Explore Like a Local in These Unique Places in Mexico
Mexico is undoubtedly a popular holiday destination. Tourists regularly flock to Mexico to visit all-inclusive resort towns like Cancun and Cabo. But did you know there is a whole other Mexico tourism industry? There are plenty of unique places to visit in Mexico that many foreign travelers have never even heard of. Places that are off the beaten path in Mexico. Where the number of locals and national tourists far exceeds the number of foreigners. Places where you can still find an authentic Mexico.
After spending six months in Mexico, we realized Mexico is truly special. Moreover, there are still plenty of places to visit in Mexico that have not been spoiled by over-tourism. From the white sand beaches of Nayarit to the jungles of Chiapas, we have found some of Mexico’s hidden gems. These unique destinations have managed to avoid the spotlight of the tourism industry. Here are our favorite up and coming destinations in Mexico that you should visit before everyone else!
1. San Pancho, Sayulita’s Quiet Neighbor (Nayarit)
One of the main reasons to visit Mexico is the beaches. With miles and miles of coastline, it is hard to know what is the best beach in Mexico. One of our favorites is San Pancho in Nayarit. Officially called San Francisco, San Pancho it less than a half-hour from Sayulita, one of Mexico’s most popular beach destinations. Being so close, the beach itself is remarkably similar to Sayulita but with a fraction of the people.
This small, sleepy beach town has everything you could want from a beach destination in Mexico. A handful of quality restaurants, cafes, and bars, all without the price tag of nearby Sayulita. Grab a surfboard and hit the waves. Sip a Pacifico (our favorite Mexican beer) on the white sand beaches of San Pancho! Whatever you want to do, this is the place to relax and soak up the Mexican sun!
2. San Jose del Pacifico, The Psychedelic Mountain Town (OAXACA)
Many drive right past the unassuming mountain town of San Jose del Pacifico on their way to Oaxaca’s beaches. This tiny mountain town is barely a blip on the map with only a handful of restaurants lining the road. But anyone visiting Oaxaca would be remiss not to stop as it is one of the most unique places to visit in Mexico.
It is hongos magicos that put San Jose on the map. These local psilocybin mushroom, psilocybe mexicana, grow abundantly in the mountains. But, in addition to the mushrooms, San Jose boasts incredible natural beauty and stunning views.
It has become a beacon for bohemian and alternative travelers. Meditation, yoga, wellness spas, traditional temazcal ceremonies, are just some of the activities available here.
3. Arroyo Seco, The Best “Hidden” Place in Mexico (Jalisco)
Getting off the beaten path in Mexico is more difficult than I imagined. While not as overpopulated as Western countries, Mexico is more densely populated than most other Central and South American countries. Luckily, there are still a handful of remote destinations in Mexico to visit. And, one of the most unique places to visit in Mexico is none other than Arroyo Seco.
But a fair warning, Arroyo Seco is really off the beaten path. There are no hotels, restaurants, or any resemblance of tourism. Just miles and miles of beach with no one around to bother you except for maybe the coconut man who scales the palm trees and will undoubtedly offer you a few.
Other than an abundance of coconuts, you will need to take everything you need for a weekend to camp at this beach in Mexico. There is a small store in the town that sells the basics, but I wouldn’t count on them being fully stocked. In twenty years, it may be different, so make sure you take advantage of this up and coming Mexico destination before the secret is out!
4. San Cristobal de las Casas, The Up and Coming Mexico Destination (Chiapas)
The charm of the colonial town of San Cristobal de las Casas is what makes this place one of the most unique places to visit in Mexico. But its other appeal is its proximity to the abundant natural beauty Chiapas has to offer. The small state of Chiapas is often overlooked by tourists who look for something, well, a bit more “beachy”. But, the Chiapas jungle holds a world of amazing hidden places making it one of Mexico’s best places to explore for the outdoor and adventure lover.
San Cristobal de las Casas is a jumping-off point for some of the best nature activities in Mexico like the impressive Agua Azul and Palenque ruins.
Unexpectedly, this up and coming destination in Mexico is also serving up great international cuisine. Ditch the tacos while in San Cristobal. Instead consider tasting a few of the international flavors on off here. From Thai to Korean from Indian to Argentinian, the range of cuisine here is vast compared to many other cities throughout Mexico.
5. El Cuyo, A Windsurfer’s Paradise (YUCATAN PENINSULA)
El Cuyo, located at the top of the Yucatan Peninsula, is often overlooked on the tourist circuit. What El Cuyo lacks in glamour and style, it more than makes up for in authenticity. This up and coming destination in Mexico is truly one of Mexico’s hidden gems.
El Cuyo is popular among kite surfers who flock to this windy stretch of coast. This laid-back beach town in Mexico is what I imagine the more popular places like Tulum looked like twenty years ago. With a few quality restaurants, miles and miles of white-sand beaches, and a laid-back vibe, it is a wonder El Cuyo is not teeming with backpackers.
