Unique Places to Visit in Mexico

Published Categorized as Mexico Travel, Destinations, North America Travel, Travel Blog
UNIQUE PLACES TO VISIT IN MEXICO
UNIQUE PLACES TO VISIT IN MEXICO

Are you looking for unique places to visit in Mexico? Would you prefer a Mexico holiday with more cultural offerings, less all-inclusive resorts, a more enriching travel experience or simply something different and unique?

Due to the diversity of Mexico’s landscape, culture and tradition, it comes as no surprise that Mexico continues to be one of the most special places in the world to visit.

But there is so much more to the country than that! Read on for our list of 18 of the most unique places to visit in Mexico!


“When life gives you lemons… slice them up and find some tequila.”

– Unknown –

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UNIQUE PLACES TO VISIT IN MEXICO

What is a Pueblos Mágicos or Magical Town?

Some of the unique places to visit in Mexico we have listed below are ‘pueblos magicos’. These places have been selected by The Mexican Secretary of Tourism which aims to preserve Mexican destinations with special cultural histories.

Magical Towns have special characteristics such as: 

  • cultural richness 
  • historical significance 
  • natural beauty
  • creative art crafts
  • traditional cuisine
  • great hospitality 
  • unique architecture  

18 Unique Places to Visit in Mexico

N.B. This list is in no particular order.


Valladolid

Valladolid is a charming city right in the heart of the Yucatan Peninsula. It has a great mix of the past and present with many of the historical colonial buildings undergoing renovations and now being the home to modern cafes and restaurants.

If you love cenotes, then you are in the right town! Cenote Zaci is located right in the centre of town, but if you are willing to travel a little further, Cenote Suytun, Cenote Ik Kil (next to Chichen Itza) and Cenote Xcanche are also worth visiting.

Top Tip: Join one of the free city walking tours. Generally, tours are available 7 days a week, 2 to 3 times a day mid-morning, late afternoon and early evening.

Valladolid City Centre
Valladolid City Centre

Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza, only 30 minutes from Valladolid (see above), is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.  It is one of the most famous and best preserved Mayan site in Mexico and as such, has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Mexico.

This archaeological site covers over 10 square kilometres (4 square mile), and is divided into two areas: Old Chichen (6 Mayan ruins) and Chichen Itza (20 Mayan ruins).  

The most famous of the Mayan ruins on site is the Chichen Itza Pyramid called El Castillo or ‘The Castle’ which was built to honour the God Kukulcan. Another equally important Mayan ruin on site is the Great Ball Court, an ancient sports arena with stone platforms measuring 29 metres (95 feet) in length and 7.6 metres (25 feet) in height. In addition, the Temple of the Warriors, the Osario Pyramid, and the circular observatory known as El Caracol.

The entrance fee for Chichen Itza is 533 pesos (AUD$35 / USD$27) and is paid upon entry.

Top Tip: Visit Chichen Itza early in the morning i.e. 8 am when the gates open to avoid not only the crowds, especially the bus tour groups, but also the midday heat.

Chichen Itza - El Castillo or ‘The Castle’
Chichen Itza – El Castillo or ‘The Castle’

Tulum

Not only does Tulum feature some of the most pristine, stunning beaches in Mexico, but it is also home to one of the most picturesque ruins in Mexico.

The Mayan walled city of Tulum was once a sleepy fishing village but is now extremely popular with tourists. While the beach area is more glamorous, bohemian, and expensive, Tulum town is a lot more relaxed, local, and affordable.

The ruins found here in Tulum are unique because they are situated on high cliffs overlooking the beautiful waters of the Caribbean Sea. There are also numerous cenotes such as Dos Ojos, Zacil-Ha, and Calavera which are well worth a visit.

 In addition to ruins and cenotes, there are ample diving and snorkelling opportunities, beautiful nature reserves to explore such as Sian Ka’an Biosphere, fun water parks, great street art and so much more. Overall, Tulum offers the perfect combination of relaxation, fun and adventure.

