7 Best Non Touristy Beach Towns in Mexico

LOOKING FOR THE BEST NON TOURISTY BEACH TOWNS IN MEXICO?

Escape the tourist crowds and discover hidden coastal gems in Mexico. From secluded getaways to bohemian havens, these non touristy beach towns in Mexico offer pristine shorelines, cultural charm, and a chance to relax and immerse yourself in the laid-back local culture.

7 Best Non Touristy Beach Towns in Mexico:

Here is our personal list of lesser-known beach towns that you cannot miss!

The beaches of Yelapa are some of the most beautiful in all of Mexico and there are beautiful waterfalls within walking distance.

Why Yelapa: A Hidden Gem Surrounded by Nature

Yelapa is a hidden gem nestled along the beautiful coastline of Mexico. What sets Yelapa apart from other beach towns is its untouched natural beauty and secluded atmosphere.

This quaint village is surrounded by lush jungles, cascading waterfalls, and pristine beaches that will take your breath away. With no roads leading to Yelapa, it remains a well-kept secret, free from the usual tourist crowds.

Perfect For: Off-the-Beaten-Path Adventurers

Yelapa is perfect for travellers seeking an off-the-beaten-path adventure. If you’re tired of crowded tourist spots and long for a tranquil escape, Yelapa is the place to be. The town offers a laid-back vibe where you can immerse yourself in nature and unwind on secluded beaches.

Whether you enjoy hiking through the jungle, swimming in crystal-clear waters, or simply basking in the sun, Yelapa has something for everyone.

How to get to Yelapa:

To reach Yelapa, you’ll need to embrace a scenic boat ride. To get from Puerto Vallarta to Yelapa , you can catch a water taxi that will take you on a mesmerizing journey along the coastline. The boat ride itself is an adventure, offering breathtaking views and a sense of anticipation.

Best Affordable Accommodation in Yelapa:

Yelapa offers a range of affordable accommodation options that blend harmoniously with the natural surroundings. From cozy cabanas perched on the hillside to rustic retreats on the beach, there’s something for every budget.

Our top accommodation pick in Yelapa is Casa Berita. Click here to get it at the best price available.

2. San Agustinillo

Take a boat ride in San Agustinillo to see turtles, dolphins, and Whales, or cruise along the beautiful mangroves.

Why San Agustinillo: Tranquility on the Pacific Coast

San Agustinillo is a tranquil paradise nestled on Mexico’s Pacific coast. With its pristine golden beaches and calm turquoise waters, this charming beach town offers a serene getaway away from the tourist crowds.

San Agustinillo has managed to retain its authentic Mexican charm, making it an ideal destination for those seeking a quiet and relaxed beach experience.

Perfect For: Beach Lovers and Nature Enthusiasts

San Agustinillo is perfect for beach lovers and nature enthusiasts looking for a peaceful retreat. The town’s laid-back atmosphere and unspoiled beauty create the perfect setting for relaxation and rejuvenation.

Spend your days lounging on the soft sands, taking refreshing dips in the ocean, or exploring the nearby ecological reserves. With its abundant marine life and vibrant underwater world, San Agustinillo is a haven for snorkelers and divers alike.

How to get to San Agustinillo:

To reach San Agustinillo, you can fly into Huatulco International Airport and then take a scenic bus along the coastline. The journey itself is a treat, as you’ll pass through picturesque landscapes and witness the raw beauty of the region.

Best Affordable Accommodation in San Agustinillo:

San Agustinillo offers a range of affordable accommodation options that cater to different preferences. From beachfront bungalows with stunning ocean views to cozy guesthouses nestled amidst lush gardens, there’s an option for every budget.

Our top accommodation pick in San Agustinillo is Cabañas Las 3 Marias. Click here to get it at the best price available.

3. Chacahua

You’ll find amazing natural beauty, pristine shorelines with perfect waves, wildlife and a VERY chilled-out vibe!

Why Chacahua: A Serene Coastal Escape with Unique Local Flair

Chacahua offers more than just natural beauty – it is a serene coastal escape infused with uniquely local flair. The town’s charm lies not only in its pristine beaches and crystal-clear waters but also in its vibrant community.

The locals of Chacahua possess a distinct cultural heritage and a deep connection to their surroundings. Engaging with them provides an authentic glimpse into their way of life and traditions, adding an extra layer of richness to your experience.

Perfect For: Beachcombers and Nature Lovers

Chacahua is perfect for beachcombers and nature lovers who appreciate the unspoiled beauty of the coastline. Spend your days strolling along the golden sands, collecting seashells, and basking in the warm sun.

Explore the nearby Chacahua Lagoon National Park, a biodiverse sanctuary with mangroves and a variety of bird species. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast or simply seeking a peaceful beach retreat, Chacahua offers a serene and picturesque setting.

How to get to Chacahua:

Start by flying into Huatulco International Airport, where you can arrange for a boat transfer to the town. As you cruise along the shimmering waters, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the coastline, with its rugged cliffs and lush vegetation.

The boat ride adds an extra element of adventure and allows you to appreciate the stunning surroundings from a unique perspective.

Best Affordable Accommodation in Chacahua:

Chacahua offers a range of affordable accommodation options that embody coastal charm and simplicity. Stay in charming beachfront cottages where you can fall asleep to the sound of waves lapping the shore.

Our top accommodation pick in Chacahua is Bungalow. Click here to get it at the best price available.

4. Lo De Marcos

In town dirt roads, tiny mom-run restaurants, local children selling freshly picked fruit and charcoal roasted chickens from rickety carts.

Why Lo De Marcos: Tranquil Seclusion on the Riviera Nayarit

Lo De Marcos is a hidden paradise situated along the stunning Riviera Nayarit. This small beach town offers tranquility and seclusion, making it a perfect escape from the touristy hustle and bustle.

Lo De Marcos is a place where time slows down, and you can truly unwind and connect with nature. With its pristine beaches and laid-back vibe, Lo De Marcos is a haven for those seeking a peaceful beach getaway.

Perfect For: Relaxation and Family-Friendly Vacations

Lo De Marcos is perfect for travellers looking for a relaxing retreat and a family-friendly destination. The calm waters and gentle waves make it an ideal spot for swimming and water activities.

Families can build sandcastles, play beach volleyball, or simply enjoy quality time together under the warm Mexican sun. Lo De Marcos offers a safe and welcoming environment where everyone can create lasting memories.

How to get to Lo De Marcos:

To reach Lo De Marcos, you can fly into Puerto Vallarta International Airport and then embark on a scenic coastal bus ride.

As you follow the coastline, you’ll be captivated by the beauty of the Pacific Ocean and the lush vegetation that surrounds you. The journey itself is part of the adventure, and it sets the stage for the peaceful and serene ambiance that awaits you in Lo De Marcos.

Best Affordable Accommodation in Lo De Marcos:

Lo De Marcos offers a variety of affordable accommodation options that cater to different preferences. From cozy beachfront villas with breathtaking ocean views to family-run hotels with personalized service, there’s something for everyone.

Our top accommodation pick in Lo De Marcos is Bungalows Las Tortugas. Click here to get it at the best price available.

5. Puerto Ángel

Known as one of Oaxaca’s beautiful beaches , unpaved roads, and affordable accommodations, Puerto Angel attracts global wanderers and individuals in search of a low-cost getaway.

Why Puerto Ángel: A Serene Coastal Escape

Puerto Ángel is a serene coastal escape that offers a tranquil retreat from bustling tourist destinations. This hidden gem on the Oaxacan coast boasts pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and a laid-back ambiance that will make you feel like you’ve discovered your own private paradise.

Puerto Ángel is an ideal destination for those seeking relaxation, natural beauty, and a genuine Mexican experience.

Puerto Ángel is perfect for beachcombers and nature lovers who appreciate the unspoiled beauty of the coastline.

Stroll along the golden sands, collect seashells, bask in the warm sun, and encounter a diverse array of marine life. You’ll likely even spot sea turtles or dolphins frolicking in the waves.

How to get to Puerto Ángel:

To reach Puerto Ángel, you can fly into Huatulco International Airport and then embark on a scenic bus ride along the coast. As you wind through the picturesque landscapes, you’ll be treated to panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and lush vegetation.

Best Affordable Accommodation in Puerto Ángel:

Puerto Ángel offers a range of affordable accommodation options that embody coastal charm and simplicity. Stay in charming beachfront cottages where you can fall asleep to the sound of waves lapping the shore.

Alternatively, opt for cozy boutique hotels that offer personalized service and a peaceful ambiance.

Our top accommodation pick in Puerto Ángel is Casa Sakal. Click here to get it at the best price available.

6. Celestún

Unwind by the seaside, venture into the Ria Celestun mangroves, and catch sight of hundreds of flamingos, all within a single day.

Why Celestún: Nature’s Paradise on the Yucatán Peninsula

Celestún is a nature lover’s paradise located on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. This picturesque beach town is home to a stunning biosphere reserve, pristine beaches, and an abundance of wildlife.

Celestún is renowned for its flamingos, which paint the sky with their vibrant hues, creating a breathtaking sight. If you’re seeking a beach town that combines natural beauty with ecological wonders, Celestún is the place to be.

Perfect For: Birdwatchers and Adventure Seekers

Celestún is perfect for birdwatchers and adventure seekers who want to immerse themselves in the wonders of nature. Explore the Celestún Biosphere Reserve, where you can spot a wide variety of bird species, including herons, pelicans, and, of course, the majestic flamingos.

Take a boat tour through the mangrove forests, navigate through narrow channels, and marvel at the diverse ecosystems that thrive in this coastal haven.

How to get to Celestún:

To reach Celestún, you can fly into Mérida International Airport and then enjoy a scenic bus ride along the coast.

As you venture through the picturesque landscapes, you’ll witness the vibrant colors of the Yucatán Peninsula, from the lush greenery to the azure waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Best Affordable Accommodation in Celestún:

Celestún offers a range of affordable accommodation options that embrace the eco-friendly ethos of the region. Stay in cozy eco-lodges nestled within the mangroves, where you can connect with nature and enjoy a tranquil retreat.

Alternatively, opt for beachfront cabanas that offer direct access to the pristine beaches.

Our top accommodation pick in Celestún is Hotel San Julio. Click here to get it at the best price available.

7. Mahahual

World-class diving, a laid-back way of life, and unburdened by large resorts where authenticity and local charm prevail.

Why Mahahual: Caribbean Beauty and Chilled Vibes

Mahahual is a charming beach town located on the Costa Maya in the Mexican Caribbean. Known for its stunning turquoise waters, vibrant coral reefs, and laid-back atmosphere, Mahahual offers a perfect blend of natural beauty and tranquillity. This hidden gem invites you to relax, unwind, and soak in the Caribbean vibes.

Perfect For: Snorkelers, Divers, and R&R Seekers

Mahahual is perfect for snorkelers and divers who want to explore the colorful underwater world of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System. Dive into the crystal-clear waters and encounter a kaleidoscope of marine life, from tropical fish to majestic sea turtles.

If relaxation is what you seek, Mahahual’s pristine beaches provide the ideal backdrop for sunbathing, reading a book, or simply indulging in some well-deserved rest and relaxation.

How to get to Mahahual:

To reach Mahahual, you can fly into Cancún International Airport and then embark on a scenic coastal bus ride southward. As you make your way along the coastline, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the Caribbean Sea and the lush vegetation of the Yucatán Peninsula.

Best Affordable Accommodation in Mahahual:

Mahahual offers a range of affordable accommodation options that cater to different budgets and preferences. From beachfront bungalows where you can wake up to the sound of waves crashing to cozy guesthouses.

Experience the warm hospitality of the locals and enjoy easy access to the beach and the town’s charming amenities.

Our top accommodation pick in Mahahual is C asa en Mahahual. Click here to get it at the best price available.

Are These Non Touristy Beach Towns In Mexico Safe?

Mexico, like any other travel destination, has varying levels of safety depending on the area. While these non touristy beach towns listed have a reputation for being safe, it’s always important to exercise caution and follow basic safety practices.

You can research the latest travel advisories and consult with local authorities or reliable sources for up-to-date safety information before your trip by visiting travel.State.Gov . Are you worried about crocodiles or alligators around these beach towns in Mexico? You will be safe in the towns listed but you can find crocodiles in Mexico. Take a look a this blog if you want to see crocodiles and alligators in Mexico .

For the safest areas in Mexico, please visit this article: 9 Safest States In Mexico For Tourists & Expats

3 Best Hippy Non touristy Beach Towns In Mexico?

Sayulita: surf, art, and bohemian vibes.

Sayulita is a vibrant and colorful beach town located on Mexico’s Pacific coast. This non touristy gem has gained popularity among surfers, artists, and those seeking an offbeat beach experience.

With its bohemian vibes, street art, and bustling town center filled with quirky shops and cafes, Sayulita exudes a laid-back and creative energy. Enjoy the waves, explore the local art scene, and embrace the free-spirited culture that permeates every corner of this charming town.

Zipolite: A Nude Beach and Alternative Culture

Zipolite is a unique non touristy beach town that embraces alternative lifestyles and a relaxed attitude. Known as Mexico’s nudist beach , Zipolite attracts a diverse crowd of free-spirited travelers. It also has many unique nude resorts along it’s shore lines.

This offbeat destination offers a laid-back ambiance, where you can disconnect from the outside world and enjoy the simplicity of life by the sea. Experience the non-judgmental atmosphere, connect with like-minded individuals, and revel in the freedom that Zipolite has to offer. Since you will most likely be staying in a hut, it is always worth bringing the best portable mosquito net with you.

Ecotulum: A Bohemian Oasis

Ecotulum is a bohemian oasis nestled along the Riviera Maya. This non touristy beach town is known for its eco-conscious mindset, sustainable practices, and a vibrant hippy culture.

Immerse yourself in the laid-back atmosphere, explore the nearby cenotes and ancient Mayan ruins, and indulge in organic cuisine and holistic wellness practices. Ecotulum offers a unique blend of nature, spirituality, and artistic expression, making it a haven for free spirits.

Summary: Non touristy Beach Towns In Mexico

In summary, there are several enchanting non touristy beach towns in Mexico that offer a refreshing escape from the crowds and a chance to experience the true essence of the country. From the secluded beauty of Yelapa to the authentic charm of Puerto Ángel, each town has its own unique character and allure. Whether you’re seeking relaxation, cultural immersion, or adventure, these non touristy beach towns provide a perfect getaway.

Embrace the natural beauty, connect with the friendly locals, and create unforgettable memories in these hidden gems along Mexico’s coast.

You might also be interested in these articles: Remote Work From Mexico: A Complete Guide Exploring Cozumel Cenotes [Updated Guide] 13 Best Nude Resorts in Mexico

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14 Non-touristy beach towns in Mexico (2024)

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, I might earn a small commission if you make a purchase through the links in this article. 

Want to learn about non-touristy beach towns in Mexico where you can escape the crowds?

This guide is for you.

Mexico boasts 6,000 miles of coastline from sugary white sand beaches in the Caribbean to the rugged, less-explored stretches along the Pacific Coast. While some beach towns in Mexico are very touristy, the country has still plenty of hidden gems, where you can have the whole beach to yourself!

This article is here to help you. Along with my fellow bloggers, I put together a list of the most beautiful beaches in Mexico away huge resorts and big cities, so you will have plenty of options to choose from when you plan your adventure.

Best non-touristy-beaches in Mexico: overview

Best things to do in Mahahual, Mexico

1. Playa Mahahual

Where to stay: Noah Beach Hotel

Located in Costa Maya, Mahahual is a new kid on the block when it comes to the best beaches in Mexico Caribbean. While this small town is an established spot for cruise ships and diving enthusiasts, not many travelers who come to Yucatan Peninsula are familiar with it.

Mahahual is home to several incredible beaches and the second largest barrier reef in the world that boasts an incredible array of marine wildlife.

Learn to scuba dive in Mahahual

The best way to get to Mahahual is by renting a car . Public transportation options are limited, and there’s no direct bus between Mahahual and Cancun, the main tourist hub of the region. Renting a car also makes sense if you want to explore several amazing Mayan ruins within driving distance from Mahahual: Chacchoben and Kohunlich.

The closest commercial airport to Mahahual is in Chetumal, the capital of Quintana Roo State. Chetumal offers daily flights from Mexico City, Guadalajara and Cancun and recently added flights to Miami.

Playa Progreso is one of the best beaches in Mexico

2. Playa Puerto Progreso

Where to stay: Hotel Ola De Mar

There are so many great  beaches in the Yucatan , including all the beautiful beaches along the Gulf of Mexico. While the beaches along the Caribbean Coast are more famous, the gulf beaches offer a more tranquil experience, and lower price tags on everything from food to hotels. 

There are about 10 beach towns along the gulf, which is known as the Emerald Coast because the water here is a pretty emerald green color. The Gulf of Mexico also has calm waters, so it’s great for swimming. 

Among the best beaches on the Gulf of Mexico is Puerto Progreso, or Progreso Beach. As the word “puerto” in the name says, this is a cruise port town.

Puerto Progreso has a sizable population of U.S., European and Canada expats who now call Mexico’s Emerald Coast home. As the best developed of all Yucatan beach towns, it offers a tranquil, high quality of life, and a lower cost of living.

Progreso is also popular with kitesurfers, kiteboarders and windsurfers, as the western end of Progreso Beach can be very windy. There are a few schools on that side of the beach, so you can rent equipment and take kiteboarders lessons.

Many visit Progreso from Merida, which is the closest city to Progreso. You can fly into Merida International Airport, and then take the inexpensive Auto Progreso bus to the beach, which is only about $2.50USD each way.

Contributed by Shelley from TravelToMerida

Best beaches in Mexico

Where to stay: Coconut Palm House

El Cuyo is a sleepy town on the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula along the Gulf of Mexico. This is one of the best beaches in Mexico, if you are looking for a budget-friendly destination and slower pace.

Located near the pink lakes of Las Coloradas, El Cuyo sits well off the beaten path.

El Cuyo has many opportunities for sustainable tourism like kayaking through the mangroves, exploring Rio Lagartos Reserve or taking a tour to the Las Coloradas.

When you are in El Cuyo, you are only a few steps away from the beach. Whether you want to grab a paddle board, jump in a kayak or take a refreshing swim in the emerald-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico, El Cuyo will easily win you over with its small-town charm 😊

Walking along the Malecon is one of the best things to do in Sisal

Sisal is one of the best beaches to escape crowds in Yucatan.

“Sisal” is the original name of a fiber derived from the leaves of the Agave sisalana plant, native to Yucatan, which was the main export from this area during the 1800s and 1900s.

When the production of Sisal declined, the town became a quiet fishing village until the tourism began to slowly develop.

Today Sisal has some stores and restaurants and it boasts one of the best beaches in Yucatan. The town also has gorgeous colonial architecture, a lighthouse, and a museum, making it a perfect destination if you want to relax and learn a bit of Yucatan history.

But it’s still under radar for most tourists due to its remote location along the northwestern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.

5. Playa Troncones, Guerrero

Where to stay: Amado Mar Suites

If you have never heard about Playa Troncones , don’t worry: This quiet beach along the coast of Guerrero state hasn’t yet made it to the international travel lists and is mostly frequented by Mexican nationals.

Located about 25 minutes from Zihuatanejo in the La Union Municipality, Playa Troncones is nestled amid the mountains and the Pacific Ocean with excellent surf conditions. It’s also a great place to watch wildlife like turtles roaming on the beach during the night hours and pelicans cruising along the waves.

Unlike some of the most popular beaches in Mexico, Playa Troncones has very few people and no vendors, so if you are looking for a quiet place to get away and disconnect, put this beach on your list.

Bahias Huatulco National Park is home to some of the best beaches near Mexico City.

6. Playa Huatulco

Where to stay: Hotel Mexico Lindo

One of the best beaches in Oaxaca, Mexico  is Bahías de Huatulco, usually referred to as Huatulco. This is the ideal spot for those travelers who want resort style accommodations, gorgeous nature and snorkeling, and beaches that aren’t too crowded.

Though Huatulco is technically a resort town, there’s many great things to do outside of the designated resort area. Huatulco has 36 beaches and nine bays to swim in and enjoy. In fact, the word bahías in the town’s name means “bays” in Spanish.

Huatulco or Mazunte? Both are popular beach towns along the Coast Oaxaca that have great activities and plenty of charm.

There’s also waterfalls near the beaches, ATV jungle tours , snorkeling tours and boat tours to see the gorgeous dolphins that live around Huatulco.

There’s also Huatulco National Park that can be visited with a guided tour .

This is a 29,000-acre park, which is located partially on land and partially in the waters of the Pacific Ocean. The park is totally protected, and in fact, Huatulco has Green Globe Certification. In 2005, it received this high honor because it has more protected space than any other Mexico travel destination.

Most popular Huatulco tours

This is one of the most popular tours that will take you around Huatulco Bays

Huatulco is one of the most popular towns along the coast of Oaxaca.

If you visit in the winter, you’ll have a chance to see the whales as they migrate just off-shore past this official Mexico whale watching zone. There are several species that pass by Huatulco on their annual migration, including the Pacific gray whales, which often come within 655-feet (200m) of the shore.

Huatulco is located in Oaxaca state, about 2.5 hours from Puerto Escondido, Mexico. To get there, you can fly into Bahías de Huatulco International Airport, which is only about 20-30 minutes from the beaches.

Book a private shuttle service to get straight to your hotel from Huatulco airport.

Contributed by Shelley of TravelMexicoSolo.com

Chacahua is one of the best beaches in Mexico

7. Playa Chacahua

Where to stay: Hotel Punta Arena Surf

Chacahua  is one of the best non-touristy beach towns in Mexico. This unique beach is found hidden away in Chacahua National Park , about an hour north of the popular beach town of Puerto Escondido.

Reaching the secluded beach town of Chacahua is part of the adventure. Hop on a colectivo in Puerto Escondido and exit at the small community of El Zapotalito .

From here, you can get on a small boat and zip through the lagoons lined with mangrove trees. What makes Chacahua special from other beaches on the Oaxaca coastline is that it boasts a unique Afro-Mexican culture .

This once sleepy fishing village is now becoming popular with surfers. If catching waves isn’t your thing, take the short hike up to the lighthouse to enjoy the colorful sunset. You can also hire a local guide and see the lagoons light up with sparking bioluminescence organisms.

If you don’t have time to visit Chacahua on your own, you can also book a guided tour of Chacahua National Park from Puerto Escondido . This is a great option that allows you to enjoy this gorgeous park.

Best tours of Chacahua National Park

Chacahua is the perfect beach for travelers looking for a rustic and no-frills beach experience. Find simple cabanas, but the most popular way to enjoy the beach is to camp. Many accommodations offer camping under awnings for around 50 pesos (2.50 USD) a night.

This community is pretty isolated, so Wi-Fi and even cell phone service is not always available. Make sure to bring enough cash, because there’s no ATM here. If a business does accept credit cards, there’s a big processing fee added on.

The best thing to do in Chacahau is to unplug, read a book, and savor the tranquility.

Read my complete guide to the best beaches along the Oaxaca Coast .

Contributed by Megan from Packing Up The Pieces 

Playa Zipolite is one of the beat beaches in Mexico

8. Zipolite

Where to stay: Casa Sol Zipolite

Zipolite is a small beach town  along Mexico’s Pacific Coast. This pueblo is conveniently located between Puerto Escondido and Huatulco, which makes it a perfect day trip. Colectivos, or mini vans, depart from Puerto Escondido to Zipolite every day.

Since the bus ride is almost 7.5 hours long through the Sierra Sur Mountains, it’s better to break up your trip with a stop in San Jose del Pacifico , which is becoming a popular spot to experience Magic Mushrooms.

Zipolite is a little slice of paradise with a stunning rocky coastline, delicious eateries, lively nightclubs, and a few diverse and scenic beaches. On Zipolite Playa, bathing suites are optional, so the beach attracts many happy-go-lucky free spirits.

Don’t miss the Playa del Amor, a cute secluded cove beach that is tucked away at the end of town. There’s two wooden stands that sell beverages, but the beach itself is pretty quiet.

After the sunset, head to the main street next to the beach and explore the local market with food stalls, jewelry, and other artisanal goods. Grab a delicious dinner in one of the restaurants along the beach.

Contributed by Megan from Packing Up The Pieces

Visiting local beaches is a perfect options after renting a car in Puerto Vallarta Airport

9. Playa Colomitos

Where to stay: Vallarta Sol Hotel

Situated on Mexico’s Pacific Coast along the shores of Banderas Bay, there’s no shortage of amazing beaches in Puerto Vallarta.

But one that stands out from the rest is Playa Colomitos, a secluded beach with sparkling emerald green waters.

Unlike the beaches right in the city, you’ll have to work a little harder to access this hidden gem as there aren’t any roads that go here. Instead, you’ll have to hike.

Make your way to Boca De Tomaltan, a small fishing village about half an hour away from Puerto Vallarta. You can either take a bus from Zona Romantica, or get an Uber for a few dollars from there.

From Boca, there’s a trailhead that points towards Las Animas, a larger beach about two hours walking. Halfway along the trail is Colomitos, which is a much better choice if you’re looking for something secluded.

It takes about an hour to get here hiking along the trail, which follows the beautiful coastline. As you approach Colomitos, you’ll see the green waters shimmering in the distance.

There aren’t any restaurants or facilities at Colomitos, so come with your own picnic and sun protection, if you plan to spend some time here.

Contribute by Lora of Explore with Lora

10. Playa Los Algodones, Sonora

Where to stay: Hotel Hacienda Tetakawi

Located near San Carlos, Playa Los Algodones is not exactly on a tourist radar.

There are many pristine beautiful beaches in northern Mexico, but they remain relatively unknown to a vast majority of international travelers who often go to the Caribbean and Pacific coasts.

For example, the state of Sonora along the Sea of Cortez offers an incredible combination of deserts and some of the best beaches in Mexico that only a few travelers know about.

Head to this hidden jewel to enjoy less discovered Mexico and don’t forget to grab a camera to capture the incredible sunsets that light up in a myriad of colors. You will not find many other travelers who know about this beach 😉

11. Playa Cachorro

Located just outside of Todos Santos, Playa Cachorro is a hidden gem on Baja California Sur.

I never heard about this place until a friend told me about, and most of the articles that I’ve seen focus on the more popular Playa Cerritos about 20 minutes away. 

Meanwhile, Playa Cachorro is wide open beach that has nowhere near as many people and is perfect for catching the sunset after exploring Todos Santos.

Playa Cachorro is located right outside of town off the main road that stretches north along the coast. When I visited Playa Cachorro in the evening, I was one of the very few people on the beach, and if you come here, you might get lucky too.

