Visiting Mexico for the first time? Or already an advanced traveler here? Here’s my ultimate Mexico bucket list featuring the top 50 places to visit in Mexico! This list includes both popular places to visit and also off-the-beaten-track destinations. Please practice responsible tourism to these places, should you end up visiting!
When we moved to Mexico in 2018, I began to scout out all the best destinations to explore for my ultimate Mexico bucket list. And although I’ve seen and done so much already, Mexico is a huge, diverse country! I’ll need much longer than one year to discover all the places on this list. 😉
From swimming in crystal clear cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula, surfing waves on the coast of Riviera Nayarit, to marveling at one of the hundreds of well-preserved ancient Mayan cities… there’s always somewhere exciting to explore in Mexico! So without further adieu…
My ultimate compilation for amazing destinations to visit in Mexico (in no particular order).
Ultimate Bucket List: Top 50 Places to Visit in Mexico!
51. San Cristobal de Las Casas (Chiapas)
The highlands magic town of San Cristobal de Las Casas is a must place to visit in Mexico.
With its cobbled streets, colorful architecture, pleasant weather, and incredible indigenous diversity, it is one of the most striking of the pueblo mágicos.
What’s more, San Cris is surrounded by amazing destinations that make Chiapas one of the best states to visit in Mexico.
You can go on an epic Chiapas road trip and visit all the amazing waterfalls like El Aguacero or El Chiflon, visit indigenous Tzotzil Maya towns like San Juan Chamula or Zinacantan, explore incredible Mayan ruins (and more waterfalls) at Palenque, or adventure to the sparkly blue Montebello Lakes at the Mexico-Guatemalan border.
Plus, there are many retirees, backpackers, and digital nomads in San Cristobal. It has definitely become one of gringos’ most beloved Mexican cities.
50. Puerto Vallarta (One of the best places to visit in Mexico on the west coast!)
Puerto Vallarta is the gateway to the coast of Riviera Nayarit, so to speak. It’s one of the best places to visit in Mexico in my opinion for most travelers and their diverse preferences. There’s so much to do in PV! It’s big enough and touristy enough to have loads of activities, but it’s not so big that it’s overwhelming. You can eat delicious seafood, go out at night, or take a day trip. PV also has a charming downtown area (Zona Romantica), plenty of outdoor activities and adventures, and is a popular Mexico destination for both honeymooners and retirees.
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49. Guanajuato City
Where in Mexico can you find European architecture, colorful Mexican houses, elegant plazas, and an eery Museum of Mummies? I’ll tell you… it’s Guanajuato City! Guanajuato is both a state in Mexico and also the name of its capital city. There are so many things to do in Guanajuato, so make sure to plan for a couple of days!
48. San Miguel de Allende
Just next door to Guanajuato City is the “gringo” version – San Miguel de Allende. Here you can find many American and Canadian ex-pats, upscale restaurants, and the famous pink sandstone church which was praised as one of Mexico’s most popular attractions and even one of the world’s most visited cathedrals.
47. Playa Balandra, Baja Cali Sur
Balandra Beach is definitely on my Mexico bucket list! It is one of the most gorgeous beaches in Mexico with silky-white sands and crystal clear turquoise water. It’s located in La Paz, in Baja California Sur. To get epic panoramic views of the entirety of Playa Balandra, be sure to climb up the surrounding hills.
46. Teotihuacan (Pre-Hispanic City)
If you want to see a truly impressive archeological site, then visit Teotihuacán located just northeast of Mexico City. What once was a thriving city now lives in memory. The giant Pyramids of the Moon and the Sun and the Temple of Quetzalcóatl are truly a scene to be witnessed in person. It is a holy city, described as the birthplace of the gods. As such, it is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A pueblo mágico (magic town) at its finest — Sayulita, Mexico is the cutest surfing town in the Riviera Nayarit with many things to do. It has colorful papel picado Mexican flags strung across nearly every street; its beaches are beautiful (although often crowded); and its food/bar choices are awesome! We celebrated Day of the Dead here (read more about that here) and had a blast. Sayulita, though it has its own downsides, is one of the best places to visit in Mexico on the west coast.
