The 12 best places to visit in Mexico
Ready to spread your wings and go visit Mexico? As a native, it’s somewhere I return to regularly, so here’s a few of my favourite places to help you plan your stay.
Brimming with culture and awe-inspiring landscapes, the Riviera Maya is probably one of the first places that springs to mind when you think of Maya country. White sandy beaches and crystal-clear turquoise seas that merge into the horizon against a backdrop of cloudless blue, sunny skies. Undoubtedly, the Riviera Maya beaches have a charm all of their own, but sometimes you need to delve a little deeper. The Yucatan peninsula coastline brings together nature, culture and enjoyment. Not only will you find natural reserves like Sian Ka’an, it is also home to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, a diver’s paradise showcasing a beautiful array of Mexican flora and fauna. Beyond these natural treasures, you can also enjoy a range of majestic archaeological delights, including Chichen-Itza, one of the wonders of the modern world, as well as Uxmal and Tulum, an ancient fortress overlooking the sea. These ancestral sites are testament to pre-Hispanic Maya heritage. If architecture and history are more your thing, then you won’t be disappointed. Take some time to explore the colonial buildings which tell the story of the Spanish conquest.
Food and drink are an important part of Mexican culture. The cuisine is rich and varied, largely thanks to its pre-Hispanic and European roots, and has been added to the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage list. Take time to try authentic Mexican food; it’s a far cry from what you ever may have already tried or imagined.
Have I tempted you to come and visit this little piece of paradise yet?
Our selection of must-see places
Bacalar is a magical village nestled in an exceptional natural setting in the heart of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. It is particularly well-known for its lagoon, a magnificent natural paradise with a surface area of 42 km². This is a magical place, better known as the Lake of the Seven Colours, where the colours of the water and sky, in varying shades of turquoise, sky blue and deep indigo, merge into one. To make the most of the setting, and experience the beautiful sunrise over the lagoon, get up early one morning and take a journey down the river by boat, canoe or paddleboard. Do you love water sports? Then you’ll certainly love the cenote Azul, with a depth of up to 90 metres, perfect for snorkelling and scuba diving enthusiasts. And whatever you do, don’t leave Bacalar without going to see the San Felipe fort, a historical site which saw off pirate attacks in the 18th century. Today, its ramparts are home to a museum dedicated to the history of the village.
Relaxation | Natural wonders | Seaside resort | Diving | Water sports
Visiting Tulum is a complete discovery that includes history, adventure and relaxation. In recent years, this place has become the eco-friendly destination of the Riviera Maya. A short stroll through the village is all it takes to discover eclectic bars, friendly restaurants, boutique-hotels and shops of exceptional charm. After your walk, head to the coast, a few kilometres from the village, to explore the Archaeological site of Tulum. Full of mysticism and almost 1500 years old, the site stands on a cliff facing the Caribbean Sea. It is located in the Tulum National Park, an area dedicated to the protection of the region's flora and fauna. You can visit on foot, which will allow you to dive into the jungle, or by boat, with the observation of marine turtles and snorkeling as a bonus. Ready for a swim? A few steps away is Paraiso, a white sand beach with turquoise water.
Relaxation | Sea | Nature | Fauna observation | Archaeological site
Get ready to discover the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean! Indeed, the Sian Ka'an biophere reserve is composed of 1,080 mi² of jungle and of a large part of the sea. Here, you will have the opportunity to explore beaches, dunes, mangroves, cenotes, coral reefs and a vast tropical jungle. How about going on a land or sea safari to discover more than 300 species of birds, 1000 species of plants and a hundred species of animals, including dolphins, turtles and even jaguars. Diving and snorkeling will also be on the agenda. There is nothing like swimming in a natural turquoise water pool or floating and letting yourself be carried away by the current of the small canals, in fresh and calm water. The visit is not over, since here you can discover the daily life of real Mayans in the community of Muyil. Get ready for tasty meals, ancestral traditions and a small archaeological site far from the crowds of tourists.
Natural wonders | Fauna observation | Diving | Nature reserve | Beaches
Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is a town that has built up an enviable reputation over the years. With a beautiful sandy beach and copious trendy neighbourhoods, it’s one of the most cosmopolitan destinations on the continent and an ideal place to enjoy a fantastic beach holiday. With more than six theme parks and high-end commercial activities, Playa (as it is affectionately known amongst friends and locals) is synonymous with partying, luxury and entertainment. After a morning swim at the Mamitas, Playacar or Shangri-La beaches, go for a leisurely stroll down 5ta Avenida (5th Avenue), filled with bars, restaurants, shops and nightclubs. Do you like water sports? Paddle boarding, diving, flyboarding ... you’ll be spoilt for choice! Like many places in the Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen offers visitors unrivalled sunrises that shouldn’t be missed, so head down to the beach and enjoy the experience.
