Mexico Highlights: My Top 5 Travel Experiences
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Mexico is one of my favorite countries I have ever traveled. Why? Because the people there are so nice, the culture is interesting, and there is just so much to do and see! Actually, the possibilities of things to do in Mexico can be overwhelming so I have narrowed it down to my top 5 Mexico highlights to help others pinpoint specific places to check out and experiences to plan.
These are my top Mexico highlights from my month-long backpacking trip there. I’m sure after reading them you too will understand why I loved Mexico so much!
Top 5 Mexico Highlights
1. Scuba Diving Cenotes in Tulum
First on my list of Mexico highlights has to be scuba diving in the Cenotes!
What are Cenotes? Cenotes are essentially holes in the earth which are filled with water. Some are large round craters, some are more of a cave system, and some are in the jungle encircled with mangroves. Cenotes are said to have been once cave systems in the ocean many years ago when the entire Yucatan Penisula was underwater. In fact, the world’s largest underwater cave system has recently just been discovered near Tulum!
Today the thousands of Cenotes in the Yucatan area are mostly used for tourism. People swim, snorkel, and scuba dive in them!
We went swimming and snorkeling in a couple around the Tulum area and were really impressed. This led us to think that scuba diving could be a unique experience. And that it was! Scuba diving in a cave system that is mostly fresh water is a lot different to scuba diving in the ocean.
Things to know about scuba diving in cenotes
First of all, it isn’t cheap. But that being said, if you have money to spend on anything then this should be it! Expect to pay about $150 USD for two dives in two different Cenotes including a guide and the equipment.
It is possible to get your PADI scuba license in Tulum and dive in various Cenotes while doing so. But, this is going to be more costly than most other places.
If you are already PADI certified you will likely be asked about your recent dive history and number of dives to determine which Cenotes will be best suited for you. Some of the cenotes involve longer areas where there is no access to the surface for a lengthy distance, very narrow spaces, and zero light. Being able to control your buoyancy is important so you can fit through the caves and not hurt yourself by smashing into rocks.
The thing that is best about Cenote diving is that every Cenote is extremely different from one to the next. In one we were under the roots of trees and saw many fish, while another was filled with white rock and was more of a cave.
Honestly, scuba diving in the Cenotes was my favorite scuba diving experience to date, and therefore it definitely was a Mexico highlight for me!
2. Drinking Tequila in the town of Tequila
When I was in Mexico I was surprised to find out that the liquor Tequila is actually named after the town in which it was first created.
Only 1.5 hours from the city of Guadalajara there is a small town called Tequila. There, one can see the Agave plant growing literally everywhere! Agave is the plant in which Tequila is made from.
The town of Tequila is small, has a vibrant town square, and the friendliest locals. We booked a nice hotel right in town for only $30 a night. There are places to drink tequila everywhere, and the locals will love to have a chat with any international tourist.
While we were in Tequila there was even a festival on with street food and parades and music and dancing. I loved the town itself and could’ve easily spent weeks relaxing there.
Going on a Tequila Distillery Tour
I am personally not a fan of drinking Tequila, but that didn’t stop me from going on a tour of one of the distilleries. There are several different tequila distilleries in and around town. If you love Tequila then I would recommend booking a tour which goes to a couple different distilleries. But, if you are like me and are interested in the process and history then consider just booking a tour of one distillery through the distillery itself.
We went to Casa Suaza distillery and paid 160 MXN for an hour-long tour. The tour included transport out of town to the Agave farm as well as back to town to the distillery. We tasted some very expensive tequilas which made me realize that is wasn’t tequila that I didn’t like, but cheap tequila specifically.
The Tequila distillery tours are great to learn about the process of making Tequila, what makes a good or expensive Tequila, and the history of the discovery of Tequila.
Overall, visiting the town of Tequila is not something that many international tourists do, and therefore it is one of the unique things to do of my Mexico highlights list!
3. Partying in Mexico City
Many people avoid Mexico City when visiting Mexico. It is common for people to fly in and out of Mexico City International Airport while not spending any time in Mexico City at all! This is mostly due to the stigma that Mexico City is dangerous, which is partly true. Mexico City is a city of 22 million people and many different neighborhoods. Some neighborhoods are perfectly safe while others require a bit more caution.
We were lucky for our visit to Mexico City because we knew a local there (well, not really, he was a friend of a friend.) His name is Salvador (aka BBY Jesus) and he is a well-known DJ in Mexico. Salvador took us out on a couple of occasions to clubs and events. Being able to party in such a huge city was easily one of my Mexico highlights.
What we learned was that the people of Mexico City love to party! But besides that, they are friendly and many speak English (especially in the safer/richer parts of town.) Locals were excited to speak to us, find out where we were from, why we were there, and of course, have shots of Mezcal (a typical tequila-like liquor) with us!
