I have spent more than two years total exploring Mexico on more than a dozen trips to the country. Every time I try to pick the best places to visit in Mexico for a new trip, I am overcome with FOMO.
Mexico has so many incredible destinations. You’ll find beach towns, cultural capitals, and natural wonders galore. It’s all a little overwhelming.
In this post, I’ll share all the popular places to travel in Mexico. But I’ll also spill the beans on some secret hidden gems most other travelers to Mexico don’t know about. Let’s keep them our little secret, ok?
Table of Contents
- 40 Best Places to Visit in Mexico
- Mexico City
- San Miguel de Allende
- Puerto Vallarta
- Isla Holbox
- Playa del Carmen
- Isla Mujeres
- El Cuyo
- Copper Canyon
- Cabo San Lucas
- San Cristóbal de las Casas
- Puebla City
- Puerto Escondido
- San Luis Potosí
- Chichén Itzá
- San Juan Teotihuacán
- Ixtapa & Zihuatanejo
- La Paz
- Las Grutas de Tolantongo
- Las Coloradas
- FAQs About the Best Places in Mexico
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40 Best Places to Visit in Mexico
The single most underrated place to visit in Mexico. Querétaro is authentic, charming, tasty, and beautiful. You may be the only foreigner around, but that’s why I love it.
I have been all over Mexico, but nowhere else has ever captured my heart quite like Querétaro (well, except perhaps our next destination). An underrated hidden gem, Querétaro’s has it all. In Santiago de Querétaro you’ll find a well-preserved historic downtown that has been granted UNESCO World Heritage status.
Take day trips to explore nearby picturesque Mexican towns like Tequis and Peña de Bernal. Get outdoors and explore the lush Sierra Gorda rainforest. Or spend your days winery hopping. Whatever you do, I promise you will love Querétaro.
In fact, Querétaro isn’t just the best place to visit in Mexico. It also topped Travel Lemming’s list of the best places to visit in the world in 2022!
My personal favorite small town in Mexico packs in tons of history, culture, color, delicious Mayan food, and cenotes.
The word is getting out about my favorite traditional Mexican town, but Valladolid is still a hidden gem. Located two hours from Cancun, Valladolid is perfect for adding a taste of Mexican culture to your Riviera Maya vacation.
Stroll the colorful historic downtown, dine at one of Valladolid’s Mayan restaurants, and go “cenote hopping.” Cenotes are underground jungle swimming holes that look like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. You’ll find dozens of Mexico’s best cenotes near Valladolid.
You’ll also find plenty of affordable boutique hotels in Valladolid. Plus, by staying overnight, you can get up and beat the tour buses to the nearby Chichen Itza Mayan ruins, another entry on this list of the best places to visit in Mexico.
Don’t miss Mexico’s world-class city, which oozes history, gastronomy, nightlife, culture, and art. Oh, and it’s much safer than you probably think.
Mexico City is one of my favorite cities to visit, not just in Mexico, but in the entire world. With over 8 million people, Mexico City is larger than New York City. You’ll find a huge diversity of neighborhoods, museums, street markets, restaurants, cafes, and boutique hotels.
In downtown Mexico City, the historic center sits on top of an ancient Aztec temple. Other popular things to do and see in Mexico City include the expansive Chapultepec Park, the floating gardens of Xochimilco, and the stunning orange dome of the Palacio de Bellas Artes. And, of course, be sure to grab tickets to see a Lucha Libre wrestling performance!
San Miguel de Allende
A charming town in Central Mexico popular with expats, artists, and couples. San Miguel de Allende is no secret, but it’s no slouch either.
Ok, so this next entry on our list of the best places to visit in Mexico is definitely not a hidden gem anymore. San Miguel de Allende has become perhaps a little too popular with foreigners. You’ll often hear more English than Spanish being spoken on its colorful cobblestone streets. But, still, there’s a reason it’s such a popular destination.
