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20+ Epic Places to Visit in Mexico for Your Mexico Travel Bucket List

posted by Liza 30th October 2019 1 Comment
Where to honeymoon in Mexico
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Last updated on November 8th, 2019

In this post, I teamed up with over a dozen amazing travel bloggers in order to tell you about 20+ epic places to visit in Mexico that you should add to your Mexico travel bucket list! Travelling to Mexico is very easy regardless of where are you based (USA, Canada or Europe. Sorry, Australia, for you it’s a bit harder, but certainly not impossible). Mexico is a perfect holiday destination all year long because the weather is great any month. I visited Cancun and Riviera Maya (as well as Mexico City) in winter and summer, and I was able to enjoy it both times.

Mexico is a very special country for me. First of all, it’s the home country of my husband, Pepe, who is the co-founder of this blog (and the technical mastermind, yes, he’s a software developer). Secondly, it’s the country where we got married. Thirdly, it’s the country, where Pepe’s family and friends live, so we try to visit it at least once a year. It’s shameful that we haven’t covered much outside Mexico City, Teotihuacan and Cancun / Riviera Maya, but I certainly have that on my Mexico travel bucket list.

Since I haven’t visited that much of Mexico myself (as I said, I’m planning to), I decided to team up with amazing travel bloggers to bring to life this post about 20+ epic places to visit in Mexico for your (and mine) ultimate Mexico travel bucket list. Sow without further ado, shall we start?

20+ Epic Places to Visit in Mexico for Your Mexico Travel Bucket List

Mexico City

Let us start with the capital, Mexico City or District Federal how it used to be called before. Mexico City might not be the prettiest and the most manicured city, however, it certainly has its charm. There so many unique districts to visit in the city, however, I would recommend my favourite area, Coyoacan. I even wrote a blog post about the best things to do in Coyoacan, the colourful district famous for the museum of Frida Kahlo and a lot of dining options.

Mexico travel bucket list
The streets of Coyoacan

The city centre of Mexico City is also very beautiful and one of my all-time favourite buildings is the Palacio de Bellas Artes in the heart of the city. La Condesa is famous for its bohemian vibe and hipster places and La Reforma is the financial centre of the Capital.

However, Mexico City is a huge city, so there are some safety rules that you need to follow. Pepe wrote this post about 5 top Mexico scams and how to avoid them, so make sure to give it a read. I also have a second post about how to stay safe in Mexico City and which areas to avoid.

If you’re planning to combine Mexico City and Riviera Maya/ Cancun in one trip – I’ve done something like that in the past and described it in this blog post.

Riviera Maya (Playa del Carmen, Tulum and areas in-between)

My absolute favourite place in Mexico and a place everyone should add to their Mexico travel bucket list is Riviera Maya. Riviera Maya is a long stretch of coastline south of Cancun that has amazing jungle, white sandy beaches and stunning resorts. Resorts in Riviera Maya are so huge that you need small trains to get delivered to the reception for dinner or to go to the beach. The trains usually drive through small roads in the jungle, so the experience is pretty unique.

Riviera Maya has a lot of cenotes that you can visit. Cenotes are natural wonders of Mexico and in Riviera Maya, you can visit plenty of them!

If you’re looking for where to stay, I have this post about the best resorts in Riviera Maya!

Cancun

Another one of the epic places to visit in Mexico is Cancun. Cancun is a perfect destination for a short holiday of at least 3 days (basically a long weekend trip), however, you can stay there for a week or longer if you prefer (and especially if you’re flying from very far). Cancun has some of the best beaches I’ve seen and some of the best hotels to relax and enjoy life. We stayed in Hyatt Ziva in Cancun and it was wonderful! I think Hyatt has the best beach in the entire Cancun, so make sure to check it out if you’re planning to visit Cancun at some point.

Also, Cancun is a great destination if you like nightlife and partying, as there are a lot of places, where you can go out at night!

If you aren’t sure whether to pick Cancun or Riviera Maya for your Mexico holiday, I have a post with a detailed comparison of Cancun vs Riviera Maya, so feel free to check it out!

Mixquic for the Day of the Dead celebration

Mexico is an exciting destination for many reasons. One of the must do bucket list in Mexico is the Day of the Dead, or the Dia de Muertos.
One of the best places to view the Day of the Dead festival is in Mixquic, a small town about a 1.5 hour drive from Mexico City. If you have seen the Pixar movie Coco, you can relate to many things in Mixquic. 

Locals flock to the town’s graveyard with fresh flowers and light up candles at night. Houses are decorated with papel picado ornaments, as well as trails of marigolds leading spirits back to their homes.
The town itself throws a big street party. You can find many food vendors, performers and band on the big stage on the main square for all to enjoy. The whole time, locals have busily been preparing for the return of their ancestors this night.