Baja California itinerary

12. Bay of Loreto National Park

Where to stay: La Mision Loreto

Located near Loreto, Bahia De Loreto Parque Nacional (or Loreto Bay National Park) is home to some of the best beaches in Baja California. Unlike popular beaches in Baja California, Bahia de Loreto flies under the tourist radar, and sees few visitors.

As a result, it has some of the most beautiful, pristine beaches that you will ever see! The entire national park is made up of five islands: Danzante, Carmen, Coronado, Montserrat, and Santa Catalina Islands.

These areas are known for their clear blue waters that are perfect for snorkeling and some of the best diving places in Mexico. 

To explore these beaches, you will need to hire a boat in Loreto . A local boat driver can take you to all of Loreto beaches on a day tour or just a few of them. 

San Felipe, Baja California is one of the best non-toruosty beach towns in Mexico

13. San Felipe

Where to stay: Hotel Las Palmas

San Felipe is one of the cheapest beach towns in Mexico located along the Sea of Cortez. While it’s only a few hours south from the U.S.-Mexico border in northern Mexico, San Felipe is still unknown to most traveleres.

Besides its wide, sandy beaches, San Felipe is known as an outdoor destination. The desert terrain surrounding San Felipe offers excellent opportunities for off-road enthusiasts.

The nearby desert landscape, including the famous Baja 1000 off-road race course, attracts thousands of outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy off-road driving, dirt biking, and ATV riding.

While San Felipe is relatively small, it offers enough amenities including hotels, restaurants, shops, and RV parks.

San Quintin is one of the best non-touristy beach towns in Mexico

14. San Quintin

Where to stay: Hotel La Villa De San Quintin  

There’s a good chance you never heard about San Quintin , a small pueblo along the Pacific Coast of Baja California.

One of the cheapest beach towns in Mexico, San Quintin doesn’t have tons of amenities but its mind blowing scenery.

San Quintin is only a few hours from Ensenada, a popular day trip from San Diego, and a popular stop for surfers who want to enjoy some of the best surfing in Baja California.

San Quintin is home to some of the most incredible natural landscapes in Baja California like Punta Mazo, Los Hmedales and La Lobera, and some of the most impressive volcanoes in Mexico.

Non-touristy beaches in Mexico: FAQ’s

Still have questions about the best beaches in Mexico? Check out my answers to some of the most popular questions that I get from fellow travelers.

What is the best way to visit best beaches in Mexico?

The best way to visit some of the best beaches in Mexico is by renting a car!

Some of the best beach towns in Mexico are located away from major tourist hubs, like the beaches in Oaxaca or Yucatan, for example. If you are traveling on a budget, you can take public transportation, but it will take you much longer. Plus, you will also be able to spend as much time as you want at the beach when you have a car rental.

I recommend renting a car with Discover Cars , if you are serious about exploring some of the best beaches in Mexico. It’s a good, reliable car company that offers car rentals in many parts of Mexico and has competitive rates.

Are Mexico beaches safe for visiting?

Mexico beaches mentioned in this article are for the most part popular with tourists and safe for visiting, but it doesn’t mean that ALL beaches in Mexico are safe. If you plan to visit Mexico beach towns NOT mentioned in this article, do some research, because some states in Mexico have higher levels of crime than others.

Best time to visit Mexico beaches

Mexico is a big country with several climates and micro climates and when it comes to finding the right timing to explore some of its beaches, one size definitely does not fit all. Generally, summer is a slow time in many coastal areas of the country like Yucatan or Oaxaca due to the hurricane season which creates less-than favorable conditionals for spending time on the beach.

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular regions of Mexico, and their climate to figure out the best time to visit some of the best beaches in Mexico.

  • Yucatan Peninsula – the best time to visit Yucatan beaches is from late November through April. Summer is not the best time because of the combination of hot temperatures and frequent rains. The storm season typically ends by early November, so if you can’t visit Yucatan before early December, you will hit that sweet spot when the weather is nice and price are not yet too high.
  • Oaxaca State – Similar to other beaches in Mexico’s Pacific (Guerrero, Puerto Vallarta and Sonora), the best time to visit is from late November through March. This time also coincides with the whale migration season, which means you can take guided tours to spot these magnificent creatures.
  • Baja California – Known as a year-round destination, Mexico’s Baja California doesn’t have a hurricane season, but it does see some rain from June through early September. If you want to dive in the Sea of Cortez, keep in mind that diving conditions are best from May through August and if you want to see the migrating whales, visit from November through March.

Non-touristy beaches in Mexico: final word

And that’s a wrap! I hope you enjoyed my round-up of the best beaches in Mexico and were able to choose a few of them for your future trip. Mexico is an amazing country and with so much to offer, it takes many trips to explore all of its beauty.

To get ready for your trip, check my Mexico travel tips that will help you make the most out of your trip, save money and stay safe while on the road.

Happy exploring!

Mexico's best off-the-grid-beaches

Oct 15, 2020 • 5 min read

Near Huatulco in Oaxaca are a collection of remote and secluded beaches © Ascent / Getty Images

You don’t have to look too hard to find a beach in Mexico . In fact, Mexico has 5,800 miles of coastline, so finding a beach is one of the easiest challenges to accept when traveling the country. But often what you find comes with the hordes of other surfers, snorkelers and sun worshipers who are after the same thing, and suddenly, the tranquility you seek is no more.

While there is definitely something to be said for the convenience, access and sheer volume of things to do on the beaches in Mexico’s more popular destinations like Cancún, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos, there are a few beaches tucked in hidden coves and out-of-the-way bays that are the country’s best-kept secrets. Here are the best ones to know so you can disconnect and get off the grid.

Fishing boats pulled up in front of beach shacks on Bahia San Agustin

Bahía San Agustín – Oaxaca

Huatulco , a port city on the coast of Oaxaca , is known for the nine bays that comprise it, and with this many to choose from, finding a beach is supremely easy. But arguably one of Huatulco’s most beautiful is Bahía San Agustín, a small fishing village about nine miles from Santa Cruz Huatulco. The mile-long, crescent stretch of beach is strikingly beautiful with cobalt-colored water that laps up gently onto bronzed sand.

This beach trades in the all-inclusive hotels of Huatulco’s other bays for small, family-run beach shacks with menus offering ubiquitous ceviche, fish tacos and guacamole.

The beach is frequented mostly by locals who come to snorkel the calm waters, or by the occasional tourist who has heard through a friend-of-a-friend how to get there. The best way is to grab a taxi from Santa Cruz, or, if you’re really adventurous, take the bus between Huatulco and Pochutla and grab a taxi from the side of the road.

Xpu-Há – Quintana Roo

If you're driving south from Playa del Carmen , chances are you're headed toward Tulum . But tucked between Puerto Aventuras and Tulum is an absolute jewel of a beach that the locals like to keep to themselves. Xpu-Há sits at the end of a dirt road off of main Highway 307. Travelers are rewarded with a sweeping bay swathed in white sand and little else.

A far cry from the developed beaches to the south and north, this is a pristine, secluded spot with laid-back charm, local restaurants and plenty of palm tree shade for packing a picnic. Plus, the waters are exceedingly calm so it's a prime spot for snorkeling, swimming and paddle boarding.

Playa del Caballo – Jalisco

You don't have to travel far from a tourist hub to find this beach, but you’ll feel as if you’ve discovered an unknown world all your own. Playa del Caballo is the adjacent beach to Playa las Ánimas , a popular tourist beach getaway for the locals of Puerto Vallarta .

Take the water taxi from Boca de Tomatlán and hit the teeming shores of Playa las Ánimas, with row after row of beach chairs and crowded bars. But a short walk to the north, on a path that winds behind a few small bungalows, opens up to Playa del Caballo.

This beach is true paradise, with electric blue water and towering palm trees ringing the small strand. The only other travelers you'll run into here are a few lost tourists or the bevy of crabs that scuttle up onto the shore.

Don't forget to bring everything you need for the day: there are no vendors, no beach bars, no nothing, but that's part of its charm. If the idea of picnicking doesn't speak to you, there are always the beach bars at Las Ánimas just a quick walk away.

Cabo Pulmo – Baja California Sur

It's admittedly not the easiest beach to get to, but that is likely why it's remained such a delicious secret. Sixty unpaved miles outside of Cabo San Lucas sits a luxurious stretch of sand, known as Cabo Pulmo , which is a national park.

Skip the pricey restaurants, hotels and nightlife of Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo and opt for the secluded, bohemian beach scene, surrounded by brilliant red rocks and desert. The town itself is tiny, with a population hovering around 100. Divers flock to the shores for the underwater marine life, while other travelers are drawn to the surfing, snorkeling and hiking.

Lagunas de Chacahua – Oaxaca

You can't get much more hush-hush than the beaches of Lagunas de Chacahua because getting there is for the truly determined. From the better-known Puerto Escondido , Oaxaca, it is an hour-long taxi ride to the small lakeside village of Zapotalito. From here, negotiate the price of a water taxi to take you across the Lagunas de Chacahua National Park.  You'll weave in and out of mangroves that ultimately open up to a sandy point where the lagoon meets the sea.

Here discover a small community of adventurous travelers, surfers and those looking to go truly off the grid. Cell service is spotty at best and wi-fi is non-existent. At night, locals and visitors mingle along "Restaurant Row," which is essentially a glorified name for the row of beach restaurants and shacks that line the shore front, serving everything from local Oaxacan tlayudas (similar to a tostada) to fish burgers, tacos and lots of locally made mezcal.

Celestún – Yucatán

One of the best parts about Uber coming to Mérida , the capital of the state of the Yucatan, is that travelers can get out of the city a whole lot easier than ever before. Once car-less folks were reliant on slow-moving buses or colectivos (which are still viable, safe, and cheap ways to travel), Uber allows trips that once had to span the entire weekend to be shortened to just a day or an afternoon.

From Mérida, an hourlong Uber ride puts you at Celestún , a lazy fishing village known for its candy-colored water, thatched beach shacks and veritable pink sea of flamingos in the Reserva de la Biósfera Ría . “Downtown,” if you want to call it that, is a small intersection with a few shops and convenience stores. The majority of people you'll meet in Celestún are resident fishermen or locals from Mérida who escaped the city for a weekend getaway.

You might also like:

Mexico's 10 best beaches  Under-the-radar beach towns on Mexico's Central Pacific Coast 8 beautiful off-the-grid getaways in the US

This article was originally published in August 2018 and updated in October 2020. 

This article was first published August 2018 and updated October 2020

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Travel Mexico Solo

Mexico Hidden Gems: 10 You Need to Know About [2024]

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Looking to discover Mexico Hidden gems?

You’re in the right place — and with the right guide — as venturing off the beaten path in Mexico to hidden gems is kinda my thing. Also, I live in Mexico , and have since 2018.

I’ve personally been to each place on the list, some more than once. The great thing about planning a trip to Mexico is that it’s huge. There’s something and somewhere for everyone, as you’ll soon see.

As someone who’s been to half the states in Mexico, this guide is intended to shed some light on a country that is so much more than just Tulum, Cancun and Cabo San Lucas.

That’s not to say those places aren’t wonderful, just that you won’t find them here. Rather, this article is about traveling off the beaten path in Mexico — but not so off the beaten path you won’t have plenty of Airbnb options, hot showers and WiFi.

By the end of this article, your Mexico bucket list will have 10 more amazing places on it, from the best non-touristy places in Mexico, to pueblos magicos (magic towns), and even one hidden beach in Mexico.

Ready to get to this list? Let’s dive in and discover some hidden gems in Mexico.

Mexico Hidden Gems: Bacalar Lake

1. bacalar lagoon.

a sail boat in the middle of the blue waters of bacalar lagoon mexico

Laguna Bacalar (Bacalar Lagoon) is basically a postcard. This blue waters in this freshwater lake is the main draw in the pueblo magico Bacalar. In case you’ve never heard of a Mexico pueblo magico , or magic town, let’s clarify.

🤔 What is a pueblo magico?

The Mexican Tourism Board awards the prestigious distinction of pueblo magico to small towns in the country with certain characteristics like unique culture, historic relevance and exceptional natural beauty.

There are a total of five pueblos magicos on this list, but about 135 in total in all Mexico. Bacalar is one of the best pueblos magicos in the Yucatan Peninsula .

🗺 Where is Bacalar located?

non tourist areas in mexico

Bacalar is in Quintana Roo state, in the Yucatan Peninsula, in southeastern Mexico. It is in the southern part of the state, and less than an hour from the Mexico-Belize border. 

This part of Mexico is home to the Mayans, who call Bacalar the “Lagoon of Seven Colors.” (You’ll also sometimes see it called the “Lake of Seven Colors.”)

Ranging in depth from 0- to 200-feet (0-60 m), you’ll see the bright blues in the shallows, and the dark indigo blues in the deeper areas. The blue waters of Bacalar Lagoon has earned it the nickname, the Maldives of Mexico.

📍 What is Bacalar Near?

blue water in a tropical setting

Not far from Bacalar, there are some lesser-visited Yucatan Mayan Ruins , like Kohunlich and Becan. The Mexican Caribbean beach town of Mahahual, Mexico is also nearby.

Popular Mexico destinations like Tulum , Playa del Carmen and Cancun , are within driving distance by rental car or bus. In fact, many travelers will rent a car in Cancun and drive to Bacalar.

📆 What’s the best time to visit Bacalar?

Being in the tropics, Bacalar weather is hot year-round. The summers tend to be the hottest, rainiest, and have the most mosquitoes.

While the months of November to May can be busier, they have the best weather to enjoy Bacalar Lake.

🤔 Is Bacalar worth visiting?

If you’re looking for a calm, beautiful place that’s known more for nature than nightlife, then yes, you’re going to fall in love with Bacalar Lake.

While here, you can do all of the quintessential vacation things — swim, eat and drink, read, lay in a hammock, chill, think, watch the sunrise and admire nature. There are some bars, but this isn’t really a party town.

MEXICO HIDDEN GEMS: BACALAR LAKE

Best things to do in bacalar.

houses on the lake in bacalar lagoon mexico

⛵️ BACALAR boat tours

Lake Bacalar is the second largest freshwater lake in the Mexico at about 26-miles-long (42 km). The best way to see it all is on a boat tour.

On Bacalar tours of the lagoon, you’ll see all the best sites, including the Canal de los Piratas (Pirate’s Channel), Cenote la Bruja (Witch’s Cenote) and Isla de los Pajaros (Bird Island).

🏊‍♀️ LOS RAPIDOS BACALAR

staircase going into the blue water at Los Rapidos in bacalar lagoon mexico

One of the lagoon’s most popular places to spend the day is Los Rapidos ( The Rapids ). As the name implies, there are actually fast-moving rapids you can ride, swim in and play in!

There’s a restaurant, bar, kayak rentals, water hammocks, swings and bathrooms, so you can easily hang out there all day long.

Los Rapidos is one of the Bacalar balnearios , which are essentially beach clubs.

As Los Rapidos is on the outskirts of Bacalar Lake, definitely check out some of the more centrally-located balnearios , like Cocalitos, Los Aluxes Bacalar and Bacalar Beach Club.

💧 CENOTE AZUL BACALAR

cenote azul bacalar mexico

Besides Bacalar Lagoon itself, you’ll want to check out the Bacalar cenotes , including the second most popular place to swim in Bacalar, Cenote Azul ( Blue Cenote ).

This is one of the deepest Yucatan cenotes, at about 300-feet-deep (91 m).

Just as with the balnearios in Bacalar, you could spend the whole day at Cenote Azul, as there’s a restaurant, lockers for your stuff and bathrooms onsite.

How Do I Travel to Bacalar?

rusted cannon at a fort pointed at the water

✈️ FLYING TO BACALAR

The closest airport is Chetumal International Airport (CTM) , located about 30-45 minutes away in the city of Chetumal. You can get a connecting flight through the Mexico City and Guadalajara Airports.

🚗💨 DRIVING TO BACALAR

Yucatan road trips are quite common, as there’s so many Yucatan Peninsula must see places . For this reason, and because Bacalar is quite remote, driving is a great option.

It is easily accessible from any of the other top Yucatan travel destinations: plan for 4.5 hours from Cancun and Merida , and 3.5 hours from Tulum , Playa del Carmen and Valladolid .

1. Rent with a reputable company! As they say, “you get what you pay for.” For a reliable Cancun car rental company, go with Discover Cars .

2. Avoid driving at night. When you live in Mexico long enough, you start to realize many people simply avoid driving at night, if they can. If you do drive at night, stick to only main roads and highways.

3. Always use the couta , or toll, roads. Yes, they cost money, but they are much better maintained and generally considered safer. Pro tip: Bring cash for the tolls.

4. Download an offline map . Your signal will go in and out as you travel through rural areas of the Yucatan Peninsula, so download an offline map from Google or Maps.Me . You’ll also want to download some podcasts and music while you’re getting that map.

5. Speed limit signs are in kilometers per hour, not miles per hour. You don’t have to worry about conversion math here; just make sure the speed limit sign number matches your speedometer number.

6. Do not use your cell phone while you’re driving . Not only is this unsafe, it is also illegal. In fact, even having your phone in your hand is a ticket-able offense, so try not to even hold your phone while driving.

7. The rumors are true about the cops expecting bribes . If the cops pull you over, and they only will if you give them a reason to, they will expect a cash “payment” in exchange for not ticketing you.

8. Mexican roads are notorious for their abundant amount of topes (speed bumps). Make sure you keep your eyes on the road, as topes don’t always have signs alerting you to them.

9. Mexico’s gas stations are not self-serve. When you stop for gas, an attendant will pump it for you and take your payment. These people don’t actually work for the gas station, and live off tips. When they finish, it’s customary to tip them at least $10-20 pesos ($0.50-$1).

10. Mexico’s traffic lights go from green to yellow, to flashing yellow for a few seconds, to finally, a red light.

11. Make sure you purchase Mexican car insurance. You are generally not covered in any way through your U.S. company when you drive in any other country.

12. Most travel insurance policies cover driving. In case you’re wondering Should I get travel insurance for Mexico? … The answer is hell yes! There’s a whole page of this website dedicated to travel insurance , because it’s just that important — maybe even more so when traveling during the pandemic.

🚌 BUS TO BACALAR

The best way to get to most Mexico hidden gems is actually by bus. Bus transportation in Mexico is very common, just opt for the luxury class busses, sit back and enjoy the ride.

The biggest company is ADO , which goes just about everywhere.

Mexico Hidden Gems: Guanajuato City

2. guanajuato city.

non tourist areas in mexico

Guanajuato (pronounced wan-uh-wat-toe ) is like being in a painting. You’ll love spending the day taking travel photos while just walking the town’s narrow, winding alleyways.

These quaint streets look like something right out of an old European village — just way more colorful.

Guanajuato is a festive town with several universities and festivals throughout the year. This includes one of the biggest festivals in all of Mexico, the International Cervantino Festival, which takes place in October.

This is followed immediately by Day of the Dead in Guanajuato, Dia de los Muertos , on November 1-2. Guanajuato is one of the best places to celebrate Day of the Dead in Mexico .

🌺💀🌺 Mexico Day of the Dead on your bucket list? Head to this article for info on Day of the Dead in Oaxaca , one of the country’s biggest celebrations.

🗺 Where is Guanajuato located?

non tourist areas in mexico

Guanajuato City is the capital of Guanajuato state, in central Mexico about 4.5 hours west of Mexico City.

As Guanajuato is both the name of the city and the state, this can get confusing because the town is usually just referred to as Guanajuato, rather than Guanajuato City.

📍 What is Guanajuato Near?

There are so many great places right around Guanajuato that this area of the country makes for a great trip in itself.

The beautiful Mexico colonial towns San Miguel de Allende , Queretaro are nearby, and the smaller pueblos of Peña de Bernal and Tequisquiapan are also less than 1.5 hours away.

Beyond these, Mexico’s largest cities, Mexico City and Guadalajara , are both accessible by rental car , bus, or a short flight.

🌡 What’s the best time to visit Guanajuato?

Central Mexico, where Guanajuato is located, has what’s known as an “Eternal Spring” climate. This means Guanajuato weather is pleasant year-round.

The dry season runs November-May, which coincides with traveling to Guanajuato for Day of the Dead in Mexico . If you do want to visit during Día de Muertos, make sure to book your Guanajuato hotel well in advance.

🤔 Is Guanajuato worth visiting?

brightly colored home and buildings in the colorful colonial town of Guanajuato City, Guanajuato, Mexico, located in central Mexico, and a safe place for female solo Mexico travel

There’s a lot to do in Guanajuato, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town itself is not huge, but it is gorgeous, and actually considered one of the most beautiful places in Mexico.

For those seeking a unique Mexico cultural experience, you’ll love Guanajuato City.

MEXICO HIDDEN GEMS: GUANAJUATO CITY

Best things to do in guanajuato city.

Funicular cable car going up a mountain in a colorful city

🇲🇽 DOWNTOWN GUANAJUATO

The best way to experience Guanajuato City is by just walking around downtown, with essentially no agenda.

This walkable city has numerous great plazas, cafes, churches, buildings and colorful streets where you’ll love taking some travel photos  — and then taking even more photos! 

📸 Head here for a complete guide to all the best things to see in Guanajuato City .

💋 ALLEY OF THE KISS (CALLEJON DEL BESO)

non tourist areas in mexico

Callejon del Beso ( Alley of the Kiss ) is located up on one Guanajuato’s many hills. It is behind Plaza de Los Angeles ( Plaza of the Angels ), and not far from Teatro Juarez Theater and Jardin de la Union ( Union Garden ).

I’ll let you google the story for yourself, but if there was ever a Mexican “Romeo & Juliet” story, it happened on the two balconies.

🧟‍♀️ Guanajuato MUMMY MUSEUM

The town’s most popular museum, and among the top things to do in Guanajuato, is visit the Museo de las Momias (Mummy Museum). As the name says, it really is a museum of mummies — real mummies.

How Do I Travel to Guanajuato City?

large yellow church and a statue in front of it in a small park

🚗💨 DRIVING TO GUANAJUATO CITY

Located in Central Mexico, the Mexico City to Guanajuato drive is about 4-5 hours. It is also about four hours from Guadalajara by car. This is generally considered a safe drive — as long as you do not drive at night.

Looking to rent a car for the drive? Check out this detailed guide, Renting A Car in Mexico: Everything You Need to Know .

🚌 BUS TO GUANAJUATO CITY

Mexico’s bus transportation is safe, inexpensive and reliable. For extra comfort at not much of a price difference, opt for a luxury class bus, sit back and enjoy the ride.

The biggest company is ADO , which goes just about everywhere in Mexico, but there’s also Primera Plus .

✈️ FLYING TO GUANAJUATO CITY

You can fly directly into Guanajuato International Airport (BJX) , located about 30 minutes from downtown Guanajuato.

The nearby Queretaro International Airport (QRO) has several direct flights from the U.S. to Mexico, so if you’re planning a Guanajuato – San Miguel de Allende – Queretaro trip, you can compare prices.

Mexico Hidden Gems: Isla HOLBOX

3. holbox island.

non tourist areas in mexico

Holbox (pronounced hole-bosh ) is one of the best beach towns in Mexico , and the only island on this list of off the beaten path Mexico hidden gems.

The thing you’ll love most about Holbox is that it still manages to feel like the small town fishing village it was 20 years ago.

With the exception of a few work trucks, cars aren’t allowed on this incredible Mexico beach island. There are no street lights, golf carts and bikes remain the main modes of transport, and the roads are paved with beach sand.

You won’t find tourist shops, Holbox tours operators don’t scream at you to buy from them, and there’s not even chain restaurants. It’s just beautiful beaches for miles, hammocks in the water, and good vibes.

🗺 Where is Holbox located?

Isla Holbox is an island in Quintana Roo state , in the Yucatan Peninsula of southeastern Mexico. It is located in the Caribbean Sea in the Yum Balam Nature Reserve, a protected natural area.

📍 What is Holbox Near?

As an island, there’s not much near it, but being in the Yucatan Peninsula, there are many other places easily accessible to Holbox Island, Mexico.

Many head to Holbox from Cancun, which is about three-hours by car to the town of Chiquila, where you catch the Holbox ferry.

📆 What’s the best time to visit Holbox Island?

cancun to holbox downtown colorful buildings

Located in the tropics, Holbox has hot, rainy, summers. However, many visit during this time to swim with the whale sharks in Holbox, which migrate past the island from June-September.

Beyond this popular time to visit, the months of November-March are the nicest to visit Holbox. 

🤔 Is Holbox Island worth visiting?

Holbox Island is a wonderful place with a great mix of small town feel, beautiful beaches and nature, and even a bit of nighttime options.

It can be a bit of a trek to get there, but if you’re seeking unique places to visit in Mexico, Holbox checks a lot of boxes.

Mexico Hidden Gems: ISLA HOLBOX

Best things to do in holbox island.

woman laying in the Caribbean Sea on a hammock in Holbox Island, Mexico

🏝 Lay in THE Holbox HAMMOCKS

One of the most Instagram worthy spots are the Holbox hammocks in the water. If you’re looking for a relaxing spot, head to the water hammocks at Punta Cocos beach.

The more famous hammocks are on the other end of the island at Playa Holbox beach, where you’ll also find the colorful HOLBOX letters sign.

⭐️ BIOLUMINESCENCE ON HOLBOX ISLAND

Beyond the water hammocks during the day, Punta Coco beach is a great spot to watch the sunset away from the crowds, and really comes alive when the sun goes down.

At night, head to this beach to see the bioluminescence in Holbox. You can (usually) see it all year long, but it’s most vibrant during the New Moon — when the moon’s not visible in the sky.

🐳 SWIM WITH THE WHALE SHARKS iN HOLBOX (Seasonal)

woman in long sleeved pink shirt swimming next to a giant spotted whale shark in holbox island, one of the most unique places to visit in mexico

If you visit during June-September, you can take a boat tour to swim with whale sharks, the largest fish in the ocean.

While these are technically sharks, they are extremely docile and don’t have sharp teeth. They are huge though — averaging about 40-feet-long (12 m) — and this is an unforgettable experience.

🌎 Practice Responsible Tourism in Mexico: Only use an ethical tour company that keeps the animals’ safety and well being as their top priority when doing a Holbox whale shark tour.

H ow Do I Travel to Holbox Island?

small beach town with big palm trees and sand roads

🚗💨 DRIVING TO CHIQUILA (HOLBOX ISLAND)

To get to Holbox from anywhere, you first have to get to the small town of Chiquilá, Mexico. At the Chiquila ferry dock, you’ll buy your ticket and take the 20 minute ferry to Holbox Island.

