If you haven’t had the chance to explore the magic of Mexico, this is your sign from the universe that it’s time to start planning your trip. Stay tuned for pristine beaches, towering mountains, lush jungles, colorful towns, and cultural gems.
From as far northwest as Baja California to the easternmost tip of the Yucatán, here’s a handpicked list of the most beautiful places in Mexico:
24. Isla Espiritu Santo, Baja California Sur
This tropical island paradise is a great place to swim with sea lions. You can sign up to do so here. Located just off the coast of beautiful La Paz, this destination makes a great stop on any Baja California Sur itinerary. The Baja California Sur area is well known for its bright blue waters and has been a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site since 2005.
The contrast between desert and sea plus the rugged volcanic rock creates a picturesque landscape. With so many virtually untouched beaches, it’s the perfect place to enjoy the sea without the crowds. The island is also known for paddleboarding, diving, snorkeling, and glamping.
23. Todos Santos, Baja California Sur
Todos Santos is one of Mexico’s many “magic towns”, which is apparent as soon as you arrive there. The town itself has an artsy vibe and offers incredible views of the Pacific ocean. You can’t swim in the sea here, so it’s recommended to book a place that has a pool, like this one.
You can often catch a glimpse of breaching whales in the distance which adds to the dreamy atmosphere of Todos Santos. With The Palapa Society, you can tour the town’s historic homes to learn more about the history and culture of the area.
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The Perfect Baja California Sur Itinerary
22. Lacandon Jungle, Chiapas
There are fewer places in Mexico that have been able to preserve nature better than the state of Chiapas. The Lacandon Jungle is a testament to that. This is Mexico’s largest rainforest and stretches over 10,700 acres of lush green terrain. Here you’ll find the most biodiverse flora and fauna of Mexico alongside waterfalls, rivers, and ancient Mayan ruins.
To get the most out of a visit to the Lacandon Jungle, I recommend taking a tour. This one operates out of nearby Palenque and includes a bilingual guided tour of both Bonampak and Yaxchilán archaeological sites. Being the most remote places on this list by far, it is sure to give you the most accurate picture of indigenous and natural life in Mexico.
21. Agua Azul, Chiapas
If you find yourself yearning to soak underneath a waterfall, head to Agua Azul in Chiapas. This dreamy waterfall falls into a turquoise pool that you can swim in. It is surrounded by lush green scenery that provides a spectrum of cool colors fit for any travel magazine.
Getting to Agua Azul is easy if you’re based in San Cristóbal de las Casas. Here’s a tour that will take you to Agua Azul and Palenque in the same day. Another option is to take a longer tour which includes another waterfall called Misol-Ha.
20. Palenque Ruins, Chiapas
The ancient Mayan ruins at Palenque are some of Mexico’s absolute best. It feels like you’re stepping back in time as you stroll through the site. The backdrop of the jungle makes the whole place seem surreal. Hire a guide to take you around and tell the story of the ancient city and its many dynasties.
There is a lot of mysticism around Palenque and some people even believe that its inhabitants had direct communication with alien life. I don’t know if I’m totally convinced, but Palenque has a particular energy that always leaves me wanting to go back and explore.
If you want to visit Palenque from San Cristóbal de las Casas, check out this tour which will take you there and Agua Azul in the same day. It doesn’t include a guide, but you can hire one at the site itself for about $10 USD.
19. Xoxocotlan, Oaxaca
Known as the birthplace of the Día de los Muertos celebrations, Xoxocotlan is the absolute best place to experience the magic and mystery of the underworld in Mexico. The city is located just 5 kilometers outside of Oaxaca de Juarez, making it an easy stop on any Oaxaca itinerary.
In the spirit of the mystical and witchy, this town still observes a tradition called martes de brujas, or “witch Tuesdays”, which demonstrates the area’s beliefs around death and the underworld. You can find a lot of art and handicrafts inspired by these customs here.
If you are lucky enough to be in Oaxaca around Día de los Muertos at the end of October and beginning of November, make sure to check out the elaborate altars and vibrant decorations in Xoxocotlan.
18. Mazunte, Oaxaca
Mazunte had my heart as soon as I stepped foot on its sandy shores. This beach is beloved by hippies from all around the world and has an eclectic vibe which stands out from other beaches in Mexico. It’s not uncommon to see groups of musicians jamming out on the street, barefoot and swaying to the beat.