Relaxation | Parties & Festivals | Beaches & Seaside resort | Shopping | Water sports
With over 6 million visitors each year, Cancun is the most touristy city in Latin America. There are numerous glorious beaches with lapping turquoise waters, the perfect excuse to relax in your deck chair and sip a good cocktail. Delfines beach is perfect for both surfing aficionados and those wanting to admire the beautiful scenery. If you’re looking for a family-friendly beach, then Tortugas beach, with its calm waters, is the one for you. There is also an abundance of water sport activities. At the Nichupté lagoon, you can go paragliding, jet-skiing, snorkelling, scuba diving...in short, there’s something for everyone. While this is a cosmopolitan destination, the city’s Mexican roots and culture are still very much evident. Here you’ll find restaurants, where you can enjoy sushi or pizzas with typical Mexican ingredients, cultural places of interest, such as the Maya museum and the Cancun planetarium, and archaeological sites such as El Rey.
Relaxation | Entertainment | Sea | Beaches | Diving
This archaeological site is one of the seven wonders of the modern world. As soon as you arrive you can see and feel the Mayan cultural heritage. The main buildings, such as the temple of Kukulcan (the God to which the place is dedicated), the juego de pelota (ball game) field esplanade, the observatory, etc ... transport you to a time when the ancient Maya peoples coexisted with the abundant flora and fauna. Every day, tourists from all over the world come together in this corner of Yucatan, with the largest numbers being seen during the spring and summer equinoxes. During the equinoxes, a beautiful natural phenomenon occurs, as the shadows cast by the sun create the illusion of a feathered snake on both sides of the pyramid. It is said that this is the arrival of the Kukulcan God on earth. Even if you can’t come during the equinox, you can still enjoy the spectacular light shows which take place every evening, they're truly spectacular!
Archaeological site | Art & Culture | Craftsmanship | Monuments | UNESCO World Heritage
Ik Kil Cenote
Cenotes are sinkholes in limestone soil which are half filled with fresh water. These mystical places, which according to legend are the result of the impact of a meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs, also served as places of worship for the ancient Mayas. The Maya word to describe this natural phenomenon is dz'onot, which means sacred well. Of the more than 6,000 cenotes that exist in the Yucatan Peninsula, only around 2,000 have been explored and few are open to the public. Le Ik Kil cenote is the most frequently visited due to its exotic beauty. Lush vegetation, small waterfalls and a 40-metre deep natural pool await you! To get the most out of your visit, don’t forget to take a refreshing dip. This visit can be a day trip, or you can opt for accommodation in one of the area’s eco-friendly hotels. If you’re feeling hungry, several dining options are also available.
Natural wonders | Diving | Viewpoint | Nature reserve
Just a few kilometres from Chichen Itza is Valladolid, which boasts the magical village quality label, similar to the “art and history town” label in France. The town is a perfect mix of colonial spirit and pre-Hispanic tradition. Its illustrious colonial buildings, incredible cenotes and beautiful handcrafted local works, make the Mayan Pearl of The East a must-see town on your Riviera Maya itinerary.
Start your visit in the city centre and explore the main buildings brimming with a rich history. Built in 1545 by the conquistadors, the church of San Servacio is the main attraction. Take a stroll through the cobbled streets to the Chandeleur church, then meander along the Calzada de los Frailes (monk’s pathway) while admiring the colourful houses. End your walk at the San Bernardino de Siena convent and admire its combination of medieval and Franciscan-style architecture. In the vicinity you will also find other places of interest such as the Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman, or natural wonders such as the Zaci, Xkeken and the most beautiful of all, Suytun cenotes. Valladolid is also known for its proximity to several other important archaeological sites such as Chichen-Itza, Ek-Balam and Coba.
Nice village | Architecture | Gastronomy | Nature
Holbox is a small island of 56 km² and located in the northern part of the Yucatan Peninsula. To get there, take a ferry from Chiquila - the journey takes around 20 minutes. As you walk along its pristine sandy beaches, you’ll feel like you’re walking on clouds. The water is also really clear. If you’re looking for peace and quiet, away from the tourist crowds, then this is the stuff of dreams. It has managed to retain its ‘small village’ ambiance with a bohemian touch....the perfect invitation to do nothing at all. Daily schedule: lie back in your hammock, sip your coconut water and maybe take a stroll along the sandy paths. Holbox is a part of the Yum-Balam nature reserve, so here there’s no such thing as a proper road. Cars are not permitted on the island, the main modes of transport are motorbikes, quadbikes and golfing buggies.
