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MEXICO TRAVEL GUIDE

Mexico is a dazzling land with an extensive cultural heritage that spans many centuries - an urban miracle where native markets thrive amidst a backdrop of colonial churches and sophisticated buildings.

 

Mexico is one of the most popular tourist countries on the planet and beckons with a truly astounding range of travel options, from the cultural and historic to the adventurous and scenic. The intrepid traveller is well advised to try a little of each. Soak in sun and sand, dance through a Mexican fiesta, drool over turkey mole. Or simply float through Gothic churches and marvel at the splendours of Indian architecture that has survived the ravages of centuries. Whether rambling through ancient Mayan ruins or musing through Spanish churches, you are infused with the charm of this land, its native Indian culture and its glorious colonial heritage. Much of the tourist industry revolves around the beach resorts as well as the altiplano in the central part of the country. Visiting the northern interior allows visitors to get off the beaten path a bit.

COUNTRY PAGE
  • Capital: Mexico City (Distrito Federal)
  • Currency: Mexican Peso (MXN)
  • Area: 1,964,375 km²
  • Population: 126,2 million (2018)
  • Language: Spanish is the most commonly spoken language various Mayan, Nahuatl, and other regional indigenous languages
  • Religion:Roman Catholic 89%, Protestant 6%, other 5%
  • Electricity: 127V, 60Hz (US type A plug)

 

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SEASONS AT A GLANCE

Most destinations have different times of the year when they’re more or less popular with tourists. 

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Peak Season

Shoulder Season

Off Peak Season

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Climate Chart with avergae monthly temperatues and rainfall

BEST TIME TO VISIT MEXICO

The climate varies dramatically across Mexico's vast landscape. In the northernmost area of the Baja Peninsula, on the Pacific coast, the climate is Mediterranean, whereas the climate is arid on the other side of the peninsula, facing the Sea of Cortez. As you move south on the Baja Peninsula, the climate changes to become more subtropical sub-arid/semi-arid, until you reach La Paz and Cabo, which has a unique tropical desert climate. On the mainland, the northern area of Mexico tends to be mountainous and chilly, and the lower areas have an arid climate. A tropical climate prevails from around the Tampico area down to Cancun, as well as the adjacent side on the Pacific.

 

BEST TIME FOR:

  • Cabo San Lucas - January to December
  • Puerto Vallarta - November to May
  • Mexico City - March to October
  • Oaxaca - February to November
  • Cancun - November to August

 

SEASONS:

  • High Season (December to April) - This is driest months across most of Mexico, bringing winter escapees from colder countries. Christmas and Easter are Mexican holiday times. Transportation and coastal accommodations can get very busy.
  • Shoulder Season (July to August) - Vacation time for many Mexicans and foreigners alike. It is hot almost everywhere and very wet on the Pacific coast. Accommodations prices go up in some popular areas.
  • Low Season (May & June, September to November) - May and June see peak temperatures in many areas. September is the heart of the hurricane season, which doesn’t always bring hurricanes but does bring heavy rains on the Gulf and Pacific coasts.

BEST TIME FOR:

The most pleasant time to visit the beaches of Mexico is from October to May. The months of June to September are hurricane season and can be very hot and humid.

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TRAVEL TIPS FOR MEXICO

  • Get out of the cities and coastal resorts into the countryside and smaller towns and villages, where you’ll see a side of Mexican life that many tourists miss.
  • Don’t spread yourself too thin; pick a part of Mexico that you particularly want to explore.

 

GETTING AROUND MEXICO

  • Bus - Mexico’s efficient, comfortable and reasonably priced bus network is generally the best option for moving around the country. Services are frequent on main routes.
  • Air - Over 60 cities are served by domestic flights, which are well worth considering for longer intercity trips. Fares vary widely depending on the airline and how far in advance you pay.
  • Car - A convenient option giving maximum independence. Roads are serviceable, with speeds generally slower than north of the border.
  • Train - Train travel is limited to one spectacularly scenic train route in northern Mexico.

 

LOCAL TRANSPORT

  • Ride Hailing - Uber dominates the ride-hailing market in Mexico followed by Cabify and Didi.