Located in central Mexico’s mountainous desert area, San Miguel de Allende is filled with art galleries and historic sites. Don’t miss the Fabrica la Aurora art haven, or the iconic Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel pink church (kind of hard to miss, as it dominates the skyline!).
There are many romantic boutique hotels in San Miguel de Allende, making it a romantic destination in Mexico for couples.
The most popular Pacific Coast beach destination in Mexico, Puerto Vallarta is perfect for LGBTQ travelers, families, and couples.
Puerto Vallarta is a city nestled between the Sierra Madre mountains and the Pacific Ocean. There are many beautiful beaches right in town. But to the north and the south, you’ll find even more hidden beach enclaves, all inclusive resorts, and rusty beach towns.
Because it’s a larger city than many other beach destinations, finding a place to stay in Puerto Vallarta is relatively easy. There are many hotels in Puerto Vallarta for every price point, from budget to luxury.
Puerto Vallarta is also home to Mexico’s best LGBTQ scene. With direct connections to the Western US, it’s an easy choice for where to visit in Mexico for a quick beach vacation.
The best city to visit in Mexico for longer stays, Merida is an affordable destination that is still relatively off the beaten path.
I spent several months living in Merida a few years ago and I loved it. It’s hard to beat the relaxed lifestyle of the Yucatan’s capital city. Plus, it is not crowded with tourists.
Check out the beautiful historic downtown, the surrounding cenotes, and the nearby Uxmal ruins. You can also visit the nearby Progresso beach which is just a short 30 minutes away on the Gulf of Mexico.
Like Tulum before the crowds, Isla Holbox is still a hidden gem beach destination. Visit to kayak in a bioluminescent bay, snorkel with whale sharks, or just relax on a car-free island.
Isla Holbox is a small island (technically, it’s a sandbar) located north of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. Holbox is getting more popular by the year. But it is still a hidden gem where cars aren’t allowed (only golf carts), and there is plenty of space on the beach.
Holbox is also home to a bioluminescent bay. Taking a night kayaking tour and watching the water literally light up is a special experience.
But Holbox’s main attraction arrives between the months of June to September, when schools of whale sharks arrive to breed nearby. Holbox is one of the best places to visit during these months to see these incredible animals up close on a snorkeling tour. Just book your whale shark tour early, as they can fill up.
Perhaps the most colorful city in Mexico, Guanajuato offers a taste of Central Mexico’s history and culture.
Guanajuato is a beautiful colonial city located in Central Mexico. Set in a mountainous valley, the highlight is the colorful historic city center. Wander through cobblestone streets, browse art galleries and museums, and be sure to take the funicular to the viewpoint for fantastic panoramic sunset views.
You’ll find as many Mexican tourists as foreigners in Guanajuato. To me, that is the best evidence that Guanajuato is one of the best places to travel in Mexico.
Oaxaca is a great destination to sample mezcal and some of the most unique regional cuisine in Mexico.
Located in south-central Mexico, Oaxaca is one of the most distinct parts of Mexico. Its namesake city, Oaxaca City, is the place to delight your taste buds with traditional mole or enjoy a few shots of mezcal.
You can also tour nearby mezcal distilleries or visit the incredible Hierve el Agua petrified waterfalls. Further to the south of the state, you’ll find rugged beach spots like Puerto Escondido, another entry on this list of the best places to visit in Mexico.
Locals know the clearest water in Mexico isn’t at the beach! It’s at Bacalar, Mexico’s “Lake of 7 Colors.”
Although located just a couple of hours south of Tulum, Bacalar remains a relatively unheard-of destination in Mexico. That is likely to change soon, as word gets out about Bacalar. Plus, many tourists are now looking for alternatives to the seaweed-covered beaches to the north.
At this expansive lagoon, you’ll find some of the bluest water you’ve ever seen. If you can, book a hotel or rental with a dock. Bacalar is the place to visit in Mexico when you just want to relax, disconnect, and unwind.
