Things to do in Mexico

Mexico has consistently proven to be one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world, with gorgeous beaches, extraordinary history and diverse landscapes. It would take a few months, if not years, to fully explore and discover all that this magical country has to offer.

Spend a few days wandering round the ancient Mayan and Aztec pyramids and ruins, explore the deserts and swamps, marvel at the rainforests or navigate an eco-tour by mountain bike, jeep, kayak or horseback. There are 67 National Parks conserving indigenous fauna and flora, and the country is a bird-watcher's paradise, with the most species of birds in the whole of North America.

The west coast of Mexico's Baja California peninsula is regarded as having some of the best whale watching destinations in the world. The three lagoons on the Pacific Coast offering the best spots for watching grey whales are Magdalena Bay, San Ignacio Lagoon and Scammon's Lagoon. Humpback whales and blue whales breed in the Sea of Cortez, and Bahia de Los Angeles is the centre for whale watching expeditions in the area.

Beach resort cities such as Acapulco, Cancun and those of the Baja California region are considered to be true slices of heaven. The wonderfully unique architecture and evidence of European colonial rule still exist in the cities, while El Zócalo in Mexico City, the second largest city square in the world, is where all the magic happens and is the best place to experience some real Mexican flavour.

Mexican cruises mix old world charm with modern amenities, giving a great blend of excitement and serenity to the holiday cruise. Mexican cruises typically only visit the west coast while the beautiful and warm waters on the east are usually included in Caribbean cruise packages.

Baja California photo

Baja California

Baja California is a long thin peninsula running parallel to the west coast of the Mexican mainland, extending from Tijuana on the American border down to Cabo San Lucas. A wildly …

Baja California

Baja California is a long thin peninsula running parallel to the west coast of the Mexican mainland, extending from Tijuana on the American border down to Cabo San Lucas. A wildly beautiful place of unusual scenery and dramatic colour changes, it boasts exquisite azure bays and miles of fine white beaches. Rocky cliffs give way to dry mountainous slopes covered in a stunning display of cacti, while the coast is dotted with resorts and modern towns. The warm waters are rich in marine life, with most resort tour operators arranging whale-watching trips from January to March. The UNESCO-listed Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve, in the mountains south of La Paz, is a wonderful playground for hikers, mountain bikers and nature lovers, while the Baja Peninsula also boasts the best seafood and wine in Mexico.


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Oaxaca photo

Oaxaca

Oaxaca is a city developed over three centuries of colonisation. This influence is visible in the stunning architecture of the buildings, a solid style adapted from European method…

Oaxaca

Oaxaca is a city developed over three centuries of colonisation. This influence is visible in the stunning architecture of the buildings, a solid style adapted from European methods to stand up to occasional earthquakes. The buildings are distinctively green, made of a particular stone mined in local quarries. The city also offers a number of museums in town, including those dedicated to local history as well as to art from ancient to contemporary periods. Oaxaca is also near Monte Alban, an archaeological site of one of the earliest cities of Mesoamerica dating back to 500 BC. Oaxaca is known as the culinary capital of Mexico, and its gastronomic traditions go back to the Mayan civilisation. The street food is excellent, while some say Oaxaca was where chocolate was invented by ancient Mesoamericans.


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The Pacific Coast photo

The Pacific Coast

The Pacific Coast contains some of Mexico's principal resorts as well as other lesser-known scenic spots and coastal villages. Known as the Mexican Riviera, it has international fa…

The Pacific Coast

The Pacific Coast contains some of Mexico's principal resorts as well as other lesser-known scenic spots and coastal villages. Known as the Mexican Riviera, it has international favourites like Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta, along with excellent seafood and a large selection of adventure tourism attractions. It's one of the leading resort destinations in the country, with miles of golden beaches, picturesque bays and excellent surf, alongside an active nightlife and luxury accommodation. The Pacific Coast offers the exhilarating action of the famous cliff divers of Acapulco, bird watching near the small fishing village of San Blas, and the jade green waters of Puerto Escondido. Taxis are readily available in the resort areas, while Acapulco, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta have ports with ferries and cruise ship dockings.


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Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve photo

Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve

The Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve, located in the mountains south of La Paz, provides a rugged home for an incredible diversity of animal and plant life. Declared a UNESCO …

Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve

The Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve, located in the mountains south of La Paz, provides a rugged home for an incredible diversity of animal and plant life. Declared a UNESCO Global Biosphere Reserve in recognition of its distinctive fauna and flora, the reserve is home to mountain lion, coyotes, foxes, kangaroo rats, desert mule deer, gophers and badgers. This ecological treasure house attracts hikers, mountain bikers and naturalists keen to see cacti, palms and pine trees grow side by side and picturesque rock pools form underneath towering granite boulders. The core of the reserve is dominated by scenic oak-pine forests, which can make it difficult to spot animals.

