Elvis Presley said it best: “We’ll live it up and love it up, amigo. Life begins when you’re in Mexico.”
He had the right idea.
Mexico is the country you visit for the palm trees and sunny skies. But you stay for the architecture and marketplaces.
What’s not to love?
There’s so much to love in Mexico, in fact, that you might struggle to create your travel itinerary for this diverse country. How do you narrow down your options?
We’ve shortened the never-ending list of amazing Mexican cities down to the top five. Whether you’re a slow traveler who wants to spend weeks in each destination or someone in a time crunch, our plan is easy to follow.
Top Spots: The 5 Best Cities for Your Mexico Itinerary
This itinerary is easy to stick to, because all five cities are in Central and Southern Mexico.
Try FluentU free for 15 days to make preparing for your Mexico excursion more fun. You can even download material for offline use so you can learn from your hotel rooms in Mexico. You can sing along to silly music videos or watch local news clips. You’ll be able to make those Mexican men and women swoon in no time.
This city isn’t just Mexico’s capital. It’s also independent from any Mexican state! Think of it as Mexico’s version of America’s District of Columbia.
Home to the largest international airport in Mexico, this city is the ideal place to start your journey.
Spend a weekend or several months exploring the diversity of Mexico City. Use Uber, taxis, the metro or your own trusty feet to take you around town. Or check out Turibus, Mexico City’s go-to tour bus option.
Here are some can’t-miss sights in Mexico’s capital.
- The Zócalo. This square is the heart of Mexico City and sets the stage for your adventure. The Zócalo (Plinth) is recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site and is home to the Metropolitan Cathedral, National Palace and ruins of the Templo Mayor (Great Temple), just to name a few.
- Avenida Insurgentes. Hop on a handy Turibus from the Zócalo and cruise down Avenida Insurgentes (Insurgents Avenue) with several famous monuments and stunning buildings. One variation of this route takes you to Paseo de la Reforma (Walk of Reform) where you can see the iconic Angel of Independence in all her golden glory.
- The Museum of Anthropology. If you only have time to see one museum in Mexico City, go to the Museum of Anthropology. This building contains some of the nation’s most precious ancient artifacts. The same Turibus route that includes Insurgentes will also stop here, as the museum is located on the main campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).
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This state is known for two things: The coast and history of indigenous people.
No matter how diverse your group of travelers is, everyone will find something to enjoy in Oaxaca. Visit museums, go surfing or relax on the beach with a book.
Leaving Mexico City, take a quick flight or bus ride to the capital of Oaxaca state, a vibrant city where open markets and unique artwork abound.
If you’re a shopper, you might want to take some extra time to browse the various shops and artisan studios in the city and surrounding valley.
- Monte Alban. A prime example of what the Zapotec people did with art and architecture on a lofty hilltop. Monte Alban (Alban Mountain) is vast and includes gardens, farms, public parks and impressive civic buildings dating from antiquity. A visitors center greets travelers near the summit, where you can find a gift shop, small restaurant, historic displays and a guide to take you through the site.
- Centro Cultural Santo Domingo. Located near the town center, the Centro Cultural Santo Domingo (Cultural Center of Holy Sunday) once served as a monastery, cathedral, seminary and garden. The Church of Santo Domingo de Guzmán is still a functioning church and the seat of the local diocese. But the remainder of the impressive Baroque interior has been converted into a museum of both Mexico and Oaxaca. Spend a few hours or a whole weekend, but don’t skip the library inside!
La Playa Chica
La Playa Chica (Little Beach) looks both west and south across the Pacific Coast. This lush coastline of Oaxaca is just being discovered.
If you’re a surfer, give yourself at least one full day to experience several beaches and some of the best waves in the world.
- Puerto Escondido. La Playa Chica officially begins in this town. Historically, pirates originally discovered the Mixtec settlements on the sheltered coastline, hence the English name “Hidden Port.” Puerto Escondido is popular with both tourists and expats, with a heavy emphasis on surfing culture.
- Mazunte. This charming seaside village is home to the Turtle Museum and the Natural Cosmetics Factory. The series of small beaches and sheltered coves are ideal for swimming, fishing and snorkeling. Visit Punta Cometa (Comet Point) at the far end of Mazunte Beach, a pleasant ocean lookout and hidden beach that marks where the coastline turns to face south.
Here you’ll find some of the most famous Mayan ruins and stunning textile designs in Mexico.
The food in Yucatán has its own unique look and taste that mixes Mayan, Caribbean, European and other global influences into its daily menu.
One of Mexico’s most infamous destinations, you might want to stay an extra few days and experience the party ambiance of Cancún. The size and popularity of Cancún ensure that it has the services, amenities and transportation facilities of any big city.
In Cancún, days are really just time between crazy nights partying. But you can make use of the daytime by taking a day trip from the city to one of these nearby places.
- Tulum. If you’ve already begun researching places for your Mexico itinerary, you’ve probably heard stories about the beauty and popularity of Tulum. Spoiler: They’re all true. The scenery makes it one of the most-visited sites in the country, so bring your camera and a decent pair of walking shoes. Take one of the many day tours offered from Cancún. Try a trusty company, such as Cancún Adventures, that includes trips to Tulum along with Xel-Ha Park nearby.
- Isla Mujeres. This small island seven kilometers from the coast is the home of the goddess Ixchel, the Mayan patron of childbirth and medicine. No wonder it’s named Isla Mujeres (Women Island). Several statues and temples were on this island when the Spanish arrived, but little is left of those ruins today. Visit the island via one of many boats or ferries. Companies such as Aquaworld offer convenient day trips.
Tourists get distracted by Cancún, but those in the know head to Mérida. The wealth and power in this city’s history still show in the rich Baroque and Neoclassical architecture.
- The Great Museum of the Mayan World. Like the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, this museum houses some of the most precious artifacts of local antiquity. The exhibitions and events focus on the Mayans but also include medieval and modern displays of importance to the region.
- Chichén Itzá and Uxmal. These stunning ancient ruins dot the surrounding countryside. Booking one of many tours that are based in either Mérida or Cancún is a handy way to organize your visits to Chichén Itzá (At the end of Itza’s well) and Uxmal. Many of these tours integrate trips to authentic Mayan villages and colonial haciendas (estates) into their daily trips.
Mexico is an ideal destination for short-term tourists and long-term expats alike! Travelers can’t help but fall in love with this country.
With its diverse attractions, the only drawback of visiting Mexico is that you might feel overwhelmed by all the choices.
Kristy Ambrose has been writing professionally since 2010. She dabbles in various genres, including everything from short blog posts to serialized novels. Her inspiration comes from gamers, beachcombers, foodies and fellow travelers. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the University of Victoria.
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