End of 2020 I decided to travel to Mexico again and I had my mind set to visit some off the beaten path places. After spending 3 months in Yucatan in 2019, I figured it was time to visit some other tourist destinations in Mexico.
In total I spent almost 2 months driving around Mexico in a rental car before I flew to Chiapas and crossed the border into Guatemala. More than 5,000 kilometer (3,500 miles) on the road brought me to almost 20 different States around the country.
For more Mexico travel inspiration have a look at my Instagram account @traveltomtom and find loads of pictures and videos of the below Mexico tourist destinations in my highlights.
In total I now visited now almost 50 out of more than 120 Pueblos Magicos, designated tourist destinations by the Ministry of Tourism in Mexico. These are my 20 favorite places to visit.
1. Mexico City - The Capital
Needless to say when flying into Mexico City don’t skip the bustling capital. I recommend you to stay in either the neighborhood of Roma or La Condesa, these are the hip, safe and trendy areas in the city. From there it is easy to go to all the best places to visit in Mexico City like the historic center with its palaces and cathedrals. My best travel tip for Mexico City is to go to one of the rooftop bars with great views over the main square, the Zocalo.
Also don’t miss the Palacio de Bellas Artes, even if you are not a fan of arts, the murals inside are impressive. Opposite there is a rooftop bar for an amazing view over the Palacio: one of the best photo spots in Mexico City.
Fancy a drink in the clouds? Then make sure you order a cocktail at the rooftop bar on top of the Sofitel. Sincerely one of the best things to do in Mexico City! The view is dazzling. Trust me, you will thank me later!
On top of all the standard places to visit in Mexico City I have a cool off the beaten path destination for you close to Mexcio city: Aqueduct of Padre Tembleque.
2. Teotihuacan - City of Gods
About an hour drive outside of Mexico City you will find one of the biggest temple complexes in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The pyramids at Teotihuacan will blow your mind and you are even allowed to climb to the top of the biggest one: Pyramid of the Sun.
Teotihuacan is an ancient city dating back to around 100 BC, but knows exactly when it was built and by who. Yet they know it was one of the biggest cities in the pre-Columbian Americas and was believed to have a population of 125,000.
Go early to avoid the crowds and if you really want to know everything about what was happening here back in the days it is wise to get a guide for an hour or so. It will cost you around $20 but it is worth getting to know a little more about the Avenue of the Dead, the Pyramid of the Moon and many more cool facts.
Unfortunately I visited Teotihuacan during the Corona pandemic and I was NOT allowed to climb the Pyramids. Well I guess being one of the only 10 tourists at 10:30 am was quite unique though.
3. Riviera Maya - Caribbean Beaches
I didn’t include Playa del Carmen, Cancun or Tulum in this list, but chose Riviera Maya as one of the top places to visit in Mexico. It is up to you to pick your favorite. All of these incredible beach destinations are within a couple hours from each other.
Playa del Carmen is for the ones that like to party, Cancun for a standard family beach resort and Tulum for the hipsters. You will find something for everyone in the Riviera Maya. The island of Cozumel is just a 30 minute boat ride away and there are amazing things to do in Isla Mujeres as well.
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4. Isla Holbox - Best Island in Mexico
One of my favorite islands in the world get a separate mention in this list. The moment I arrived at this (almost) car free island I fell in love and found it hard to believe. The uncomplicated vibe is a blessing. The sandy roads all lead to the beach on this tiny but famous Mexico tourist destination.
This is also the place where you can swim with those massive whale sharks and if you are lucky you can witness the bioluminescent plankton. The most magical sunsets are for free, cold beers costs less than $2, the island life vibe is unrivalled here in Isla Holbox.
Little side note: the 4G and WiFi situation is horrible, so be prepared to go offline. Click here for more than 40 Isla Holbox Travel Tips.
5. Puebla - Colorful UNESCO City
The vibrant capital of the State with the same name houses one of the most impressive Cathedrals I have seen around the world. From the outside it looks like a pretty decent size cathedral, but the interior is mind blowing. The outstanding Puebla cathedral is one of those unknown places to visit in Mexico!