Upon arriving to Chiquila in your rental car , you’ll have to leave it there before taking the Holbox ferry because cars are not allowed on the island.

Not to worry; there are paid parking lots right next to the dock that cost about $5 USD per day. 

🚌 BUS TO CHIQUILA FERRY ( HOLBOX ISLAND )

Most Yucatan bus companies have daily trips to/from Chiquila, at varying levels of comfort.

The biggest bus company is ADO , which goes just about everywhere and has luxury class buses, though Oriente and Mayab are other Chiquila bus options.

🚢 HOLBOX ISLAND FERRY

cancun to holbox ferry boat via holbox express

There are a couple of ferry companies that run daily, every hour or so, from about 6am-8pm. Keep in mind Isla Holbox runs on “island time,” meaning schedules are a little more laid back.

You can buy your Holbox ferry tickets right at the dock in Chiquila.

✈️ FLYING TO HOLBOX ISLAND

Holbox also has a small airport for private planes, Aerodromo de Holbox or Holbox Aerodrome (code: HOL) .

You charter the plane from Cancun for this 35-minute flight, which will cost about $600 USD for up to five people on a one-way charter.

Mexico Hidden Gems: Oaxaca City

4. oaxaca city.

non tourist areas in mexico

Of all the places on this list, Oaxaca likely has the most name recognition, as far as Mexico hidden gems go.

But how many people do you know who have actually visited? Your answer is likely not many. This is unfortunate, because Oaxaca is simply amazing.

There’s everything here: amazing Oaxacan food , rich history, colorful festivals like Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, beautiful nature, colonial architecture, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, indigenous artisan communities, and more.

🗺 Where is Oaxaca located?

Oaxaca City, Mexico , is the capital of Oaxaca state. It is located in southern Mexico, about six hours south of Mexico City .

Oaxaca is the name of the city and the state, though the town is usually just referred to as Oaxaca, rather than Oaxaca City, or Oaxaca de Juarez, its official name.

🌺💀🌺 Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

non tourist areas in mexico

For a truly Mexico bucket list experience, the Oaxaca Dia de los Muertos celebration is well worth the trip.

Head to the linked article for everything you need to know for Oaxaca travel planning to one of the best places to experience Day of the Dead in Mexico.

📍 What is Oaxaca Near?

Stairs leading down to a tropical beach in Mexico

Oaxaca is surrounded by many other great Mexico states, but travelers commonly spend time in both Oaxaca City and the beaches of Oaxaca.

The most popular beaches include Puerto Escondido , Huatulco , Zipolite , the famed nudist beach in Mexico, and Mazunte , one of the 135 pueblos magicos in Mexico.

📆 What’s the best time to visit Oaxaca?

Want to know the best time to travel to Oaxaca ? Oaxaca City’s temperate climate means this city is basically a year-round destination.

You’ll want to try to avoid Oaxaca’s rainy season from June to September, but during the other months you’ll enjoy warm days and cool nights.

If you want to avoid the crowds, Oaxaca City’s busy season runs from late-October for Day of the Dead , through March.

Though possibly rainy, many visit Oaxaca City for the Guelaguetza Festival in July. This is known as the largest folkloric festival in Latin America, and a must for culture travelers.

🤔 Is Oaxaca worth visiting?

Can we curse around here!!? …because FU+K YES Oaxaca is worth visiting!

Oaxaca, in a word, is magical. This is the Mexico people imagine Mexico to be, and also known as a Foodie Capital of Mexico, so what’s not to love about Oaxaca!?

🍷🍽 Doing some Oaxaca solo travel? Don’t miss this article,  Eating Alone While Traveling: How to Overcome Your Fear

MEXICO HIDDEN GEMS: OAXACA CITY

Best things to do in oaxaca city.

historic colonial spanish church and plants

🇲🇽 Oaxaca Centro Historico 

The best way to experience the city is by strolling downtown to see all the top sites in Oaxaca, like Templo de Santo Domingo, home to the Oaxaca Botanical Garden .

There’s also great museums, like the Oaxaca Textile Museum, mercados (markets) to sample delicious Oaxacan food , and beautiful buildings and colorful streets.

📸 Head here for a complete guide to all the best things to see in Centro Historico , Oaxaca City.

💧 HIERVE EL AGUA IN OAXACA

Water and a tree on a cliff at Hierve el Agua in Oaxaca City

Hierve el Agua (Boiling Water) is one of most beautiful and Instagram worthy Oaxaca places.

Actually, it’s technically about 40 miles outside of the city in the town of Roeguia, but you can get there within an hour by taxi or opt to go on a Hierve el Agua tour .

🗿 MONTE ALBAN Oaxaca

Both Centro Historico (Historic Downtown) and Monte Alban are UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Oaxaca.

The prehispanic city of Monte Alban functioned as the capital of Oaxaca’s indigenous Zapotec people until 800 AD, when it was then uninhabited for unknown reasons.

As one of the top Oaxaca sites, head there early to beat the crowds.

💀 BONUS: DAY OF THE DEAD in oaxaca

non tourist areas in mexico

Each year, from November 1-2, many Mexicans believe the veil to the spirit world is lifted and our departed family members return Earth-side.

Rather than a somber funerary event, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a celebration.

Families join together to create elaborate ofrendas (alters), filled with marigold flowers, candles, copal incense, photos of their loved one, and whatever food and drink they would want to consume on their arrival.

🌺💀🌺 Head here for a complete guide to planning your trip to Day of the Dead in Oaxaca City .

How Do I Travel to Oaxaca City?

woman leaning on a red convertible sports car and holding her license and the key | renting a car in mexico

✈️ FLYING TO OAXACA

You can fly directly into Oaxaca International Airport (OAX) , as there’s direct flights from several U.S. cities.

The airport is only about 25 minutes from downtown, and easily accessible by taxi, colectivo (small, shared van) or private taxi.

🚕 Oaxaca Travel Tips : There’s no Uber in Oaxaca , but there are plenty of taxis. There is also a ride-share app called DiDi, where you can call a taxi and pay via app.

🚗💨 Driving TO OAXACA CITY

Oaxaca is in southern Mexico, about six hours by car from Mexico City.

The drive is generally considered safe, but make sure you always rent a car in Mexico from a reputable company, like Discover Cars , and get full coverage insurance.

🚌 BUS TO OAXACA

For bus travel, ADO , Mexico’s largest company, has day and overnight trip options. As roads in Oaxaca aren’t always the best, taking the bus sometimes doubles travel time.

🏝 OAXACA CITY TO PUERTO ESCONDIDO 

beautiful bay with blue water and boats

Also headed to the coast of Oaxaca? Smart choice!

Coastal Oaxaca has some of the best beaches in Mexico — from the world famous surf town of Puerto Escondido , to the pueblo magico (magic town) of Mazunte , to laid back Huatulco , and the Mexico nude beach of Zipolite .

🚌 🚙 ✈️ Head here to discover all your transportation options in this Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido: 5 Transportation Options .

Mexico Hidden Gems: Tolantongo Caves

5. las grutas tolantongo.

Las Grutas Tolantongo natural hot spring pools near Mexico City

Grutas Tolantongo , AKA Tolantongo grutas or Tolantongo caves, is gorgeous, and one of the most Instagram worthy places in Mexico.

It is also one of the best Mexico City day trips and weekend trips, located about four hours north of the city.

As one of the best Mexico hidden gems, with emphasis on “hidden,” planning a trip to Las Grutas de Tolantongo isn’t always quick.

In fact, the easiest way to go is on a Mexico City to Tolantongo Tour , which is often more economical than visiting on your own.

🗺 Where is Las Grutas Tolantongo located?

waterfall - Visit Las Grutas Tolantongo

The Grutas de Tolantongo is located in Hidalgo state, in central Mexico. Hidalgo state is one of the lesser-visited states in Mexico, but one of the best places to enjoy the country’s lush, green, unspoiled nature.

📍 What is Las Grutas Tolantongo Near?

Hidalgo state and the Tolantongo Grutas is between 3-5 hours from a few other top Mexico travel destinations, like Mexico City to the south, and Guanajuato , San Miguel de Allende , and Queretaro , to the west.

📆 What’s the best time to visit Las Grutas Tolantongo?

bright blue water and waterfalls in a forest - Visit Las Grutas Tolantongo

Tolantongo is open all year to visit, and as the water comes from a hot spring, you can swim all year also.

As it’s located in Central Mexico, which has what is known as an “Eternal Spring” weather, expect springtime temperatures for most of the year.

🤔 Is Las Grutas Tolantongo worth visiting?

If you have the time in your trip, love being in nature, enjoy venturing off the beaten path, and want to visit one of the most beautiful places in Mexico, then Tolantongo is worth a visit.

As it’s a bit remote, you’ll have to use 1-2 days of your Mexico trip, but you won’t regret it after visiting Grutas Tolantongo.

Mexico Hidden Gems: TOLANTONGO CAVES

Best things to do in grutas de tolantongo.

las grutas tolantongo caves

💧 Tolantongo CAVE AND TUNNEL

Located right next to one another, this part of Tolantongo is where most of the hot water comes from, that then feeds out to the whole site.

To enter, you’ll get in line, which does move fast, and pass under a small waterfall that goes inside the Tolantongo cave.

💧 tolantongo POOLS 

natural infinity pools on a cliff - Visit Las Grutas Tolantongo

These are Tolantongo hot springs where all the Instagram shots happen. Located right next to the pools, don’t pass up the chance to walk across the Suspension Bridge to get some amazing views of the canyon below.

📸 Tolantongo Travel Tips: If you’re looking to get the Instagram money shot and don’t want any other people in your photos, be at the pools within the first 30 minutes of opening — like I was in the photo above.

💧 tolantongo River

blue river water in a natural mountain setting - Visit Las Grutas Tolantongo

While the Tolantongo pools are the most photographed place, the river is one of the most beautiful places at Tolantongo.

It cascades down in sections, and at each section, you can sit under the water as it falls on you for a natural hydro-massage.

MEXICO HIDDEN GEMS: TOLANTONGO CAVES

How do i travel to grutas de tolantongo .

waterfalls and bright blue waters in a forest - Visit Las Grutas Tolantongo

🎟 Grutas Tolantongo Tours

From Mexico City , a group tour is the most convenient, and often, most inexpensive , way to visit Tolantongo.

You save money not paying for a hotel room at one of the Tolantongo resorts, and returning to the same day. Also, not dealing with a rental car, insurance, gas, and driving in a foreign country makes the tour the easiest option.

Head here for all the best options for Mexico City to Tolantongo tours .

🚗💨 DRIVING TO Las Grutas Tolantongo

Besides a tour, the second easiest way to visit Tolantongo is in a private rental car from Discover Cars .

The drive from Mexico City, San Miguel de Allende , and Guanajuato is about 4-5 hours, and from Queretero , about 2-3 hours.

🚌 BUS TO Las Grutas Tolantongo

As bus travel is quite popular in Mexico, there is a way to get from Mexico City to Grutas Tolantongo on the bus, however, it does take a while.

Head here for the complete Mexico City to Tolantongo bu s and public transport route.

Mexico Hidden Gems: San cristobal de las casas

6. san cristobal de las casas.

non tourist areas in mexico

Located about 1.5 miles above sea level, way up in the Central Highlands, you’ll find the mountain town of S an Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico .

This pueblo magico (magic town) lives up to its magical name for nature, food and culture lovers.

Those continuing on to Central America from Mexico will often use San Cristobal as a last stop, because you can do a land crossing into Guatemala from this part of Mexico.

This is also a popular place for backpackers, as it’s safe and inexpensive.

🗺 Where is San Cristobal de las Casas located?

non tourist areas in mexico

San Cristobal de las Casas is the Chiapas state, located in southern Mexico.

It is at a higher elevation of about 1.5-miles (2.4 km), so make sure you’re prepared with an altitude sickness bracelet  and  altitude sickness meds so you don’t get altitude sickness if you’re not used to being this high up.

📍 What is San Cristobal de las Casas Near?

San Cristobal borders Oaxaca state to the west, and Guatemala to the east. It is the second biggest city in the state, behind the capital city, Tuxtla Guitierrez.

Many combine their trip with visits to Tuxtla Guitierrez, as well as Palenque and Chiapa de Corzo, two of the Mexico pueblos magicos .

📆 What’s the best time to visit San Cristobal de las Casas?

Colorful Mexican folk art flags (papel picado) on a street in San Cristobal de las Casas pueblo magico (magic town), a great place for Solo Mexico travel in Chiapas, Mexico,

Located quite far up in the mountains, San Cristobal de las Casas weather is cooler than what most associate with Mexico weather. It’s more of a misty rainforest feel here, with cooler temperatures, and a pretty intense rainy season.

For the best weather, head to San Cristobal from November to April.

🤔 Is San Cristobal de las Casas worth visiting?

San Cristobal de las Casas still feels very connected to its indigenous Mayan heritage.

This is the perfect place for anyone who wants a true Mexican cultural experience, but also posh accommodations — like Hotel Bo and Casa del Alma Hotel Boutique & Spa — two of the best hotels in San Cristobal de las Casas.

MEXICO HIDDEN GEMS: SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS

Best things to do in san cristobal.

san cristobal de las casas, one of the most unique places in mexico

🚶‍♀️ Stroll San Cristobal Centro Historico 

San Cristobal is a small Colonial town, and completely walkable.

Spend some time just roaming the streets to see the colorful buildings and eat amazing food — perhaps some you’ve prepared in a cooking class — and at the Mayan Textiles Museum, the best museum in San Cristobal.

🚤 Sumidero Canyon Boat Tour

non tourist areas in mexico

Head back to Tuxtla Gutierrez to do the boat tour of Cañyon del Sumidero (Sumidero Canyon), one of the largest navigable canyons on Earth. In some areas, the walls of Canyon Sumidero are 3,300-feet-tall (1,000 m).

You can usually purchase a tour for about $30 USD from a number of tour operators in Downtown San Cristobal de las Casas.

🗿 Palenque Ruins

Don’t miss some of the best Mayan ruins in Mexico in Palenque, a pueblo magico . If you have the time, spend the night there, as it’s about five hours from San Cristobal.

There are day trips to Palenque from San Cristobal, though it is a long day.

How Do I Travel to San Cristobal de las Casas?

non tourist areas in mexico

✈️ FLYING TO SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS

The closest airport to San Cristobal de las Casas is Tuxtla Gutierrez International Airport (Code: TGZ) . It is located in Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital and largest city in Chapas state.

From there, you can take a colectivo (small, shared van), taxi, or rental car for the one hour drive to San Cristobal.

🚕 San Cristobal de las Casas Travel Tips : There’s no Uber in San Cristobal and no Uber in Chiapas state, but there are plenty of taxis.

🚗💨 DRIVING TO San cristobal

As Chiapas is quite remote, you might not want to drive here. The closest place frequented by visitors is Oaxaca City , at about 8-9 hours away, though this isn’t known to be the safest drive.

🚌 BUS TO San cristobal

As San Cristobal is a popular place for backpackers, bus travel here is quite popular.

As not much is near here, opt for a luxury class bus ticket on ADO , for what might be a long journey to this off the beaten path Mexico destination.

Mexico Hidden Gems: CAMPECHE

7. campeche city.

red trolly next to a park and near a large colonial church - day trips from Merida

Though San Francisco de Campeche City, AKA Campeche City, is quaint at about 25 square blocks, there’s still some amazing things to do in Campeche, Mexico .

The walled city of Campeche, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is famous for its beautiful colorful streets, and fort walls once used to ward off pirate attacks. 

🗺 Where is Campeche City located?

Campeche City is the capital of Campeche state , one of the three states that make up the Yucatan Peninsula . It is located on the Gulf of Mexico, in southeastern Mexico, and the least-visited of the three Yucatan states.

📍 What is Campeche City Near?

Campeche state borders Yucatan state, so it’s not far from the top destinations in that state, Merida and Valladolid . In fact, Campeche is one of the best day trips from Merida . 

📆 What’s the best time to visit Campeche City?

yellow wall surrounding a fort - day trips from Merida

Being in the Yucatan, it’s hot, rainy and humid in Campeche from about April to October.

As with the entire Yucatan Peninsula, the best time to visit is from November to March when the temperatures cool down and it’s pleasant to walk outside.

🤔 Is Campeche City worth visiting?

For those traveling to Merida, don’t pass up the opportunity for a Merida to Campeche day trip or overnight trip.

As it’s quite small, Campeche City makes a great place to spend 1-2 days before continuing to explore other parts of the state.

The top places to visit in Campeche, aside from Campeche City, include Calakmul Mayan Ruins , Isla Aguada pueblo magico and Ciudad del Carmen, some of the best beaches in Campeche Mexico .

Best Things to do in Campeche

larger church, city tram and zocalo park in downtown Campeche City, Mexico

🏴‍☠️ Visit the Campeche Forts

Centuries ago, Campeche was vulnerable to pirate attacks due to its location on the Gulf of Mexico.

Now that pirates don’t pose a threat, you can take a leisurely walk along the rampart walls atop the Fuerte de San Miguel (Saint Michael’s Fort), and visit the bright yellow Fuerte de San Jose el Alto (Saint Jose’s Fort).

🚍 Campeche Tram Tour

You’ll find the bright red and green trams parked at Independence Square, AKA the Zocalo , or main square, in Downtown Campeche City.

There are two routes for tram tours in Campeche offered: Tranvia de la Ciudad (City Tram Tour) and El Guapismo (The Handsome Tour), a longer tour which goes along the Gulf of Mexico and passes by the Fuerte de San Jose el Alto.

🌅 Sunset at the Campeche Malecon

The Campeche Malecon (boardwalk) is located all along the Gulf of Mexico, and makes for the perfect place for a sunset stroll.

There are a few parks, sculptures and monuments along the Malecon that are of interest, namely the Campeche Letters sign, Angel Maya (Mayan Angel) and Novia del Mar (Ocean’s Girlfriend) sculptures.

Mexico Hidden Gems : CAMPECHE

How do i travel to campeche .

Colorful colonial town

🚗💨 DRIVING TO Campeche City

The Merida to Campeche drive is only about 90-minutes, and from Valladolid, slightly longer.

From other parts of the Yucatan, like Tulum and Playa del Carmen , it’s a bit further, but still a totally safe drive in your rental car .

🚌 BUS TO Campeche City

The same with driving, it is an easy bus trip from Merida to Campeche, and also from Valladolid.

For this trip, check the schedule with ADO , Mexico’s largest bus company, which offers several trips each day from Merida and Valladolid.

✈️ FLYING TO Campeche City

There is a small airport, Campeche International Airport (CPE) , that you can fly into through a connecting flight from Mexico City International Airport.

Mexico Hidden Gems: Tepoztlan

8. tepoztlan.

non tourist areas in mexico

In search of the best Mexico City off the beaten path destination? Look no further than the “magic town” pueblo magico Tepoztlan .

This haven for spiritual seekers and healers, wellness enthusiasts, yogis, artists and the like, is also one of the best day trips from Mexico City .

🗺 Where is Tepoztlan located?

Tepoztlan (pronounced tep-poze-lan) , is located just in Central Mexico, just one hour south of Mexico City in Morelos state . This is one of the smallest states in Mexico, and Tepoztlan is a top destination in Morelos.

📍 What is Tepoztlan Near?

Besides its proximity to Mexico City , many also like to check out another beautiful place in Morelos state, Cuernavaca , a historic colonial town.

Besides these cities, the Taxco pueblo magico , a gorgeous old silver mining town, is about two hours south.

📆 What’s the best time to visit Tepoztlan?

non tourist areas in mexico

Tepoztlan, located in Central Mexico, has the “Eternal Spring” climate, so it’s more or less a year-round destination with moderate temperatures. The dry season runs October-May, and the summer months can be quite rainy. 

🤔 Is Tepoztlan worth visiting?

Tepoztlan is one of those places some people visit once, and end up moving to.

It has its own vibe and attracts spiritual types and artists in droves, but for those not looking to relocate, it does make for a great wellness weekend getaway from the hustle and bustle of Mexico City.

Best Things to Do in Tepoztlan

non tourist areas in mexico

🗿 Climb the tepozteco pyramid

For many, no visit to Tepoztlan is complete without climbing to the Tepozteco pyramid. It is quite an intense climb to the top, but the views are spectacular.

This pyramid is dedicated to Tepoztēcatl, the ancient Aztec god of pulque (pronounced pull-kay ), Mexico’s original adult beverage!

🔮 Temazcal Purification ceremony

As one of the top places for spirituality and wellness in Central Mexico, many take advantage of the ancient healing practices still offered in Tepoztlan today.

One of the most popular is a temazcal ceremony .

A temazcal (pronounced tem-maz-scal ), is similar to a Native American sweat lodge, and has been used for centuries in Mexico for purification of the body and mind.

🌶 Visit the Tepoztlan Market

non tourist areas in mexico

Head to the main mercado in town, City Market of Tepoztlan, to sample some pulque . This is a centuries-old prehispanic beverage made from the fermented agave plant — the same plant used to make tequila and mezcal . Though an acquired taste, pulque (pronounced pull-kay), is lovingly refered to as “the drink of the gods.” It is just one of the interesting things to try at this lively mercado in Tepoztlan.

Also be on the lookout for vendors selling prehispanic foods, like alache , a dark green veggie, and itacates , fried corn cakes.

If you eat meat, try the cecina , a cured, dried steak meat famous in Morelos state.

For a sweet treat, don’t miss the tepoznieves . This is a shaved ice or sorbet made with fresh fruit, chocolates and many other flavors. It is very refreshing on a hot day in Tepoztlán, Mexico.

How Do I Travel to Tepoztlan ?

non tourist areas in mexico

The closest airport to Tepoztlan is Mexico City International (code: MEX).

As driving in Mexico City isn’t for the faint of heart, you might want to just opt for a tour to Tepoztlan, or take the bus.

There are several bus companies in Mexico , like ADO and Primera Plus, with multiple Mexico City to Tepoztlan trips each day.

Mexico Hidden Gems: Cholula, Puebla

non tourist areas in mexico

The state of Puebla , where Cholula is located, seems like its own country altogether. Poblanos, as the locals are known, have their own foods, slang and customs from the rest of Mexico.

Cholula is one of the most colorful towns in the state of Pubela, and all of Mexico.

🌶 Fun Fact: Cholula brand hot sauce is named in homage to this 2,500-year-old Colonial town.

🗺 Where is Cholula located?

Cholula, Mexico, is in Puebla state, located one state to the southeast of Mexico City , in Central Mexico. On its south side, Puebla borders the state of Oaxaca .

📍 What is Cholula Near?

the colorful colonial town of Cholula, one of the most unique places to visit in mexico

The pueblo magico (magic town) of Cholula is about an hour from Puebla City , a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the capital of Puebla state.

Atlixco, another pueblo magico is also not far, as well as Izta-Popo Zoquiapan National Park , home to the Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl Mexico volcanoes.

📆 What’s the best time to visit Cholula?

Blessed with the “Eternal Spring” climate of Central Mexico, Cholula weather is nice for most of the year. The rainy season lasts from June to October.

🇲🇽 Cinco de Mayo in Puebla

colorful pinatas

Though popular in the U.S., Cinco de Mayo isn’t really celebrated in Mexico besides in Puebla City, where the country’s biggest celebration takes place on May 5th each year.

For this reason, many visit Puebla and nearby Cholula in early-May for the festivals and battle reenactments.

Note: Cinco de Mayo, though one of the most important holidays in Mexico , is not Mexican Independence Day. That takes place on September 16th.

🤔 Is Cholula worth visiting?

Cholula is a small town and makes for a nice day trip from Puebla, or even overnight trip from Mexico City.

For those visiting Puebla City and state, do not pass up the opportunity to visit the colorful, historic city of Cholula.

Best Things to do in Cholula

non tourist areas in mexico

🚶‍♀️ Stroll Historic Downtown Cholula

Spend the day exploring historic downtown San Andrés Cholula, to see all the colorful buildings, streets and churches.

Ancient legends use to say Cholula had 365 churches, one for each day of the year, and though that has been debunked, it feels like there are 365 because they are all very grand and elaborate.

💒 Our Lady of Remedies Church (Cholula Church)

Of all the churches, none is more iconic and recognizable than Cholula’s giant yellow and white Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, which towers over the city.

While this grand 16th Century Catholic church is a masterpiece, its coolest feature is located beneath it ⤵

▲ Great Pyramid of Cholula

non tourist areas in mexico

Located under the church — yes, under it — is the Great Pyramid of Cholula.

This is the largest pyramid, by volume, found on Earth; bigger than any pyramid in Egypt or elsewhere.

After seeing the church, pay a visit to this large, well-reserved archaeological site used by the Aztecs to worship their central deity, Quetzalcoatl (pronounced ketz-al-koh-at-lal ).

How do I Travel to Cholula ?

non tourist areas in mexico

🚗💨 DRIVING TO Cholula

From Puebla City, this is an easy and short 30-minute drive in your rental car .

It’s also doable from any of the neighboring states and Mexico City, as long as you’re only planning to drive during the day.

🚌 BUS TO Cholula

With service to all parts of Mexico, ADO is always an option for a trip to Cholula.

The smaller company, Primera Plus , also services much of Central Mexico, but regardless of your choice, make sure to upgrade to first class if you have a longer ride.

✈️ FLYING TO Cholula

Puebla, the fifth largest city in Mexico, has its own airport, Puebla International Airport (PBC) .

From there, you can rent a car, take an Uber, taxi, or shared transportation for the 30-45 minute trip to Cholula.

Mexico Hidden Gems: Sauylita

10. sayulita.

woman smiling on a colorful street in Sayulita, one of the Best Mexican Beach Towns

It’s almost as if good vibes were invented in this chill bohemian haven of Sayulita, Mexico , one of the safest places to travel in Mexico.

This laid back Mexico beach town is also one of the best places to surf in Mexico.

Besides surfing, just what made this otherwise tiny beachfront pueblo so famous and Instagram worthy?

The colorful Sayulita flags, called papel picado, are traditional Mexican folk art paper flags.

While you’ll find them in other places in Mexico during holidays and celebrations, Sayulita has them up all year.

🗺 Where is Sayulita located?

small fishing boat on the shore of a beach town

Sayulita is in Nayarit state , in southern-central Mexico. It is located on some of the best beaches in all Mexico, known as the Riviera Nayarit, on the Pacific Coast of Mexico.

📍 What is Sayulita Near?

Sayulita is only about an hour from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico , one of the top Mexico travel destinations.

Many also spend some time visiting the next town over, San Pancho , a laid-back haven for surfers, yogis and digital nomads, and among the best non touristy places in Mexico.

