When travelers think of exotic places to visit, Mexico may not make it to the top of the list. But ask experienced vagabonds who’ve explored the far corners of this beautiful country, and you’ll understand why it should be. Mexico offers endless, affordable exploration possibilities for all travelers, from the well-seasoned to the not-so-experienced, and everyone in-between. The best-kept secrets in Mexico are those that veer off the beaten path. You’ll find an exciting array of cultural experiences, delicious cuisine, and life-altering natural wonders in any direction.

01Arriving There

Recent media stories give the impression that Mexico is an unsafe country. Sure, some places are less safe than others, but tourism is the number one industry, and traveler safety is a government priority. Another plus is that traveling from one locale to another is not only easy; it’s affordable. Most travelers picture the climate in Mexico to be sunny and dry. But it’s a big country, with a wide array of terrains and varying climate types. Generally, there’s more rainfall across the country between May and October. Locals say that January is a good month for traveling around Mexico if you’re seeking to avoid large groups of fellow adventurers.

02How To Make the Most of Your Time

If you stick to the “top ten” list of tourist stops in Mexico, you’re missing out on the best parts. Holbox Island, or Isla Holbox, is one of the country’s best-kept secrets. Officials don’t allow cars in this laidback paradise. There are no paved streets, only well-traveled white sand roads. Rent a bike or a golf cart to explore the island. No matter your itinerary, you can’t leave Mexico without visiting one of its extraordinary cenotes, deep water-filled sinkholes that dot the map around the country. One of the most magnificent is the Ik Kil Cenote, less than two miles from the Mayan monument, Chichen Itza on the Yucatan Peninsula. Bring your swim gear.

decorFun Fact

The largest immigrant group in Mexico is U.S. citizens. More immigrants are moving from the U.S. to Mexico than are moving from Mexico to the U.S. According to 2019 statistics, nearly 800,000 people born in the U.S. are living in Mexico.

03What to Avoid

The advisory for travelers about not drinking the water is true for Mexico. Large resorts say their water is safe, but you take a chance wherever you drink water straight-from-the-tap. Don’t brush your teeth with it either. Some establishments clean fresh fruits and vegetables in tap water, while more upscale or popular eateries use purified water instead. When getting from one destination to the next, avoid hailing cabs in the larger cities. Choose licensed, official taxi sites when traveling from airports. Remember that public drinking on the street, whether it’s outside of an establishment or walking around, is illegal in Mexico. Enjoy your adult beverages inside to avoid unwanted run-ins with local authorities.

04Live Like a Local

Experience nightlife with the locals in Guadalajara, a buzzing metropolis and Mexico’s second-largest city. The Avenida Chapultepec offers a wide variety of restaurants, bars, and clubs for you to enjoy. You can even catch a symphony performance in one of the city’s many plazas. If you’re more sports-minded, you’ll love the experience of one of Mexico’s favorite pastimes, lucha libre. You’ll find these inexpensive masked-hero-and-villain wrestling events in the larger cities. Enjoy the acrobatics and comedy-filled shows while with a favorite beverage or snack sold by nearby vendors. You can even walk away with your very own lucha mask.

decorFun Fact

The largest bullring in the world is in Mexico City. The Plaza de Toros seats more than 40,000 people. Not only does it serve as a bullring, but it’s also been the site for world-class boxing and other sporting events. It opened in 1946.

05Things You Can Do Without Any Spending Money

Mexico is a great place to explore if you’re on a limited budget. Cacaluta is a pristine beach in Huatulco, south of the city of Oaxaca. You can’t reach it by car. The only way to find it is an easy, quarter-mile trek through a jungle. If you prefer indoor activities, that include architecture, murals, and a bit of rebellious fun, plan a visit to the Murals of the Government Palace at the Zocalo in Tlaxcala. Two controversial government-commissioned murals feature the town’s most popular prostitute. Another depicts a nude male ascending toward the heavens. The brilliant colors and detailed images of the murals against the exquisite architecture provide a unique and memorable outing. Best of all, it’s free.

06Where to Take Instagram Pics and Where to Put the Phone Away

The Tamul Waterfall, or Cascada de Tamul, in Ciudad Valles, is the tallest waterfall in the state of San Luis Potosi. Although phone service has improved in Mexico, it’s spotty at best in this area, so it’s a good excuse to put away your phone. The Tamul Waterfall is nearly 1000-foot wide and best viewed from the river. To get there, drive to the town of Tanchachin, rent a canoe, and paddle for two hours upstream. Top spots for Instagram pics in Mexico include the Monumento a la Revolución in Mexico City and the colorful Morisco Kiosk in Santa Maria da la Ribera.

07Festivals & Events

If you’re up for an amazing cultural experience, plan your trip in early November and celebrate the Dia de los Muertos at one of the many festivals throughout Mexico. Experienced travelers say the best one is on the island of Janitzio in Michoacan. The holiday and feast are based on the belief that the spirits of the dead return to earth for a reunion with their loved ones. Cultural experts say this belief likely originated on the island. In February, join the 225 communities who celebrate Carnival in Mexico with food, dancing, a huge, colorful parade, and general merriment. The most popular places to join in are in the coastal towns of Veracruz and Mazatlan.

08Where to Eat & Drink

The cuisine is a vibrant part of Mexico’s heritage, no matter where you land. In the east-central part of the country, head to Puebla, a city filled with colorful Spanish architecture, gardens, and store windows displaying the famous Talavera pottery. Local eating establishments are famous for serving dishes with high-quality, local ingredients, and rich flavors. Try the local specialty, Chile en Nogada. It is a battered, deep-fried poblano pepper, stuffed with seasoned ground meat, raisins, pine nuts, and fruit, and covered with a walnut sauce. Visit a top foodie destination, Oaxaca, in the southwestern part of the country. The smell of grilled meat from the Carne Asada aisle will tempt your taste buds. Or, if you prefer, discover a variety of chocolate sweets and amazing hot beverages as you stroll through Mina Street.

decorFun Fact

Corn is a major part of Mexican cuisine. The reason? Mexico grows more than 59 varieties of corn, and they’ve done so for centuries. The country has deep ties to agriculture, dating back to the indigenous people.

09Grutas Tolantongo Hot Pools

About five hours north of Mexico City, deep in the mountains, is a resort that few travelers even know about, but they should. Travel across rugged roads to this remote location, and you’ll find lush waterfalls cascading from above. Thermal pools jut out of a jagged mountainside, filled with warm, turquoise-blue water infused with natural minerals. A picturesque river flows through the resort, and breathtaking vistas extend across the landscape. It’s the perfect setting for creating a collection of stunning photo additions for your Instagram or just relaxing.

10Las Pozas

Explore an elaborate, tropical garden at this UNESCO site in the remote town of Xilitla. British poet, Edward James, and his friend, Plutarco Gastelum Esquer created Las Pozas--translated as “the pools” in English--as an artistic vision of paradise. Thirty-plus giant concrete and plant structures spread out across 20 acres of lush jungle. Winding staircases lead to the sky and doors open to nowhere. Over time, Las Pozas has become an important symbol of surrealism and popular destination for artists and travelers alike. It’s one of the most spectacular sites in Mexico.