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If you are planning a vacation to Mexico for the first time, you hope every location selected offers a memorable experience. It is a lofty goal, but it can be obtained because each city is an ideal tourist destination.
Many love visiting major cities like Mexico City, while others spend time lounging on a beach off the Caribbean coast in Central America. Each vacation spot is a short distance from visiting the Mayan ruins, which will help you learn more about Mexico’s rich history.
And a better understanding of why the culture is vibrant. Here is a guide to visiting Mexico that should narrow your choices for a pending Mexico trip:
- Best Things to Do in Mexico
- 1. The Cancun Beaches
- 2. The Archaeological Ruins and Mayan Museum at San Miguelito
- 3. Mexico City
- 4. Playa del Carmen
- 5. Puerto Vallarta
- 6. Torre Escenica and Torre Panoramica
- 7. Cabo San Lucas
- Where to stay in Mexico
- How to Get Around in Mexico
- Travel Tips for Visiting Mexico
- Travel Insurance
- Paying in Pesos Instead of US Currency
- Speak a Little Spanish
- Do Not Lose Your Entry Immigration Form
Best Things to Do in Mexico
1. The Cancun Beaches
Cancun is one of the world’s most popular travel destinations. It is the largest of the three coastal cities in Mexico, with over 800,000 residents. Who could argue with the choice: perfect weather, luxury resorts, and stunning white sand beaches? Every year, Cancun is a vacation paradise for tourists looking to stay off the Yucatan Peninsula. The time spent at the beaches will be the highlight of your stay.
Tourists have plenty of options for the type of beach location during their vacation stay. Many choose to stay close to the vibrant public beach scene found at Playa Defines.
It is Cancun’s most extensive public beach. Playa Defines is sandwiched in between a stretch of exclusive resort beaches. The public beach atmosphere allows tourists to converse with locals in a casual setting.
Free parking is available, but arrive early at Playa Defines, or you may park miles away from the beach. There are multiple kiosks to rent beach chairs and umbrellas if you plan to spend the day at Playa Defines.
Other tourists are looking for a quiet beach location that allows them to spend more intimate time with their families. A great choice is the small island of Isla Mujeres, which will keep you away from the crowded scene found at most Cancun public beaches.
Isla Mujeres offers a more relaxed beach setting with crystal-clear water for snorkeling. The quiet atmosphere will give you more space to walk freely and enjoy the Caribbean coastline.
Staying at a beachfront resort is the perfect opportunity to recharge your body with a week of rest and tranquility. A popular resort among returning tourists is The Hyatt Ziva Cancun. The property is located at the southern tip of the Caribbean Sea. All guests have direct access to the beach right outside their rooms.
You can relax on the sand on a beach lounger. Other guests enjoy the water toy amenities offered, which should infuse energy into their day. The laid-back vibe is perfect for a swim with family and friends. A beachfront resort offers a more relaxed environment than a hotel.
2. The Archaeological Ruins and Mayan Museum at San Miguelito
Granted, Cancun is primarily known as the best beach resort option in the world, but you can enjoy a hike across the city’s terrain. One of the more fulfilling days of hiking and sightseeing is tackling the nature trails of the archaeological ruins of the Maytownsies near San Miguelito.
It is approximately 16 miles away from Cancun’s hotel zone. You have to travel deep into the property of a former coconut farm, but you must enter the Mayan Museum to gain access to the ruins.
It resembles a Mayan city that was prosperous in its culture. The first structure to be seen is the Chaak Palace, the left of the museum. It is a four-story building that you enter through the staircases available on each side of the building. A day spent at the ruins will give you a better understanding of the rich Cancun community.
The Mayan Museum is home to the artifacts of the tribe’s civilization. The exhibits show how the Mayans placed their housing and other buildings behind the north and south dunes along the Caribbean shoreline. The collection is rich and a wonderful compliment to what you experienced at the ruins.
3. Mexico City
Mexico City is one of the largest cities in the world. Many come for an extended visit to become part of the famous art scene.
Others choose Mexico City as their base location for historical attractions, giving them the best course to explore Mexico’s rich but complicated culture. Unfortunately, some sites require significant travel time on the road.
The locals consider Mexico City to be the heartbeat of the country. It is located above sea level (7,349 feet in the sky). The city is nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains. One of those mountains is a dormant volcano, Pico de Orizaba. And if you love adventure, you could attempt to climb Pico de Orizaba. It is the highest point (18,491 feet) in Mexico.
Mexico’s capital city is home to the Palacio de Bellas (Palace of Fine Arts). Over time, it has become Mexico City’s most prominent entertainment center, hosting multiple dance, theater, opera, and other musical performances. Also, you may attend a literary event or art exhibition throughout the year.
