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22 BEST Places to Visit in Mexico in 2024: From Hidden Gems to Top Attractions

22 BEST Places to Visit in Mexico in 2024: From Hidden Gems to Top Attractions

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Gorgeous, gorgeous Mexico – lucky you to be planning a trip to this culturally and naturally diverse country! Home to world-famous sights like Chichen Itza (one of the New Seven Wonders of the World), the mighty Teotihuacan, which was one of the Mayan world’s biggest cities, and the Copper Canyon (which is four times the size of the Grand Canyon!). 

But there’s so much more to this sun-soaked nation than Mayan Ruins (even though they are pretty epic) – for one, Mexico’s beach resorts are some of the best in the world (I’m looking at you, Cancun and Playa del Carmen) but the cities here shouldn’t be forgotten either (especially Mexico City and Oaxaca)! Both are vibrant, bustling places and they could easily compete for (and win) the title of the best city in the Americas.

After living and traveling across this country ourselves, we’ve found the huge variety of things to do in Mexico ensures you won’t be left twiddling your thumbs on a vacation here, no matter what part you choose to visit.

On the Yucatan Peninsula, it’s all about the crystal-clear ocean and white sandy beaches, so as you can guess, the best things to do here include swimming with whale sharks in Playa del Carmen and scuba diving the second-biggest reef in the world in Cozumel

While on the West Coast, places like Cabo and Puerto Vallarta attract hoards of tourists, and for good reason. This part of Mexico has some of the best sunsets in North America, and the waters here are teeming with whales! And I just have to include Tequila as one of my must-visit places in Mexico – it’s famous for, yep, you guessed right, tequila!

I’m going to stop there and let you get into this incredibly detailed blog post. Honestly, I could write all day about Mexico and its awesomeness. It’s a country we keep coming back to again and again and still finding something new to love each time!

So, here are the 22 best places to visit in Mexico. As you’ll find out, each destination is so different, but I just know after reading this blog, you’ll fall in love with them all like we did!

Don’t have time to read the full article? Our absolute favorite places to visit in Mexico are:

  1. Cabo San Lucas – a glitzy beach resort town with a gorgeous coastline and a hot nightlife. We recommend this sunset dinner cruise so you can see the famous “Arch” rock formation in the sea and watch the sky change colors.
  2. Sayulita – known for surfing and fantastic beaches, Sayulita is a relaxed place close to Puerto Vallarta where you can slide into that vacation life. Tour the Instagram-worthy streets on a photo tour or drink a margarita bigger than your head (it’s HUGE!) at El Costeño.
  3. Puerto Escondido – one of my favorite places in the whole country for the unique experiences on offer! Help release baby turtles into the ocean (they are adorable!) or take a night tour to swim with bioluminescent plankton – it’s like swimming in a glittering night sky!
  4. Isla Mujeres – an island escape off the coast of Cancun, Isla Mujeres is known for crystal clear waters. This makes snorkeling at the epic underwater museum or scuba diving here if you’re certified a must! Plus, watch the sunrise from Punta Sur – the furthest east point in Mexico.
  5. Tulum – this is cenote paradise! These natural pools are gorgeous and you have to visit a few so this 3 cenote tour will be your guide. The spectacular clifftop Tulum Ruins and the nearby Mystika exhibit are also must-sees.

BEST Places to Visit in Mexico

1. Los Cabos (Cabo San Lucas)

Sunset cruise in Cabo San Lucas
The natural rock formation, The Arch, in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
  • Location:  On the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula, in the state of Baja California Sur. 
  • What is it best known for: This glitzy beach town is famous for all things water-based thanks to its calm, crystal-clear waters, but it’s especially known for scuba diving and swimming with whale sharks. The nightlife here is also super fun!

The first up on our list of the best places to visit in Mexico is a gem! Cabo San Lucas, or “Los Cabos” for short, is one of the most popular cruise ports in the country. Located on the southern tip of Baja California, direct flights arrive daily from major destinations. So, as you can imagine, it’s a bustling tourist hub and is one of the most-visited parts of Mexico.

Its popularity comes as no surprise to us – I mean, Cabo has some of the most beautiful coastlines in North America, it’s filled with luxury resorts, and it has a fun, vibrant nightlife. It’s the perfect place to come to get away from it all. 

Cabo has a buzz that we just fell in love with on our first visit there, and even though it’s super touristy, it still maintains an authentic Mexican vibe. As for the best things to do in this glitzy beach resort town, scuba diving, joining a sunset cruise, and swimming with whale sharks are our top picks! 

Scuba diving and Cabo go hand-in-hand thanks to its location on the Sea of Cortez, one of the most biodiverse oceans in the world. On a dive here, you’ll likely get up close to manta rays, sea turtles, seals, and huge schools of fish! 

Experienced divers will adore Cabo, and I recommend booking an experience like this spectacular 2-tank diving tour. You’ll go on two dives inside Cabo San Lucas Bay and one of the dive sites is home to the famed giant underwater cliffs that go down 300-600 feet (91-183 meters)! This particular tour leaves from the Marina in Cabo and costs $135 USD per person.

If you’re brand new to diving but want to give it a try without getting certified ahead of time, you can go on a beginner’s scuba diving experience. For $135 USD per person, you’ll get a 4-hour guided dive experience that takes you into the waters of Cabo San Lucas Marine Park. 

As I mentioned above, hopping on a cruise in Cabo is another fantastic way of seeing this glorious coastal region and the famous El Arco, or “the Arch” which is an iconic giant rock formation in the sea. For me, a sunset cruise is the way to go! They’re just so romantic. Just picture yourself with your loved one sipping champagne while the sky changes to various shades of pink! This particular 2.5-hour-long tour offers an all-you-can-eat buffet plus unlimited drinks from the open bar all for $98 USD per person!

A truly bucket-list-worthy thing to do in Cabo is to swim with whale sharks, aka the world’s biggest fish. And despite their scary-sounding name, whale sharks are harmless as their teeth are so tiny they can only eat tiny fish and plankton, so they’re no threat to humans! 

So, if you’re visiting between October and April (that’s whale shark season here), then be sure to book this whale shark snorkeling tour. In the morning, you’ll drive through the Baja California Sur desert before arriving at La Paz and hopping on the boat. Then it’s ocean time, where you’ll spend hours snorkeling alongside these magnificent creatures. Afterward, lunch and a visit to the iconic Hotel California in La Paz are included in the rate of $259 USD per person.

Luckily, if you’re a wildlife lover, there’s another type of whale that you can spot in the waters here at specific times of the year. Between December and mid-March, you’ll have the opportunity to witness humpback whales playing in the waters here! During these months, you can take a humpback whale-watching tour like this 2.5-hour tour that costs $99 USD per person. The groups are limited to 10 people, guaranteeing an intimate experience. This excursion is led by a marine biologist guide who will take you to iconic locations like El Arco and the sea lion colony while you search for whales. 

Where to stay in Cabo:

Cabo has so many options for great places to stay! If you want easy access to the best spots, the Mayan Monkey Hostel is right downtown and only five minutes from the beach. You can keep the party going with activities like DJ nights or just hang out in the outdoor pool. If you don’t mind sharing a room, dorm beds are around $30 USD a night, or private rooms are in the $150 USD range. You can book on either Booking.com or Hostelworld.com.

For a more luxurious experience, the Playa Grande Resort is located on a private beach! It has beautiful Mexican décor and tiled floors, not to mention three pools. In your room, there are full kitchens or kitchenettes and balconies to soak in the views. You can choose an all-inclusive option or enjoy all the great local food around here. Rooms are available on Booking.com for $300-$400 USD a night for just the room or $400-$500 USD for the all-inclusive package.

2. Puerto Vallarta

A catamaran in Puerto Vallarta Mexico at sunset
A catamaran in Puerto Vallarta at sunset!
Fire dancers on stage at the Rhythms of the Night show in Puerto Vallarta in Mexico
Fire dancers at the famous Rhythms of the Night show!
  • Location: Nestled along the western coast of Mexico on the Pacific Ocean, in the state of Jalisco.
  • What is it best known for: Having some of the best beaches in Mexico (hello Playa de Los Muertos) and the opportunity to swim with wild dolphins!

Unlike a lot of other tourist resorts in Mexico, Puerto Vallarta hangs on tight to its traditional Mexican charm. Puerto Vallarta is very safe and it’s filled with cobblestone streets, white-washed houses, and a stunning coastal boardwalk that is the town’s centerpiece (the Malecon).

And don’t get me started on the beaches here – some of the best beaches in Mexico, in my humble opinion! And when you consider that the region receives, on average, 360 days of sunshine a year and that the scuba diving in Puerto Vallarta is out-of-this-world – adding it to our list of the best places to visit in Mexico becomes a no-brainer! 

I’m gonna start off with what I think is the best thing to do in Puerto Vallarta (and no, it doesn’t involve the beach!). The Rhythms of the Night dinner show is an impressive combination of acrobatics, theatrics, music, and dance. Would you believe the show was created by the co-founder of Cirque de Soleil? But it’s so much more than just a show – it’s an experience!

This memorable night starts with a sunset cruise in a catamaran on the Bay of Banderas. On this 1-hour cruise, you can enjoy some drinks while watching the breathtaking sunset. At certain times of year, you may even see whales on the ride out of Puerto Vallarta! Then, when you arrive at Las Caletas (a private beach), you’ll be seated in the theater to watch the show. After the show, you’ll be taken to one of the many restaurants on the beach to enjoy a romantic candle-lit buffet dinner. All that for $159 USD when you book online is a great deal, in my opinion!

Moving onto another awesome Puerto Vallarta activity, and this one is short and sweet – hiking 15 minutes up to Mirador de la Cruz, aka, the best viewpoint in Puerto Vallarta. From this prime vantage point, you can enjoy the panoramic views over Puerto Vallarta and the ocean. Keep in mind the hike, although short, involves hiking up (and down) over 200 steps!  

Swimming with wild dolphins was another of our favorite Puerto Vallarta tours. And this particular excursion is the one we did, and we highly recommend it as it’s an ethical tour. The company is committed to the research and conservation of dolphins in this area. Led by a marine biologist, you’ll be taken by boat out to see the resident bottlenose dolphin pod. Along the way, keep your eyes peeled for orcas and sea turtles. Your snorkeling equipment is included, and prices for the tour are $88 USD per person. 

Another fun water-based activity in Puerto Vallarta (and one we LOVED!) is a catamaran tour to the pristine Islas Marietas, a short distance from the town. Naturally beautiful and quiet – these islands are the perfect place to relax! 

This full-day catamaran tour for $99 USD is one of the best day trip options from Puerto Vallarta. The highly-rated tour takes you out to the islands, where you will enjoy kayaking, paddleboarding, and snorkeling. Some of the highlights are exploring different caverns and archways by kayak or paddleboard and then seeing fish, turtles, and other sea life while snorkeling! You’ll also stop at Majahuitas Beach, which is very secluded and tranquil.

The party scene in Puerto Vallarta gets an A+ from us, and one of our favorite areas to grab some drinks or food is the Romantic Zone, a fun and lively place with lots of great restaurants, bars, and hotels. It’s also less touristy, meaning you’ll get to hang out with locals, and it’s also a very inclusive area with the LGBTQ+ community. One of the best things to do here is to head out and watch a drag show, the most popular being the Blue Chairs Resort and The Palm Cabaret and Bar. The shows usually last for around 1 to 2 hours.

And if you love craft beer (like us), there are several great breweries in Puerto Vallarta that are certain to entice you in. We love Monozon BrewingLos Muertos and El Terrible

And finally, we can’t mention Puerto Vallarta and not include Panchos Takos, home to the BEST Al Pastor tacos in Mexico. It’s a small, humble Puerto Vallarta restaurant, but you won’t walk past it as it always has a huge queue! On that note, if food is your vice then be sure to join one of the best food tours in Puerto Vallarta!

Bailey poses for a photos with Playa Camarones, Puerto Vallarta
Nothing beats low season in Puerto Vallarta!

Where to stay in Puerto Vallarta:

You could spend your entire vacation here and luckily there are so many great hotels in Puerto Vallarta to choose from. But if you’re overwhelmed by the variety, I’ll help you decide where to stay in Puerto Vallarta with a few of my favorites!

If you’re traveling on a budget, I’ll let you in a secret, the Oasis Hostel is so nice! They are the traditional dorms or you can opt for a private room. All the rooms have AC (a huge plus!) and really nice decor. It’s about 5 km (3 mi) to get downtown, but that’s really easy if you’ve rented a car in Puerto Vallarta, or you can also rent a bike straight from the hostel. A one-night stay here starts at just $19 USD including breakfast! You can book your space on either Hostelworld or Booking.com.

For an all-inclusive style vacation, the Hilton Vallarta Riviera is one of the best resorts here. They are 7 restaurants, a spa, pool, and gym. Oh and a private beach too! The beds are super comfy and you can even get a room with a private jet tub looking out to the ocean! There’s evening entertainment and a kids’ club for the little ones. Rooms here are available online for $350-$650 USD per night, but you can usually find deals on the lower end of that on Booking.com.

Related Read: You’ll likely combine your vacation to Puerto Vallarta with a visit to Sayulita (next on our list), so check out my blog post on how to get from Puerto Vallarta to Sayulita!

3. Sayulita

Bailey poses for a photo on a famous street in Sayulita Mexico on a photo tour from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
“Instagram Street” is so colorful!
Bailey poses for a photo on a famous street in Sayulita Mexico on a photo tour from Puerto Vallarta
“Instagram Street” is so colorful!

Sayulita is a famous surf town on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, and it’s got a magic to it that I just fell in love with. In fact, Sayulita was named a “pueblo magico” by the Mexican Government, which is quite the feat as it means this sleepy beach town provides visitors with cultural richness, historical relevance, cuisine, art, and great hospitality. In other words, you’re certain to have a “magical experience” in Sayulita!

Surfing isn’t the only thing to do in this renowned surf town. You can also go cruising through the jungle on a heart-racing ATV tour, relax at a stunning beach (our favorite is Los Muertos), and take plenty of photos at the aptly named Instagram Street (yep, it’s actually called that!).

This ATV tour was one of my favorite activities in Sayulita because not only will you get to speed through the muddy jungle, but you’ll also get to drive along gorgeous beaches in this high-powered vehicle. It’s $199 USD per person and the tour lasted 3 hours and took us through varied terrain that’s hard to do on foot. Our experienced guide led the way so we felt safe at all times, despite, being behind the wheel of a high-powered vehicle!

As I mentioned earlier, my favorite beach in Sayulita is Playa Los Muertos, as it’s quieter (and, in my opinion, prettier) than the main beach. You can walk here from the town in just 10 minutes, or if you’ve rented a golf buggy, you can drive here, but keep in mind there’s a 100 MXN ($5.30 USD) parking fee. 