Top Tip: If you are looking for a traditional spiritual experience, participate in an ancient Mesoamerican temazcal ceremony. Temazcales are essentially a ceremony in which expect chanting, singing, and intention-setting throughout the ritual is said to purify your mind and body.

Mayan Ruins - Tulum
Mayan Ruins – Tulum

Teotihuacan

Recommended by Claudia at My Adventures Across The World

Top Tip: Teotihuacan is spread out over several square kilometres, so be prepared for lots of walking throughout the day. One option is to rent a bicycle by the entrance for the day.

Teotihuacan - One of the many unique places to visit in Mexico
Teotihuacan – One of the many unique places to visit in Mexico

Merida

Recommended by Nate at Travel Lemming

While Tulum and Cancun get all the tourist attention these days, most travellers are completely missing out on the largest and most interesting city in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula: Merida. Filled with colourful streets, unique restaurants, and incredible historical sites, Merida is the perfect destination for travellers looking to experience an authentic side of Mexico. 

With its own international airport offering direct flights from Houston and Miami, it’s easy to get to the city. Merida is conveniently located near some of the best, and most underrated, cenotes and Mayan ruins in Mexico. Visit Uxmal for an experience like Chichen Itza, but without the crowds. 

Merida is also one of the safest and most affordable cities in Mexico, making it the perfect destination for digital nomads, expats, and long-term travellers. A monthly furnished apartment rental can be found for as little as a couple hundred US dollars per month. 

Whatever you do, you’re sure not to regret visiting incredible Merida.

Merida Cathedral - Parroquia Santa Ana
Merida Cathedral – Parroquia Santa Ana

Isla Holbox

Recommended by Christian at Unusual Traveler

Top Tip: Holbox is pronounced as Hol-bosch in local Mexican Spanish.

Isla Holbox - Crystal Clear Waters
Isla Holbox – Crystal Clear Waters

Mahahual

Mahahual is typically only seen as a cruise stop, but is amazing in its own right!

They say that Mahahual is how Tulum was 15 years ago, before it was overrun with tourists and instagrammers. The city consists of two major streets: one for the town and one for the beach. However, it’s a gorgeous place and the perfect mix of relaxation and enough things to see and do without getting bored! As a fishing village, the food is to die for and there are several local artisan shops.

The beaches, complete with white sand and turquoise water, stretch a huge distance until eventually turning into private properties in the South. In the North, you can find a lighthouse and a natural park. You can do some great snorkelling tours with turtles and diving excursions. Finally, since the town is so remote, you’ll be able to see beautiful sunsets and all the stars at night.

Mahahual can be a little bit difficult to reach if you don’t have a car. Chances are, you will have to go to Bacalar (you can get there easily from Tulum and Playa del Carmen), and then you need to change buses in Bacalar for Mahahual. There aren’t many ADO buses running during the day, but you should be able to find a collective at least every hour.

Top Tip: La Chilangaloense is the hottest spot in town, featuring amazing ceviche and mezcal.

Mahahual - One of the many unique places to visit in Mexico
Mahahual – One of the many unique places to visit in Mexico

Taxco

Recommended by James at Travel Collecting

Taxco is a small colonial hill town in Guerrero.  It is unique for two reasons.  Firstly, Taxco is a centre for silver.  There are several silversmiths in town and you can pop into their workshops and see them at work.  You can also buy silver jewellery and other goods at reasonable prices directly from the artisans.

In addition, there are nightly parades of penitents.  Hooded men drag themselves through the streets labouring under incredibly heavy wooden crosses or carrying large bundles of thorny bushes on their shoulders, while others lash their backs with sharp thorns, in order to pay penitence for their sins of the past year.  It is a ghoulish, but fascinating tradition dating back hundreds of years.

There are buses daily from Mexico City to Taxco (2 hours 40 minutes). 

Both the Semana Santa festivities and visiting a silversmith’s workshop are free.

Top Tip: If you plan to visit Taxco for Semana Santa, book your bus tickets and accommodations months beforehand.  It is extremely popular and everything books out well in advance. If you’re able, arriving a day or two early will give you time to enjoy the town without the crowds and it will be easier to get a bus ticket.

