The best of Mexico

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Adventure, culture, cool cities, and family fun are all here

Mexico is an amazing country, and one of the reasons it’s so amazing is that it manages to cater to pretty much everyone. Want to relax on the beach? Explore the depths of the jungles? Eat at some of the world’s best restaurants? Take a trip with the family? Sure, no problem!

Now, with travel restrictions starting to ease up, you can take advantage of some great deals to Mexico, as well as checking out our tips and travel hacks to get you there, around the country, and back, for less. So here are some of what we think are the best places in Mexico no matter what sort of break you’re looking for.

Best for… families

In the area of Riviera Maya, you’ll find local archaeological sites, watersports, and guided jungle tours that add to the sense of adventureWatersports and guided jungle tours add to the sense of adventure — Shutterstock

First off, if you’re looking for a city break with your kids that’s not too challenging, try San Miguel de Allende. A favorite of people permanently relocating to Mexico, it’s a friendly place with a laid-back but interesting cultural scene, some beautiful architecture, and a mild enough climate that you won’t go crazy. Once you’re done with the town itself, the surrounding area offers bike rental, horse riding and pony trekking, and if you’re with older kids and feel like you’ve earned a treat, there are hot springs and pools to relax in for as little as eight dollars a day. 

Want something by the sea? How about Riviera Maya, a 120km stretch of coastline which has a number of resorts that cater to families. If you’ve never been to Mexico, it’s a nice way of getting a bit of everything, while also, as parents, having a bit of time to yourself. Many of the resorts have movie nights or camp-outs for kids in different age groups, while the beaches, local archaeological sites, watersports and guided jungle tours add to the sense of adventure.

 

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If you’d like to get a bit further off the beaten track, Copper Canyon is not only a great place for thrill-seekers (see below), but also offers “El Chepe”, the Copper Canyon railway. There are two options: the Copper Canyon Express or Regional. The Regional takes around 16 hours to complete the route through some of the most rugged and beautiful scenery in the country, but the beauty of it is that you can stop along the way, getting off and staying the night at points before resuming your journey the next day. This all needs booking in advance, but as a way of traveling and seeing the country, it can’t really be topped.

Otherwise, Mexico City itself is a solid option. Huge and bewildering though it can be, it’s full of parks and gardens, a zoo, a fabulous aquarium, a planetarium, some brilliantly hands-on museums, and the Six Flags theme park to the south of the city.

Best for… city lovers

Valladolid has become one of the most popular places to come to explore the history and culture of the Yucatán peninsula, with a number of excellent museums Valladolid is one of the most popular places to explore the history and culture of the Yucatán peninsula — Shutterstock

Let’s start with Oaxaca City, the capital of the state of the same name. It’s a beautiful place, with colonial architecture, picturesque market squares with some of the best and most interesting markets in the country, and it’s also foodie heaven. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, you name it, you’ll love the fact that the city is so walkable as you have to burn off those delicious meals! It’s also home to a vibrant arts and crafts scene, and a surprisingly jumping selection of good live music venues.

For a much more laid-back time, head to Valladolid. It’s not a big place (around 50,000 people), but it’s somewhere that’s managed to maintain a nice balance of remaining Mayan while integrating Spanish culture. Because of this, it’s become one of the most popular places to come to explore the history and culture of the Yucatán peninsula, with a number of excellent museums. It’s not just in museums that the culture exists though: you’ll see people wearing traditional Mayan clothes wherever you go. Visit the nearby ruins of Ek Balam, or one of the thousands of spectacular cenotes (underground sinkholes) that expose the underground rivers, including one virtually in the center of town!

 

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In a vast valley, Monterrey is one of the more Americanized cities in Mexico, being not far from the Texan border. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it means the nightlife is fantastic, there’s an energy that’s a very particular mix of the two nations, and there’s a huge and friendly student population that mixes with ex-pats and travelers from all over the world. It’s a youthful, sprawling, vaguely hedonistic sort of place that also gives you the option to blow the cobwebs away with a day in the surrounding mountains and national parks before heading back into town to do it all again. And if that’s not wild enough, what about the following suggestions…?

Best for… beaches

Tulum in Yucatán is a town known for its beaches, many of which lie in the shadow of the giant Mayan ruins Tulum is known for its beaches, many of which lie in the shadow of the giant Mayan ruins — Shutterstock

Naturally, one of the main reasons to head to Mexico is for the beaches, and there are thousands upon thousands to choose from, all offering what anyone goes to the beach for: white sand, blue sea, and your choice of either finding ways to lark about, or do absolutely nothing at all.

We’ll start with Cozumel, an island off the coast of Yucatán in the Caribbean Sea. A long-time favorite of scuba divers and snorkelers, its mostly undeveloped interior is covered by mangrove forests, and the surrounding waters have reefs in abundance. A Unesco-protected biosphere, it is a stunning place to swim, or to simply stretch out and relax.

Tulum, also in Yucatán, is a town known for its beaches, many of which lie in the shadow of the giant Mayan ruins. Come for early-morning yoga sessions, or sunset strolls along the sand. Mahahual, around two-and-a-half hours’ drive south of Tulum, has a similarly boho vibe, but with more locals enjoying the hidden coves, beach bars, and the very little else.

For a spot of surfing, how about Sayulita? Puerto Vallarta, a popular destination, is around 25 miles south-east, but up here there’s a lot less hustle and bustle. If you’re a beginner there are a bunch of surf schools, or if you know what you’re doing you can just head on out! The nearby Playa de los Muertos has, despite the name, much gentler conditions, so is perfect for days of lazy swimming.

Best for… the adventurous

The state of Chiapas, on the border with Guatemala, is where you can take a guided trek through the Lacandon JungleTake a guided trek through the Lacandon Jungle — Shutterstock

Only accessible by boat, and only from the town of Chiquila, Isla Holbox is one of the lesser-known Mexican islands. Tiny and car-free, this colorful, backpacker-friendly place has a bunch of tiny restaurants and bars lining its sandy streets serving amazing local food (often with a smattering of live music), and one particular bonus: the chance to swim with whale sharks!

The state of Chiapas, on the border with Guatemala, is where you can take a guided trek through the Lacandon Jungle, including a boat ride to the Metzabok Lake and nature reserve. The area is home to three ethnic groups, the Maya-Lacandon, Tzeltals, and Choles, the first of whom are estimated to have been here since pre-Colombian times and after whom the area is named.

 

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Regardless of your climbing experience, the mountains of Mexico have a lot to offer, with both the summits of Iztaccihuatl and Orizaba used by mountaineers from all over the world for high altitude training. Interestingly, both are also accessible for novices, provided you have an experienced guide to take you on a less challenging route. Nevado de Toluca, just outside Mexico City, is another mighty climb… and this one has the added thrill of being a volcano, with beautiful crater lakes, and archaeological sites where indigenous people used to hold ceremonies and sacrifices.

Finally, Copper Canyon Adventure Park offers a more modern thrill: the longest (3 km), highest (300 m) and fastest (120 km per hour) zipline in the world. Part of a network of seven ziplines, two suspension bridges, a cable car and a lot of rappelling in the canyon itself, it’s an incredible way to see some of the most amazing scenery in all of Mexico.

Did we inspire your next trip to Mexico? Find even more inspiration on Kiwi.com Stories.