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The special place Mexico occupies in the shared imagination of American society has been created over the centuries by stories and legends of the wild lands that lie below the Rio Grande.
Between the awe-inspiring Sierra Madre that forms the backbone of the country, the ubiquitous ancient Aztec and Mayan pyramids and a wealth of incredible beaches, a trip to the U.S.’s southern neighbor offers something for just about every type of traveler.
The sleepy island paradise of Holbox has become more and more popular over the years and is quickly becoming a favorite among travelers for whom the party atmosphere of the major resorts along the Quintana Roo coast is too much.
Holbox is famous for its sugar-fine sandy beaches and shallow turquoise waters which are perfect for swimming.
It is also a fantastic place for catching a glimpse of some exotic birdlife — large numbers of pelicans, flamingos, and herons are found all over the island.
Although developers are starting to realize the incredible potential for tourism on the island, things are still pretty rustic here.
Cancun is probably the most famous of Mexico’s vacation spots. It is a mecca for spring-breakers due to its tropical beaches and wild nightlife.
Do not be fooled, though. There is more to Cancun than soaking up the sun before embarking on a night full of bars and nightclubs.
For those who would like to get a taste of the Riviera Maya’s rich historical roots, there are also the major Mayan ruins of El Rey and the Yamil Lu’um for you to explore.
Playa del Carmen
You would never guess it now, but the seaside town of Playa del Carmen was just a simple fishing village 25 years ago.
Today, “Playa” (as the locals call it) has become a trendy beach resort full of restaurants, cafes and plenty of places to shop til’ you drop.
Overall, Playa del Carmen is a very touristy destination that attracts people from around the world who want come to enjoy the relaxed vibe and the beautiful beach that lies just steps from the famous 5th Avenue.
Note: The Caribbean Sea here offers some of the most unique diving opportunities anywhere in the world due to vast underwater caverns and an astonishing diversity of sea life.
The Mayan ruins at Tulum are some of the most popular ruins in all of Mexico.
Situated literally a stone’s throw from the coast, the central pyramid is incredibly well-preserved and offers brilliant views over the sparkling blue sea.
A few miles south of Tulum near the Belize border is the traditional old town of Bacalar.
Nowhere near as touristy as the three places mentioned so far, Bacalar is nestled into the shores of a large freshwater lake which is nicknamed “the Lagoon of Seven Colors” for the varying hues of blue found in its different sections.
There are plenty of chilled out hostels, many of which have their own piers from which you can embark on one of the many organized paddle-boarding and kayak trips that take you to the sites around the lake.
San Cristóbal de las Casas
Not far from Chiapas’ capital of Tuxtla Gutierrez in the state’s Central Highland region is the breath-taking colonial town of San Cristobal de las Casas.
On arriving in the town, it quickly becomes apparent why the town is known as the “cultural capital” of Chiapas.
The indigenous culture is still alive and kicking, and the town is full of people wearing traditional indigenous clothes selling their wares in small markets around the central plaza.
San Cristobal is, without doubt, one of the best places to visit in Mexico if you want to buy traditional handicrafts.
Among the many incredible things to do in Mexico, you should make sure that you visit at least one of its major archeological sites — and there is not much to do in the tiny town of Palenque than do just that.
You will not be disappointed, though, when you get your first sight of the jaw-dropping beauty of the temple complex that houses the ruins.
Slap bang in the middle of the jungle, the ancient city, which is fantastically preserved today, hit its zenith around the 7th century AD and is well worth the trip.
Oaxaca City is one of my personal favorites on this list. Seriously. Don’t miss it.
Famed for its exquisite regional cuisine and its vibrant festivals, Oaxaca is full the home of mezcal, and spending an afternoon learning how it is made at one of the many distilleries in the area just outside the city can be a rewarding experience.
In addition, do not miss the incredible view of the city from the ruins of Monte Albán that are perched on a hilltop nearby.
Puerto Escondido is Mexico’s best-known surf spot.
Located on the Pacific Coast of Oaxaca, the town is surrounded by countless alluring inlets and bays, almost all of them possessing their own tropical beach.
The part of town with the most action is known as Punta Zicatela and it’s filled with delicious restaurants, bars, surfers, live music and more.
The nearby Laguna de Manialtepec offers great opportunities to take boat tours through mangrove forests and check out the unique flora and fauna of the region.
Do not feel daunted by the sheer size of the megalopolis that is Mexico City.
Almost everyone who passes through gives glowing reviews about its thriving street food culture (you must try the tacos al pastor) and the general friendliness of the locals (known colloquially as chilangos).
The city is full of hipster barrios like Roma and Condesa where you can watch the world go by over a delicious cup of coffee after visiting one of the city’s many brilliant museums.
The world-famous pyramid complex of Teotihuacán is an unforgettable experience that can be had just outside the city to the north.
San Miguel de Allende
With its labyrinthine cobbled streets lined with colorful colonial buildings and fantastically preserved examples of baroque, neo-gothic and neoclassical architecture, San Miguel de Allende is somewhere that should feature on the itinerary of anybody traveling through central Mexico.
A stroll in the temperate highland climate through the city’s historic central plaza will take you past the striking pink towers of the stunning Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel and many other churches and buildings of great historical interest.
The city has a thriving art and music scene, and it is no surprise that it has become popular with ex-pat retirees looking to wind down their days as they enjoy the slower pace of this quintessential Mexican city.
Halfway up the coast of Jalisco nestled between mountains and the sea is found one of Mexico’s true gems.
The charming town of Puerto Vallarta has become a popular tourist destination because of its attractive colonial architecture, cobbled streets, amazing beach, and buzzing nightlife.
What was not long ago little more than a fishing village is now replete with boutique shops and hipster cafes. Its low-key, romantic vibe has made Puerto Vallarta the perfect destination for couples looking for a relaxing getaway with plenty to see and do.
The Banderas Bay area in which the town sits is covered by lush jungle and secluded tropical beaches that make for excellent daytrip adventures.
Cabo San Lucas
Cabo San Lucas is a city which is situated on the very tip of the Baja California peninsula.
Popular with spring-breakers for its famous party atmosphere and wealthy vacationers for its luxury hotels and upmarket restaurants, Cabo San Lucas is witness to the meeting of the great Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez.
The weather is warm all year round, and the surrounding areas provide amazing opportunities to get up close and personal with the region’s spectacular marine life, including the whales and dolphins that are found in abundance along the Baja California coastline.
“Is it safe to travel to Mexico?” is among the first questions that you will ask yourself before booking a trip there.
This is a reasonable question given the country’s turbulent recent past.
While there will always likely be periodic flare-ups of violence, they usually take place off the beaten tourist track.
Mexico is an enormous country, and if you make an effort to stay out of trouble by keeping up to date with the latest government travel advice, you will be fine.
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