Perhaps getting too popular for its own good. Still, there’s no denying that Tulum sports some of the best beaches in the world.
Tulum used to be a quiet fishing village and a relatively hidden gem. Not anymore. Today, Tulum is a place where celebrities come for getaways in luxury Tulum hotels and where crowds pack the beachside Tulum Mayan ruins.
Tulum has also become a popular party destination, though that has brought with it questions about safety in Tulum. Still, if you stay in Tulum’s hotel zone and stay away from the illegal stuff, you should be able to have a happy (if expensive) beach vacation. Just be aware that during the middle of the calendar year, seaweed could very well cover the beach.
🤫 Want to know a secret spot to stay in Tulum? Check out Nerea Tulum. It’s located in the sheltered (and exclusive) Tankah Bay community just north of Tulum. It is close enough to get to town or the beach when you want to, but away from the crowds and crime.
Playa del Carmen
A reliable beach destination for digital nomads, long-term travelers, or vacationers looking for an all inclusive experience.
Playa del Carmen is a Riviera Maya resort town and among the most popular beach destinations in Mexico. Playa del Carmen offers the conveniences of a small city next to the beach. You have a choice between relatively affordable accommodations in town or all-inclusive hotels and resorts in the adjoining private developments.
To be honest, the beaches in Playa del Carmen aren’t the best. But Playa del Carmen is the perfect base for taking day trips to explore better beaches, cenotes, and attractions nearby. Plus, it’s much more affordable when compared to Tulum.
Isla Mujeres is a quieter island just off the coast of Cancun, perfect for watersports and diving.
Island Mujeres is a relatively developed island accessible via ferry from Cancun. It is one of the best places to visit in Mexico for scuba diving. You’ll find shallow reefs protected from the currents, plus the opportunity to encounter manta rays or even whale sharks.
If you just want a beach vacation more relaxed (and more affordable) than Cancun, it’s good for that too. Plus, because Isla Mujeres is an island, usually at least one side of it is unaffected by the sargassum that tends to ravage the mainland beach destinations on the Riviera Maya.
Mexico’s largest Caribbean Island still feels small and relaxed. Cozumel is a great place to scuba dive or to rent a car and go beach hopping.
Another island with great scuba diving, Cozumel sports some of the most beautiful coral reefs in the Caribbean Sea. Cozumel is just a short ferry ride from Playa del Carmen, and is a popular port of call for cruise ships.
A hidden gem Gulf of Mexico beach destination, El Cuyo is a little difficult to reach but rewards those who make the effort.
I think El Cuyo is one of the best small beach towns in Mexico. Best yet, it is still relatively undiscovered by most tourists. This rusty beach town along the Gulf of Mexico can only be reached via a long jungle drive, but it’s worth it.
El Cuyo offers kilometers of empty pristine beaches. There is a small town filled with delicious eateries and friendly locals. There is also plenty of space to relax and unwind. You definitely won’t find El Cuyo on those other lists of the best places to visit in Mexico!
One of the most authentic Mexican city destinations, Guadalajara is underappreciated as a foodie destination.
Located just inland from Puerto Vallarta in the Mexican state of Jalisco, Guadalajara is an underrated Mexican city.
Guadalajara is a great place to visit in Mexico to experience traditional Mexican markets and unique cuisine. Plus, you can do it all without being crowded by other tourists. It’s also the base for taking the “tequila train” to the nearby town of Tequila. It’s a unique experience filled with lots of – you guessed it – tequila!
A massive series of canyons larger than the Grand Canyon. Copper Canyon is famous for the “El Chepe” train.
Copper Canyon is an enormous series of canyons located in Mexico’s northern Sierra Madre Occidental mountains. If you count its many canyons as one, they are collectively much larger than the Grand Canyon. Copper Canyon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a popular Mexican destination for hiking, mountain biking, and outdoor adventure.