You will have to plan ahead if you decided to come for the Day of the Dead celebration in Mixquic. We recommend arranging your own transportation to and from Mixquic in advance, or even staying overnight.

Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico

Photo and submission by Halef from the RTW Guys

Valle De Guadalupe (Mexican Wine Country)

Until recently, the only alcohol that I associated with Mexico was Tequila shots (ugh, flashback to my college days) or bottles of Corona (pee in a bottle!). Thankfully, I’ve long grown past that stage of life.

Just two hours south of San Diego or less than a 4-hour drive from Los Angeles (without the border crossing factored in), Valle De Guadalupe, is considered by many top food and wine enthusiasts as “The Next Napa.”  But unlike Napa, what you won’t find here are the hordes of fanny-pack tourists or massive commercialized wineries.

Most of the wineries in Mexico’s wine country are boutique – producing small batches focused on sustainability. The region also has experienced a boom in just the past decade with experienced vintners, dairy farmers producing small batches of cheese and several dozen new luxurious B&B’s and restaurants. During a visit earlier this year, we were told that there are now 150+ wineries (just 10 years ago there were only a dozen or so).

Make a weekend of it and stay at La Villa del Valle, where you’d swear you were transported to Tuscany with its arched walkways and views overlooking vineyards in the valley. Once you’ve unpacked, walk to Vena Cava, where British expats Eileen and Phil Gregory are busy with their dream winery — constructed with reclaimed materials from boats complete with hulls and port windows.

Be sure you make advanced reservations for dinner that night at Corazon de Tierra, a restaurant that you’d expect to find in West Hollywood with its modern design. If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative, there is Troika, a food truck that serves up tostadas and sliders.  

Photos and submission by Phil from Gourmet Globetrotter

Oaxaca

Mouth-watering food. Smoky mezcal. Ancient ruins. Insta-worthy architecture. Wild celebrations. Bustling markets. There’s not much that the city of Oaxaca doesn’t have. And it’s all those qualities that are making this city of 250,000 people one of the hottest destinations to visit right now.

It’s easy to craft a 3 or 4-day Oaxaca itinerary that hits the highlights of the city: first, start with the food. Eating in Oaxaca will cast aside all your preconceptions about Mexican food. Here, the highlight is the famous mole dish (of which you can try seven varieties) and tlayudas, the so-called “Mexican pizza”. Wash it all down with a sip of smoky mezcal, or visit a few palenques to see how this potent alcoholic beverage is made.

Wander the city’s walkable streets and step inside a 16th century church. Go back even further in time and discover Monte Albán, a pre-Columbian site just outside the city.

Whatever your interests, Oaxaca is definitely one city to add to any Mexico bucket list.

Submission and photo by Rebecca from Rebecca and the World

Hierve el Agua in Oaxaca

Another great bucket list destination in Mexico is also in Oaxaca. The petrified waterfalls of Oaxaca are one of Mexico’s natural gems. On a cliff about an hour and a half east of Oaxaca City are three pools of water that are fed from a natural spring with high mineral content. As the water cascades over the edge of the cliff, the minerals are deposited below, creating a white rock formation that looks like a waterfall. 

While Hierve el Agua translates to “the water boils,” the pools are not hot. The name comes from the fact that the water bubbles out of a fissure in the mountain. Even though they are not thermal waters, you should definitely bring a bathing suit to swim. If you’re in luck, the sun will be out to warm up the shallow pools. 

You can easily visit Hierve el Agua without a tour, which will allow you to maximize your time. And if you’re dreaming of having the place to yourself, consider renting one of the cabins on site. It’s definitely the best way to experience this natural wonder in Mexico.

Submission and amazing photo by Julien from Cultures Travelled

Palenque

There is little doubt that one of the unmissable things to do in Mexico is visiting the many archaeological sites. Many will argue that in terms of Maya sites, Chichen Itza is the best – it’s vast, and the pyramids are incredible. Others say that Tulum is the most charming one, for it faces the ocean. Yet, it’s Palenque that you really should not miss. It’s completely immersed in the jungle, very well kept, and it used to be the most powerful in the region, regularly competing with Tonina for control over Chiapas. Make sure to hire a guide for your visit, as the site, though compact compared to many others, has a lot to see and this is the only way to make sense of its intricate history!

Submission & photo by Claudia from My Adventures Across the World

Bacalar Lagoon

No Mexico bucket list is complete without enjoying the spectacular Bacalar Lagoon. Directly accessible from the small town of Bacalar in Quintana Roo, the lagoon is home to dazzling blue waters that have to be seen to be believed!

