There's no denying it: Mexico remains one of the most popular international destinations for U.S. travelers year after year. Over 10.5 million U.S. tourists visited Mexico in 2019 alone, according to the Mexican government, and that number shows no signs of slowing. But Mexico is a huge place, and there's a lot more to the country than just its top destinations — like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Puerto Vallarta. Mexico has countless fascinating cities and towns, amazing natural sights, and thriving indigenous communities that all merit exploring, if spending a week on the beach isn't your speed. So where should you go when planning a trip to Mexico? Read on — we broke down Mexico's top destinations, from hidden gems and under-the-radar towns to its biggest cities and best beaches.
Looking for something that's not on the tourist radar? Check out our 10 favorite underrated destinations in Mexico.
Located along the Caribbean Sea on the northeast coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, Cancun is known for its white-sand beaches and one of the world’s longest coral reefs. Cancun International Airport makes it relatively easy to fly directly into the resort town, which is really more of a city (one of Mexico’s largest). Warm year-round, the average temperature is just about 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and kept mild by trade winds. Most tourists stick to Cancun’s Hotel Zone — the isthmus that juts out into the sea, separate from the bustling city on the mainland. There, you’ll find all of the rowdy bars and nightclubs for which Cancun is famous. Resorts here vary (some are for singles, others for families) and there’s a wide range of quality — from party crash pads to truly luxurious options. For example, Beloved Playa Mujeres is an all-inclusive, adult-only property with 109 rooms that have private balconies and ocean views, plus activities such as ocean kayaking and bike tours. Grand Oasis Cancun, on the other hand, is a family-friendly mega-resort with 1,800 rooms, 18 restaurants, and entertainment geared toward all ages. There are also plenty of hotels that aren’t resorts, plus activities beyond the all-inclusive walls such as El Rey Ruins, Interactive Aquarium, and Xcaret Eco Theme Park.
If you’re after truly luxurious amenities, a prime location right on the beach, and excellent food and drinks, Le Blanc Spa Resort Cancun is for you. This adults-only property is flush with pools, wellness offerings, spacious rooms, and sea views, and is one of the most popular resorts in all of Mexico.
Chichen Itza and the Mayan Ruins of the Yucatan
The temple city of Chichen Itza not only has some of the best Mayan architecture in the world, but comes with a boatload of fascinating history. Its cenotes were considered an opening to the Mayan underworld, where offerings could be made to gods. Excavations of these sinkholes has yielded gold and jade artifacts — as well as human skeletons. The area is best known for El Castillo, a pyramid with 365 steps representing the days of the year. The village has several other notable structures, including the Temple of Chac Mool, also known as the Hall of the Thousand Prisoners. Located a little more 75 miles west of Cancun, a visit to the Chichen Itza UNESCO World Heritage is one of the most popular day trips from Cancun and the Riviera Maya. Other popular regional ruins include those at Coba and in Tulum. If you’d prefer not to bed down in the beach towns, we suggest an overnight in vastly underrated Valladolid, which is packed with charm.
When staying is a city as charming as Valladolid, it’s crucial to find a hotel to match. We love the antique style at Casa Tía Micha and little perks like the amazing Mexican breakfast. It also has a prime location right in the center of town for easy access to great dinners after a day at the pyramids of Chichen Itza.
For travelers who want to steer clear of Mexico’s booze-guzzling spring breakers and rowdy all-inclusive resorts, Tulum is the place to be. This bohemian destination in the Riviera Maya is well-known for its delicious food, jungle parties, eco-conscious establishments, and artisanal boutiques. When you’re in Tulum it’s also worth a trip to the well-preserved Tulum Ruins, which were originally built in the waning days of Mayan civilization. It’s best to visit them before 9:30 A.M., when the sun is still rising and the crowds have yet to arrive. The entire Tulum area is lined by some of the most beautiful beaches in the Riviera Maya. Tulum also offers a range of hotels, from eco-friendly luxury spots to more modest comforts. While in the area, many visitors opt for a day trip tour of the Coba ruins to climb the 120 steps up Nohoch Mul, the tallest temple pyramid on the Yucatan peninsula. You can also head to Sian Ka’an Nature Preserve to see the wildlife and birds.
