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15 fun and unforgettable things to do in Mexico

Beyond magnificent beach towns, discover the history and heritage of the country through top restaurants, bucket list attractions, and the very best things to do in Mexico

Written by
Duncan Madden
&
Lori A May
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Sure, the alluring turquoise waters lure just about every visitor to Mexico’s famous beaches. But there's more to this vast country that lies beyond the surf and beneath the surface. Walking tours of ancient civilizations and must-see exhibitions at world-class museums offer a deeper appreciation of Mexico's culture-rich heritage, while natural beauty abounds in cenotes, jungles, caves, and along rivieras. Throughout it all, savor regional flavors whilst experiencing big cities and small towns alike—here are the best things to do in Mexico.

RECOMMENDED: the best things to do in Mexico City

Best things to do in Mexico

Where is it: Puerto Vallarta

What is it: One of those Instagram staples you never imagined you’d actually visit, the extraordinary Hidden Beach, as it’s commonly known, is just an an easy hour-long boat ride from Puerto Vallarta to the Islas Marietas.

Why go: Swim or kayak through a water tunnel straight from the Pacific into a one-of-a-kind paradise. Once inside, golden sands and luminous waters meet under the shade of what’s rumored to be a bomb-blasted hole from Mexican military testing in the early twentieth century.

Where is it: Cozumel

What is it: This family-owned offshore pearl farm, set in warm Caribbean waters, runs small day-long tours that visit private beaches, vibrant reefs, and oyster harvesting sites.

Why go: The farm’s owners will host and ferry you to this magical underwater garden where you can snorkel among fish and learn how pearls are grown. Laze on the private beach, gorge on pineapple burgers, and sip cold cervezas before taking a siesta in the farm's beach hammocks.

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Where is it: Tulum

What is it: There's no denying this tourist hotspot in the Yucatán—the ancient Mayan walled city, Tulum, is a spectacular ode to Mexico’s past that you won't want to miss.

Why go: Despite being ruins, the site is well-preserved and just so happens to lie at the foot of a gorgeous beach. Preparation is the name of the game: get up at the crack of dawn and go with a reputable guide who can offer context and facts to bring the ruins to life. Then, as hordes of fellow tourists arrive, kick back on the nearby sand knowing full well that you arrived at exactly the right time (before everyone else).

Where is it: Tulum

What is it: A slightly gruesome yet extraordinary find in the world’s largest underwater cave system, San Actun, in the jungles near Tulum.

Why go: Hike through the jungle past families of spider monkeys toward sinkholes (a.k.a. cenoteswhere you can dive or snorkel among the stalagmites and stalactites with blind cave fish. What's the gruesome part, you ask? Just below you on the cave floor lie the bones of ancient animals, including a now extinct prehistoric camel.

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Where is it: Cholula

What is it: The small city of Cholula, just two hours south-east of Mexico City, is home to hundreds of beautiful churches, the world’s largest pyramid, and startling views of the snow-capped Popocatépetl volcano.

Why go: The oldest city in the Americas is a stunning feast for the eyes with architectural delights and churches dating back to the sixteenth century. Topping them all – and directly on top of of city's giant pyramid – is the magnificent Sanctuary of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, a16th-century church that's perfectly backdropped by the smoking Popocatépetl volcano.

6. Mercado de San Juan

Where is it: Mexico City

What is it: Mexico City’s great food hall is smorgasbord of cultural and unique foods loved by the world’s best chefs. And if it’s good enough for them…

Why go: Wash down a fried scorpion with a mezcal chaser, munch on edible flowers, or try ant eggs with crispy grasshoppers. There’s not much you won’t find for sale on these stalls, with vendors usually willing to let you try before you buy. 

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Where is it: Mexico City

What is it: An architectural triumph of form and function, Mexico City’s mega-library conveys the power of the written word like nowhere else on earth.

Why go?: You couldn’t read each and every book in Biblioteca Vasconcelos in a hundred lifetimes, but you’ll arrive and leave in total awe at its scale, magnitude, and design. The building’s structure is mostly made of the bookshelves themselves, and there are five libraries dedicated to Mexico’s five greatest intellectuals, each uniquely designed to reflect their views and words.

8. Eat roadside fish tacos on Highway One

Where is it: From Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas

What is it: On the long road south from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas you’ll pass hundreds of rough-and-ready roadside taco stands. Stop and eat at as many as you can.

Why go: These stands cook up some of the freshest and tastiest treats you’ll get anywhere in Mexico. Few things can cure road fatigue like a couple of spicy fish tacos ladled with hot sauce—especially when you wash it all down with an ice-cold Pacifico.

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Where is it: Ensenada

What is it: The legendary cantina where, in 1941, bartender Don Carlos Orozco first mixed the perfect blend (tequila, Damiana liqueur, and lime) and served it over ice in a salt-rimmed glass to the daughter of the German ambassador, Margarita Henkel (or so the legend goes).

Why go: Beyond its historic context, Hussong’s Cantina also just happens to be a great bar with hard-to-beat margaritas. Still run by a third-generation Hussong, every night is lively to the point of rowdy with locals and Americans filling every seat as they celebration all things tequila.

 

 

Where is it: Mexico City

What is it: As a stunning example of early twentieth-century architecture, Palacio de Bellas Artes stands proud in Mexico City’s Centro Histórico.

Why go: As if the palace isn't enough all on its own, it’s also the permanent home to works from many of Mexico’s finest artists like Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco.

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Where is it: Michoacán

What is it: Not far from Zihuatanejo (which famously appeared in The Shawshank Redemption), sleepy Nexpa is a collection of dilapidated beachfront cabanas and a coveted surf spot far from the tourist trail.

Why go: Sure there are better, more famous waves across Mexico, but heading to Nexpa is like stepping away from the world for a refresh. Untouched by development (only traveling surfers tend to seek it out), there’s little to do except surf, sleep, and surf some more.

Where is it: Aguascalientes

What is it: A celebration of Mexico’s ever-present obsession with Santa Muerte (a.k.a. Saint Death), the Museum of Death in Aguascalientes is a somewhat comic, sometimes graphic dive into a cultural fixation.

Why go: From the gruesome rituals that sent thousands to their graves in ancient times to the appropriation of sugar skulls in pop culture, you’ll leave with a knowledge of death you never knew you wanted.

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Where is it: Guadalajara

What is it: An unmarked door of a quirky art nouveau house in Guadalajara that leads to some of the best Mexican food you’ll find.

Why go: This is regional fare at its simplest and most affordable. The owner, Carlos, will personally welcome you into the restaurant before serving a feast you won’t forget. Don’t miss the empanadas and medias lunas (half-moon pastries).

Where is it: Mexico City

What is it: Mexico City’s spectacular natural history museum dedicates one-and-a-half square miles of exhibition space to the history of man and Mexico.

Why go: Many of Mexico’s wondrous ruins and ancient sites are a little light on explanation and context. This anthropology museum takes it one step further, walking you through Mayan, Olmec, and Aztec histories with fantastic exhibits and interactive centers inside a beautifully designed building. Visit the museum before anything else to get the backstory on many of the ruins you're bound to visit down the road.

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Where is it: Puebla

What is it: A 500-year-old, six-mile-long tunnel system under the baroque city of Puebla, long thought to be nothing more than legend until it was rediscovered in 2015.

Why go: Snaking their way from the city center to the Loreto Fort, the tunnels were used by soldiers in the mid-nineteenth-century war of Mexican liberation but were carved half a millennium ago. Now a beautifully lit thoroughfare and free museum, they make for quite the commute.

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