Taxco - Semana Santa Procession with Penitents
Taxco – Semana Santa Procession with Penitents

Bacalar

Recommended by Daria at The Discovery Nut 

Bacalar is one of Mexico’s best secrets! It sits near the Belize border and is a quick drive to several impressive archaeological areas and several well-known cenotes. This combination makes it a perfect getaway from the busier destinations in touristy Quintana Roo. 

Bacalar hugs the shores of Lake Bacalar, or the Lagoon of Seven Colours. When the sun shines, the lagoon turns up various shades of blue that range from dark blue to turquoise, creating a truly magical site. 

The best way to experience the lagoon is by taking a sail boat tour where you will visit several areas of the lagoon such as Isla Pajaros (Bird Island) and Canal de Los Piratas (pirate’s channel). It also worth spending a day exploring the cenotes in the area such as Cenote La Bruja, Cenote Cocalitos and Cenote Azul. However, these are just some of many cool things to do in Bacalar.

Bacalar is still relatively inexpensive and is perfect to visit if you are travelling on a budget. There are tons of hotels and hostels around downtown Bacalar that cater to budget travellers.

The best time to visit Bacalar is from November through December. The summer heat is no longer there, the hurricanes have subsided and the busy tourist season, which runs from December through April, hasn’t started yet. 

Try to spend at least a couple of nights in Bacalar instead of trying to cram the entire trip into one day. Bacalar is a charming little town with an incredible lagoon, wonderful cenotes, and several Mayan ruins in the area. It deserves your time and attention.

Top Tip: Take a day trip to Calakmul (approx. 3.5 hours each way) to see one of the most incredible Mayan ruins in Mexico. It’s a real gem if you want to take a trip off-the-beaten tourist track.

Bacalar - One of the many unique places to visit in Mexico
Bacalar – One of the many unique places to visit in Mexico

La Paz

Recommended by Chantae at Chantae Was Here

Tucked away on the Sea of Cortez, Baja California Sur’s capital city of La Paz is one of the most unique places to visit in Mexico thanks to its wildlife, landscape, and charming seaside architecture.

Many marine mammals take refuge in its calm waters, and it’s where to go if you love up-close and ethical animal encounters. Venture out on a whale watching tour to spot humpback whales, or dive into the water and swim alongside whale sharks—the world’s largest fish. There’s also a whale museum in town devoted to La Paz’s gentle giants. Sea lions, rays of all sizes, and large fish also cruise within La Paz’s waters.

In town, you can stroll through local art galleries, shop at the markets, and admire the impressive structure of Catedral de Nuestra Senora, a Catholic cathedral built in the early 1860’s.

Because La Paz is relatively small and flat, it’s easy to cruise around by bike. Plus, the city is laid out in a near perfect grid, making it a challenge to get too lost.

At sunset, La Paz’s Malecón is one of the most popular spots in town. This three-mile long waterfront is great for going for an evening stroll, jog, bike ride, or to simply sit and watch the sun go down. There are a handful of restaurants on the waterfront serving strong margaritas and fresh fare.

Top Tip: Visit in October to have the best shot of seeing whale sharks and swimming in warm water. La Paz’s high season is during the summer months from June to August, and accommodation prices often climb during this time. Come October, most of the tourists will have gone home and the whale sharks will have arrived.

La Paz
La Paz

Mazatlan

Recommended by Daniel at Layer Culture

When looking for unique places to visit in Mexico, Mazatlan is a red hot coastal destination that you may not want to miss out on. Expect everything from breathtaking pacific ocean views, local markets, and enough historic markets to keep you entertained for more than a few days.

The great thing about Mazatlan is that it has all the trimmings of many of the other popular beach resorts such as Playa del Carmen or Cancun, but you’ll notice that it is much less congested with other tourists.

If you are looking for a more cultural experience, you can spend some time exploring the Centro Historico where you’ll encounter many historical buildings and landmarks such as Plaza Machado. This Plaza is one of the most popular places to go in Mazatlan to find the best restaurants and entertainment venues.