Traveling to the Tamul Waterfalls is another terrific attraction to visit while staying in Mexico City. The stream of water plunges 340 feet into the Tampaon River and moves downstream near the ruins at Tamtoc. Explorers describe the rock formation as a “cascade of salt.”
Scientifically, the waterfall is formed by a small amount of water oversaturated with calcium carbonite. Slowly, the water comes to the surface through the cracks in the mountainside.
4. Playa del Carmen
People who passed through Playa del Carmen regarded the city as a sleepy fishing town. However, it has become a popular destination for tourists exploring the Riviera Maya on the Mexican Caribbean coast.
Playa del Carmen is located between Cancun and Tulum (37 miles apart from both cities) on the Yucatan Peninsula. All of the beaches in Playa del Carmen are accessible, which is not true in Cancun and Tulum.
Your days will be spent relaxing inside a beachside cabana, catching waves out on the water, jet skiing or parasailing. If you are looking for an afternoon of shopping that ends with a fine dining experience, head over to Playa del Carmen’s LaQuinta.
The street is filled with shops, restaurants, bars, street food vendors, and Mayan dancers performing on each corner. All provide a great atmosphere that is a short distance from Playa del Carmen’s hotel zone.
When the sun goes down, you will have the opportunity to explore LaQuinta’s nightlife. The bars offer multiple DJ booths and an oversized dance floor as the music begins in the early evening. Often, the crowds will spill onto the streets with glasses of rum punch in their hands.
The coastal region off the shores of Playa del Carmen is ideal for foreign tourists looking to explore limestone caves, cenotes, and underground waterways. Rio Secreto is a 7.5-mile stretch of coastline that offers tourist trails to caves and cenotes.
Many of them have often been shaped by underground rivers from a century ago. If you are unsure what a cenote is? It is a collapsed cave filled with cold water.
Mayans believe these water holes are sacred, but residents love swimming in cenotes on warm summer days. Afterward, you can enjoy a meal at The Alux Restaurant, a 10,000-year-old cavern.
The region is known for its great beaches and large luxury resorts, but Playa del Carmen is a hidden gem for vacationing historians and outdoor enthusiasts. You can hike through the jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula to the ruins of Tulum and other man-made attractions that shed a different light on the country’s culture.
No planned Mexico trip should miss out on visiting the iconic Mesoamerica El Castillo pyramid, which seems to have risen from the ground at the Chicken Itza archaeological site. The El Castillo pyramid was built as a shrine to the Mayan God, Kukulkan.
Archaeologists feel all the buildings and temples are excellent examples of Mayan architecture. The Mexican government declared Chicken Itza a UNESCO World Heritage site.
5. Puerto Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta is a coastal resort getaway that has maintained its “small town” feel for all guests. It can be found on Mexico’s Pacific coast, with the Sierra Madre mountains overlooking the town from the east. Puerto Vallarta enjoys warm, tropical weather all year round.
However, tourists come for the white sand beaches and turquoise waters that force them to have lazy days under the sun. Plus, you can explore marine life and water sports in Puerto Vallarta’s Bay of Banderas (Bay of Flags). Parasailing has become a fun outdoor activity. Usually, you reach about 165 feet in the air. And there is no better feeling than gliding overlooking Puerto Vallarta.
Many visitors love spending a day riding ATVs off Sayulita. It is a famous surf town in Mexico. Sayulita has the perfect terrain for off-road driving. Several Puerto Vallarta tours extend your stay by including a meal and visiting a local art gallery as part of the package offered.
Ziplining is a cherished outdoor activity in Mexico. Many adrenaline addicts love traveling at a high rate of speed attached to a cable high above the jungle. Puerto Vallarta’s zip line parks are the most popular attractions in the Yucatan Peninsula.
The nightlife in Puerto Vallarta mimics the look and feel of Cuba in the late 50s. The dining options remain close to the Pacific Coast beaches.
6. Torre Escenica and Torre Panoramica
Another great attraction to visit is the Torre Escenica and Torre Panoramica. Each attraction is far away from Cancun’s beach scene. You must hike up a mountain range (250 feet above ground) to reach your destination. If you are unsure where you are going? It is the highest point found in the huge country.
The Torre Escenica and Torre Panoramica are rotating observational decks overlooking the Caribbean Sea and the Niclupte’ lagoon.
The 360-degree turn will offer a view of the popular tourist destinations before offering a view of other attractions like the Nichupte’ Lagoon and the Caribbean Sea. It provides a wonderful look at Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and the surrounding communities.
Access to Torre Escenica and Torre Panoramica is included with purchasing a ferry ticket from Xcaret Xailing. Both observational decks are open daily from 9 am- 9 pm.
While on the observation deck, you will have a running bilingual audio dialogue that offers a historical and geological perspective of Mexico.
Be smart and pack your camera for the day. It is the perfect attraction to take a few memorable city pictures. The spectacular view will be the centerpiece of your vacation photo album. Past visitors have said the journey up the hill is worth the time and effort.