There’s a very photogenic street in Sayulita called Instagram Street (an enticing name, don’t you think?!). Above this pretty, cobblestone street, you’ll find colorful “Papel Picado,” a typical Mexican decoration – which really adds to your photos! If you want a photo-themed experience, this photo tour of Sayulita from Puerto Vallarta is it! You’ll tour iconic Sayulita locations like that famous street while snapping pics and don’t worry, an iPhone works if you don’t have a professional camera. It’s a 6-hour experience that includes transport for $79 USD and you’ll have so many amazing photos to remember your trip by!

woman holding a huge maragarita in Sayulita, Mexico
Yummmm!

El Costeño is a beachside restaurant in Sayulita that’s home to the town’s biggest margarita. I know that’s a bit of a random inclusion on this list, but honestly, this 4-liter margarita (complete with a salted rim) is delicious, and taking a photo with a margarita as big as your head is sure to get your friends back home talking! The huge margaritas cost 600 MXN ($30 USD). 

Next, we just have to mention the famous cheese burrito at El Itacate a super-popular restaurant in Sayulita town. Hear me out. Here, instead of using a corn or flour tortilla, they use a freshly cooked wrap made entirely of melted cheese. Yummy! The Itacates, as they’re called, cost 185 MXN ($10 USD), and you can get the filling of your choice, including chicken, seafood, prime rib, and flank steak.

Where to stay in Sayulita:

I recommend staying a couple of nights in Sayulita because this is a place you won’t want to rush through! The beautiful Hotel Boutique Siete Lunas is my top pick as it’s walking distance from town, but located on a hill overlooking the ocean. Because it isn’t right downtown, it’s more scenic and quiet. The views are amazing from every room not to mention that infinity pool that will definitely make your Instagram feed! Rooms can be booked in advance for typically $200-$300 USD in peak season.

If you’d rather have something a bit more budget-friendly, Casa Love should make your list. Sayulita is known for its beaches and this hotel is so close to one of the gorgeous beaches that you can hear the ocean at night! Rates start at $96 USD even in the busy season, so book now if you know your travel dates!

4. Tequila

Blue agave in a field in Tequila Mexico on a tour from Puerto Vallarta
Blue Agave fields in Tequila!
Look at all those Tequila barrels!

You can probably guess what the town of Tequila is famous for – yep, you’re right, tequila! This alcoholic beverage is made from the blue agave plant and is only distilled in Tequila in the state of Jalisco. Tequila is to Mexicans what Champagne is to the French – only tequila made in this region can claim the name “tequila”! 

Interestingly, the town of Tequila is another Pueblo Magico (like Sayulita above) because of its historical relevance, cultural richness, and other tourism-enticing qualities. 

For most tourists, a visit to Tequila involves a long bus journey from Guadalajara (around 5 hours return) or Puerto Vallarta (6.5 hours return) and then limited time at the distilleries. We actually really enjoyed staying longer to spend a few nights taking in the glorious views of the surrounding countryside, wandering the cobblestone streets and colonial buildings in town, and visiting not just one but a couple of tequila distilleries. 

As I said earlier, most people come to Tequila on a day tour from Guadalajara or from Puerto Vallarta, which is indeed a great option if you have limited time in Mexico. Plus, if you’re wanting to partake in some tequila tastings, you shouldn’t be driving!

This particular tour from Guadalajara is a full day (8 hours). It visits both the Jose Cuervo distillery and gives you an hour or so to wander the town of Tequila. The tour costs $74 USD and that includes several tequila tastings and all transport from your hotel in an air-conditioned vehicle.

Tequila tours from Puerto Vallarta are more limited, so you’ll need to book this specific private tour to Tequila. It includes tastings and a tour of the famous Jose Cuervo distillery, time to wander around the towns of Toriles and Tequila, and even a chance to explore ancient Aztec ruins. It’s a 12-hour day that’s customized to you for $450 USD.

The most famous distillery in Tequila is La Rojena, aka the home of Jose Cuervo. And even though most of you will have tried Jose Cuervo before, at their distillery, you will get to try plenty more unique tequilas that are hard to find overseas. This is also the oldest tequila distillery in the world and the biggest producer of this “liquid gold,” as it’s often called! Would you believe La Rojena supplies 33% of the world’s tequila? Now, that’s some feat! 

I mentioned this tour earlier, but it’s worth a second look! The Jose Cuervo Tequila Tour is, without a doubt, the most popular tour in the region. It includes a tour of the distillery, a visit to the agave plantation (where you can plant your own agave), and free tastings. But beware, you will likely leave the distillery drunk or, at the very least, tipsy. Remember, tequila has an alcohol content of about 40%! 

The second most popular distillery in Tequila is Casa Suaza, the second-largest tequila producer and the third-oldest tequila distillery in the world! They offer a few different tours that can be viewed on their website. The most generic tour includes the same as La Rojena (tasting, tour, plant your own agave, etc). But what we found cool is that as part of the complimentary tasting on this tour, you’ll get to taste their top-shelf tequila. During our tour, we even saw a barrel of tequila they specifically had for Barrack Obama!

Where to stay in Tequila:

What’s nice about staying in Tequila is that it’s a pretty small place so basically every hotel in town will be walking distance from the main square. Being able to walk is great … especially if you’re planning a few tequila tastings!

For affordable accommodations, Hotel Delicias Tequila runs around $63 USD a night for a double room. It’s only a 10-minute walk to the main plaza. The rooms are really elegant and the open-air hallways around the central pool definitely give it a tropical vacation feel!

For a little taste of luxury in between those tastes of tequila, Hotel Solar is a 5-star hotel that’s super close to the center of town. There’s a rooftop pool and bar, a sauna, a restaurant, and a lovely garden. Rates start around $282 USD for a standard double room that is spacious and has a super comfy bed.

5. Mexico City

People Lucha Libre fighting in Mexico City during a show
A Lucha Libre tour is so fun!
A group of tourists follow their guide around Mexico City on a taco tour
Walking around Mexico City with our guide!
  • Location: In South-Central Mexico in the Valley of Mexico. 
  • What is it best known for: Being the country’s largest and capital city, home to its best restaurants, and where you can watch a Lucha Libre Show (read what that is below!)

Mexico City is one of the biggest cities in the world, with a population of 22 million people! As the largest city in the country, we just had to include this bustling, vibrant place on our list of the best places to visit in Mexico. It is, after all, the country’s beating heart.

Considering it’s home to some of the best restaurants in the country, several excellent museums (I’m looking at you, Museo Frida Kahlo!), and is within close proximity of gorgeous historic towns like Puebla and Cholula, it’s absolutely worth visiting. And because there’s so much to do in this bustling metropolis, we advise spending a minimum of three days in Mexico City!

Start your time in Mexico City by strolling around the historic center – the city’s main tourist hub. The Centro Historico is centered around Zocalo Plaza, which is lined with taquerias and high-end eateries. It’s also here that you’ll find the Metropolitan Cathedral and Palacio Nacional, two must-visits in the city, in my opinion! 

The best way to get a true sense of the historic center is on a walking tour. A couple of different companies offer free tours, but we did the one with Mexico a Pie and loved it! We visited the top attractions in the area, such as Templo Mayor Museum, Palacio de Bellas Artes and, Teatro de la Ciudad. The tour is 2.5 hours long, and as long as you’re booking for 2 or more people, it’s only $19 USD.  

Fascinatingly, Mexico City was built on the ruins of Tenochtitlán, the former Aztec capital, back in the 16th Century. In the city center, you can access the ruins of this once mighty city and visit its ancient temple – how cool! 

Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral
Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral

The ruins are called Templo Mayor, and a fun fact about them is that nobody knew they existed for hundreds of years because hotels and other buildings occupied the site. It wasn’t until demolition on some of those buildings started that major discoveries were uncovered in 2014 and they are still finding new things here today! The on-site Museo del Templo Mayor houses a model of Tenochtitlán and artifacts from the site, and walking around here is a great way to gain a better understanding of the history of the ruins. Access to Templo Mayor will set you back 90 MXN ($5 USD), and that includes access to the museum too. 

Next, allow me to introduce you to my absolute favorite thing to do in Mexico City. A Lucha Libre show! Well, if you’re aksing what that is, to put it in simple terms, it’s a Mexican style of wrestling that’s similar to WWE in that it’s more of a show than a fight. It’s loud, has an electric atmosphere, and is so much FUN!

A Lucha Libre show is best enjoyed on one of the organized tours in Mexico City. We did this Lucha Libre tour for $95 USD, which included a mezcal tasting before the match and an informative guide (who interestingly used to be a Lucha Libre wrestler!). On the tour, we also got our own Lucha Libra mask to take home with us! Lucha Libre in Mexico City is one of the most entertaining shows I’ve ever been to! 

Mexican food is probably my favorite cuisine ever, and I tend to fill myself up on delicious tacos and quesadillas until I can’t eat anymore! I actually discovered some of the best places to eat in the city on a taco tour of Mexico City! We did this particular food tour in the trendy La Roma area and I highly recommend it. You’ll get to eat as much delicious food as you can, and the price ($95 USD) also includes beers at a local brewery and coffee at a cafe. 

If you need evening plans, one of my favorite nights in Mexico City was spent listening to live mariachi music at Plaza Garibaldi. There are literally hundreds of mariachi bands that hang around here all the time playing music for tourists. I recommend grabbing a drink at one of the nearby bars to sit and listen or just hang around the square – it’s about 100 MXN ($5 USD) per song to have them play for you. If you are planning to visit at night, keep safety in Mexico City top of mind. Some of the streets around the square can be dicey at night, so I suggest getting an Uber/taxi to and from the square after dark.

Estrella de Puebla, the Ferris wheel of Puebla, Mexico
After riding the Ferris Wheel be sure to visit the Puebla sign!

Just two hours from Mexico City will have you at the gorgeous, much smaller cities of Cholula and Puebla. An organized day tour to both cities (they’re only 6 miles/10 km apart) is one of the most popular day trips from Mexico City.

On this full-day tour from Mexico City, you’ll undertake a walking tour around the historic district of Puebla, and if you like, sample some food from the local food vendors and stop in at the craft market to pick out some quirky souvenirs. Then, in Cholula, you’ll spend an hour or two admiring the town’s photogenic, historic churches and wander the main streets. It’s only $65 USD so this tour is well worth booking if you only have time for a quick trip.

But, if you have the time, we recommend spending the night in Puebla, the larger of the two, because there are tons of awesome things to do in Puebla, such as visiting the Estrella de Puebla Ferris Wheel or the Revolution Museum (which actually has bullet holes from the revolution on the outside of the building!). Cholula is much smaller and is home to the Great Pyramid of Cholula, which is actually the largest pyramid in the world – even bigger than the ones in Egypt! It’s buried in a hillside, but you can walk through the tunnels underneath.

Teotihuacan, the famed archaeological ruins akin to Chichen Itza in popularity, is most commonly visited from Mexico City as it’s just 30 miles (50 km) away, but that’s next on this list because it deserves its own mention….

Where to stay in Mexico City:

Because Mexico City is so big, there are almost endless hotel choices. We have full guides on the best areas to stay in Mexico City and the best hostels in Mexico City to help you narrow it down. But for a quick overview, these are two of my favorites.

If you’re traveling on a budget, the Selina Hostel in downtown Mexico City is where to go. I’ve stayed here before and really liked the downtown location. It’s not a favorite area for some, but if you’re aware of your surroundings, it was a huge advantage for me to be close to the historic center and main attractions. You can book on Hostelworld or Booking.com.

As far as luxury hotels go, Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico is up there. This 5-star hotel has the BEST location since it’s right in the Zócalo – the main plaza. You’re within walking distance of so many of Mexico City’s best sights and the rooms are spacious. Plus, breakfast on the rooftop terrace is a highlight! Rooms start at $200 USD which is a great deal for a hotel of this caliber.

6. Teotihuacán

Teotihuacán temples
Teotihuacán temples
Bailey walks up the Temple of the Sun at Teotihuacan, Mexico
Unfortunately, you can’t climb the temples anymore!

Once upon a time, Teotihuacán was one of the biggest cities in the world, with a population of more than 125,000! It is believed to have been established way back in 400 BC and was home to giant temples, palaces, pyramids, and even a multi-story apartment complex, the ruins of which you can see at the site today!

Despite Teotihuacán’s massive size and its overall impressiveness, it’s still second to Chichen Itza in terms of the most popular ruins in the country. But, we say that’s okay with us, as it means it’s less busy and much cheaper than its more famous counterpart. 

The highlights of this UNESCO World Heritage Site are the Pyramid of the Moon and the Pyramid of the Sun (the third biggest pyramid in the world) – you can’t miss these giant, awe-inspiring structures! And when you see them, you’ll probably be wondering (like we were) how on earth they built these massive pyramids without the aid of modern tools and machinery! 

To get to Teotihuacán, you can join a guided tour from Mexico City (our recommendation) or take a public bus from the Autobuses del Norte Station in Mexico City that costs around 100 MXN ($5 USD). Conveniently, these buses run every 15 minutes, starting at 6 am. 

The general entry ticket to Teotihuacán is 85 MXN (about $4 USD), and that price includes admission to the two museums here – the Museum of Teotihuacan Culture and the Museum of Teotihuacan Murals. So, if you take the public bus here, you can get your entrance and return bus tickets for under $15 USD! An ideal option for budget travelers! 

As with all popular tourist sites across the world, arriving early (before the crowds) guarantees a more peaceful experience. And if, like us, you love the stress-free nature of a guided tour, you’re going to want to book this early access tour, which gets you to the site right as the gates open. Your guide is also an archeologist, so you really get an in-depth look at these ruins from someone who knows their stuff!

Hot Air Balloons fly over Teotihuacán at sunrise
Hot Air Balloons fly over Teotihuacán at sunrise

The tour is 8 hours long (that includes 3 hours of driving), so you’ll have close to 3 hours to explore Teotihuacán. You’ll also get to stop by an obsidian workshop (where you’ll also have lunch) and do a tequila tasting on the way back to Mexico City. It costs just $53 USD for the morning tour, and only your lunch is additional. For a VIP look at Teotihuacán without the crowds, this tour can be booked online here!

And now for a truly bucket-list-worthy tour! Sure, seeing the ruins up close is memorable, but can you imagine what it’s like to see Teotihuacán from the air? Well, on this hot air balloon flight, you’ll get to do just that, a wow-worthy tour, that’s for sure! From the air, peer down on the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon and the rest of the archeological site.

