Mexico, with its vibrant culture, rich history, and diverse landscapes, has long been a magnet for travelers from around the globe. Its tropical weather and stunning beaches are just the beginning of what this beautiful country has to offer. The promise of lower prices compared to other vacation spots only adds to its allure, making it a destination that's hard to resist.
While many areas of Mexico offer a unique blend of historical and cultural charm, it's easy for visitors to unknowingly find themselves in overpriced, crowded tourist traps that often lack the authentic Mexican vibe they came searching for. These places, while popular, can sometimes dilute the true essence of Mexican culture and heritage.
That's why, if you decide against any of the places listed here, we highly recommend considering the small, less-known cities, the hidden gem beaches a few miles from the larger establishments, and the well-respected small companies with passionate tour guides. These alternatives can offer a more authentic and intimate experience of Mexico, allowing you to immerse yourself in the local culture, history, and natural beauty and truly make the most of your Mexican adventure.
Once known for its clear water, the Hotel Zone beaches are now anything but sparkling. Instead, they have more of a milky consistency due to the overcrowding of the entire area and an increase in sargassum levels. However, the cool water and clean beaches still make for an attractive trip. Much of the area has also seen significant price increases, making a once-enjoyable, family-friendly destination less desirable. If you want a quieter beach experience, consider visiting the pristine Isla de Mujeres nearby. It offers the same tropical beauty without crowds and commercialization.
The Grand Chichen Itza should be an impressive Mayan ruin at which to marvel. Today it's so commercialized that it looks like the versions from the movies. The hordes of vendors sell everything from t-shirts to gimmicky toys. It's only worth the trip if you put that aside and focus on the natural beauty of the pyramid. Alternatively, the practically untouched Uxmal Ruins, a UNESCO World Heritage site, offer a more authentic experience. The Mayan city's giant temples are in surprisingly great condition, considering that they are thousands of years old.
The Avenida Revolucion street market was once a refreshing, fun place to visit thanks to the high quality of items priced well. Today, prices are exorbitant, although it's a nice walk to see a very different world. Take time to seek out the small vendors and those with handmade items. Skip the food court and look for a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant instead. If you're interested in Mexican beverages, consider a tour of the oldest tequila distillery in Latin America in the town of Tequila, outside of Guadalajara.
Along 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen, there's certainly a lot taking place at night. However, it's not nearly as fun as it used to be. The loud noise and rowdy, inebriated crowds make it less family oriented. The clubs here, noted for their live entertainment, are a thrill. Still, many are expensive. If you're looking for a more relaxed nightlife experience, consider visiting the beach bar scene in Yelapa. Less than 60 miles south of Puerto Vallarta, Yelapa offers a small community of beachside bars in a much more relaxing setting.
Señor Frog's is a restaurant chain known for being famous. The atmosphere is not much different than what you'll find in the U.S. and Caribbean, and the wait time is very long. The original restaurants were fun and lighthearted, but today, even the original locations in Mexico are more sedate. Still, it's decent food for those who want Mexican-inspired dishes. If you're interested in a more authentic culinary experience, consider visiting the local restaurants in the town of Tequila, where you can learn about the tequila-making process and enjoy traditional Mexican cuisine.
Souvenir shops at the Zona Rosa in Mexico City are overdone, expensive, and filled with "stuff" that you won't have a place for at home. That may be expected at places like La Plateria del Mercado and GLAM Boutique. The area has more authentic, locally crafted merchandise to offer. Some of the best shops include Signature by Marika Vera and Rococo for its home decor pieces inspired by 18th-century Europe. If you're looking for a more unique urban experience, consider visiting San Miguel de Allende, which was named the best city in the world by Travel + Leisure. It's colorful streets and gorgeous architecture make it the perfect vacation destination for those looking to immerse themselves in Mexican culture.
In Oaxaca City, the Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, attracts thousands to pay homage to lost loved ones in a time-honored tradition. It's still sentimental but far more commercialized, with more stuff to buy than memories shared. Step away from the crowds to one of the local neighborhoods to see more of an authentic celebration. Alternatively, consider visiting the Las Pozas sculpture garden in San Luis Potosi State Park. Created by the English poet Edward James, it features a multitude of sculptures and perfectly combines art and adventure.
