If you’ve been to Mexico then chances are that you’ve passed through places such as Cancun, Los Cabos and Mexico City. While there’s every reason to add these to your list of places to visit or re-visit, there’s a mouth-watering smorgasbord of other destinations to get excited about. Fancy discovering some jaw-dropping beaches, sleepy colonial towns and unblemished valleys? We’ve made things easy for you by selecting our favorite hidden gems. Just keep quiet about them, or get there before the culture-hungry tourist crowds do.
For Beaches and Islands
Huatulco National Park, Oaxaca
Nine bays and over 30 beaches divided by rocky cliffs set the scene at this bio-diverse coastal reserve. While the beaches, transparent waters and snorkeling are an undeniably huge draw, you should also set aside time to explore the park’s interior. Hike trails across rainforest-clad mountain slopes, visit coffee plantations and gawp at pre-Colombian ruins.
Isla Holbox, Quintana Roo
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Set on the Yucatan Peninsula, and worlds apart from the round-the-clock entertainment of Cancun, Isla Holbox is a little slice of island nirvana. There’s little else but soft white sand, vegetation and glistening turquoise waters along the 20-mile long coastline. When not performing your best beach bum act, you can learn to kitesurf, explore coral reefs and spot dolphins, flamingos and whale sharks.
Todos Santos, Baja California Sur
Follow the sun-kissed surfers and artsy types to this pristine beach just an hour’s drive north of Los Cabos. If surfing is your thing then this is the place to be on the peninsula, especially for the big swells at Cerritos and San Pedrito. If you prefer to simply hang out in the blissed-out ambiance, do so beachside and at the town’s art galleries and cool bars.
Yelapa, Cabo Corrientes
Yelapa is about as authentic a beach town as you are likely to find the length and breadth of Mexico. Access to the picture-perfect bay is by boat or water taxi only, which only enhances its charm. Then it’s just you, the beach, the swaying palms and traditional Mexican restaurants.
For Colonial Charm
Despite being the capital of the Yucatan state, Mérida remains largely undiscovered by tourism. That’s a good thing, of course, because you’ll still get that step-back-in-time feeling while wandering streets lined with 500-year-old colonial landmarks. Plaza de la Independencia is a hive activity throughout the week, hosting events such as the Mayan soccer-like game of pok-a-tok.
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Morelia hits the spot for more time spent meandering around pretty cobblestone streets. Photos of the town’s characteristic pink stone buildings are sure to make even your most well-traveled friends envious. This is also a gateway to Michoacán mountains, once home to an empire that rivaled the Aztecs. Keep an eye open for the monarch butterflies that migrate here from eastern Canada.
San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato
Nestled within the Mexican highlands is perhaps the finest example of a preserved colonial settlement in the country: San Miguel de Allende. Art lovers delight in independent galleries and studios while architecture connoisseurs take pleasure from the array of Spanish baroque buildings. Make sure to stop at the Ignacio Ramirez Market for an epicurean adventure.
For Natural Beauty and Wildlife
Cave of Swallows, San Luis Potosi
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Ever been to a place where bird-spotting and base-jumping go hand in hand? You have now. This vertical shaft is the tallest pit cave in the world, taller than the Eiffel Tower in fact. Every day large flocks of parakeets and white-collared swifts fly in circles up the cave and then out of the hole into the emerald green jungle. If you are lucky you might see some daredevils free falling downwards.
Copper Canyon, Chihuahua
Half a dozen rivers converge in the heart of the Tarahumara Mountains to create the verdant landscapes that define this sprawling canyon. Imagine the Grand Canyon, but considerably bigger and much greener. Indigenous groups live among the forests of fig, oak and pine trees. You can meet them by riding the Chihuahua al Pacifico train from the town of El Fuerte.
Lagunas de Montebello National Park, Chis
Way down south and close the border with Guatemala is a 6,000-hectare UNESCO-protected Biosphere Reserve. What makes it so special? Some 59 multicolored lakes and several Mayan ruins for starters. You can traverse the lakes by canoe, meeting local fishermen as you go. Adventurous swimmers come here for the sinkholes once deemed sacred by the Maya people.
For the Weird and Well-Being
Isla de las Muñecas, Mexico City
Away from the energetic center of Mexico’s capital is something that can only be described as bizarre and thought-provoking. The Island of Dolls sits on one of the Xochimilco canals decorated with hundreds of dolls, some hanging from trees and others decapitated. The reason? According to folklore, a young girl drowned here and the island’s caretaker began collecting dolls in an effort to preserve her memory.
San Pancho, Nayarit
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Otherwise known as San Francisco, this small Pacific-coast beach town is the perfect antidote to the bustling resort city of Puerto Vallarta. A peaceful atmosphere radiates around the beach and town, making it a mecca for yogis and the ideal spot for escaping the daily grind. A handful of bohemian cafés and handicraft stores offer the right amount of commercial activity.
Guadalupe Valley, Baja California
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Engage all of your senses in Mexico’s wine country, just a short drive from Tijuana and the US border. From the food to the wine and the scenery, it’s a true overload of sights, smells and tastes. Follow the winding dirt roads to your chosen winery and sample several of the nation’s vintages. And don’t forget to take in the inspiring mountain scenery.