📆 What’s the best time to visit Sayulita?

downtown sayulita mexico | is sayulita safe

As with nearly all beach towns in Mexico, the ideal time to visit Sayulita is from November to April.

During the summer months, you can expect heavy rains, hot and humid days, and even the possibility of a hurricane.

🤔 Is Sayulita worth visiting?

It is definitely worth visiting if you want to experience small town Mexico, mixed with a beach.

In fact, some go for a Sayulita day trip from Puerto Vallarta, and end up wishing they had opted for Sayulita instead because it is much calmer and more peaceful, with equally-beautiful beaches.

Mexico Hidden Gems: Sayulita

Best things to do in sayulita.

woman surfing in Sayulita, Mexico

🏄‍♀️ SURF LESSONS IN SAYULITA

Always wanted to try surfing? Now’s your chance, surfing in Sayulita is one of the best things to do.

There is a great wave that breaks just offshore, which is perfect for beginners, and plenty of surf schools on Playa Sayulita, the main beach near downtown.

If surfing’s not for you, there are plenty of other things to do in Sauylita Mexico that involve just being on some of the best beaches in Riviera Nayarit.

🏝 PLAYA DE LOS MUERTOS

Playa de los Muertos (Beach of the Dead) is something you don’t see everyday.

Sayulita is a beach town, and part of a larger beach community, and they have to work with what they’ve got, so one of their cemeteries is located just behind this beach. It’s arguably one of the best beaches in Sayulita, too.

ISLAS MARIETAS TOUR: Mexico hidden beach

islas marietas, hidden beach in mexico

The Marietas Islands is truly a Mexico bucket list experience, and the home to the famous hidden beach in Mexico, Playa del Amor (Lover’s Beach). 

There are two Islas Marietas tours offered: One lets you swim and snorkel near the islands, and the other one lets you actually go onto the secret beach.

Mexico, in an effort to keep this place pristine, only allows about 125 visitors per day — so tours sell out fast and in advance.

If visiting one of the most secluded beaches in Mexico is on your travel agenda, secure your spot on the Hidden Beach and Snorkeling Tour before you even arrive to Sayulita, to ensure you get one of those few coveted spots.

How Do I Travel to Sayulita?

gringo hill | is sayulita safe

✈️ FLYING TO SAYULITA

Getting to Sayulita is easy, as you’ll fly into Puerto Vallarta International Airport (PVR) , which has direct flights from many major U.S. cities.

From there, you’ll drive your rental car , or take an Uber, private transport service, or public bus, for the one-hour trip to Sayulita.

🚗💨 DRIVING TO SAYULITA

Driving only makes sense from Puerto Vallarta or Guadalajara . In fact, if you’re just staying in Sayulita, you might want to skip driving at all.

However, if you’re you’re also visiting the great areas near Sayulita — Puerto Vallarta , San Francisco (AKA San Pancho ), Guadalajara, Tequila and San Sebastian del Oeste — a rental car is a great option.

🚌 BUS TO SAYULITA

You can take a bus to Sayulita from all places mentioned above. For longer trips, opt for a luxury class ticket on ADO or Primera Plus , as the price difference isn’t much, but the quality is significantly better.

Mexico Hidden Gems

Mexico travel guide: frequently asked questions.

flowers in the foreground and a beautiful horseshoe shaped bay with a few sailboats in the background, in Zihuatanejo, one of the Best Mexican Beach Towns

1. Is Mexico safe for travel?

Short answer: Yes! Aside from hurricanes and petty crime, all of the best Mexican beach towns listed here are safe, both for Mexico solo travel and travel with a group.

🎧 Love podcasts? Check out this Mexico podcast which does a deep dive into the topic of safe Mexico travel.

As no place on Earth is 100% safe, including Mexico, you’ll want to, of course, follow the 10 General Travel Safety Tips below, the same ones you would follow when traveling anywhere on Earth.

You should also register for the U.S. STEP Program and put your mind at ease by purchasing Mexico travel insurance .

Wondering Should I get travel insurance for Mexico?

Want an added level of security and peace of mind during these strange travel times?

Just as you insure your car, home and body, you can also insure your luggage, belongings and health while traveling.

If Mexico travel safety is on your mind, get your free quote below from World Nomads, one of the biggest names in travel insurance for Mexico and beyond.

  • Don’t walk home alone at night if you can help it.
  • Always listen to your intuition because your intuition is always right.
  • If you get a sketchy or uneasy feeling about a person or place, get away from that person or place immediately. If you feel you’re in danger, don’t worry about making a kind, nice, or politically correct exit from a creepy person or bad situation — Just get away ASAP.
  • Don’t keep your phone, keys, wallet, passport, or anything valuable in your back pocket.
  • Learn some basic Spanish. If you can’t learn it, save this infographic as an image on your phone so you have something to use even if you’re off-WiFi.
  • Take all of your belongings into the bathroom with you, rather than asking a cafe/bar neighbor to watch your things.
  • Speaking of bar neighbors, don’t take drinks from strangers and/or leave your drink unattended near one.
  • Don’t wear flashy clothes, expensive jewelry, designer sunglasses, etc.
  • Keep some cash in your pocket so you don’t have to pull your whole wallet out every time you need to pay.
  • This should be a no brainer since you’re traveling during a pandemic, but get Travel Insurance !

Make sure you enroll in the FREE   STEP Program  before your trip.

The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, or STEP, allows U.S. citizens traveling to Mexico to document your trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

After you’ve registered, the U.S. Embassy or Consulate can contact you in the event of an emergency, including natural disasters, civil unrest, etc.

STEP can also put you in touch with your family and friends back home, in the event of an emergency while abroad.

2. Is it safe to drive in Mexico?

woman overlooking the beach near her mexico rental car | renting a car in mexico

Short answer: Yes! In fact, the easiest, fastest and most convenient way to travel to most Mexico hidden gems is via rental car.

As a general rule, driving in Mexico is considered safe.

However, there’s the obvious caveat to that: Since you will be driving in another country, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with Mexico driving laws, or ask the agent at your car rental for advice.

For your convenience, there are 12 useful Mexico driving tips below to help you with how to drive in Mexico.

For a Mexico car rental provider, Discover Cars is a great company that compares prices at numerous Mexico car rental agencies all over the country to get you the best price.

3. Do I need a visa for Mexico?

Likely not — U.S., Canadian, Japanese and the majority of European passport holders don’t need a visa to travel to Mexico. This is just one reason Mexico is one of the best travel destinations for Americans and most other travelers.

When you arrive in Mexico and go through Customs and Immigration, you’ll receive a 180-day (6 month) FMM tourist visa.

This is a small piece of paper that you need to hold on to so you can give it back to an Immigration officer when you leave the country, so don’t lose your FMM!

🚨 Update on FMM visas

In 2022, some airports have switched to a passport stamp, rather than the FMM paper visa.

4. Best time to visit Mexico?

valle de bravo travel guide

For much of the country, the best time to visit is the Mexico dry season, November to March . During these cooler, winter months, temperatures are warm but pleasant.

However, make sure to double check the weather reports because places like in Central Mexico, like Mexico City and Guadalajara, do get cold.

If you’re visiting any of the Mexico beach towns , November to March is the perfect time because these months are warm, but not humid, and the mosquitoes are at bay.

It will also be after Hurricane Season ends, and you’ll likely have no rain at all.

5. What do I pack for Mexico?

colonial town with yellow walls and man on his bike in the street - day trips from Merida

Wondering exactly what to pack for Mexico? Head to this article for a complete guide on packing for your Mexico trip, Ultimate Packing List for Mexico .

🧳 FREE PRINTABLE PACKING LIST FOR MEXICO

In the article linked above, you can also download your FREE printable checklist so you don’t forget anything when you’re packing for Mexico.

This multi-page Mexico packing checklist covers both Mexico beach packing, and packing for Mexico City and all cities. It tells you everything you’ll want to bring, and more importantly, what not to bring to Mexico .

Final Thoughts: Best Mexico Hidden Gems

These 10 places featured here are all top Mexico destinations — for those who want to venture off the beaten path. They are all safe, beautiful, unique, and worth checking out.

While the phrase “off the beaten path” is subjective, I hope you discovered some places in Mexico you’ve never heard of after reading this article.

The 10 towns featured in this article might not have the name recognition of places like Cancun and Cabo, but they are some of the most beautiful places in Mexico, just not the usual ones you already know about.

In an effort to keep this article to a reasonable size, the list was capped to the Top 10 Mexico hidden gems. However, be sure to discover even more of Mexico in these related Mexico travel blogs.

  • 30 Best Mexican Beach Towns You Need to Visit Right Now
  • Solo Travel in Mexico: 20 Destinations You Need To Visit
  • 25 Best Places in the Yucatan Peninsula to Visit

Mexico Travel Planning Guide

Should i buy mexico travel insurance.

YES — With basic coverage averaging just $5-10 USD per day, enjoy peace of mind with a plan from Travel Insurance Master , one of the biggest names in travel insurance. ( Read more )

Can you drink the water in Mexico?

No — You’ll want to buy this Water-To-Go Bottle , which filters your drinking water so you don’t get sick from drinking water in Mexico.

Also, it helps keep you hydrated while traveling Mexico. ( Read more )

Is it safe to rent a car in Mexico?

Yes — Renting a car in Mexico is one of the best ways to see the country! I always rent with Discover Cars , which checks international companies and local Mexican companies, so you get the best rates. ( Read more )

Will my phone work in Mexico?

Maybe — It depends on your company, so check with your provider. If you don’t have free Mexico service, buy a Telcel SIM Card . As Mexico’s largest carrier, Telcel has the best coverage of any Mexico SIM Cards. ( Read more )

What’s the best way to book my Mexico accommodations?

For Mexico hotels, Booking.com is the best site , but for hostels, use Hostel World . If you’re considering a Mexico Airbnb, don’t forget to check VRBO , which is often cheaper than Airbnb.

What do I pack for Mexico?

Head to the Ultimate Mexico Packing List + FREE Checklist Download to get all the info you need on packing for Mexico.

What’s the best site to buy Mexico flights?

For finding cheap Mexico flights, I recommend using Skyscanner .

Do I need a visa for Mexico?

Likely Not — U.S., Canadian and European Passport holders don’t need a visa for Mexico; but check here to see if you need a Mexico travel visa. Most travelers will get a 180-Day FMM Tourist Visa passport stamp a upon arrival.

non tourist areas in mexico

Top 5 Non-Touristy Beach Towns In Mexico

  • Posted by Jaqueline Vega
  • January 16, 2023
  • Last updated: February 7, 2023

Mexico is the 8th most visited country in the world. More than 35 million tourists from all over the world come to the country every year to enjoy its food, culture, low prices, and beautiful landmarks.

That is great news for the economy of a country that is still in development. But it also has its downsides.

If you have ever visited the most popular tourist destinations in Mexico like Cancun or Cabo, you know that they can get crowded. VERY crowded. Especially during spring and summer breaks.

Another problem is that these towns have turned 100% into tourist traps. Things are starting to become almost as expensive as in the US or Europe. That culture of friendliness, community, and even the color that characterizes Mexican towns is a little bit lost and has been replaced by very generic all-inclusive resorts. I mean, what’s the point of even coming to Mexico if you are just going to stay inside the gates of a hotel, right? you might as well go to Florida in that case.

This is why many people are starting to look for alternative destinations. Thankfully, Mexico has more than enough beautiful beach towns and there are still lots of them that have kept their essence. Some of these are well-kept secrets by Mexican locals that prefer to vacation in these spots instead of having to spend 3 or 4 times as much in Tulum.

In this article, I’ll reveal the best non-touristy beach town in Mexico. These are all safe places that you should definitely consider for your next vacation, or why not, if you are thinking about moving to the country.

Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca

Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca

The estate of Oaxaca is probably the country’s most underrated, but one of the most beautiful destinations. It is located in the southwestern part of Mexico. Here you will find the town of Puerto Escondido which literally means hidden port . And this town is definitely one hidden jewel.

Puerto Escondido is well known to Mexicans, but it is not as famous worldwide. As a result, you will find a more quiet, relaxed, and colorful environment. It is a great place for surfing, snorkeling, ecotourism, and wildlife sighting. The main attraction in that regard are the boat tours to see the whales that arrive between December and March to give birth in warmer waters.

The town has a very colonial feeling to it. Many of the hotels, even the most luxurious ones, were built by renovating buildings from that time period. This gives them a very homely, friendly feeling.

There are 7 different beaches around Puerto Escondido to enjoy, and a lot more if you don’t mind traveling a bit. The main one is simply called playa principal (main beach). It is nice but it is a bit crowded and all the fishing boats on the coast don’t allow you to fully appreciate it. If you want something quieter, try Bacocho which is popular for surfing. There’s also Playa Coral which is almost exclusively visited by locals and Zicatela where you’ll find the nightlife.

The easiest way to get to Puerto Escondido is by plane. The town has a small, but functional airport. You can get a direct flight from Mexico City or connect via Oaxaca’s airport. If you look at a map, you might be tempted to go to Oaxaca City and take a bus from there. My recommendation is don’t. Even though the distance seems short, the ride from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido is over 10 hours long as you have to go through the mountains.

Sayulita, Nayarit

Sayulita, Nayarit

I have written many times about Sayulita before. I even ranked it as one of the best beach towns to visit in Mexico on a budget . And there are good reasons for it.

This tiny 2,300 people town deserves more attention than it gets. The reason why it is a bit underappreciated is that it is less than an hour away from the more popular city of Puerto Vallarta . However, that is good news for someone looking for non-touristy towns as it has helped Sayulita keep its charm.

One of the most peculiar things about Sayulita that you will notice on arrival is that everyone is riding golf carts. This is because cobblestone streets were very popular in the region and they have never really replaced them. Golf carts are much better at navigating them and because the town is so small, they are good enough for the short travel distances.

Sayulita is one of the most colorful towns I’ve visited in Mexico, and that is to say a lot. The whole town is constantly being adorned for various celebrations.

Just like most of the other beaches on Mexico’s Pacific coast, Sayulita is great for surfing and snorkeling.

Even though the town is small, it can get a bit crowded in the Summer. Especially the main beach. Thankfully, Sayulita has more than 9 different beaches nearby and if you don’t mind walking and hiking a bit, you can find secluded beaches like La Lancha or Patzuarito .

Sayulita is perfect for people who want to relax quietly in front of a beautiful beach. It is also one of the most affordable beach towns in Mexico so you won’t even need to break the bank to stay while.

The easiest way to get to Sayulita is to get to Puerto Vallarta’s airport and take a taxi or bus from there. The ride is between 30-60 minutes.

Puerto Morelos, Quintana Roo

Puerto Morelos, Quintana Roo

Out of all the Mexican beach towns on this list, this could be considered the most touristy. I still think it is important talking about it because if you want to visit or live in the Mayan Riviera, it is the most non-touristy, but still gorgeous option in the area.

Puerto Morelos is barely 30 minutes away from Cancun and an hour from Tulum. Because it is still a fishing town, it has managed to keep most of its identity, charm, and character. The town is still growing like most of the region, but instead of huge resorts and casinos, Puerto Morelos is turning more into a residential area with gated communities, condos, etc.

Another advantage of Puerto Morelos is that there is a higher percentage of English-speaking people. Communication is less of a problem than in places like Oaxaca where English is only spoken in hotels and by other foreigners.

Like the rest of the Mayan Riviera, Puerto Morelos is very attractive to people who are into wildlife and ecotourism. You can visit the cenotes (natural underground pools), take boat tours into the ocean, or visit one of the many wildlife reserves in the area.

Puerto Morelos is a small town. But being so close to Cancun means that if you ever want to go out and look for nightlife or go shopping, it is nice knowing you are just a short ride away.

It is hard to know for how long Puerto Morelos will remain a non-touristy town. Its growth has accelerated over the past 10 years. But for the time being, it is still very much worth a visit.

Manzanillo, Colima

Manzanillo, Colima

Colima is the smallest estate in Mexico. It is located in the western part of the country by the Pacific Ocean. Despite its size, it has dozens of gorgeous beaches to visit.

Manzanillo is by far the most popular one. It is a resort town with lots of activity during the holidays and Summer vacations. But wait, wasn’t this article about the exact opposite? Yes, let me explain.

Colima is so small that many of its beaches don’t really have developed towns around them. The reason I’m listing Manzanillo is because you can set your base here, but instead of going to Manzanillo’s beach, you can escape to one of the other nearby beaches that are much nicer and quieter and you will have them pretty much all for yourself.

On top of that, if you are going during the off-season, even Manzanillo becomes a pretty quiet and chill town.

Beaches like Bahia de Santiago , Barra de Navidad , La Boquita , and Olas Altas (high waves) are only a short drive away and most of the time they don’t have large crowds.

Another advantage of Manzanillo is that it is still relatively inexpensive compared to other beach towns in Mexico.

San Jose del Cabo, BCS

San Jose del Cabo, BCS

Did you know there are like 5 different towns called “ something Cabo” in the Cabo region? I don’t know who decided to name them but they made things very confusing.

The city that most people refer to when they talk about “Cabo” is Cabo San Lucas . It is located off the coast of Baja California Sur , a few hours away from the border with the United States. This is not the city I want to talk to you about here. What I want to talk about is San Jose del Cabo , its much smaller sister town.

Located about 30 minutes away from Cabo, San Jose del Cabo is a better option for those looking for the non-touristy experience.

San Jose del Cabo still maintains a very colonial look and a colorful, charming exterior. Even the small town square still has a traditional gazebo at the center.

Pretty much all the outdoors activities that Cabo advertises are close to San Jose del Cabo too. And it is even closer to the airport.

Jaqueline Vega

Jaqueline Vega

Jackie Vega is a Canadian journalist that spends her time traveling the world, writing about it, and helping other people achieve the same dream.

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Must-Visit Mexico Destinations (That Aren’t Cancun Or Tulum)

Mexico is so much more than a resort destination, and these lesser-known, non-touristy spots will have you booking a vacation ASAP.

International travelers eagerly head to Mexico to enjoy the country's exquisite beaches, abundant sunshine, and delicious cuisine. While tourist hotspots like Cancún and Tulum promise to please wanderers on the hunt for some coastal relaxation, several destinations in Mexico offer an authentic experience that can't be found by staying on the beaten path. Rich history, small-town charm, and unique landscapes round out this catalog of less-traveled spots in Mexico that deserve a place on that ever-growing travel bucket list.

Historical beauty and creative wonder unite to make Puebla a dream destination for culture enthusiasts. Charming, cobblestone streets replace crowded beaches, and the buildings come alive with vibrant colors guaranteed to put a smile on travelers' faces.

The entirety of Puebla's city center is a UNESCO world heritage site , the architecture reflecting the region's rich history with stunning cathedrals and colonial buildings. Top-notch museums highlight the works of artists new and old, and the signature Mole and local sweet treats give guests even more to savor. By night the enlivening sounds of mariachi echo through the streets, beckoning travelers to find their rhythm.

9 Isla De Las Muñecas (Island Of The Dolls)

Most people hop on a boat during a vacation in hopes of seeing a slice of paradise not visible from the mainland. Travelers with an affinity for all things strange will find what they're looking for lingering in the waters near Mexico City.

The Island of the Dolls is precisely what it sounds like. A short boat ride takes travelers to a tiny island overrun by dolls hanging from trees, peeping through the windows of houses, and decorating the roadsides. Local folklore tells the spooky and fascinating story of how and why the dolls ended up on the island , sparking the curiosity of tourists everywhere.

Tlaxcala is another Mexican destination that perfectly blends the past with the present. The region contains over a thousand archaeological sites, including the impressive Cacaxtla with preserved ancient Mayan murals and ceremonial buildings. Ancient pyramids and ruins take travelers back in time in Xochitecatl, a location steeped in pre-Colombian history dating back over 2,000 years. The colorful capital is home to Palacio de Gobierno, an orange-tiled palace decorated in the highly realistic murals of renowned Mexican artist Desiderio Hernández Xochitiotzin.

Related:  The Complete Guide To Visiting The Most Impressive Mayan Ruins In 5 Countries

7 Puerto Escondido

The vibes are good in Puerto Escondido, a less-traveled beach town renowned for its prime surfing on the Mexican Pipeline. The beaches are as beautiful as top destinations like Cancún, but the skyline is free of high-rise hotels. Instead, small boutique inns and authentic eateries serving up delicious local fare rule the land, enhancing the laid-back feel of the coastal Oaxacan paradise.

The remote village of Yelapa is ideal for travelers looking for somewhere to unplug.  The town sits inside the cove of Bahía de Banderas, a bay wreathed by lush jungle and decorated by cascading waterfalls. There are no cars, no electricity, and no phones, making Yelapa a unique escape from the bustle of tourist hotspots. Travelers can access the remote wonderland by water taxis that regularly depart from Puerto Vallarta, witnessing the developed coasts transform into a wild landscape straight from a daydream.

5 Zacatecas

Zacatecas overflows with natural and architectural beauty. The region was a silver mining hub during the 16th-century, and the fortunes acquired are on display in the impressive colonial buildings lining the streets. Travelers will witness remnants of history on underground train rides to Mina el Edén, a prosperous mine with striking mineral formations and antique machinery. The pink-hued Catedral de Zacatecas rises from the historic city center, warming the eyes and hearts of architecture lovers.

4 Barrancas Del Cobre (Copper Canyon)

Move over, Grand Canyon . It's time to shed some light on Chihuahua's Barrancas del Cobre, a collection of massive canyons in the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range. Outdoor adventure enthusiasts can spend several days exploring the natural playground named for its copper-hued rock faces.

Two distinct environmental zones make the area one of the most biodiverse in Mexico. Snow-capped mountains covered in dense pine forest exist near subtropical flora in the canyon's plateaus, attracting an array of unique wildlife. The destination is popular among hikers, rock climbers, and anyone moved by the incredible beauty of nature.

3 Parras De La Fuente

Travelers looking to fill their cups will find what they're looking for in Parras de la Fuente. The village name is often prefixed with "Pueblo Mágico," which means "magical village." Groves of walnut and cypress trees rise from fertile ground fed by enchanting springs, an environmental curiosity considering the region is surrounded by desert.

Parras de la Fuente is known for its vineyards and wine cellars, including the oldest in the country, Casa Madero. The picturesque village is also home to Estanque la Luz, a beautiful turquoise-colored pond surrounded by lush vegetation ripe for a relaxing soak session.

Related:  The Ultimate Guide to Wine Tasting in Napa

There's something for everyone in Mérida. The capital city of the Mexican state of Yucatán is a culture lover's heaven. A distinctive blend of Mayan and conquistador history come together to provide an authentic flavor absent from many tourist hotspots. Visitors head to the archaeological site Dzibilchaltún to watch the sunrise through the doorways of the Temple of Seven Dolls, named for the discovery of seven effigies uncovered during discovery. Colorful colonial buildings line the charming, narrow streets, and exotic fruits fill market stalls in broad plazas. Impressive cathedrals and museums give travelers even more to explore.

1 Todos Santos

The diverse mix of residents in Todos Santos gives the charming town its unique culture. Fishermen, artists, surfers, and spiritual folk unite to provide a retreat that's as welcoming as it is beautiful. Anyone attracted to the stunning landscapes of Cabo San Lucas can enjoy much of the same scenery without all the touristy business, as Todos Santos is only an hour's drive from the more-traveled destination. Aside from its picturesque beaches, Todos Santos boasts delicious, creative cuisine and several galleries exhibiting local art.

Next:  Dos & Don'ts Of Visiting Mexico (That You Didn't Think Of)

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23 Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in Mexico City (2024)

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If you’re looking for some of the best non-touristy things to do in Mexico City, you’ve come to the right place!

As the capital of Mexico, there are so many touristy things to do there. It’s one of the largest cities in the world ! Not all touristy activities are bad.

However, sometimes you just want a more local experience that takes you off the beaten path. There are some really cool non-touristy things to do in Mexico City, too!

We’ve spent a lot of time in Mexico, including over a month in Mexico City. Based on our travels, we know that CDMX is one of the best places to vacation in Mexico .

Thanks to our exhaustive personal research, this post has the coolest non-touristy things to do in Mexico City.

What Places Are Not Touristy In Mexico City?

If you want to explore Mexico City, the largest in Latin America, don’t limit yourself to the tourist areas. Those are Centro Historico, Polanco, Condesa, and Roma.

The couple of blocks immediately surrounding the Frida Kahlo House in Coyoacan is pretty touristy as well. If you plan to go there, get your tickets well in advance!

Reforma isn't one of the non-touristy things to do in Mexico City but biking the Paseo reforma on SUndays is a lot of fun. It's busy but mostly filled with locals.

While you will see tourists in other places , there will be far fewer of them. Generally, the non-touristy things to do in Mexico City are generally outside of those five neighborhoods.

Pro Tip: Brush up on your Spanish . There are far fewer English speakers at the non-touristy things to do in Mexico City.

Especially if it’s your first time in Mexico City, you may want to mix the touristy and non-touristy things to do in Mexico City.

Regardless of how many times you’ve been to CDMX before, at least a couple of items from this list should be on your Mexico City itinerary.

Non-Touristy Things To Do In Mexico City

There are some really unique places to visit in Mexico City beyond the historic district, Chapultepec Park, and the Frida Kahlo Museum. Based on my family’s experiences in CDMX, here’s our list of favorites!

1. Lucha Libre Show

A lucha libre match is a uniquely mexican choice of non-touristy things to do in Mexico City

This is one of the most unique things to do in Mexico City. It’s also an activity in Mexico City that is authentically Mexican. We went to family night, which takes place every Sunday at 5 pm.

👉 Search here for available Lucha Libre matches at Arena Mexico.

Lucha Libre shows generally last about three hours. There are several rounds of matches, starting with the entry-level luchadores and escalating to the biggest names.

Take cash for food and drinks. Like performances in US arenas, vendors walk the aisles selling snacks, soda, and beer.

2. Street Food

Eating street food is another one of our favorite non-touristy things to do in Mexico City

A traditional Mexican food tour will take you off the beaten path Mexico City style. You’ll discover new types of local food you won’t ever find at home.

Whether you want to stick to Centro Historico or venture further afield, there are several amazing street food tours in Mexico City. Each one has stellar reviews.

👉 This street food tour stays only in Centro Historico and includes a visit to an Aztec market.

👉 This street taco tour includes unlimited tacos!

👉 This street food tour is in Polanco, a CDMX culinary hotspot!

While a street food tour is typically enjoyed by visitors to CDMX, this isn’t an activity that’ll be crawling with hundreds or thousands of other visitors at the same time.