44. Tequila, Jalisco
Fine spirit lovers should travel to the city of Tequila, in the state of Jalisco, where (hint) tequila originates! Tequila is one of the Mexican government’s pueblo magico’s and is alive with color, Blue Agave (the tequila plant), and even volcanoes! There are loads of haciendas and distilleries offering tours where you can discover the traditional way tequila is made and harvested.
Colima is a state on the Pacific coast of Mexico, and its beauty is undeniable! Colima City dubbed the “City of Palms” shares the name with the state and it is a charming, colonial-style city with plenty to do. Other cities to explore in Colima are the picturesque Manzanillo, a renowned fishing port city that receives 350 days of sunshine per year, and Colima, an endearing magic town.
Just like when you fly into Puerto Vallarta on the west coast, Cancun is where you fly into Mexico on the east coast. Oh, Cancun! The epitome of Mexico tourism. But like they say for France, “If you’ve only been to Paris then you haven’t really been to France.” Well, the same rings true to Mexico. While you can delve into Cancun’s local scene, there are other places less iconized to explore Mexico. Cancun is the gateway to the Riviera Maya though, so it’s worth exploring at least once!
Oaxaca is another top destination on my ever-growing Mexico bucket list! Oaxaca, like Guanajuato, is a state in Mexico where the capital is named after it. Oaxaca City, and Oaxaca in general, is famous for coffee, agave plants (for mezcal farms/distilleries), and artisanal chocolate. Not to mention the traditional Oaxacan mole sauce, that Anthony Bourdain himself praised as being one of the best, most heartfelt, hard-working results of a culture’s cuisine.
40. San Pancho, Nayarit
San Pancho has my heart for many reasons, but I am quite biased as I have lived here for about 1.5 years (and am currently here now!) San Pancho is an eco-progressive town. It’s charming in all the ways you can imagine — the downtown, the beach, the people, the food scene, etc., — and it’s mostly thanks to the lovely community and the Entreamigos Community Center. Both are the heart and spirit that make this town so special! If you visit, please be extra mindful of your impact.
39. Zacatecas City
Like Guanajuato, San Miguel, and some other cities, Zacatecas forms part of the “old Silver Mining cities” group. So Zacatecas once thrived as a major mining city, but now it boasts quite a few other attractions too! Zacatecas is steeped in history, religion, and tradition. It has pink-hued architecture, festivals, a fun cable car, and the Sierra de Órganos National Park where you can hike, bike, and camp.
38. El Tajin, Veracruz
Veracruz is a beautiful state on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Veracruz is famed for its port city, its pristine beaches, and its famous ruin site at El Tajin. El Tajin is another pre-hispanic city, but this one is praised as being of the most culturally significant and most well-preserved sites in Mesoamerica. It rose to its height after the fall of the Teotihuacan Empire.
37. Paquime (Casas Grandes), Chihuahua
Paquime or Casas Grandes is an archeological site in the northwestern state of Chihuahua. The images of this place look other-worldly and I spent half an hour delving deep into the Wikipedia pages to learn more about the Mogollon culture that belonged to Paquime.
36. Islas Marietas
Las Islas Marietas sit off the Banderas Bay, along the Riviera Nayarit. The islands are a part of the protected Islas Marietas National Park that consists of two uninhabited islands which form part of a volcanic archipelago. Visiting is not cheap, and the tours limit the amount of time you can spend here as it has attracted too many tourists over recent years.
35. Isla Holbox
Sandy streets, golf carts as taxis, bare feet, whale sharks, and boho shops — I’m talking about Isla Holbox! Isla Holbox is one of the wilder islands in Mexico, and it certainly attracts off-grid nomads and travelers who like to get dirty playing in the sand and sea. It’s a gorgeous destination in Mexico for those looking to escape the busier side of the Riviera Maya (just don’t go for Christmas or New Years).
34. Palenque, Chiapas
Palenque is one of the most stunning archeological Mayan ruin sites, located in the tropical jungle of Chiapas in southeastern Mexico. Palenque forms a part of the popular Mayan ruin sites that speckle the Yucatan Peninsula. Some visitors have fallen in love with Palenque over other sites, like at Chichen Itza, Coba, or others.