REGIONS & HIGHLIGHTS OF MEXICO

Due to the vast size of Mexico, this page can hardly do justice to provide you with every detail of must see and must do's. We'll keep it relatively simple and give our list of the Top 20 Experiences of Mexico.

 

  • PALANQUE - Gather all your senses and dive headfirst into the ancient Maya world at the exquisite Palenque, where spectacular pyramids rise above emerald jungle treetops and furtive monkeys shriek and catapult themselves through dense canopies. Take your time to marvel at the abundance of reliefs, seek out the tomb of the mysterious Red Queen and her sarcophagus, wander the maze-like palace, gazing up at its iconic tower. Then, pay your respects to Pakal (Palenque’s mightiest ruler) at the Temple of the Inscriptions, perhaps the most celebrated burial monument in the Americas.
  • CABU PULMO - Rediscover the magic of old Baja by visiting the largely undeveloped east coast, discovering world-class diving off Cabo Pulmo, the only coral reef on the west coast of North America and, at 71 sq km, one of the largest and most successful marine protected regions in the world. In this beautiful place you can expect to see black coral bushes, schools of trigger fish, and yellowfin tuna and snapper. Depending on the seasons and currents, you may also spy hammerhead sharks, huge manta rays and whale sharks.
  • MEXICO CITY - The nation’s long-standing political capital clearly stands at the forefront of Mexico’s cultural scene as well. Remember that this is where many of the country’s top muralists left behind their most important works, such as Diego Rivera’s cinematic murals in the Palacio Nacional and the social-realism work of José Clemente Orozco in the Palacio de Bellas Artes. Art, music, dance and theatre are everywhere in Mexico City – even a gondola ride along the ancient canals of Xochimilco wouldn’t be complete without taking in a fervent mariachi ballad.
  • MEXICO'S LAST TRAIN - The Ferrocarril Chihuahua Pacífico (Copper Canyon Railway) remains one of Latin America’s best rail trips. Trains climb from sea level at Los Mochis to Chihuahua’s high desert plains via the sensational rocky landscapes of the Copper Canyon. Vistas from your window include alpine forests, subtropical valleys, Tarahumara villages and glimpses of some of the world’s deepest canyons. Alight at a photogenic stop for 15 minutes along the canyon’s edge, or stay for days of exploring, hiking, biking and even zip-lining in one of Mexico’s most breath-taking destinations.
  • PYRAMIDS OF TEOTIHUACAN - Once among Mesoamerica’s greatest cities, Teotihuacán lies just an hour out of Mexico City. The immense Pirámide del Sol (Pyramid of the Sun) and Pirámide de la Luna (Pyramid of the Moon) dominate the remains of the ancient metropolis, which even centuries after its collapse in the 8th century AD remained a pilgrimage site for Aztec royalty. Today it is a magnet for those who come to soak up the mystical energies that are believed to converge here.
  • OAXACA CITY - This highly individual city basks in bright upland light and captivates everyone with its deliciously inventive version of Mexican cuisine, gorgeous handicrafts, colourful fiestas, colonial architecture, booming arts scene and fine mezcals distilled in nearby villages. Within easy reach of the city are the superb ancient Zapotec capital, Monte Albán, dozens of indigenous craft-making villages with weekly markets, and the cool, forested hills of the Sierra Norte, perfect for hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders.
  • MERIDA - The cultural capital of the Yucatán Peninsula, this large but manageable city has a beautifully maintained colonial heart. It’s traced with narrow cobbled streets and dotted with sunny plazas, a wealth of museums and galleries and some of the best food in the region. Just out of town are wildlife reserves, graceful haciendas (estates) and jungle-shrouded cenotes (sinkholes) to swim in. A little further afield, the little-visited Maya sites along the Ruta Puuc allow you to step back in time without the tour groups.
  • SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASA - Saunter the cobble-stone streets of hill-ringed San Cristóbal de las Casas, the high-altitude colonial city in the heart of indigenous Chiapas. A heady mix of modern and Maya, with cosmopolitan cafes and traditional culture, it’s also a jumping-off point for Chiapas’ natural attractions and fascinating Tzotzil and Tzeltal villages. Spend sunny days exploring its churches and bustling markets, or riding a horse through fragrant pine forest, and chilly evenings warmed by the fireplace of a cosy watering hole.
  • CHICHEN ITZA - There’s a reason why this Maya site is the most popular of Mexico’s ancient sights – it's spectacular. From the imposing, monolithic El Castillo pyramid (where the shadow of the plumed serpent god Kukulcán creeps down the staircase during the spring and autumn equinoxes) to the Sacred Cenote and curiously designed El Caracol, the legacy of Mayan astronomers will blow your mind. Admire the Wall of Skulls and the stone carvings at the Temple of Warriors, or come back at night for the sound-and-light show.
  • THE OAXACA COAST - After a few days on this 550km sequence of sandy Pacific beaches you’ll be so relaxed you may not be able to leave. Head for the surf mecca and fishing port of Puerto Escondido, the low-key resort of Bahías de Huatulco, or the ultra-laid-back hangouts of Zipolite, San Agustinillo or Mazunte. Soak up the sun, eat good food and imbibe in easy-going beach bars. When the mood takes you, have a swim, surf or snorkel, or board a boat to sight turtles, dolphins, whales, crocs or birdlife.
  • LA HUASTECA POTOSINA - Gorgeously green Huasteca Potosina, a sub-region of San Luis Potosí, offers ruins, cave visits and wild and wet experiences. You can plunge into, boat to or ogle at a number of stunning waterfalls and rivers. The turquoises, aquas and greens are as vibrant as any manipulated image. Huastec culture is strong here: don’t miss trying a local zacahuil, a massive tamal. The region is home to surrealist garden, Las Pozas, where gigantic Dalí-esque structures strut their quirky stuff.
  • VOLCAN PARICUTIN - As volcanoes go, Paricutín is still in its adolescence. Blasting out of a Michoacán maize field in 1943, it’s one of the youngest volcanoes on Earth, and one of only a few whose life cycle has been fully studied by scientists. And the dormant, 410m-high cone is relatively easy to climb. Some rock hop across barren lava fields to bag the peak, others ride horses through hot black sand before dismounting for the final summit scramble over volcanic scree. The goal’s the same: a chance to stand atop a veritable geological marvel.
  • PICO DE ORIZABA - Touch the sky high above Mexico on the gruelling climb to the 5611m summit of Pico de Orizaba, the snow-capped highest mountain in the country. The trek is no walk in the park. You’ll need the help of an experienced local trekking operator, clothing for extreme cold and a sense of adventure as big as the mountain itself. If this all sounds a bit extreme for you, you can enjoy any number of less-demanding trails on the peak’s lower slopes.
  • SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE - This colonial beauty has it all: a spring like climate, extraordinary light, architecture, handicraft shopping and some of the best culinary experiences in the country. Its frequent festivities mean that music, parades and fireworks are never hard to find, and its nearby hot springs are a joy to unwind in. Famously a place for retired gringos to spend the winter, San Miguel has so much more to offer than expat hangouts; spending time here is often a highlight of Mexico for many visitors.
