7 Must-See Cities in Mexico

By Pamela MacNaughtan on January 14th, 2016
BootsnAll

Everyone knows about Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya, and Puerto Vallarta, but those are not the only places to visit in Mexico — in fact those places give a very watered down impression of Mexico. A hazard when a destination becomes a tourist hotspot.

So, where should you travel in Mexico to a) avoid the crazy tourist hotspots and b) experience the real Mexico? Here are seven places you should visit, in no particular order.


Guanajuato


MX7-Guanajuato
A charming mountainside city north of Mexico City, Guanajuato is filled with colourful stone homes that seem as though they are stacked together like lego, and streets that wiggle and wind through the mountain to connect neighbourhoods and people. The roads can be deceiving; suddenly ending, or becoming so narrow that a car can barely squeak through.

Mercado Hidalgo is a highlight in Guanajuato; a massive market filled with fresh fruit and veg, clothing, and delicious Mexican foods that you have likely not tried. The city is not a tourist hotspot, but it does have a good expat community. Whether you have a couple of days or a month or more, Guanajuato should be on everyone’s Mexico list.

What to See & Do


  • Museo Iconografico del Quijote
  • Mercado Hildago
  • Iglesia de San Cayetano
  • University of Guanajuato
  • Teatro Juárez

Read Guanajuato: Vacationing in the Land of the Frogs for suggestions on where to stay, what to eat and how to get there.

Are you planning a RTW trip?

Sayulita


MX7-Sayulita

A town on Mexico’s west coast is a great spot for those who love the ocean, surfing, and lively towns with delicious food. Sayulita is popular among Mexicans and has a small expat community. Street food is abundant and on Sunday’s a man parks his churro truck near the main square. For those who enjoy nightlife, there are a couple fun bars in town.

The trip from Puerto Vallarta is about 30-40 mins by bus or shared van — depending on how crazy the driver is and how much traffic is on the road. If you’re looking for a place to hang-out for a couple months, rent is cheap and rooms are basic, but watching the sunset on the beach makes everything worthwhile.


What to See & Do


  • Scuba Diving
  • Surfing
  • SUP (Stand Up Paddleboarding)
  • Mercado del Pueblo
  • Hiking/Treks

Read Buses & Tacos, an Indie Travel Experience in Mexico, or Is Mexico Safe for Solo Travel?, for more on Sayulita.


San Cristobal de las Casas


MX7-Sancristobal
Tucked into the mountains, backpackers travelling overland from Mexico City or Oaxaca to Cancun or Playa del Carmen will pass through San Cristobal de las Casas, but instead of spending a couple hours here, try spending a couple nights! Or, several weeks.

The Centro Historico is the ideal location, the heart of the city. Streets are cobbled and the city is filled with posadas (guesthouses), tapas bars, restaurants and colonial buildings. The city’s mountain location makes San Cristobal de las Casas an ideal location during the summer months when the heat in Mexico is scorching hot, as the weather can be cooler — and at night you may need a warm blanket and wool socks!


What to See & Do


  • Na Bolom
  • Plaza 31 de Marzo
  • Cerro de Guadalupe
  • Mercado Municipal
  • Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán

Read Cruising Through San Cristobal de las Casas, or Chiapas, Man, I Forgive You, for more on San Cristobal.


Taxco


MX7-Taxco
Located in the state of Guerrero, Taxco is a mountainside town with steep cobbled streets, an 18th-century rose-coloured church, friendly locals, and vintage white VW Beetles that have been converted into taxi cabs. Aside from the architecture and the people, Taxco is known for its silver, and it’s hard to leave town without buying some.

The state of Guerrero is known to be rough in areas, so expect a security check before getting on the bus. That being said, spend as much time as you can with the locals, eat the street tacos, and enjoy the architecture and stunning views.


What to See & Do


  • Santa Prisca Cathedral
  • Zocalo (Main Square) — excellent for shopping and viewing local life
  • Museo Guillermo Spratling
  • Casa Borda
  • Cristo Monumental


Safety



Talk to locals before booking your bus ticket. There is a lot of cartel activity in Guerrero state, however it’s usually in other cities. That being said it is always a good idea to ask around locally before boarding a bus. Be smart and trust your gut. If something feels off, change your plans. The US State Department is usually quick with their travel alerts, check for latest updates and make an informed decision.

Safety, in some ways, is subjective, everyone has different comfort levels.

Read an Introduction to Taxco to get started!

Mexico City


MX7- Mexico city

A massive city, it can be hard to tackle for first time visitors. The trick, as with all massive cities, is to pick a couple areas and concentrate on those, then come back for more at another date. As with all cities and towns in Mexico, the Centro Historico is an ideal place to explore, it’s the heart and history of the city. Wander around the cathedral, explore the ruins of Temple Mayor (just steps away from the cathedral), enjoy a cheesy double-decker sightseeing bus tour to discover new neighbourhoods. Mexico City is filled with amazing street food, markets, and intrigue.

Take time to do a little research before your trip. There are plenty of budget accommodations near the zocalo which makes things easy, but you may want to stay in another neighbourhood and use the subway or a city bus to get around. It all depends on your sense of adventure and what you want to see and do.


What to See & Do


  • Catedral Metropolitana
  • Templo Mayor
  • Museo Nacional de Antropologia
  • Museo Frida Kahlo
  • Lucha Libre at Arena México

Read Mexico City, Mexico, Mexican Venice, Xochimilco, or Mexico City Revisited to get your juices flowing for one of the best cities in the world.


Oaxaca


MX7 Oaxaca

Known as one of the best food regions in Mexico — it’s also a cornucopia of art and culture. In 2016 Oaxaca is the destination of choice for several digital nomads and travel bloggers, but don’t let that keep you from this fascinating city.

This is the place to go if you want to try authentic mole, or Mexican chocolate. Consider taking a cooking class. Or hire a guide and explore the ruins of Monte Alban or some of the artist communities surrounding Oaxaca — every town has a different specialty; black pottery, green pottery, weaving.

Oaxaca is one of those cities that you either love, or feel ‘meh’ about. Spend your first couple nights in the heart of the city and get a feel for it, then decide whether to stay longer or move on.


What to See & Do


  • Hierve de Agua
  • Monte Alban
  • Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca
  • Mercado de Benito Juarez
  • La Cocina Oaxaquena

Read Death in Another Light, the Oaxaca City Guide, or Ignore the Myths and Take the Kids to Mexico for more on Oaxaca.


San Miguel de Allende


MX7 Allende

With a thriving expat community this is probably the most popular destination choice in interior Mexico. The architecture is stunning, the prices are a little higher than other towns, and the culture and arts scene is on fire.

This is not a place you want to visit if you only have a night or two, as you’ll wish you stayed longer. Explore Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, wandering around the eclectic shops and the art galleries, eat street food, and hang with locals. San Miguel de Allende, while popular, is still authentically Mexican, unlike Cancun and Playa del Carmen.


What to See & Do


  • Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel
  • Mask Museum
  • Chapel of Jimmy Ray
  • Sazon
  • Mercado de Artesanias

Read The Keys to San Miguel de Allende, What I Learned From the Cows, and Heart of Fire, for more on this spectacular destination.

Mexico, the parts outside the main tourist zones, is filled with interesting towns and friendly people. Don’t be afraid to visit smaller towns. Take time to get to know the locals, they can be surprisingly friendly!

Where’s your favorite place in Mexico? Tweet us @bootsnall.

Planning a Gap Year? Including Mexico?