Most tours actually limit the group size to ensure you have a more intimate, local experience. That makes this a great non-touristy thing to do in Mexico City since it’s designed for travelers , not tourists.

From churros to mole, there is something for everyone in a CDMX street food tour ! Plus, you’ll get to experience new ways of making and serving some of your hometown favorites.

Each neighborhood in Mexico City has its own unique restaurants and food options.

3. Go to a Futbol Game

non tourist areas in mexico

Futbol, also known as soccer to Americans, is incredibly popular in Mexico. Aztec Stadium, in Mexico City, is home to the national soccer team of Mexico.

👉 Search here for available futbol matches at Aztec Stadium.

Out of all the non-touristy things to do in Mexico City, Estadio Azteca is certainly one of the more fun places in Mexico City.

If you aren’t familiar with how seriously Mexicans take futbol you may think a game here is one of the more crazy things to do in Mexico City.

While it’s not a Manchester United match in the UK, fans here do get pretty excited during the games.

4. See the Xoximilco Canals…at Sunrise!

A long row of gondolas tied together, not being used at Xochimilco. Photo was taken early in the morning before most tourists arrived.

Yes, the Xoximilco Canals are touristy. But not at sunrise! Most people go in the afternoon or evening so they can drink while they ride.

But if you go early in the morning, you can enjoy an absolutely peaceful Xochimilco experience with the sun coming up over the canals.

👉 This sunrise Xochimilco tour even includes a yoga session! Ages 15+ only.

The boats are still decorated with colorful lights and music, but without all of the extra noise and partying that usually goes on.

We went early in the morning and there were only a couple of other boats. Most of them were still tied together on the dock!

It’s definitely worth getting up early for! Plus, you get to see a lot more of the local wildlife, like turtles and ducks.

You *might* even see an axolotl, as this is their natural habitat. It’s truly a unique experience!

5. Island of Dolls in Xochimilco

Dolls hung on fences, trees, and a hut on Doll Island in the Xochimilco canals. One of the dark tourism destinations in Mexico City.

So you don’t want to get up early but you still want to see the Xoximilco canals without throngs of tourists?

👉 This tour to the Island of the Dolls on the outskirts of Xochimilco may be just what you need to book.

Deep in the canals of Xochimilco, just south of Mexico City, is the Island of the Dolls. Also known as Isla de las Muñecas, this small island fascinates with its eerie atmosphere and unsettling collection of dolls.

Legend has it that many years ago, Julian Santana Barrera, the island’s inhabitant, discovered the body of a drowned girl nearby and was subsequently haunted by her spirit.

To appease her restless soul, Julian started collecting dolls and hanging them on trees and structures across the island. The collection grew over time, with dolls of different sizes and conditions adorning the island.

Today, visitors to the Island of the Dolls can witness this macabre scene. Dolls with missing limbs, faded paint, and vacant stares dangle from branches, fences, and buildings. The atmosphere is truly unique.

6. Casa Gilardi

Casa Gilardi is an archtectural gem and one of the more unique non-touristy things to do in Mexico City

The Gilardi House was designed and built in the late 1970s by Mexican architect, Luis Barragan. It is still owned and lived in by the family for whom he designed it.

They do allow tours of their museum house, and it’s absolutely worthwhile to do one.

Pro Tip: Tours are by appointment only .

Not only does the house have unique architecture but it also incorporates colors, textures, sequences, and arrangements of spaces in different ways.

Gilardi House is one of Mexico City’s hidden gems. However, it is at risk of becoming an Instagrammers paradise. Go before they take it over.

7. Biblioteca Vasconcelos

Seeing whale skeletons in a library is one of Little Man's favorite non-touristy things to do in Mexico City

The Buenavistaneighborhood is one of the less touristy places in Mexico City, and we spent a lot of time just wandering around.

This modern library in the Buenavista neighborhood is so unassuming from the outside that we walked past it twice before realizing what it was.

Glad we figured it out! There’s a massive whale skeleton inside the main room, which is truly a sight to behold!

The library itself gets pretty busy with tourists, especially on weekends. Visit on a weekday morning, to avoid the crowds.

Pro Tip: Spend most of your visit in the library’s botanical garden.

Most tourists never venture outside so you can have this practically deserted botanical garden to yourself. It contains more than 160 types of plants and covers a massive 26,000 sqm (279,862 sqft).

Compared to the chaos of Latin America’s largest city, the gardens are an oasis of calm.

8. Ride a Cable Car

It was a great choice of non-touristy things to do in Mexico City with friends since we could all ride the cablebus together.

Many museums in Mexico City are closed on Mondays. Even Chapultepec Park, and all the attractions inside it, are closed that day. So you need to plan ahead to ensure you have things to do in Mexico City on Monday.

Cable cars are part of the public transit system in Mexico City and only cost 7 pesos to ride. They’re called the Cablebus.

These sky gondola systems connect the most mountainous neighborhoods with the rest of the city because they’re too steep for subways or buses.

➡️ The southern cable bus route starts at the Constitucion 1917 metro station. It offers views of homes that paint intricate murals on their rooftops. ➡️ The northern route begins at the Indios Verdes metro station. It showcases the colorful neighborhoods that paint their homes rainbow colors. ➡️ The NW Santa Clara line is more difficult to get to since it starts at the Santa Clara Mexibus stop instead of a Metro (subway) station.

9. Visit a Lesser-Known Museum

Even non-touristy things to do in Mexico City get touristy on weekend afternoons and holidays. Pick your timing wisely.

There are over 150 museums in Mexico City . Most tourists simply follow their travel guides and stick to the best-known – the National Museum of Anthropology, Frida Kahlo’s Blue House, and the Palace of Fine Arts.

If you want to avoid the major crowds but still get a bit of culture, then visit a lesser-known museum. These are some of the best activities in Mexico City.

Pro Tip: Museo del Carmen has an interesting and creepy mummy collection while el Museo de Juguetes Antiguos has an extensive collection of toys.

Our two favorites were Museo Soumaya and the Diego Rivera Mural Museum . These two can get pretty crowded on weekend afternoons and holidays but are practically empty on weekday mornings.

10. See the “Momias”

Entrance to Museo El Carmen in Mexico City, with a map of the premesis to the left of the arched, wooden doorway.

No, not moms. Mummies. Yes, seriously! Located in the San Angel neighborhood, this museum is rarely visited by tourists. At least not foreign tourists.

Did you know mummies are common in Mexico, particularly in the arid north? They’ve been found in burial sites from pre-Hispanic and colonial eras.

In Guanajuato, the most famous mummies draw tourists to the municipal cemetery. These mummies occur naturally and are often found in above-ground burials like crypts.

Mummification can also happen in wetter climates, like at El Carmen. The identities of the mummies remain unconfirmed, but they are dressed in both men’s and women’s clothing.

The most common theory is that the mummies belong to the family that funded the building of El Carmen as a church. Fascinating, right?

Note : No photos are allowed inside because the caretakers are committed to preventing any degradation of the mummies.

11. Visit the Kiosco Morisco

non tourist areas in mexico

The Kiosco Morisco (Moorish Kiosk) is a lovely anomaly in the Santa María la Ribera neighborhood of Mexico City.

It’s elaborately detailed with rich colors in a design that seems somewhat at odds with its surroundings.

The Kiosco Morisco is made entirely of steel and is best known for the gorgeously elaborate, Islamic-inspired geometric patterns that curl around the 44 external and eight internal pillars.

The ceiling and roof are topped by a small glass dome and bronze eagle.

The best time to see this kiosk in its full glory is amidst the local Sunday Market that takes place at Parque Santa Elena de Ribena, where the kiosk is located.

We stayed just two blocks from this park so we visited the park and the kiosk several times. It’s one of the top free things to do in Mexico City.

12. Visit the Museo Mucho Chocolate

Grinding dried cacao seeds into paste so it can be made into chocolate.

Explore the amazing Mexico City Chocolate Museum, where you’ll find a delightful fusion of history and modernity. Mexico City off the beaten path has never tasted so good!

Get ready to immerse yourself in captivating exhibits that will awaken your senses. Take a fascinating tour through the galleries, indulge in delicious chocolate tastings, and witness the art of metate.

And don’t forget to bring home some exquisite treats from the MUCHO Chocolate shop, for the ultimate indulgence.

In addition to being one of the tastiest non-touristy things to do in Mexico City, it’s also a must-visit destination for all chocolate lovers in CDMX as well!

13. Eat at Some Unique Restaurants

David and Little Man sitting at a tie fighter shaped table surrounded by Star Wars themed memorabilia at a Star Wars themed restaurant in Mexico City.

Themed restaurants are all the rage in Mexico City! From zombies and witches to Alice in Wonderland and Harry Potter, there are restaurants and coffee shops for every kind of interest.

Look beyond the fancy, touristy restaurants in Roma and Condesa. Eat where the locals eat, but not on those amazing food tours I mentioned earlier. (Do those too!)

If you want to feel like a Disney Princess or stomp like a stormtrooper, there’s something for you. You’ll just need to be willing to go off the beaten track Mexico City in order to enjoy them!

When we ate at most of these, I rarely even saw another foreigner so go have a weird mealtime!

14. See CDMX From Above

non tourist areas in mexico

The view from Torre Latinamerica offers a 360 view of the city. But it’s also one of the top tourist attractions in Mexico City so it’s pretty touristy. Don’t worry, we already did a search for alternate amazing views.

Go to the top floor of the Sears building across from the Palace of Fine Arts to see it from up high. The crowds are far smaller and the view is pretty spectacular.

Or go to the top of the Monument of the Revolution. The ride up to the center of the dome in the glass elevator is well worth it.

While you won’t get the same view as from Torre Latinamerica, it’s still a pretty sight to see Mexico City from above the chaos.

15. Explore the Diego Rivera Murals

Full photo of the famous Diego Rivera Mural in Mexico City.

Although Frida Kahlo is the most famous Mexican artist that I know, Diego Rivera (her husband) was an incredibly talented painter in his own right.

Explore the vibrant art scene of Mexico City through iconic locations showcasing Diego Rivera’s famous murals.

Discover his vibrant works on building walls in the Centro Histórico and experience his life at Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo in San Angel.

If you’re up for a touristy experience, don’t miss the opportunity to explore the Frida Kahlo Museum in Coyoacán or El Palacio de Bellas Artes, both of which also exhibit some of Rivera’s masterpieces.

While you wind your way through touristy and non-touristy things to do in Mexico City, this is one way to authentically enjoy your journey through the city’s rich artistic tapestry!

16. Planetario Luis Enrique Erro

non tourist areas in mexico

This planetarium is the oldest modern planetarium in Latin America.

Obviously, the Aztecs, Mayans, and other early cultural groups also built amazing observatories as we saw at Chichen Itza .

It has tons of exhibits and you can get up close and personal (kind of) with the night sky.

The planetarium also offers interactive exhibits and science workshops in addition to the night sky dome show. It’s not just for kids!

17. Tour the National Palace

Main courtyard with fountain of the National Palace in the Mexico City Zocalo. Photo was taken from a second floor alcove.

The National Palace of Mexico, also known as Palacio National, offers remarkable off-the-beaten-path tours in Mexico City. Despite its central location in the Zocalo, these tours are often overlooked due to limited online information.

Palacio National is an impressive colonial building in Mexico City, constructed on the ruins of the Palace of Aztec Emperor Moctezuma.

With glass floors revealing ancient ruins and a remarkable collection of Diego Rivera’s wall murals, including the famous “History of Mexico,” the palace offers a captivating experience.

To visit the National Palace and see the stunning Diego Rivera murals, you’ll need to join a guided tour. The tour is free, but make sure to schedule in advance.

Head to the ticket office at the Museum of Art of the Ministry of Finance & Public Credit for reservations. If you haven’t booked, you can try your luck with last-minute cancellations.

18. Relax at Chapultepec Park’s Audiorama

Colorful benches at Audiorama in Chapultepec Park. A man is sitting on a blue bench, listening to calming music.

Bosque de Chapultepec is one of the largest urban parks in Latin America. It’s a haven for both locals and tourists.

We’ve spent a lot of time there, as their zoo and playground are pretty amazing.

Beyond the well-known tourist spots, like the Anthropology Museum, lies a world of Mexico City hidden gems waiting to be discovered.

One such gem is the serene Audiorama , where you can immerse yourself in calming music and find solace for reading and relaxation. It’s actually just behind the Chapultepec Castle.

Be sure to explore and uncover the lesser-known treasures of this sprawling and captivating park!

Non Touristy Things To Do Near Mexico City

Don’t be afraid to travel outside the Mexico City limits when seeking some unusual and non-touristy things to do in the nation’s capitol.

19. Day Trip to Puebla

puebla mexico travel guide

We spent a bit of time in Puebla but it is absolutely worth a day trip from Mexico City if that’s all the time you have available.

👉 This day trip tour takes you to all our favorite places in Puebla!

From the rich history of Cinco de Mayo (which is not Mexican Independence Day) to the beautiful architecture and ornate churches surrounding the Zocalo, a day trip is time well spent.

👉 I recommend using Discover Cars for renting a car on your trip!

If you want to enjoy the secret Puebla sites that most tourists don’t even know about, though, then you need to hire a guided tour. These locals will take you underneath practically forgotten pre-Mayan ruins to explore secret tunnels.

20. Desierto de los Leones

non tourist areas in mexico

Heading to one of Mexico’s coniferous national parks is one of the more adventurous things to do in Mexico City.

Desert of the Lions National Park is close enough to CDMX that it’s ideal for an escape from the madness of the city center.

👉 Rent a car in CDMX so you can more easily get around the park.

The most popular thing to do in this park, other than the hiking trails, is visiting the abandoned convent. It’s both cool and a bit spooky.

Originally, it was built in the early 1600s by a sect of barefoot monks who wanted peace and quiet in which to meditate. It’s been abandoned since the early 1800s.

There is also a unique structure there called Casa del Arbol, or the Tree House. Casa de Arbol in Parque Nacional Desierto de Los Leones was designed by Guillermo and Sidartha Siliceo, a father-son duo.

It’s a 25-cabin complex built on Buddhist principles and eco-friendly concepts.

There is no shuttle system within the park, so if you don’t have a car you are stuck wherever a taxi from CDMX drops you off.

And you need to negotiate a price in advance for them to return from CDMX to pick you up. Driving yourself is much easier.

21. Grutas de Cacahuamilpa National Park

non tourist areas in mexico

Despite being 160 kilometers south of Mexico City along an extremely windy route, a sightseeing trip to Grutas de Cacahuamilpa National Park is definitely worth the effort.

👉 Book a tour for this day trip so you don’t have to drive yourself!

The biggest attraction in this large park is the Grutas de Cacahuamilpa, or Caverns of Cacahuamilpa, one of the world’s largest cave systems. There’s also a smaller network in the park called Grutas de Carlos Pacheco.

Grutas de Cacahuamilpa has some of the most spectacular subterranean landscapes anywhere, including long tunnels carved out by underground rivers.

It also has a variety of fascinating stalactite and stalagmite formations extending through 16 chambers.

Fun Fact: One of the rock formations is 80 meters wide and 77 meters high!

22. Go Wine Tasting

Brodi wearing sunglassess, a tshirt, shorts, and sandals while posing with her arms raised between rows of grape vines in a vineyard.

Yes, Mexico is known for tequila and mezcal. However, it also has a really great wine region in Central Mexico.

Wine is one of the hidden gems Mexico City offers to tourists willing to venture outside the metropolis.

👉 Taking a wine-tasting day trip from Mexico City is a really unique non-touristy thing to do near Mexico City!

You’ll escape the hustle and bustle and visit a vineyard in Querétaro & Peña de Bernal. During the journey, you’ll get to see the stunning landscape of central Mexico and head straight to Peña de Bernal.

Take your time to admire the beautiful scenery and snap some amazing pictures. Our next stop will be the magical town of Bernal. You’ll have free time to shop and explore the charming streets.

And the best part? We’ll visit the Freixenet Wine Cellar, where you can learn about winemaking, savor delicious Mexican Tapas, and of course, indulge in the exquisite taste of unique wines.

Get ready for a day trip to Querétaro with a bilingual guide, visit one of the world’s largest monoliths, and enjoy a tasting at a local winery. It’s going to be an unforgettable experience!

23. Tula Warriors

Stand-up, stone carvings of Tula Warriors on display outdoors with a protective railing preventing people from touching them, all outside Mexico City.

👉 If you’re looking for a historically significant experience, make sure to put the Tula warriors on your CMDX itinerary .

The Tula warriors are massive statues located in the ancient city of Tula, just outside Mexico City. Tula, also known as Tollan, was the capital of the Toltec civilization from 850 to 1150 CE.

It is home to the impressive archaeological site where the towering basalt warriors, known as Atlantes or Toltec warriors, represent the military prowess and cultural heritage of the Toltec people.

Visiting Tula offers a unique opportunity to appreciate their craftsmanship and delve into Mexico’s ancient past. Marvel at the impressive sculptures and connect with history at this fascinating archaeological site.

So, if you’re interested in experiencing the grandeur of ancient Mesoamerican culture, make sure to include a visit to the Tula warriors on your non-touristy things to do in Mexico City travel itinerary.

What Should You Avoid In Mexico City?

If you want a more local experience, don’t hang out in Condesa, Centro Historico, Polanco, or Roma for too long. They’re full of tourists and expats, and that’s clearly not your vibe if you’re reading this post.

Also avoid unsafe areas, like Mercado Merced and Tepito. Yes, there are some unique markets there but they are also huge draws for all sorts of unsavory types.

Visits there are some of the crazy things to do in Mexico City. There are plenty of other non-touristy things to do in Mexico City that are safer and more fun .

There are safe neighborhoods in Mexico City that have a bit more local flavor. We love the Buenavista area, especially because some of the best non-touristy things to do in Mexico City are located there!

non tourist areas in mexico

What not to miss in Mexico City?

I know they’re touristy but the National Museum of Anthropology and the Zocalo are both amazing. Don’t miss them.

The National Museum of Anthropology is home to important archaeological and anthropological artifacts from the pre-Hispanic period. It also houses significant collections of Mesoamerican art, and has beautiful gardens.

The Zocalo is a big public plaza that has been in existence since Aztec times. It’s great for people watching and contains some amazing structures, including the Metropolitan Cathedral and the National Palace.

As far as non-touristy things to do in Mexico City, don’t miss watching a Lucha Libre match or riding the cable cars. The latter is probably my favorite thing we did in Mexico City during our entire stay!

David and Little Man walking outside in the gardens of the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.

Getting Around In Mexico City

Driving within Mexico City is stressful. We lived in Chicago (not the suburbs) for over 16 years, so I know stressful driving. Drivers are assertive, traffic jams are everywhere, and highway on-ramps are much shorter than in the US.

We had our car in Mexico City since we were driving the Pan American Highway to South America at the time. Don’t drive to all the unusual things to do in Mexico City. Trust me.

We left our car parked except for the day trips we took outside the city limits. If you have a car, this is what I recommend you do as well.

non tourist areas in mexico

Instead, rely on public transit and rideshare services. The subway and red buses are very easy to use. We took them all over the city during our stay. Just don’t ride them at night.

In addition, there are three reputable rideshare services that operate in CDMX: Uber, Didi, and Beat. When not surging, the price to get around town is less than 100 pesos ($5 USD).

You can even link your credit card to the rideshare service apps to minimize the amount of cash you need to have on hand.

Related Reading: 29 Things to Do in Mexico City with Kids Is Puebla Worth Visiting? Visiting Teotihuacan from Mexico City

Conclusion: Non Touristy Things To Do In Mexico City

We did a mix of touristy and non-touristy things to do in Mexico City during our visit.

After all, the National Museum of Anthropology has the largest collection of Meso-American artifacts on earth and is one of the  world’s  most comprehensive natural history museums.

But if that’s just not your thing, then don’t go. That’s the beauty of travel. There are so many ways to enjoy it.

There are plenty of amazing non-touristy things to do in Mexico City on this list. If you do everything we suggest here, you can easily keep busy during a multi-week vacation.

👉 While we have global health insurance for our day-to-day lives, we also elect travel insurance with SafetyWing for our spurts of fast travel adventure!

Brodi Cole

Author: Brodi Cole

Brodi Cole is a full-time digital nomad who travels the world with her family. She made the switch to blogging and content writing after spending more than a decade and a half working as a Human Resources Manager and Director. Since transitioning her family to a digital nomad lifestyle, they've visited over 20 countries together (and counting) in the last ten years! In addition to traveling extensively through Canada, the USA, and the Caribbean, she's also visited Asia, Europe, and South America. She spent most of the pandemic living in Malaysia before living in Mexico for over a year and then driving the Pan-American Highway from the USA to the southernmost tip of Argentina. Brodi is also a freelance SEO writer and editor, sharing her expertise with other companies and bloggers. She has a Bachelor's Degree in English Literature and a Master's Degree in Human Resources Management.

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Brodi Cole is a full-time digital nomad who travels the world with her family. She made the switch to blogging and content writing after spending more than a decade and a half working as a Human Resources Manager and Director.

Since transitioning her family to a digital nomad lifestyle, they've visited over 20 countries together (and counting) in the last ten years!

In addition to traveling extensively through Canada, the USA, and the Caribbean, she's also visited Asia, Europe, and South America.

She spent most of the pandemic living in Malaysia before living in Mexico for over a year and then driving the Pan-American Highway from the USA to the southernmost tip of Argentina.

Brodi is also a freelance SEO writer and editor, sharing her expertise with other companies and bloggers. She has a Bachelor's Degree in English Literature and a Master's Degree in Human Resources Management.

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non tourist areas in mexico

logo with a sun and stars over mountains

THE PERFECT YUCATAN ITINERARY FOR ROAD TRIPS OR BACKPACKING

15 Jun 2023   ||    MEXICO

The Yucatan Peninsula – accurately depicted as a beach lined, jungle shrouded paradise. With distinctive cuisine, numerous Mayan ruins, comfortable accommodation, vibrant colonial cities with affordable prices, this Yucatan itinerary is ideal for an exciting road trip or backpacking adventure. Include the well maintained, drivable roads, it becomes a contender for one of the best road trips in Mexico!

This Yucatan itinerary is perfect for first time backpackers and solo travellers, or seasoned adventurers who want to see the less touristy regions on the peninsula. After spending two months slowly travelling across this sensational section of Mexico, we’ve picked out the prettiest, most genuine destinations, while avoiding the conventional, overcrowded, mass-tourism hubs.

Our route includes suggestions for lodging, activities, add-ons if you have extra days, driving information and more. We hope this helps you plan your perfect trip!

IN THIS GUIDE //

A YUCATAN ITINERARY

Where is the yucatan peninsula, why visit the yucatan, is the yucatan safe.

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO TRAVEL TO CANCUN

GETTING AROUND THE YUCATAN

– CANCUN CAR RENTAL

– BUSES IN THE YUCATAN

THE YUCATAN ITINERARY

– CAncun

– bacalar

– Calakmul

– Campeche City

– Merida

– Vallodolid

– beach options

Final Thoughts

The Yucatan Peninsula is in far south eastern Mexico, bordering Guatemala and Belize. 

If you hear people refer to the Yucatan, it is not always in reference to the peninsula! Yucatan is also an individual state in Mexico, within the Yucatan Peninsula. The states of Quintana Roo and Campeche make up the total of the Mexican Peninsula. Geographically, the entire peninsula includes parts of Chiapas, northern Guatemala and Belize too, but our Yucatan itinerary refers to a trip through the Mexican states of Campeche, Quintana Roo and Yucatan.

Anytime we refer to ‘the Yucatan’ here in this itinerary, it’s referring to these three Mexican states. 

A colourful street in Rio Lagartos, Mexico seen during a Yucatan itinerary.

The Yucatan Peninsula has attained legendary status as a vacation paradise of pristine white sand beaches, perfectly azure waters and plentiful sunshine. I’m guessing this draws in most of the crowds!

It is also a great introduction to Mexico – distinct in culture, gastronomy and terrain to the rest of the country but with familiar characteristics that makes it feel quintessentially Mexican. 

Additionally, the tourist and backpacking infrastructure in the Yucatan is simply top notch. The quality roads, numerous bus connections, abundant hotels and hostels, plus almost endless activities to suit all interests makes it a fantastic option for a Mexico vacation. It is also very child-friendly!

It is also a great longer-term travelling destination. Although this Yucatan itinerary is designed to suit a vacation length of two weeks to a month, an extended road trip or backpacking Yucatan adventure is also possible following essentially this same route.

Yes, the Yucatan is safe to travel. As with most tourist destinations, petty crime happens, but is rare. It’s almost completely avoidable by taking the usual precautions, such as not getting too drunk or walking around in the dark alone late at night. 

The region has recently been in the headlines due to several isolated incidents relating to drug cartels. These offences never intentionally target tourists, and you are extremely unlikely to ever have any contact with organised crime.

Mexico gets a bad reputation due to these drug rings, however in reality, the crime you are most likely to have happen to you is someone pickpockets your phone (happened to me on the Mexico City subway). Violent crime is extremely rare.

Having said that, this itinerary avoids the tourist hubs of Tulum, Cancun and Playa Del Carmen. These are hotspots for tourist-related petty crime (unsurprising since they are big party centres and drunk, careless people equate to opportunistic crime). If you decide to avoid these towns, the chances of you even just being a victim of theft is extremely minimal.

Bold street art in Bacalar, Mexico.

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO TRAVEL TO CANCUN?

The month you land in Cancun can dictate the type of activities you do on your trip. Having said that, we have spent time in this area of Mexico during both the wet and dry seasons and can confirm – it is a great holiday or backpacking destination at any time of year! 

The peak season in the Yucatan runs from December through April. This is when the weather is best, however, as expected, the crowds also roll in too during this time of year. Christmas and New Year, in particular, are very busy and expensive.

Shoulder seasons can be excellent, both for prices and crowds. Consider visiting in November or May, when the full monsoon season has only just begun or is easing off. The weather can still be great!

The rainy season in the Yucatan runs from May/June to October and the weather can be unpredictable during this period. Prospects of heavy rain are higher and there is a risk of hurricanes . We spent two months in the Yucatan during July and August and really enjoyed it; the weather was not an issue. It is also really green and pretty! We did get caught in a hurricane in Belize from not paying attention to the forecasts, so would recommend staying up to date, just in case. There is also a sargassum (seaweed) issue on (mostly) the Riviera Maya beaches during this time of year (see further down for more information).

In terms of temperatures , the Yucatan is hot and humid all year around, with March to August being the warmest on average. 

Avoid Easter like the plague; in Mexico this holiday is huge, so prices and crowds shoot way up.