You will have about 30 minutes to an hour in the hot air balloon, but the whole tour, including transport, is 5 hours long! At a price of $183 USD, we think it’s pretty good value, considering how unique this tour is! It also includes breakfast, coffee, tea, alcohol, and transportation to and from Mexico City. You can also opt for a slightly cheaper tour if you’ve rented a car and can drive yourself to the starting point. Check out all your options and reserve this once-in-a-lifetime hot air balloon ride here!

7. San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato

San Miguel de Allende
Look how gorgeous the streets in San Miguel de Allende are!

Next up is the quaint city of San Miguel de Allende, nestled in Mexico’s central highlands. Known for its colonial architecture, cobblestoned streets, vibrant arts scene, and nearby hot springs, it’s a bit of a hidden gem but a worthy addition to this list of the best places to visit in Mexico.

San Miguel (to use its more common name) has a historic center that is one of the prettiest in the country. I almost felt like I had stepped back in time passing by brightly colored colonial buildings lining cobblestone streets!

Right in the middle of it all is the fairytale-esque Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, a neo-Gothic style church, which boasts two hard-to-miss pink towers! Interestingly, the church was built by a stonemason who was inspired by designs he saw of European cathedrals and you’ll see the resemblance when you view this masterpiece for yourself!

Another must-visit in the city is the Museo Casa de Allende, where the famous Mexican army captain and independence fighter was raised. Set in a stately mansion built in 1760, the gorgeous interior will give you a sense of how the upper class lived in 18th-century San Miguel and a look into the region’s history.

A great way to get to know the charm of this city is on a guided walking tour, and this one that’s just two hours long is perfect if you’re short on time. The best part is it costs just $30 USD. During the 2 hours, your local guide will take you around the city’s best attractions like Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel and the Botanic Gardens, and explain the history behind these iconic spots. It has dozens of 5-star reviews so you know you’ll be in good hands. You can read reviews and book online before you go!

The Jardín Botánico El Charco del Ingenio is a beautiful botanical garden overlooking the city and adorned with unique plants and flowers, including an impressive collection of Mexican succulents. There’s a nice loop trail here that’s easy to stroll along for about 2 km (1.2 miles). Although the gardens are close enough to walk from town (about 30 minutes), it’s mostly uphill, so I’d suggest saving your energy and taking a taxi here. It’s 50 MXN (about $3 USD) to enter. There are lots of birds and butterflies around here and even a nice cafe to grab a drink after all that walking!

As for the best day trips from San Miguel de Allende, two relaxing hot springs are just 15 minutes from the city, as is the dramatic Sanctuary of Atotonilco, famed for its murals that have earned it the nickname of the “Sistine Chapel of Mexico.”

As I mentioned above, there are two awesome hot springs a short drive from San Miguel – La Gruta and La Escondida. The lush grounds include swimming pools, hot tubs, restaurants, and a spa. What I found most impressive, though, was that at both hot springs, you can swim through tunnels to an artificial cave complete with a hot waterfall. Stand under the waterfall for a unique shoulder massage! Top tip: both La Gruta and La Escondida can get very busy on weekends, so aim to visit on a weekday if you’re after a more peaceful experience. 

Finally, those who want to combine San Miguel’s culture and cuisine can do just that on this taco and tequila tour! On this highly rated 3.5-hour tour, you’ll get the chance to taste the best local food at 7 different establishments and sample 3 innovative cocktails! We say, if you’re a foodie, enrich your knowledge of Mexican food culture on this small-group tour (limited to just 10 people).  

Were to stay in San Miguel de Allende:

If you’re on a budget in San Miguel de Allende but would rather have a hotel than a hostel, look no further than the 4-star Hotel del Portal San Miguel de Allende, a clean, basic hotel with an awesome rooftop terrace. The rooms here are bigger than average and are decorated in Spanish-colonial style. The best part is it’s really close to Parroquia San Miguel Archangel. A double room here should set you back around $88 USD.

Those with a slightly bigger budget will be hard-pressed to find a better hotel than the very well-rated Hotel Boutique Casa Don Quijote, a hideaway in the middle of the city. Rooms here are spacious and decorated in a colonial style and all have air-conditioning. An American breakfast is included in the rate, which starts at around $105 USD for a junior suite.

8. Oaxaca City

Daniel and Bailey with two huge puppets in the streets of Oaxaca during Día de los Muertos
Day of the Dead is way better than Halloween!
Carpets in Teotitlan del Valle near Oaxaca, Mexico
Carpets in Teotitlan del Valle near Oaxaca!
  • Location: The biggest city located in the state of the same name (Oaxaca) in Southern Mexico.
  • What is it best known for: Day of the Dead celebrations and delicious food (mostly chocolate-themed items like mole and chocolate de agua!)

Before we visited, lots of people said to us, “You will never get bored in Oaxaca,” and boy, were they right. We could have easily spent a month exploring this historically rich city. From swimming near “petrified” waterfalls (I’ll explain what they are in a little bit) to celebrating the famous Day of the Dead festival to eating delicious chocolate-themed food, you definitely won’t run out of things to do and see in Oaxaca

Wandering the Zocalo (central plaza) should be your first port of call in this ethnically diverse city. It’s the city’s cultural center and a hub of activity; it’s also one of the most historically significant parts of the city. If you want to know more about its history, you should book this guided walking tour. It’s very in-depth, and we learned a lot. We also liked that you have the option of a small group tour or for only a few dollars extra, a completely private tour for a more personalized experience. The tour costs $26 USD per person for a shared tour or $30 USD (or cheaper for bigger groups) for a private tour.

As well as being a stunningly beautiful city, Oaxaca is also home to some of the best mole poblano in Mexico. And as we always say, the best way to get a taste of the city you’re visiting (see what I did there!) is on a food tour.

Sunset at the main pool at Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico
Hierve el Agua

On this particular food tour you’ll check out the best restaurants in Oaxaca and get introduced to some of the most famous Oaxacan dishes – tamales, mole, chocolat de agua, and much more! I mean, any tour that offers me the chance to taste over 24 different food and drink items is a brilliant option in my books! This tour is also only about $89 USD and is 4.5 hours long. 

If you’re a hot chocolate fan, you’ll be in heaven in Oaxaca City as I feel it’s the best place in the country to sample “tejate” – aka, one of the oldest chocolate drinks in Mexico. Would you believe it dates back to the indigenous Mixtec and Zapotec tribes of Oaxaca? One of the best places to try tejate here is at one of the Guelaguetza shops – there are several of them dotted around the city. 

I think the only thing that tops eating all the amazing food here is learning how to cook it! That way you can bring a bit of Oaxaca home with you and making these dishes at home will always remind you of your trip. Cooking classes are really popular here and this traditional Oaxaca cooking class is my pick. A local chef teaches you how to make everything from tortillas to empanadas, mole, and arroz con leche (Mexican rice pudding) for dessert using a wood stove in a beautiful outdoor kitchen. It’s $112 USD per person and come hungry for this experience!

And now for my favorite Oaxaca experience, and it’s truly one for the bucket list. Celebrating the Day of the Dead which take place every year in the city between October 31 and November 2, is something I will never forget. During this time, family and friends come together to remember their loved ones who have died by visiting their graves, setting up colorful altars, and leaving offerings like food or flowers.

You will also see a lot of people with skulls painted on their faces and wearing skull-themed clothing to honor the dead. Although this event may sound a little spooky to those who’ve never witnessed such an event, honestly, it’s a fun and happy celebration of those who have passed on. 

Bailey stands in the middle of a street in Oaxaca with her face painted during Day of the Dead
Day of the Dead!

If this sounds like something you’d love, you can go one step further and book this Day of the Dead experience. You will gain first-hand knowledge of a tradition that’s over 3,000 years old and see the colorful altars and offerings with help from your English-speaking guide. It’s so important to be respectful during this celebration and a guide helps you with this and making sure you don’t venture somewhere you shouldn’t. Tickets for this 2-hour Day of the Dead tour start at $138 USD.

One of my favorite places in Mexico is the little village of Teotitlan del Valle. It’s surrounded by mountains, but it’s the fabric made here that is so famous! The artisan weaving shops are amazing to wander by and you can see every step of the rug-making process. You can catch free demonstrations at Casa Don Taurio where you can also see how natural dyes are made for the eye-catching colors of these rugs.

You can visit the village on your own from Oaxaca (it’s about 40 minutes away) or join an organized tour like this one. It includes an hour in the village along with stops at a smoke kitchen for a traditional lunch and the petrified waterfalls of Hierve el Agua which are next up! It’s only $60 USD for a full day which is a pretty great deal for all you get to see.

Last but not least, another top recommendation for your time in Oaxaca City is to take a day trip to Hierve el Agua, aka the “petrified waterfall” I mentioned earlier. Made from calcium build-up, there’s actually no water in these falls. Instead, what you’re seeing is a mirage of sorts created by the calcium build-up. There are also semi-natural pools at the lookout point here, and you can swim in these (and take some cool photos) – but be warned, they’re pretty cold! 

The best way to reach Hierve el Agua from Oaxaca (it’s a 1.5-hour drive away) is on a guided tour, and this full-day tour is a great option as it allows you plenty of time at Hierve el Agua. Conveniently, it will have you at the petrified waterfall earlier than the other tourists! Your guide is super knowledgeable, and lunch is even included! You’ll stop for a mezcal tasting on the way back to Oaxaca. Tickets for this tour start at $215 USD per person.

Where to stay in Oaxaca City:

Right in the historic center of Oaxaca is the 5-star Quinta Real Oaxaca hotel. It has this gorgeous historical exterior with rooms that are decorated with colonial-style decor and tiled floors. Plus, there’s a stunning pool in the middle of it all which is perfect for the hot afternoons. Rooms typically range from $250-$350 USD and are available on Booking.com.

Don’t be scared off by “hostel” in the name as Yabanhi Hostel has double rooms and bungalows with private kitchens for really reasonable rates. There are still really nice common areas for guests like the stunning rooftop terrace which is perfect for that morning cup of coffee. It’s a bit outside the city center, but it’s honestly worth it for great rates and views. Expect to pay around $40 USD for a double room when you book ahead of time.

9. Puerto Escondido

Carrizalillo Beach Puerto Escondido
Isn’t Carrizalillo Beach stunning!
  • Location: On the western side of Oaxaca’s coast, it’s also known as the Emerald Coast.
  • What is it best known for: Surfing, swimming in bioluminescent plankton, and turtles!

Oh, lovely Puerto Escondido – one of my favorite small beach towns in Mexico. Well, it’s actually not that “small,” with a population of around 30,000 people, heaps of fun things to do, and lots of gorgeous places to stay and eat. Of course, it’s most famous for its surf, but besides riding the epic waves, you can also join a dolphin-watching tour, swim in bioluminescent plankton, and release a turtle into the ocean! So cool!

Let’s kick off the best things to do in Puerto Escondido with surfing! It’s without a doubt the number one Puerto Escondido activity, and the waves are best here between July and October. As for the best surf beaches in town, Playa Carrizalillo is perfect for beginners as the waves are calm. It’s also a great spot to just go for a swim. 

If you’re keen to learn to surf in Puerto Escondido, we recommend this highly-rated surfing lesson, which takes place at Playa Zicatela. It is a small group class with an experienced instructor and includes all equipment, including a rashguard. It costs only $53 USD! Psst, if you don’t need an instructor, you can rent a surfboard from this beach starting from 150 MXN ($7.50 USD). 

Moving onto the best beaches in Puerto Escondido, of course, we’ve already mentioned top-class surf beaches like Playa Zicatela, but, if you just want to swim/sunbathe – we suggest heading to the family-friendly Playa Principal (aka Central Puerto Escondido Beach) or Playa Carrizalillo, arguably the most beautiful beach in the area!

Puerto Escondido is also famous for dolphin watching! The waters surrounding Puerto Escondido are teeming with dolphins. Honestly, it’s possible to see hundreds of dolphins on a tour here. 

I did this dolphin-watching tour, and we reckon it’s one of the best tours in Puerto Escondido. It lasted for around 3 hours and was led by a charismatic, English-speaking guide. You’ll also likely see lots of sea turtles or if you’re lucky humpback whales (from November to March), so we say for only $65 USD per person, you really can’t go wrong! If you’re staying outside the main tourist zone in Puerto Escondido, transport will be extra – ranging from $15-$40 USD depending on how far out your accommodation is.

Releasing a baby turtle for turtle conservation in Puerto Escondido, Mexico
Look how cute this little guy is!

Speaking of sea turtles, you can release a turtle into the ocean at Playa Bacocho. It’s run by a local conservation organization, who will teach you all about the turtles and how vital this project is before releasing your turtle. This neat experience happens every day at 5 pm and will set you back the low fee of 100 MXN ($5 USD). This was one of the best turtle releases I’ve been part of! I loved that all the proceeds go right back into protecting the turtles and the little guys we helped to the ocean were so cute.

You can also book a small group tour to do the turtle release on Playa Bacocho. This guarantees you’ll get the chance to help a baby turtle as the 5 pm daily release is so popular they sometimes run out of turtles! This particular turtle release tour will let you help a little turtle that is handed to you (safely in a gourd) around 30 minutes after it has hatched. You’ll help them get to the ocean and hear about all the work being done to protect these little guys. The tour includes hotel pick-up and drop-off, so you don’t need to worry about getting to the beach. It’s $58 USD per person when you book in advance.

Ending the best things to do in Puerto Escondido on a high – at Manialtepec Lagoon. Only a 20-minute drive from town, you can swim with bioluminescent plankton here! Pretty cool, huh? What are bioluminescent plankton, you may ask? Well, they’re essentially teeny-tiny marine organisms that cause the surface of the ocean to sparkle. Swimming in it is like swimming in a warm lake full of glitter; it’s hard to explain the feeling! 

This night tour picked us up at our hotel at 8 pm, and took us to Manialtepec Lagoon for a 30-minute boat ride out to the best swimming spot. At first, it was a little scary to jump in because it was completely dark, but once one person did, we all did! Swimming with the blue shimmering plankton around us was really cool and surprisingly the water was warm – our guide says it’s due to a natural thermal spring. The tour is $79 USD per person and I recommend booking in advance to avoid being ripped off by random salespeople walking the beaches of Puerto Escondido who will try to charge as much as they can.

Where to stay in Puerto Escondido:

We stayed at Casa Losodeli near Playa Carrizalillo during our time in Puerto Escondido, and we can’t fault it! It has a massive outdoor pool, which is enveloped by stunning gardens. We opted to stay in their one-bedroom apartment so that we could cook, but there is a wide selection of rooms if you’re not keen on an apartment. We loved staying in this part of Puerto Escondido, as it’s quieter and is an 8-minute drive or 30-minute walk from the center of town. A room here starts from around $125 USD per night!