The city of Puebla is located about 100 kilometer (60 miles) southeast of Mexico City and historic center is declared a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987. The bustling main square is dotted with restaurants, bars and souvenir shops and colorful houses. Looking for the best photo spots in Puebla then go to Calle 6 Sur, a Mexico tourist attraction that made Puebla Insta famous.
Also don’t miss the Chapel of the Virgen del Rosario when visiting Puebla, it is another masterpiece and often called the Eight Wonder of the World.
6. Cholula - Biggest Pyramid In The World
Nearby Puebla you will find the Pueblo Magico of Cholula, which is another one of those top places to visit in Mexico. Cholula houses the largest pyramid structure by volume in the world. Yes, larger than the ones in Egypt.
Unfortunately most of this pre-hispanic archeological site is not excavated and therefore the pyramid is not as impressive as you might expect. Cholula is known for its numerous churches but the most impressive one is actually built on top of the pyramid. The views from here over the nearby famous and active Popocatepetl volcano are impressive.
7. Taxco - The White Silver City
When talking about my favorite places to visit in Mexico Taxco is definitely in my top 3. This white city perched in the hills of the state of Guerrero stole my heart in no time. The steep narrow streets leading uphill to the main square are filled with souvenir shops, boutique stores and jewelry shops.
The houses in this charming picturesque city are predominantly white which gives it that extra cute feel. Taxco is famous for its silverware and people come from all over Mexico to buy jewelry here.
Get lost in the narrow streets, find hidden rooftop bars, there are a couple cool ones around the main square, hit the local market and take one of the traditional taxi’s: Volkswagen Beetle, of course these are also white.
Take a VW Beetle to the Christ sculpture on top of the hill behind Taxco to admire the astonishing views over the city and then slowly wander back into the city center through a numerous set of staircases.
Because Taxco is located in the hills temperatures are always mild which makes it a perfect place to visit in Mexico all year round. Taxco is located 170 kilometers (106 miles) southwest of Mexico City.
8. Puerto Vallarta - Pacific Coast Beach Destination
Often named one of the best cities to visit in Mexico. Puerto Vallarta has the charm of a historic center close to the beach. When looking for places to stay in Puerto Vallarta you will find amaing hotels scattered around the coastline. Punta Mita and Sayulita are among those places that are also considered Puerto Vallarta holiday destination as well.
Puerto Vallarta has more of a charming city vibe, Punta Mita has much less soul, but is considered beaches and luxury resorts as where Sayulita a couple miles down the coast is the place where hippies frolic.
On top of being a top beach destination in Mexico, one of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta is a boat trip to the nearby Islas Marietas National Park. Although visitors are not allowed anymore to set foot on the protected islands there is one exception: the insta famous hidden beach. Definitely a unique Mexico tourist attraction but due to its popularity it is open to a limited amount of people 3 times a week.
When I visited Islas Marietas hidden beach was closed, but it was still worth going. The flora and fauna is impressive! We saw dolphins, entered caves and also spotted the rare blue-footed booby bird. Totally recommended when visiting Puerto Vallarta!
9. Merida - Safest city in Mexico
In 2019 I spent 3 weeks in Merida, the capital of the state of Yucatan. I intended to go for a couple days but fell in love and stayed. The city has such a laid-back vibe that I couldn’t leave. Weekends in Merida are magical as there are parties everywhere and because of the hot climate people are all out an about on the streets.
Sunday mornings the city center is closed for traffic until 12:30 and people bike and wander around the empty streets. You can rent a bike everywhere. For more Merida Mexico tips click on the link to read my full article about this charming city in Yucatan.
You can also rent a car for under $5 a day and explore the surroundings. There are several cool cenotes to explore in the area as well some other cool day trips: Uxmal Ruins and Izamal are two amazing places to visit in Yucatan.