Year after year, Be Tulum is one of the most popular options in Tulum. The vibe here is lively, and the style is beach-chic. We love little extras like private pools or whirlpools and the great spa with a traditional temazcal for a healing ceremony.
Los Cabos has several different sides, from the party-hard reputation of downtown Cabo San Lucas to the charm of San Jose del Cabo and the region’s stunning natural beauty. Los Cabos is composed of three different districts: San Jose del Cabo, Cabo San Lucas, and the long stretch of coast in between, referred to as The Corridor. San Jose del Cabo has more of a historic and cultural focus, while Cabo San Lucas is home to more bars and nightclubs. In between are countless luxury resorts and a variety of all-inclusive resorts. The area is also known for its rugged oceanfront cliffs and desert hills. Many golf courses, restaurants, bars, and resorts can be found throughout Los Cabos. Note that swimmable beaches in Los Cabos are few and far between. In Cabo San Lucas, lie on Playa Médano with views of Lands’ End and its famous Arco. Up the coast, Playa Chileno is a bit calmer (you won’t hear any booze cruises off shore). For those who want to worship the sun with a golf club in hand, there are many world-class courses, including Punta Sur, which has views of the Sea of Cortez and Sierra de la Laguna mountains.
Situated right next to one of the few swimmable beaches in the Cabo region, Chileno Bay Resort & Residences is a perfectly low-key, but stylish hideaway. The vibe is bohemian cool, but with sophisticated flare, and everything from wellness amenities to locavore dining and rooms delight.
Playa del Carmen, like big sister Cancun up the coast, has multiple personalities. There’s the raucous downtown area that includes touristy La Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue) as well as bars and nightclubs, but there are also quieter luxury developments to the north and south of town: Mayakoba and Playacar. You can come here to tie one on and party at the numerous beach clubs, or relax in peace and quiet with a butler at your beck and call. Nature lovers will want to check out the nearby Rio Secreto to climb and swim through caverns punctuated with stalactites and stalagmites. Other highlights include Xcaret Eco Theme Park, which is one of the most popular adventure parks in Mexico, and snorkeling at Xel-Ha. Playa del Carmen is only about an hour south of the Cancun International Airport, making it easy to reach. You can also opt for day trips to Cozumel from here by using the ferry.
From six pools and a beautiful stretch of beach to great dining options and luxe services, the adults-only Royal Hideaway Playacar is one of the most appealing all-inclusive resorts around Playa del Carmen. It’s only a short drive from the center of Playa del Carmen, but the peace and quiet feels worlds away.
During the Mexican War of Independence, San Miguel de Allende was the first town to be officially free of Spanish rule. These days, many expats and artists flock here to be a part of the flourishing creative community. A road that passed from Mexico City (Mexico’s capital) through San Miguel de Allende helped it grow, particularly during the 17th and 18th centuries. The well-preserved buildings from that period, such as the iconically pink Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel, bring curious travelers who want to bask in the colonial culture. The inventiveness of the current community can be seen on the walls of cafes and in the main plaza where mariachis play and craftspeople sell their wares. It’s an incredibly atmospheric town that draws tourists in droves, making it one of the easiest places to explore outside of the main cities and beach regions.
No visit to San Miguel de Allende is complete without bedding down in one of its charming boutique hotels. Hotel Matilda perfectly fits the bill and offers a great array of high-end extras, including a pool, an incredibly popular restaurant, and sharp rooms.
