10 Incredible must see destinations in Mexico + itinerary
I spent three months in Mexico and travelled to many different parts of this large and diverse country. Some places are rather overrated, expensive and Americanised. Other parts are absolutely incredible.
The Americanised parts of Mexico were not my buzz at all. They are mainly around the Yucatan and Quintana Roo area. Locals on the street speak to you in American accents, American dollars are widely used and there are many American food chains around. When I got chatting to locals in these areas and told them where I had been in Mexico, they all said the same thing. That I had seen the ‘real’ Mexico. So, if you’re like me and want to experience authentic parts of this cool as fuck country, this blog is for you. To help you see the best places, I’ve listed 10 of my favourite destinations below! You’re welcome.
These aren’t in any particular order, but if you start from the top and work your way down, you could follow a decent trail around the country as a rough itinerary. If I was going back to Mexico, these are the places I would revisit. If you have time, perhaps look into Guadalajara, Puebla, Sayulita and Baja California too. I didn’t get to these destinations so I can’t comment on them (yet), but I heard awesome things from other travellers.
1. Mexico City
Mexico City is a cool place and there is so much to do! You can get authentic Mexican or westernised food, go to fantastic markets and get lost walking around. You can watch the Luche Libre wrestling, take a hot air balloon over some ruins or drink beers on the Xochimilco Boats. Some of these things felt a bit gimmicky/touristy to me, but they were super fun. As Mexico City is the capital, it can be more expensive than other parts of the country, but it’s certainly worth a visit! I will say this though, I much preferred Oaxaca City to Mexico City. If you have limited time, maybe only do a few nights here and head to other parts of the country.
2. Oaxaca City, Oaxaca
I loved the Oaxaca region of Mexico (pronounced waa-ha-kah) the most and Oaxaca City is my favourite city in Mexico. This fun city boasts incredible markets, vibrant nightlife and pretty streets to get lost in. It’s bright, colourful, cheap and most importantly, it’s the food capital of the country. You can get the most delicious burgers on the street for $1, awesome tacos and everything in between. The food markets were also full of tasty dishes and produce too. If you go, make sure you try the Oaxacan cheese and the Oaxacan hot chocolate, they are soo yum, I could’ve lived off that cheese. The hostels are also great and reasonably priced. You could easily spend a week or more here.
3. San Jose del Pacifico, Oaxaca
San Jose del Pacifico is a magical little town in between Oaxaca City and Puerto Escondido, mentioned below. It is an absolute must do if you visit Mexico! It’s well known for being the magic mushroom capital of Mexico but that isn’t the only good thing about this place. You can stay in gorgeous wooden cabanas in the hills and watch the clouds roll by next to a fire among your amigos. I loved San Jose del Pacifico so much, I wrote a full guide about how to get there, what to do and where to stay. Check it out here.
4. Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca
Puerto Escondido is a beautiful beach town on the Pacific Coast of the country. It’s full of backpackers and expats, pretty beaches, sunshine, excellent food and buzzing nightlife every night of the week. The sunsets are also to die for! I went for four nights and stayed a month. This isn’t an unusual story. I met many fellow travellers who went to Puerto Escondido for a visit, bought property and never left. Everyone is friendly and just happy to be livin’ Barry. You can’t miss it!
5. Mazunte/Zipolite, Oaxaca
Mazunte and Zipolite are two cute little hippy towns by the beach, about a 15 minute drive from each other and an hour south of Puerto Escondido. You’ll see yogis and free spirits everywhere and it has such a calming, chill vibe. The weather is just as good as in Puerto Escondido and the beaches are beautiful and far less packed. If you want more of a chill vibe with less partying, this is your place. You can still surf if you want or take it easy, eat nice food and chill by the water. Last but definitely not least, there’s an awesome nudist beach in Zipolite that you have to get naked at and swim in! It was so freeing and I totally let my naked dreams live out there.
6. San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas
San Cristóbal de las Casas is a little town in the Chiapas region of Mexico and it’s easily in the top three of my fave places across the country. I got very sick there as the water quality is so bad in the town and I would still highly recommend you go there. That’s saying something. Chiapas is the poorest region of Mexico, so everything is mega cheap. The food is unexpectedly incredible too. You can get a huge range of cuisine, ranging from Mexican food, to Thai food to Dutch food. There is an amazing wine and tapas bar, where you can get a range of delicious wines from all over South America for $1 a glass, including free tapas and unlimited popcorn! The clubs are also unreal, playing good house, dubstep and techno music. There is also the beautiful Canon del Sumidero below you can see as a day trip from San Cristóbal de las Casas. Is it obvious how much I loved this place or???
7. Palenque, Chiapas
Palanque is in the jungle of the Chiapas region. I am not a massive jungle person, but Palenque is worth a visit for a night or two. It was so different to any other place I’ve been and was a big change from the beach and city life. You can wander around the luscious green jungle, see wildlife and hear howler monkeys. From Palenque, you can visit two spectacular waterfalls near by, the Azul Aqua Waterfall and the Misol-Ha Waterfall. If you come from San Cristobal, you can do this as part of a tour on the way to Palenque. This is how I’d recommend travelling between the two towns. The ruins in Palenque are pretty unique and you can stay right in the jungle at hotels or hostels if you want to fully immerse yourself in the jungle fever.
8. Merida, Yucatan
Merida is the largest city in the Yucatán area. The city itself wasn’t anything special in my humble opinion, but the cenotes you can access from here are some of the best in Mexico. They’re like an oasis away from tourists, we were the only people there when we went! If you visit some of these magical swimming holes from Valladolid or Tulum, they are triple the price, full of tourists and have way too many rules. You have to wear a life jacket the whole time you’re in the water, you aren’t allowed to jump in, there is a time limit for swimming and you’re not allowed to touch the rock formations. The cenotes from Merida were nothing like that, so do yourself a solid and stay here for a few nights to visit the unique and beautiful cenotes in the area, without the shitty rules.
9. El Cuyo, Yucatan
El Cuyo is an off the beaten track town in the Yucatán region. It’s a quiet little place where you can get to know the locals in a few days, eat nice food and walk around the beaches. The roads are mostly made of sand and it’s a super safe, unique haven that isn’t too touristy like many other places in the Yucatán area. There are a fair few expats who have moved here and started food businesses. You can enjoy some tasty food from their food trucks or cafes, chill and take it easy baby!
10. Bacalar, Quintana Roo
I didn’t like anywhere in the Quintana Roo area of Mexico except for Bacalar. This may be because it was the beginning of the rain season and the beaches were full of disgusting seaweed, but it could also be because it’s the most Americanised, expensive, touristy part of the country. Bacalar is the exception. It truly is a special place. The little town is on a bright blue lagoon and is filled with friendly locals, crystal clear waters and piers with straw huts on the water to swim from! There are many tasty food options and some sick parties too. Do yourself a favour and go straight there if you’re on that side of the country!
I could’ve added in more places here but these were my absolute top 10 in Mexico. I hope they help you on your Mexican adventure!