The Centro Historico is safe to walk around at night and as any visitor will tell you, Mazatlan offers a unique experience for travellers looking to get a different feel of Mexico’s coastline.

Top Tip: Check out the cliff diving at the Glorieta Rodolfo Sánchez Taboada park as cliff divers jump from heights of 20 meters into relatively shallow water.

Mazatlan
Mazatlan

San Cristobal de las Casas

Recommended by Katja at Globe Trotting

One of the most unique places to visit in Mexico has to be the southern state of Chiapas. Bordering Guatemala and Belize, this state is where you’ll find the remains of ancient Mayan kingdoms, traditional indigenous communities and the vibrant city of San Cristobal de las Casas. 

Set in a highland valley and surrounded by pine forests, San Cristobal makes the ideal base for exploring. The town itself is perfect for wandering with two wide pedestrianized streets lined with buildings painted in bright yellow and oranges. 

You should also spend some time at the local market, which is always lively and colourful, as well as El Zocalo, the main town square. San Cristobal is also home to a handful of churches and the centuries-old sunny yellow Catedral de San Cristóbal. 

But perhaps the most interesting thing to do while staying in San Cristobal is to take a tour to one of the neighbouring indigenous villages. Chiapas is home to one of the largest indigenous populations in Mexico, and two of the closest villages to San Cristobal are San Juan de Chamula and Zinacantán. 

In many ways these towns are locked in a bygone era; societies are patriarchal, education is largely disregarded, girls are married off between the ages of 12 and 18 years old, and all disputes are settled internally by the town’s civic leaders. 

It’s a fascinating look at how these autonomous societies operate and well worth a visit.

Top Tip: It is a good idea to visit an indigenous village with a guide. These guides usually come from one of the surrounding villages and so are well-placed to explain how they work.

San Cristobal de las Casas
San Cristobal de las Casas

Palenque, Chiapas

Recommended by Cazzy at Dream Big, Travel Far

Palenque is arguably one of the most fascinating sites and unique places to visit in Mexico. This town lies in the Chiapas state and is known for the Palenque ruins, a Mayan city state that fell in the 7th Century. It was overgrown by the surrounding jungles, but has now been restored and is a place steeped in history.

You can explore 2.5 square kilometres (1 square mile) of ruins and temples, but experts believe that thousands of structures still stand beyond the jungle! It’s a must-visit for those wanting to get lost among the remnants of ancient Mayan architecture, while the modern part of town itself carries its own unique charms.

The Eco Park is also a brilliant destination in the town, which is a conservation park that is home to rare flora and fauna, including majestic birds and exotic butterflies!

Finally, Palenque is teeming with not only a scrumptious culinary scene, but a cheap one at that. Ha-Ki is an excellent square offering authentic local foods and affordable breakfasts.

Plus, if you are staying for a few days, it might be worth going on a day trip to San Cristobal, a colonial town with centuries-old churches and structures, as well as wonderful textile exhibits.

In terms of accommodation, you can stay in town or in one of the unique hideouts in the forest near the ruins. While you’re at it, stop by the legendary travellers’ hangout of El Panchán!

Moreover, it’s always a good idea to take the overnight bus from Tulum so you can arrive early and enjoy an extra day here.

Top Tip: So, when is the best to visit Palenque? You’ll get the least rain from February to April, but May until July is your best bet for getting the most sunshine.

Palenque, Chiapas
Palenque, Chiapas

Izamal

Recommended by Deborah at Passport The World

Izamal is called the yellow city of Mexico! And that is for a reason. The entire city centre is painted in yellow. You’ll find houses in different shades of yellow, beautiful streets with flowers and even a fully yellow painted monastery. It is still unclear where the yellow colour comes from, but it is one of the top destinations in Yucatan, especially if you want to take great pictures. Almost every corner has a different angle and is worth a shot.

Izamal means ‘dew that falls from the heavens’. The city was founded by the Maya, two thousand years ago and used to be an important spiritual centre with temples that were used to honour the gods. When the Spaniards destroyed the city, they used the stones to build their own churches and monasteries.