Puerto Morelos is a former fishing village located halfway between Cancun and Playa del Carmen. It’s a little quieter (read: no packs of drunk spring breakers) than Cancun, but has the same enchanting mix of sun, sand, and waves. The beautiful waters are shallow enough for wading and snorkeling. The impressive reefs just offshore attract a fair share of divers, and many come to take a dip in the inland cenotes (massive sinkholes filled with crystal-clear groundwater). Plus, there are several beachfront restaurants to keep you fueled up when you’re not exploring the big blue playground.
A favorite of Oyster.com readers, Desire Riviera Maya Resort is the perfect pick for travelers who are a little more adventurous. This couples-only, clothing optional all-inclusive lets you get in touch with your hedonistic side, and matches that with contemporary decor and a lively vibe.
About 20 minutes north of Tulum, Akumal is known for its protected waters filled with sea turtles (its name even translates to “Land of the Turtles”). Dive and snorkel through the clear, calm waters to peep the coral reef, tropical fish, and docile, hard-shell creatures. Want to speed up your scuba training? Akumal Dive Shop is one of the most popular training centers in the region and offers classes. And swimmers and sunbathers who like to fuel up away from the beach can choose from one of the numerous fresh seafood restaurants joints inland.
With free dinners and shows at the wildly popular Chic Cabaret on-site, along with excellent dining options and one of the prettiest pools in the Riviera Maya, the TRS Yucatan is one of the nicest luxury all-inclusives in the region. The vibe is upbeat during the day, yet peaceful at night, making it a perfect adults-only escape.
Isla Mujeres is a former fishing village located about 10 miles by ferry from Cancun. The Spanish named this “Island of Women” — the English translation of the name — after finding many carved statues and structures devoted to the Mayan goddess Ixchel. These days, it’s a fine choice those who want to snorkel, swim, sunbathe, and kayak in a more low-key destination than some of the more frantic tourist spots on the Mexican mainland. But it’s not all about amazing beaches and water sports — Isla Mujeres also has delicious seafood, a turtle farm, and ruins. If you’re here during the winter months, you’d be smart to book a whale shark diving tour, as this part of the Caribbean Sea is one of the few places that reliably host these gentle swimming giants.
This all-inclusive resort is one of the most popular on Isla Mujeres. Dining gets stellar marks, and the beachfront pool is a great spot to unwind in the sun (though the Zoetry Villa Rolandi has several other pools to cool off in).
Travelers who are more interested in soaking up culture rather than the sun should plan a trip to Mexico City. Several of the country’s most impressive museums can be found here — one of the largest cities in the world. In fact, the city likes to tout that it has more museums than any other on the planet. That starts on an incredibly high note at the National Museum of Anthropology, which houses an astonishing collection of pre-Columbian artifacts, including the famous Aztec calendar stone. In the Centro Historico, the Palacio de Bellas Artes features murals by Diego Rivera and Rufino Tamayo in a building that combines Belle Epoque and Art Deco styles. The Frida Kahlo Museum, also known as La Casa Azul, is located in the Mexican artist’s former home, and boasts one of the most popular collections in the area. The National Palace, home of the executive branch of Mexico’s government, also has several beautiful gardens and Diego Rivera murals. Historic sites include Templo Mayor (one of the main temples of the Aztecs) and the Catedral Metroplitana on the Zocalo — the city’s main square. To top it off, Mexico City offers an incredible dining scene, amazing boutique shopping, wild nightlife, and a cultural calendar that never stops. Oh, and the spring-like year-round weather doesn’t hurt either.
Located right on the Zocalo, amid Mexico City’s buzzing Centro Historico, the Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico is a gem. With its beautiful historic interiors and rooftop restaurant with views of Mexico City’s main square and cathedral, make this a top pick.