One of the most popular things to do is to take El Chepe, a train that plies 418 miles of track connecting the various small towns and sites along the canyons.
Cabo San Lucas
Cabo San Lucas is a popular Pacific Coast beach destination with nightlife and water sports.
Cabo San Lucas is a popular vacation destination known for beautiful beaches, nightlife, and water sports. It’s located on the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula.
Owing to its plethora of direct flights to the Western United States, Cabo is one of the best places to visit in Mexico for shorter beach vacations.
👉 Pro Tip: You can also check out nearby San Jose del Cabo, the other half of “Los Cabos.” Or, if you prefer a smaller town vibe, check out the vibrant town of Todos Santos to the north of Cabo San Lucas.
San Cristóbal de las Casas
A unique place to visit in south Mexico, perfect for experiencing Mexico’s indigenous culture.
If you are looking for a unique place to visit in Mexico, check out San Cristóbal de las Casas in Mexico’s southern Chiapas state. It’s a great place to learn about indigenous culture. Plus, it’s the perfect base for exploring nearby archaeological sites and natural wonders.
An underrated Mexican city to visit, Puebla is a UNESCO World Heritage Site dramatically set against the backdrop of the Popocatépetl volcano.
Another cultural place to visit in Mexico, Puebla is the country’s fourth-largest city, located three hours south of Mexico City. It is set against the volcano Popocatépetl, making it one of the most picturesque cities in Mexico.
Explore pre-Columbian art at Museo Amparo, browse the historic Biblioteca Palafoxiana library, visit the pyramid ruins at Cholula, or enjoy the unique Africam Safari zoo. You’ll soon understand why many travelers say Puebla is one of the best places to visit in Mexico.
A large city in Mexico’s northern desert area, Monterrey is a unique place to visit in Mexico.
Situated in the northern desert of Mexico, Monterrey is one of the largest cities in Mexico. Despite that, it still gets relatively little tourism. Travelers who do go, however, love its museums, surrounding nature, and unique nightlife scene. It’s definitely not the most popular place to visit in Mexico, but a unique destination nonetheless.
A relaxed Pacific Ocean beach town in Oaxaca, known as a haven for surfers, sunbathers, and digital nomads.
Though once a hidden gem, the tiny Pacific Coast beach town of Puerto Escondido is quickly gaining popularity. Travelers love the relaxed vibe and excellent surfing spots. If you’re looking for a smaller beach town to visit in Mexico for a longer stay, consider Puerto Escondido.
San Luis Potosí
History, museums, and gorgeous nature, San Luis Potosí is an underrated place to go in Mexico’s north-central region.
San Luis Potosi is the capital of the state by the same name. Both deserve consideration on your list of where to visit in Mexico. The colonial city sports colonial architecture, a pleasant climate, and many tourist attractions for museum lovers.
In the surrounding countryside, you’ll find the famous Tamul waterfalls. Take one look at the photo above and you’ll understand why they are among the best places to visit in Mexico.
Certainly one of the most popular places to visit in Mexico, Cancun has beautiful beaches, high prices, and a convenient airport.
No list of the best places to visit in Mexico would be complete without Cancun. But what can I say about Cancun honestly? Well, it’s a popular tourist destination with beautiful beaches and tons of all inclusive resorts and beach hotels along the Caribbean Sea. Many tourists come here on direct flights to the busy Cancun International Airport, take a taxi to their hotel or beach resort, and never leave.
Personally, I think there are better beaches, better culture, and better experiences to be found for less elsewhere in Mexico. But, for many, Cancun is a must-visit on their Mexico bucket list.
Though its reputation precedes it, there’s still lots of fun (and food) to be found in Tijuana.
Believe it or not, it’s possible to visit Mexico as part of a day trip from San Diego. In fact, the Mexican city of Tijuana is so close to San Diego that the two cities’ airports are connected by a footbridge.
