Things to do in Mexico
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Uncovering ancient ruins, wandering around fascinating museums, sampling some of the best dishes in the world, dancing to mariachi music, sunbathing in breathtaking beaches, exploring mysterious archaeological sites, we could go on and on about what Mexico has to offer to the modern-day traveler.
The country is home to a diverse range of locations and an inspiring collection of sights and attractions. In this article Bookmundi shortlists some of the top best things to do in Mexico. Enjoy!
- Madalaine Leviston
- From Scotland
1. Visit ancient ruins
A trip to Mexico can not be considered complete unless you spend a day wandering around one or two of the country’s ancient Mayan ruins. These sites delve into the depths of the Mayan culture, allowing travelers a chance to marvel at the near-prehistoric construction. Visiting at least one ruin site is at the top of our list of things to do in Mexico.
- Chichén Itzá, located roughly two hours outside of Cancun, was a political and economic powerhouse around 600 A.D. The dominating pyramids instantly dwarf visitors, leaving them to ogle at the unreal craftsmanship that’s made Chichén Itzá one of the greatest examples of Mayan prowess. Clusters of this ancient city are scattered far and wide, but the concentrated areas open to the public include The Great North Platform, The Ossario Group, and The Central Group.
- Teotihuacán claims the crown for the best-known Aztec ruin in Mexico. Lying less than an hour outside of Mexico City, the sprawling archeological complex is easily accessible and more than worth the quick jaunt. Built around 400 B.C., Teotihuacán’s architects are unknown. In fact, the complex lay abandoned for centuries before the Aztecs rediscovered it in the 1400s. Teotihuacán is shrouded in mystery, but one thing is for sure: the pyramid structure and temples are beyond impressive.
Best season: Visit in dry season (varies across the country) and as early in the morning as possible to beat the crowds. Alternatively, visiting the lit up Chichén Itzá after dark offers a whole new perspective.
2. Go trekking
One of the best activities in Mexico is taking to the trails. While trekking or hiking might not be the first thing you think of when you think of things to do in Mexico, it is definitely worthwhile setting aside a day or two for the great outdoors.
- The Sierra Norte Mountains offer dozens of forested trails, many of which wind through indigenous villages. Crooked Trails provides a multi-day tour, guiding trekkers on trails linking several villages and providing accommodation at each stop, allowing outsiders to glimpse the native way of life.
- Copper Canyon, a 6-canyon compound strewn over 25,000 square miles in northwestern Mexico, is comparable in size to the United States’ Grand Canyon. Make the town of Creel your home base, hire a guide, and take to the maze of trails running through the area. The biodiversity here remains rich since development is practically non-existent.
- Iztaccihuatl, an extinct volcano, is the third highest mountain in the country. Popularly called the sleeping lady, Iztaccihuatl is best explored on a hike. La Arista del Sol is the standard hiking route that climbs past the feet of the mountain, across the stomach and onto the head, which also makes it the most popular. Besides the rewarding view, also enjoy the vast diversity of flora and fauna the mountain flaunts!
Best season: You can trek or hike almost any time, but October and November are prime hiking months with mild temperatures and the least chance of rain.
3. Indulge in natural beauty
Flush with untouched areas, Mexico’s lush, pristine landscape beckons visitors off the tourist track and into pure natural beauty.
- Witness waterfalls anywhere from northern Mexico to the depths of the south. Agua Azul is a popular cascading beauty in southern Chiapas, Basaseachi towers 246 meters over a swimmable pool within Copper Canyon, and Tamul’s raw beauty leaves kayakers speechless.
- Swim in Cenotes in Tulum, the world-renowned underwater playground for advanced scuba divers. Even if cave diving isn’t your thing, just swimming and snorkeling in these natural sinkholes is a top experience in Mexico. Dos Ojos stuns with unbelievably clear water in otherworldly surroundings.
- Witness the Petrified Waterfall known as Hierve el Aqua, which at first glance appears to be a waterfall frozen in time. Upon further investigation, you’ll find the cascading “water” is actually hardened mineral deposits left behind by water trickling over the edge. Enjoy a swim in the natural infinity pool at the bottom!
Best season: Contrary to popular belief, dry season (November to May) allows for easier waterfall access and generates the clear blue water that makes pictures pop.