HOW TO CHOOSE YOUR MAYAN RUIN    |    WHY ARE VW BEETLES EVERYWHERE IN MEXICO?

Colonial architecture housing a market in Mexico.

GETTING AROUND ON THIS YUCATAN ITINERARY

We have hopped across the Yucatan on tourist class buses, in rental cars and on little collectivos (minivans that leave when full). All these methods of transport were great, however for a shorter trip with strict time constraints we would recommend a rental car. This option adds additional flexibility and saves lots of time if your Yucatan itinerary is pressed for time.

CANCUN CAR RENTAL

We always rented our vehicles from Playa Del Carmen, along the Riviera Maya south of Cancun. However, as almost all international flights arrive in Cancun, we would recommend getting a car rental from there.

There are all the normal international rental options in airport arrivals, you can’t miss them! Our best experiences were with National, who we got through Discover Cars .

CAR HIRE FOR THIS YUCATAN ITINERARY

We always rent our vehicles all over the world, including our recent trips in Mexico, with Discover Cars . They’re often the most affordable, plus they paid out immediately on an insurance claim we made when our car took some heavy damage in Sicily. We fully recommend them.

If you book through the link below, we make a small profit, at zero cost to you, which helps us write these posts with no advertising! We only endorse products and companies we *actually* use regularly. For more information, read our position on affiliates .

TAKE A LOOK BELOW OR  CHECK CAR RENTAL  

Buses in the yucatan

Tourist buses in the Yucatan are predominantly run by ADO, a company which covers most routes from Cancun all the way across to Mexico City. The standards are high, the buses are safe and we fully recommend this option if you do not have the choice of renting a car. 

ADO have a website and an app, where booking early often gets you discounts (they’re a bit pricey so worth doing!). Both the website and app can be translated into English. Your ticket is saved to your phone, so you don’t need to print anything. The app can crash occasionally, so be patient.

All the main stops on this Yucatan itinerary are reachable with ADO buses. For smaller destinations, collectivos or a rental car will be your best bet – we’ve noted any locations where you might have difficulty.

WHY THIS YUCATAN ITINERARY DOES NOT INCLUDE MUCH IN THE RIVIERA MAYA

Quintana Roo has the highest number of tourists out of the Yucatan States. These vacationers tend to clump into densely packed zones around Cancun, Playa Del Carmen and the chaos that is Tulum.

Tulum, in particular, is an environmental disaster, where no number of additional visitors is practical, especially during peak season. For that reason, we leave these destinations off our itinerary. It would be easy enough to incorporate them into your Yucatan tour, if you choose to. However, we hope you will avoid them and visit some less well-known but far more welcoming, value-centric and environmentally ethical locations.

We’ve written a little about some problems the Riviera Maya faces if you’re interested to know more.

Honestly, those towns all kind of suck, anyway.

THE ULTIMATE YUCATAN ITINERARY

This route can be done in either direction, there is no difference. We have incorporated lots of little extras in case you have more time, or just like to jam-pack your itinerary! 

We’ve mentioned any noteworthy accommodations, fees for attractions and other helpful recommendations.

A Yucatan itinerary map showing a route between major towns and cities.

CANCUN (1 NIGHT)

Cancun is not really a focal point on this Yucatan itinerary. It’s a mega-hub for all-inclusive resorts, cruise ships and international arrivals. However, we quite enjoy spending a night in Cancun Centro when we pass through. 

Parque de las Palapas is the central square with a small stage, lots of cheap food stalls, music, restaurants, and entertainment. It’s not uncommon to see little children playing and families celebrating. Cancun Centro is a far cry from the hotel zone which is basically segregated from the residents of the area. 

This area is our go-to for a cheap evening out before we head onto our next destination. There are many excellent value hotels around the perimeter of the square and the ADO bus station only a few minutes away on foot.

Our lodging recommendation – The Queztal

CANCUN OPTIONS

It is possible to skip this night in Cancun entirely if your flight arrival is in the morning. Grab your ADO bus immediately at the airport to your onward location. 

From the airport, there is the option of travelling directly to Cancun Centro, Playa Del Carmen or Tulum. If you have a different bus destination (such as Bacalar below), grab a bus to Cancun Centro and connect from there. The ADO buses leave regularly from outside airport arrivals.

There is no need to secure a ticket in advance for the airport bus. Use the ADO app or website to check the routes.

A bowl of spicy, oniony condiment in Cancun, Mexico.

PUNTA ALLEN - OPTIONAL DETOUR

Punta Allen is an extraordinary hidden gem in the Sian Ka’an Bioreserve. Located along three hours of bumpy, jungle-clad roads south of Tulum, you’ll need to prep for some careful driving for this one! It is possible to get to Punta Allen by collectivos and/or boat from Tulum if you are unable to rent a vehicle. Check with your accommodation in advance if this is an option you’d like to pursue. Another option is paying for a taxi, but this will be pricey! 

Reviews of the road to Punta Allen may make you fearful, but it is fine. Take it slow, you don’t need a four-wheel drive vehicle.

At the end of the miniscule peninsula, you will find one of the most remote areas along the Maya Riviera coastline. With only a handful of lodging and dining options, it attracts just a trickle of tourists. If you are looking for a laidback, complete-opposite-of-Tulum beach-vibe, this is the place for you.

Punta Allen has boat tours available for snorkelling, dolphin spotting and viewing the many birds of the Yucatan! All just off the quietest, most peaceful slither of jungle and beach.

Our accommodation recommendation: Cielo y Selva

Bacalar (2-4 NIGHTs)

The Bacalar lagoon is a can’t-miss destination. The ‘lagoon of seven colours’ is known for dazzling azure-blue shades of water. This little Pueblo Magico is mostly sleepy and quiet, but with enough food, activity and lodging options to keep you comfortable and entertained for several days. It’s lovely to have such little traffic around!

The most popular activity here is to (obviously) get out on the lake. Whether it’s kayaking, stand up paddle boarding or taking a regular boat, you need to spend time on the lagoon. There are a lot of companies that can provide these services – secure through your accommodation or use Viator .

RESTAURANTS IN BACALAR

We had some particularly memorable food in Bacalar and (surprisingly) some of the cheapest wine we found in Mexico over six months. There are a lot of decent vegetarian options too.

♦ Mango y Chile – a  dedicated vegan restaurant with great views, WiFi and vibes, we fully recommend. 

♦  Mi Burrito Bacalar – w e also loved the vegetarian options plus the staff were lovely. 

♦  Pizzeria Bertilla – the pizza here was a standout meal (not that cheap though).

♦   Buena Carne Bacalar – our very inexpensive wine was from here (we didn’t eat though). 

♦  Restaurante Sazon a la Mexicana Bacalar – a  charming, good value, traditional restaurant

WORD OF WARNING - Los Rapidos Bacalar

One of the most ‘Instagrammable’ places is just south of the lagoon, called Los Rapidos Laguna de Bacalar. Contrary to the positive online reviews, we do not recommend visiting this place. There are many stromatolites in the region which are continually being damaged by irresponsible and inexperienced kayakers and the ecosystems in this region are being degraded by visitors’ sunscreen. The staff don’t exactly care about the rules either – we saw some pretty terrible things. Also, it’s loud, busy and not exactly chill!

GETTING FROM CANCUN TO BACALAR

From Cancun Centro to the bus station in Bacalar, the direct ADO bus takes 5 hours and 40 minutes. There are 15 or more departures throughout the day. The AU (Autobuses Unidos) services are slightly cheaper but normally don’t have a toilet onboard (still run by ADO and depart from the same place).  

Alternatively, you can drive which takes around four hours on very straightforward roads.

Clear waters surrounded by lush greenery at Bacalar Lagoon during a Yucatan itinerary.

CALAKMUL (1-2 NIGHTS)

Calakmul is the biggest and best Mayan ruin in the entire of central America, behind only Guatemala’s Tikal in our opinion. 

The small town of Xpujil, in Campeche State, is the most logical place to stay for your visit to Calakmul. It is a simple 90-minute drive from Bacalar, through continually thicker and thicker jungle (but great quality roads). 

To reach the ruins of Calakmul from Xpujil, is an easy two-hour drive, ever deeper into the overgrown and wild jungle. It’s just 30 kilometres from the border with Guatemala when the entrance to the ruins comes into view. 

The entire region is contained within a biosphere reserve, so your chances of seeing all sorts of wildlife is exceptionally high, far better than at other Mayan ruins (or anywhere across the Yucatan Peninsula in fact). We even saw a jaguar!

There are more logistical details for visiting this epic Mayan ruin in our separate post about visiting Calakmul .

You may need to stay two nights if you are travelling by bus. There are daily but infrequent ADO buses and lots of collectivos that run this route. However, with a car, there are more opportunities to set off early and be more flexible.

Part of the joy of Yucatan itinerary-ruins hidden amongst trees at Calakmul, Mexico.

CAMPECHE CITY (2-3 Nights)

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Campeche City, also known as San Francisco de Campeche, is an overlooked gem on the western coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. Few international visitors come here, which is a huge shame for them!

The impeccably preserved, baroque colonial city situated on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico still has original Spanish built walls, intended to safeguard from pirates. Inside, the fortified urban centre is exquisitely beautiful, with quiet, colourful streets and a beautiful zocalo which has light shows and entertainment in the evenings. The purpose-built pedestrian walkways along the seafront (the Malecon) are excellent for a long evening wander while watching the sunset.

A major highlight of the region are the Mayan ruins of Edzna. Around 45 minutes away by bus or car from Campeche City, these almost unknown ruins are an unforgettable experience. We’ve written a detailed guide to visiting Edzna if you’re interested.

ARRIVING IN CAMPECHE CITY BY BUS

Unlike all the other cities and towns you may visit across this Yucatan itinerary, the bus station in Campeche City is a reasonable distance from the historic city centre. It’s not super far, maybe a 35-40 minute walk, but Campeche gets hot so you may not fancy this in the middle of the day with baggage! It’s also probably not the best plan to walk this route alone late at night with all your stuff (it’s pretty safe, i’m just being cautious).

Taxis don’t really hang around the bus station as much as in other cities, which is a refreshing change to not be hassled. This does mean that you will occasionally have to wait a short while for a taxi to show up. You can walk out to the road and flag one down too. The cost should be about 30-40 pesos.

Small minibuses also run the route to centro, however i’m not sure if there is any schedule! These cost less than 10 pesos.

Accommodation in COLONIAL CITIES

Imagine you are planning your Yucatan itinerary, pouring over images of beautiful Mexican streets, full of classic colonial architecture. You develop a romantic notion of staying in one of those colourful buildings with exquisite courtyards, the ones you see in photographs and on hotel websites. However, this is not always the reality!

In many colonial cities in Mexico, you must pay a significant premium to get a view or much daylight in your hotel room. Most accommodation is in old buildings with internal courtyards – so you often get a slightly damp room with little/no sunshine or privacy, surrounding a small open-air centre. If you are lucky, maybe a room overlooking an often-busy road. The internet is frequently appalling in these buildings, plus the pictures on hotel portals we found to be hugely misleading too.

In San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, we viewed 24 rooms across 12 hotels before we found one with natural light, a window and no damp that was mildly quiet. The internet did not stretch to the room though – you can’t win everything!

Rooms with elegant, historic architecture in central locations also come at a price. Many of them are claustrophobic, damp and dark. However, we are always on a budget, so if you are happy to part with more cash than us, you can get some fabulous rooms! Try to get ones with a balcony if you can – it guarantees a certain amount of daylight. The other option is to look for purpose-built, modern hotels, but they tend to be further away from the city centres and not local owned, which we do not recommend. Try to keep your money local whenever possible!

Bold coloured fronts to homes in the Mexican city of Campeche.

MERIDA (3-5 NIGHTS)

Merida is the capital of Yucatan State and the largest city on the Peninsula. Despite its size, this colourful colonial city exudes charm and feels quietly modest and unpretentious. It is also a major hub for cuisine, drinks and culture; there’s museums, exciting foodie markets and distinctive shopping. The city even shuts down the prettiest roads on Sundays just for cyclists.

As a city with over a million people, Merida also has lots of amenities and services you won’t find elsewhere, like shopping malls, large cinemas, various big supermarkets and more. This makes it a great place to stock up if you need to buy anything and just chill out for a couple of days.

Outside of the city, there are some of the prettiest cenotes in the Yucatan, tranquil beach towns, flamingos and the incredibly ornate Mayan ruins of Uxmal. 

Along with Calakmul, Uxmal is our top recommendation for Mayan ruins in the Yucatan region. We’ve written a full guide to the Uxmal ruins if you are considering a visit. 

The beach towns around Merida range from the popular port city of Progreso, to the tiny fishing villages of Sisal and Celestun. With beautiful sandy beaches, friendly restaurants and only a fraction of the tourism that the Riviera Maya receives, they’re all a great addition to your Yucatan itinerary.

We’ve written in detail about activities in and around Merida in a separate post.

GETTING FROM CAmpeche TO Merida

To get from Campeche City to Merida, it is a straightforward 2.5-hour journey via either ADO bus or rental vehicle. There are at least 20 daily bus departures, plus the bus station in Merida is right in the centre so it’s even easier to navigate to your next lodging (make sure you get a bus to ADO Centro Historico TAME station in Merida – this is the central one).  

Long sandy beach at Celestun, Mexico. A great stop on a Yucatan itinerary.

VALLODOLID (2-4 NIGHTS)

Vallodolid is the sweetheart of the Yucatan. A small colonial city surrounding a beautiful central square, most well-known for being the gateway to the World Heritage site of Chichen Itza and some of the more famous cenotes.

This vibrant city isn’t just about World Wonders and Instagrammable cenotes though. It has a character all its own and is surprisingly untouched by tourism considering the proximity to one of our planet’s most celebrated sites. The accommodation is incredibly good value and there’s every type of restaurant and bar you could wish for. 

Ek’ Balam, one of the more exhilarating Mayan ruins, is only a short distance away from Vallodolid. Do not miss this one if you are a ruins enthusiast like us! You can climb all the structures and the views from the top are some of the finest of any site. We thoroughly recommend Ek’ Balam over Chichen Itza – it’s a much more pleasant experience (and slightly cheaper).

Cenotes in the region include the made-popular-by-Instagram Cenote Suytun, Cenote Zaci (currently being renovated though in 2022), Cenote Saamal, Dzitnup and San Lorenzo Oxman. They are all pretty touristy compared with most around Merida, so we suggest you focus your cenote days there if you’d like one to yourself!

HOTELS IN VALLODOLID

Our lodging recommendation is Margarett Modern , a surprisingly good-value hotel (at least during covid times anyway). Situated just off the centre square, it provides free water, modern rooms and a small pool, all for half the cost of most other hotels in the area. If you want something a little more upmarket, check out Casa Tia Micha or Le Muuch Hotel Boutique (this one is particularly stunning!). 

There are some super spectacular places to stay further out from the city if you have a car. For a seriously unique hotel, check out the Hotel Zentik Project and Saline Cave.

A man standing above ruins at Ek' Balam in Mexico.

RIO LAGARTOS - OPTIONAL EXTRA (1-2 NIGHTS)

Rio Lagartos is a tiny fishing village on the northern coast of the Yucatan. It is the premier region to see the best birds of the Yucatan, including thousands of flamingos in the right season. It’s also known for the super-pink Mexico salt lakes at Las Colorados.

We absolutely recommend this optional detour on our Yucatan itinerary; it was another highlight of our trip. I’m not sure what we liked most; wading through questionable mud to find flamingos, spotting crocodiles and huge pelicans, covering ourselves in (apparently) healing mud or visiting the crazy pink salt pools. 

There are a few cute restaurants with excellent, super-fresh seafood, local basketball games in the centre of the village and lovely walks along the promenade. We also saw the prettiest sunrise of our entire trip here.

To reach Rio Lagartos, you can hire a car from Cancun, Playa Del Carmen or Merida, or catch an ADO bus to Tizimin and grab a quick collectivo from there. It is possible to visit here from Vallodolid after going to Ek’ Balam as they are in the same direction, but it could be a long day!

There is no doubt that the best place to stay is the Hotel Rio Lagartos . It’s pretty nice looking with nice views from the top (we had a wander around). Our choice was the Hotel Tabasco Rio , which was simple, quiet, clean and very cheap for us at the time. The staff even let us know we had left our camera behind, which was hugely appreciated.

A man wading through 'mud' to find Flamingos in Rio Lagartos, Mexico.

The BEST YUCATAN BEACHES (4-5 Nights)

So, by this point on your Yucatan backpacking adventure or road trip, you may fancy a conventional beach getaway. Deciding where the best Yucatan beaches and dive locations are is a contentious issue though. We recommend you visit either Isla Holbox, Isla Mujeres or Cozumel depending on what type of vibe is more your cup of tea. We’ve listed some thoughts further down to help you design your Yucatan itinerary. 

After as much beach time as you can fit in, it’s an easy commute to the airport in Cancun (especially from Isla Mujeres). 

You could always include all three of these Yucatan beaches on your itinerary if you have time. Cozumel could be added right at the start of your trip, immediately after landing in Cancun.

As mentioned above, we recommend avoiding the beaches at Playa Del Carmen, Cancun and especially Tulum due to overtourism and environmental concerns (particularly during the high season between December and April). Plus, they are devoid of any character or soul.

ISLA HOLBOX

This beautiful stretch of land is fantastic for anyone backpacking the Yucatan, looking for more chill backpacker vibes with a splash of party. It is further from Cancun, so takes slightly longer to get there (although not difficult at all) and has more rustic accommodation (not particularly cheap though!). Isla Holbox definitely has some of the Yucatan’s best beaches with the least number of tourists.

To reach Isla Holbox, get an ADO bus to Chiquila, the port town where it is easy to catch a short boat across. If you have a car, either return it to Cancun then get the bus, or you can drive to Chiquila where there are private places (often people’s houses!) that you can pay a little park.

ISLA MUJERES

Isla Mujeres is ideal for families, anyone fancying some upmarket lodging or fantastic snorkelling and diving. It is a tiny island situated right next to Cancun (this means it can get busy sometimes with day trippers) so is very easy to access and makes for a quick getaway to catch your flight home.

It’s so easy to reach Isla Mujeres, at only 8 miles away from Cancun, accessed by a 30-minute ferry. They run all day from around 5.30am until mid-evening. The ferry port is called Puerto Juarez, just north of the city, and is less than 10 minutes away by car from Cancun Centro. The public bus R-1 also goes to Puerto Juarez for about 9 Mexican pesos, or you can grab a taxi for 150-200 pesos.

Cozumel, a little further south, is just offshore from Playa Del Carmen and is another solid Yucatan beach alternative. It’s a much larger island, so there is more to see and do, with epic snorkelling right off the beaches. It’s common to get around via golf-buggy, which can be quite expensive. Cruises also stop in Cozumel, so be mindful of the possibility of crowds – this is the worst pick of the three in terms of sustainable, responsible travel.

From Playa Del Carmen, ferries run regularly throughout the day, take about 35-45 minutes and pick you up right in downtown. It’s a super-easy journey.

Paddleboarders in the sea at sunset in Mexico.

SARGASSUM in CANCUN AND AROUND

Be cautious when organising a trip to a beach destination on the Maya Riviera. 

During certain months, the beaches get completely covered in a gross, smelly seaweed that really could put a bit of a downer on the beach part of your itinerary. When you see photos of those pristine Tulum beaches, that’s only during certain times of the year! The seaweed problem occurs between April and October, with the worst likely to be during the summer months of May to August. Check online for the current sargassum status .

The beach towns over towards Merida do not suffer from the same sargassum issues, so consider visiting those instead during this part of the year.

FLIGHTS TO THE YUCATAN

We exclusively book our flights through Skyscanner . It’s the cheapest way to book flights from anywhere in the world.

If you book your flights to the Yucatan through our link below, we make a tiny commission that helps to keep this site running, at zero cost to you. Thank you!

FINAL THOUGHTS - Yucatan ITinerary

This Yucatan itinerary provides an extensive, hugely diverse road trip or backpacking experience. It includes Mayan ruins, colonial cities and small fishing communities; unique wildlife, including primates, many birds of the Yucatan and even big cats, in their natural habitats. There are abundant world class, picture-perfect beaches in the Yucatan to suit every taste. Thousands of cenotes dot the terrain, many with zero visitors. It’s a fantastic place!

The recommendations on this itinerary are some of our favourite places. We loved losing the crowds around this stunning part of Mexico. When it comes to road trips in Mexico, this is easily up there with the best!

Leave us a comment if you have any feedback or suggestions! We hope you have the most amazing trip!

Leave a comment

2 thoughts on “The Perfect Less-Touristy Yucatan Itinerary”

Hello! We are doing exactly the itinerary as a roadtrip in Yucatan with my family in January next year. Thanks for so much info, it looks great!. I’ve got a question though: Where did you spend the night after Calakmul? Did you go back to Xpujil? Asking because everyone advices us not to drive when its dark, so we won’t make it to Campeche after visiting Calakmul and Xpujil would technically be going backwards… thanks in advance, G

Hi! Lovely to hear from you 🙂

I think we went straight to Campeche and got in as it was getting dark. If you get in before six, it will still be light. Driving is okay in the evening/twilight if you are on main roads or in cities (we did this many times).

If you won’t be out of Calakmul in time, the area around Conhaus/La Selva at the junction to the Calakmul turn-off on the 186 has several decent accommodation options.

I hope you have an incredible trip!

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5 best beaches in Mexico - without the tourists

Kayaking in Bacalar lagoon Mexico

Under-the-radar beaches (and lagoons) to visit in Mexico.

--> BY Greta Stonehouse

Last updated . 26 April 2022

Forget the clichéd Cancun beach experience. Escape the crowds (and drunken tourists who can’t handle their tequila sunrises), with these suitably secretive places to soak up Mexico’s heat.

Playa carrizalillo beach.

Playa Carrizalillo beach Mexico

Playa Carrizalillo is like the smaller, more rugged cousin of Thailand’s Maya Bay on Phi Phi Leh Island.

Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca.

Puerto Escondido might be better known for having one of the best surfing pipelines at Zicatela Beach, but tucked away just a few minutes past the city centre is a little beach that’s the makings of tropical holiday dreams.

Not unlike the set of the blockbuster film The Beach , Playa Carrizalillo is like the smaller, more rugged cousin of Thailand’s Maya Bay on Phi Phi Leh Island – minus Leo.

Sitting snugly under a thick canopy of rainforest trees in between two rocky headlands, this beach remains calm all year round.

Lazy swimmers and snorkelers.

Getting there:

Playa Carrizalillo is a straight 15-minute walk west of the city centre of Puerto Escondido. However, it’s worth taking a taxi since the route is a busy highway and the taxi fare will only cost you 30 pesos (about $2.50 AUD).

To get to the beach you’ll then need to trek down 167 steps, but as the sweat begins dripping keep in mind that a small canteen awaits at the bottom offering Coronas and ceviche.

Tulum beach

Tulum Beach Mexico

The entire length of Tulum is lined with chalky white sand and sparkly waters.

Yucatan Peninsula, Quintana Roo.

Okay, we have to admit that many tourists have now cottoned on to this stunning stretch of coastline, but we couldn’t discuss Mexico’s beaches without mentioning it.

Tulum is an idyllic spot to take a breather and enjoy what the New York Times has described as “the perfect spot for a yoga holiday”.

However, if you’d rather spend your time at the beach soaking up the rays with a beer than in downward dog, there’s plenty of space to do just that as the entire length of Tulum is lined with chalky white sand and sparkly waters.

Tulum is also home to some of the most interesting Mayan ruins, sitting atop a 12-metre-high cliff edge, overlooking the spectacular Caribbean coastline.

Yogis and history buffs.

The section of the beach that features Mayan ruins is located about one kilometre east of Highway 307.

The roads in Tulum are pancake flat it’s worth renting a bicycle and working off those tacos. Most beaches are within a 20-minute cycle from the city centre.

Bacalar Lagoon

Bacalar lagoon Mexico

Bacalar Lagoon is perhaps one of Mexico’s most underrated and spectacular swimming holes.

40 kilometres north of Chetumal, Quintana Roo, or about 240 kilometres southwest of Tulum.

While not technically a beach, this lagoon is perhaps one of Mexico’s most underrated and spectacular swimming holes.

Also known as ‘the lagoon of seven colours’, Bacalar is a vast expanse of water that appears to be speckled in varying blue hues and pearlescent greens.

It’s not hard to see why buccaneers fought viciously over this land for years.

Pirates of the Caribbean fans and nature lovers.

Most travellers happen upon Bacalar by chance, but for those in the know, the only way to get there from Tulum is via a two-and-a-half-hour bus ride with ADO.

Kayaking in Bacalar lagoon Mexico

Nature lovers will be in their element at Bacalar Lagoon.

Isla Holbox Island

Isla Holbox Mexico

The beaches on Isla Holbox are as untouched as they are naturally beautiful.

The island lies about11 kilometres off the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula.

As untouched as it is naturally beautiful, the biggest development here is the sand roads that weave across the island.

As a result, Isla Holbox is a sanctuary for wildlife, home to almost 150 different species of birds, as well as gentle giants of the sea, and whale sharks, which you can swim with.

It’s also worth noting that the water here is much darker than in other parts of the Caribbean because it’s mixed in with the Gulf of Mexico.

The island itself is teeny tiny, spanning just 40 kilometres by three kilometres – a good thing given the absence of any street signs.

But no need to worry about getting lost – every beach is roughly two minutes from the city centre…if you can even call it that.

Nature lovers, twitchers and those wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of Cancun.

Ferries operate between Isla Holbox and the fishing port of Chiquila, approximately two-and-a-half hours from Cancun.

If travelling from Cancun, head west to El Ideal and watch out for signs to Isla Holbox.

Troncones Beach

Troncones beach, Mexico.

Troncones is a peaceful little surfing and fishing village.

32 kilometres northwest of Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, or 280 kilometres north of Acapulco.

Nestled between the Sierra Madre mountains and the Mexican Riviera, Troncones is a peaceful little surfing and fishing village.

But despite its appeal and laidback charm, most tourists still seem to congregate around the built-up resorts of nearby Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo.

However, we’re not the only ones to appreciate this quiet achiever – famed artists Damien Hirst and Julian Schnabel regularly retreat to Troncones for respite and inspiration.

Beach bums looking to do nothing more than swing in a hammock under a palm tree.

Colectivo vans run between Zihuatanejo and Troncones every half hour. Otherwise, many accommodation providers also offer transport services from the airport at Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa.

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Comments (6)

' src=

Playa LaLarga Zihuatanejo Many kilometersa of pristine beach ewith whale and dolphin sightings. Best ever,

' src=

Hi Maureen, Thanks for your suggestion!