Another fantastic option that’s a little further from downtown is Hotel Rockaway, which is a 12-minute drive from the center of town. To us, it’s in the perfect location – just across the street from the gorgeous Playa Zicatela (a very popular surf beach!). At this stylish hotel, you’ll find a pool and fitness center, and the best part is the rooms are quite reasonable. Expect to pay around $95 USD for a night here.

10. Palenque

The Palenque Ruins!

And now for somewhere a little off the mainstream tourist map – Palenque in the state of Chiapas is known as the gateway to famed Mayan ruins like Templo de las Inscripciones and the Bonampak and Yaxichilan Ruins.

Still, there’s actually heaps more to do in this charming but small city (ahem, epic waterfalls!). Palenque city is easily the most-visited part of the state, but most tourists prefer to stay in the jungle of El Panchan and just visit the town on a day trip. Either way, we’ve listed the best things to do in the vibrant city of Palenque below. 

While Palenque is one of the most touristic parts of Chiapas, it still has managed to keep much of its original Mexican charm, and it’s this “authenticity” that we fell in love with! One of the most popular attractions in Palenque is the ruins nearby, and a short distance from the center of town, you’ll find the Zona Arquelogica Palenque, aka the Palenque Ruins. This ruined city was at its height between 500-700 AD and it was one of the Mayan world’s major cities. Today, the archaeological site is huge, but only 2.5 square kilometers (1 square mile) of the site have been excavated, which is, fascinatingly, believed to be only about 10% of the city. The site includes many temples, palaces, and pyramids.

The Temple of the Inscriptions (Templo de las Inscripciones) is one of the most popular and well-known temples here. This HUGE temple houses the tomb of Pakal the Great – one of the most famous rulers of Mayan times. It’s around 65 feet/20 meters tall and has 6 different piers (levels), and you can (you should!) climb to the top for an incredible view of the surrounding jungle.

If you’re a fan of guided tours (like us!), this particular tour is an excellent option as not only does it take you on a private guided tour of the Palenque Ruins, but you’ll also visit some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the region, like the Misol Ha Falls (more on that below). This highly-rated tour is priced at $187 USD, including all entrance fees, pick up and drop off from Palenque, and an expert guide.

The Bonampak and Yaxchilán ruins are two other iconic ruins close to Palenque (well, around 3 hours away and only accessible by boat!), and they are definitely one of the best day trips you can take from the city. However, to reach them is quite complicated as you’ll need to go via the Lacandon rainforest and then take a boat down the Usumacinta River. Both ruins are situated in the same general area, so most guided tours include a visit to both!

The Bonampak ruins date back to 580 to 800 AD and are most well-known for their brightly-colored murals that portray themes of sacrifice, war, and daily life. The Yaxchilán ruins are even older – they date back to the 5th century! 

small-group guided tour of Bonampak and Yaxchilán is the best way to visit these awe-inspiring ruins! The tour includes all transport, breakfast and lunch, and a guide who will teach you about the history of the sites. This tour also includes hotel pick-up and drop-off to most Palenque hotels – all for about $172 USD! 

A couple sit in front of Misol Ha Waterfall near Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico
I could have stayed here for hours!
A side view of Misol Ha Waterfall in Chiapas, Mexico just outside of Palenque
Misol-Ha Waterfall!

Besides incredible Mayan ruins, Palenque is also famous for its many stunning waterfalls. One of the most famous is the Misol-Ha Waterfall in Palenque National Park (around a 45-minute drive from the city). It reaches an impressive height of 115 feet (35 meters) and then falls into a circular pool surrounded by lush vegetation. Most tourists visit Mishol-Ha on a combined guided tour with Agua Azul Waterfalls since tours are reasonably priced and hassle-free. This one, for example, is well-rated, lasts for 7 hours and the best part – it costs just $36 USD!

Finally, the Roberto Barrios Waterfalls are my personal favorite of all the things to do in Palenque! There are several different waterfalls to explore here, and they are much less built-up and commercialized than other waterfalls in the area. You’ll walk through the jungle (where you can spy a variety of colorful flowers and birds) to explore each waterfall, where you can jump in and cool off!

The Roberto Barrios Falls include six main swimming spots, each with its own personality. Some have huge waterfalls to jump off of and natural slides and tunnels to explore, while others have soothing infinity pools. It’s really reasonable to visit on a tour with this reliable company as it will only set you back $26 USD. Although that’s more expensive than visiting on your own and paying the entrance fee of 20-30 MXN ($1-$2 USD) you’ll have a guide to show you around including where it’s safe to swim and jump off the rocks!

Where to stay in Palenque:

If you’re on a budget, a fantastic option is Kin Balam Cabanas, which is conveniently located just 3 km (1.9 miles) from Palenque National Park. The rooms are divided into bungalows, and each one overlooks the main garden. There’s also a swimming pool, a spa, an airport shuttle service, and a bike rental service. A double room in this hotel starts at just $45 USD per night.

If you’ve got a little more cash to spend, consider Hotel Ciudad Real Palenque, which is very highly rated. The rooms here are spacious and clean, and its location is second-to-none, just 10 minutes from the city’s main attractions like the main plaza. Guests can also enjoy the on-site swimming pool and free parking (ideal if you have a rental car). A room at the Hotel Ciudad Real Palenque starts from $75 USD per night. 

Why We Book Tours with Viator

Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:

  • Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
  • Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
  • Lowest price guarantee – If you happen to find the same tour at a lower price elsewhere, Viator will refund you the price difference.
  • Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
  • Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.

Check out the Viator website here! Or, for more info, read our detailed review about Viator here.

11. Valladolid

Main plaza in Valladolid, mexico
The stunning main plaza in Valladolid!

Valladolid is one of my favorite cities in all of Mexico. Now, that’s some statement, considering this nation is famous for vibrant, memorable cities (I’m looking at you, Mexico City, Merida, and Oaxaca), but Valladolid just has that X-factor! For one, this charming, colonial city is just bursting with history and it’s close to breathtaking cenotes, and boy, oh boy, is the food here world-class! 

Your first port of call in Valladolid city should be the picture-perfect, cobblestoned Calzada de los Frailes street, which is home to colorful buildings (don’t miss their eye-catching doors) that house some of the city’s best stores, cafes, and restaurants, 

Now that I’m on the topic of excellent Valladolid restaurants, I just have to give IX CAT IK a mention. Specializing in unique and authentic Mayan food, they use vegetables from their garden and prepare all dishes from scratch. It’s without a doubt one of the best and most popular restaurants in the city. And it’s not only their delicious food that’s worth shouting about. The ambiance here is second to none, with greenery, lovely decor, and sometimes live music! 

Another one of the best meals we had in Valladolid was at the small but memorable Elela Organic Vegan Cafe and Restaurant. Even if you’re not a vegan (we’re not!), you’ll adore their colorful dishes – loaded with spices and textures. One of their most famous dishes is their Spanish omelet made with ibes and papa, and it costs just 144 MXN ($8 USD)!

Bailey poses for a photo with Cenote Zaci in Valladolid, Mexico
Cenote Zaci in Valladolid, Mexico

As I mentioned, some of the best cenotes in Mexico are located very close to Valladolid. These natural limestone bedrock pits expose groundwater and make an exciting water playground for adventurers (you can cliff jump into some) or a relaxing swim spot (more my style!).

Cenote Suytun is one of the most famous cenotes here, and it’s just 15 minutes from downtown. It’s an underground cenote known for the sunbeams shining through the hole in the roof of the cave roof that highlights a platform you can walk onto. A postcard-worthy photo awaits! The best time to see the wow-worthy sunbeams is late in the morning or early in the afternoon. The entrance fee to Cenote Suytun is 200 MXN (~$11.50 USD) and that includes a mandatory lifejacket rental. You can also buy tickets online here, which includes your entrance fee and a lunch buffet for $20 USD.

Next is Cenote Ik Kil, a gorgeous open-air cenote sacred to the Mayans. This cenote is about 40 minutes from Valladolid and is situated deep in the ground. The cave ceiling has collapsed, so it is completely open to the sky. Vines and tree roots cascade into the water, creating a surreal atmosphere you have to experience.

Worth noting is there is a 25-meter (80-foot) climb down to the water, and there are several diving platforms here that you can jump from – perfect for all you thrill-seekers. Entrance is 150 MXN ($9 USD) per person. 

As for the best tours in Valladolid, we loved this city and cenote bike tour, which has you cycling to two cenotes (X’Kekén and Samulá). This well-reviewed tour leaves from this meeting point close to the central plaza and lasts for around 8 to 9 hours. The first thing on your itinerary is a 35-minute bike ride to a local market where you can purchase some fresh produce. Then, you’ll cycle to Cenote X’Kekén and Cenote Samulá, and stop by a local village to see a friendly Mayan family who will teach you to make tortillas. Your final stop will be the little village of Chichimilá. The tour is $79 USD per person if you book for four people!

Bailey poses for a photo with the Valladolid sign in Valladolid, Mexico
The Valladolid sign!
Bailey walks down the cute street of Calzada de los Frailes in Valladolid, Mexico
It’s so photogenic!

Our final suggestion for an awesome Valladolid activity is the Zona Arqueologica de Ek Balam, a Mayan ruin similar to Chichen Itza but without the huge crowds. Ek Balam was more of a village than a city, and today, you can see its mighty temple and pyramid. Another big advantage here is that you can climb to the top of the pyramid here (you can’t do that at Chichen Itza!).

The entrance fee to Ek Balam is 420 MXN per person ($24.50 USD), and a private guide will set you back around 700 MXN ($41 USD). And if you want to visit on a guided tour, you can join this combo tour from Valladolid for $179 USD. It includes hotel pick-up/drop-off, and also stops at Rio Lagartos (home to pink flamingos) and Las Coloradas. 

Where to stay in Valladolid:

If it’s affordability you’re after in Valladolid – look no further than Hotel Casa Bamboo. Best described as a hidden oasis close to the city center (FYI, it’s very close to the bus station), the rooms here are clean and spacious, and there’s even a small, pretty on-site pool! Rooms here are around $45 USD per night.

Within easy walking distance of Valladolid’s best attractions, Hotel Fundadores is a lovely colonial-style hotel with spacious and stylish rooms. And it’s reasonably priced, too – you’re looking at around $75 USD for a junior suite with a private balcony! We loved the pool, and the gorgeous courtyard gave a feeling of space. In short, this hotel doesn’t feel claustrophobic like some city hotels can! 

12. San Cristobal de las Casas

Church in San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico
The huge cathedral in the city!

About 5 hours from Palenque is San Cristobal de las Casas, or the easier-to-remember “San Cristobal.” This famous Mexican city is situated in the Chiapas Highlands, at 6,900 feet (2,100 meters) above sea level, and as you can guess, it’s surrounded by bountiful natural beauty.

So, understandably, the best things to do here, like visiting stunning waterfalls and lagoons and taking a boat through a deep canyon, are a drive away from the city center. But don’t leave without wandering around the colorful city itself, as it’s home to many architectural wonders like the Central Plaza and the Cathedral of San Cristobal. But if you’re a fan of stunning buildings, don’t stop there. Head over to the Templo Santo Domingo – arguably the most beautiful church in the city with its pink exterior and ornate stucco work. 

The best way to get a feel for this culturally diverse city is by spending a few hours on your first day wandering the Central Plaza. This historic square is home to the Cathedral of San Cristobal, one of the most iconic structures in San Cristobal. The city is also known for its pedestrian-friendly streets, most famously Real de Guadalupe – a buzzy street lined with some great restaurants and cafes and several lovely boutiques.

If you’d prefer to follow the lead of a local on your first day, then this free walking tour is a fantastic option. It’s 2 hours long and tip-based and is led by a knowledgeable local guide who will delve into San Cristobal’s history and culture. It offers tourists a great overview of the city and tours in Spanish and English leave from Plaza de la Paz every day at 10 am or there’s another tour in English at 4 pm. 

Even though the city of San Cristobal is beautiful, I think some of the best things to do here are a short drive away. These include a thrilling boat ride down the Sumidero Canyon and a lengthy but fun tour of the bright blue Chiflón Waterfalls and drop-dead-gorgeous Montebello Lagoons

First up, this Sumidero Canyon boat tour is the quintessential day trip from San Cristobal de las Casas. And it’s popular for a reason: the 2-hour boat ride takes you deep into this breathtaking canyon, where the canyon walls are super-steep – in parts, they reach over a kilometer/half a mile tall!

On your boat ride, keep your eyes peeled for spider monkeys frolicking in the tree canopy overhead and crocodiles lazing on the rocks in the sun. One of the major points of interest here, though, is the waterfall that spans almost the entire canyon wall. It’s truly a sight to behold. This 9-hour Sumidero Canyon tour includes transport from San Cristobal and stops at Chiapa de Corzo (another one of Mexico’s “Magic Towns”). It’s an excellent tour for the price – prices start from $95 USD for the English tour and it’s a bit cheaper if you want the tour in Spanish.

Another worthy day trip from San Cristobal is the El Chiflon waterfalls, a series of breathtaking falls – each one looks like something from a postcard. But the most famous and biggest is the mighty Velo de Novia waterfall – which stands tall at a whopping 394 feet (120 meters)! A guided tour from San Cristobal is the best way to reach this naturally beautiful area, and this one includes 2 hours at the falls as well as some time at Lagunas de Montebello for the low price of $28 USD! 

This photogenic lake near the border with Guatemala is one of the most beautiful lakes in the country – with its blue-green water that glistens in the sun and is backed by lush forests, it’s a photographer’s dream here. But be sure to check the weather before you visit, as Lagunas de Montebello can often be overcast and misty. 

Where to stay in San Cristobal de Las Casas:

Slightly outside the city center in Barrio del Cerrillo is Hotel Na Bolom – a former 16th-century home that was once home to archaeologist Frans Blom. Today, there’s a small onsite museum with sculptures and photographs. This property is so colorful with its bright yellow walls and is decorated with local folklore. There’s also a lovely lush garden here. Bonus! A room here ranges from $60-$100 USD on Booking.com.

On the other hand, Sereno Art Hotel is right in the middle of the action on Avenida 16 de Septiembre, not too far from Real de Guadalupe. As it’s an art hotel, the interior is stylish and all furnishings have a luxurious feel. Most rooms open onto the light-filled inner courtyard – the perfect spot for your morning coffee. A room here costs $75-$125 USD, on average with the best deals I’ve found when booking ahead.

13. Isla Holbox

Sea hammocks on Isla Holbox
The sea hammocks on Isla Holbox! Could you imagine anything more relaxing?!