4. Try Mexican food
Whether you want to try weird dishes like grasshoppers or more standard favorites like tacos, there is no better place than Mexico. Eating is surely a top thing to do in Mexico! From street food to cantina dining, colors, flavors, and spices command the Mexican cuisine.
- Tacos are the ultimate Mexican street food. While they appear simple in design (typically a tortilla, meat/fish, and salsa), it’s the preparation that takes place behind the scenes that makes the difference. Baja California reigns supreme in the fish taco department (check out Tacos El Muelle or Asadero Danny’s) while it’s hard to go wrong in Mexico City at Taqueria Los Parados.
- Pozole is the Mexican hangover cure and you might need it after sampling all that tequila and mezcal! Made (usually) with pork, hominy corn, and loaded with spices and herbs, this dish typically stews overnight and is garnished with lettuce, radish, onion, lime, and chili.
Best time: When you’re good and hungry!
5. Search for art
You won’t have to look hard before stumbling across an epic piece of art in Mexico. Dating back to the times when the Mayans and Aztecs decorated walls with fluid murals depicting significant stories, the art culture in Mexico is alive and well.
- Street art rules in Mexico City's districts like Roma and Condesa. This free city tour helps first-time visitors navigate the country’s booming urban art center. Other street art destinations worth mentioning include Puebla, Tijuana, and the up-and-coming Isla Holbox.
- Frida Kahlo Museum houses personal items of the late artist as well as some of her most significant works, displayed in her childhood home. Known as Casa Azul (Blue House), it’s one of the most visited museums in Mexico City.
Best time: Street art is always accessible; the museum is closed every Monday.
6. Be part of a festival
Mexico loves to celebrate, and what better way to immerse in a new place than to join in the festivities? One of the most fun activities in Mexico has to be partying like a local.
- Carnaval celebrations are found throughout Mexico, however, Mazatlán and Veracruz throw the biggest bashes. The five-day party is presented as a time of full indulgence before the commencement of Lent. Participants dress in colorful masks, enjoy live music, dance, eat, and drink to their hearts’ content. Float parades and fireworks mark the biggest celebration day – typically on a Sunday.
- Participate in Day of the Dead (not to be confused as the “Mexican Halloween”), a time when Mexicans joyfully remember family members who have passed away. The skull-themed makeup is the holiday’s most recognizable symbol, but there are many other traditions that go along with face painting and elaborate costumes. A big part of the celebration includes parades, parties, singing, dancing, and making offerings to deceased loved ones.
Best time: This year’s Carnaval runs from 20th to 25th February 2020; Day of the Dead is celebrated from 31st October to 2nd November 2020.
7. Sunbathe on sandy beaches
Mexico isn’t American’s favorite spring break destination for nothing; powder soft sand and warm waters entice visitors to the country’s coast all year long. Lounging on a beach might not seem like much of an activity, but it’s definitely an ideal way to pass time on the Mexican Riviera.
- The beaches of Tulum line the popular Yucatán Peninsula and draw beach bums from far and wide to their idyllic shores. Playa Paraíso lives up to its name, offering a secluded nirvana for beachgoers and snorkelers looking to bask in a pristine setting. Playa Ruinas snags the top spot for location, tucked below a rugged cliff upon which the Mayan Ruins of Tulum sit overlooking the sea.
- Isla Mujeres, an idyllic sanctuary lying just off the coast of Cancun, serves as an escape from the bustle of the mainland party people. White sand beaches, calm waters, and friendly residents extend a warm welcome to anyone stepping foot on the island’s shores. Isla Mujeres offers visitors a choice; slip into pure relaxation mode, or — on the flip side — pack days with adventurous cliff walks, Mayan ruin discoveries, scuba diving, and swimming with whale sharks.
Best season: November and December is a great time to visit as these months have favorable weather and fewer crowds than peak season, which runs from January to March.
8. Explore the cities
Mexico is awash in fascinating cities. Explore the bustling capital before jetting to the coast to see what all the fuss is about.
- Mexico City, with its endless activities and entertainment options, provesto be a genuine introduction to Mexico as the cultural and historical hub of the country. Crowded and lively, Mexico City is a designated UNESCO Site thanks to its outstanding food scene, numerous top-ranked museums, and multitude of historic sites.
- Puerto Vallarta manages to hold on to its authenticity while still being a quintessential holiday destination. The cosmopolitan west coast city is more than just a day at the beach. Some of the best things to do exist on the strip just off the beach on El Malecón where sand sculptures pose next to bronze ones, oceanfront dining and drinks are a must, and the iconic Church of Our Lady Guadalupe quietly observes all the action.