Many of the most popular clubs and events in Mexico City don’t start until after midnight and will go until the sunrises. Certain clubs that do close at a reasonable hour seem to always be located close to another bar that stays open much later
For choosing a safe location in Mexico City consider checking out the neighborhoods of Chapultepec Park, Condesa, Roma, La Rambla, San Angel, or the city center. Like most big cities in Latin America, only go out after dark in groups, don’t drink so much that you don’t have your wits about you anymore, ensure you know where your hostel is, and don’t bring any valuables such as your passport out with you.
Mexico City also always has awesome events on for nightlife so check out the Mexico City website for the latest parties and pick one for your own time in Mexico City.
4. Swimming in waterfalls near Palenque
Located just a short drive outside of the town of Palenque are some incredible waterfalls! Some of the waterfalls are great to look at and some are perfect for swimming, making this easily one of my Mexico highlights.
My personal favorite was called Roberto Barrios. This one was great because it featured several different waterfalls, all with their own swimming spots. The water was an icy turquoise color everywhere you could see.
The waterfalls all connected to one another and were accessible by a small windy trail through the forest. Young local boys guided tourists around the waterfalls and forest showing them good swimming spots, natural waterslides, and overall, just keeping an eye out to make sure everyone stays safe. These boys don’t speak English (although some of the older people who work in the area do) but guide you around with a smile pointing to different spots and demonstrating what is safe in each area.
Roberto Barrios was like a natural waterpark, complete with pools, slides, and jumps! All the while it only cost 20 MXN entrance and then a tip for any of the “guides” working around the place that helped you out.
Roberto Barrios was also accessible by a 30-minute bus ride from the center of Palenque town.
For more information on what things cost in Mexico check out this blog on the prices in Mexico here
Some of the other famous waterfalls in the area include Mishol Ha and Agua Azul. We visited both of these in one day on a tour as the public transport to get to each location separately worked out to almost the same price at 160 MXN. Out of the two, I preferred Misol Ha as it was a large beautiful waterfall with a cave behind it to check out. Aqua Azul seemed like an overly touristic and smaller version of Roberto Barrios.
Everyone I met who made it to the waterfalls near Palenque was amazed. Swimming in the waterfalls just had to be one of my Mexico highlights as I would recommend every traveler to go there for themselves!
5. Going on a taco food tour in Puerto Vallarta
One of my favorite things about traveling Mexico was the food, and in particular, the tacos! Daniel also loved the tacos in Mexico and would definitely agree that this was a Mexico highlight.
The tacos aren’t exactly what you would imagine though, they are better! They typically are small soft shell tortillas complete with pork or beef cooked on a spit or boiled in a broth. They are served with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and sometimes cilantro and pineapple. There is always a selection of sauces to choose from, some very hot and some mild. Sometimes there is even guacamole!
I know what you’re thinking, “where is the minced beef, where is the cheese, where is the salsa?” Well, that is all technically tex-mex and not authentic Mexican at all. Don’t be disappointed though, just, believe me, the authentic stuff is so much better!
While we tried many different taco stands and restaurants during our stay in Mexico, nothing beat an entire day of eating tacos in a local neighborhood in Puerto Vallarta. When I signed up for a full-day taco tour I originally thought ‘how could you possibly try so many different tacos’ but by the end of the day I was astounded by the variety.
Sure the majority of tacos in Mexico are pork or beef, but they are all cooked different, flavored different, and come with completely different sauces. Each family who makes tacos has their own special recipes. These recipes are passed down through generations and kept top secret (sometimes with only the one most responsible child given the recipe.)
Throughout the taco tour, we saw many different families making and selling tacos. Tacos are a serious business in Mexico and a profitable one at that! For example, one food stall did pork tacos and went through the meat of entire pig in a matter of a couple hours, they do this every day making thousands of tacos during the peak lunch hour.
Since Puerto Vallarta is on the coast, seafood tacos are also very common and inexpensive there. We were taken to try a few different fish and seafood tacos. One we tried was a large deep-fried jalapeno with a king prawn in the middle!
I left the taco tour completely stuffed! It was so much fun to learn about the different types of tacos and actually have an English translation of what we were trying (rather than just guessing when we were on our own.) The tour we went on was by a company called Vallarta Eats Food Tours and goes for $50 USD per person.
Eating tacos on the taco tour in Puerto Vallarta was easily one of Mexico highlights.
Writing about my Mexico highlights just makes me want to go back right now! Mexico was such a magical place and truly did offer such a diverse list of things to do and see. These are, of course, just my personal highlights but you may find more by visiting the Mexico category here.
Have you been to Mexico? What were your Mexico highlights? Tell me below in the comments!
February 25, 2019