If you don’t feel like walking, there are colourful horse-drawn carriages waiting for you in front of the monastery, to take you around for a tour. Finish your tour in Izamal with a lunch or dinner at the famous restaurant Kinich. You can sit in the courtyard and try some of their tasty local dishes such as papadzules. And if you feel like buying some regional products such as hats and bags made of sisal, make sure to have a look in the cute stores around the city centre.

Top Tip: Visit Izamal sooner, rather than later, before it gets too well known and popular with tourists.

Izamal Monastery
Izamal Monastery

Guanajuato City

Recommended by Jessica at Unearth The Voyage

One of the most unique places to visit in Mexico is Guanajuato City. Guanajuato City is nestled in the mountains which makes for some incredible scenery. The whole town is built on the side of the mountains and in the valley, so there are colourful houses sprawling in every direction.

Guanajuato is also a UNESCO world heritage city, so there is a lot of history and things to explore in this town. There are lots of different museums, walking history tours, and festivals to check out.

Besides all the awesome history to soak in, Guanajuato is a great city for foodies, as there are a ton of delicious restaurants to choose from.

The easiest way to get to Guanajuato City is to fly into Leon and take a taxi from the airport into the city.

Top Tip: The best way to explore Guanajuato City is by strolling through the labyrinth of alleys in the historic old town.

Guanajuato City
Guanajuato City

Rio Secreto, Riviera Maya

Recommended by Gabby at Office Escape Artist

Legend has it that a peasant was hunting an iguana and the iguana scuttled into this mystical river system.  The peasant was amazed, and now the world has Rio Secreto.

Rio Secreto is an excursion that can take anywhere from half a day to a full day, depending on the package that you select.  Despite being an “excursion”, the operators of Rio Secreto have done an excellent job of keeping this natural wonder sacred – it still feels untouched.  The small excursion sizes (limited to ten people!) help to preserve this area and the magic.

Rio Secreto is so special because it’s a unique opportunity to venture into the underground cave systems that are otherwise relatively unexplored in Mexico. Located between Playa del Carmen and Puerto Aventuras, it’s a convenient excursion for anyone in the Riviera Maya – from Cancun to Tulum, and even Cozumel.

The base package, starting at about AUD$100 / USD$79 for adults, is focused on the cave exploration with a buffet lunch provided.  You’ll suit up in a wetsuit, don a walking stick, and head underground with headlamps.  If you’re looking for a little more adventure, the “Wild” package also includes an opportunity to explore the jungle by bike and a snorkel adventure! This is an all-day excursion and starts at AUD$150 / USD$119.

Because this is such a unique experience, with limited group sizes, you definitely want to book this early.  Once you arrive at Rio Secreto, no need to worry about what to do. The wonderful guides will lead you on your once-in-a-lifetime underground cave exploration.

Top Tip: If you have the option, avoid wearing a wetsuit as the water isn’t very cold, but it can get quite hot and humid in the caves.

Rio Secreto, Riviera Maya
Rio Secreto, Riviera Maya

Santiago, Nuevo Leon

Recommended by Venaugh

There are many things to see and do in Santiago including the many local craft stores where you can buy from local artisans. In the middle of the town is the Parroquia Santiago Apostol Church which encompasses beautiful architecture and is adorned with a small park.

Presa Rodrigo Gómez Lake, also known as Presa La Boca, is a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains that is worth visiting. There is a parking area with barbeque huts called Playa del Sol which is a nice spot to enjoy the scenery for 50 pesos per person (AUD$3.20 / USD$2.50).

Aside from lake, there are a number of different outdoor activities for those that love adventure. Close by are the waterfalls of Cola de Caballo and Cascada del Chipitin. The ultimate for the adventure seekers is Matacanes Canyon. Considered to be one of the best canyoning experiences in the world (top 10), this is a must do for those in good physical condition.

Fortunately, getting to Santiago is a simple 23 kilometre (14 mile) drive down the three-lane highway from Monterrey, which is clearly signposted to help you get there.