El Rinconcito beach is the easiest to access and is capped on both sides by rocky cliffs, which make great shade in the afternoon. The water at this beach is great for swimming, but further to the left you’ll see bigger waves where surfers hang out.
You can get to Mazunte from Puerto Escondido, which is about an hour away. Puerto Escondido has its own airport and you can take a taxi to Mazunte for around $500 pesos ($25 USD) or catch public transportation for a fraction of the cost.
17. Punta Allen, Quintana Roo
I know you’ve heard of other places in Quintana Roo like Cancún, Tulum, and Playa del Carmen. If you want to experience the beauty of the Caribbean without the tourist traps, consider heading to Punta Allen. This paradise is located just south of Tulum and is next to the Sian Ka’an biosphere. With those protected lands behind it, the water in Punta Allen feels so much more untouched than anywhere else in the Yucatán.
Getting to Punta Allen will take some planning, but is definitely worth it. I recommend booking your accommodation beforehand and asking your host for explicit directions. You can drive there quite easily, but public transportation is unpredictable.
Consider booking an adorable A-frame tent for a more luxurious glamping experience.
16. Mahahual, Quintana Roo
Mahahual is another beach paradise that doesn’t have the same crowds as other places on the Yucatán peninsula. Best known for its diving and snorkeling, this sleepy beach town has a great mix of local charm and natural beauty. It’s not as much of a secret as it once was and the city is growing steadily, but is still a far cry from other Caribbean destinations.
You’ll find Mahahual between Tulum and Bacalar. You can take a bus there from either of those cities, or you can easily drive if you’ve rented a car. This hotel comes highly recommended but you can also find options on Airbnb.
15. Isla Holbox, Quintana Roo
Between bioluminescent pools, pristine beaches, and automobile-free streets, Holbox truly has everything you need to have a tranquil vacation. Last time I went to Holbox was right before the pandemic, just in time for Carnaval. If you can, I recommend going during this time because the island turns into a wonderland of lights, music, and colorful costumes.
14. Tulum, Quintana Roo
As much as Tulum has changed in the last decade, it still remains one of the most beautiful places in Mexico. The combination of white sandy beaches and crystal clear cenotes is truly remarkable and worth checking out. There are two distinct areas of this magical town: the hotel zone and the centro.
The hotel zone is the gateway to the beach and has posh resorts, chic restaurants, and some neat architecture. The centro is where you’ll find more budget-friendly accommodation, local eats, and fun street art. I recommend renting a bike to travel between the two. You can even reach some of the best cenotes in the area by bike!
13. Bacalar, Quintana Roo
Bacalar is situated on a lagoon that is referred to colloquially as the “lagoon of 7 colors” for its varying shades of blue. If that doesn’t spark your curiosity about this Caribbean paradise, I don’t know what will. This charming “magic town” is located about an hour and a half south of Tulum.
There has been a lot of buzz around Bacalar becoming the “next Tulum” because of how much it has gained popularity over the last few years. While the increase in tourism has led to a boom in construction, the town remains relatively small and quaint. You won’t find the same type of party scene you’d encounter in other places in the Riviera Maya and the lagoon itself has a whole different vibe than the beaches of the Caribbean.
In Bacalar you can tour the lake by boat, rent a kayak to explore, or rent a paddleboard. My favorite place to hang out on the lagoon is Cenote Cocalitos, which has hammocks hung over the water to relax in. Another great place to enjoy the water is Hostel Tortuga Bacalar which has a dock, hammocks, and a small bar where you can get a drink if you’re not staying there.
There are also a few cenotes close to Bacalar that you can easily access via taxi. Cenote Azul and Cenote Esmeralda are both just 15 minutes away from the main square!
12. Celestún, Yucatán
If you’re a nature enthusiast like me, Celestún belongs on your Mexico bucket list. This sleepy coastal town has a beach, mangroves, and a biosphere reserve. The main attraction, however, are the flamingos. The shallow waters in the Ria Celestún Biosphere Reserve create the perfect ecosystem for hungry flamingos to flock to during the months of November through April. The best time to see them is from December to February, as their babies have just hatched and the flock is much larger.
Celestún makes a great day trip from Mérida and this tour will take you right to the flamingos. If you want to spend a couple days exploring, you can find affordable accommodation right on the beach. This place is a great option! The beach at Celestún is my favorite in Yucatán, but it definitely isn’t on the same level as the white sand beaches of the Caribbean.
