Mexico Vacations Off the Beaten Path: Oaxaca, Isla Mujeres and More
For many American travelers, Mexico vacations make for an easy trip thanks to frequent non-stop flights and a well-developed tourist infrastructure on both coasts. But there is more to Mexico than stunning beaches. A blend of Spanish and indigenous cultures make the region’s colonial cities like San Miguel de Allende a unique journey. Even better, many Mexico destinations have yet to be spoiled by mass tourism, so with the right planning your experience will be authentic and unforgettable.
We’ve put together a collection of some of the lesser known Mexico destinations. Whether you’re just looking to relax, want to get up close and personal with nature, soak up Mexican history and culture, or prefer a food-focused trip, there’s something for everyone.
Jump straight to a destination:
Mexico Destinations to Relax
If you’re looking for a relaxing getaway, the western cities of Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo are excellent options. The culture, architecture and cuisine are influenced by the dry, desert environment and beautiful waters of the Sea of Cortez. The weather is ideal, with an average of 360 days of sunshine a year. While many of Los Cabos’ beaches are too dangerous for swimming due to undertows, San Jose del Cabo has several sandy beaches that swimmers use year-round.
Millions of American visitors descend upon the Cancun area every year. It’s a well-developed tourist hub with a wealth of resorts at all price points. Located just under the tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula along the Caribbean Sea, the Mayan Riviera is a beach-lover’s paradise. Here are the white-sand beaches of your laptop’s screen saver: Cancun, Cozumel, Isla Mujeres, and Playa del Carmen. You can also delve into ancient history with a visit to one of the pyramids of lost Mayan civilizations, including the well-known ruins of Chichen Itza.
Mexico Destinations to Commune with Nature
For those seeking quiet and solitude, take advantage of the easy flight into Cancun, and then keep going until you reach the fishing village of Isla Mujeres - only eight miles from Cancun by boat. In addition to being home to some of the area’s best beaches, adventurous travelers put Isla Mujeres on their itinerary for the first-rate scuba diving. It’s one of the few Mexico destinations where you can swim with whale sharks. But if you’re looking for someplace even more remote, continue on to the tiny village of Isla Holbox. You might feel like you have the entire island to yourself as you explore its colorful reefs and lagoons. Keep an eye out for wildlife – flamingos and dolphins are frequently seen near the island.
The Yucatan’s capital city, Merida, is situated west of Cancun in a unique geographic location across five hills. Merida offers a dose of Spanish-colonial history combined with art museums and a dynamic food scene. The tourist hoards haven’t discovered this charming colonial town yet, so plan a Mexico vacation while the attractions are still authentic.
On the opposite side of Mexico is the Riviera Nayarit located along the Pacific coast and famed for its tropical climate and spectacular beaches. Visitors flock to bustling Puerto Vallarta, but a few stray over to the undeveloped town of Punta Mita. Crowds are rare, leaving ample opportunity to enjoy snorkeling, paddle-boarding and surfing along the sandy coast. Browse the galleries for vibrant yarn and beaded artwork by indigenous Huichol artisans. Between Puerto Vallarta and Manzanilla lies the 180-mile stretch of shoreline known as Costalegre, the Coast of Joy. Known for its pristine white sand, the beaches, capes and bays are an ideal choice for travelers seeking Mexico destinations that provide natural beauty, tranquility and privacy.
Also read: Tips to Choose the Right Resort in Cancun
Mexico Destinations for History and Culture
Mexico is rich with graceful colonial architecture in historic cities where former mansions and townhouses have been converted into elegant hotels and restaurants. Add in charming cobbled streets, ornate baroque churches and distinctive palaces and you have a very European atmosphere. Save yourself a trip across the Atlantic and skip the jet-lag by making these well-preserved cities your Mexico destination.
The scenic valley city of Guanajuato was once among Mexico’s wealthiest due to its silver mines. Today’s colorful and elaborate architecture also reflects bygone glory days. Many of its streets are too narrow for vehicles, making them ideal for leisurely strolls. The town’s ornate churches, striking squares and colorful houses inspired the animated movie, Coco. Add a dose of culture with a visit to the birthplace of 20th-century artist Diego Rivera or browse the Gorky Pottery workshop, which produces an array of stylish, hand-decorated ceramics.
From Guanajuato, it’s just 90 minutes to San Miguel de Allende - a UNESCO world heritage site and recently named by Travel & Leisure magazine as one of the best cities in the world. This colonial city made the list thanks to its steep cobblestoned streets, pastel houses and grand 17th-century Spanish architecture, but also because of its exuberant and festive atmosphere with lively cafés, eclectic galleries and excellent restaurants. El Jardin, San Miguel de Allende’s central plaza, is a beloved gathering place that brings together architecture from four different centuries in a single setting.
Also read: Free things to do on vacation
Mexico Destinations for Local Food
For foodies, a visit to the state of Oaxaca offers a chance to taste a wide variety of Mexico’s native cuisine. Perhaps the most important Oaxacan contribution to Mexican cuisine is mole, which can describe any number of rich sauces that use chili peppers as the central ingredient. Many local dishes are based on the Aztec diet, which was primarily vegetarian and includes corn tortillas at every meal. Although France withdrew from Mexico in 1866, Oaxacan pastry shops demonstrate the region’s French heritage with items like flan, crepas and Pan de yema (egg bread) which closely resembles brioche. Spend an afternoon in a cooking class for a chance to delve deeper into the rich Mexican culinary scene.
Travel Insurance for Your Mexico Vacation
Mexico made the list of the 10 Most Popular Trips Covered by Travel Insurance. Find out why.
Although you plan for the best for your Mexico vacation, consider getting travel insurance that can help with certain unexpected events that could throw a wrench in your travel plans. Travel insurance can be especially helpful when you’re visiting another country, where you might not speak the language or be familiar with your surroundings. If you’re sick or injured on a trip, Generali’s 24/7 Emergency Assistance service, included with all of our plans, can help you find medical assistance and other services when you need them most.
With Generali you can venture off the beaten path with confidence.