Warm regards, the IT team

' src=

I’ve been going to Troncones Beach for 3 years now. It’s not pristine and soft white beaches but that’s what I love about it. The waves can be high, the beach rocky but it’s a wonderful escape to unwind and really experience nature. Being between the mountains and the ocean means the storm watching is spectacular!

' src=

If you ever visit Troncones, do yourself a BIG favor and visit here: http://www.edenmex.com

' src=

If you call boogie boarding, kayaking, surfing, biking, yoga classes, pickleball, birdwatching, paddleboarding , fabulous dining, dancing…doing nothing…maybe I’ll find time to lie in a hammock here (in Troncones) one day. Guess I’m just not a beach bum!!

' src=

I’m with you when it comes to Bacalar – it seems to me like maybe this is what Tulum was like 20 (or is it only 10?) years ago. Isla Holbox is on my list of places to visit, and this post scores it yet another point.

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Stories by Soumya

The Travel Blog of a Culture Addict

Traveling to Mexico City and looking for hidden gems? Grab this list of the 20 best secret things to do in Mexico City and venture off the beaten path in CDMX. #MexicoCity #Mexico

20 Best Non-Touristy Things To Do In Mexico City: Hidden Gems Guide

Last Updated on January 22, 2024 by Soumya

Are you looking for weird and non-touristy things to do in Mexico City ? Wondering what are the best hidden gems in Mexico City ? Willing to venture off the beaten path in CDMX ? Ready to explore Mexico City like a local?

Don’t worry. I am here to help you with the most exclusive and unique Mexico City experiences.

After having visited Mexico City several times, I know that this beautiful city can sometimes feel like a lot of people. Interesting trivia – Mexico City is home to 21 million people . That makes it one of the most populated cities in the world. Add thousands of tourists to that number and we do have a crowd! In such a case, it is natural to look around for hidden gems.

In this detailed but offbeat guide for CDMX, I talk about all the unusual things to do in Mexico City and when & how to do them. I am sure you’ll find these non-touristy spots quite empty with literally no one or maybe a few likeminded travelers sharing the space with you. If you know of more hidden places , feel free to share them in the comments below.

Please note: This post may contain affiliate links which means I may earn a commission if you make a purchase by clicking a link on this post. This will be at no additional cost to you. Affiliate links help me keep this website up and running. Thanks for your support!

Table of Contents

Best Non-Touristy Things to do in Mexico City

Diego rivera murals at secretariat of education.

Murals by Diego Rivera at the Secretariat of Public Education which is open on Monday in Mexico City

Seeing Diego Rivera murals in Mexico City was a dream come true for me. And, I must say that I was totally floored by the collection at the Secretariat of Public Education.

The main headquarters of the Public Education Secretariat in downtown Mexico City is home to 200+ panels of murals created by Diego Rivera in the 1920s. These murals depict Mexican life, culture, food, and festivities and do not have political angles like you’ll see at many other places.

What’s great is that the Secretariat is absolutely free to visit and also open on Mondays . They are open from 9:00am – 6:00pm, Monday – Friday.

You need to carry your ID which the authorities will check at the entrance. Then, you can enter the building and take a self-guided tour through its multiple floors and courtyards marveling at Rivera’s beautiful creations.

National Palace Tour

History of Mexico Mural

Even though the National Palace of Mexico (Palacio National) is not really a hidden gem (it’s this massive, historic building standing right in the middle of the Zocalo), the palace tours that happen here every day are definitely one of the best non-touristy things to do in Mexico City . There’s not much information about them on the internet – so, people eventually end up not doing them!

Palacio National is a super impressive colonial building that was built by Hernan Cortes over the debris of the Palace of Aztec Emperor Moctezuma. Inside the palace, you can still see some of these ruins below glass floors.

The highlight, however, is the large collection of wall murals by Diego Rivera. It includes the very famous “History of Mexico” mural which is a must see. Try and spot Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera himself on the panels.

The National Palace is open Tuesday – Sunday, 9:00am – 5:00pm.

How to visit the National Palace?

Visiting the National Palace is a little tricky because you cannot do that on your own. You’ll need to join a guided tour to get in. The process of getting on that tour is a little complicated – so be sure to check out my Palacio National visitor’s guide to find out how.

The tour is free and takes you through the entire collection of Diego Rivera murals in the palace. I have to admit that I was totally impressed with how much I learned on the tour – the history, the politics, the people – it was mind-boggling.

✦ Pro Tip : If you’re keen to do a tour of the National Palace and see all of Diego Rivera’s amazing work here, planning beforehand is key. You’ll have to sign up for a guided tour because walk-ins are not allowed anymore. To plan a memorable visit, check out our National Palace Visitor’s Guide .

Moorish Kiosk

Moorish Kiosk in Mexico City

If you’d really like to venture off the beaten path in Mexico City, I recommend heading to this beautiful and hidden attraction in Mexico City’s Santa Maria la Ribera neighborhood – The Moorish Kiosk.

Locally known as the Kiosco Morisco, the Moorish Kiosk dates to the 19th century and is built in the Mudejar (Iberian Islamic architecture) style.

With colorful geometric patterns and floral motifs dotting the dome, the pillars, the arches, and every other inch of the kiosk, the kiosk is one of the prettiest places to visit in Mexico City.

And guess what? Even though the Moorish Kiosk is a stunning icon of the Santa Maria neighborhood, it wasn’t even built here. Once upon a time, an engineer named Jose Ramon Ibarrola built the kiosk to represent Mexico at a New Orlean’s exhibition. Don’t know why he did that!!! But after that, it was moved to several other places before finding a permanent home in Santa Maria.

Biblioteca Vasconcelos

Biblioteca Vasconcelos

Biblioteca Vasconcelos is a unique place to visit in Mexico City because its sleek and modern architecture is unlike any other Mexico City landmark . A recent addition to the city’s landscape, this distinctive library was designed by Mexican architect Alberto Kalach. Today, it is spread over an area of over 400k square feet and has a collection of over 580,000 books. 

Known for its contemporary architectural style , Biblioteca Vasconcelos features a transparent structure with large windows. This lets natural light to flood in and as you can guess, creates a bright space inside. Additionally, multiple floors of cantilevered bookshelves give the library a very industrial look – something that makes it uniquely appealing. A large botanical garden also surrounds the library and houses over 60,000 plants.

Apart from its unique design, Biblioteca Vasconcelos is also known for its extensive collection of books, which includes both print and digital formats. This gigantic venue also plays host to cultural events such as book fairs, art exhibitions, and film screenings. On the day that we visited, we spotted several groups going about their dance practices, obviously prepping for some event. 

✦ Pro Tip : Do you love spotting architectural masterpieces in every city you visit? Then, you’ll love our guide to the 15 Best Architectural Landmarks in Mexico City .

Sunrise Tour of the Xochimilco Floating Gardens

Sunrise over the chinampas is a wonderfully unique experience in Mexico City

You know all about the fancy, colorful trajineras – boats that can take you around Xochimilco’s floating gardens – with live Mariachi music, dance, food, and drinks.

But do you know that you can also enjoy the beauty of the floating gardens at sunrise without a soul in sight, with only chirping birds to keep you company? Yes, you can do an early morning tour of Xochimilco’s chinampas and witness the most amazing sunrise of your life!

You heard me right. Party boats are not the only way to experience Xochimilco. If you’re not up for all the music and merrymaking, I highly recommend signing up for a sunrise tour.

This sunrise tour is one of the best in the market and includes a meditation and yoga session . You’ll also learn about the history of chinampas and enjoy a traditional Mexican breakfast prepared from local ingredients. ▶️ BOOK NOW

Island of the Dead Dolls

Islands of Dolls, Xochimilco

If you’d like to see some more Mexico City hidden gems in the Xochimilco neighborhood, I would suggest heading to the Island of the Dead Dolls from Embarcadero Cuemanco ( Google Maps ).

The island has a tragic history and is one of the creepiest places to visit in Mexico City.

Apparently, a small girl drowned on the banks of this island. The island owner, Don Julian, tried to save her but failed. After the incident, he started hallucinating, seeing things that did not exist, and hearing cries. Other island dwellers also claimed the same! And the tiny island became a hub of paranormal activity .

The young, now dead, girl had left a doll which Julian hung on a tree. Then, he started collecting all sorts of discarded dolls and started hanging them on trees, believing that they would protect his isle from ghosts.

Don Julian is no longer alive but his stories still reign supreme and attract tourists from all over the world. So, if you’d like something creepy and paranormal on your Mexico City itinerary , be sure to visit the Island of the Dead Dolls in Xochimilco.

On this Xochimilco tour , you’ll visit the Island of the Dolls, learn all about the magical organism at the Axolotl Museum, and see the Coyoacan neighborhood. ▶️ BOOK NOW

Legends & History Tour of Mexico City

Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City

Now, that we talking about dead people and the past, why not do a legends and history tour of Mexico City ? I am sure you’ll enjoy that.

If the inner historian in you would like to discover some lesser-known facts , interesting legends, and hidden gems of Mexico City, then I highly recommend signing up for this legends tour led by a local expert . On this private walking tour , you’ll focus on the less obvious details and dig deep into history through timeless legends and intriguing anecdotes.

Even though the tour guide, Jorge takes you through some of the most iconic landmarks of Mexico City, he gives you nuggets of information that you’ll not find anywhere on the internet. Have a look at all the fantastic reviews of Jorge, the tour guide, here .

Museum of Chocolate

Mexican chocolate

One of the best non-touristy things to do in Mexico City is to visit the MUCHO Museum of Chocolate. Dedicated to chocolate, this small museum features some interesting displays on the history of chocolate, varieties, and several sculptures made of chocolate.

The museum has a store attached to it – so this is a great place to pick some chocolatey Mexican souvenirs once you’re done with the tour.

The chocolate museum is open Monday – Sunday, 11:00am – 5:00pm. Buy online tickets here . Guided tours are available – you can request for a tour on their official website here .

Mural Tour of Teotihuacan

Mural tour of Teotihuacan - a unique thing to do in Mexico City

The archaeological site of Teotihuacan, also one of Mexico’s most visited UNESCO sites , is home to 3 massive pyramids more than 1500 years old.

Tourists flock to this historic site to marvel at the pyramids and learn about some lesser-known facts about the ancient Teotihuacan civilization . Yet, what no one really does here is explore the murals of Teotihuacan.

Long ago, even before the mural grandmaster, Diego Rivera, walked the lanes of Mexico City, the people of Teotihuacan were busy creating their own murals.

Colorful frescoes, usually of gods and goddesses, adorn the walls of several buildings . The Palace of Butterflies and the Tepantitla residential complex have a majority of them. Teotihuacan also has a Mural Museum that can be accessed from Gate 3. I am sure your guide pointed out the jaguar mural to you. That’s probably the only popular mural on site.

Doing a mural tour in Teotihuacan can be an exciting and very non-touristy thing to do in Mexico City. Spotting colors & paintings on the walls and figuring out patterns & ancient routines does sound exciting!

Read my post on visiting the Teotihuacan pyramids to find out how to do your own mural tour. Or have a look at this highly-rated tour led by an archaeologist where you’ll see and learn about many important murals.

📖 Additional Reading : If you’d like to dig deeper into the history of Teotihuacan, I highly recommend reading our post on the 10 Most Intriguing Facts about the Lost People of Teotihuacan . The pyramids of Teotihuacan are an absolute must visit when in Mexico City. Do check our guide on how to plan the best day trip to Teotihuacan on your own . If you’d like a guided tour instead, check out our list of the 10 Best Guided Tours of Teotihuacan .

Mummies at Museo de El Carmen

Museo de el Carmen - going off the beaten path in Mexico City

Wait! What!! Mummies in Mexico City!! I thought mummies only existed in Egypt and at the British Museum in London.

Well, well. Mexico City definitely has some mummies . At Museo de El Carmen in the San Angel neighborhood.

Museo de El Carmen is housed in one of Mexico City’s oldest buildings, dating to the 17th century. Located in the same complex as the El Carmen Monastery, the museum has a huge collection of religious art.

However, the biggest attraction is the museum’s eerie (and cold!) crypt with its collection of 12 mummified bodies from the 1600s. The bodies haven’t been identified yet but they are believed to be of patrons of the Carmelite order. Lying in different positions, the mummies surely spooked me out. It was one of the most unusual things I did in Mexico City on my recent visit.

House of Tiles

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Soumya Gayatri (@storiesbysoumya)

Fancy finding a house of blue tiles in Mexico City ? Well, after loving all those azulejo hot spots in Porto, Portugal , I was thrilled to find something similar in Mexico.

Casa de los Azulejos (House of Tiles) is a 16th-century baroque building covered all over with beautiful Talavera tiles in blue and white. Now located in the historic center of Mexico City, Casa de los Azulejos was once the official residence of the family of the Count of the Valley of Orizaba.

Today, it is home to a fine Sanborn’s restaurant with a covered patio where you can enjoy a good meal. Be sure to spot a beautiful mural by Mexican muralist, Jose Clemente Orozco at the staircase.

✦ Pro Tip : I am sure now you’re curious about all the treasures that Mexico City’s historic center holds. Find out here on our detailed guide to Mexico City historic district .

Salsa Lovers Dance Experience

Get off the beaten path in Mexico City and join a salsa class . Whether you’re an amateur or a pro, whether you’re solo or with a partner, this salsa class has something for everyone. Learn new dance moves and make friends along the way. Go ahead, book your Mexico City salsa class here.

Man and woman dancing salsa

Luis Barragan House & Studio

Imagine a UNESCO heritage site that’s also a hidden gem. Mexico City has one!

The Luis Barragan House & Studio, which was declared a UNESCO site in 2004, is an outstanding example of modern architecture. The architect Luis Barragan, a famous Mexican architect and the owner of the house, was adept at blending vernacular designs with contemporary architecture. His other creations, Casa Ortega and Casa Gilardi also speak a similar story.

Today, the Luis Barragan House is a museum that is sort of a mecca for architecture lovers. Inside the house, you’ll see a beautiful interplay of light (both natural and artificial) and geometrical planes which makes it an extraordinary example of modern architectural design.

The Luis Barragan House is one of the very few individual homes to be included on the UNESCO list and the only one in Latin America.

The house is open for visits Monday – Friday, 11:00am – 5:00pm. Kids below 12 are not allowed. You’ll need to buy tickets in advance – book them on the official website here . Guided tours are available.

📖 Related Reading : Are you a fan of heritage architecture? Do you love to spot architectural masterpieces around the world? Then, you’ll love reading my post on the 15 best architectural landmarks to visit in Mexico City .

Iturbide Palace Museum

Doll exhibition at the Iturbide Museum - one of the best non-touristy things to do in Mexico City

Mexico City is the city of museums. Some say that there are over 1000 museums in this sprawling megacity – some popular and some really hidden. One such hidden gem is the Iturbide Palace Museum .

Dating to the 18th century, Iturbide Palace is a not-so-large royal residence in the historic center. The facade and columns speak of its once baroque splendor. Nowadays, the palace plays host to several temporary exhibitions throughout the year.

When I went recently, there’s was an exhibit on the transformation of CDMX over centuries on the ground floor. The upper floor had a really nice display of terracotta pottery and figures specially the Chupicaro clay figurines which was a new thing to learn about. If you love local culture and folk art, you’re sure to find something to your liking here.

They are open from 10:00am – 7:00pm and free to enter.

✦ Pro Tip : The Iturbide Museum is one of the few Mexico City museums that’s open on a Monday. Most other museums and historic monuments remain closed. If you’re visiting the city at the beginning of the week, you really must check our guide on the Best Things to do in Mexico City on a Monday.

Church of San Francisco

One of the most non-touristy things to do in Mexico City is to explore a hidden church or convent .

The streets of downtown Mexico City are lined with churches dating back 400 years. Replete with colonial architecture and beautiful altarpieces, these churches are some of the best places to visit.

One such place is the Church of San Francisco ( Google Maps ). The Franciscans built this quaint, little church in the 1700s. In the early days, the church was an influential place. And lots of important events like high-profile funerals and war victories were celebrated here.

Today, the church is one of the least known places in Mexico City despite featuring a beautiful, gilded altar. The main facade is also impressive.

Church of San Francisco - one of the hidden gems of Mexico City

Church of Santo Domingo

The Church of Santo Domingo is another beautiful church that remains hidden in Mexico City . It is among the oldest Dominican monasteries of New Spain. And displays beautiful Baroque architecture along with a Neoclassical altar.

Right in front of the church, there is a huge plaza by the same name. The Santo Domingo plaza has a cool vibe to it with rows of vendors selling all kinds of knick-knacks and people going about their lives. If you’re looking to spend some quiet and relaxing time on a hot day in Mexico City, then this should be the place.

Bonus: 4 Non-Touristy Things to do near Mexico City

Next, I have 4 bonus attractions that are not located in Mexico City but very close to it. Takes a couple of hours to get to these locations but you’re going to find these unusual attractions near Mexico City all to yourself.

Visit the Tula warriors

Tula warriors

We have spoken a lot about the Aztecs. But did you know that the Toltecs were another powerful civilization in the Mexico Valley ? They predated the Aztecs and are believed to have profoundly influenced them.

The historic city of Tula , the ancient capital of the Toltec Empire, is one of the most unique places to visit near Mexico City. The highlight of the Tula archaeological site is the massive Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl with a group of Toltec warrior sculptures on top. The warrior columns – which show Toltec warriors ready for war – are over 800 years old and quite mysterious!

If you love digging into ancient history, then visiting Tula is one of the best things to do in Mexico City. You can get here by bus (journey takes around 2.5-3 hours). Getting a taxi to and from the bus stop might be a bit challenging. Or book a private tour like this one to take care of all the logistics.

Take a day trip to Tepotzotlan

Gilded altarpiece of San Francis Javier Church in Tepotzotlan

Tepotzotlan is a charming pueblo magico (Mexican magical town) located in the state of Mexico, just a short drive away (about 45 mins) from Mexico City. It is known for its storied history, colonial architecture, and rich cultural heritage.   

Perhaps, the most iconic attraction of Tepotzotlan is the San Francisco Javier Church (a former college), a stunning example of Churrigueresque architecture – an excessively ornate version of Spanish Baroque . The church boasts some of the most stunning Churrigueresque altarpieces in the world and is therefore, listed as a UNESCO site. I had to literally pinch myself to believe the amount of gold that had been used to build these altarpieces.

The adjoining Museo Nacional del Virreinato houses an impressive collection of religious art and artifacts from the colonial era. 

Once done with the opulent church and museum, take a stroll through the town’s charming streets, which are lined with colorful colonial buildings. Be sure to stop at some local markets for tacos and a sip of delicious horchata.

In addition to its cultural attractions, Tepotzotlan is also a great place for nature lovers . The town is surrounded by lush green hills and forests. Plus, there are several hiking trails that offer stunning views of the surroundings. 

Wine tour from Mexico City

Sparkling wine tour is one of the best non-touristy things to do in Mexico City

Fancy a wine tour from Mexico City? Sure!

This highly-rated wine tour is one of the most unique things to do in Mexico City. You’ll head to the wine region of Queretaro that is famous for its sparkling wines. Cavas Freixenet is a popular winery that offers tastings and tours of its underground cellars & production facilities.

What’s best is that this tour also includes a visit to the Tepotzotlan magical town. Therefore, you’ll get a chance to see the beautiful churrigueresque architecture of the San Francis Javier Church along with some good, bubbly wine. Perfect day trip right?

Spend a relaxing weekend at a hacienda

Lobby at Hacienda San Gabriel de las Palmas - unique place to visit near Mexico City

If you’d like to escape the hustle and bustle of city life, head to a hacienda near Mexico City for a quiet getaway . Not many people know of haciendas near Mexico City. Hence, these are some of the most unusual places to visit and stay! !

We chose Hacienda San Gabriel de Las Palmas and I couldn’t be happier. The hacienda was the perfectly luxurious getaway that I wanted in the middle of my Mexico City visit .

Dating to the 16th century and built by Hernan Cortes, San Gabriel de Las Palmas once functioned as a sugar mill and plantation. The historic mansion also played a key role in Mexican independence wars. Staying in one of those historic suites was like a dream come true for me!

The pool was so inviting. And the weather was perfect to spend some amazing time with my family while getting clicked underneath the flower-laden gulmohar trees. Check out some gorgeous pictures of Hacienda San Gabriel de Las Palmas here .

Loved our Non-Touristy Mexico City Bucket List? Pin it for later!

Traveling to Mexico City and looking for hidden gems? Grab this list of the 20 best secret things to do in Mexico City and venture off the beaten path in CDMX. #MexicoCity #Mexico

You may also like:

  • 21 Interesting Mexico City Facts No One Told You
  • What To Do In Mexico City On A Monday - 15 Amazing Ideas
  • 7 Best Things To Do In Tepotzotlan Mexico

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The Top Non-Touristy Things to Do in Mexico City

Kiosco Morisco, Santa María la Ribera, Mexico City, Mexico

Northern England Writer

Mexico City is a hotspot for tourism, turbofueled by business and a tough-to-beat cultural scene. That means the better-known attractions are often packed and booked up weeks ahead. But who wants to follow the crowd anyway? Here are the top non-touristy things to do in Mexico City.

Did you know – Culture Trip now does bookable, small-group trips? Pick from authentic, immersive Epic Trips , compact and action-packed Mini Trips and sparkling, expansive Sailing Trips .

Visit the Kiosco Morisco

Alameda de Santa María La Ribera and Kiosko Morisko. Mexico City, Mexico

The landmark that sparked a 1,000 rumours – some said it came from China, others thought a sheikh gifted it. The truth is Kiosco Morisco was built in the late 1800s for a World’s Fair in New Orleans. After a stint in the Alameda Central, it was moved to its current position in the Alameda de Santa Maria La Ribera. It’s a highlight of the Santa María la Ribera neighborhood (alongside the impressive Biblioteca Vasconcelos) and one of the most underrated attractions in the city.

Museo del Juguete Antiguo Mexico

Mexico City is packed with museums (more than 150, if you’re interested) but most tourists stick to the best-known – the Museo Nacional de Antropología, Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul and the Palacio de Bellas Artes. Visit Museo Casa de León Trotsky instead, check out the mummies at Museo de El Carmen or even head to the always well-curated Museo del Juguete Antiguo.

Go north to the Planetarium

The northern neighborhoods are perhaps the most overlooked in all Mexico City. If you look a little deeper, though, you’ll find hidden gems, of which Planetario Luis Enrique Erro is definitely one. The oldest planetarium in Latin America, it has tons of exhibits and you can get up close and personal (kind of) with the night sky. It’s not just for kids.

non tourist areas in mexico

Explore contemporary art in San Rafael

Street corner in San Rafael, a typical neighbourhood of central Mexico City, Mexico

Everyone flocks to the neighborhoods of Roma and, to a lesser extent, Condesa for their undeniably fantastic contemporary art scenes. You should head to tucked-away San Rafael instead. It’s up-and-coming and equally as quirky as Roma, but with far lower prices. You could fill entire days here, but make sure to visit the exceptional non-profit, artist-run Casa Maauad.

Taste edible insects at Mercado de San Juan

Mercado de San Juan, Mexico City, Mexico

While many travelers to Mexico City dabble in chapulines (grasshoppers) at one point or another, there is a veritable smorgasbord of edible insects to try in fancy restaurants, street-food stalls and traditional markets. One of the quintessential spots to chew on bugs is Mercado de San Juan, which dishes up escamoles (ant larvae and pupae) and gusanos de maguey (maguey worms) on the daily. Alternatively, head to Restaurante Bar Chon in the historic center to try anything from insects to crocodile.

Chill at the Audiorama and Pabellón Coreano

Bosque de Chapultepec ranks as one of the largest urban parks in Latin America. Understandably (with a spot smack bang in the heart of the city) it’s brimming with tourists. However, there are plenty of non-touristy attractions if you look hard enough. The first is the laid-back Audiorama, which streams calming music and is the ideal reading and relaxation spot. The second is the equally tranquil Pabellón Coreano, which has a replica pagoda and an isolated location.

Buy used books on Calle Donceles

If you’re a literature lover, there are many fabulous bookstores and beautiful libraries to visit… but they’re hardly under-the-radar. However, the used bookstores that run the length of Calle Donceles in the city center are a little less visited, probably because they principally appeal to a local Spanish-speaking crowd. That’s exactly why they’re worth checking out, though. Even if you haven’t cracked the lingo, there’s nothing as satisfying as rifling through a used bookstore.

Visit Casa del Árbol in Desierto de los Leones

It’s no secret there are sprawling national parks, forests and urban green spaces around Mexico City – ideal for a day (or half-day) escape from the madness of the center. But there are certain aspects of these parks that many people overlook. In Parque Nacional Desierto de Los Leones there’s a magnificent attraction known as Casa del Árbol; designed by father-son duo Guillermo and Sidartha Siliceo, it’s a 25-cabin complex built on Buddhist principles and ecofriendly concepts.

Head to the botanical garden at Biblioteca Vasconcelos

Whale skeleton inside the Vasconcelos Library in Mexico City, Mexico

In northern Mexico City is the magnificent Biblioteca Vasconcelos. But given that it’s regularly ranked as one of the most beautiful – and most architecturally impressive – library in the capital, it’s often quite touristy. Venture into the surrounding gardens, though, and you’ll stumble upon a practically deserted botanical garden. It supposedly contains more than 160 types of plant and covers a massive 26,000sqm (279,862sqft).

See the urban subcultures at El Chopo Cultural Tianguis

While you’re kicking around the Buenavista area, wander over to the nearby Cultural Tianguis. Known colloquially as El Chopo, this weekly street market is a must if you’re interested in the rockero and punk subcultures of Mexico City. A gathering place for shoppers, skaters, weed smokers and musicians alike, it brings together locals young and old but rarely tourists.

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Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

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An older white couple gaze at each other, arms around each other, on an asphalt walkway above a beach with a high-rise beyond them.

The Americans retiring to Mexico for a more affordable life: ‘We are immigrants’

There’s been much ado about northbound migration across the Mexico-US border – but some are moving in the other direction

Don’t call Jym Varnadore an expat.

Yes, he and his wife, Renee Varnadore, are living abroad. But they left the United States in search of a quality of life that’s no longer in reach for them stateside. Now, the clear blue waters of Rosarito Beach are quickly becoming home.

Their condo is just the right size for two. It’s intimate but not without its luxuries, like a huge bathtub with jacuzzi jets. Then there’s their balcony, overlooking a world of ocean that bleeds into the horizon. It’s a view reserved for millionaires and billionaires in the US, but not here.