Once the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas, Teotihuacán now lures history buffs to climb its numerous pyramids. Built in 150 B.C., the Pyramid of the Sun is the largest structure in the compound and has an excellent view of the mountains and the entire site. There are numerous smaller structures, including the Pyramid of the Moon and Temple of Quetzalcoatl. While many of the Teotihuacán’s relics have been moved 45 minutes away in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, the on-site Teotihuacán Museum has several interesting exhibits and a miniature model of the city. It’s definitely worth your time to make a day trip here from Mexico City — the pyramids are only an hour away by bus, though you can opt for a Teotihuacán guided tour as well. Be sure to bring sunscreen as there’s almost zero shade at the site.
For scuba divers, the island of Cozumel is one of the best swimming spots in the world. Local reefs are protected in a marine reserve, allowing them to remain healthy. Numerous dive schools offer scuba certification lessons and will also take visitors out on tours to see scorpion fish, sea horses, tarpons, and plenty more. For the less adventurous, Stingray Beach offers a nice view into the clear waters without needing to strap on an air tank. On land, history fans can peruse the San Gervasio ruins, once a destination for Mayan women to offer tribute to Ixchel, goddess of fertility and love. Ferries leave for Cozumel from Playa del Carmen, which is about an hour south of Cancun’s airpot. It’s a popular day trip stop, though beware that cruise dockings can swell the islands population. For those who want to stay over, there are many hotels, from the upscale Melia Cozumel All-Inclusive Golf & Beach Resort to Hotel B Cozumel, which caters to a younger, partying crowd.
The truth is that Cozumel doesn’t have the largest hotel inventory in Mexico’s Caribbean region. However, Hotel B is an incredible exception. Interiors are attractive and contemporary, and everything from the seaside infinity pool to free loaner bikes make a stay here special.
While it doesn’t get the same attention as Cancun or Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta is one of Mexico’s most popular beach destinations. It draws a mix of families, couples, and friends looking to party, and draws a particularly loyal LGBTQ following. Gay bars are numerous in town, and drag performances shouldn’t be missed. The city sits on the Bay of Banderas, which helps shield the beaches from the notoriously strong surf along Mexico’s Pacific coast. In town, expect bars, restaurants, and tourist shops by the dozen, while outside of town, the scene is very different. Boat trips to villages like Yelapa (which can’t be accessed by car) give you a window on how the region used to look, while Nuevo Vallarta and the Riviera Nayarit to the north are home to posh luxury resorts. Temperatures remain warm during most of the year (it’s about 72 degrees Fahrenheit in January and 81 degrees in summer). Keep in mind the rainy season falls between June to mid-October, with September usually being the wettest month of the year. Activities include hiking from Boca de Tomatlan to Las Animas and indulging in the numerous local foodie options. Plus, Puerto Vallarta stays awake when the sun dips below the horizon. Steamy salsa clubs light up the streets, and rowdy local bars supply a steady stream of cerveza for the thirsty traveler — gay or straight.
This adults-only option draws a loyal following every year with its prime location right on the beach. Secrets Vallarta Bay definitely fits in amid Puerto Vallarta’s party scene, with its swim-up bar and generous premium all-inclusive drinks package.
Mexico’s beach resorts may be the country’s most popular tourist destinations, but Oaxaca, a state along Mexico’s southern Pacific Coast has the best of Mexico’s beach scene plus amazing inland cultural destinations. Much of that centers on Oaxaca City, which is atmospheric in the extreme and where you’ll still find the character of local indigenous cultures such as the Zapotecs and Mixtecs. Oaxaca is also home to one of the most complex local cuisines in Mexico, with dishes like hand-whipped Oaxacan chocolate, tlayudas (tortillas smeared with refried beans, Oaxacan cheese, and salsa), and tamales Oaxaqueños. Several historic sites can be found in Oaxaca City and the surrounding region, from the pre-Columbian pyramids of Monte Alban to the 18th-century Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption. If you’re more adventurous, head to the stunning Hierve el Agua, an easy day trip southeast of Oaxaca City, or any of its other under-the-radar sights. Temperatures across Oaxaca range from 88 degrees Fahrenheit in summertime to 48 degrees in the winter, though that varies depending on your altitude.