Puebla is where the best of colonial architecture, history, Mexican tradition, and religion come to meet! This city, located in the center of Mexico, attracts both nationals and internationals to marvel at its cathedral and central plaza, and get a taste of their famous mole.
32. Huautla de Jimenez, Oaxaca
The Sotano de San Agustin, found in the pueblo magico of Huautla de Jimenez, Oaxaca, makes up the massive Sistema Huautla cave system. These underwater caverns can be explored by only the best professionals. The Sotano Cave is one of the deepest caves in the world.
Tabasco is a lush, high-altitude state in Mexico, famed for its picturesque, colorful cities, cocoa plantations, and many outdoor activities! From here you can explore around to see the best Tabasco has to offer. Discover the city of Tapijulapa in the mountains, or stroll around the quaint city of Villahermosa.
30. Chichen Itza
No doubt you already know of Chichen Itza, but have you ever seen it in person? One of my favorite travel quotes is, “I’d rather see something once than read about it a thousand times.” Chichen Itza – is it touristy? Massively, yes. But you should try to visit anyway! After all, it is one of the Wonders of the World, and it has been remarkably preserved. Here’s my guide on how to visit in 1 day.
29. Huastecas Potosina, San Luis Potosi
The Huastecas Potosina sub-region in San Luis Potosi is home to incredibly beautiful, turquoise-blue waterfalls, lakes, and rivers. This sub-region is filled with parks, cenote-like swimming holes, and stunning waterfalls of all sizes. You can kayak down the river, jump in a watering hole, or climb up to the top of the Tamul waterfall for another view of the tropical oasis.
28. Barrancas del Cobre, Chihuahua
Barrancas del Cobre (Copper Canyon) is the place to visit for adventure! The canyons are longer and wider than the famous Grand Canyon in the USA. If you visit Barrancas del Cobre, ride the Chepe train across the canyon from Chihuahua to Los Mochis. Camping, hiking, bird watching, plus other adventurous outdoor activities await!
Tulum is already one of the top destinations in Mexico to visit. It receives butt loads of tourists every year, especially travelers who have been attracted to the luxurious “eco-resorts” and turquoise Tulum cenotes. I am guilty of it myself!
After living in Tulum as a digital nomad for a few months, exploring its street art, eating at all the best restaurants and cafes, and going on amazing day trips, I think of it much differently now than I did before.
I also got to experience scuba diving in Tulum which seriously added to the experience!
But Tulum still desperately needs a wave of true eco-tourism, not just for marketing purposes. The town and cenotes are becoming quickly polluted and ruined.
Whereas Tulum is the seaside town of the Riviera Maya, Valladolid is the eccentric small-town colonial city of the area. It’s about 2 hours inland from Tulum and is most known for being the “pit-stop” city on the way to Chichen Itza. But don’t overlook Valladolid just yet! It very much retains its local tradition and culture, and not to mention it has some amazing cenotes.
Merida is the famed “White City” known for being one of the best cities in Mexico for ex-pats to live in. It’s first and foremost a colonial city and is dubbed as the White City for its prominently white architecture. We spent three days here exploring around and had an endless list of things to do and see.
24. Volcan Popocatepetl
For wild nature lovers, the impressive stratovolcano of Popocatépetl is an interesting place to visit in Mexico. Its enormous size extends across three states: Puebla, Morelos, and the State of Mexico! The volcano is active, so there’s always a risk when hiking around here. But the views will afford unforgettable adventures!
Cozumel is one of the most iconic destinations in Mexico, not to mention one of the most developed islands and cruise ports. Cozumel is a diver’s paradise as the coral reefs are praised to be some of the best for scuba diving in snorkeling! I myself took a Scuba Diving Discovery course here and completely fell in love with the sensation. For island lovers, Cozumel is a must-visit place to go in Mexico!
22. Xochimilco, Mexico City
Mexico City is a popular place to visit in Mexico, seeing as it’s the capital of the country. But there’s a special activity to do here worth mentioning – taking a gondola boat ride through the canals of Xochimilco. Formed during the Aztec empire, Xochimilco consists of an impressive canal network. Today you can take a gondola tour down the canals while learning about Mexico City’s rich history.