“We are immigrants. And I think it’s disingenuous to call us anything else,” Jym said. “When I decided that I wanted to move out of the US, it was eyes wide open with that word in mind. I am an immigrant.”

If the Varnadores’ life in Mexico is a choice, they say that moving away from San Diego wasn’t. Jym had been working his way through biweekly bill payments when he decided to check in on his 401(k) and social security. As he started crunching the numbers, he found that – after retirement in a matter of years – they would be able to afford either groceries or the mortgage on their condo, but not both.

His epiphany coincided with the 2016 presidential election, a political train wreck that had also been bothering Jym. But when he called Renee over to talk, the question he posed was first and foremost about financial planning.

They had two options, he told her: stay in San Diego and substantially lower their standard of living, or leave the city she had resided in for most of her life.

“We’re gonna move,” Renee said, without missing a beat.

So they started scouring the US for a new home – maybe Oregon, or northern California, or Seattle. Renee would look up real estate prices online, and often, they’d go scout especially promising locations in person. They even visited Hawaii – another place mainlanders flock to , not without controversy – and found a potential property there, but the cost ended up being much the same as their expenses in San Diego, defeating the purpose.

Older white couple sit together in an armchair in a tidy, spare room, smiling, she holding a cat.

One day, Renee came to Jym, despondent. The only places they could afford long-term in the US either had terrible weather, terrible politics or – she felt – no culture.

It was time to start thinking beyond the US’s all-too-limiting borders. Soon, they were looking south.

I t’s true that San Diego tends to drain its residents’ pocketbooks, continuously ranking high among US cities with the most expensive housing costs. Amid a deepening housing shortage, plus dwindling state and federal funding to produce and preserve local housing, the southern California metropolis’s typical home value has reached nearly $1m.

Renters in the area have to make almost three times the city’s minimum wage just to pay the average monthly rent, while roughly a third of homeowners exist at or beyond the boundary of the federal definition for cost-burdened, spending 30% or more of their household income on monthly property costs alone.

But similar circumstances exist across the US. Nearly half of Americans say that the availability of affordable housing is a major problem in their communities, and even during a Covid-induced economic downturn, the price tag for a single-family home has soared over the last few years. Rents have soared, too, turning something as basic as reliable shelter into a luxury around the country.

Such a lack of viable housing options for so many Americans is just one of myriad signs pointing to growing inequalities. Among those whose families make less than $100,000, nearly one in 10 cannot get the medical care they need because of the cost. And as the middle class shrinks , both income and wealth inequality have surged higher in the US than in nearly any other developed nation.

These systemic failings exact a heavy toll on the US’s ageing and elderly, who are rapidly comprising more and more of the country’s population. Almost half of families in the US have no retirement account savings whatsoever, while more than 15 million Americans aged 65 or over are considered economically insecure. “The retirement system does not work for most workers,” according to the Economic Policy Institute – especially not for Black, Latino, lower-income and non-college-educated Americans, though it often fails more affluent, white professionals as well.

Overburdened by student loans, medical bills and other near-constant financial drains, some older Americans have reconciled themselves with the morbid reality that living in the US with so few safety nets means they will need to work until the day they die.

Others with the agency to make a choice have been unwilling to accept this bleak future – and have started seeking security and opportunity elsewhere. Their path – punctuated by bureaucratic hurdles and cultural adjustments – is not always as easy or romantic as it may seem. Yet even so, it can be worth the peace and security that comes next.

N o one visits the Contreras’s house in Baja California, Mexico, without letting out a “wow”. The view from their huge deck is what elicits such a strong reaction – smack-dab on the Pacific Ocean, deep blue water all around and waves crashing just below. The word “paradise” immediately comes to mind.

“We’re lucky. We’re very, very lucky,” Mary Contreras said from her immaculately curated living room.

Surrounded by such humbling expanse and calm, it’s hard to imagine anywhere someone would rather be. Yet for decades, when Mary traveled to Mexico for getaways, she had never thought that she and her husband, Chuck, would end up here full time. After all, they had roots back in the US. She was an educator and fourth-generation Californian. He worked for a non-profit, providing assistance dogs to kids and adults. They lived in Carlsbad, California, for the better part of three decades.

A sandy beach with dozens of people sitting or walking along it, a pink towel, and someone playing a standup bass.

After a great career helping people, Chuck had every intention to meet his goal of retirement before the age of 60. But on Mary’s salary alone, in an economy that doesn’t value education as much as other professions, they couldn’t realistically continue thriving in the community they called home, where she had served so many other families as an English teacher and principal.

“That I can’t continue living there – having worked my entire life and worked hard – that to me is just like, something’s wrong. Something’s really wrong,” Mary said.

“I feel incredibly blessed and fortunate to be living here,” she said of her life in Mexico. “I love living here. So it’s not that,” she quickly clarified. But “every now and then I get in touch with some anger … We had a beautiful home up there, and we had a beautiful life there. And why that couldn’t continue?”

Similarly, Renee taught English and drama to middle schoolers and high schoolers in California for more than a decade. Jym, meanwhile, comes from a military family and spent years in intelligence for the navy, working in the informational nerve center of a ship.

You can take the boy out of the navy, but you can’t take the navy out of the boy, as Jym says. So when, during tours of Mexican real estate, he walked into a unit where he could see the vastness of the ocean through a floor-to-ceiling glass wall – in a huge apartment with a price tag far below what they were paying for their condo in San Diego – he turned to Renee and told her he was ready to sign a lease.

“I love it, I live for it. People write songs about this stuff, you know? ‘The sea’s in my veins. My tradition remains.’ It’s true. It’s true,” Jym said.

For Renee, the decision to move to Rosarito Beach wasn’t so easy. She didn’t have particularly fond memories of Mexico, a country that for her was defined by a family vacation gone awry and uncomfortable drives to Tijuana as a teenager for orthodontics. Plus, the look and feel of Rosarito bothered her – rusted-out houses on the brink of collapse, juxtaposed right next to luxury high-rises where many of the expats lived.

But then, Renee started to connect with Rosarito’s more humane approach to – among other issues – homelessness. There, unhoused people’s possessions were not trashed and disrespected in the kinds of police sweeps that often defined life on the streets in San Diego, and meanwhile, Baja California was jam-packed with community-based organizations doing good, which she learned from reading the region’s English-language newspapers like the Gringo Gazette .

An older white woman dressed in bright blue looks into her purse among colorful flowers in buckets.

Once the Varnadores made up their minds, it took about two weeks for them to fix up their home in San Diego, and another week to get six offers on it. When they had a garage sale to get rid of much of their stuff, Renee cried.

But, about six months into living by the ocean in Mexico, walking on the beach every day and feeling the waves come in, something had changed inside her.

“I started healing, not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually,” Renee said.

O n the drive to the San Ysidro land port of entry that cuts between Tijuana and southern California, English-language billboards advertise beachfront properties and luxury condos. “Own the dream in Baja,” reads one, adorned with an idyllic image of a home by the ocean.

“Starting at 347 K,” reads another, promising opulence for less in Rosarito Beach.

It’s not hard to conceive of the signs’ target audience: middle-class Americans, drawn to Baja for a holiday, now on their way back to the US and dreading it. The billboards vocalize what many of these vacationers have probably been quietly imagining since they arrived: a new American dream, here in Mexico. Property ownership. A place to go for weekends, and maybe even to eventually retire. Pura vida.

A view from a car of roadside billboards rising from a grassy verge.

“It’s great to think about it and talk about it, but doing it is a different story. ’Cause you’re actually really doing it. You’re moving to another country. You’re leaving a country that you were born and raised in, and you have friends and family,” said Chuck Contreras.

“It’s gonna be tough. It’s gonna be hard. It’s gonna be scary,” he continued. “But most things that are worth it, you know, are hard.”

There’s been much ado – now, and for the last century plus – about northbound migration across the Mexico-US border. Meanwhile, traffic in the other direction has flown comparatively under the radar. But it’s always been there, in a history that often says just as much about the shortcomings of the US as it does about the appeal of other countries.

Before the civil war, people fled enslavement in the US to Mexico. After the second world war, American veterans moved there in search of a “GI paradise”. And during the cold war, political types stateside went south as a red scare “exile” to evade persecution under McCarthyism.

Often, though, Americans have simply turned to their southern neighbor to live better and more cheaply while staying relatively close to the US – to get ocean views for a fraction of the price , and still be able to visit family across the border on weekends. Especially post-pandemic, as remote work has surged, younger US professionals have descended on popular metros like Mexico City in such droves that they’ve at times clashed with locals, some of whom view these newcomers as gentrifiers taking advantage of Mexico’s lower cost of living to party away their youth.

Whatever the motivations, when US citizens move to Mexico, they are crossing an international line, a choice that brings with it not only culture shocks, but also serious legal obligations. The Varnadores and the Contrerases were both careful to follow Mexico’s immigration laws, but the process wasn’t easy. Jym described hoop after administrative hoop he and Renee had to jump through to build their lives aboveboard in Rosarito Beach – consular appointments, photos, paperwork, fingerprinting. One of the toughest, or even insurmountable, hurdles for many applicants are high financial requirements to show “economic solvency”, demonstrated through bank statements, investment reports or other records.

For Americans moving to Baja because it’s where they can afford a roof over their heads – who are renting apartments for $300 or less – those economic thresholds can be untenable. So instead, Renee said, people come in on tourist visas and overstay, much like the US’s own undocumented community.

Then, there are Americans with the means and qualifications to immigrate legally, who simply don’t want to follow the process – a particular pet peeve for Mary.

“I have a real issue with people who live here – and some of our friends who have been here longer than us – who don’t have permanent residency,” she said. “To me, you know, how dare you talk to me about immigration, or any issues with immigration, if you’re not gonna do what the country you’re in requires you to do.

“You don’t have a voice then. You know, and don’t talk about it [immigration] about the United States, either.”

A bright, sunny beach with multiple sun umbrellas and a high-rise building in the background.

She and Chuck felt strongly about doing everything the law required, from following immigration rules to getting local car insurance and healthcare. They’ve also bought two “memberships” at a funeral home, the ultimate permanent residence.

“We want to make this our home,” Mary said. “Truly, our home. We’re not visiting. We’re living here. And we want to be a part of the community.”

F or Día de los Muertos, the Mexican holiday to commemorate the dead, Jym and Renee install an altar at their home. They decorate it with photos of the loved ones they’ve lost, surrounded by beautiful ephemera like marigolds and candles.

Some of the honorees, including Jym’s mother, have been up there for a long time. Others, like Renee’s mom, are more recent additions.

One is their pet cat that crossed the border with them years ago, whose photo and ashes they place alongside a dish of water and some food. The food is gone by morning. Was it their other, living cats who ate it? Maybe so, but the Varnadores like to think otherwise.

“This holiday makes sense to us,” Jym said. They and the Contrerases embrace Mexican traditions, do their best to learn Spanish, find ways to give back to the local community and are acutely aware of not imposing US norms on to Mexico.

In essence, they try.

Admittedly, Mary has learned some hard lessons after misguided steps or language-related miscommunications during community work. Now, she has conversations with non-profits and the people who lead them about how to make a positive difference alongside their Mexican neighbors.

Two people walk down a quit road alongside teal and read two-story buildings.

“The thing that I think we have to be sensitive to and aware of is that we’re not doing it at them, but with,” she said. “Involving them and asking what is it they need and want from us, you know, rather than coming in and looking like the Americans who know it all and can fix things and make it, you know, everything better. It does not work, and it’s not appropriate or right.”

That’s not to say that Americans in Baja don’t still celebrate their culture from home. They do, just like diasporic communities in the US. It just may look a little different.

Around Thanksgiving, the Contrerases had decked out their dining table with gourds, flowers and a big “thankful” centerpiece. Their neighbors and friends were coming over for Friendsgiving – a celebration their son had started with them while he was in college – and their table was laid with themed napkins and cups.

But instead of turkey, they’d be eating Chuck’s tacos. “He makes utterly incredible tacos,” Mary gushed.

The Contrerases’ home is filled with little mantras: a hanging scroll that reads “In a world where you can be anything, be kind!” and a stone that simply says “gratitude”, next to a rendering of the Virgen de Guadalupe.

Yet the words that ring most meaningful are stitched on a pillow, simple and even a little basic but somehow also profound: “I love this place.”

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Is it safe to visit Mexico? What Canadians must know about the updated 2024 travel advisory

Elana Shepert

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It might be the third-most-visited destination for Canadians after the United States, but Mexico isn't considered a low-risk country for travellers. 

The Canadian government continues to advise tourists to exercise a high degree of caution when visiting Mexico, highlighting the country's "high levels of criminal activity and kidnapping." 

In November 2023, the United Nations stated that over 100,000 people are  currently missing in Mexico , characterizing the mass disappearances as "alarming," according to Reuters.

In December 2023, the Mexican government released the findings of their Disappeared Persons Search Strategy, revealing the scope of missing people in the country. However, the document "ambiguously" categorized roughly 80,000 individuals "due to the lack of sufficient data ," said Amnesty International. 

Other violent crimes, including armed burglaries and physical and sexual assault, are common in many places. Many robberies happen at airports, currency exchange bureaus, or ATMs.

Petty theft, including purse and bag snatching, is also common, particularly in popular tourist areas or during crowded festivals or protests.

Updated Mexico travel advisory for Canada in 2024

Canadian travellers do not require a visa to visit Mexico but their passport must be valid for their stay in the country. It is always a good idea to ensure your passport is valid for six months after you return home from travel. If you become ill or injured while in your destination, you may not be able to travel home. Having a buffer for your travel document before it expires ensures you won't have trouble coming home. 

In 2022, Canada and its neighbours south of the border issued updated  advisories for parts of Mexico  due to violent crime, including homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery. 

There continue to be high rates of these types of crime in popular tourist destinations such as the Mayan Riviera (Cancún, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos, and Tulum), and Acapulco. Criminal groups and drug cartels are also present in tourist areas and bystanders can get caught in crossfire.

Disputes between taxi and ridesharing application drivers may occur in these popular tourist destinations. Drivers generally don't target tourists but you "be caught up in these incidents and harassed or injured."

In Mexico City, government-authorized taxis have licence plates starting with “A” or “B." Other taxis at stands will have their company's logo and the plate number stamped on the side of the car. Official taxis in Mexico City are pink and white. Users can validate the pink and white taxis on the CDMX app.

Buses are relatively safe in the capital city but you should use VIP or executive class transportation when travelling to other cities.

Avoid all travel to the Guerrero State 

Canada continues to advise against any travel to the Guerrero State due to the aftermath of  Hurricane Otis . The area has grappled with increased criminal and gang activity following the natural disaster. 

The cities of Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo and Taxco are excluded from the advisory. 

Avoid non-essential travel to these areas in Mexico

The Canadian government warns against non-essential travel to the following areas due to high levels of violence of violence and organized crime

  • all Chihuahua
  • all Colima, except the city of Manzanillo
  • all Coahuila, except the southern part of the state at and below the Saltillo-Torreón highway corridor
  • all Durango, except Durango City
  • Highway 45 between León and Irapuato
  • the area south of and including Highway 45D between Irapuato and Celaya
  • all Michoacán, except the cities of Morelia and Patzcuaro
  • the Lagunas de Zempoala National Park
  • the municipality of Xoxocotla
  • the area within 20 km of the border with Sinaloa and Durango
  • the city of Tepic
  • all Nuevo León, except the city of Monterrey
  • all Sinaloa, except the cities of Los Mochis and Mazatlán
  • all Sonora, except the cities of Hermosillo and Guaymas/San Carlos and Puerto Peñasco
  • all Tamaulipas
  • all Zacatecas

What happens if you are caught committing a crime in Mexico?

If you are caught committing a crime, even a "minor" one such as smoking outside a public building or public urination, you could be detained. 

Penalties for breaking the law in Mexico can be more severe than in Canada. Travellers can be held in pre-trial detention for 72 hours before a trial.

Paying a fine may secure an early release from detention but is not guaranteed.

Smoking is prohibited in all public places except for clearly marked designated smoking areas. Some places tourists can no longer smoke include beaches, parks, hotels, and restaurants. If you are caught  smoking in public,  you may be fined.

What to do if you need help while you are in Mexico 

In case of an emergency in Mexico, dial 911. 

Contact roadside assistance if you run into an issue on a highway. The Angeles Verdes is a highway patrol service that provides free assistance on all major toll highways from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. local time. 

To contact the Angeles Verdes,  download their App  on your mobile device. In an emergency, dial 078 or 800 006 8839 (toll-free in Mexico) to reach them.

Canadians in need of emergency consular assistance should contact Global Affairs Canada's Emergency Watch and Response Centre by calling 001-800-514-0129 (toll-free from Mexico only), +1 613 996 8885, by text message at +1 613-686-3658, via WhatsApp at +1 613-909-8881, via Telegram at Canada Emergency Abroad or by  e-mail . 

Visit a  travel medical clinic  before you book a ticket from Vancouver International Airport (YVR). The healthcare professionals will inform you about what vaccinations you require and what you can expect on your trip. There are risks of contracting several viruses spread by mosquitoes including dengue, Zika, and chikungunya.

Travellers should always check the latest government advisory before booking a ticket from Vancouver to Mexico. They should also purchase a  comprehensive travel insurance policy  when they book their ticket, which will cover the cost of your ticket in case you can't leave due to an unforeseeable medical or other emergency reason. It will also cover incidents such as missed connections, baggage interruption and loss, and more. 

Canadians should always register trips they take  online  before they leave so that the government can contact them in an emergency.

Find more information about exciting destinations in B.C. and across the globe, as well as travel deals and tips, by signing up for  V.I.A.'s weekly travel newsletter The Wanderer . Since travel deals can sell out, find out the day they are posted by signing up for our  daily Travel Deals newsletter.

Want to learn more about a specific destination or have a travel concern or idea you would like V.I.A. to write about? Email us at elana@vancouverisawesome. Send us stories about recent holidays that you've been on, or if you have any tips you think our readers should know about. 

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  1. A Guide to the Yucatán—Mexico’s Best-Kept (Non-Touristy) Secret

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COMMENTS

  1. 9 Non-Touristy But Beautiful Cities And Towns In Mexico

    1. Bacalar, Quintana Roo. Bacalar is nothing like any of the popular cities on the Mexican Riviera Maya. Instead of beaches, the second-largest freshwater lake in Mexico can be found in this town in the Quintana Roo state. At 40-kilometers-long, Bacalar Lake is also known as "the Lake of Seven Colors.". On its south, a bewildering diversity ...

  2. 7 Best Non Touristy Beach Towns in Mexico

    Zipolite: A Nude Beach and Alternative Culture. Zipolite is a unique non touristy beach town that embraces alternative lifestyles and a relaxed attitude. Known as Mexico's nudist beach, Zipolite attracts a diverse crowd of free-spirited travelers. It also has many unique nude resorts along it's shore lines.

  3. Top 15 Lesser-Known Travel Destinations in Mexico

    Colonial Zacatecas, Mexico's second-highest city at 8,100 feet above sea level, offers a chance to take a trek back through history with stunning architecture that includes many civil and religious buildings from the colonial area, including the cathedral which dominates the center of town, considered one of the most beautiful examples of Churrigueresque architecture in Mexico.

  4. Beyond Cancun: Yucatan Off the Beaten Path

    Once you go off the beaten path, there's plenty for adventurous souls to see and do, with thousands of cenotes (natural swimming holes), and the densest concentration of Mayan ruins in all of Mexico. The best way to explore the Yucatan Peninsula is by car. You can rent one in Cancun for around $720 pesos ( US $40) per day.

  5. 14 Non-touristy beach towns in Mexico (2024)

    Whether you want to grab a paddle board, jump in a kayak or take a refreshing swim in the emerald-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico, El Cuyo will easily win you over with its small-town charm 😊. 4. Sisal. Sisal is one of the best beaches to escape crowds in Yucatan.

  6. Underrated Beach Destinations in Mexico That Aren't Tourist Traps

    Chacala. Nayarit. Plenty of other beach towns north of Puerto Vallarta in neighboring Nayarit have been overrun by tourists, yet somehow Chacala has managed to cling to its secret status. This ...

  7. Mexico's best off-the-grid beaches

    While there is definitely something to be said for the convenience, access and sheer volume of things to do on the beaches in Mexico's more popular destinations like Cancún, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos, there are a few beaches tucked in hidden coves and out-of-the-way bays that are the country's best-kept secrets.

  8. Mexico Hidden Gems: 10 You Need to Know About [2024]

    Mexico Hidden Gems: Isla HOLBOX. 3. Holbox Island. Though not a very large island, there are so many things to do in Isla Holbox. Holbox (pronounced hole-bosh) is one of the best beach towns in Mexico, and the only island on this list of off the beaten path Mexico hidden gems.

  9. Top 5 Non-Touristy Beach Towns In Mexico

    Manzanillo, Colima. Colima is the smallest estate in Mexico. It is located in the western part of the country by the Pacific Ocean. Despite its size, it has dozens of gorgeous beaches to visit. Manzanillo is by far the most popular one. It is a resort town with lots of activity during the holidays and Summer vacations.

  10. Must-Visit Mexico Destinations (That Aren't Cancun Or Tulum)

    7 Puerto Escondido. The vibes are good in Puerto Escondido, a less-traveled beach town renowned for its prime surfing on the Mexican Pipeline. The beaches are as beautiful as top destinations like Cancún, but the skyline is free of high-rise hotels. Instead, small boutique inns and authentic eateries serving up delicious local fare rule the ...

  11. Non-touristy itinerary in the Yucatan Peninsula in 2023

    Chichen-Itza, the unmissable stop of the itinerary in Yucatan. 4. Valladolid, an authentic town to visit during your trip to the Yucatan Peninsula. 5. Cobà, a non-touristy place to stay for a night. 6. The archaeological site of Cobà. 7. Puerto Morelos, the Caribbean Sea without the mass tourism.

  12. 23 Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in Mexico City (2024)

    3. Go to a Futbol Game. I recommend exploring the best non-tourist places in Mexico to experience authentic cultural immersion, like the Aztec Stadium. Futbol, also known as soccer to Americans, is incredibly popular in Mexico. Aztec Stadium, in Mexico City, is home to the national soccer team of Mexico.

  13. Non-Tourist Beaches in Mexico

    A roundup of some of the non-tourist beaches in Mexico, including Isla Espiritu Santo, Isla Holbox, Manzanillo, Yelapa and Playa San Francisco (San Pancho) lets you choose a vacation spot off the ...

  14. The Perfect Less-Touristy Yucatan Itinerary

    The month you land in Cancun can dictate the type of activities you do on your trip. Having said that, we have spent time in this area of Mexico during both the wet and dry seasons and can confirm - it is a great holiday or backpacking destination at any time of year! The peak season in the Yucatan runs from December through April. This is ...

  15. 5 best beaches in Mexico

    Playa Carrizalillo is a straight 15-minute walk west of the city centre of Puerto Escondido. However, it's worth taking a taxi since the route is a busy highway and the taxi fare will only cost you 30 pesos (about $2.50 AUD). To get to the beach you'll then need to trek down 167 steps, but as the sweat begins dripping keep in mind that a ...

  16. 10 Best Non-Touristy Things To Do In Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

    Playa las Gamelas, however, is a hidden gem with multiple dazzling beaches. In addition to that, guests are free to mingle with the locals who know the best places to be at different times of the day. Playa las Gemelas. Address: Playas Gemelas, 48294 Puerto Vallarta, Jal., Mexico. Website: Playa las Gemelas. Opening hours: All day . Price: Free

  17. The Most Non-Touristy Things To Do In Cancn

    Pay a visit and take in paintings and sculptures of talented Mexican artists, while also seeing the artists work in situ. For more, pay a visit to the Cultural Hall Paseo Tulum downtown, where you'll find further local craft productions, theater exhibitions, sculptures, photography and engravings. 7. Explore space and time at the planetarium.

  18. 10 Best Non-Touristy Things To Do In Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

    Flyboarding on Puerto Los Cabos Marina. Address: Paseo de los Pescadores, Puerto Los Cabos, San José del Cabo, 23403 Los Cabos, BCS, Mexico. Website: Flyboarding on Puerto Los Cabos Marina. Opening hours: 9am - 4pm. Price: 199 USD onwards.

  19. 10 Best Non-Touristy Things To Do In Cancun, Mexico

    If this is you, keep reading because, below, we've put together a list of the best non-touristy things to do in Cancun, Mexico. 1. Watch local sports in the Olympic Stadium Andrés Quintana Roo. Opened in the year 2007, the Estadio Olimpico Andres Quintana Roo has, since then, been the venue of dozens, nay, hundreds of sports matches, most of ...

  20. A great non-touristy itinerary around Mexico City in 2023

    2. Nevado de Toluca, Day 1 of the non-touristy itinerary around Mexico City; 3. Santuario de la Mariposa Monarca Piedra Herrada, a true spectacle of nature; 4. Valle de Bravo, a beautiful non-touristy colonial town near Mexico City; 5. Archeological site of Tula, non-touristy but incredible pre-Hispanic vestiges; 6.

  21. 20 Non-Touristy Things To Do In Mexico City

    One of the most non-touristy things to do in Mexico City is to explore a hidden church or convent. The streets of downtown Mexico City are lined with churches dating back 400 years. Replete with colonial architecture and beautiful altarpieces, these churches are some of the best places to visit. One such place is the Church of San Francisco ...

  22. The Top Non-Touristy Things to Do in Mexico City

    While you're kicking around the Buenavista area, wander over to the nearby Cultural Tianguis. Known colloquially as El Chopo, this weekly street market is a must if you're interested in the rockero and punk subcultures of Mexico City. A gathering place for shoppers, skaters, weed smokers and musicians alike, it brings together locals young ...

  23. 10 Best Non-Touristy Things To Do In Tulum, Mexico

    Here are some of the non-touristy things to do in Tulum Mexico. Read Also: 1. Take part in a temazcal ceremony (from USD 145.0) Show all photos. Take part in a tradition as old as the Mayans themselves. This is certainly off the beaten path for most tourists and is a great experience.

  24. The Americans retiring to Mexico for a more affordable life: 'We are

    Renters in the area have to make almost three times the city's minimum wage just to pay the average monthly rent, while roughly a third of homeowners exist at or beyond the boundary of the ...

  25. Canada's Mexico travel advisory: Is visiting safe in 2024?

    Canada continues to advise against any travel to the Guerrero State due to the aftermath of Hurricane Otis. The area has grappled with increased criminal and gang activity following the natural disaster. The cities of Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo and Taxco are excluded from the advisory. Avoid non-essential travel to these areas in Mexico