Top 15 Must-Do Things in Mexico for an Unforgettable Vacation
Mexico is a country brimming with magic, mystery, and adventure. From ancient Mayan ruins to breathtaking beaches and lively cities, Mexico caters to every type of traveler. Its vibrant culture, welcoming hospitality, and delectable cuisine ensure an unforgettable experience. This ultimate guide highlights the top 15 must-do activities in Mexico, guaranteeing a vacation you’ll cherish forever. Prepare to discover the very best this diverse country has to offer.
1. Explore the Ancient Ruins of Chichen Itza
One of Mexico’s most famous archaeological sites, Chichen Itza is a vast complex of ancient Mayan ruins located on the Yucatan Peninsula. Designated as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, this UNESCO World Heritage Site dates back to 600 A.D. Marvel at the massive El Castillo pyramid, also known as the Temple of Kukulcan, and see the largest ball court in Mesoamerica. You can also visit the Temple of the Warriors, the observatory known as El Caracol, and the sacred cenote sinkhole. Exploring these magnificent ruins gives you insight into the remarkable achievements of the Mayan civilization. Don’t forget to also check out the intriguing Chaac Mool statue and the Platform of Venus.
2. Immerse Yourself in the Vibrant Culture of Mexico City
As Mexico’s sprawling capital and largest city, Mexico City is a vibrant cultural hub. With over 21 million residents in the metro area, the city is lively, chaotic, and exciting. Explore renowned museums like the Frida Kahlo Museum and the National Museum of Anthropology showcasing pre-Hispanic history. Wander through neighborhoods like La Condesa and Roma Norte, filled with trendy shops, cafes, and green spaces. Indulge in street food favorites like tacos, quesadillas, and elotes. Catch a performance of the Ballet Folklorico or listen to mariachi bands in the historic central plaza, the Zócalo. Mexico City’s cosmopolitan energy is unmatched.
3. Relax on the Beautiful Beaches of Cancun and Riviera Maya
Famous for its white sandy beaches and turquoise waters, Cancun is a vacation hotspot. Relax beneath swaying palms or party at hopping beach clubs. The hotel zone boasts all-inclusive resorts with every amenity imaginable. Just south of Cancun along the Riviera Maya, you’ll find more stunning beaches and popular tourist towns. Visit Playa del Carmen for shopping and nightlife or head to chilled-out Tulum for beachside yoga retreats and boho vibes. Top things to do include snorkeling through colorful reefs, swimming in picturesque cenotes, touring archaeological sites, and going on jungle excursions. With its tropical sunshine and Caribbean Sea views, the Cancun and Riviera Maya area promises a lovely beach vacation.
4. Witness the Magnificent Monarch Butterfly Migration in Michoacan
Each winter, millions of monarch butterflies make an epic migration from Canada to Mexico’s Michoacan state where they blanket the oyamel fir forests. Their crowded clusters give the trees an orange glow. Visit one of the butterfly reserves like El Rosario Sanctuary, Sierra Chincua Sanctuary, or Piedra Herrada Sanctuary to witness this incredible natural phenomenon. The best time is from late November to early March when populations peak. Guided tours take you up close without disturbing their habitat. This unforgettable spectacle of these delicate creatures fluttering across the sky is a bucket list experience.
5. Take a Boat Tour in Xochimilco’s Floating Gardens in Mexico City
A colorful experience awaits in Xochimilco, located south of Mexico City’s historic center. This district was built on Lake Xochimilco, with canals and artificial islands called chinampas. Hop aboard a festively painted trajinera boat for a relaxing cruise along the canals and docks. Float by lush greenery and flower gardens planted on the man-made islands, passing other lancha boats carrying revelers with food and mariachi music. The lively atmosphere and scenic surroundings make this a fun and offbeat activity. Don’t forget to sample delicious dishes like tamales and pozole from vendors on their canoes.
6. Visit the Enchanting Colonial Town of San Miguel de Allende
Located in the central highlands, San Miguel de Allende is one of Mexico’s best preserved colonial towns and a top tourist destination. Cobblestone streets are lined with pastel-hued Spanish colonial architecture, plazas, and churches like the grand pink Gothic Cathedral. Visit cultural institutions like the Instituto Allende art school and the Casa Dragones tequila distillery. Browse colorful craft markets and high-end art galleries showcasing Mexican talent. Spend evenings listening to mariachis in the Jardin Principal central square. With its old-world vibe, flourishing arts scene, and rich history, San Miguel de Allende casts a magical spell on visitors.
7. Discover Ancient Mayan Culture at Tulum’s Coastal Ruins
Perched dramatically atop seaside cliffs in the Riviera Maya, Tulum’s archaeological ruins provide an amazing blend of turquoise waters, white sands, and ancient history. Once a walled Mayan port city dating to 1200-1500 AD, El Castillo pyramid towers above it all. Explore curiously named structures like the Temple of the Descending God and the Temple of the Frescos featuring detailed wall paintings. After climbing through ruins surrounded by jungle vines, you can relax on the beach below. Getting to discover this ancient slice of Mayan culture in such an idyllic setting makes Tulum a one-of-a-kind destination.
