Best Places to Visit in Mexico
With diverse destinations ranging from metropolitan Mexico City to the sands of Tulum, Mexico boasts vacation spots that appeal to all sorts of visitors. To help you determine which locale is best for you, U.S. News compiled this list of the best places to visit in Mexico by factoring in cultural attractions, beaches and nightlife, along with traveler votes and expert opinions. Vote for your favorite vacation spots below to help us determine next year's ranking. Meanwhile, if you're considering a cruise, peruse the Best Mexico Cruise Deals, and if you're in need of lodging, check out the Best Hotels in Mexico » (Note: Some of the below destinations may be affected by the coronavirus outbreak. Check with the CDC and the U.S. Department of State before traveling.)
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Sand, nightclubs, all-inclusive resorts and inexpensive flights from the U.S. make Cancun a go-to spot for spring breakers and vacationers seeking an easy beach getaway. But the city also sits close to lush jungles, tranquil cenotes and an impressive network of caverns, making it an excellent option for nature lovers. Visiting in winter will ensure you see this town in its best – and most tranquil – light.
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Home to the world's only waterfront Mayan ruins, Tulum appeals to history buffs and water lovers alike. Positioned along a stretch of the Riviera Maya, the area offers numerous lodging options, ranging from small boutique hotels to wellness retreats to all-inclusive resorts. That means every traveler can book the vacation that will best benefit them. Regardless of where you stay, you can spend time lounging on the beach, exploring ancient ruins and swimming in secluded cenotes located in Tulum's underwater caves.
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Playa del Carmen boasts a hip food scene, with eateries dishing out everything from delectable tacos and tostadas to sushi and expertly cooked seafood, plus an even hipper bar culture. What's more, this destination in the Riviera Maya beckons to vacationers with its soft sand blanketing its beaches and its stunning shoreline views. Visitors can also bike to a nearby cenote for a refreshing dip or hit the links at one of upscale Playacar's golf courses. All-inclusive resorts, vacation rentals and boutique properties abound in this region, too, giving travelers plenty of options to suit their preferences and budgets.
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This island is probably best known for two things: coral reefs and cruise ships. Travelers love this destination's brilliant blue water and laid-back beaches, plus its abundance of water sports. Numerous outfitters and resorts offer kayaks, paddleboards and snorkeling gear. But Cozumel is also a quiet place to learn about Mayan culture and relax on the beach with a good book. For a dose of history, visit the San Gervasio Mayan Archaeological Site.
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Huatulco#5 in Best Places to Visit in Mexico
Boasting nine bays and 36 beaches, Huatulco is a pristine coastal town near Oaxaca on the Pacific Ocean. Visitor accommodations are upscale without being flashy, and protecting the environment is one of the town's top priorities. As such, buildings cannot be taller than six stories high, and much of the lush natural landscape remains untouched. Popular activities include snorkeling and ecological tours. If you'd rather take it easy, you can spend your days lounging on the beach and dining at the variety of seaside bars and restaurants.
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Guanajuato#6 in Best Places to Visit in Mexico
Ornate colonial buildings, busy plazas and colorful homes are everywhere you turn in this UNESCO World Heritage-listed city. Guanajuato is known for its subterranean streets and tunnels, which you can explore on a walking tour or at your own leisure. After admiring the city's cobblestone roadways and charming architecture, grab a souvenir or bite to eat at the bustling Mercado Hidalgo. If you enjoy art, arrive in October when the popular Festival Internacional Cervantino takes place.
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The most populous city in Mexico is steeped in history and culture. Mexico City boasts delectable cuisine, ancient Aztec sites and world-class hotels – all at fairly low costs – but if you feel like splurging, you'll find an array of high-end shops lining Polanco's Avenida Presidente Masaryk. Must-see cultural attractions include the Palace of Fine Arts and the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. And if you want to eat your way through the city, consider signing up for a food tour.
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Zacatecas#8 in Best Places to Visit in Mexico
If you're looking for a genuine Mexico experience away from the crowds, head to historic Zacatecas. Once a hot spot for silver mining, this colonial city boasts a rich heritage that visitors can experience through local food and cultural sites like Mina El Edén (a 16th-century mine with a rock and minerals museum) and Museo de Pedro Colonel (an art museum). For an extra special treat, take a cable car to the top of El Cerro de la Bufa mountain, where you'll be rewarded with sweeping views of the city below.
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Travel to this colonial city in southern Mexico for a full immersion into Mexican culture. Situated more than 5,000 feet above sea level and surrounded by the Sierra Madre del Sur mountain range, Oaxaca is the place to experience native customs, visit vibrant markets and dine on delicious Mexican food. Standout cultural sites include the Templo de Santo Domingo church, which dates back to 1555 and was used for a time as military barracks, and the preserved ruins of Monte Albán.
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Merida#10 in Best Places to Visit in Mexico
As the capital of the Yucatan, Mérida's rich culture is visible around every turn. White stone mansions line Paseo de Montejo (the city's main street), while vibrant Sunday markets provide a taste of old-world Mexico. Those looking for Mayan ruins are also in luck, as many ancient archaeological sites are in close proximity. Meanwhile, museum and art enthusiasts praise the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya, as well as the city's art galleries and local murals. When it comes to lodging, travelers will have their pick of quaint boutique hotels.
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Puerto Vallarta appeals to vacationers in search of excellent beaches and authentic regional cuisine. Plus, its quaint setting along Banderas Bay (on Mexico's western coast) and iconic landmarks, such as Los Arcos and the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, set it apart from other packaged tourist centers – and make for wonderful photo-ops. Visitors can lounge along the shores, go on a whale watching tour or even participate in tequila tastings.
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Puebla#12 in Best Places to Visit in Mexico
For a vacation packed with authentic character, head to Puebla. This colonial city, which sits southeast of Mexico City, is filled with churches – 365, to be exact – but its main draws are its stunning Talavera pottery and its sweet and spicy cuisine. Visitors must try mole poblano (made with numerous ingredients, including chiles, meat, chocolate, cinnamon and garlic) and chiles en nogada (chiles stuffed with beef and served with a walnut sauce and fruit like peaches, apples and pomegranate seeds). When the sun sets, venture to Callejón de los Sapos to listen to live music.
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Cabo San Lucas is party central in the Baja peninsula, but it also features some of Mexico's most luxurious hotels and top-notch golf courses. The beaches here are beautiful but are primarily for sunbathing; only select stretches of sand are safe for swimming. Stay in nearby San José del Cabo if you're looking for some respite from Cabo's busy beaches and loud nightclubs.
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Strolling along the streets of San Miguel de Allende, you may think that you've stepped back in time. Travel to this city to see colonial buildings rub shoulders with trendy art galleries and shops. Make sure to visit one (or more) of San Miguel de Allende's open-air markets and beloved spots like the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel. Also keep your day-to-day plans flexible, as there's bound to be something happening during your visit. The city's year-round festivals celebrate everything from music to religious holidays.
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Punta Mita#15 in Best Places to Visit in Mexico
This secluded vacation spot is known for its luxurious lodging options (from vacation rentals to high-end hotels like the St. Regis and the Four Seasons), golf courses and pristine beaches. The small resort village of Punta Mita sits on a peninsula in Banderas Bay and most appeals to travelers seeking a relaxing atmosphere. Those interested in scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing and surfing will be able to enjoy those activities here as well.