El Zocalo photo

El Zocalo

The enormous paved Plaza de la Constitución, or Zocalo, is the second largest city square in the world. Dominated on one side by the magnificent colonial Presidential Palace, and …

El Zocalo

The enormous paved Plaza de la Constitución, or Zocalo, is the second largest city square in the world. Dominated on one side by the magnificent colonial Presidential Palace, and on the other by the great Metropolitan Cathedral with its ornate interior, the square is Mexico City's centre of government and religion. The square itself is always filled with activity, with vendors, buskers and informal performances and passing tourists. Every evening the presidential guards lower the national flag from the central flagpole. The square is constantly encircled by the city's ubiquitous green Volkswagen taxis and is a good starting point for those wanting to explore the city.

Templo Mayor photo

Templo Mayor

Templo Mayor was the principal temple of the Aztecs, believed to mark the centre of the universe. It was part of the sacred complex of the ancient city of Tenochtitlan, and today i…

Templo Mayor

Templo Mayor was the principal temple of the Aztecs, believed to mark the centre of the universe. It was part of the sacred complex of the ancient city of Tenochtitlan, and today it has been excavated to show the multiple layers of construction. The temple was first built in 1375 and enlarged several times, each rebuilding accompanied by a bloody sacrifice of captured warriors to rededicate the sacred area. Within the site is the excellent Museo del Templo Mayor, displaying artefacts from the original site including a great wheel-like stone carving of the Aztec goddess of the moon, Coyilxauhqui.

Website www.templomayor.inah.gob.mx/english

Opens Tuesday to Sunday 9am to 5pm.

Admission

MXN 64

San Angel photo

San Angel

Formerly a separate village, San Angel is one of the more charming of Mexico's suburbs, an exclusive neighbourhood with ancient mansions and colonial houses along cobbled streets. …

San Angel

Formerly a separate village, San Angel is one of the more charming of Mexico's suburbs, an exclusive neighbourhood with ancient mansions and colonial houses along cobbled streets. It's famed for its Saturday craft market in the pretty Plaza San Jacinto, which brings colour, crowds and a festive atmosphere to the area, and has excellent art and handicrafts for sale. The suburb is crammed with little restaurants and cafes, several museums exhibiting the works of Frida Kahlo and others, and the lovely El Carmen complex consisting of a triple-domed church, a former monastery and a museum. San Angel is surrounded by a volcanic rock bed called the Pedregal. Parts of this unusual landscape have been declared protected areas where visitors can see the endemic flora and fauna.

Teotihuacan photo

Teotihuacan

Situated 31 miles (50km) from Mexico City, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Teotihuacan is the country's largest ancient city, dating from around 300 to 600 BC. Legend has it the …

Teotihuacan

Situated 31 miles (50km) from Mexico City, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Teotihuacan is the country's largest ancient city, dating from around 300 to 600 BC. Legend has it the Aztecs found the abandoned city, recognising signs of its previous magnificence and naming it Teotihuacan (Place of the Gods). The central thoroughfare of Teotihuacan is the Avenue of the Dead, a 1,3 mile (2km) stretch connecting the three main attractions. The Pyramid of the Sun is the third largest in the world, a huge red painted structure over a cave with spectacular views from the top. The smaller, more graceful Pyramid of the Moon contains an altar believed to have been used for religious dancing. The Citadel is a large square complex that was once the residence of the city's ruler. Within the walls is its main feature, the Templo de Quetzalcoatl.

Opens Tuesday to Sunday 9am—5pm.

Chichen Itza photo

Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza, with its famous pyramids and temples, is the Yucatan's most visited ancient Mayan site, set in the jungle and said to have been inhabited for more than 2,000 years. T…

Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza, with its famous pyramids and temples, is the Yucatan's most visited ancient Mayan site, set in the jungle and said to have been inhabited for more than 2,000 years. The main attraction at Chichen Itza is the Pyramid of Kukulkan (the plumed serpent god), or El Castillo, a grand pyramid topped by a temple that dominates the site and has been declared one of the 7 New Wonders of the World. Inside the pyramid is a smaller pyramid, the inner sanctum, containing one of the greatest finds on the site, the brilliant red jaguar throne with jade spots, inlaid eyes and real jaguar teeth. Another building of interest is El Caracol, an observatory with slits in the dome aligned with certain astronomical appearances at specific dates.

Transport

Bus services from Cancun or Playa del Carmen (2.5hrs by bus)

Opens Daily 8am to 4.30pm. Light and sound show begins 7pm (autumn and winter) and 8pm (spring and summer).

Admission

MXN 98, including show. Translation headphones are MXN 25 each.

