Chapultepec Park, with the National History Museum and Chapultepec Castle should not be missed by history buffs. The National Anthropology Museum is nothing short of amazing and requires at least an entire day to see the incredible exhibits. And the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico (Folkloric Ballet) performed either at the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts) with its traditional dances performed by brilliant dancers and linked with Mariachi Bands, Marimba Players and Singers is definitely a must-see for every visitor to Mexico City.
Shopping in Mexico City is world-class and not to be missed is the area called the Zona Rosa. It is comprised of 12 blocks of stores whose windows display antiques, jewelry, boutique clothing, heavy silver bangles, leather goods and brightly painted tiles and handcrafts. Meandering straight through the city’s historic center is the Mercado de la Merced which boasts vendors selling local products such as delicious tropical fruits, aromatic spices, brilliantly colored shawls and outer clothing, as well as some household items.
Pyramids of San Juan Teotihuacan
No visit to Mexico City is complete without taking a day trip to the Pyramids of San Juan Teotihuacan which is only about 30 miles northeast of Mexico City. The ruins of Teotihuacan are some of the most remarkable throughout Mexico and around the world. The name Teotihuacan means “place where gods were born” as it reflects the Aztec belief that gods created the universe here. Mysteriously all inhabitants of the city of 200,000 that served as the epicenter of culture and commerce for ancient Mesoamerica vanished without a trace.
The entire archeological site is easily visited via a small trolley-train and a lot of walking. The impressive pyramids to see include the Ciudadela, the Avenue of the Dead, the Pyramid of the Sun, the Pyramid of the Moon, and the Palace of Quetzalpapalotl.
Mazatlan, dubbed “the Colonial City by the Beach”, offers a more uniquely authentic Mexican Beach Vacation. That’s because Mazatlan doesn’t make you choose between surf and sand or history and culture. With 11 miles of golden soft sand beaches and great waves for swimming and surfing combined with a picturesque historic city center, Mazatlan offers the best of both worlds. Add to that the largest boardwalk in Latin America, delectable fresh seafood, excellent golf courses, and deep sea fishing; it’s hard to deny that Mazatlan is truly the perfect destination for any traveler who seeks adventure, nature, culture, history and magnificent beaches.
Puerto Vallarta boasts a magnificent beach location that attracts sun worshippers from the world over. It is sheltered by the largest bay on the continent, the Bay of Banderas, which is also famous its abundance of marine life. To the east, Puerto Vallarta is blessed with the Sierra Madre Mountains which are covered in verdant green tropical vegetation. The old town of Puerto Vallarta is lined with cobblestone streets and adobe style houses topped with bright red roofs that epitomize the elegance of colonial Mexico style.
Beyond the beautiful beaches which range from non-stop party places to secluded coves reached only by boat, Puerto Vallarta is paradise for adventure enthusiasts.
State of Guanajuato
Guanajuato is one of Mexico’s great colonial cities with postcard perfect photo opportunities seemingly on every street corner. Rich in culture, history and gastronomic delights, it is the capital of the state and has been deemed a world UNESCO Heritage Site. It is also home to Mexico’s leading arts festivals, the Cervantino or International Cervantes Festival, which is famous the world over.
San Miguel de Allende mesmerizes visitors with its incredible colonial architecture, vibrant culture and great climate. Located only 165 miles northeast of Mexico City and 60 miles from the state capital of Guanajuato, the historic center of San Miguel is filled with well-preserved buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries. Its narrow cobblestone streets, leafy courtyards, and fine architectural treasures make it arguably one of Mexico’s prettiest cities.
For a taste of real authentic Mexico be sure to include a visit to the wonderful state of Guanajuato to discover some of the best colonial cities of Mexico.
Oaxaca, which is located 300 miles southeast of Mexico City, is quintessential colonial Mexico at its best. Oaxaca City was founded in 1529, though it has been inhabited since colonial times. It was dubbed a World Heritage Site in 1987 and it offers a fascinating assortment of history and culture characterized by ancient civilizations, colonial art and architecture, and vibrant cultural traditions.
While there is so much to do and see in the city of Oaxaca, the area surrounding offers more fun and exciting things to do then most people will have time for. Northwest of Oaxaca is the Sierra Norte mountain range which is ideal for hiking and biking ecotourism adventures often done jointly with local guides and communities. Oaxaca is also famous for its folk art done in the form of wood carvings. Arrazola lies about 15 miles southwest of Oaxaca City center and it is the capital of woodcarving in Mexcio. It’s hard to find a more culturally authentic experience than being invited to the homes of these famous artists to watch them masterfully craft their folk art.