Guided tours of the Teotihuacan will let you truly understand the location's temples, pyramids, and other ruins. However, the number of guides required to meet the demand of visitors means many aren't knowledgeable. They may even abandon you instead of providing the full two-hour, engaging experience they promise. Make sure you review each guide before choosing. For a more fulfilling adventure, consider visiting the Las Pozas sculpture garden. Located in the middle of a rainforest and 2,000 feet above sea level, it offers a unique blend of art and nature.
Isla Mujeres Natural Park promises a glimpse of Mexico's natural beauty, but the high entrance fees are off-putting. Plus, the Garrafon National Reef Park here is struggling to remain a thriving ecosystem thanks to the crowds. Still, the powdery white sands on the beaches are beautiful. The Isle, once a sacred destination to honor Ixchel, a Mayan goddess, is the place to be for snorkeling and kayaking. For a unique underwater experience, consider snorkeling in a cenote, such as Two Eyes Cenote (Dos Ojos) in Tulum, which offers amazing snorkeling and scuba diving in crystal clear, mineral-rich waters.
Cabo San Lucas has done a great job of advertising its pristine beaches and fabulous tropical weather, and that's been its downfall. Today, many luxury resorts here provide luxury amenities at high prices with incompetent service. It seems hard to beat the onsite infinity pools and world-class dining most offer. Don't forget crowds at resorts like Esperanza to Grand Velas can be overwhelming. For a more peaceful beach experience, consider visiting the beaches of Tulum. Just as stunning as Cabo, with its clear blue water and ancient ruins along the water, Tulum is generally less touristy and more low-key.
The Lucha Libre wrestling shows display a long-held tradition and cultural aspect of Mexico City. Today, they aren't as impressive as they once were, and of course, they're staged. On top of that, you will need to battle the crowds. Still, if you want to cheer on your favorite opponent, it's certainly a lively experience. For a more relaxed and authentic cultural experience, consider visiting the city of Guadalajara. Known as a hub for artists, it offers a mix of modern architecture and historic charm, with plenty of hip restaurants and galleries to explore.
Xplor Park is just one example of the all-inclusive adventure parks dotting the landscape in Playa del Carmen. They're high-priced, however, and can be crowded. If you decide to visit Xplor Park, make the most of it by fully engaging in the entire experience of zip lining, rafting, and exploring on an amphibious vehicle. Alternatively, consider visiting the Uxmal Ruins, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Instead of a Mayan ruin-themed amusement park, you'll get to explore an ancient city with giant temples that are in surprisingly great condition.
The overrated art galleries in San Miguel de Allende have long banked on their names to draw people in. They can be underwhelming, especially for those who prefer to view art in sleek museums. It's only a worthwhile experience for locally made crafts and fine art by regional artists, especially with a glimpse into the history of the arts. If you want a more vibrant art scene, consider visiting Guadalajara. Known as a hub for artists, it offers a mix of modern and historic charm with plenty of hip galleries to explore.
Mexico claims to be working to protect and preserve its animal and natural habitats. That's hard to do with the sheer number of wildlife sanctuaries in the Riviera Maya. Some of these locations don't offer much educational material, and it may be hard to find animals. For those who want a more intimate zoo-like experience, they can still be fun. Alternatively, consider snorkeling in a cenote, such as Two Eyes Cenote in Tulum, for a closer look at marine life in crystal clear, mineral-rich waters.
Puerto Vallarta is overrated for several reasons, and high prices are one of them. A canopy tour or zip line adventure is heart-pounding fun if that's your priority and within your budget. However, with the Sierra Madre Mountains nearby, there are better choices for fun in Puerto Vallarta. The beachside promenade, sculptures, and nightclubs may also be more appealing. For a more unique adventure, consider visiting the Las Pozas sculpture garden in San Luis Potosi State Park. It's located in the middle of a rainforest and offers a unique blend of art and nature.