Charity De Souza is a Florida native and travel enthusiast. Traveling to over 50 countries abroad and residing in 6, she has a passion for exploring new cultures. While Central Florida is where she calls home, her favorite travel memories include skydiving in Switzerland and watching the sunset in Morocco.
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K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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With its perfect combination of rich cultural heritage, stunning scenery, endless sunshine, and beautiful sandy beaches, it comes as no surprise why Mexico is a top vacation destination at any time of year. A mix of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, luxury resorts, and beautiful beach getaways, Mexico offers visitors an enticing blend of Mesoamerican cultures, where authentic Spanish traditions, delicious cuisine, and shimmering blue coastline are only a few of the enticing facets of culture to explore. Perfect for nature lovers, visitors will find a range of outdoor activities in addition to miles of tranquil beaches, perfect for either a day of relaxation or partaking in thrilling water-based adventures.
From cities with snowcapped mountain backdrops to beach destinations with colorful underwater marine life, these are the best places to vacation in Mexico.
Cancun is a world-famous destination, where its spectacular beaches are the perfect spot to try a range of water sports, from jet skiing to parasailing. Offering visitors a comprehensive vacation package, Cancun is known for its glittering beaches, 5-star hotels, and exciting nightlife. With year-round weather ideal for soaking in the sunshine, Cancun maintains its reputation as one of the most popular Mexican destinations. With restaurants, bars, and clubs around every corner, visitors are spoiled for choice in how they spend their days and nights in Cancun. While the area’s after-hours activities are some of the most popular in Mexico, visitors shouldn’t miss out on exploring Chichen Itza, a large Mayan archaeological site that is considered one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.
Located on the picturesque Yucatan Peninsula, Playa Del Carmen is one of the most beautiful beach areas to explore in Mexico. A lively resort town in the state of Quintana Roo, it is a former fishing village with a European influence, where visitors are greeted with a mix of soft sand beaches and buzzing entertainment venues. Boasting a laid-back personality, most visitors come to Playa Del Carmen to relax, enjoy the endless sunshine and partake in one of the many outdoor activities available. From scuba diving to snorkeling, the crystal clear waters and beaches are bustling with locals and visitors alike throughout the day until the bars and nightclubs in La Quinta Avenida fill up with revelers in the evening.
It’s not only the capital of the country, but Mexico City is also one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. Surrounded by striking volcanic mountains, Mexico City boasts a collection of world-class museums, art galleries, and attractions to fill up an itinerary for most travelers, while its historic city center serves as the centerpiece of the area and welcomes visitors to explore the streets lined with restaurants, bars, and attractions. A 5-square-mile UNESCO World Heritage Site, visitors will find more than 1,400 notable colonial-style buildings that date back to the 16th century. Take a stroll through the bustling Constitution Square to find the National Palace, spot the Metropolitan Cathedral, and visit the Templo Mayor with Aztec relics, then retreat to one of Mexico City’s top hotels.
What was once a tucked-away oasis on Mexico’s east coast has developed into a coveted beach destination for luxury travelers – Tulum is also known for its well-preserved Mayan ruins and outdoor attractions. While visitors flock to Tulum to explore one of the last cities built by the Mayans, the area’s postcard-perfect location perched on a bluff also makes it a spectacular destination to soak in the stunning splendors of the Caribbean Sea. A day spent visiting Tulum’s craft markets, indulging in its array of restaurants, or swimming and snorkeling in its bright blue waters will be a memory visitors won’t soon forget.
Offering a small-town atmosphere with a vibrant array of outdoor activities to choose from, Puerto Vallarta is an increasingly popular beach destination for a variety of travelers. The Pacific coastal city has gained significant attention throughout the years, with active travelers flocking to the area to indulge in exciting water-based activities that include swimming with dolphins, paragliding, and jet skiing. With a lush jungle atmosphere and mountain backdrop, visitors can explore colonial landmarks during the day and rest their heads in world-class resorts at night or spend their days spotting giant manta rays on one of the area’s pristine beaches. Those looking for activities on land can dine in gourmet restaurants, shop at high-end shops or dance until the late hours of the night in one of the many buzzing nightclubs.
Highly regarded as the marlin sports fishing capital of the world, Cabo San Lucas is equally as famous for its buzzing party reputation, where visitors go to enjoy its lively nightlife scene in addition to its sun-kissed beaches. Lined with luxury resorts and upscale restaurants, those who want to indulge in a glitzy party scene will find this area appealing, as it is bustling with a party crowd throughout the year. Perfect for a daytime excursion, visitors can also explore the cluster of rock formations shaped by the sea at El Arco de Cabo San Lucas and spend the day swimming and snorkeling where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific.