11. Valladolid, Yucatán
You may have heard about the historical charm of Mérida, but have you ventured to Valladolid yet? This kitschy colonial city is often a stopping point before reaching nearby cenotes and Chichen Itza. In my humble opinion, Valladolid is a much better base for these day trips than Cancún.
Like many smaller cities in Mexico, Valladolid has a couple walking streets that are lined with cute shops and restaurants where you can try the local cuisine. It’s a great food city because of the mix of old Mayan recipes and Spanish gastronomy. I recommend giving the papadzules a try!
Valladolid is a very Mayan city. You’ll see women wearing traditional Maya clothing–usually white gowns embroidered with colorful flowers and lace hems. You might also notice the stature of the local population is much shorter than what you might find in other places in Mexico or the United States. I’m only 5’3″ and I felt like a giant!
I recommend taking a tour of the city to learn about the history, visiting the nearby cenotes, and taking a quick trip to see the Chichen Itza archaeological site.
10. Izamal, Yucatán
Izamal is another gem of the Yucatán peninsula. This small city is known as the “yellow city” because of the yellow paint that covers nearly every building in the downtown area. In pre-Columbian times, Izamal was an important city for the Maya people. When the Spanish arrived they built their city right on top of the existing Mayan monuments and places of worship. Archaeologists are still uncovering Mayan artifacts beneath the existing colonial architecture.
So, why all the yellow buildings? Historians believe that the Spanish painted the city yellow to represent the sun, as the city of Izamal was considered by the Maya people to be the home of the sun god. To learn more about Izamal’s neat history, take a walking tour. The city is also close to Cenote Ik Kil, which is my absolute favorite of the Yucatán Peninsula.
Izamal makes a great day trip from Mérida. This one includes stops at Cenote Xooch and a tour of the city!
9. Las Coloradas, Yucatán
Las Coloradas is the pink lake you dreamt of as a child, but it’s actually the real deal. The lake is actually man-made and was dug by a salt company. After some time, the water which accumulated in the lake began to turn pink because of the plankton, red algae, and brine shrimp that inhabit the salty water.
The area surrounding the lake is part of the Río Lagartos Biosphere Reserve, which is an expansive wetland. The biosphere is home to flamingos, crocodiles, birds, sea turtles, and even jaguars! A visit to Las Coloradas would make a great day trip from Mérida, Valladolid, or even Cancún. I recommend taking a tour of the lake as opposed to going there solo, as the lake itself is on private property and quite tricky to access without a tour guide.
8. Islas Marietas, Nayarit
These precious islands are located right off the coast of Punta de Mita in the state of Nayarit. They are some of the most heavily protected islands in Mexico because of their unique biodiversity, which is often compared to that of the Galapagos Islands. Because of conservation efforts of the Mexican government, there is a limit on how many people are allowed to access the islands per day in order to give the coral reefs a break.
You can take a tour to these uninhabited islands from nearby Sayulita. A typical tour might include snorkelling around the islands, checking out the coves, and even accessing a secret beach called Playa de Amor. You can only get to Playa de Amor during low tide when the cave entryway is accessible. If you visit between December and March, you might be able to see humpback whales and dolphins!
7. Bernal, Querétaro
This magical town is your perfect off the beaten path destination for a truly authentic experience in Mexico. Located just a short drive away from Querétaro de Santiago, your stop in Bernal makes a great addition to any road trip.
Bernal’s beauty is attributed mostly to the incredible towering Peña de Bernal, one of the world’s largest monoliths. The monolith is nearly 1,100 feet tall and can be seen from just about anywhere in town. You can easily walk to the base of it and then start your adventurous hike to the top to get a view of the town from above.
After climbing to the top of Peña de Bernal, take a stroll through town and take in the quirks of a small Mexican town. Like many pueblos mágicos, one of the main attractions and gathering places is the cathedral in the center of town. Check out the old colonial architecture at Parroquia de San Sebastián, El Castillo, and Capilla de las Ánimas.
6. Lake Pátzcuaro, Michoacán
The state of Michoacán is known for having some of the friendliest, most hospitable people in Mexico. That alone is beautiful to me, but there are also plenty of places in Michoacán that are stunning. Lake Pátzcuaro is one of those places.
The town of Pátzcuaro is just a quick 45-minute drive from the charming city of Morelia and the lake itself is just 2 miles outside of the town. Along the shores of the lake you’ll find quaint fishing villages which are a delight to explore. From the docks of Pátzcuaro, you can take a boat out to an island called Isla Janitzio which is famous for its giant statue of José Maria Morelos, which you can climb inside to get a view of the lake from above.