And now, for the first island paradise on this list of the best places to visit in Mexico! The word is slowly getting out about Isla Holbox, a tropical haven north of the Yucatan Peninsula. In place of highrise hotels and shopping malls, here you’ll find wooden houses, sandy streets, and a boho vibe. 

The coolest and most unique thing about Holbox is that it’s a car-free island. Yep, except for work trucks, there are no cars on the island, and instead, tourists and locals get around via moped, golf cart, or bike. 

Another thing I adored about Isla Holbox was all the colorful murals that adorned several buildings in the downtown area. You’ll get to know these murals well on your visit here. They’re hard to miss, but my favorite mural is called Himalaya Maya. It’s situated in front of a small café called Painapol Holbox and illustrates a Himalayan girl in Mexico.

For such a tiny island, you’d be surprised by the number of awesome activities on offer here. For one, Holbox is one of the best places in the world to see whale sharks. Every year from mid-May to mid-September, hundreds of whale sharks migrate to the warm waters surrounding the island, and seeing one of these majestic creatures up close is a true bucket list experience. 

Well, you may be asking yourself, what are whale sharks exactly – would you believe they’re not sharks at all but the world’s biggest fish? They can grow as long as 45 feet (14 meters), but they’re gentle giants and pose no risk to humans. 

When we visited, we did this whale shark snorkeling adventure tour. It was 7 hours long and was one of the best water-based tours we did in Mexico, as I got to swim alongside not only whale sharks but giant manta rays and sea turtles too. The tour also includes a light breakfast and fresh ceviche and starts from $220 USD per person. 

An obvious way to spend a day on this paradise island is relaxing at the beach. Lucky for you, the island is home to some of the best beaches in the Yucatan. The beaches here feature white sand and turquoise water, and the best part is they’re typically crowd-free. One of my favorite here on the island is Playa Punta Cocos. It’s a bit of a hidden gem as it takes some effort to get to – FYI, it’s just under 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from the center of town and will take around 30 minutes to walk to. This wide, open beach is a super-relaxing spot to base yourself for the day, and there are hammocks dotted along the beach for you to chill out in, or if you’d prefer, you can rent a sunbed for a small fee.  

After setting eyes on just one of the island’s beaches, you’ll be itching to see more of Holbox’s stunning coastline. Enter this three-island boat tour that takes you cruising around Holbox to hidden coves and beaches that are only accessible by boat.

Interestingly, the first stop of the tour is a cenote that according to legend is a “fountain of youth” that makes swimmers feel 10 years younger! Then, you’ll have over an hour at the tiny Isla De La Pasion (home to one of the best beaches in North America, in my opinion), and finally, you’ll moor on Isla Pajaros (aka Bird Island), which, yes, you guessed correctly is home to several species of birds, but most famously flamingos, pelicans, and ducks. For only $42 USD, this tour is a steal of a deal. 

Last up, this small island has a fantastic coffee scene, and that’s coming from a true coffee addict. The best spot on the island for a cuppa is Clandestino Cafe, a delightful little coffee shop and roastery close to the center of town. They also serve up a varied and yummy food menu featuring plenty of vegan and vegetarian options, as well as pastries and smoothie bowls!

Where to stay on Isla Holbox:

Budget travelers and backpackers adore Tribu Hostel as it’s well known for its epic dance parties and rooftop yoga (two very different things!). But that’s the vibe of this place; everybody is welcome at this hip hostel. Its location, too, is perfect – right on the beach. Overall, it’s a clean, comfortable, and friendly place to stay. Prices vary depending on the room you book and the time of year. A double room in peak season can be $175 USD or around $80 USD for a bed in a dorm. But you can check for the best deals on either Hostelworld or Booking.com.

If you’d rather somewhere a little quieter (aka, no dance parties), then get on board with Hotel Casa HX – a boutique adults-only hotel a walk from the beach but in a lovely, peaceful location. The rooms and suites at this small hotel are stylish and spacious, and it’s also a great spot for families or groups of friends, as some of their suites can sleep up to 4 people. One of the cheapest rates we’ve found here was $145 USD per night on Booking.com. 

14. Cancun

Stunning views from the top of the Cancun Scenic Tower 
It’s a stunning view from the Cancun Tower!
Playa Delfines Cancun, Mexico
Playa Delfines is perfect for relaxing!
  • Location: Northeast coast of the Yucatán Peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo.
  • What is it best known for: Party atmosphere, luxurious resorts, and world-class beaches.

Ah, Cancun! Without a doubt, it is the most recognizable name on this list. Home to long, white sandy beaches, luxurious beach resorts, way too many great restaurants, and an enviable party atmosphere.

But there’s so much more to this mega tourist resort than partying and great beaches! If you look beyond the Spring-break-esque vibe, you’ll find a whole host of fun and unique activities like swimming with whale sharks, standing at the top of the Cancun tower (the highest attraction in Riviera Maya) and, scuba diving down to an underwater museum. 

First, let’s dive into the best beaches in Cancun (see what I did there!) Playa Delfines (aka Dolphin Beach) is aptly named as you can often spot dolphins frolicking in the water from the shoreline, and it is arguably one of the most popular beaches in Cancun. This beach is huge and has lots of shady spots, but beware, the waves can be intense (thankfully, there’s a lifeguard on duty). It’s also here that you’ll find the famed Cancun sign! It’s a 15-minute drive from the Cancun Hotel Zone to this beach, and it’s an easy drive if you have a rental car for your time in Cancun. Alternatively, a cab here will work out pretty cheap!

Second up is a bit of a hidden gem, even though it’s located in the heart of the Hotel Zone. Playa Chacmool is often quiet, especially on the southern end, and there are no food vendors on the beach – however, there is a convenience store at its entrance. In contrast, Playa Tortugas is known as Cancun’s “party beach.” Here, you’ll find large crowds and loud music. It’s also a great snorkeling spot as the water here is calm, with only small waves. There are also several food vendors and restaurants lining the beach if you start to feel peckish after all the partying!  

Daniel and Bailey scuba at MUSA in Cancun
MUSA!

I briefly touched on scuba diving in Cancun above, and it’s definitely an activity for your Cancun bucket list! We are both certified divers, and we really enjoyed this two-dive tour in Cancun. It includes dives at both the Underwater Museum and the famous Manchones Reef where you can dive with fish, turtles, and more! It costs $115 USD per person and can be booked online here.

What’s great is that you don’t need to be certified to go scuba diving here because you can book this beginner scuba diving tour, which takes you to the best and most popular diving spots in the region (the Manchones Reef and the Cancun Underwater Museum) accompanied by a pro diver. If you’ve never dived before, no need to worry, as you will get professional instruction with a two-hour lesson at a pool before venturing into the open sea. This tour departs early in the morning from the Hotel Zone. All necessary equipment and fees are included for $135 USD. 

You can also go swimming with whale sharks in Cancun during whale shark season, which runs from May until September. The only way to swim with the world’s largest fish is on a guided tour like this full-day whale shark tour, which is led by a marine biologist. As well as getting the chance to snorkel next to these gentle giants of the sea, you’ll also be treated to a delicious lunch served off the coast of Isla Mujeres. This tour will set you back around $179 USD which includes transportation from Cancun. It’s undoubtedly one of the best Cancun tours out there!

Suppose you want to enjoy a fun day away from your resort but still benefit from the same awesome amenities, then why not try out Xcaret Waterpark? At Xcaret, you can try your hand at a wide array of activities like snorkeling, visiting Mayan pyramids, swimming, and enjoying live performances! There’s also an aquarium and an aquatic park here too. You can even swim with dolphins, manta rays, or sharks for an additional fee. Entrance to Xcaret starts from $107 USD per day.

Also owned by the Xcaret group is the iconic Cancun Scenic Tower in the Cancun Hotel Zone, which is the tallest attraction in the Riviera Maya. As you can imagine, the views of the Caribbean Sea and Cancun from up here are epic. What’s great too, is your Xcaret Waterpark admission ticket (or passes for any other of their parks or tours) gives you free entry to the tower. Otherwise, you can pay the $20 USD admission fee when you arrive.

Bailey relaxes with a drink on a catamaran cruise from Cancun to Isla Mujeres
Ahh cruising Cancun!

Nothing screams a “romantic experience” like a sunset cruise, and luckily, in Cancun, you can choose from several awesome sunset cruises. And, let me tell you, this sunset cruise is our top pick as it boasts a fun, party atmosphere. You’ll catch the beautiful sunset on Playa Norte on Isla Mujeres, then party on the way back with the DJ and live music on board! The 4-hour tour costs $69 USD per person, including hotel pickup and drop off and an open bar. There’s also an additional $20 USD dock fee payable on the day. Food isn’t included, but you will have time to grab a bite to eat during your stop at Isla Mujeres. 

If Cancun had to be known for just one thing, it’d be its amazing nightlife scene. Dare I say, it’s the party capital of Mexico. If you’ve come here to party, you’ll have your pick of some of the best bars and nightclubs in the world – places like Mandala CancunMonkey BusinessCongo Bar, and La Vaquita are all amazing, but without a doubt, the hottest nightspot in Cancun is Coco Bongo

I’m sure you’ve heard of it – this larger-than-life nightclub is like nothing else on the planet. Nothing is out-of-the-ordinary at Coco Bongo – and on a night out here, you could start off dancing to The Beatles before cheering on stunt-filled battles with 300 Spartan impersonators! A weird, wonderful, and super-fun experience, that’s for sure! Since everybody wants to visit this club, you must book your tickets in advance

And finally, Cancun is one of the best places to base yourself if you’re planning to visit the world-famous Chichen Itza Ruins. It’s only a 3-hour drive that’s one of the most popular day trips from Cancun. Which brings me to my next epic place in Mexico…

Where to stay in Cancun:

Below, I’ve listed what I believe to be two of the best hotels in the Cancun Hotel Zone.

The Selina Cancun Laguna Hotel Zone is one of the best options for budget travelers! While some reviews are average, we really loved our stay here! It’s great value, has a fun atmosphere, and its location right in the center of the Hotel Zone action can’t be beat! There’s even an outdoor pool and bar. There’s a wide range of room types on offer at the Selina, with a bed in a large dorm starting as low as $24 USD, and for a standard room, you’re looking at around $97 USD per night. You can check availability on Hostelworld or Booking.com

If you’ve got a budget somewhere in the middle, not a hostel, nor a luxury hotel budget, then the JW Marriott Cancun Resort is a great pick. Unlike many other large hotels in the Hotel Zone, it isn’t an all-inclusive property, so, if you’re keen to check out the many awesome restaurants in Cancun, this is the best mid-range option for you! But, if you don’t want to venture too far for a bite to eat, do not worry, this hotel has six incredible restaurants on-site. Rooms are available online and average between $350-$500 USD per night, depending on the time of year.

Related Read: There are so many awesome tours on offer in Cancun, and I just didn’t have the space to include them all here. For example, a taco tour in Cancun is perfect if you’re a foodie and if you’re an adrenalin junkie booking an ATV tour in Cancun is the way to go!

15. Chichen Itza

Bailey at Chichen Itza, Mexico
Chichen Itza!

You were waiting for this entry, weren’t you – Chichen Itza is undoubtedly one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of Mexico! As a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, adding the world’s most famous Mayan city to the list of the best places to visit in Mexico was a no-brainer for me! 

You see, Chichen Itza was pretty much the “center of the universe” for the Mayan people of the Yucatan between the years of 600-900 AD. It was the most powerful capital city in the region and was the commercial, political, and religious center of the Yucatan. And would you believe in its heyday, it was home to over 35,000 people! 

Today, this archaeological site covers a whopping 3.2 square km (2 square miles). It’s home to several temples, including the towering El Castillo, a huge Mayan ball court, and even a sacred cenote! 

As you can imagine, considering how close it is to Cancun (around a 3-hour drive), Chichen Itza is THE most popular day trip from this mega tourist resort. And there are dozens of different tours from Cancun to Chichen Itza as well as plenty of awesome tours from Playa del Carmen, Tulum, or Puerto Morelos – so you can easily visit from so many popular places!

Bailey stands at the Group of the Thousand Columns which is part of the Temple of the Warriors at Chichen Itza
Group of the Thousand Columns
A snake made of rock at Chichen Itza in the Great Ball Court
A snake made of rock at Chichen Itza in the Great Ball Court

If you’re on a budget, you can get a public bus to these famous ruins from most nearby cities (Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Valladolid, etc.). For example, from Cancun, you can take the ADO bus from the central bus station. The bus departs Cancun around 8:45 am and then leaves Chichen Itza at 4:30 pm.

One of the easiest options is to rent a car in Mexico. It means you have the freedom to get to the ruins as soon as they open and thus avoid the notoriously long line-ups. If you choose to drive there yourself or get the ADO bus, then you’ll just need to pay the entrance fee to Chichen Itza when you arrive. This costs 614 MXN ($35 USD) for tourists, so it works out pretty cheap all in. 

If transportation to and from is stressing you out, book a tour! This full-day tour offers pickup from all over the Yucatan region (namely Cancun, Tulum, and Puerto Morelos) and also visits the Ik-Kil cenote. It’s an all-inclusive tour, which means your entrance fee to the ruins is included as well as stops at Valladolid and the Ik-Kil cenote. It’s one of the best tours in the Yucatan and is a great deal at only $147 USD. 

A cheaper option is this tour of Chichen Itza, which works out at around $69 USD per person for the VIP version that includes hotel pick-up. Similar to the above tour, it leaves from popular tourist destinations like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum. On this tour, you’ll get a guided look at Chichen Itza and some further time to explore on your own. Also included in the price is a delicious buffet lunch, a tequila tasting, time in Valladolid, and a stop at the lovely Cenote Chichikan. But keep in mind you’ll still need to pay the Chichen Itza entrance fee on top. 

Alternatively, if you want to get to Chichen Itza before everyone else consider spending the night before in a nearby hotel like La Casa de las Lunas that way you can get to the entrance just as the gates open and don’t have to worry about transport delays. You can read all about the best hotels near Chichen Itza below!

Bailey stands in Front of the The Temple of the Warriors in Chichen Itza, Mexico
Bailey stands in Front of the The Temple of the Warriors in Chichen Itza, Mexico

Where to stay near Chichen Itza:

I mentioned it briefly above, but La Casa de las Lunas Hotel is one of the best choices for a nearby hotel. It’s only a 5-minute drive from Chichen Itza … which we found was only a 70 MXN (~$4 USD) taxi ride, which was well worth it to be among the first in line in the morning! Conveniently, it’s not in the middle of nowhere, and there are shops and restaurants within walking distance. The staff here are very friendly and helpful, and coffee and tea are provided for free every morning as well as yummy cake. Rooms here start at $40 USD per night when booked in advance.