Palenque photo

Palenque

The setting for this spectacular ancient Mayan city is splendid, a hauntingly beautiful site engulfed in the endless tropical jungle that bristles with the shrieks of insects. The …

Palenque

The setting for this spectacular ancient Mayan city is splendid, a hauntingly beautiful site engulfed in the endless tropical jungle that bristles with the shrieks of insects. The architecture is fantastic and for many Palenque is the most remarkable of the major Mayan sites. Early morning is the best time to capture the setting at its most photogenic, when swirling vapours encircle the temples and the jungle. The highlight is the tallest and most important of Palenque's buildings, the magnificent Temple of Inscriptions. Constructed on eight levels, the rear interior wall is decorated with panels of Mayan hieroglyphic inscriptions describing the history of Palenque and the temple. There is a museum near the entrance of the site.

The Copper Canyon photo

The Copper Canyon

The Copper Canyon is a maze of gorges that combine to form six massive interconnected canyons, covering an area four times larger and almost two times deeper than the Grand Canyon.…

The Copper Canyon

The Copper Canyon is a maze of gorges that combine to form six massive interconnected canyons, covering an area four times larger and almost two times deeper than the Grand Canyon. The Copper Canyon Railway climbs some 8,000 feet (2,400m) over the Sierra Madre, before dropping down to the city of Chihuahua, 393 miles (655km) away. It passes through 86 tunnels, crosses 39 bridges and performs a 360 degree loop, winding through some of the country's most magnificent scenery, often huggin the cliff with views of the river far below. The cliffs are home to thousands of Tarahumara, semi-nomads who farm, raise cattle and sell handicrafts. In stark contrast are the Mennonite settlements around Cuauhtemoc, where people sell farm products such as cheese and sausages but otherwise keep themselves out of society.


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Guanajuato photo

Guanajuato

Guanajuato is a colonial gem, founded around the rich silver deposits discovered by the Spanish in 1558. The city has an unusual layout, crammed into a narrow valley with houses an…

Guanajuato

Guanajuato is a colonial gem, founded around the rich silver deposits discovered by the Spanish in 1558. The city has an unusual layout, crammed into a narrow valley with houses and streets forced into irregular positions due to the naturally hilly topography. Brightly painted houses perch on slopes reached by narrow cobbled alleyways, hidden plazas, steep stairways and underground tunnels. The most narrow, and most visited, alley is the Callejón del Beso (Alley of the Kiss) where the balconies of the leaning houses on either side almost touch each other, a feature in the local romantic legend about furtive lovers exchanging kisses. Every weekend the famous strolling musicians lead processions through the narrow winding alleyways, strumming, singing and telling stories to following crowds.

Transport

Bus from Mexico City (about four hours).

Creel photo

Creel

The rustic logging town of Creel is the gateway to the Copper Canyon, popular as a starting point for exploring the canyons and Tarahumara Indian country. The Ferrocarril Chihuahua…

Creel

The rustic logging town of Creel is the gateway to the Copper Canyon, popular as a starting point for exploring the canyons and Tarahumara Indian country. The Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacifico (ChePe) train runs along the main canyon between Chihuahua and Los Mochis. The trip takes about 15 hours, passing through dramatic scenery and several villages. Creel is the largest town in the canyon and offers accommodation, restaurants and tours. Situated high in a valley, the cool mountain air at 7,677 feet (2,340m) makes a pleasant escape from the humidity on the coast.

Yucatan Peninsula photo

Yucatan Peninsula

The atmosphere of the Yucatan Peninsula is more relaxed and tranquil. It's an area famed for white sandy beaches, magnificent offshore coral reefs and diving opportunities on the C…

Yucatan Peninsula

The atmosphere of the Yucatan Peninsula is more relaxed and tranquil. It's an area famed for white sandy beaches, magnificent offshore coral reefs and diving opportunities on the Caribbean Coast, as well as for the region's splendid ruins and extraordinary Mayan temples. Visitors can explore tropical jungles, a hot countryside dotted with Mayan villages and a superb coastline with popular resorts and islands such as Cancun and Cozumel. There are also numerous archaeological sites and colonial towns. Taxis are the preferred way to get around the resort areas while there are frequent ferry services to Cozumel and Mujeres.


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La Paz photo

La Paz

The holiday retreat of La Paz is the laid-back capital of Baja California Sur, known for its stunning sunsets, beaches and colonial architecture. The most romantic feature in the c…

La Paz

The holiday retreat of La Paz is the laid-back capital of Baja California Sur, known for its stunning sunsets, beaches and colonial architecture. The most romantic feature in the city is the waterfront promenade, festooned with dining and nightlife spots stretching for several kilometres along sandy beaches. The region boasts astonishing plant and animal life, the varied and dramatic geology of the inland deserts, mountains and oases. Beautiful unspoilt offshore islands offer hiking, as well as amazing diving and snorkelling from pristine beaches with dolphins, sea lions and gigantic whale sharks. The islands are the destination of kayakers, sailors and boat cruises, and the bay is a popular yachting stopover. La Paz is a fisherman's paradise and its international fishing competitions are world-famous. There's also no shortage of upmarket boutiques and high fashion stores for those with a penchant for shopping.


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