  • SPOT MONARCHS IN THEIR MILLIONS - Canopies of butter-flies cover the forests and hillsides in the Reserva de la Biósfera Santuario Mariposa Monarca (Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve), an astonishing yearly natural phenomenon. It’s the kind of annual event to plan your trip around – between late October and March the migrant monarchs cover every surface, weighing down fir tree branches and changing the landscape into a permanent sunset as the butterflies winter far from the freezing Great Lakes. It is one of the planet’s most spectacular migrations and not to be missed.
  • COSTA MAYA - Unlike the overdeveloped Cancún and Riviera Maya, you can still find quiet fishing villages on the Costa Maya that put a premium on sustainable development, such as Mahahual and Xcalak, both of which boast some of the best dive sites on the Caribbean coast. Then head inland for Laguna Bacalar, a laid-back lakeside town known for its mesmerizing scenery, a 90m-deep cenote and an old Spanish fortress.
  • THE PACIFIC COAST - Running from the desert islands of Baja California to verdant coves backed by lush mountains, and from untrammelled expanses of sand to lagoons teeming with birdlife, Mexico’s Pacific coastline is stunning in its natural beauty. Punctuating this primordial grandeur is a series of resort towns – Mazatlán, Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo, Ixtapa, Zihuatanejo and Acapulco – interspersed with world-class surf spots such as Barra de Nexpa, Boca de Pascuales, Troncones and Puerto Escondido, where clear barrels of awesome power batter the shores.
  • NAVIGATE GUADALAJARA - Mexico’s second-largest city manages to dazzle despite being more a collection of pueblos than a great metropolis. This charmer gets under your skin with colonial buildings, lofty churches, labyrinthine markets, awesome public spaces and craft shopping in the arty suburbs of Tlaquepaque and Tonalá. The young and middle class party all weekend in hip bars and dance clubs, and there’s nowhere better in western Mexico to eat out, whether you’re after local specialties such as spicy goat stew, or chic New Mexican and fusion cuisine.
  • DIVE ESPIRITU SANTO - Part of a UNESCO-protected Biosphere Reserve, Espíritu Santo island is spectacular in every way. Pink sandstone has been eroded by wind and waves into finger-like protrusions, each harbouring a beautiful cove. And if this otherworldly beauty isn’t enough then you can descend into the endless blue with whale sharks, dive the many colourful reefs, camp under a canopy of stunning stars, watch frolicking sea lions at their island colony and paddle your way along myriad azure bays.
  • TULUM - Take a world-famous Maya ruin, plonk it down beside the achingly beautiful white sands and turquoise-blue waters of the Caribbean and you’ve got the rightly popular Tulum. Add in accommodations for all budgets, from beachside shacks to top-end resorts, some fantastic restaurants and bars, and numerous attractions in the surrounding area from cenotes (limestone sinkholes) to other Maya ruins, and it’s no wonder many people come for a few days and find themselves staying for far longer.
  • PUERTO VALLARTA - Visitors adore colourful Vallarta’s profusion of charms and it’s undoubtedly a more genuine, vibrant place than most of Mexico’s large beach-resort towns. Set on a long bay dotted with lovely beaches, it offers big-city nightlife, small-town friendliness, get-away-from-it-all excursions and a legendary LGBT scene. Beyond its lovely seafront boardwalk, one of the real delights of Puerto Vallarta is the abundance of top-quality street food, counterbalanced by a refined selection of fusion restaurants.
  • GUANAJUATO - The glorious World Heritage–listed city of Guanajuato packs a huge amount into its narrow valley. The former mining town turned colourful university city is a feast of plazas, fun museums, opulent colonial mansions and pastel-hued houses. Snake your way along pedestrian alleyways, people-watch in the squares, mingle with marvellous mariachi groups, or party hard at estudiantinas (traditional street parties) and in the many student bars. The underground tunnels – the town’s major transport routes – make for a particularly quirky way to get around.