Best time: Catch Mexico City at its best between March and May for warm weather and little rain. Although the weather is prime, our tip is to avoid the peak winter months in Puerto Vallarta; instead, visit between April and June for more affordable room rates, pleasant weather, and fewer tourists.
9. Enjoy local entertainment
The unique culture provides plenty of opportunities for live entertainment and things to do in Mexico. Whether you’re into traditional music or something a little more adrenaline-pumping, Mexico’s got what you need.
Recommended entertainment activities:
- Watch a Lucha Libre match at the Arena México in Mexico City, typically entailing a masked, tri-team of wrestlers who tag team in an attempt to defeat their opponent.
- Mariachi music originated in the Mexican countryside in at least the 18th century and has been a staple in the country’s culture ever since. Check out the free show that’s always on in Mexico City’s Plaza Garibaldi or enjoy the music with dinner and drinks at Tenampa.
Best time: Lucha Libre is year-round and Mariachi in the Plaza is a nightly occurrence!
10. Get tipsy on tequila
Visiting Mexico and drinking tequila go hand in hand. From party shots on the street to original cocktails, Mexico is the place to indulge. But maybe not in the way you’d think.
- Tequila in Mexico is traditionally served neat and without salt or lime. Some places may offer a “chaser”, known as sangrita, a fruit juice spiced up with hot sauce and, sometimes, tomato juice and/or Worcestershire sauce. Tequila made with 100% agave is meant to be sipped, not thrown back in a hurry, so post up and take your time enjoying it.
- Mezcal, the smokier version of tequila, uses upwards of 50 different agave plants (while tequila is produced from just a single agave). Mezcal is generally consumed straight, but don’t shoot it; smell, sip, and swirl it around in your mouth to experience the true flavors! Most Mezcal is made in Oaxaca, so hit up one of these bars for the real deal.
Best time: There’s never a bad time for drinking in Mexico!
11. Do something wild
Getting wild in Mexico can mean a lot of things. From trying weird delicacies to partying all night at the most popular club on the planet, there are many wild things to do in Mexico. Below we list two of our favorites:
- It doesn't get wilder than this. When in Cancun, do not miss out on an opportunity to swim with humongous whale sharks as they float around the Caribbean Sea. These sharks are known to be the largest in the world, but unlike their counterparts, they don’t pose a threat to humans since they only eat plankton.
- May be we were wrong the first time, it can get wilder in Mexico! Visiting a nightclub may not be something you'd expect on this list, but everything is possible in Mexico. A trip to Coco Bongo Club is a MUST, and yes it is really THAT famous. Incredibly popular among young people, this is a great venue for any traveler searching for the perfect night out. The club is located in Playa del Carmen and in Cancun.
Best time: You can party in Coco Bongo Club any night! But for a swim with the sharks, head to Cancun in July and August when the shark population is at the highest.
12. Become a water baby
With so much coastline, there is plenty of opportunities to play in the water and explore the world under the surface. Here are two of the destinations in Mexico that we highly recommend.
- Visit Xel-Ha Eco Park, a naturally formed environment located in the Mayan Riviera known for its beauty and many water activities. Snorkeling and exploring the impressive marine life is an obvious highlight, but visitors can also discover a variety of animals as they make their way around the park. The Xel-Ha Eco Park is also home to a number of activities that can be enjoyed by the entire family.
- Cozumel is incredibly proud of its rich marine life, unusual coral formations and prized diving spots. It is one of those few authentic travel destinations that has been left alone by tourism, but you need to leave the tourist area and those souvenir shops behind to explore Cozumel’s true beauty. Snorkeling and diving are the most obvious highlights with the reefs surrounding Cozumel and the Banco Chinchorro coral atoll being the most popular diving destinations. You can also spend some time in the town square or rent a scooter to explore less-visited parts of the island.
Best time: March to June, when the temperature is at a good 30°C.
Mexico meets visitors with a feverous energy, encouraging indulgence in all the country has to offer. Whether you’re a foodie enticed by tacos or a history buff enthralled with the ancient past, finding things to do in Mexico is one problem you’ll never face.
If you are planning a trip to Mexico, follow the link to get your Mexico tourist card online.