Understandably, the main things to do in the town revolve around the lagoon. You can easily spend a few days relaxing on the jetties and cooling off in the lake’s refreshing waters. For the best experience though, take a boat trip around the lagoon to discover the various cenotes as well as Canal de los Piratas. 

One of the highlights of the boat trips is the chance to visit Cenote de Cocalitos. This cenote is special thanks to the presence of Stromatolites – living rock-like structures made up of cyanobacteria. Research shows Stromatolites are some of the oldest life forms in the world, having been around for approximately 3.5 billion years!

If you’re looking for amazing places to visit in Mexico then Bacalar Lagoon certainly fits the bill!

amazing places to visit in Mexico  Bacalar Lagoon

Photo and submission by Sam and Natalia from Something of Freedom

Guadalajara

Guadalajara is a treasure. The architecture, the culture, and history make it a beautiful bucket-list destination that you have to experience. The metropolitan region is second only to Mexico City in terms of population which means there is a lot to do, see, and eat. There is a beautiful contrast between traditional and modern ways of life that defines the capital of Jalisco State.

The historic core of downtown Guadalajara is a favourite of locals and tourists alike. Pedestrian zones connect large plazas to temples, museums, and theatres. There are excellent examples of neoclassical, baroque, neo-gothic, regionalism, and art deco that make you feel like you step back in time.

A lot of what defines Mexico internationally is from Guadalajara. What better place to appreciate mariachi, tequila, and folkloric rodeos than where they come from. That recurring theme of traditional vs modern is awesome when it comes in the form of food. Chefs that were trained in the best kitchens in Europe come home to find ingredients that only exist in Mexico. Eating at Francisco Ruano’s Alcalde Restaurant might be a life-changing experience.  

Guadalajara was the capital of Mexico for a brief period in the 19th century while Benito Juárez was fighting the Reform War. Padre Miguel Hidalgo, the father of Mexican Independence, declared the end of slavery from Guadalajara, and the native civilizations were some of the largest in the Americas. All of this history is easily viewed in murals by some of Mexico’s favourite artists like José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siquieros.

It is interesting that with so much history, Guadalajara is also so modern. This is Mexico’s silicon valley and favourite college town. The medical schools train doctors from all over the Americas and many choose to stay because they fall in love with Guadalajara.

There is so much to see and do in Guadalajara that it has to be on your Mexico bucket list. 

Amazing photos and submission by Paul from Playas y Plazas

Valladolid

Valladolid is a charming colonial city in the Yucatan, Mexico that is an amazing place to visit and definitely a destination to add to your Mexico bucket list! We visited Valladolid during a vacation in Cancun.  It’s a frequent stop for visitors on their way to Chichen Itza and it’s a great day trip too. 

Our favourite part of Valladolid was the beautiful main square.  The city has made great efforts to preserve the history and character of the main square such that it appears much like it has for more than a hundred years. 

The square contains many sets of traditional “Confidentes” or courting chairs.  As the local legend goes, a courting couple would sit in these intertwined chairs to talk and look into each others’ eyes, but not to touch (with a watchful Father close by)!

Another great feature of Valladolid’s main square is the cathedral of San Servacio o Gervasio.  With its origins in 1543, this beautiful old church features traditional Spain colonial architecture.

Mexico Bucket List
Photo by Filip Gielda on Unsplash

Submission by Lesley from Freedom 56 Travel

Sayulita

Sayulita is located on the Pacific coast of Mexico and approximately an hour north of Puerto Vallarta, but worlds different from the major city centre. Sayulita is a small Mexican town that is best known for its surf to all the locals and international visitors who have been flocking here to catch a wave since the secret has been shared.

This small town will give you the chill vibes and surf life to relax on the beach, try your best at learning to surf or boogie board in the waves. Have long lunches, siestas in the afternoon and enjoy sunsets walking along the beach. If you are looking for more activities this is the spot for whale watching, jungle treks, yoga, canopy tours, snorkelling and diving in the area too! Sayulita is a beach town where things don’t move too quickly and will make you slow down, which is exactly what most of us need more of! 

Photo by Kevin Noble on Unsplash

Submission by Nicole from The Passport Kids

Piedra Herrada Monarch Butterfly Reserve

A two to three-hour drive outside of Mexico City, Mexico sits the Piedra Herrada Monarch Butterfly Reserve. It’s a magical place where millions and millions of monarch butterflies turn tree branches orange during their yearly migration.