A visit to Oaxaca is essential for anyone who dreams of discovering authentic Mexico. And it is one of the safest destinations to visit in the entire country.
Yucatan Peninsula and Mayan Ruins
Although the Yucatan Peninsula is best known for its white sand beaches, crystalline blue waters, and for being a water sports playground for millions of visitors each year, there is so much more to discover. There you will find a fascinating diversity of mysterious cultural wonders, deep-rooted cultural traditions, ancient Mayan ruins and archeological sites, colonial cities, and an amazingly rich biodiversity of flora and fauna that is easily explored in the multitude of jungles, lagoons, cenotes and caves that dot the region.
The Yucatan Peninsula boasts a dizzying array of ancient Mayan Ruins to be explored. Some of the most interesting include:
The ancient city of Tulum certainly is not the most important of Mayan Ruins but it is the most picturesque with its stunning Caribbean Seaside setting. So when the blazing heat of the Mexican sun is too much to endure, you can choose one of several beaches to cool off at with beautiful views of the Tulum ruins above.
Uxmal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was one of the most important Mayan Cities that flourished during the late classical period. It is also one of the most picturesque Mayan settlements with its majestic layout, spectacular jungle setting, and unique pyramids and temples.
The amazing Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá are easily the most recognized of the archeological sites throughout the Yucatan Peninsula. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was dubbed “One of the New Seven Wonders of the World”.
The Mayan ruins at Ek Balam represent some of Mexico’s most recent and outstanding archeological discoveries. The main pyramid at Ek Balam is even taller than the pyramid at Chichén Itzá and it has the added allure of an interesting jungle setting. Add to that the close proximity to the colonial city of Valladolid, Ek Balam should not be missed!
Many consider Palenque to be Mexico’s most beautiful archeological site. Once a sprawling religious center spanning nearly 25 miles, Palenque boasts hidden archeological gems that combined with clear rivers, cascading waterfalls, beautiful lakes and impenetrable jungle vegetation makes Palenque the ideal adventure sports destination.
Cancun boasts 14 miles of pristine white sandy beaches comprising a man-made mega resort destination shaped like the number 7. It is blessed with postcard-perfect turquoise blue waters, spectacular coral reefs and every exhilarating water sport imaginable under the sun. Cancun’s pulsating and sexy nightlife is world-renowned and reason enough by itself to plan a visit. You will never be bored in Cancun as it offers the widest selection of beachfront resorts (many of them all-inclusive), restaurants, nightlife, and adventure sports activities of any resort area in all of Mexico.
Only about 4 miles off the northeast coast of Cancun but a world apart, the relaxing slow pace of life on Isla Mujeres is the perfect antidote to the big crowds and Cancun’s fast paced way of life. Great snorkeling sites are abundant in the clear, warm waters that are teeming with marine life and full of caves and coral reefs just waiting to be explored. Although Isla Mujeres is most popular with day trippers making their way from Cancun, there are some luxury boutique hotels as well as small, inexpensive inns that make Isla Mujeres the perfect laid back beach vacation.
Cozumel was first established by native Mayans as a ceremonial center and commercial port for trade. Now it is recognized as one of the world’s foremost diving and snorkeling sites due to the crystal clear azure blue waters and access to the second longest barrier reef in the world. But you don’t have to snorkel or dive to enjoy the natural beauty of Cozumel. Its Mexican heart and Caribbean soul make it the perfect destination for travelers the world over whether they be seeking a vacation featuring ecotourism activities, history buffs, water sports enthusiasts or those simply looking for a relaxing vacation on a soft white sandy beach with picture perfect views out onto the bright blue waters of the Caribbean Sea.
Just south of Playa del Carmen and the gateway to Cozumel is a stunningly beautiful strip of coastline blessed with some of Mexico’s most exquisite beaches called the Riviera Maya. Stretching from Puerto Morelos to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, it was once nothing more than small fishing villages. But in recent years it has been developed into a modern tourist corridor boasting ultimate high-end luxury resorts, fine dining, vibrant nightlife, amazing spa retreats, and world-class shopping and golf courses.