The best time to visit Lake Pátzcuaro is during Day of the Dead, Christmas, or Easter. The town of Pátzcuaro, the small lakeside villages, and Isla Janitzio are all famous for their huge holiday celebrations which are a great way to get a taste of Mexico.
5. Morelia, Michoacán
The city of Morelia was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991 and continues to be one of the most beautiful cities in Mexico. Its quintessential pink stone buildings and Baroque architecture make the city feel romantic and timeless.
Strolling through Morelia you’ll find its urban beauty combines flawlessly with the gorgeous landscapes surrounding the city. Visit the Cathedral of Morelia, explore the Aqueduct, or hang out at the Las Tarascas Fountain and Callejón del Romance (Romance Alley). Day trips from Morelia will take you to Lake Pátzcuaro, Los Azufres which has geothermal pools, and caves at Grottos de Tziranda.
Cantera Diez Hotel Boutique is highly recommended to stay at for its location and luxury. Book here!
4. The Copper Canyon, Chihuahua
The Copper Canyon in the state of Chihuahua is easily one of the most impressive natural wonders of Mexico. It’s even several times larger than the Grand Canyon in the USA! The best part? You can take a train through it.
The railroad that goes through The Copper Canyon is called Ferrocarril Chihuahua Pacífico or “El Chepe” for short and travels between the cities of Chihuahua and Los Mochis. Los Mochis is a preferred starting point because the best views are closer to it and in the winter when the sun sets earlier you’ll risk missing those views if you start in Chihuahua.
El Chepe Express is a luxurious train which is designed for tourists. This train ride takes around nine hours and winds through the canyon at top speeds with plenty of windows to take in the views. If you’re a fan of the American Southwest, this is the trip for you.
3. San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato
San Miguel has a magnetic quality that makes visitors ponder the idea of relocating there permanently. There’s no wonder why it’s become such a cosmopolitan city! Even though it has a steadily growing population of foreigners, it still remains relatively off the beaten path. It is one of the most important architectural cities in Mexico and is well-known for its intricately detailed facades and brightly colored buildings.
Take a historic walking tour around the city or venture out for a wine tasting at a local vineyard. There is also a World Heritage Site outside of the city called Santuario de Atotonilco, which is a church complex that was built in the 18th century. It’s known as the “Sistine Chapel of Mexico” because of its breathtaking murals.
2. Las Pozas in Xilitla, San Luis Potosí
Unlike any other place in the world, Edward James’ Las Pozas in Xilitla is both strange and alluring. It’s a great day trip from the city of San Luis Potosi and includes gardens, ponds, and truly unique architecture. Laz Pozas is a surrealist sculpture garden that is nestled within a thick jungle.
The concept around Las Pozas is to invoke curiosity and wonder. The site includes doors leading nowhere, man made pools alongside natural ones, stairways stretching upward with no destination, and plenty of other oddities. In its mystery, there is so much beauty to behold here.
1. Puebla de Zaragoza, Puebla
Last but certainly not least is Puebla de Zaragoza (Puebla for short), one of the most culturally diverse and colorful cities in Mexico. Being so close to Mexico City, Puebla is often overlooked by tourists. However, it has nearly everything that CDMX has to offer but has a much more laid back atmosphere.
Like many of the cities on this list, Puebla has some jaw-dropping architecture and is known for its Baroque style. Here you’ll find the International Museum of Baroque Art, which is a testament of the city’s international influence. With so much cultural diversity, Puebla is a treasure trove for foodies. Try traditional mole or go for some tacos arabes (Arab tacos) which were created by Mexico’s Lebanese immigrants.
The best thing about a visit to Puebla is the amount of incredible places you can visit just outside the city. This tour will take you to the pyramids of Cholula and boasts incredible views of the Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl volcanoes.
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I might be biased since Mexico has been my home for a couple years, but I sincerely think it’s the most beautiful country in the world. You know that heart-melting feeling you get when you see someone you love? That’s how I feel when I’m traveling through Mexico.
Each of these destinations have something special to offer and will have you pulling out your camera to snap pictures often. Traveling to Mexico solo? Check out our solo travelers guide to Mexico. You can also find more off the beaten path destinations in Mexico by checking out this post as well. Happy planning!
This post was written by Emily Becker, BMTM’s Mexico Correspondent.
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