7. Cabo San Lucas
In the late 70s and early 80s, Cabo San Lucas was the top vacation spot for the entertainment world. Many believe the area’s popularity grew because of the construction of the international airport.
It allowed tourists to travel to “Los Cabos” without delay from anywhere in the world. Quickly, it has become one of the best beach resorts in Baja California.
The southern tip of Cabo San Lucas is home to world-class golf courses and luxury villas. Many guests visit Mexico to play golf in the morning, spend their afternoons in a spa, and drink the night away at a Caribbean coast bar.
Cabo San Lucas is one of the most beautiful beach resorts in Mexico. But the nightlife scene is comparable to other popular travel destinations. Some begin their evening by arriving early in downtown Los Cabos for fine Mexican cuisine before an amazing night of dancing to their favorite music.
The nightlife in Cabo San Lucas has a vibrant atmosphere with a mix of tourists and locals partying together until dawn.
Another point of interest to visit in Baja California Sur is the Arch of Cabo San Lucas. The landmark rock formation seemingly comes out of the water (the crossing of the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez).
Tourists can travel on a boat charter to get a closer view of the popular attraction. Other charters will drop parties off the beach shore to see the arch up close and personal.
Tourists travel to Mexico to participate in another fun water experience, swimming with dolphins at the Dolphin Center in Cabo San Lucas. It is an exciting educational encounter for people of all ages. You will work alongside one of the dolphin trainers, an expert at making this day memorable.
They’re passionate about teaching others about a dolphin’s life cycle and how they behave in their environment. You can choose a one-on-one encounter or be part of a small group swimming experience with a dolphin. Either choice offers an opportunity to learn more about marine life.
Another unique opportunity is riding a camel in the California Baja desert outside Cabo San Lucas. A typical camel ride is a three-hour journey into the desert. Past tourists who rode a camel feel the best departure time is late afternoon.
The experience concludes with a campfire after enjoying a traditional Mexican buffet and a tequila-tasting session. But, the late afternoon start should allow you to enjoy witnessing the sunset over one of the desert’s dunes.
Where to stay in Mexico
There are multiple reasons why people love to visit Mexico. The biggest is the 81-mile stretch of coastal land that attracts nearly 13 million visitors annually to enjoy the multiple beaches, golf courses, and luxury resorts. Tourism accounts for nearly half of Mexico’s economy.
Much of the country has been industrialized. However, frequent travelers are always looking for new locations to stay during their vacation. Thankfully, all the cities in our Mexico travel guide have quality hotels and beach resorts.
Each is a short distance from the popular coastal areas. Plus, families can secure more affordable room rates that gain more space for everyone to enjoy their stay away from home.
It seems like every hotel room has a balcony that offers a breathtaking view of the Caribbean coastline. Plus, you are a few steps away from the city’s vibrant nightlife.
Also, you can schedule a memorable day on a fishing boat tour. The boats leave the docks before sunrise, and you return fully tanned from your day on the sea. You will be ready for a cocktail to relive your afternoon with others.
Each city’s downtown scene offers a great evening for those who want a night away from the beach scene. It is the best location for authentic Mexican food. The entree prices are cheaper than most restaurants in the heart of the tourist trails. The taste of each entree is the true definition of Mexican cuisine.
But the older hotels are a bit of a disappointment, as the rooms look outdated with little space to move around if you are sharing with other guests. Still, these hotels are popular locations for tourists to stay.
They like the easy access to the beaches, Pacific Coast bars, and open-air markets. However, you need some form of transportation to see other attractions. None of the locations are within walking distance from the downtown area. You can rent a car or use local public transit buses.
The downtown area is home to an open-air market. It holds multiple souvenir shops and jewelry kiosks as tourists love to barter for their purchases. Bartering with shop owners is a time-honored tradition in Mexican culture.
And you are expected to participate while shopping in the marketplace. Do not settle for what is on the price tag. Try to negotiate a dollar amount that both sides feel is fair. And you will not have to go far for lunch options. The market offers multiple food trucks and an outdoor food court.
Here are the best hotels and resorts in Mexico:
- Sevenhonorees Resort on the Quintan Roos off the Riviera Maya
- Rosewood Mayakoba Resort, Playa del Carmen
- Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal, Cabo San Lucas
- Esperanza Auberge Resorts, Cabo San Lucas
- Viceroy Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen
- The Cape Hotel, Cabo San Lucas
- Garza Blanen Resort & Spa, Cabo San Lucas
- >Fairmont Mayakoba, Playa del Carmen
- Mehe Kal Beach Resort, Playa del Carmen
How to Get Around in Mexico
Fortunately, getting around in Mexico is not that difficult, but you should still familiarize yourself with your new surroundings upon arrival. Try renting a bicycle and exploring the city. It will help to associate landmarks and streets when traveling in either direction from the hotel.