This hotel offers old world European-style luxury with activities such as an Oaxacan cooking class and wine tasting. The artsy style is pitch-perfect is atmospheric Oaxaca and outdoor terraces make it easy to take in the region’s abundant sunshine.
Guadalajara — one of Mexico’s cultural capitals — is known as the home of mariachi music as well as an international film festival and acclaimed book fair. The beautiful work of local craftspeople can be seen in the numerous baroque churches that dot the city, including the Guadalajara Cathedral. Works by several of Mexico’s famous painters, including José Clemente Orozco, can be found on the walls and ceilings of several landmarks in the city, including Orozco’s famous “Man of Fire” in the rotunda of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Hospicio Cabañas (also known as the Instituo Cultural Cabanas). You’ll find a thriving arts scene here, plenty of cafes, and a slower pace than the country’s other main cultural hub, Mexico City.
Situated right amid the Centro historic of Guadalajara, the NH Collection Guadalajara has modern rooms and a great rooftop restaurant with stunning city views. You can, of course, expect tequila tastings and cool cocktails in the bar downstairs as well.
You’ve likely heard some whispers about this part of Oaxaca at this point. We’ve told you that Puerto Escondido is one of Mexico’s best underrated destinations, though major outlets like The New York Times have also taken notice of it. That’s because Puerto Escondido embodies so much of what has always made Mexico an amazing place, especially if you’re looking to unwind along the ocean. Surfer vibes? Check. Amazing scenery? Check. Cool cafes and beachside restaurants? Double check. The laid-back atmosphere of Puerto Escondido, and its blissful freedom of the tourist hassle of so many other Mexican beach destinations make this a place to visit immediately. You can get here in an hour by air from Mexico City, and once here, you’ll find secret swimmable beaches and the surfer-ready Zicatela all begging for your attention.
Situated just above the Zicatela, Villa Mozart y Macondo is easily one of the quirkiest and coolest spots in town. The owner’s cool art collection takes center stage, though the unique bungalows and amazing breakfast are also more than enough reason to stay here.
With over 190 miles of beautiful sandy beaches, wonderful resorts, and world-class golf, it’s surprising the Riviera Nayarit is now firmly on the tourist the radar. Punta Mita and Nuevo Vallarta are probably the most well-known towns in this vast region, and home to the biggest resorts, but Riviera Nayarit also hosts charming little beach towns that are worth a visit. For those whose ideal vacation involves snoozing under a straw umbrella on a gorgeous sandy beach, the shoreline is beautiful and varied. The most popular beaches are on Banderas Bay, but it’s worth exploring the beautiful stretches of sand farther north. Sayulita and San Pancho are wonderful picks and offer good waves along with plenty of bohemian charm. If you’re after something more adrenaline-pumping, opt for zip lining, surfing, hiking; and even rock climbing. While the rainy season is, well, rainy, showers usually only take place in the evening for a couple of hours. Plus, the temperatures rarely dip below the 70s at night and the high hovers above the 80s during the day year-round, so outdoor activities can be enjoyed even in the off-season.
If you know us, you know we are enthusiastic about the Grand Velas all-inclusive chain. That’s because you get so much for what you pay for — excellent dining, beautiful grounds, and top-shelf cocktails. The Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit is no exception. It has activities for adults and kids, spacious rooms, a three-tiered pool, and excellent spa.
, the largest city in the state of Yucatan (the western part of the Yucatan Peninsula), has developed a distinct culture that combines influences from its Mayan, Spanish, French, and British history. A trip to “The White City,” as it’s known, usually includes a tour of Mayan ruins, beautiful cathedrals, and distinctive examples of architecture that are rarely seen elsewhere. These days, it’s making a name for itself among culture seekers and foodies as well. The cuisine here is Yucatecan, relying heavy on seafood and local tropical produce, and every week there seem to be new galleries popping up in town. Merida is land-locked, but if you’re after the beach, simply head north to Progreso, where you may spot flamingos in the lagoon if you’re lucky.