As with anywhere within the municipality of Monterrey, the sun can be quite extreme on some days, even getting up to 40 degree Celsius (104 Fahrenheit). So be sure to prepare for this with lots of water and sun block.

Top Tip: Enjoy lunch or dinner at El Traspatio Restaurant. The food, service and ambience in this restaurant is amazing!

Santiago - Mexico
Santiago – Mexico

Holbox

Holbox is a beautiful little island located off the shore of the Yucatan peninsula. Holbox isn’t as popular with tourists as other nearby islands like Cozumel and Isla Mujeres, however, it is a great place to visit in Mexico to escape the tourist crowds.

There are no cars allowed on the island and most visitors get around by golf cart. While the island is quite long, only a small portion of it is inhabited so it feels very small. A lot of the island is a protected nature reserve so this is a gorgeous place to come for beautiful nature and seeing wildlife.

Holbox is one of the best places in Mexico to swim with whale sharks. You can join a tour that will take you to the whale sharks and you might even be lucky and see giant manta rays as well. Whale sharks are friendly towards humans and not dangerous at all so there is no need to be scared. The experience is absolutely magical and very impressive.

You can also spot birds like flamingos on the island which make for the perfect photo subject. Holbox is a fantastic place to come for a beach vacation or just to get away on a quiet island. Don’t forget to pack your camera.

Top Tip: Head to Whaleshark Pier to see a magical sunset.

Holbox - Whale Sharks
Holbox – Whale Sharks

San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel de Allende is a beautiful colonial city in Mexico’s Central Highlands. It is 274 kilometres (170 miles) north of the capital city and you will need to allow around four hours of driving to arrive there.

The town got its name from two historical figures. Juan de San Miguel was a Fryar from the 16th Century that was among the first settlers. Ignacio Allende was born in this city and later became an important fighter for Mexico’s Independence.

This town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the old part of town, you can find many Baroque buildings. Here one can see the influence from Spanish, Indian, and Creole cultures.

San Miguel de Allende has a moderate climate, low crime rate, beautiful historical architecture, and many art schools. All of these attributes have made the town extremely popular with expats from the USA, Canada, and Europe. Currently, they are 5% of the total population.

The main spot in town is Zocalo aka El Jardin. On this main square you have lots of shade where vendors sell souvenirs and in the evening mariachi play music to entertain guests in the restaurants around the square. Here you will also find Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel, the red church and original home of Ignacio Allende that has now been transferred into a museum. Also of interest is the square Plaza Civica which is home to the Church of Our Lady of Health.

Top Tip: The best time to visit San Miguel de Allende is over Easter when you can see many catholic processions.

San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende

In Summary – Unique Places to Visit in Mexico

Mexico is a vast, diverse, and incredible country with a fascinating culture, beautiful beaches, colonial towns, historic landmarks, and plenty of things to do and see. The 18 suggestions above are just a small list of unique places to visit in Mexico. There are many, many more which are waiting for you to explore!

Are you planning a holiday to Mexico? Have you visited one of the unique places to visit in Mexico we have listed above, or have we missed a place you love to visit? Post your tips and questions below.


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UNIQUE PLACES TO VISIT IN MEXICO

TRIP PLANNERS FOR MEXICO: RELATED BLOG POSTS

Want more info to help you plan your Mexico trip? Check out all the articles we’ve written on travel in Mexico below and continue planning your trip.


By Peta Wenzel

We are Peta (Australian) and Jonas (Swedish/Australian), a couple in our mid 40’s / early 50’s who have been travelling the world fulltime since January 2018. We met and lived on the Gold Coast, Australia and spent many evenings researching and watching YouTube vlogs about travel and dreaming of the day we would retire and be able to enjoy a lot more travel ourselves. Over the years, a number of events happened to family and friends and an opportunity arose which made us decide to not wait but to instead take a “Gap Year”. We are now in our 3rd year of travel and still hunger for new adventures and embrace the uncertainty that comes with full-time travel. If you want to know more about who we are, why we choose this lifestyle and how we do it, please follow our adventures and see how you can do it too.

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