While Tijuana might not be the most exciting destination on this list of best places to visit in Mexico, many tourists still go for the nightlife, shopping, and street food (tacos, anyone?). Yes, some have safety concerns, and not without reason. But if you plan your visit correctly, Tijuana can definitely be a fun experience.
Though most haven’t heard of it, Campeche is one of the safest and most beautiful Mexican port cities.
Campeche is a port city along the Gulf of Mexico and one of Mexico’s World Heritage Cities. It is on this list of the best places to visit in Mexico because of its colonial architecture and historic forts. It is also one of the safest places to visit in Mexico. If you like exploring off the beaten path, check out Campeche.
One of the “New Seven Wonders of the World,” Chichén Itzá is an important historical site that draws more than its fair share of tourists.
Named one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World,” Chichen Itza is a set of ancient Mayan ruins located in the middle of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula.
You can visit Chichen Itza on one of the many tours that take groups from Cancun or Tulum each day. But, my personal tip is to plan your visit around a trip to the nearby town of Valladolid. You’ll be able to arrive at the archaeological site before the tour buses, and also beat the heat.
A massive archaeological complex from a mysterious ancient civilization, located just north of Mexico City.
In the arid desert area north of Mexico City, you’ll find the ancient archeological complex of San Juan Teotihuacán. The ruins are the remains of a two-thousand-year-old mysterious civilization predating the Aztecs.
The main attractions are two dramatic temples, the Pyramid of the Moon and the Pyramid of the Sun. For a truly unique experience, consider taking a hot air balloon ride over Teotihuacán.
One of the best places in Mexico to snorkel with turtles, and a beautiful beach to boot.
About 30 minutes south of Playa del Carmen, you’ll find the quiet beachside town of Akumal. In addition to some of the best beaches on the Riviera Maya. But the real draw here is the marine life, specifically the sea turtles that can be found just offshore.
Akumal makes for a great place to visit on a day trip from Tulum or from Playa del Carmen. You can join a snorkeling tour or beat the crowds, show up with your own snorkeling gear, and swim off shore early in the morning. It’s usually not hard to find a turtle!
Ixtapa & Zihuatanejo
Two quiet but beautiful beach towns on Mexico’s Pacific Coast.
The next two entries on our list of the best places to visit in Mexico sit right next to each other. Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo are two Mexican beach towns located on Mexico’s Pacific Coast in the state of Guerrero. Bear in mind that Guerrero is subject to a “do not travel” safety warning from the US Department of State.
Ixtapa is more of a small beach resort, while Zihuatanejo is more of a rustic sleepy fishing village. Both attract visitors looking for a more relaxed beach vacation experience.
Controversial safety issues continue to affect this Mexican beach destination, once the most popular place to visit in Mexico.
A half century ago, Acapulco was the single most popular place to go in Mexico. Due to safety issues, that has changed recently. The US Department of State, for example, currently advises against travel to Acapulco.
Still, some choose to visit, and would argue that the tourist and resort areas are safe, so I’m including it on this list for you to decide. Those who do go to Acapulco will find high-rise condos, expansive beaches, large golf courses, and the famous cliff divers at La Quebrada cliff.
And, of course, if you do go, be sure to consider getting travel insurance for Mexico.
Popular with cruise ships and sun seekers, Mazatlán offers beautiful beaches along the Pacific Coast.
Mazatlán is a popular cruise ship stop on the Mexican Pacific Coast. Located in the northern Mexican state of Sinaloa, Mazatlán is known mostly as a beach destination.
Mazatlan is also home to one of the best preserved colonial towns in this part of Mexico. If you are visiting as part of a cruise tour or are just looking for an affordable and quick beach vacation, Mazatlán may deserve a spot on your list of where to go in Mexico.
👉 Always Forget Something? Use our handy Mexico packing essentials checklist!
An underrated beach and eco tourism destination in Baja California, La Paz offers stunningly beautiful sand and water.