Deserted beaches, water sports, local vibes, and flamingos? El Cuyo has to be one of the most unique places to visit in Mexico!
6. Bernal, The Local Haunt (QUERÉTARO)
This unique place to visit in Mexico is no secret to the locals. Locals from nearby cities like Mexico City and Querétaro, flock to Bernal to marvel at the large monolith (known locally as La Peña de Bernal). The charming town set against the backdrop of its towering monolith makes Bernal one of the more interesting towns to visit in Mexico and ranks highly on the list of most charming towns in Mexico.
While a climb to the top of the monolith is worth it, there are also plenty of other things to do in Bernal. Strolling through the colorful streets, dining on a gordita at El Negrito Gordita, or sipping cervezas from one of the many rooftop terraces under the shadow of the third largest monolith in the world are just a few of the many things to do in this Pueblo Magico.
7. Chacahua, An Off-the-Beaten-Path Destination in Mexico (OAXACA)
Chacahua located in the state of Oaxaca is one of the best hidden gems in Mexico for international tourists. Known as a local holiday getaway, this isolated beach community is how you would picture Mexico to be some 30 years ago.
It seems unchanged by overt tourism campaigns and remains focused on the true identify of the community. A laid-back, free and easy beach. A beach where it is easy to disconnect and leave your phone turned off (except for the occasional photo because this place is truly special).
But not only is this beach town in Mexico unique, the adventure to get to Chacahua is a reason in itself for visiting. Getting here requires a boat from the mainland through the mangrove forest of the National Park of Laguna Chacahua. As you zigzag through the dense mangrove forest of the, it is clear you are getting off the beaten path in Mexico.
Upon arrival, you will clearly see that there isn’t much to do here. Another laid back beach town in Oaxaca, where surfing, reading and relaxing in the sun are the priorities.
8. Campeche, The Best Small Town in Mexico (YUCATAN PENINSULA)
Campeche, often overshadowed by other cities in the Yucatan Peninsula, is a(nother) charming colonial town not to miss in Mexico. The old Spanish colonial city is surrounded by an ancient wall which protected the city and its inhabitants from pirates.
Inside the walls, the cobbled stone streets and brightly colored buildings vie for your attention as you wander through the city stopping in various art galleries, cafes, and bars. Calle 59 is the pedestrian-only street that truly comes alive at sunset with locals and tourists alike dining on delicious Yucatan food and cold cervezas.
A city more reminiscent of Europe tucked away on the Yucatan Peninsula, Campeche makes for a great stop when exploring the Yucatan Peninsula.
9. Las Pozas in Xtilia, A Surreal Mexican Experience (SAN LUIS POTOSI)
Any list of the most unique places to visit in Mexico will undoubtedly include Las Pozas in Xtilia. A surrealist garden born out of a vision by Sir Edward James, an Englishman who found his home in the jungles of Central Mexico.
Las Pozas is a garden featuring sculptures and archways overgrown by the sub-tropical vegetation of Central Mexico. Outside of the sculptures and archways that seem to fit better in Greece than in Mexico, there is a beautiful cascading waterfall beaconing to those who remember to bring their swimsuits.
A unique place to visit in Mexico (if not the most unique), stopping by Las Pozas on a road trip through Central Mexico is a must for those looking to get off the beaten path.
10. Parras de la Fuente, The Up and Coming Wine Destination in Mexico (COAHUILA)
One of the most unique places to visit in Mexico is the oldest winery in North America. Located in Parras de la Fuente, Casa Madero was established in 1597 which pre-dates the oldest winery in the US by almost 200 years.
Parras, already a staple on the local tourist circuit, is an up and coming destination in Mexico for international tourists. With a handful of wineries to explore, it is definitely worth a visit and an easy day trip from Monterrey, Mexico’s bustling northern city. Get off the beaten path in Mexico with a wine glass in hand and head over to Parras de la Fuente for an authentic Mexican adventure!
11. Tequila, The Home of Tequila (Jalisco)
While tequila may be a family name, many perhaps do not know the namesake of Mexico’s most famed export. The town of Tequila in Jalisco is one of the most beautiful places in Mexico in terms of cities. Tequila is only half (ok, maybe a bit more than half) of the reason to visit this charming town. Outside of visiting distilleries and tequilarias, you can explore the quaint town, hike to the nearby waterfall and more.
But, a trip to Mexico isn’t complete without visiting one of the best places in Mexico, Tequila.
12. Las Nubes, One of Mexico’s Most Beautiful Places (Chiapas)
If you like chasing waterfalls, then the Mexican state of Chiapas is the best place in Mexico for you. Chiapas is the most northernly section of the Lacandon Jungle stretching from Mexico to Honduras. And what goes well with rainforests, epic waterfalls… and Chiapas has just that.