For more of a luxury escape, Hacienda Chichen Resort is like a little oasis! The hotel is surrounded by gardens full of colorful birds and there’s a pool and spa on-site. Once you get to your room, the hand-woven bedspreads and elegant decor will have you saying “wow” and the AC will be much needed after a day exploring the nearby ruins. There’s a great restaurant that serves organic Mayan Fusion cuisine and from the reviews, many people wish they stayed longer than just a night! Rooms start at $200 USD even in peak season and can be reserved on Booking.com.

Related Read: If you want a unique experience when you go to Chichen Itza, consider going in the evening for the Chichen Itza Night Show like we did!

16. Isla Mujeres

Playa Norte on Island Mujeres
Playa Norte is our favorite beach on Isla Mujeres!
Bailey and Daniel pose for a photo on Punta Sur on Isla Mujeres, Mexico
A picture-perfect moment at Punta Sur!
  • Location: Only 13 km/8 miles off the coast of Cancun.
  • What is it best known for: Chilled-out vibe and Caribbean-esque beaches!

The second island paradise to make the cut is Isla Mujeres, arguably one of the most well-known islands in the country. It’s home to calm Caribbean waters and white sand beaches and just has an overall chilled-out vibe. In fact, Isla Mujeres is the perfect place to get away from it all!

It’s a short ferry ride (around 30 minutes) from Cancun to Isla Mujeres, and as you can guess, many tourists make Isla Mujeres their next stop after spending a fun few days in the vibrant tourist resort.

Isla Mujeres really is teeny-tiny at 7 km (4.3 miles) long, but what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for with plenty of awesome things to see and do. For one, Isla Mujeres is where you’ll find the amazing Museum of Underwater Art (MUSA), which is where you’ll find over 500 unique sculptures on the seabed. On this gem of an island, you’ll also find Mayan Ruins, awesome beach clubs, and one of the best sunset spots in Mexico!

Before we get into it, I will suggest that you rent a golf cart for your time on the island. To me, it’s the easiest way to get around and it saves your feet! We rented a golf cart from Prismsa Golf Cart Rentals – you can rent a golf cart by the hour, for half a day, or for 24 hours. FYI, the average daily rate is around $70 USD.

The beach clubs on Isla Mujeres are the ideal spot to perch yourself for the day, enjoy delicious food and drinks, and cool off from all that sunbathing in the clear ocean waters. One of our go-to beach clubs on Isla Mujeres is Kin Há Isla Mujeres, which is also a 4-star hotel, but you don’t need to be a guest to enjoy all of its fantastic amenities (which include a swim-up bar, a lovely dock, and an oceanfront restaurant). Not only is it free to use the facilities, but there’s no minimum spend either!

Bailey relaxing on the swings at Playa Centro, Isla Mujeres at sunset
Playa Centro!

Arguably, the most famous thing to do on Isla Mujeres is to go scuba diving or snorkeling to visit MUSA. This underwater museum has an incredible and massive series of sculptures of over 500 life-sized structures. The most recognizable sculpture is the group of people holding hands in a circle (which I’m sure you’ve come across on your social media feed!), but, as well as that, you’ll see a car, a man watching TV, and lots more!

The best way to get up close to the underwater museum is on this scuba diving tour – but you must be a certified scuba diver for this one. On this two-tank dive, you’ll see all the incredible sculptures as well as turtles, a variety of fish and rays. It’s $135 USD per person and includes all the necessary equipment.

If you don’t want to scuba dive, snorkeling is another way to see the museum, and it doesn’t require any special certification. This underwater museum and reef snorkel tour takes you to the underwater museum as well as other coral reef areas. The snorkeling equipment is included, along with snacks and a margarita – that’s my kind of tour! All of this for only $48 USD per person is a great deal! I should also add that swimming with whale sharks is another super-popular activity on Isla Mujeres, and in whale shark season (from May to September) there are heaps of highly-rated whale shark tours available.

It’s a known fact that the beaches on Isla Mujeres are some of the best in Mexico (dare I say, in all of North America!). Playa Norte is one of the most popular, and as its name suggests, it’s located on the north of the island. Featuring soft white sand and glistening turquoise water, it looks like it has sprung from the pages of a Caribbean Island travel brochure. Considering its pristine beauty, this beach tends to get pretty crowded in high season. You can rent chairs and umbrellas from the beach clubs and hotels along the beach for around $10-$20 USD, which I strongly recommend, given there’s not much shade. 

Sure, the beaches on Isla Mujeres get all the good press, but Punta Sur on the southern edge of the island is well worth a visit, too. Here, you’ll find the ruins of Ixchel Temple, which was built to honor the Mayan goddess of the moon, fertility, and happiness. It’s also one of the best places in Mexico to catch a sunrise. Yep, the iconic “Cliff of the Dawn” here is the farthest east point in the country, which means it’s one of the first places in Mexico to be hit by the sun every day.

Whale shark swims past me with my camera off the coast of Isla Mujeres, Mexico
So cool!

It’s a short hike into the ruins, and along the way, you’ll spy stunning coastal views. Keep your eyes peeled for the iguana monument at the entrance to Punta Sur (and any real iguanas who can commonly be seen soaking up the sun on the rocks!). Worth noting, there’s an entrance fee of 100 MXN ($6 USD) per person to enter these ruins!

Where to stay on Isla Mujeres:

For those wanting to keep their accommodation costs as low as possible, look no further than Selina Isla Mujeres PocNa, a hostel/hotel that’s just a 2-minute walk from the gorgeous Playa Norte. It is a beautiful property that boasts a large pool, outdoor bar, and restaurant area. Sometimes, you can catch an event here, like yoga, live music, and maybe even a DJ. The average rate for a private double room here is $140 USD per night and only $30 USD for a bed in a dorm. I’d recommend booking ahead on Booking.com or HostelWorld

The second option we love on Isla Mujeres is conveniently located next door to the fantastic Kin Ha restaurant and beach club that we mentioned above. Casa de los Sueños is a boutique hotel with modern rooms and no less than 4 swimming pools (one of which is just for hotel guests). And because its beachfront, you’ll have direct access to the Caribbean Sea! A room here starts at around $300-$400 USD per night. 

17. Playa del Carmen

5th Ave in Playa del carmen, Mexico
5th Ave is a lively place!
bailey on the beach in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico
The beaches in Playa are epic!

With a similar vibe to Cancun, Playa del Carmen is another one of the most sought-after tourist resorts in Mexico. Located along the same sun-soaked peninsula – the Yucatan Peninsula, Playa del Carmen has more of a relaxed vibe than its slightly more famous neighbor. Plus, the beaches and the layout of the town, which is built along the white sand Central Playa Beach and has more of a European feel, is, to me, much more appealing than the high-rises that dominate Cancun’s skyline. 

One of the best things to do in Playa del Carmen includes shopping ’til you drop (5th Avenue is one of the top shopping streets in Mexico, in my opinion!), swimming with whale sharks and partying (yep, the nightlife here rivals that of Cancun!).

Get your bearings on your first day in Playa del Carmen with a stroll along the vibrant 5th Avenue (Quinta Avenida), aka the city’s main pedestrian street and essentially its beating heart. It’s lined with awesome shops, including big-name brands like H&M, Zara, and Forever 21, as well as world-class restaurants and bars.

If you want a taste of the beach scene in Playa del Carmen, head over to Mamitas Beach, smack-dab in the middle of the city. It definitely has more of a party vibe and is usually full of locals and tourists having a good time. It’s also home to one of the best beach clubs in Playa del Carmen, Mamitas Beach Club. This party haven is well-equipped with a large pool, lounge chairs, and an all-round vibrant atmosphere! But as you can imagine, it can get pretty crowded, especially on weekends, so if you can, try to visit during the week.

Parque Los Fundadores in Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Parque Los Fundadores in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

We also loved partying the day (and night) away at Zenzi Beach Club – a stylish beach club that offers live music each evening. They also have various DJs performing throughout the week, and they even host a Salsa Night every Sunday!

Parque Fundadores is another awesome beach in the center of the city, and even though it’s super-popular, it’s very wide, so it never feels too crowded. This beach is also great for swimming and snorkeling, as the water is usually very calm. There is also a full-sized volleyball court on the sand. Unlike Mamitas Beach and the majority of other beaches in Playa del Carmen, there are no beach clubs at Parque Fundadores, so you’ll get a more authentic beach day experience. 

Keeping with the beachy activities – a great way to see the glorious coastline here in all its glory is on a catamaran cruise like this luxury sailing and snorkeling cruise, which happens on a luxurious French-made catamaran. Relax on the deck while taking in the breathtaking views on this 5-hour tour. It’s great value for money, too, at just $139 USD, and it includes all transport and an open bar! 

If you want to do something you won’t forget in Playa del Carmen, Cirque du Soleil JOYÀ is an experience unlike anything else! I’m sure you’ve heard of Cirque du Soleil, the world-famous entertainment company. Well, JOYA is their dinner show, and it’s the only Cirque du Soleil dinner theater in production. It’s a unique experience that you have to witness for yourself to “get” its amazingness, but I’ll just say that this extraordinary event will appeal to all five of your senses! 

The price includes your dinner, an aperitif, champagne, and much more! It takes place in the Vidanta Theater, only 20 minutes from Playa del Carmen. If you don’t have a Playa del Carmen rental car, be sure to organize transport and book your tickets in advance! There are several options, including VIP, dinner only, drinks only, and both with prices starting from $110 USD.

The main stage at Coco Bongo, Mexico during a show
It’s such a fun show Cocobongo!

If you’re an adrenaline junkie, you’re sure to be impressed with the wide range of heart-stopping activities on offer at Xplor Adventure Park, aka, one of the best day trip options from Playa del Carmen. You can try your hand at ziplining here – there are over 14 different ziplines covering a massive 3.8 km (2.4 miles) on two circuits. Additionally, you can test your bravery by swimming/rafting through caves and driving a four-wheel buggy through flooded caves and jungle scenes!

Entrance to the park costs around $130 USD, payable on the day, and that price includes a plethora of activities such as ziplining, waterfalls, driving ATVs, swimming through cenotes, and lunch. Or you can book this all-inclusive Xplor package in advance. The package costs from $147 USD but includes your entrance fee, lunch, and a ton of extras not included in standard admission. Plus, when you book on Viator, I’ve seen deals as low as $125 USD which is cheaper than standard admission!

Whew, I really could write all day about the best things to do in Playa del Carmen – but I’ll end with this final awesome activity. Rio Secreto is a stunning underground river system that’s home to lots of stalactites and stalagmites, unusual fauna, and some harmless, weirdly shaped spiders. This unique cave system is a whopping 38 km (24 miles) long, and today, only 10% of Rio Secreto is open to tourists! And it’s located just a 12-minute drive from Playa del Carmen. 

If you have a rental car, you can easily drive to Rio Secreto from Playa del Carmen, or alternatively, book a tour with transport from Playa del Carmen. This highly-rated tour includes a professional guide, a buffet lunch, and all the equipment necessary for exploring the caves safely. The price also includes return transport to most Playa del Carmen hotels, and you can expect to pay around $119 USD per person. 

And lastly (for real this time!) – if you’re after a truly special dining experience in Playa del Carmen, look no further than Alux Cave Restaurant, where you can dine inside a real cave! The menu features traditional Mexican dishes with a modern twist, and there is also a wide selection of international wines available. 

Where to stay in Playa del Carmen:

First up, here’s an excellent hostel choice for all you budget-savvy travelers. The Che Playa Hostel and Bar is widely regarded as one of the best hostels in the city, and it’s easy to see why it’s so popular. Firstly, it has a small rooftop pool and a bar. But as well as that, it’s very clean, the staff are friendly, and it has an all-round social vibe, meaning it’s the perfect spot to meet like-minded travelers! The rooms here are super affordable with a bed in a dorm setting you back around $25 USD per night when you book on Hostelworld or Booking.com

And now, we have something for those who want to splurge on a truly luxury hotel experience in Playa del Carmen. The El Taj Oceanfront and Beachside Condo Hotel is situated right on the ocean and is a short walk into the center of town – so its location really is top-class. Plus, it has a gorgeous pool, and the wide variety of rooms meaning there’s a room type for every type of tourist. As you can guess, you’ll be paying more for this epic location, with rooms at El Taj starting at $200 USD. 

18. Akumal Beach

Akumal Beach, Mexico
Akumal Beach is glorious!

Wildlife lovers simply MUST add Akumal Beach to their Mexico bucket lists because, along this stretch of white sand, turtles lay around 70,000 eggs every year. So, not only can you witness sea turtles hatching here in turtle nesting season (from May to September), but you can also go swimming with turtles at Akumal most of the year (but only with a tour – more on that to come!). And if you’re not keen to get wet, you’ll often be lucky enough to spot these amazing creatures from the shore as they tend to swim super close to the shoreline. 

It’s a very popular day trip from Playa del Carmen, seeing as it’s just a 35-minute drive away, but it’s also close to Tulum (25 minutes away) and from Cancun, it’s a little further at 1.5 hours away. The best way to reach Akumal from Playa del Carmen and Tulum is by taking a collectivo (shared van) or renting a car and driving yourself (that’s what we did!).

This is one of the five turtles we spotted!

If you’d prefer a guided tour, then this full-day Akumal snorkeling experience from Playa del Carmen is a fantastic option for just $119 USD. It’s one of the top turtle tours from Playa del Carmen as it includes round-trip transportation from your hotel, snorkeling gear, a packed lunch, and a tour around the ancient Tulum ruins (more on this amazing spot later!).

While from Cancun, we recommend this snorkeling tour (it also departs from Playa del Carmen and Tulum) because, again, the guides are super-knowledgable and friendly, and it also includes yummy snacks! Of course, you’ll get the chance to go swimming with turtles, but you’ll also visit a cenote hidden in the rainforest where you can also do a bit of snorkeling. The tour costs from $99-$109 USD per person depending on where you’re leaving from, but this doesn’t include a $15 USD conservation fee that you’ll have to pay in cash on the day of the tour.

If you’re looking for a tour from Tulum to swim with turtles, there are quite a few combo tours that combine some of the best activities into one day. This small group tour is a standout for us because you take a dip in a hidden cenote first before swimming with turtles at Akumal Beach, and then finish the day with lunch at an exclusive beach club! It’s a triple threat of a tour and only $159 USD including absolutely everything when you book in advance!

While snorkeling here, you’ll find yourself constantly repeating the same phrase: “I’ve never seen so many turtles in my life!” Honestly, you’ll likely be swimming alongside dozens of sea turtles. That said, one really important thing to remember is that you must go with a guide, as turtle protection is of the utmost importance to the community here. 