If you love lesser-known beach destinations or are looking for eco-conscious places to visit in Mexico, you should check out La Paz. The capital city of Mexico’s Baja California Sur, La Paz is not all that big of a city. The highlight is the well protected bay, which features some of the most beautiful water in Mexico. There are also lots of nearby attractions for nature and adventure lovers.
A small village west of Merida, Celestun is a great place to go see flamingos, explore mangroves, or just chill out on the beach.
Celestún is definitely one of the least well-known destinations in Mexico on this list, but I think it’s worth your consideration. That’s especially true if you love nature and wildlife. From November to April each year, Celestun mangroves come alive with thousands of flamingos. After taking a boat tour to see them, you can enjoy freshly caught seafood from a beachside restaurant overlooking the nearly empty (but still beautiful) Gulf of Mexico beach.
A rustic Riviera Nayarit beach town popular with surfers, hippies, and digital nomads, Sayulita is quickly becoming a more popular place to visit in Mexico.
One of the more trending destinations in Mexico is the rustic beach town of Sayulita. Located north of Puerto Vallarta on the Riviera Nayarit, it’s known as a haven for artists and surfers. Sayulita also attracts the wellness travel crowd, with numerous yoga or spiritual retreats on offer.
Explore the UNESCO World Heritage ruins of an ancient city that disappeared in the 8th century.
Palenque was an ancient Mayan city located in what is now southern Mexico. The ancient ruins left behind are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but draw fewer visitors than some of the more popular Mayan ruins. If you want to explore the rich history of Chiapas, Palenque definitely deserves a slot on your list of the best places to visit in Mexico.
Izamal is a unique “pueblo magico” that is totally covered in the color yellow!
Located between Merida and Valladolid, Izamal’s colonial buildings are all colored yellow. The reason for the color choice isn’t 100% clear (some say it was done to honor Pope John Paul II, though there are other explanations). Whatever the reason, the Yellow City of Izamal is a charming town worth a stop on a road trip through the Yucatan peninsula.
Perhaps one of the most famous Instagram sites in Mexico, Las Grutas de Tolantongo is a canyon with series of hot springs located in Mexico’s state of Hidalgo. It’s a little difficult to get to, but the views from the hot springs make it a popular place to go in Mexico if you just have to have that perfect shot for social media. Just be sure to get there early before the pools fill up!
Though the famous pink lakes aren’t actually natural, they are interesting to see (and photograph).
You may have seen photos on Instagram of Mexico’s famous “pink lakes.” Well, technically Las Coloradas is more of artificial salt evaporation ponds. It’s not a natural beauty, but they are definitely very pink.
Las Coloradas is one of the quiet fishing villages along the Yucatan peninsula’s northern Gulf of Mexico coast. You can visit Las Coloradas on a day trip from Valladolid, or by taking an ATV from El Cuyo.
👉 Read Next: 23 Things to Know Before Going to Mexico
FAQs About the Best Places in Mexico
What is the number one tourist attraction in Mexico?
The archeological site of Chichen Itza is the most visited tourist attraction in Mexico. Its popularity is thanks to its status as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, as well as its proximity to Cancun, Tulum, and Playa del Carmen.
Where is the best place to vacation in Mexico?
The best place to vacation in Mexico is the Mexican state of Querétaro. Querétaro offers UNESCO World Heritage Sites, some of the best vineyards in North America, and beautiful natural destinations like the Sierra Gorda ecological reserve.
What is the prettiest place in Mexico?
The prettiest place in Mexico is the city of Santiago de Querétaro. The historic downtown has UNESCO World Heritage status due to its many picture-perfect churches and colonial buildings. Additionally, the city is set against the dramatic backdrop of the surrounding desert and mountains.
Before you go, be sure to check out all our Mexico travel guides.
I hope I’ve helped you find the best places to visit in Mexico for your vacation. Have fun on your trip to Mexico!