Located about 170 miles northwest of Mexico City, San Miguel de Allende was once full of wealth from nearby silver mines but is now home to a picturesque town filled with handicraft shops, 17th-century cathedrals, and botanical gardens. Walk along the charming cobblestone streets to find vibrantly colored buildings, as this romantic city is popular for travelers who want to get a glimpse of Mexico’s diverse music, food, and arts scene. With 500-year-old colonial walkways and Baroque architecture, shopping enthusiasts will be delighted to find a variety of artisan shops with unique treasures, such as crafts, jewelry, and handmade accessories.
The capital of the state of the same name, Oaxaca is the place to go for travelers who want to be completely immersed in an authentic Mexican experience. Mixing native Indian and Spanish elements, this largely unspoiled area of Mexico has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Famous for its colorful festivals, including the Guelaguetza, the city is also a perfect place to explore the local cuisine, vibrant markets, and native customs. Situated 5,000 feet above sea level, food lovers and history buffs alike enjoy the area’s cultural treasures and architectural gems. Surrounded by the Sierra Madre del Sur mountain range, it is a picturesque town not to be missed.
Known around the world for its crystal-clear waters and coral reefs, Cozumel impresses even the most discerning beachgoer with its stunning beauty and abundance of exciting water sports opportunities. Visitors will find an array of water-based activities to fill their days, including snorkeling, kayaking, surfing, deep-sea fishing, and diving. Located in the Caribbean Sea on the Yucatan Peninsula, visitors are met with a 30-mile island that is popular for its year-round cruise port-of-calls packed with local vendors selling a variety of souvenirs to tourists. Venture outside of the tourist hotspots to find what makes this area so alluring with a local diving charter boat or glass-bottom boat tour to really see the island’s best-kept secrets and natural wonders.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Guanajuato City is one of the prettiest cities in the country, with colorful buildings that spill down the hillsides. It has a European feel, but it’s distinctly Mexico with a rich culture and history, leafy plazas, and grand baroque architecture. Wander the maze of car-free, pedestrianized streets, and be sure to take in a view from above by riding the funicular. It will bring you to the Pipila Monument lookout point, which offers a breathtaking vista from 335 feet above the city. Just a few of the other things to do include touring the silver mine, visiting the Diego Rivera and Mummy museums, and gazing up at the iconic Basílica de Nuestra Señora, a towering 17th-century baroque-style church.
Located two hours north of Cabo San Lucas along the Sea of Cortez, La Paz is the capital of Baja California Sur. A laid-back cosmopolitan city, it offers an authentic Mexican vibe with city streets lined with coconut palms, date palms, and old laurel streets, while the Malecon (waterfront promenade) stretches for three miles along the turquoise bay offering many funky shops and eateries to enjoy along the way. Just a short drive from downtown will bring you to one of the country’s most beautiful beaches, Playa Balandra, with its powdery soft white sands that frame a stunning, shallow lagoon. At low tide, you can wade out to the beach’s symbol, a unique mushroom-shaped rock.
A small town on the Sea of Cortez in the Sierra de la Giganta mountains, Loreto is the original capital of Baja California Sur and the Province of the Californias before the state of California joined the United States in 1850. It’s a fabulous destination for nature lovers and adventurers, set along Loreto Bay, offering activities in the water and the mountains. In the town itself, you’ll see several impressive colonial buildings like the 17th-century Misión de Nuestra Señora de Loreto, while art galleries, shops, charming cafes, coffee shops, and restaurants are tucked in between. This is one of the best destinations to see the rare blue whale, along with humpback and fin whales, orcas, and dolphins. The Malecon waterfront promenade is ideal for walking and biking with views of the bay, multiple islands, and wildlife, including countless pelicans. It also provides the perfect vantage points for watching colorful sunrises and sunsets.
Isla Holbox is a popular island destination in Mexico that draws visitors from across the globe. Located north of the Yucatan Peninsula, part of the Yum Balam Nature Reserve that’s separated from the mainland by the Yalahau Lagoon, known for its flamingos and pelicans, the 21-square-mile island is an undeveloped paradise. Look forward to relaxing on the bright, white powdery sands that edge the glistening, crystal-clear turquoise water of the Caribbean, and enjoy activities like swimming alongside wild dolphins and whale sharks. When you can tear yourself away from the gorgeous sands, consider renting a bike to explore the island. The tiny, picturesque village of Holbox itself is filled with colorful murals that represent the daily life of the people and the many animals that live here.