It is hard to describe the awe one feels when watching butterflies roosting in clumps on a tree and then scatter about as a wind blows through. In fact, there are so many butterflies clinging together for warmth that the branches have been known to break from the weight.


The yearly migration begins in November when the monarch butterflies leave the cold winter weather in Canada behind and head south to a warmer climate in the Oyamel forests.

The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere is a World Heritage Site which protects Piedra Herrada and seven other reserves location around Mexico City. Only four of the eight are open to tourists, though. The best time to witness the migration is in January and February when the butterflies population is at its greatest.

The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere - Mexico bucket list

Submission and photo by Kim from Kim and Away

Chichen Itza

When you’re looking for the most amazing places to visit in Mexico, you can’t miss Chichen Itza. First of all, because it’s one of the Seven Wonders of the world, a bucket list attraction for many travellers! But also because it’s one of the largest and best kept Mayan ruins in the Yucatan peninsula.
The famous step pyramid, known as El Castillo or Temple of Kukulcan, is the most distinctive element of Chichen Itza, but it’s far from being the only one. There are courtyards, statues, rooms, courts and temples dotted all throughout the site that you can explore. I’m not usually a guide person, but I recommend hiring a guide when you arrive to Chichen Itza, as having someone tell you about the Mayan history will give more sense to the ruins you see.

I also recommend going early in the morning if possible. Chichen Itza is one of the most amazing places to visit in Mexico, but also one of the most popular, and it can get very busy in peak season.

Mexico bucket list

Photo and submission by Greta from Greta’s Travels

Campeche

If you’re planning a trip to Mexico, consider adding Campeche to your must-visit list. Despite being considered the safest state in Mexico, it’s still out of the touristy radar – but it won’t be for too long! San Francisco de Campeche is not just the only walled fortress city in Mexico. It’s a UNESCO heritage site that looks straight out of a fairy tale, with pedestrian and colourful cobblestoned streets that hide numerous pirate stories and offer endless photo opportunities.

To make the most out of your visit make sure to get yourself a traditional jipijapa hat, have a sunset walk on the Malecón, try the local seafood and stay in a traditional hacienda. Plus, do not miss the chance to visit its amazing archaeological sites: you can visit Edzná easily on a day trip, but save a couple of days if you want to visit Calakmul too. Totally recommended!

Lovely photo and text by Diana from Diana Miaus

Teotihuacan

Don’t make a trip to Mexico City without visiting Teotihuacan. The abandoned Mesoamerican city is home to one of the largest Pyramids in the world outside of Egypt. Of the two pyramids, only the Pyramid of the Sun is able to be climbed, the peak offering views of the Pyramid of the Moon on the outskirts of the city, and the ruins of the city stretching below. Parts of the climb are very steep and narrow, a guide rope is provided but it is a big climb, so not an activity for anyone who struggles with stairs.

Teotihuacan is a major tourist attraction, so it does get very busy so whether you organise a tour or make your own way out there the trick is to be there early. This is not only to beat some of the crowd, but even in winter the Mexican sun is strong and there is no shade on the Pyramid or in the ruins below. The peak of the Pyramid gets so busy you can barely move, and everyone is vying for the best photo locations, but the next level down is far less crowded and the photo vantage points are just as good.

Teotihuacan
My photo from Teotihuacan from our Mexico City & Riviera Maya trip

Text by Holly from Blogger of the Globe

Merida

Located on the gulf side of the Yucatan peninsula Merida is a brilliantly vibrant and beautiful city.

The main thoroughfare is the Paseo de Montejo Boulevard and it was home to the sisal kings who engaged Parisian architects to build the Paseo based on the Champs-Elysées. The Paseo leads into the Centro Historico which is dominated by a series of parks that are beautifully laid out and within them special events are held on a regular basis.

Meridanos love their culture and the squares are incredible places to simply sit and watch the world pass by. In these parks you can listen to traditional Trova music or watch folk dancers in their stunning embroidered huipiles dance to a full orchestra.

Every Sunday on the Paseo one lane is closed off for the Bici Ruta which is when hundreds of Meridanos come out with their families and ride bikes, skateboards or roller blade down the beautiful shaded roadway.

 Merida is well worth a visit, not only because it’s the safest city in Mexico but its vibrant atmosphere will enchant you.

Submission and photo by Faith from XYU and Beyond

Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres isn’t nearly as well-known as Riviera Maya hotspots such as Cancun and Playa del Carmen. But this small island on the northern Yucatan Peninsula is among the best places to visit on Mexico, in large part due to a natural attraction that occurs off their coasts every June through September. 