21. Canon del Sumidero, Chiapas
Nature lovers traveling to Mexico will especially appreciate the gorgeous Sumidero Canyon National Park, which features a deep, lush gorge home to wildlife such as river crocodiles, ocelots, and spider monkeys. The canyon is explorable by boat tour or by hiking to one of the breathtaking vistas.
The Lagoon of Seven Colors… Ever heard of it? It’s this giant lagoon with not seven different colors perse, but seven different shades of blue. And it’s located in Bacalar, a magic town with a low-key, down-to-earth vibe south of the Riviera Maya (not far from the border with Belize). It’s where you can kayak on the lagoon, eat local grub, and relax in an eco-friendly cabana!
19. La Paz
La Paz in Baja California Sur is where you can enjoy some of the best water activities, like swimming with whale sharks, diving at the Espiritu Santo Island, or whale watching. It’s home to the scenic Playa Balandra (mentioned earlier) and is a great place from which to explore surrounding magic towns, such as the charming pueblo of Todos Santos.
18. Hierve El Agua, Oaxaca
Hierve El Agua in Oaxaca is quickly becoming a top traveler’s destination in Mexico, all thanks to its wild and remarkable scenery. Why? Hierve El Agua is the sight of two petrified waterfalls — Cascada chica and Cascada grande. The white rock formations make it look like water is actually falling! There are mini pools, natural and artificial, to lounge in at the top.
17. Calakmul Biosphere Reserve
The Calakmul Mayan ruins, found deep in the jungle of the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, are arguably some of the coolest ruins in Mexico. Since you have to travel far into the jungle to reach them, there are hardly any people to “ruin” (get it?) the experience. When we visited in the morning, we saw tons of monkeys in the trees, who even approached us at the top of some of the most visibly striking temples which tower above the jungle canopy.
16. Monterrey, Nuevo León
If you love cities and mountains, I have the perfect destination in Mexico for you to visit: Monterrey in Nuevo Leon! Monterrey lies in the Nuevo Leon state of northeastern Mexico and is a great place to visit for sight-seeing and enjoying the region’s gastronomy.
Heard of cenotes? Well Cuzama, a small town about an hour from Merida, has tons of them! Cuzama is the best place to go in Mexico for swimming in cenotes without the crowds. The locals there either privately own the cenotes or most of the cenotes aren’t known to the public. You can read about our Cuzama cenote experience here.
14. Puerto Escondido
If you surf, then you’ve probably heard of Puerto Escondido before. It’s one of the best places to visit in Mexico for surfing, seeing as the waves and beaches here are perfect for it! Surfing here isn’t for newbies, however, as the giant waves are known to bury even the most skilled of wave riders. You can enjoy the charming, laid-back beach vibes of the town, though, which is quickly gaining in popularity among backpackers.
“Que Lindo es Tepic y todo Nayarit!” (Meaning how beautiful is Tepic and all of Nayarit!) Tepic is the capital of the state of Nayarit, despite many people thinking that the title belongs to Puerto Vallarta. Tepic is in the northern part of the state. It is surrounded by small magic towns, is just an hour’s drive to the coast at San Blas, and has lots of nature activities around like hiking on the Sanganguey volcano.
12. Pachuca, Hidalgo
The colorful city of Pachuca can be found in the hills of the state of Hidalgo. Its stacked houses are painted with all the colors of the rainbow, giving even more life to this charming magic town. When it comes to attractions, you can see the baroque-style cathedral, hike up to the Cristo Rey monument, and learn about the city’s rich mining history.
Food lovers who want to visit the best places in Mexico should visit the aromatic city of Huachinango in the state of Puebla. Huachinango also refers to the popular redfish (northern red snapper). Nevertheless, this city apparently is famed for smelling like toasted peanuts. Women dressed in traditional-style clothing embroidered with bright flowers are iconic of the city.
10. Isla Mujeres
Isla Mujeres is one of my favorite islands and places to visit in Mexico, simply because it offers a mix of tropical vibes and tourism while sustaining its more local community feel. The island attracts water lovers for snorkeling, diving, or swimming with whale sharks. A popular way to explore the island is by renting a golf cart and navigating around, visiting the marine life wall art, and visiting the tip at Punta Sur.