10. Monterrey - Excellent hiking & Nightlife
Big city life up North in Mexico doesn’t disappoint. The rolling hills surround the city are for excellent hiking and the charming historic center is an amazing Mexico destination for nightlife. May be not the most pretty city in Mexico, but it surely has an amazing vibe.
Although the surrounding landscapes in Monterrey look stunning, I will be honest with you I was not really impressed with the city. There aren’t that many spectacular things to do. I would recommend you to walk down Paseo Santa Lucia, an artificial river with bridges, green meadows, restaurants and patios. Take a boat trip around and admire the stunning landscapes.
11. Guadalajara - Amazing City Center
The number one reason I visited Guadalajara was the only World Heritage Site in the city: Instituto Cultural Cabañas. Located in the historic center of Guadalajara. This historical building, opened in 1791 served as a hospital, convent and orphanage over the years and is now a museum. The contemporary arts inside was not my thing, but the dome with the man of fire and the huge frescos make this a place worth visiting.
From the Hospicio Cabañas walk into the city center and you will stumble upon one massive square after the other. The historical buildings aren't as colonial as in other cities in Mexico, still very impressive. Guadalajara left a good impression on my short visit. They also say Guadalajara is where you can find the best looking women of Mexico.
From Guadalajara you can take the Tequila express, a train ride through rural Mexico ending in the famous village of Tequila. There are half-day and day trips available. Or one way tickets… :)
12. Tequila - Best Vibes in Mexico
Definitely don’t skip Tequila! One of my favorite and most surprising places I visited in Mexico on my road trip. I had never thought I would enjoy this place so much. Make sure you do a Tequila tour in one of the many Tequila tours. I did one at the Tequila d’Reyes Fabrica a couple blocks away from the Main square.
The vibe in this town is super vibrant and you can feel the happiness of the locals and the visitors. There are restaurants and lively bars all across the village. I really loved visiting Tequila! And would put it high up on my list of best tourist places in Mexico.
A cool day trip from Tequila is to visit the nearby Guachimontones, an impressive archeological site in Jalisco not far from Tequila. I named it the Machu Picchu of Mexico. Decided for yourself! ;)
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13. Waterfalls in San Luis de Potosi - Tamul
The lush green state of San Luis de Potosi is a perfect Mexico destination when looking for natural beauty! There are plenty of waterfalls to discover as well and the main tourist attraction here is the Tamul Waterfall.
It is already a little adventure on how to get there as you drive over an unpaved road for a little while until you hit the end of the road. Then it is a 35 minute hike down to the river that you will cross by boat. Then there is another 15 minute walk to the top of the waterfall. You can go down to the bottom of the waterfall as well on a steep path through the forest. It is well worth going on this adventure!
Other amazing places to visit in San Luis de Pototsi are the waterfalls El Salto (below) and Minas Viejas.
14. Durango - Mezcal Desert Life
Totally off the beaten path in Mexico but an amazing tourist destination that you should not skip. Around Durango you will find numerous Mezcalerias, that happily take you on a tour to show you how Mezcal is made. Of course they will also let you try this famous Mexican beverage.
Totally recommended to stay in Durango: Urajan de Luna Hotel. It is located in a quiet area 20 minutes from Durango, next to Nombre de Dios, another Pueblo Magico.
At this wellness hotel I was introduce to the Mayan ceremony Temazcal. Nothing to do with the drink, this spiritual journey is performed in an iglo or a sweat lodge. Hot volcanic rocks are placed in the center and water is poured over to create steam.
It is all about letting yourself go in chanting and playing instruments. I can tell you almost 2 hours later I was totally drained, the energy flowed out of my body like never before.
There are also some amazing waterfalls in the middle of the desert: El Saltito.
14. Paricutin Volcano & San Juan Parangaricutiro
If the colonial capital of the state of Michoacan isn’t enough reason to visit this state then the youngest volcano in the world: Paricutin, surely is. Only in 1943 this volcano suddenly surged from a corn field and for 9 years long it spews ashrocks and lava, before it became dormant. It left a 424 meter (1,391 ft) high cone.
