Gorgeous beaches, a delicious culinary scene, festive culture and ancient pyramids all make Mexico a popular tourist destination. Mexico is a land of color and contrasts. Crowded beaches lead into quiet colonial towns while resort cities open gateways to jungles ringing with parrots and howler monkeys. Majestic mountains descend to remote deserts. Traditional pueblo houses sit near Spanish haciendas. Ruins of Mayan cities lie excavated outside of modern metropolises.
The capital, Mexico City, is a huge metropolis boasting a historical center, top museums, and chic shopping opportunities. Then there’s the enigmatic town of Oaxaca – home to colonial architecture and a fantastic Day of the Dead festival. Traces of it’s Pre-Columbian past can be found in Teotihuacan, with its pyramid dating back to 200 CE; and the archaeological site of Chichen Itza in the Yucatán Peninsula. Here’s a look a the best places to visit in Mexico:
Map of Mexico
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10. Puebla Where to Stay
Founded in 1531, Puebla, in central Mexico, is the fifth largest city in the country with over 2 million inhabitants. Its strategic location, halfway between the port of Veracruz and Mexico City, made it an important city. Today this charming colonial city pairs perfectly with hungry travelers, since it’s known as the gastronomic capital of Mexico. Be sure to try mole poblano, a traditional Mexican dish said to be invented here. Standing in the shadow of the volcano Popocatepetl, Puebla visitors also won’t want to miss the Catedral de Puebla, with its onyx statues and domed ceiling patterned after St. Peter’s in Rome. The nearby town of Cholula boast one of the largest pyramids ever built, though the structure has been badly neglected over the centuries.
9. Merida Where to Stay
Nicknamed the “White City”, Merida is the capital of Mexico’s Yucatan state. Founded by Spanish Conquistadors in 1542 upon an ancient Mayan city, Merida features numerous colonial buildings including the palace of a former Conquistador leader. The city’s main plaza, “El Zocalo,” is the location of many historic structures such as a 16th century cathedral, the Governor’s Palace and Old City Hall. The tree-lined street of El Pasea Montejo with its beautiful mansions reflects the city’s former glory days as the rope-making capital of the world. This street is a nice place to enjoy an evening walk after the heat of the day.
8. Taxco Where to Stay
Travelers with a passion for silver jewelry will naturally gravitate to Taxco, a colonial town famous for silverworks, especially jewelry. Located in northern Guerrero state, Taxco was once the most important mining region in the New World. Today, its streets paved with stones, huge colonial houses with balconies filled with colorful houses, small squares and silver workshops make Taxco one of the most popular places to visit in Mexico. Churches, such as Santa Prisca, offer great examples of baroque architecture. Holy Week is a good time to visit Taxco because of its All Souls processions where residents turn out to show their faith.
Copper Canyon, found in Chihuahua state, is actually a series of canyons that are larger and deeper than the Grand Canyon in the United States. Located in the Tarahumara Mountains, the canyons get their name from their greenish copper color. The most popular way to explore the Copper Canyon is on the “Chihuahua al Pacifico” Railway. The track passes over 37 bridges and through 86 tunnels, rising as high as 2,400 meter (7,900 feet) above sea level featuring spectacular views of the canyons below. More adventuresome travelers will enjoy the suspension bridges, zip lines, rock climbing and hiking trails.
6. Guanajuato Where to Stay
Guanajuato, capital of the state with the same name, doesn’t lack for charm. Cobblestone lanes, sidewalk cafes and some of the most stunning baroque architecture in North America give it a European flavor and are among Guanajuato’s drawing cards. The city also has a network of underground tunnels that serve as roads making this place really unique in the world. Founded in 1559, Guanajuato quickly became famous for its gold and silver mines. Some of the mines can be visited today; this includes La Valencia, one of the richest silver mines in the world. Next to the mine is the Church of San Cayetano, lavishly adorned with silver and gold. The city is a good place to enjoy traditional mariachi music.
5. Oaxaca Where to Stay
The capital city of the state by the same name, Oaxaca is located in a valley below the Sierra Madre mountains. Colonial architecture, archaeological sites, a tranquil atmosphere and one of the best Day of the Dead festivals make it a popular tourist destination in Southern Mexico. At the heart of Oaxaca is its charming town square, Zocalo, where tourists can admire beautiful colonial landmarks like the Santo Domingo church, tour museums, shop for souvenirs and relax at an outdoor cafe. Several archaeological sites around the city can be explored as well such as Monte Alban. Perched on a mountain, Monte Alban was the site of the ancient capital city of the Zapotec inhabitants. A visit here presents impressive views of the valley.
4. Mexico City Where to Stay
The capital of Mexico, Mexico City is one of the world’s largest cities comprised of many ethnic groups from all over the globe. Not only is this vast city the most important political, cultural and educational center in Mexico, but it is also one of the most important financial centers in Latin America. While there are no beaches in Mexico City, tourists will discover a great number of exciting things to see and do. The Historic Center is teeming in prominent landmarks such as the Plaza de la Constitucion, the Metropolitan Cathedral, the National Palace and the ruins of an ancient Aztec temple.
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Egypt has its pyramids, and so does Teotihuacan, at one time the largest city not only in pre-Columbian Mexico but the entire world as well. The pyramids were built between 100 AD and 450 AD, a period when Teotihuacan was emerging as an important religious center in Mesoamerica. Indeed, its name means “birthplace of the gods”, a term coined by the Aztecs who found Teotihuacan centuries after its downfall. The most important monuments are the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon, and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl. Teotihuacan became famous for its urban planning, a concept that is followed in modern times today. Teotihuacan makes a good day trip from Mexico City, located just 50 km (30 miles) away.
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Mexico has no shortage of beautiful beaches on its extensive coastlines, which include the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Some of Mexico’s beach destinations were once towns that gradually gained popularity as tourist destinations (such as Puerto Escondido) while others were conceived as resort towns from the outset (such as Cancun). And then there is Tulum, which started out as a Mayan city centuries before it became popular for its beaches. But all these popular beach destinations offer powdery sand and crystalline water along with an abundance of tourist amenities and attractions.
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Situated in the Yucatán Peninsula, Chichen Itza is the most famous of all the great Mayan cities. This is somewhat ironic because its most famous structures do not have a typical Classic Mayan architecture but show strong influences from other civilizations from Central Mexico. It is also the most developed of the many Mayan ruins in Mexico and can get crowded. But the combination of grant scale monuments and the mysterious precise astronomical calculation in the buildings make Chichen Itza truly amazing. Many tourists visit Chichen Itza as a day trip, especially from Cancún or Merida but it is also possible to stay a night or two here.
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