Mexico may neighbor the U.S., but it sure feels like another world. It’s colorful, friendly, and laid-back. At the same time, most of the country sees surprisingly few travelers — maybe because travel in Mexico has a (wildly undeserved) reputation for being dangerous.
The truth is, Mexico is possibly my favorite country in the world. I’ve been three times and still want to go back. So in the interest of inspiring YOU to visit this gorgeous and fascinating country, here are five reasons why travel in Mexico is the best.
1. Mexican art
My first exposure to Mexican art was Fernando Castro Pacheco’s murals at the Governor’s Palace in Mérida. Nearly every wall of the building was covered in brightly painted, larger-than-life murals depicting the Mayan struggle after the Spanish invasion. It was emotional, political and thought-provoking. I’d never seen anything like it before.
Mexican painters like Pacheco, Diego Rivera, and José Clemente Orozco use their artwork as a form of protest, a history lesson, and a celebration of culture. You could spend months of travel in Mexico exploring their work throughout the country.
Even if you’re not much of an “art person,” you may find yourself drawn in by the brilliant use of color or the cheeky references to historical characters.
Top three places to get familiar with Mexican painting:
- The Governor’s Palace in Mérida
- Diego Rivera’s murals in the National Palace and Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City
- José Clemente Orozco’s murals in the Governor’s Palace in Guadalajara
2. Aztec and Mayan pyramids
When it comes to exploring ancient cultures, Mexico won’t disappoint. It has one of the Seven Ancient wonders of the world — Chichen Itza. (Read about how to explore it without the crowds here.) It has Aztec temples (right in the heart of Mexico City, in fact). And in between, there are myriad smaller ruins worthy of a visit while you travel in Mexico.
After checking out the ruins, don’t forget to visit the Anthropology Museum in Mexico City to learn more about these civilizations. You could spend a whole day learning about their ways of life — and their modern-day descendants.
Top three Aztec and Mayan ruins sites:
- Chichen Itza, in the Yucatan Peninsula
- Teotihuacan, an hour outside of Mexico City
- Palenque, in Chiapas
3. Beaches for everyone
Are you looking to party till dawn just steps from the ocean? Or does your ideal beach holiday involve lazing away the days in a quiet fishing village, shoes optional? Either way, you can find the beach of your dreams when you travel in Mexico.
There may be an element of gross, mass-market resort tourism all along Mexico’s coasts. But even if you’re a budget backpacker, it won’t detract as much from your experience as you’d think. Compared to many other resort destinations, Mexico’s are fairly self-contained. And even the most die-hard backpacker can have a good time in Cancun or Puerto Vallarta.
Top three places to catch some rays:
- Tulum: low-key, with a stunning stretch of the softest sand you’ve ever felt
- Puerto Vallarta and surrounds: my favorite of the party beaches, in a city that still feels Mexican
- Isla Mujeres: You may be just a stone’s throw from Cancun, but laid-back Mujeres feels worlds away
4. The food
Travel in Mexico is a foodie’s dream. Start with your standard fare: tacos al pastor, enchiladas, guacamole. It’s all fresh, delicious and cheap.
But don’t restrict yourself to the typical stuff you find on Mexican menus back home. Each region has its own specialties. Try fish tacos on the Pacific coast, mole in Puebla and Oaxaca, birria in Guadalajara, corunitas in Patzcuaro, chile en nogada in Mexico City, poc chuc in the Yucatan, and aporreadillo in the lowlands of Michoacan.
Top places to eat:
- Hosteria de Santo Domingo, Mexico City (for the chile en nogada)
- Birria las Nueve Esquinas in Guadalajara (for the birria)
- Chaya Maya in Merida (for Yucatec food — get the “three Yucatecan musketeers”)
5. Incredible landscapes, underground rivers, and marine life
It would be easy to spend all your time traveling in Mexico in cities and on beaches, and to completely overlook the natural world. But you’d be missing out on some of the country’s best experiences.
Cozumel and Mahahual offer some of the best diving in the Americas. (Read about night diving with sharks and octopi here!) You can swim, snorkel or dive in cenotes — sinkholes formed by underground rivers. You can hike up volcanoes in the Central Highlands. And, while I haven’t done it yet, the treks through Copper Canyon are rumored to be amazing.
Top outdoor adventures:
- Dive around the largest reef system in the Americas
- Swim in Cenote Samula outside Valladolid
- Trek through Copper Canyon
Practicalities: The other reasons I love to travel in Mexico
So clearly Mexico has a lot to offer the traveler. But what sets it a part from many backpacking destinations is how easy and comfortable it is to travel in.
It never feels overcrowded with tourists. People are friendly. First-class, air-con, on-time buses run between all major destinations. The country has a network of amazing hostels (like this one in Merida — one of the best places I’ve ever stayed). Solo women face no special challenges. I feel a lot more comfortable walking around alone, even at night, than I do anywhere else in the Americas (including in the U.S.). And it’s safe, aside from a handful of places with heavy narcotics presences. This is one country where you truly can just relax and enjoy your trip.
So if you’re ready to make your Mexico travel dreams a reality, check out the destination guide — and book those plane tickets! You won’t regret it.
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Have you been to Mexico? What was your favorite part? If not, what’s stopping you from going? Leave a comment!
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