8. Indulge in Authentic Mexican Cuisine in Oaxaca
The delightful southern city of Oaxaca is a foodie haven and one of the culinary capitals of Mexico. Savor regional specialties like complex mole sauces, tlayudas (giant corn tortillas), chapulines (fried grasshoppers), and mezcal at local markets. Pull up a stool at the 20 Septiembre Market to try traditional antojitos (street food). Take a cooking class to learn secrets behind Oaxacan cuisine. Visit village markets full of fresh ingredients and artisanal cheese and chocolate shops. With its strong indigenous culture and incredible gastronomy, Oaxaca is a must-visit for anyone passionate about authentic Mexican food.
9. Swim with Whale Sharks in the Waters of Isla Holbox
For an incredible bucket list wildlife encounter, head to Isla Holbox between May and September to snorkel with the world’s largest fish. These gentle filter-feeding whale sharks migrate here annually. Local eco-tour operators lead small groups on tours following strict guidelines to respect the animals. Snorkeling beside these spotted behemoths in the crystal waters is an experience you’ll never forget. Isla Holbox itself is an idyllic, laid-back island with sandy beaches, palm trees, and beachfront cabanas. The amazing whale shark encounters make it one of Mexico’s most special places.
10. Explore the Natural Wonders of Hierve el Agua in Oaxaca
In Oaxaca’s Zapotec region, you’ll find the unique rock formations of Hierve el Agua. Resembling cascading waterfalls frozen in time, these are actually natural mineral deposits from springs rich in calcium carbonate. As the mineral-laden water spills over the cliffs, the calcium carbonates are deposited, accumulating over centuries to form petrified formations that look like solidified waterfalls. You can swim in the mineral springs pools and enjoy incredible panoramic views. Exploring this geological phenomenon feels like stepping into another world. For outdoor lovers, Hierve el Agua’s otherworldly beauty makes it a dream destination.
11. Experience the Day of the Dead Celebrations in Mexico City
One of Mexico’s most fascinating and important holidays is Day of the Dead, observed from October 31 to November 2. Join celebrations in Mexico City’s cemeteries and streets to experience the revelry and spirit of this event. Costumed revelers parade and pay tribute to deceased loved ones at altars overflowing with candles, flowers, and offerings. Try colorful sugar skull candies and festive pan de muerto (bread of the dead). Observe respectful families holding overnight vigils beside graves. With its joyful spirit of remembrance, observing Day of the Dead traditions provides rich cultural insight.
12. Go Scuba Diving or Snorkeling in Cozumel’s Reefs
The island of Cozumel off the Yucatan Peninsula delivers world-class scuba diving and snorkeling. Boasting some of the world’s largest barrier reefs, the waters here teem with marine life. Dive sites like Palancar Reef, Columbia Wall, and Santa Rosa Wall offer incredible visibility, coral formations, caverns, and sea life like turtles, rays, and tropical fish. For new divers, shore dives and shallow reefs provide easy access. Snorkelers will enjoy spotting dazzling fish right from the surface. With its warm clear waters and vibrant underwater ecosystems, Cozumel offers incredible scuba and snorkeling adventures.
13. Discover the Mysteries of Teotihuacan’s Ancient Pyramids
Just outside Mexico City lies Teotihuacan, one of the largest and most important archaeological sites in Mexico. This ancient city flourished between 100 BCE and 600 CE. Walk along the Avenue of the Dead to view the massive Pyramids of the Sun and Moon. Climb the steps up these impressive monuments for an awe-inspiring view. Marvel at the architectural precision of the Temple of Quetzalcoatl and the intriguing Stone of the Sun. Though not Mayan, Teotihuacan was one of the most influential pre-Hispanic cities in Mesoamerica and visiting it provides insight into Mexico’s primordial past.
14. Relax and Unwind at a Luxury Resort in Playa del Carmen
For the ultimate beach vacation, spend time at one of Playa del Carmen’s luxury resorts along Mexico’s Caribbean coast. You’ll find gorgeous infinity pools, gourmet dining, beachside cabanas, and indulgent spa treatments. Popular options include the chic Hotel Esencia, the massive all-inclusive Grand Velas Riviera Maya, and the Thompson Playa del Carmen with its vibrant nightlife. Sip tropical cocktails at swim-up bars, lounge in plush robes, practice yoga on the sand, or charter a private boat tour. With world-class amenities and pampering service, Playa del Carmen’s upscale resorts let you vacation in sheer luxury.
15. Visit Guanajuato’s Colorful Alleyways and Underground Streets
The charming city of Guanajuato, located in central Mexico, is filled with history and beauty. Walk the narrow cobblestone alleyways (callejones) between the colorful colonial buildings. Duck into underground tunnels (túneles) running beneath the city, dating back centuries when rivers were diverted underground. Admire the magnificent architecture of the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guanajuato and climb high above town for magnificent views from El Pípila Monument. The city explodes in lights and life during the annual Festival Cervantino performing arts festival each October. With its hilly topography, vibrant student culture, and lively festivals, Guanajuato is a joy to explore.
A vacation to Mexico promises exciting experiences, stunning scenery, warm culture, and memories to last a lifetime. From ancient sites to modern cities and ocean adventures to cultural festivals, Mexico’s diversity amazes. Indulging in a frothy cup of hot chocolate in Oaxaca, listening to mariachi bands in lively plazas, and hiking to remote Mayan ruins are just a taste of what awaits. Whether it’s relaxing beach time or thrilling wildlife encounters you seek, Mexico delivers. Open your heart and mind, practice your Spanish, and get ready for an epic Mexican adventure. The treasures of this captivating country will stay with you long after your tan fades.