This unique phenomenon, known as the afuera, is the largest gathering of whale sharks in the world. More than 400 whale sharks were recorded feeding on spawn from a type of tuna called the little tunny off the coast of Isla Mujeres in 2011. Now thousands of tourists visit the area every summer in hopes of getting a chance to swim with these spotted behemoths. 
So just how ginormous are these gentle giants? Most whale sharks measure around 35 feet long and weigh approximately 20,000 pounds, swimming slowly in circles with mouths gaping open to filter-feed on krill and plankton near the water’s surface. So it should be crystal clear why this activity is widely regarded as a once-in-a-lifetime animal encounter (as long as you do it responsibly, with no touching or riding allowed). 

Once you’ve strapped into your life preserver, mask, snorkel, and fins, each person gets three chances to swim with the whale sharks. They move much faster than you think: At first, they may pass you by before you even get a chance to start kicking! But once you get the hang of it, it’s an incredible aquatic adventure that every animal lover should experience at least once.

Of course, snorkeling with whale sharks isn’t the only awesome thing to do on these islands. There’s also Scuba diving, fishing, kayaking, island-hopping tours, swimming in nearby cenotes, and much more. But if you’re going to visit the area, timing it so you’re there during the afuera is HIGHLY recommended! 

Submission by Bret Love from Green Global Travel

Isla Holbox

If you’re looking for the ultimate off the beaten path Mexico destination, then we strongly suggest that you check out Isla Holbox, an island paradise lying just off the northern coastline of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. 

We love Isla Holbox for many reasons, but one of the main reasons we love it so much is that it’s still largely raw and undeveloped with a small island town charm like you’ve never experienced before. There are not even cars on the island, so you’ll be getting around via a golf car taxi or renting a bike or cart yourself! But not to worry – there’s still plenty of restaurants and hotels for travellers. 

Isla Holbox offers the perfect mix, with pristine beaches and a laid back, colourful culture. Experience amazing adventures like swimming with whale sharks, kite surfing and swimming in the Yalahau Cenote. Check out the island’s incredible street art and local cuisines. Once you experience this island, you’ll just want to keep coming back!

Photo and submission by Hannah from Getting Stamped

Chiapas

The state of Chiapas may not be on most people’s radar when it comes to bucketlist destinations in Mexico but it really should be, especially for nature lovers. Situated in the southeast of Mexico, Chiapas has seven different Eco-systems making it one of the most diverse and interesting states in the country. 

Visitors can experience lush tropical jungle, epic waterfalls, majestic mountains, canyons and valleys, ancient ruins and unique towns. For those interested in history the archaeological site of the Palenque Mayan ruins are a must-see. Also, be sure to do a jungle walk while in Palenque to search for wildlife, waterfalls and hidden ruins. Speaking of waterfalls, Agua Azul is simply spectacular with the clear blue water cascading over terraced rocks creating cooling pools for swimming. 

Although Chiapas is a paradise for nature lovers there are also some interesting towns to explore. Palenque is a great spot to stay when visiting the ruins and the revitalized area of La Cañada offers charming cobblestone streets full of restaurants and shopping. The colorful city of San Cristobal is a popular home base for exploring Chiapas but it’s quickly becoming a destination in its own right. If you want a really unique experience make a trip to the Templo de San Juan in the autonomous town of Chamula. Here you will witness a bizarre blend of Catholic and indigenous beliefs. 

These are just a few of the things to see and do in Chiapas which is why we highly suggest adding it to your own bucketlist.

Submission and photo by Sarah from Live, Dream, Discover

Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta is a resort town with everything you want in a tropical paradise. With a beautiful coastline and plenty to see and do along the boardwalk, you will find plenty to see and do in this Mexican gem.

We took our first kid-free holiday since becoming parents to Puerto Vallarta and made the most of the added luxuries of an all-inclusive resort, however, there is accommodation to suit every budget and type of visit. 

During your stay, be sure to head into town for a stroll along the sculpture lined boardwalk, where you will find plenty of restaurants, bars and handmade stalls. There are markets to find local treasures throughout Puerto Vallarta.

The other highlight for us was a day trip to Las Caletas beach hideaway– a boat trip to a private island where you can enjoy food and drink, adventure activities, water sports and wildlife. The entertainment on the boat to and from the island was the best part of an amazing full-day excursion. 

Mexico bucket list
Photo by Alonso Reyes on Unsplash

Submission by Holly Connors from Four Around The World

I hope you enjoyed this post about 20+ epic destinations to visit in Mexico for your Mexico travel bucket list! Should you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask!

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1 Comment

Paul Hudson 30th October 2019 at 4:10 pm

Your article came out very, very good. I think you chose some excellent destinations. Great work!!

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