WHAT TO SEE AND DO IN MEXICO

BEACH GETAWAYS

  • Playa Zicatela - This 3km strip of golden sand and crashing waves in Puerto Escondido is heaven on Earth for surfers.
  • Xcalak - Timeless Caribbean coast with a wonderful barrier reef.
  • Playa Maruata - Tranquil, low-budget Michoacán fishing village beloved by beach bums and sea turtles.
  • Barra de Potosí - Palm-fringed white sands, calm waters and a lagoon full of birds and crocs.
  • Isla Holbox - Escape the Riviera Maya and wander the sandy roads of this palm-fringed Gulf coast getaway.
  • Espíritu Santo - Shallow waters, pristine sandy beaches and boat trips.
  • Reserva de la Biosfera Los Tuxtlas - The reserve’s mountain-backed beaches are the Gulf of Mexico’s ultimate chill-out spot.
  • Playa Escondida - Battle your way along a rough road to reach this pristine sand crescent in southern Veracruz.

 

TEMPLES & PYRAMIDS

Mexico’s ancient civilizations were the most sophisticated and formidable in North and Central America. These often highly organized societies didn’t just build towering pyramids and sculpt beautiful temples; they could also read the heavens, do complicated mathematics and invent writing systems. Exploring their sites is an unmissable Mexico travel experience.

  • Palenque - Exquisite Maya temples backed by jungle-covered hills.
  • Chichén Itzá - A vast Maya temple complex, its step-pyramid design testimony to the Maya’s exceptional astronomy skills.
  • Uxmal - Set in hilly Puuc, this large Maya site is a riot of fascinating carved-stone ornamentation.
  • Yaxchilán - Impressive temples in a Chiapas jungle setting, reached only by river.
  • Monte Albán - The ancient Zapotec capital sits spectacularly on a flattened hilltop site just outside Oaxaca.
  • Tulum - These late Maya temples and pyramids sit right on a rugged stretch of Caribbean coast.
  • Calakmul - High pyramids in a huge, remote Maya city, still largely hidden in protected rainforest.
  • Teotihuacán - Massive Pyramids of the Sun and Moon, and mural-decked palaces, in Mexico’s biggest ancient city.
  • Tzintzuntzan - Atmospheric Tarascan ruins with fantastic views of Lake Pátzcuaro, few crowds and unusual semi-circular temples.
  • Edzná - Marvel at the fine carvings at the Templo de Mascarones (Temple of Masks).

 

HISTORIC COLONIAL TOWNS

  • Guanajuato - The opulent mansions and winding streets of this university town squeeze into a picturesque valley.
  • San Miguel de Allende - Artsy town of cobblestone streets and lovely stone architecture, with many foreign (mostly US) residents.
  • Oaxaca - Gorgeous southern city with an indigenous flavour and stunning art and artisanry.
  • Zacatecas - The magnificent cathedral in this former silver-mining city is the ultimate expression of colonial baroque.
  • Mérida - Even if you’re not big on architecture, the stately mansions here never cease to impress.
  • Álamos - Wander the cobbled streets of northern Mexico’s colonial jewel, nestled in the verdant Sierra Madre foothills.
  • Todos Santos - This former cane-milling town has streets lined with handsome 19th-century brick-and-adobe haciendas.
  • Puebla - Dense with restored colonial churches and mansions, sparkling with azulejos (painted ceramic tiles).
  • Morelia - UNESCO-listed since 1991, Morelia is anchored by what is arguably Mexico’s most spectacular cathedral.
  • San Cristóbal de las Casas - An indigenous highland town with winding cobblestone streets and old churches aplenty.

WHAT TO EAT IN MEXICO

Mexico has one of the world’s great street-food cultures. All over the country, street stands, markets and small eateries dole out endless supplies of filling and nutritious snacks and light meals, morning, noon and night. The busiest stands usually have the tastiest offerings and freshest ingredients.

 

Foremost are the many varieties of antojito (‘little whim’), light dishes using masa (corn dough). The quintessential antojito is the taco – meat, fish or vegetables wrapped in a tortilla (Mexico’s ubiquitous corn- or wheat-flour flatbread). Delicious varieties include tacos al pastor (with spit-cooked pork), tacos de carne asada (with grilled beef) and tacos de pescado (fish tacos, a favourite on the Pacific coast). There are many more types of antojito and an infinite variety of ingredients that can go into them. The most popular types include:

  • Quesadillas - A tortilla folded in half with a filling of cheese and/or other ingredients.
  • Enchiladas - Lightly fried tortillas with fillings, and covered in a chili sauce.
  • Tamales - A wodge of masa mixed with lard, with stewed meat, fish or veggies in the middle, and steamed in corn husks or banana leaf.

 

Other common street foods:

  • Tortas - Sandwiches (hot or cold) using a white bread roll.
  • Elotes - Freshly steamed or grilled corn on the cob, usually coated in mayonnaise and often sprinkled with chili powder.

