If you want to experience the real Mexico, leave the tourists in Tulum and check out some of the lesser-known destinations in this diverse and colorful country. From world-class surf beaches to Mayan ruins in the rainforest, which ones will you be adding to your 2023 travel bucket list?
Nestled in a valley between two hills, this old silver mining town in the center of Mexico charms visitors with its cobbled streets, colonial architecture and leafy squares. The city is full of museums and galleries, including Mina El Edén, the old silver mine deep underground. If you feel like blowing off some steam after all that culture, it turns into La Mina nightclub when dark falls- the world's only underground club.
For some pristine nature away from the crowds, take a boat trip to this uninhabited island off the coast of La Paz in Baja California Sur. A UNESCO heritage site and national park, the island is full of endemic flora and fauna, volcanic rock and virgin beaches. Boat trips allow you to snorkel with sea lions, discover sea caves and even stay a night in a certified campsite.
Deep in the south and bordering Guatemala, choose Chiapas for jungle waterfalls, Mayan ruins and locally-grown, mind-blowing coffee. Rich in history, you can feel the Mayan culture is still alive here and there are some incredibly well-preserved ruins like the city of Palenque. Chiapas is a lesser-known Mexican destination and also one of the poorest states so your tourist dollar will be supporting local communities.
Southeast of Mexico City, Puebla is known for its cuisine and pottery which you can see in the many beautiful, hand-painted tiles that adorn colorful buildings. Visit museums full of pre-Hispanic art before trying as many moles as you can- a complex mix of chillies, onions, garlic, herbs, spices, nuts, fruits and dark chocolate that every chef makes slightly differently.
If you’re into surfing you will know Puerto Escondido, the Pacific coast surf town that produces some of Mexico’s best waves. If you’re more into sunbathing than catching swells, this tropical fishing village delivers, with unspoiled beaches and some of the best places to eat seafood in the country.
Another beautiful coastal area just south of Puerto Escondido, in Huatulco you’ll have 36 beaches and nine bays to choose from. While some are more popular and host cruise ships, it’s easy to find a quiet white-sand beach along this rocky coastline. Add the local Oaxacan food served in open beachside restaurants and you will never want to go to Cancun again.
No one walks very fast in chilled-out surfer town Sayulita. This old hippy hangout now attracts people from around the world who enjoy the consistent surf breaks and relaxed vibe of this tropical beach town. Palm tree-lined cobblestone streets wind past colorfully painted buildings accompanied by the smells of fresh Mexican street food.
This Baja California Sur beach town has always been popular with artists, craftsmen, surfers and travelers. A town of galleries, colonial buildings, craft shops and restaurants, it sits in a desert-like landscape that leads onto a variety of white sand beaches.
Another old and beautiful colonial town, Morelia is way off the tourist trail so you can really experience an authentic Mexican town. Its impressive architecture can be seen in the stunning pink-stone Cathedral, the Government Palace and the eighteenth-century aqueduct. Don’t miss the famous Michoacan-style carnitas to fuel all that sight-seeing.
The train ride through this incredible landscape is often voted as one of the most spectacular in the world as it winds through an area of 20 canyons, larger than the Grand Canyon. The copper in the soil gives the canyon walls a slightly green color which adds to the beauty.
Ixtapan de la Sal
Ixtapan de la Sal is considered another ‘Pueblo Mágico’, a charming town with an old historic center, culture galore and delicious local dishes. It’s also known for its thermal waters and you’ll find spas, waterfalls and a very cool waterpark.
San Miguel de Allende
North of Mexico City, in the center of the country, San Miguel de Allende is known for its thriving art scene and baroque-era architecture. Vibrant artisan markets, food stalls and colorful streets have led many a foreigner to stick around San Miguel de Allende longer than planned.
Parras de la Fuente
Mexico isn’t synonymous with wine but if you want to taste its surprisingly good grapes head to Parras de la Fuente where you’ll find plenty of historic vineyards with incredible views.
This tiny state is probably the least known of our lesser-known Mexican destinations, but it has some of the best sites in the country. Hike to the top of an inactive volcano or spend an evening at the magical Santuario de las Luciérnagas where you can walk through a nature reserve lit by thousands of flying fireflies.
Long story short…
These are just 15 of the lesser-known Mexican destinations but you’re probably realizing Mexico has seemingly endless magical towns, beautiful beaches and incredible landscapes. It’s the perfect country to step off the tourist trail and discover something new in 2023.
Written by Laura Sedlak