Explore the surroundings on the three-island tour: Bird Island, Passion Island and the Yalahau cenote. This trip on the open sea will give you the opportunity to admire the wildlife and natural beauty of Holbox. Looking for something different to do? Try swimming with whale sharks, observe the pink flamingos at Punta Mosquito, or admire the amazing sea spectacle of bioluminescent plankton.
Island | Relaxation | Fauna observation | Beaches | Nature reserve
Welcome to the world’s most important eco park! Since its opening in 1990, and thanks to its beautiful natural environment, Xcaret has developed a variety of conservation and reproduction initiatives to protect the local flora and fauna. These include the first butterfly garden in Mexico and the aquarium, one of the few places in the world where you can admire coral reefs in their natural environment.
As a theme park, Xcaret stands out for showcasing the natural and cultural aspects of Mexico. Here you can experience the traditions of the Maya people and reflect on the history of Mexican folklore. You can partake in various water activities in its cenotes, subterranean rivers, lagoon and on its beach. There are also other theme parks in the region, for example, Xplor, Xenses, Xel-Ha, etc. However, Xcaret stands out as the most impressive and beautiful.
Art & Culture | Entertainment | Nature | Shows
Isla Mujeres (Island of Women, in English) was named by the Spanish who, upon arriving on the island, discovered a site filled with statues erected in honour of the Maya goddess Ixchel. The island is 25 minutes from Cancun by ferry and is approximately 8 km long and 1 km wide.
To make the most of your visit, travel around the island by bicycle and discover the quaint streets on foot, where you'll find a range of souvenir shops and clothing typical of the area. Looking for a more relaxing time? On the beach you’ll find restaurants and bars, so why not sit back, relax and enjoy a cold beer and a Tikin-Xic-style grilled fish. A real treat! From some of the beaches you’ll be able to experience breathtaking sunrises and beautiful views of the Caribbean Sea. A fun and popular activity on this side of the Riviera Maya is snorkelling, something you can do in Garrafon, a natural coral reef park just a few meters from the shore. Make sure you book a trip to the Cancun Underwater Museum, a wonderful site on the seabed ...not to be missed!
Island | Relaxation | Nature | Diving | Viewpoint
Thanks to its proximity to Playa del Carmen, Cozumel Island is enjoying increasing success, making it one of the best destinations in south-eastern Mexico. Here you can enjoy a fun yet relaxed atmosphere. If you’re into snorkelling or scuba diving, make sure to visit the Palancar reef. Explore all the seabed has to offer in El Cielo (the sky), a natural pool where you can see starfish just a few metres from the beach. The water is so clear, you won’t believe your eyes! The San Gervaiso ruins are the biggest and best preserved on the island. Here you can see what remains of an ancient observatory, temples, houses and arches. To try something different, visit one of the farms that collects pearls from the Cozumel sea. And whatever you do, don’t leave Cozumel without taking a stroll through the island’s streets where you will find all sorts of fascinating secret corners.
Island | Relaxation | Nature reserve | Fauna observation | Archaeological site
Franco-Mexican travel blogger
For me, visiting the Riviera Maya in Mexico is like taking a step back in time. Everywhere has its own mystic charm and you really feel like you are travelling through sacred lands. I was taken aback by the cultural wealth and the number of archaeological sites and cenotes that can be found on the peninsula; there are so many that it would take you years to visit them all. Beaches, shall we give them a mention? Before my visit, I genuinely thought that the turquoise colour of the water was just a myth, but it only took me a few seconds to realize that it is indeed very real and there are no filters!
Mexico is a fun and welcoming country and getting together with family and friends is the norm for all occasions, big and small. Mexicans are also very hospitable, they always have a smile and a nice word. Mexican food is delicious and full of traditions, every dish has a unique history. However, it can be a little spicy for foreigners, so best to ask for a less spicy version when ordering. Be careful when buying street food, it can sometimes cause sickness and diarrhoea, always good to be wary.
Some towns, like Cancun and Playa del Carmen, have been victim of their own success and have a high number of tourists each year. These places could be unfairly underestimated for what they have to offer, especially for someone like me in search of authentic experiences. While major cities in this region have been subject to mass tourism, especially in terms of prices, queuing times and ecological impact, the places I have mentioned are still worthy of a visit. I have been pleasantly surprised by my experiences and have often seen things I never expected. Much of what I have seen in this beautiful region of Mexico has stolen a piece of my heart.