9. Guadalajara, Jalisco
The best places to visit in Mexico don’t always have to be jungly or beachy destinations. In fact, one of the most popular places to visit (and places to live) is the city of Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. Guadalajara is the second-largest city in all of Mexico, but it has a more open layout. A friend told me Guadalajara is in fact many small towns, who eventually came together to create Guadalajara, through eventual growth. There are lots to do and see here, so be sure to visit!
8. Ixtapa Zihuatanejo, Guerrero
Ixtapa, Zihuatanejo, or Ixtapa Zihuatanejo (two sister communities), were once sleepy fishing villages located bayside on the Pacific coast of Mexico in the state of Guerrero, but which are now popular places to visit in Mexico for families and couples. The resort town offers a variety of things to do and see other than lounging on the pristine beaches, especially in the touristy hotel zones.
7. Bernal, Querétaro
Querétaro is a small state in central Mexico and home to some of the cutest magic towns, such as Bernal. Bernal’s most famous feature is the striking Peña de Bernal (monolith) – the third highest in the world! Here, you can go hiking or climbing. This magic town is also alive with colors and wine vineyards.
6. Janitzio in Lake Pátzcuaro, Michoacán
Janitzio in Michoacan is on my bucket list for one good reason: Day of the Dead! El Dia de Los Muertos takes place all over Mexico, but it is especially monumental on this little island in Lake Patzcuaro. Apparently, the island is covered with candles and marigolds, and canoes filled with both surround the island and reflect off the water, making it a photographer’s dream location and event to witness.
Arguably one of the few remaining “unknown” towns virtually untouched by tourism is the tranquil pueblo of Yelapa, reachable only by boat from Puerto Vallarta in the Bandera’s Bay. Paul and I, and a few friends, visited Yelapa for a weekend trip and had a blast hiking to waterfalls, lounging beachside with a cocktail, and roaming the streets on foot (along with the local donkeys and horses).
Hiking alongside the bay in Yelapa, Jalisco
The state of Aguascalientes is one of Mexico’s smallest states, and 3/4’s of it is surrounded by the state of Zacatecas. Our friend comes from Aguascalientes and often talks about it, which is why it’s on our bucket list! The city boasts both a rich history and heritage starting with the Fiesta Brava event held on the Plaza de Toros. You can also enjoy various handicrafts and specialties of the region, such as guava candy.
3. Coyoacán, Mexico City
Coyoacán is a municipality in the center of Mexico City. Home to the Frida Kahlo Museum, the neighborhood has quickly gained in popularity as a “hippie neighborhood” — attracting artists, chakra practitioners, and backpackers to come and soak in the down-to-earth vibes. The Mercado (market) and the Casa Azul (Frida’s museum) are the top two attractions to see in Coyoacán.
2. Grutas de Cacahuamilpa National Park
This next destination definitely isn’t one of the best cities to visit in Mexico, seeing as it is anything but a city! Perhaps a city of caves? The Grutas de Cacahuamilpa receives over 350,000 visitors every year, has over 9 large saloon-style caverns, and is one of the largest cave systems in the whole world, making it one of the best places to visit in Mexico for you guessed it… Caving! A visit here also gives you the chance to visit the nearby colonial magic town of Taxco, in the state of Guerrero.
1. Punta de Mita
Punta de Mita (or Punta Mita) is one of the most popular places to visit on Mexico’s west coast (other than Vallarta or Sayulita). I have spent some time here, but I am eager to go back and explore its best features.
It is highly rated for its resorts, beaches, upscale restaurants, beach clubs, and pristine golf courses. There’s also La Lancha, which is the best beach near Punta Mita to go surfing!
And with that concludes my ultimate bucket list for the best places to visit in Mexico!!
I am eager to continue exploring this magical country, and I hope you’ll join me on these adventures! Mexico is easily one of my all-time favorite countries that I’ve ever traveled – or lived – in. I hope you, too, can experience the magic of Mexico!
Know of a place in Mexico I should add to this list? Drop me a comment below and share your recommendations or thoughts! xx
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