 

Traditional dishes that will leave you with the taste of Mexico:

  • Chiles en nogada - Chiles en nogada comprises green, white and red ingredients, the colours of the Mexican flag: poblano chili, stuffed with minced meat and flavored with spices, topped with a cream sauce and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds.
  • Tacos al pastor - One of the country’s favourites, tacos al pastor (‘in the style of the shepherd’) is a corn tortilla filled with thinly sliced pork that’s been cooked on a spit, and served with onion and cilantro (coriander).
  • Mole negro - A Oaxacan specialty, the recipe of this dark, sultry sauce is jealously guarded, and the sauce itself is time-consuming and difficult to make. It tastes of chocolate, spices and...you’ll see!

LGBTQ IN MEXICO

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WHERE TO STAY IN MEXICO

For a first-time visit to Mexico, it's essential to consider the diverse regions and cities that offer unique cultural experiences, stunning natural landscapes, and historical sites. Here's a breakdown of some popular destinations and accommodation options:


Where To Stay In Mexico City:

Mexico City is the vibrant capital known for its rich history, world-class museums, and delicious cuisine. Stay in the historic center (Centro Histórico) to be close to landmarks like the Zocalo, Metropolitan Cathedral, and National Palace.

  • Budget: Hostel Mundo Joven Catedral offers affordable dormitory beds and private rooms with a central location, ideal for budget travelers exploring the city.

  • Mid-range: Hotel Zocalo Central provides comfortable accommodations with stunning views of the Zocalo and modern amenities, perfect for travelers seeking convenience and comfort.

  • Luxury: The St. Regis Mexico City offers luxurious rooms, impeccable service, and panoramic views of the city skyline, providing a lavish retreat in the heart of Mexico City.

Tip: Look for accommodations in the Centro Histórico or nearby neighborhoods like Condesa or Roma for a mix of affordability and accessibility to attractions.


Where To Stay In Cancún and Riviera Maya:

Cancún and the Riviera Maya are renowned for their pristine beaches, turquoise waters, and vibrant nightlife. Stay in Cancún's Hotel Zone for easy access to the beach and nightlife or choose a resort along the Riviera Maya for a more secluded experience.

  • Budget: Selina Cancún Downtown offers budget-friendly accommodations with a social atmosphere, while Selina Playa del Carmen provides beachfront stays at affordable rates.

  • Mid-range: The Royal Sands Resort & Spa All Inclusive in Cancún offers comfortable rooms and all-inclusive amenities, while the Mahekal Beach Resort in Playa del Carmen provides a laid-back atmosphere and beachfront bungalows.

  • Luxury: The Ritz-Carlton, Cancún boasts luxurious accommodations, upscale dining options, and a serene spa, while the Rosewood Mayakoba offers private suites, world-class dining, and exclusive access to Mayakoba's natural wonders.

Tip: Consider visiting during the shoulder seasons (spring and fall) for better value accommodation rates and fewer crowds.


Where To Stay In Oaxaca City:

Oaxaca City is a cultural hub known for its colonial architecture, indigenous heritage, and culinary delights. Stay in the historic center to explore landmarks like the Santo Domingo Church and the vibrant Zocalo.

  • Budget: Hostal Don Nino offers affordable accommodations with a central location and a relaxed atmosphere, perfect for budget-conscious travelers.

  • Mid-range: Hotel Casa Antigua provides charming rooms in a restored colonial building, offering modern comforts and a tranquil courtyard ambiance.

  • Luxury: Quinta Real Oaxaca offers luxurious accommodations in a former convent, featuring elegant rooms, gourmet dining, and a serene courtyard pool.

Tip: Book accommodations in advance, especially during popular events like Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), and don't miss sampling the local cuisine at Oaxaca's renowned markets and restaurants.


For hassle-free bookings, use platforms like Booking.com for competitive rates or Holiday Swap for unique homes worldwide. Ensure to book in advance, especially during peak seasons, and align your preferences with nearby activities such as surfing, snorkeling, or cultural exploration.

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DiscoverCars.com is a leader in online car rental bookings; we compare car rental deals from many companies so that you can choose which is best for your trip. 12Go connects the world door-to-door, from transfers to flights, under the same user-friendly ticket.

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