If you make your own way to Akumal and find yourself wanting to snorkel, then, you can hire a guide from the beach. For an hour of snorkeling with a guide, you can expect to pay around 600 MXN ($34 USD). However, you’re never quite sure what kind of experience you’ll get, so when we went, we booked this private tour.  

Swimming with a turtle at Akumal Beach in Mexico
Swimming with a turtle at Akumal Beach in Mexico

All our snorkeling equipment and entrance fees were included, so all we needed were bathing suits and towels! Our local guide was the best and we learned a ton since it was a private tour, so we could ask questions and swim where we wanted to. We saw 5 turtles swimming around us which made the whole thing so worth it! It’s only $45 USD and has hundreds of 5-star reviews, so we aren’t alone in loving our experience! You can book your spot online here.

If you’re looking to just explore the beach, then the entrance to Akumal Beach costs 120 MXN (about $7 USD) for the day along with a parking fee of 20 MXN ($1 USD) per hour. And there are plenty of beach umbrellas and sun loungers available for rent here, as well as restaurants and bars serving tasty food and cold drinks.

Where to stay near Akumal Beach

While it’s pretty easy to get here for day trips from other popular destinations if you want to spend the whole day (or multiple days!) hanging out at this beautiful beach, just stay nearby! I will warn you though that the hotels around here on more on the luxury side of things, so this is a splurge kind of getaway!

One of the more reasonably priced hotels that still has a beachfront location is Las Villas Akumal. All the rooms here are suites or full villas and apartments, so you have a ton of space. Plus they overlook the bay and the beach and lots of guests say you can see turtles nesting on the beach every night – how cool! The hotel provides snorkeling equipment and kayaks for you to use for free and there’s a rooftop restaurant. A standard suite here runs about $180-$250 USD depending on the season, but I’ve seen rates more on the lower end of that on Booking.com.

If you’re looking for a more exclusive place to stay, the adults-only Secrets Akumal Riviera Maya is the place to be. Every room is super spacious and has its own hot tub. It’s a resort with a gorgeous pool and right on the beach for those ocean views. Prices start at $1,100 USD nightly for an all-inclusive package, so it isn’t cheap, but it’s the perfect place for a romantic getaway or honeymoon!

19. Cozumel

Bailey stands at one of the sculptures on the malecon at susnet in Cozumel, Mexico
Posing along the Malecon on Cozumel!
Two fish on the ocean floor while scuba diving in Cozumel, Mexico
Two fish we saw while snorkeling on Cozumel!

Another first-class island destination in Mexico is Cozumel, a small island nestled off the coast of Playa del Carmen. Cozumel is famous for its soft white sand beaches, bright blue waters, colorful coral reefs, and abundant marine life, making it a world-renowned snorkeling and scuba diving destination. 

While all the beachy goodness is a major draw here, the main city on the island, San Miguel de Cozumel, is well worth spending a couple of hours or even a full day. It’s brightly-colored buildings and authentic Mexican vibe means it’s my favorite place to kickstart my time on the island. 

A must-visit downtown is the central plaza, which is known as Benito Juarez Park. There’s a unique clock tower here, and tons of street vendors selling various types of food and trinkets. From Benito Juarez Park, you can easily get to 5a Avenida Sur, a super-photogenic street lined with colorful flags and great stores. Just before sunset take a stroll along the Malecon (aka, the city’s main drag), one of the best sunset-watching spots on the island and a hive of activity. Then, in the evening, make a beeline for Andres Quintana Roo Park, which has a variety of pop-up food stalls and sometimes live music!  

Because Cozumel is quite big – FYI, it’s the largest Caribbean island in Mexico – the best way to see its most popular sites is either by driving around it yourself in a rental car, buggy, or Jeep (you can easily rent all of the above on the island) or going on a private tour like this private Cozumel Jeep Tour. It’s completely customizable, so you can choose your own itinerary, but here’s a hint: the top places to see on a tour like this include Punta Sur Eco Beach Park, El Caracol, and Chankanaab Park. 

Views of the Cozumel Coastline from Celarain Lighthouse on Punta Sur Eco Beach Park
Celarain Lighthouse on Punta Sur Eco Beach Park

But the best part is that you’ll get to drive the Jeep yourself and simply follow your knowledgeable guide who’ll be driving the Jeep in front. The price for this private tour starts at $78 USD per person, and it’s a great choice for families or small groups of friends. That rate includes an authentic Mexican lunch, a win-win if you ask me!

As I mentioned, scuba diving in Cozumel is world-famous thanks to its crystal-clear water and abundant marine life. Plus, the reef here is the second biggest in the world (behind the Great Barrier Reef in Australia). And if you’re a certified diver, well, you’re in the right place as the most memorable dive sites like the Palancar Caves and the Columbia Deep (aka some of the best dive sites in the world) are located here. Add in the fact that visibility is 100 feet (30 meters), and you have one all-around epic diving destination.   

Thanks to its calm, clear waters, Cozumel is also a great place to learn to scuba dive. This private 3-hour introductory scuba course costs just $95 USD per person, and it will teach you everything you need to know about diving. It includes personalized attention with a PADI-certified scuba instructor and the opportunity to test your skills on a shore dive. 

While a great choice for all you experienced divers is this 4-hour two-tank scuba tour, which includes dives at two awesome Cozumel dive sites. This tour costs $101 USD per person. However, it’s important to note that there is an additional $6 USD marine park fee per person along with equipment rentals.

If scuba diving isn’t your style, but you still want to see Cozumel’s amazing underwater world, why not consider going snorkeling? One of the best snorkel spots on the island is Playa El Cielo, a secluded beach on the island’s northern coast that can only be reached by boat! The shallow, sparkling, blue waters here are teeming with a wide variety of marine life, such as sea turtles, tropical fish, eels, whales, and dolphins. 

The Cozumel sign in San Miguel de Cozumel, Mexico
The Cozumel Sign!

Since you can only access this beach via boat, the best way to get here hassle-free is on a guided tour. Enter to the chat this El Cielo private snorkel tour which takes you by boat to the beach and two different reef spots to snorkel crowd-free. The best part is that it includes a lunch of a traditional Mexican ceviche and a tasty margarita to wash it down! If you’re traveling with friends, this tour works out to be fantastic value as it costs $420 USD per group of up to 6 people – that’s just $70 USD each if you have a full group.

Lastly, there are also some really impressive Mayan ruins on Cozumel! Zona Arqueológica San Gervasio was interestingly built to worship the goddess Ixchel, the goddess of fertility. Today, you can wander the ruins of several temples, plazas, and pyramids. Admission to the ruins costs 216 MXN ($13 USD) per person, and children under age 3 go free. 

If you’d prefer a guided tour, we recommend this private Cozumel Mayan Ruins tour, which will take you on a deep dive into Mayan heritage. You’ll visit the San Gervasio ruins, see historical monuments on Casitas Beach, and end the day with a tequila tasting. This tour’s price starts at $125 USD each for 2 people (and cheaper the more you book for) and includes transportation from your hotel. It can also be done in your choice of the morning or afternoon.

Where to stay on Cozumel:

An excellent budget option on the island is Caribo Cozumel – which boasts clean and comfortable rooms in a central location. If you want to save even more money, this hostel has a fully-equipped kitchen so you can cook in, and it even offers free coffee (a great selling point for us coffee lovers!). Guests here can also use amenities like a small outdoor pool with a terrace and patio and free Wi-Fi. Expect to pay around $40 USD for a double room here but you can check for deals on Booking.com.

A more luxurious option is Playa Azul, which, as its name suggests, is very close to the beach (less than a minute’s walk!). All rooms here offer stunning ocean views, and all come with a private balcony or patio. Air-conditioning is offered in all rooms, and there’s a large outdoor pool, spa, on-site restaurant and bar, and even an on-site golf course that’s free for guests to use! Prices start at around $250 USD per night, and that rate includes a complimentary breakfast buffet every morning.

20. Tulum

Tulum Ruins, Mexico
Tulum Ruins, Mexico
Bailey swims in a Cenote on a tour in Mexico
Cenotes are the perfect place to cool off in Tulum!

Another instantly recognizable Mexican town is Tulum in Quintana Roo, which is also the same state that Playa del Carmen and Cancun belong to. In fact, most tourists will have all 3 destinations on their Mexican bucket list, as each is so special.

But, Tulum is a little different from its more famous neighbors – what it lacks in bright lights and high-rise resorts, it more than makes up for with its boho vibe, awe-inspiring cenotes, and unique Mayan ruins (the Tulum Ruins are possibly the most beautiful archaeological ruins in the world!).

Tulum is perhaps most famous for its laid-back atmosphere, and that’s honestly what drew us to this jungle-clad coastal town in the first place. But I will say that Tulum’s popularity as a tourist hotspot is soaring, and we recommend visiting soon before it becomes just as glitzy as Cancun! 

One thing that puts Tulum head and shoulders above the other tourist towns in Quintana Roo is the epic shopping that can be done here. Tulum town is lined with small boutiques selling high-quality clothing and accessories from designers from every corner of the globe. Some of my favorite stores here include La Pulga Boutique Tulum and Pura Vida Tulum – both of which specialize in earthy, boho-style clothes and accessories, which I just adore! 

If you’re a photographer, you’ll be in heaven here, as Tulum is easily one of the most Instagrammable places in Mexico. Your camera roll will almost certainly be full at the end of your vacation here. Head first to the aptly nicknamed “Instagram Street,” aka South Beach Road – the street that runs alongside the beach where you’ll find the iconic “Follow that Dream” sign. FYI, it’s outside Lolita & Lolita Boutique.

Another one of the most photogenic spots in Tulum is the Raw Love Gate – called Escultura Ven a la Luz– which is an impressive wooden work of art in the shape of a person. However, it has now become so Insta-famous that you’ll need to pay a small fee to take a photo here and likely queue in a long line. Close by is Sfer Ik, an art gallery with no art on display! Yep, the artwork here is the building itself – a custom-made, wood-and-cement structure that you really must see for yourself. 

If you don’t trust your traveling companions’ eye for snapping epic photos of you, then consider this “Instagram” tour with a professional photographer who will take you to the absolute best photo locations in and around Tulum including a cenote, the awe-inspiring Mystika Immersive exhibit and Tulum Beach – all while taking stunning photos of you along the way. A unique Tulum tour, that’s for sure! This tour costs $199 USD, and that includes lunch and a digital photo package.

Bailey overlooks Laguna Kaan Luum in Tulum, Mexico
Laguna Kaan Luum is so beautiful!
Bailey in a display at the Mystika Immersive at the Tulum Ruins
You step into the art at Mystika Immersive!

And, of course, you can’t visit Tulum and not swim in a cenote. Dare I say, Tulum is the “cenote capital” of Mexico because of its close proximity to incredible cenotes such as Dos Ojos, Gran Cenote, and Cenote Calavera. 

First up, Dos Ojos is just a 20-minute drive from Tulum. Literally translated, it means “two eyes,” and when you visit, you’ll understand why, as from above, the two interconnected cenotes look like two eyes. Dos Ojos is also one of the best cenotes to scuba dive in Tulum. I first went diving in a cenote in Tulum and it’s like a whole different experience that I can only sum up as magical!

Next is Gran Cenote, a short drive or bike ride from Tulum. It features several caves as well as an open-air section and is popular for snorkeling. My final recommended cenote in Tulum is Cenote Calavera, and it’s one of my favorites. This small cenote is just a hole in the ground, but underneath, you can dive into deep caves. 

If you want to visit a few cenotes, and you don’t have a rental car, then this 4-hour cenote tour is your best bet. It visits Cenote Cristal and Escondido, Gran Cenote, and Casa Cenote. The tour includes transport, snorkeling gear, as well as a professional guide. Tickets for this tour cost $130 USD per person.

You can’t leave without seeing the Tulum Ruins! They are arguably the most spectacularly located archaeological ruins in the world. Perched on cliffs about the coast with a pearly white sand beach below, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful historic site. This former fortress dates back to 1200 AD, and it has had various uses throughout the years. For example, the pyramid here was once used as a lighthouse. It costs just 90 MXN ($5 USD) to visit the ruins and another 45 MXN ($2.50 USD) if you want to use a professional camera (cell phones are free to use).

Also at the Tulum Ruins is Mystika Immersive. This interactive museum showcases the stories of the ancient Mayan civilization but with fantastic visuals with everything from stars to butterflies and you actually step into the art. It’s a whole 360-degree experience and makes for some epic photos and a nice break from the heat! Tickets are available online for only $27 USD.

About 6.2 miles (10 km) from Tulum is the bright blue Laguna Kaan Luum, which is quite literally various shades of blue thanks to the different depths in the lake. Although it’s called a lake, it’s actually a cenote because its water source comes from an underground river. 

Bailey on an ATV in Tulum, Mexico
Bailey likes to go slow and steady!

And it’s not the myriad of blue colors that make this “lake” so pretty. It’s the fact it’s surrounded by lush jungle. One of the best things to do here is simply to relax and take in the stunning scenery – there are a few seating areas and palapas on its perimeter. My favorite amenity here is the swing that they’ve recently added, and it hovers over the water. It makes for an epic photo. 

Because it’s so close, you can easily plan a day trip from Tulum or book this great tour, which stops not only at the lagoon but at 3 cenotes, too. It’s a long day at 13-15 hours, but it really does include some of Tulum’s best sights. The price of $105 USD includes all admission fees, a boxed breakfast, and lunch. A life vest (for swimming in the cenote) and a dock fee are extra and are payable in cash on the day. 

Cancun gets a lot of praise as the best place to party in this part of Mexico, but we say Tulum has a top-class nightlife scene, too. Albeit a little more lowkey than its more famous neighbor. Our all-time favorite place to party here in Tulum is Batey Mojito and Guarapo Bar, which is right in the heart of town. This live music joint hosts some really class local talent, and it also serves up the best mojito outside of Cuba! 

Where to stay in Tulum:

Tulum has many excellent accommodation options, and there’s a hotel/hostel for every budget and travel style. These are our favorite places to stay in Tulum!

First up is the super-social Hostel Che Tulum. This is THE place to stay if you want to meet other travelers. And if you’re on a budget, a bed in a dorm room with air conditioning and breakfast will be around $14-$20 USD a night. A steal of a deal! Other perks of staying here include the lovely outdoor pool and its central location, meaning you’re within walking distance of the town’s top attractions. You can easily book on HostelWorld.com or Booking.com

A second option, and one in the middle price range, is the Aruma Boutique Hotel, which is only a few minutes walk from the center of town. The staff are very friendly, there’s a rooftop pool and bar, and the breakfast served up every morning is delicious! Expect to pay between $50 and $100 USD per night, depending on the time of year you’re in town. 

