Mexico has so much more to offer than just beautiful resorts. Perhaps you have done the resort experience one too many times? Excited to step away from the convenience, sterility, and luxury of the big resort experience and step out into the great unknown? Then pack your bags and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime to any one of these incredible resort free destinations. Sure, you’ll have to put a little extra effort into mapping out your itinerary, meals, and accommodations, but at the end of the day, you’ll have created a unique trip that has been tailor made to your desires, specifications, dreams, and goals. Whether you are fascinated by ancient ruins, find thrills surfing gigantic waves, or simply yearning to sprawl out with a good book in the sun on a pristine beach – these 8 beautiful underrated escapes have exactly what you need to fulfill your dreams.
1. Campeche, Campeche
Campeche is a gorgeous port city on the Gulf of Mexico. At around 250 000 people, this fast growing small city showcases carefully preserved history and manages to maintain a laid back, easy to navigate kind of vibe that will keep you coming back for more. For a mid-range option, consider Hotel Socaire, and for affordable options, consider staying at Viatger Inn or Hotel Castelmar. When you get into the city, walk along the Malecon – a 2 mile path along the sea wall to check out the big attractions – you will come across the cathedral, public square, museums, and lots of restaurants. Visit the nearby Ednza ruins (about 45 minutes away) and head to the close towns of Seybaplaya and Champoton for some beautiful beaches. Take advantage of the coastal location and stock up on seafood at La Pigua, Faro Del Morro, or Los Delfines, and then grab some coffee and dessert at Cafeteria Luna Caramelo, Italian Coffee Company, or Chocolato Café. For the ultimate dessert experience, stop by Chocol Ha – you can blame your chocolate consumption on ‘learning about Mexican history’.
2. San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas
Visiting the beautiful city of San Cristobal de las Casas in the state of Chiapas is a one of a kind experience. Rich with Mayan culture, the city’s colonial architecture is in stark juxtaposition with the neighboring countryside and villages. Flower lovers will adore the Orquideas Moxviquil where they will learn all about the natural flora of Chiapas. Museum buffs will love this city – check out Na Bolom Cultural Centre, the Museo de Trajes Regionales, and the Museo del Ambar to name a few. Architect lovers will enjoy the Templo Del Carmen, the Guadalupe Church, Templo de Santo Domingo, and of course – the famous and iconic Catedral de San Cristobal de Las Casas. If you are after an adrenaline rush, check out the local tours for the opportunity to hike, bike, and zip line nearby. After your busy days, grab a drink at El Cocodrilo and refuel at one of the many amazing restaurants – vegetarian at Te Quiero Verde, coffee and snacks at Frontera Artisan Food & Coffee, Mexican at Funky Burritos, or enjoy French at El Chalet Frances.
3. Tlaxcala, Tlaxcala
Just east of Mexico City, the laid back Tlaxcala is the capital of Mexico’s smallest state. There are no beaches, but with a striking colonial downtown filled with one of the country’s most impressive centers and a large student population creating a demand for a vibrant nightlife and delicious food, Tlaxcala is definitely worth a visit. Check out the beautiful murals of the Government Palace, take a hike to the Basilica de Ocotlan, and enjoy having some ruins to yourself for a change by visiting the nearby ancient Xochitecatl ruins. Spend an afternoon reading or sipping on some local coffee in the shady Plaza de la Constitucion, then stop by the Museo Vivo de Artes y Tradiciones Populares to learn about Tlaxcalan village life. Enjoy Mexican food at Fonda del Convento or Restaurante El Tirol, then grab a drink at Vinos y Piedra. If you are enjoying the food on your trip, consider taking a class at Estela Silva’s mexical Home Cooking School.
4. La Paz, Baja California Sur
La Paz, the capital city in Baja California Sur, is located on the coast of the Gulf of California. Frequently passed over in favor of the larger Los Cabos nearby, La Paz has a jaw dropping waterfront and gorgeous beach without all the touristy flash. Carve out some major time in your holiday plans to visit the islands in the Sea of Cortez – get on a boat and head to Isla Espiritu Santo for the chance to see water teeming with dolphins, sea lions, and a myriad of fish. If you are after the ultimate beach experience, grab your swimsuit and visit Balandra Beach – an absolute paradise. If you’re exploring the city, consider renting a bike to cover more ground. In town for a while? Grab a Spanish class at El Nopal. Interested in sport fishing? Check out Tailhunter International Sportfishing or Baja Pirates Fishing Fleet for the ultimate experience. After your long days in the sun, grab pizza and pasta at El Mural or capitalize on the seaside location and fill up on fresh seafood at McFishers.