Of all the waterfalls in Chiapas, Las Nubes is one of the least busy or touristic. But as one of the best non-touristic places in Mexico, Las Nubes is not easy to reach. To reach Las Nubes, you will need your own vehicle as there is no public transportation available. The closest large city is San Cristobal de las Casas over 4.5 hours away.
But those who are willing to make the drive will be rewareded with one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Mexico. Thundering aqua blue waters cascading down the waterfall set against the green, luscious Lacandon Jungle. It doesn’t get more picturesque than Las Nubes.
Accommodation is available at the ecotourism center at Las Nubes.
13. Pueblos Mancomunados, A Place to Explore the Mexico Scenery (OAXACA)
Those who venture south to the state of Oaxaca will undoubtedly tell you how great it is. From the bustling city of Oaxaca to the epic surf beaches, there are plenty of places in Oaxaca that tick all of the boxes. But if you are looking to get off the beaten path a bit, Oaxaca has plenty of non-touristic places to explore such as Pueblos Mancomunados. A collective of eight small villages in the nearby Sierra Norte Mountains, this is the place to get away from it all.
For the adventure lovers, a series of hiking trails connects the villages with beautiful views of the Mexico scenery. For those with your own two wheels, you can drive yourself to the different villages and embark on various day walks. Just make sure you taste the trout (or trucha) from one of the many trout farms supporting this indigenous area of Mexico.
With one of these unique places to visit in Mexico, you are sure to have an amazing holiday! Start planning your trip today and get off the beaten path in Mexico!
14. Tequisquiapan, Queretaro’s Wine and Cheese Route (Queretaro)
You may be surprised to find one wine destination in Mexico, but two seems a bit much. Surprisingly, however, Mexico is working hard to put themselves on the map as a wine destination and one of those destinations is just 2.5 hours from Mexico City in the state of Querétaro.
Tequisquiapan is the jumping off point for the Querétaro Wine and Cheese Route in Mexico’s second-largest wine-producing region. Take a break from the tequila and cervezas to check out this up and coming destination in Mexico!
15. Chiapa de Corzo, A festival To remember (CHIAPAS)
One of the most unique destinations in Mexico to visit for a cultural experience is Chiapa de Corzo during the Fiesta Grande in January. As one of Mexico’s most lauded festivals, the streets of Chiapa de Corzo in Chiapas come alive with vendors, performers, and color. The Fiesta Grande Festival is even included on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List and is a must see destination in Mexico!
16. Tonina Ruins, Hidden Ruins in Mexico (CHIAPAS)
Ruins in Mexico that rival those of some of the most well-known ruins, the ruins of Tonina were some of my favorite that we visited during our time in Mexico. This secret Mexico destination lacks all of the vendors and hawkers that are frequently found loitering outside (and sometimes inside) other beautiful places to visit in Mexico.
At Tonina you will be left alone to wander through the ruins at your own pace without fear of distraction. The most impressive piece of the Tonina ruins is the acropolis which reaches heights of over 71 meters and provides sweeping views over Chiapas’ countryside.
17. Zipolite, Mexico’s Only Nude Beach (Oaxaca)
Holding the title as Mexico’s only nudist beach, Zipolite is a one of the most unique destinations in Mexico to visit. Those who like to drop their knickers and don their birthday suit will feel at home in this bohemian, laid-back beach town on the Oaxaca coast.
But if you are not into nudity, the beach of Zipolite is well worth a visit in its own right. Beautiful and unspoiled, Zipolite strikes a balance between the modern conveniences of a small, tourism-based community without over-tourism.
And better yet, Zipolite is only one of the three gorgeous beaches along this stretch of coastline on Mexico’s west coast to be visited. Zipolite, along with Mazunte and San Augustinillo, are easily some of the best places to travel in Mexico!
18. Rio Largartos, To see FlaMingo’s in Mexico (YUCATAN PENINSULA)
Did you know that there were flamingos in Mexico? Me either, but who doesn’t love seeing these interesting pink birds standing on one leg.
On the Yucatan Peninsula on the east coast of Mexico, you can see flamingos at Rio Lagartos AND you can see flamingos in Celestun. Yes! There are two places where you can see these interesting birds.
The best time to see the flamingos at Rio Lagartos is between March and June each year. The best time to see flamingos at Celestun is between December and February (nesting season) but you can find flamingos here as early as November.
19. Copper Canyon, An Unlikely Destination in Mexico (CHIHUAHUA)
Copper Canyon located in the arid desert of Chihuahua is visited by few travelers. But did you know that this impressive gorge system is over FOUR TIMES as large as it’s US counterpart, the Grand Canyon.
The best way to explore Copper Canyon is by hopping aboard El Chepe, the Copper Canyon train. The train takes locals and tourists to the remote villages and is a great way to explore the landscape and region.
Just remember to check the local travel advisory warnings from your Department of State as travel in Chihuahua can sometimes be dangerous.
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