Related Read: Another incredible Tulum activity is a catamaran cruise. It’s the best way to see this stunning coastline.

21. Bacalar

Laguna Bacalar, such a pretty spot!
  • Location: Located in Quintana Roo and only an hour from the border with Belize.
  • What is it best known for: Being the home to the Lagoon of 7 colors – one of the most beautiful lakes in the world!

Second-to-last on our list of the best places to visit in Mexico, and it’s a goodie – magical Bacalar. My favorite hidden gem destination in Mexico, off-the-beaten-path Bacalar, is huddled alongside the Lagoon of 7 Colors (Laguna de Los Siete Colores), a mindboggling beautiful lake that appears to be a mixture of seven different shades of blue and green. So, as you can guess, most of the best things to do in Bacalar involve the lake, be it a boat cruise, an SUP experience, or a kayaking tour. 

As I mentioned, booking a Bacalar boat tour is a must while you’re in town. It was our favorite Bacalar experience, and to me, it’s the best way to explore the breathtaking lake, particularly if you only have a limited amount of time in Bacalar! 

This is the half-day boat tour we did, and it really incorporates the very best sites on the lagoon. You’ll see Pirates’ Channel and Black Cenote which is one of the deepest cenotes in the Riviera Maya and where you can try out a facial mask made from sulfur mud for a natural spa-like experience. In addition to that, you’ll swing by the Island of Birds and Cenote Esmeralda. Snorkeling equipment is provided, and you’ll have heaps of time to swim in the lagoon and at both cenotes.  

For the grand sum of $55 USD, this tour includes snacks and beverages as well as unlimited drinks (yup, beers and cocktails, too!) from an open bar, plus they played great music on the boat – perfect vibes all around! You can reserve this experience online here.

Bailey sits on the wall of Fort San Felipe in Bacalar, Mexico
What a view at Fort San Felipe!
Bailey swims in the crystal clear waters of Bacalar Lagoon on a boat tour
I spent the entire day in the water!

Another memorable tour on the lake is this sunrise stand-up paddleboarding experience, which has you out on the lagoon bright and early before the tourists and boats are out. The best time to see it, in my opinion. You’ll stop by the Black Cenote and Bird Island, and the price is super cheap at $35 USD including breakfast.  

For history buffs, be sure to add Fort San Felipe, aka San Felipe Castle, to your Bacalar itinerary. The stone fortress was built way back in 1725 by the governor of Yucatán and, to this day, remains remarkably intact. It was an important historical location as it helped protect the area.

The fort was converted into a museum in the early 1980s and now contains more than 250 years of historical artifacts, treasures, and stories involving Mayans, Spanish settlers, and pirates. While I had a great time learning about the history of the fort, I have to say that my favorite part was the incredible view of the lagoon you get from up top. It’s definitely a spot to grab a few photos!

And lastly, I just had to include one of my favorite restaurants in the Yucatan here, Mango y Chile is a plant-based Mexican restaurant right here in Bacalar town that serves up smoothies, Maya tortillas, and even burgers and everything is vegan! But you don’t have to be vegan to enjoy it – neither of us is, and we loved everything we tried – the dishes are so fresh and colorful! And if that hasn’t convinced you, Mango y Chile has a spectacular view of the lake and a lovely patio area. 

Where to stay in Bacalar:

When we visited this gorgeous region, we stayed at the purse-friendly Che Bacalar Hostel & Bar. It’s centrally located at just a 5-minute walk from the lagoon and is clean and spacious. There’s a pool, bar, and free WiFi – basically, everything we needed for a few nights. Plus, the view of the lagoon from their rooftop is one of the best views in Bacalar! For a bed in a dorm, expect to pay around $30 USD per night (more in high season!), but you can check for the best prices on either Hostelworld.com or Booking.com

The Blue Palm Bacalar is a 4-star property within walking distance of the lagoon. As you can guess, at this luxury property, the amenities are fantastic – here, you’ll have access to a large swimming pool, can wander the lush gardens, and there’s also an on-site bar and restaurant. A stay here averages $168 USD per night, and that includes a yummy breakfast! 

22. Copper Canyon

Copper Canyon Train
The famous Copper Canyon Train!
  • Location: Nestled in the Sierra Madre mountain range in Northern Mexico.
  • What is it best known for: Rugged landscape, scenic hiking trails, and being the home to the only passenger train in Mexico (the Ferrocarril Barrancas del Cobre)!

And last but definitely not least, allow us to introduce you to the Copper Canyon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site hidden among the Sierra Madre mountain range in Northern Mexico. This mind-blowing canyon is essentially a series of large canyons, and it gets its name from the copper-colored canyon walls. Would you believe the Copper Canyon is four times the size of the mighty Grand Canyon? 

One of the top attractions in the Copper Canyon is the Copper Canyon Adventure Park, where you can ride a Cable Car (aka the Teleférico de las Barrancas del Cobre) between mountains, zip along on the second longest zipline in the world, and much more.

Considering its rugged landscape, hiking is the most popular thing to do here, but because of its steep, uneven terrain and lack of trail markings, it’s recommended to do so only with a registered local guide. One of the most famous hikes here is the 32-mile (52 km) trail from Cusarare to Divisadero – it’s a long one, though, and will take between 3 and 4 days to complete. But the natural beauty along this difficult trail is hard to beat as you’ll pass by the Cusarare Falls and the Rio San Ignacio. 

Another popular hiking trail here is the one from Batopilas to Urique. It’s again a lengthy hike at 62 miles (100 km) long and it passes by deep canyons and incorporates all-round breathtaking mountain landscapes. It’s also very popular with mountain bikers.

The famous Chepe (Ferrocarril Barrancas del Cobre) train connects the region via over 80 tunnels and nearly 40 bridges. It’s the best way to get around the Copper Canyon – FYI a one-way journey should take around 4 hours. The train starts or ends, depending on which way you do it, in Chihuahua, chugging 391 miles (630 km) along to Los Mochis. You can hop on and off the train line, as you wish, at the many beautiful small towns along its route. There are 7 stops in total!

The colonial town of El Fuerte is a popular stopping point, and it’s home to the archaeological ruins of Cerro de la Mascara – it was here that 300 petroglyphs were discovered on rocks, once used as a ceremonial center.

The small town of Bahuichivo is another popular stop as from here you can access the Urique Canyon, one of the deepest in the Copper Canyon. The nearby town of Cerocahui, a short bus ride from the Bahuichivo train station, is where most people tend to base themselves for a few nights as it has a number of budget hotels and campsites. In this small, friendly town, take some time to check out the swimming baths, a 20-minute walk from town – the perfect spot to cool off, or hike one hour to the beautiful Cerocahuia Falls. 

Creel is another great gateway town to the Copper Canyon, and because it’s a fairly large town, it’s where many tourists tend to base themselves to explore the region. It’s also one of the best places to start a full-day tour of the Copper Canyon. This particular tour is 5-7 hours long and takes you to some of the top attractions in the canyon, including the Fertility Stone, Chepe train tunnel, Canon Rio Oteros viewpoint, Cave of Doña Catalina, and San Luis de Majimachi viewpoint. It costs $82 USD for two people or only $52 each for a group of four including pick-up from most hotels in Creel.

From Creel, you can also go mountain biking in the nearby highlands (so much fun!), take a day trip to the Recohuata Hot Springs, or drive around 3 hours to Basaseachic Falls National Park. This park is home to the second-tallest waterfall in Mexico (Basaseachic Falls), which is a whopping 812 feet (246 m) tall. 

Where to stay in the Copper Canyon:

We recommend basing yourself in Creel to explore the Copper Canyon as it’s the largest gateway town to the mighty canyon and has the most accommodation options. Also, most guided tours depart from here.

For a homey place that’s super budget-friendly, La Troje de Adobe is our pick. It’s right in the heart of Creel only about 4 minutes from the train station. The rooms are cozy with a rustic, mountain feel to them, but it’s the staff members here that set this place above the rest! They are super helpful and happy to offer recommendations on the best things to do. Rooms are about $50 USD on Booking.com.

Those looking for a luxury option will be impressed by the amenities offered at The Lodge at Creel Eco. Here, you’ll find a fitness center, sauna and, two on-site restaurants. The rooms are cozy and spacious and all come with a balcony as standard (many with garden views). Rates here average $170 USD per night.

How to Get Around Mexico

Daniel and Bailey take a selfie driving in their rental car in Mexico
In our rental car!

Mexico is massive – it’s the world’s 13th biggest country, which is why if you plan to visit a couple of places (we highly recommend you do!), it’s essential you know the best way to get around. Personally, I prefer to travel in a rental car, but then again, we’ve rented cars numerous times in Mexico and feel confident driving here.

If you’re not keen to drive in Mexico – the bus (the ADO service is excellent) is your best bet. But, between some major destinations, you can get a train or fly. I’ve listed all the best ways to get around Mexico below!

By Bus

The bus is one of the most convenient ways to get around Mexico. Even though a bus journey will take longer than driving a rental car or a domestic flight, it’s a reliable, safe, and cheap option. The best way to book a bus journey in Mexico is with BusBud, as it shows you all the routes and companies available and is super easy to use! 

The main roads in Mexico are typically in good condition (although secondary roads can be bumpy and full of potholes), and most cities and towns are well-connected. Plus, the bus services are reasonably priced, and the popular ADO service, which operates from most tourist spots, is quite luxurious with comfortable seats, air conditioning, toilets, and often TV screens on the back of the seat in front. Other popular bus companies in Mexico include ETN Turistar, Grupo Estrella Blanca, and Primera Plus.

For longer journeys, for example, between Mexico City and Oaxaca, you can opt for a Deluxe or Executive bus class. This is like traveling by plane in that you’ll get a reclining seat, have air-conditioning, can access movies on video screens on the back of the seat in front, WiFi, drinks/snacks, and toilets. These services will also be much quicker than, say 1st Class or 2nd Class buses as there are little to no stops, and they tend to drive on toll roads.

Alternatively, if you’re on a tight budget camiones (or local buses) run frequently between most cities and towns. But keep in mind that these are often jam-packed and don’t have the same amenities as the ADO bus, Turistar bus, etc. (usually no toilets or AC!).

Another popular option is to book a shuttle service via Bookaway. These are essentially minivans that typically go directly from A to B and are a slightly more luxurious option. Bookaway also shows options to book bus trips if you want to grab tickets that way. For example, a minivan journey between Playa del Carmen and Cancun starts from $7 USD – which we think is very reasonable!

By Rental Car

Undoubtedly, one of the best ways to get around Mexico is in a rental car

I struggled to get around by bus and taxi for the longest time. But after renting a car in Cancun in 2023, I never looked back. It allowed me to explore the country without worrying about tours or taxis. It was why I fell in love with Mexico and eventually decided to live here periodically. 

I refuse to use local services whenever I rent a car in Mexico. The truth is they sometimes can’t be trusted or come with hidden fees (or costly insurance that doesn’t make sense). There are even rental car scams! So instead, I use Discover Cars, the company most experienced travelers or ex-pats in Mexico recommend. 

The rates on Discover Cars are cheap, too, with the average rental costing around $25 USD per day. Full coverage insurance can be added for an extra $10 USD a day too. 

Driving in Mexico also only requires a driver’s license using the Roman alphabet. If yours uses another like Japan and China, you simply need an international driving permit. 

Insurance is required, but if you book with book with Discover Cars and get the full coverage, that’s all you need! Oh, and being over 18 is required, and if you’re over 25, your rental will be much cheaper! 

By Train

Would you believe there’s only one passenger train in operation in Mexico? The Ferrocarril Chihuahua Pacífico which operates in the Copper Canyon. This breathtakingly beautiful train journey starts in Los Mochis and ends in Chihuahua. And it’s the best way to get around this part of Mexico!

By Plane

If you want to see all corners of the country in a short timeframe, then domestic flights will be your best friend. Of course, flying will work out to be more expensive than driving or going by bus, but it’s a heck of a lot quicker. There are over 60 airports in Mexico, so flying between destinations will be easy. FYI, the biggest and most connected airports in Mexico include Mexico City, Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, and Guadalajara. Airlines like AeroméxicoTAR AerolíneasVolaris, and VivaAerobus are the most popular airlines in Mexico, and all are competitively priced.

The Best Time to Visit Mexico

Bailey snorkeling in Isla Mujeres, Mexico (2)
Certain times of the year are better for snorkeling than others.

Mexico is a huge country, so deciding when to travel here depends on what destinations you want to visit.

On the Yucatan Peninsula (home to big-hitter cities like Cancun, Playa del Carmenand Tulum), the best time to visit is their dry season, which runs from December to April. Expect daily temperatures of around 78°F (25°C) if you’re visiting at this time. This is also their busiest season, so prices will be higher. At this time of year, there’s less rain and wind, meaning that the seas are calm – making it the perfect time for water activities like scuba diving and snorkeling. On that note, if you plan to go swimming with whale sharks in Cancun and elsewhere in the Yucatan, you’ll need to time your visit between June and September, as this is whale shark season. 

As for Oaxaca and Mexico City – both cities enjoy mild year-round temperatures, but the best and most popular time to visit these vibrant cities is again in the dry season (November to April). This also ties in nicely with the Day of the Dead Celebrations, which run from October 31 to the start of November. This is a must-see event in both cities, but especially in Oaxaca

And in Southern Mexico – most specifically in Cabo San LucasPuerto Vallarta, and Sayulita we say the best months to visit are May and June, which is kind of the in-between season. It means there’ll be fewer tourists, and the weather is perfect, with average daily highs of 91°F (32°C) and little-to-no wind. This time of year is also before the summer storms hit, so the weather will be calm and perfect for snorkeling and scuba diving. However, if you plan to swim with whale sharks in Cabo, you’ll need to visit a little earlier, from November to April, as this is whale shark season. 

Thanks for reading!

Daniel and Bailey take a selfie on Playa Langosta in Cancun, Mexico
Thanks for reading!

Well, that turned out to be one bucket-list-worthy Mexico itinerary! Each and every one of these destinations has a special place in my heart and I just know you will love them as much as me once you visit. The only question now is what part of Mexico will you visit first?!

If you have any questions we would love to hear from you. So, please leave a comment below and we will get back to you! We have a ton of informative destination guides and inspiring blogs about travel in Mexico. Head over to our Mexico page to check them all out! Or keep reading below for some of our other favorite Mexico guides.

5 BEST Cenote Tours in Tulum +Our Honest Review

Is Mexico Safe? Safety Info about Traveling in Mexico

33 Epic Things to do in San Pancho, Mexico

21 FUN Things to do in Bucerias, Mexico and Complete City Guide