5. Bacalar, Quintana Roo
The small city of Bacalar in Quintana Roo is worth a visit to see Lake Bacalar alone. This lake is called the Lake of the Seven Colors – this large crystal clear lake ranges from green to the palest of blues and is fed by underwater cenotes and completely surrounded by tropical rainforest -truly one of a kind. Get on a boat and head to the southern end of the lake, where natural rapids, beautiful fish, and stromatolite fossils will give you heaps of memories for years to come. Consider a trip with Active Nature Bacalar, a reputable company that can help you explore the lake by kayak and trek in the nearby jungle. Enjoy barbecue at Barril Grill, seafood and cocktails at La Playita, unbelievably cheap and tasty traditional local food at Cefe Orizaba, great pizza at Pizzeria Bertilla, and incredible tacos at Christian’s Tacos. Getting restless? Head to the nearby Chacchoben or Kohunlich ruins to immerse yourself in history while sparing yourself the crowds.
6. Troncones, Guerrero
Troncones is an undeveloped coastal town in the state of Guerrero tucked between the Sierra Madre Mountains and the Mexican Riviera. Laid back and relaxed, this beach town of only about 500 permanent residents boasts incredible breaks, making it a prime surfing destination. The best places to surf are Troncones Point and Manzanillo Bay. Beginners should consider visiting during spring and fall, when the breaks are typically gentler than the huge swells from June to October when the breaks can be around 25 feet. Stop by the one major surf shop or inquire at any hotel in town to get lessons or rentals. After hitting the waves refuel with delicious Mexican food at La Mexicana, La Costa Brava, or Chenchos, or switch it up and grab Mediterranean food at Jardin del Eden. If you need a change of pace from surfing, enjoy horseback riding, hiking in the nearby Sierra Madre Mountains, kayak, or walk the beach and keep your eyes peeled for sea turtles.
7. Oaxaca, Oaxaca
Oaxaca, the capital city of the state of Oaxaca, is a perfect destination for those looking to explore the famous ruins nearby. No resort necessary, this city has plenty of do it yourself options that you can tailor to your sleeping, eating, and entertainment desires. Hit up the Instituto Amigos del Sol for some outstanding Spanish lessons; head nearby to the famous Monte Alban ruins or Hierve el Agua for some epic views of the region and the chance to see salt pools and falls. Learn about local culture at the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca, then visit the Ethnobotanical Garden to see hundreds of local native plant species. Test out your haggling skills while grabbing breakfast at the lively and dynamic Benito Juarez Market – then bring the flavors of Mexico home by taking a class at the Alma de mi Tierra Cooking School. Check the schedule for the chance to wrap up your visit with a trip to the famous Teatro Macedonio de Alcala for a spectacular performance in the famous theater.
8. Copper Canyon, Chihuahua
Copper Canyon is a system of canyons in the Sierra Tarahumara encompassing a gulf that is four times larger than the Grand Canyon which offers incredible opportunities for exploration. Try to visit in the shoulder seasons of early spring to early summer or late summer to late fall to avoid sweltering heat and stay comfortable. Highlights of the area include Cusarare Falls, Valley of the Monks, Batopilas Canyon, Frog Valley, Recohuata Hot Springs, and Arareco Lake. If you are interested in hiking, biking, or ATVing, consider checking out The 3 Amigos or Eco AlterNATIVE Tours to help you plan and execute the trip of your dreams and narrow down your options – the Canyon is gigantic! If you can’t experience the Canyon on foot, consider taking a trip on the Chihuaha al Pacifico Railway, where you travel through 85 tunnels and over 37 bridges, guaranteeing you will have your nose pressed to the glass to watch the beautiful landscape go by. For easy access to the Canyon, consider staying in nearby Creel, where you can grab delicious food at Restaurant la Cabana, La Troje de Adobe, or Restaurante Veronica and find a handful of affordable hostels and hotels.