Paricutin became a tourist attraction and you can hike up to its rim. But an equally interesting tourist attraction is the church of San Juan Parangaricutiro. This village was completely burried in lava, only the church sticks out. A pretty damn cool place to visit in Mexico.
15. Chichen Itza - World Wonder
This list wouldn’t be complete without one of the 7 World Wonders: Chichen Itza. No need to introduce the most famous Maya site and its majestic pyramids. Go early, very early, to avoid crowds. I have once bene in line for more than 1 hour. Entrance fee nowadays is $25, but it is worth it.
When visiting Chichen Itza combine it with one of the many cenotes around Valladolid. Click on the link to see the best ones to visit.
16. El Tajin - Well Kept Maya Secret
This pretty much unknown pre-Columbian archeological site in the state of Veracruz. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is often described as a better version of Teotihuacan. Surely a more off the beaten path Mexico tourist destination, but the pyramids of this old Mayan city are just as impressive.
17. Guanajuato - Vibrant Mysterious City
When I arrived in this colorful city I knew straight away that I would like it. This colonial city with its mysterious underground tunnels that lead you into the city center is definitely among the best cities to visit in Mexico.
There are some impressive historical buildings around and at night the main square comes alive like nowhere else. Tourists and locals mingle on the patios while mariachis are there for the bustling vibe.
One of the best things to do in Guanajauto is to wander through the narrow alleyways up to the statue of Pipila which is looming large over the city. The views from up here are incredible. There is also a funicular to leads to the top of the hill.
Recommend place to stay is Hotel Boutique 1850 right in the heart of the historic center on the main square. I stayed here for 2 nights and very much enjoyed. Felt sad leaving this place. It also has one of the best rooftop bars in the city with exceptional views over Guanajuato.
18. San Miguel de Allende - Laid-back UNESCO City
This Mexico tourist destination is extremely popular with retired Americans, but nevertheless it is very much worth going. The historic center is declared a UNESCO World Heritage site and when walking around here you will understand why.
All the blocks around the main square are completely car free, which is a blessing. The main cathedral is the most eye catching tourist attraction, but so are the narrow streets and the relaxed vibe of this colonial town.
Grab a drink in one of the many bars, some have exceptionally good views like: Quince rooftop bar. San Miguel de Allende can be combined perfectly with a trip to Guanajuato as it is less than 1 hour apart.
19. Canyon Sumidero - Spectacular Deep Canyon
For most travelers a trip to Chiapas is not complete without visiting Canyon Sumidero. The walls of this canyon get up to 1,000 meter (3,280 ft) high. To see the canyon you will have to take a boat trip. The canyon is located next to the Pueblo Magico Chiapa de Corzo and the Airport of Tuxtla Gutierrez.
Trips can be arranged on the spot and cost about $10 per person in a small boat with 20 people. Private tours are expensive. Tours take about 2 hours in total. There are also a bunch of viewing platforms on the top of Sumidero Canyon.
20. San Cristobal de las Casas - Backpackers Heaven
Probably one of the most laid-back hippie towns I have visited and when looking for things to do in Mexico add this town. This typical Mexican mountain village is a hippies favorite. Very colonial and colorful, full of shops, restaurants, bars and travel agencies. San Cristobal de las Casas is a famous place for backpackers.
There are some very impressive waterfalls around and day trips to the famous Palenque Mayan temples. From San Cristobal de las Casas there are also busses that cross into Guatemala.
Go off the beaten path in Mexico
When I tell people I went road tripping in Mexico the first question that I always get: Is it safe to travel in Mexico? My answer: you watch too much television! Yes I get why you think Mexico is not safe, but series on Netflix are NOT a representation of real life!
If you visit the most popular places to go in Mexico Im sure you are going to be totally fine. The best thing about my 2 month road trip was that I got to see off the beaten places, small villages in where I met the most friendly people.
Try local food in local restaurants and visit unknown Pueblos Magicos, you will be surprised with the unknown Mexico tourist attractions you encounter!