If you stay at an exclusive beachfront resort, rent a golf cart to travel the grounds without delay. Usually, these resorts sit on a large piece of real estate, which is difficult to navigate daily.
Also, you can travel to various sites via the local public bus lines. The buses are comfortable and air-conditioned, ideal for long, extended trips. The fares are inexpensive as it will cost you one dollar for a ride anywhere from your hotel. Remember, you may have to walk to certain sites as bus stations are stretched out on most routes.
Independent taxi drivers are not regulated in Mexico, so there will be no record of your trip. Plus, you are susceptible to drug-related violence if the taxi is carrying a drug shipment on your ride. It is best to request a taxi from the hotel’s concierge desk.
They have certified taxi company vehicles on the property waiting to take guests anywhere in Mexico. All taxis are registered with the government and provide a flat rate, so no bartering is necessary with the driver. Once you check into your hotel, the front desk staff will have access to the standard pay rates offered by certified local taxi companies.
Do not be afraid to rent a car while vacationing in Mexico. The roads are wide as most attractions are easily accessible on a GPS device. And you do not need an international driving permit to get behind the wheel of a rental car.
However, the price of rental cars is not cheap. You will be charged daily mileage usage, car insurance, government taxes, and a second driver option at the counter before leaving with a vehicle. But if you book online, your credit card will not be charged until the rental car is picked up. And there is no fee for cancellation.
Travel Tips for Visiting Mexico
Mexico is an amazing sun-kissed destination with some of the best beaches in the world and a vastly underrated history.
However, there are several travel tips to keep in mind when visiting Mexico due to the varying landscape of each city in terms of activities and public safety. Here are some things to plan for when you visit.
Planning a Cancun vacation is a simple task. You have several travel and lodging options to choose from. And before boarding your flight, be sure to have travel insurance to protect your safety. You may frown about the added expenditure, but no shortage of insurance is needed to explore while vacationing.
Cancun is one of the top vacation destinations in the world. However, this distinction comes with a high crime rate (pickpocketing and rental carjacking) against tourists. It is wise to use common sense and good safety protocol if you plan to stay out late at night.
Expanded insurance plans will cover your adventure and extreme sports activities (scuba diving, surfing, and rock climbing). Remember, healthcare plans offer little to no coverage outside the United States. Travel insurance offers 24/7 emergency healthcare if needed.
You may need coverage to protect yourself from trip cancellations due to the hurricane or tropical rainy season that hit the Cancun region. Travel insurance will cover the entire non-refundable expenses of your trip plans.
Protecting yourself from travel delays is another vital protection clause in a travel insurance plan. The agreement will cover all costs (meals, transportation, and hotel accommodations) if there is an unexpected flight delay of 3-12 hours.
Paying in Pesos Instead of US Currency
Trying to navigate the value of the Mexican currency can be a challenge, but you have the opportunity to save money on all purchases. Granted, the US currency is accepted in all Cancun businesses. But, it is smart to pay for all items purchased in pesos for the savings gained.
The savings come with avoiding the high exchange rates in most shops and stores. The additional charges will add to the typical purchases (food, drinks, rides, rental equipment, and others) made on vacation. Thus, avoid using American currency on all transactions made. You will receive savings in the long run of your stay.
Speak a Little Spanish
If you are planning to vacation in Mexico, speaking a little Spanish during your stay is wise. The attempt to connect with the culture will help to make you look less likely to be a tourist.
Speaking your native language can assist with negotiating the sales prices on items and provide better directions to where you would like to be taken when requesting a ride. Some local restaurants in the Hotel Zone offer lower entree prices to those customers who order from a Spanish-printed menu than the American version.
Do Not Lose Your Entry Immigration Form
You must keep the immigration form received from the Mexican airport customer officials upon arrival. In Mexico, all tourists are required to fill out an Official Entry Immigration Form before they’re allowed to pass through customs after coming off the plane.
Most airlines will hand out the form before landing in Cancun. But they’re also available at the arrival gate. You will need to fill one out to leave the customs area. The agent will return the bottom portion of the form as your exit pass from customs.
Keep the bottom portion of the Entry Immigration Form in a safe, secure location. In other words, do not lose this document. You are required to present the exit form before boarding your return flight home. If not, you will have to pay a fine of $60.
- About the Author
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Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a full-time traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers experience a fully immersive cultural experience as he did initially living in Italy. He’s a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wanderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). After visiting 12 countries and 13 national parks in a year, he was devoted to creating and telling stories like he’d heard.
Plus, after spending more time on airplanes and packing, he’s learned some incredible travel hacks over time as he earned over 1 million Chase Ultimate Rewards points in under a year, helping him maximize experiences as much as possible to discover the true meaning of travel.
He loves listening to local stories from around the world and sharing his experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time.