While it’s not technically in the center of Merida — in fact, it’s about 25 minutes from town — Hacienda Santa Cruz is one of the most special properties on the Yucatan Peninsula. You’re coming here to unwind in peace and quiet after a day exploring the bustling city. There are two pools, a lovely spa, and a restaurant that serve excellent Mexican cuisine.
Holbox Island — Isla Holbox (pronounced hole-bosh) — is the Mexico of yore. Even after making a splash on the tourist scene, this isolated island has retained its quiet and quaint charm. You see, there are no cars here, and to reach it you’ll need to drive nearly two hours north of Cancun and then hop a ferry. But that commute is worth it. This is barefoot island life in the extreme, with a laid-back pace, just enough yoga and wellness spots, and great local cuisine that makes unplugging a true dream. Even better? The location is great for seeing whale sharks, pelicans, flamingos, and other wildlife.
Situated right along the pristine blue waters of Isla Holbox’s shore, Las Nubes de Holbox has just the right amount of creature comforts to feel like you’re spoiling yourself in an admittedly unplugged place. Rooms are spacious and sharp, there are two pools, and it’s an easy 10-minute bike ride to the center of town.
Mazatlan is undergoing something of a rediscovery these days. You see, Hollywood stars once flocked to Mazatlan in the 1950s before the town fell on hard times the 1970s and ’80s as Acapulco became the place to be. However, Mazatlan is once again drawing in-the-know travelers. Old Mazatlan has hotels and restaurants located in restored 19th-century buildings, creating charming places to unwind for a long weekend. You’ll find plenty of dazzling sights there. Dia de los Muertos celebrations are also quite lovely in the town’s historic center. Alternatively, bars and nightclubs are the name of the game in Mazatlan’s Zona Dorada. The four-mile malecon (boardwalk) is the best place to stroll and take in the sunset. Oh, and eight miles of pretty beaches is what brought the stars to Mazatlan years ago and continues to lure new visitors today. Keep in mind that the state of Sinaloa, where Mazatlan is located, should not be explored independently.
Spacious suites, a great beachfront location, and a quiet vibe all make the Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay a great Mazatlan pick. Rooms are bright and cheerful, and there are three restaurants to choose from.
Known and loved for its excellent deep-sea fishing, Manzanillo has been the location for numerous international angling competitions. The city is home to two bays — Bahía de Manzanillo and Bahía de Santiago — with crescent-shaped beaches. The relatively little amount of tourist traffic on them keeps the sand and water pristine. Bahía de Santiago in particular also offers an excellent backdrop for snorkeling and diving. Several all-inclusive resorts are available for those who want to enjoy their fishing along with some pampering. Visitors are also usually on the lookout for the green flash phenomena: During sunrise or sunset, a small green spot can be seen on the upper edge of the sun.
Situated right on the beach, the Gran Festivall All Inclusive is a simple resort with the typical amenities for an all-inclusive vacation: a nightclub, several pools, and direct beach access. You’ll find plenty of kid-friendly amenities here, making this a solid alternative to more expensive resort areas.
Zihuatanejo has long been a quiet fishing village that became a travel destination when nearby Ixtapa was developed into a resort town. Maintaining more of its cultural roots than Ixtapa, Zihuatanejo is loved by tourists who want to mix a sunbathing Mexican getaway with cute beach-town life. It’s packed with quaint restaurants and bars that make this a great alternative to more built-up resort destinations. And Ixtapa, a government-planned tourist resort just next door, is well-suited for families who want to enjoy sunbathing and all-inclusive resort life.
One of the poshest hotels in otherwise casual Zihuatanejo, the Thompson Zihuatanejo has a great spa, two beachfront restaurants, three lovely pools, and attractive rooms that make this a great pick. There are only 47 rooms here, so the vibe stays peaceful and uncrowded.
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