Mexico is a country of diverse landscapes and rich culture, and with so much to see, it can be difficult to narrow down a set of must-see destinations. From the beautiful beaches of the Yucatan to the sandy desert areas around Tijuana, Mexico has a lot to offer! Even though for Americans Mexico is a destination close to home (and one we’re very familiar with), comparatively few Americans make the journey to any of Mexico’s amazing cities or nature settings. For anyone considering a trip to Mexico, let this list be your guide to the best places to travel in Mexico.
1) Merida, Yucatan
With all the buzz about Cancun and the state of Quintana Roo, Merida and its surrounding wonders often gets overlooked as a viable (and interesting) destination. Many people (including Mexicans themselves) say that Yucatan is almost like entering into another country within a country. The heavy influence of the indigenous Mayan culture in combination with a colonial past makes the Yucatan especially unique in terms of culture, and with all the incredible ruin sites all around, it can be an intriguing journey into the past.
Merida is a city in the Yucatan that’s located only a few miles from the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Featuring a unique blend of modern and colonial architecture, this city is perfect for people who like a balanced mix of the familiar and the unexplored. And, as a bonus, the famous Chichen Itza ruins are only a short bus ride away! Visit the ancient ruined city of Uxmal or take a day trip to the beaches in Progreso to round out your visit to Merida, Yucatan.
2) Guanajuato Capital, Guanajuato
The capital city of Guanajuato state is a UNESCO world heritage site, and is recognized by Mexicans (and many other Latin Americans) as the cultural heartland of Mexico. This university town has a wealth of activities and sights to see and is also by far one of the safest tourist destinations in Mexico. Beautiful rolling hills and striking mountains surround the city, which is by far one of the highlights of Guanajuato’s appeal. Beyond its sheer beauty, a street system that’s laid out like a pile of yarn along with an extensive tunnel system that runs below the whole town makes this the perfect place to get lost and wander through the colonial streets lined with colorful, striking buildings.
Guanajuato is the unofficial art capital of Mexico. Street musicians are on almost every corner, and you don’t have to look far to find a theater, museum, or art exhibit. But what’s even better is that Guanajuato is extraordinarily affordable! If you’re looking for a Mexico tourism destination that you can visit on a budget while still accessing all the magnificent culture of central Mexico, Guanajuato Capital is definitely the best choice!
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3) San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas
Chiapas is well-known for its tropical climate and wild rainforests, but San Cristobal de las Casas takes those stereotypes and turns them right on their head! This city in Chiapas is located high up in the mountains of southern Mexico, so the climate here is much cooler and drier than in other parts of Chiapas and Mexico. In fact, San Cristobal even receives some snow during certain times of the year! But don’t let the cool climate scare you away… San Cristobal offers up a mountaineer’s paradise, with plenty of hiking trails available in the surrounding areas and an abundance of evergreen trees and the intoxicating ambience of a true mountain town.
San Cristobal de las Casas is a nature-lover’s haven. The surrounding areas include the Huitepec Ecological Reserve, the Lagunas de Montebello National Park, and hiking to El Chiflon waterfalls. Even just a walk through the city to visit the numerous churches and museums can prove fun and interesting! With so much nature and a generally peaceful atmosphere, San Cristobal de las Casas is by far one of the best places to visit in Mexico.
4) Oaxaca Capital, Oaxaca
A parallel to Guanajuato Capital, the capital city of Oaxaca is a brilliant mix of vibrant art and culture that’s definitely one of the hottest Mexico tourist destinations. Oaxaca is a city full of richly colored colonial buildings that dot the streets in the historic center, and the numerous museums and art galleries scattered across the city make for an educational and entertaining weekend (or weekday!) outing. The landscapes surrounding Oaxaca are distinctive and unique in comparison to other parts of Mexico, and they’re well-worth a visit for anyone who wants to design a trip to sample all of the various parts of Mexican culture and landscape.
The markets in Oaxaca are popular for tourists and locals alike, and they’re certainly a destination not to be missed for travelers in Oaxaca. Colorful and full of both foreign and familiar fruits and veggies, markets (“mercados”) in Mexico are incredibly fun! Around Oaxaca there are plenty of hiking opportunities, and of course in Oaxaca itself there are an abundance of delicious restaurants to eat at in the historic center.
5) Mexico City, Distrito Federal
No list of the best places to travel in Mexico would be complete without a mention of the nation’s capital, Mexico City! This sprawling metropolis isn’t only one of the largest cities in the world, it’s also one of the oldest. Mexico City is built on the site of the ancient capital of the Aztec Empire and it within close proximity to the famous Aztec ruins of Teotihuacan, making the nation’s capital the true center of Mexican culture. Wandering the streets of Mexico City it’s possible to find an eclectic mix of ancient, colonial, and modern architecture and design, which is a true adventure for history and culture junkies!
While Mexico City is of course full of thought-provoking museums and restaurants with fantastic Mexican (and international) cuisine, the city’s location in the center of Mexico makes it the ideal location to set up shop if you’re hoping to make some outbound trips to some of central Mexico’s greatest destinations. Visit the Popocatepetl volcano or take a trip to the legendary and haunted Island of the Dolls, or spend a day walking through the streets of Mexico City’s historic centro! No matter how you choose to spend your time in Mexico City, you’re sure to have a fantastic time.