An up-and-coming destination just north of the Belize border on the Yucatan Peninsula, Bacalar is an ideal destination for those who want to discover authentic Mexican culture and jaw-dropping natural scenery. The crown jewel is stunning La Laguna de los Siete Colores (Lake of Seven Colors), a lagoon with surreal shades of brilliant blues and greens. Visitors can enjoy activities like swimming, sunrise kayak excursions, bird-watching tours, and guided jungle tours. Another one of the top attractions is the Bacalar Rapids, a stream of water where many come to float above the stromatolites, like a lazy river. There are accommodations for all budgets here too, with many rustic, affordable hotels along with a couple that provide lots of luxuries.
Often considered a “mini Mexico City”, Pueblo is a colonial city packed with a range of beautiful cathedrals, museums and other enticing attractions to explore. Walk along its historic center to gaze at buildings decked with gorgeous painted tiles, sample some of the local cuisines and visit a range of historic landmarks. Located in the middle of Mexico, Puebla is one of the oldest Mexican cities where visitors can get lost in its winding streets to find an array of picturesque fountains, gardens and craft markets. Boasting a thriving art and nightlife scene, visitors will find a vibrant city with a unique mix of old and new, where they’ll be engulfed in more than 70 historic churches in the city center alone.
A southern state bordering Guatemala, Chiapas is one of Mexico’s most underrated destinations. It’s known for its mountainous highlands, surreal turquoise lakes, waterfalls, and dense rainforests that are dotted with Mayan archaeological sites. You can visit the ancient Mayan city of Palenque near the modern town of Palenque, tucked into the rainforest featuring remarkable buildings constructed with highly-skilled artistry. In the museum on-site, you’ll see stucco hieroglyphs, intricately carved panels, and fantastical clay earns. Nearby, Agua Azurl is the perfect place for a refreshing dip. The water is a surreal shade of aquamarine, the result of crystal-clear water running over the smooth limestone riverbed and illuminated by the sun.
Huatulco is a lesser-known destination along the Pacific Coast about 70 miles east of Puerto Escondido in the state of Oaxaca. It boasts three dozen beaches lined by rocky cliffs that lead to jungle-covered mountains and offers 330 days of sunshine. It’s ideal for those who want to swim, snorkel and dive among the vibrant reefs. The only resort area in the country with international Green Globe certification for sustainable tourism with no industry or factories of any kind, the lush rainforest is filled with orchids and tropical hummingbirds. There are also opportunities to explore pre-Hispanic ruins, visit coffee plantations, and enjoy many activities on land, like river rafting, hiking, horseback riding, and birdwatching.
One of the most beautiful colonial cities in Mexico, Morelia is located in the state of Michoacan. It’s home to the only indigenous people who were never conquered by the Aztecs, with its roots displayed among the buildings made from pink quarry stone. It’s surrounded by villages that are each devoted to a specialized craft, such as textiles, pottery, musical instruments, copper, and furniture. Several of the world’s most important monarch butterflying wintering sites can be found in the mountains of eastern Michoacan, with the annual migration bringing 60 million to as many as a billion orange and black butterflies who journey from eastern Canada to the forests of western-central Mexico.
Colonial Zacatecas, Mexico’s second-highest city at 8,100 feet above sea level, offers a chance to take a trek back through history with stunning architecture that includes many civil and religious buildings from the colonial area, including the cathedral which dominates the center of town, considered one of the most beautiful examples of Churrigueresque architecture in Mexico. Best known as one of the cluster of old silver mining cities, Zacatecas has long been valued for its rich deposits of silver and other minerals. The city also hosts the famous Holy Week Cultural Festival which features more than 50 dancers and other performers.
Boasting a combination of secluded beaches, colorful sunsets, and a laid-back personality, Zihuatanejo worked hard to maintain its charming small-town feel. Offering a more authentic experience compared to its Mexican Riviera counterparts, Zihuatanejo is popular with divers and snorkelers, as they will be in heaven with their pick of more than 30 sites to explore diverse underwater marine life. Passionate foodies will find Zihuatanejo to be a refreshing change of pace, where fresh fish tacos and ceviche are in abundance along the postcard-worthy beach. Lying along a well-protected bay, visitors love this city for its vibrant fish markets, top-rated restaurants, and beautiful beaches.