The Best Places to Visit in Mexico
Updated: Jul 18, 2021
Just South of North America, Mexico is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the Americas and its easy to see why. For such a diverse country, it can appeal to pretty much anyone. From beautiful white sand beaches to mouth-watering food, rich cultural history to vibrant nightlife, and a bounty of activities to partake in, there's truly something for everyone. Having had the pleasure of visiting several of the top destinations in Mexico, I'll like to share with you what you could expect out of these varying cities. So let's dive in!
Located along the Yucatán Peninsula's Riviera Maya strip of the Caribbean shoreline, Cancun is the most popular destination in Mexico. It is thought of as Mexico's party center and a popular destination for spring breakers. However, this city definitely has much more to offer.
Tourists primarily stay in the hotel zone, a miles long strip of all-inclusive resorts and white sand beaches. On the Northern end of the hotel zone is Cancun's party zone with dozens of clubs, bars and restaurants all within a few minutes walk of each other.
If you want a more authentic Mexican experience, you can skip the hotel zone and stay in the heart of the city instead. Here you can mingle with everyday locals, eat authentic cuisine, and learn some salsa moves. So don't let the party culture here scare you away if its not your thing, you can get a more relaxed experience if that's more of what you're looking for. Check out my Cancun itinerary containing an extended list of tours/activities to choose from.
2. Playa del Carmen
Roughly an hour outside of Cancun, Playa del Carmen is yet another hip destination in Mexico. It is also located along the Yucatán Peninsula's Riviera Maya strip of the Caribbean shoreline. It is a smaller city compared to Cancun, so it's also more densely populated, with the majority of resorts and hotels located in downtown Playa which is definitely the place to be.
Playa is a lively city with plenty of bars, rooftop and beachfront clubs. Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue), is a pedestrian-only street and the most popular spot for tourists. This street is lined with clubs, diverse restaurants and souvenir stands.
If you need a destination where you can relax, unwind or go wild, Playa will be a great option for you. Check out my guide for the top activities to do while in Playa del Carmen.
I see Tulum as one of the most well balanced cities to visit in Mexico. The scales don't tip too much in any one direction, so you can truly have a well rounded experience when visiting. You can party, have fun activities with the family, visit ancient archeological sites, immerse yourself in local culture, have a relaxing scenic vacation, Tulum pretty much covers it all.
This city is also located along the Yucatán Peninsula's Riviera Maya strip of the Caribbean shoreline, roughly 2 hours outside of Cancun. Compared to Cancun and Playa, Tulum is smaller, more remote and also a touch more expensive to visit. Unlike Cancun there isn't an abundance of all-inclusive resorts to stay in. Smaller boutique hotels are more prevalent.
Depending on what you plan to do and if you feel comfortable enough, I recommend renting a car when you visit. Some of the attractions are located in remote areas and your cab bill can quickly add up. Check out my Tulum Itinerary containing an extended list of tours/activities to choose from.
4. Isla Cozumel
Cozumel is a small island just off the coast of Playa del Carmen. It is one of the most popular cruise ports in the world and also a popular destination for scuba divers thanks to the islands beautiful coral reefs beaming with marine life and visible in pristine crystal clear waters.
Other than diving and snorkeling, there are several unique experiences and parks to visit here. So while you can spend a day out here by catching a 45 min ferry from Playa, or porting here while on a cruise, the island is worth spending several days in. Check out my Cozumel Itinerary containing an extended list of tours/activities to choose from.
5. Mexico City
Mexico City is the capital of Mexico and one of the oldest and largest cities in the Americas. Built on the ruins of the ancient Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, it is home to the most number of museums in the world outside of Paris and the city is filled with beautiful architecture. So if culture and history are your forte, Mexico city is the right destination for you.
Aside from history buffs, foodies will enjoy their time here as well. While there are a vast number of international restaurants, the local cuisine itself is mind-blowing. And of course we can't forget the drinks! Make sure you check out Bar Milan for one of the best testing Mojitos you'll ever have.
Mexico City is also the most affordable place to visit in the country. And when I say affordable, I mean cheap! You can honestly visit for half what it will cost you to go to any of the other cities on this list! It is also one of the most authentic places to truly experience the "real Mexico".
6. Isla Mujeres
Isla Mujeres is a small island off the coast of Cancun reachable by boat. You can experience much of the island with a day trip, but staying on the island a few days will allow you fully experience all it has to offer. For those looking to escape Cancun for some true peace and quite, this is the destination for you.
There are a few water parks on the island, including one where you can swim with dolphins. There are plenty of snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities in the islands turquoise blue waters. You can visit an underground museum and go on a whale shark tour. There's plenty to keep you busy here for a few days.
The island is quite small, with much of the attractions close to each other. So a popular way to get around is by renting a golf cart, bike or scooter and circle the island to your heart's content.
This city is a nesting ground for sea turtles who come ashore every year to lay their eggs and that's how it gets its name. Akumal in Mayan means Place of the Turtles.
Akumal is also located along the Yucatán Peninsula's Riviera Maya strip of Caribbean shoreline in between Play del Carmen and Tulum. It is a popular day trip destination for visitors wanting to swim with turtles and witness them laying their eggs.
I had mentioned earlier that the few all-inclusive resorts located in Tulum can be
quite expensive. Most of the resorts in Akumal are roughly 15-30 mins outside of Tulum. So you can save some money by opting to stay at a resort in Akumal instead and drive out to Tulum everyday.