Mexico offers visitors incredible variety, from jungle and desert settings, to rural villages, charming colonial towns and buzzing “mega-cities”, which sit alongside the picturesque Sierra Madre and Sierra Nevada mountains. Its extensive Pacific and Caribbean coastlines feature beautiful beaches and some of the world’s best snorkelling and diving spots, the country is also home to some of the best-preserved Mesoamerican architecture in Latin America.
Mexico’s Playa del Carmen, along with the beaches of Cancún and Cozumel, figure high among the world’s most popular beaches, with white sand, clear blue waters and plenty of colourful marine life, as well as world-class resorts and exciting nightlife.
Mexico is also home to Acapulco, immortalised in song and made famous as a playground for the rich and famous by the likes of Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra.
For a quieter experience, Mexico includes many beautiful beaches outside the major tourist hotspots. Try the beaches of small Holbox Island just off the Yucatan Peninsula, the magnificent white-sand beaches surrounding the bay at Bahia Concepción or the pristine beach at Xcalak, near the border with Belize and surrounded by the Great Maya Reef.
Pyramids of Tenochtitlán
No visitor to Mexico should miss the giant pyramids at Teotihuacán, an ancient city that lies just 50 kilometres northeast of Mexico City. The largest pyramid in Mexico, the Pyramid of the Sun, was built in approximately 100 AD. Equally famous, although smaller, is the Pyramid of the Moon, built in about 450 AD. The city of Teotihuacán is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Chichen Itza is one of the largest Mayan cities ever constructed. Today it’s a fascinating complex of ancient Mayan ruins, including the central, step pyramid known as El Castillo (or the Temple of Kukulcan), which includes a total of 365 steps – one for each day of the year. Other highlights include the Great Ball Court and El Caracol, a circular temple that once served as an astronomical observatory. Over 1.2 million people travel to see Chichen Itza every year.
Bosque de Chapultepec
For breathing space and entertainment in bustling Mexico City, head to Bosque de Chapultepec, a massive city park that spans over 686 hectares. The park is divided into three main sections. The first includes attractions such as the National Museum of Anthropology (Mexico’s most visited museum, and for good reason), the Rufino Tamayo Museum and a popular zoo. The second section includes museums such as El Papalote – an interactive museum for children, the Museo Tecnológico de la CFE and the Museo de Historia Natural.
Also in the park, you’ll find plenty of jogging and walking trails, exercise facilities and even the Feria de Chapultepec amusement park, which is located near the Lago Mayor. The park is known for its roller coasters, including the hair-raising Montaña Infinitum, which has three loops.
Mexico’s Riviera Maya runs along the country’s Caribbean coastline, in the eastern part of the Yucatán Peninsula. It’s home to many of Mexico’s top resorts. Among the many attractions for visitors are magnificent beaches with warm turquoise waters, the Belize Barrier Reef, which is the second longest barrier reef in the world, swimming in cenotes (natural underground reservoirs) and the fascinating archaeological sites at Tulum, Chichen Itza and, further inland, Coba.
Just to the south of the Riviera Maya, Cancún is one of Mexico’s most popular tourist destinations, famous for its 22.5 kilometres of dazzling white-sand beach, turquoise waters and energetic nightlife. The nearby Isla Mujeres is worth visiting for its turtle farm and Playa del Norte beach.
On the Yucatán Peninsula and just 128 kilometres from Cancún, Tulum was one of the last cities built by the Mayans in around 1200 AD. Today it’s popular for Mayan ruins perched atop 12 metre cliffs, with spectacular views over the Caribbean.
With its long beach and deep turquoise bay, Acapulco is one of the world’s most famous beach resorts. Since the 1950s, it has been attracting the rich and famous, and today it still has a reputation as a party town – especially among the hordes of US students who arrive each year for spring break. In addition to its varied nightlife, a key attraction in Acapulco is the La Quebrada cliff divers, famous for dives from a 40 metre high cliff into an inlet that’s just seven metres wide and four metres deep.
Situated just off the Yucatan Peninsula, Cozumel is a national marine park featuring magnificent coral reef and tropical fish. The area was first made famous by Jacques Cousteau. A ferry to Cozumel departs hourly from the popular Riviera Maya beach, Playa del Carmen.
If you prefer your Mayan architecture with a touch of Disney, or just because it honestly is fun, head to the XCaret Eco-Park, a theme park 6.5 kilometres south of Playa del Carmen in the Riviera Maya. Along with authentic pre-Columbian ruins from the archaeological site of Xcaret, the park includes a replica of a Mayan village with artisans at work, an aquarium, bird and butterfly pavilions, areas for viewing manatees, a beach with a range of water sports on offer and the opportunity to swim with dolphins, a theatre, a spa, shops and a number of restaurants.
Located 130 kilometres to the south of Ciudad del Carmen, Palenque is one of Mexico’s most fascinating archaeological sites, featuring some of the best-preserved examples of Mayan architecture and sculptures, dating to between 600 and 800 AD. Palenque also includes the only Mesoamerican pyramid used as a funerary monument.
Located in a valley in the Sierra de Guanajuato Mountains, the 16th Century city of Guanajuato includes some of the most beautiful colonial buildings and churches in the country. Guanajuato’s main traffic thoroughfares are partly or completely underground, and many of its above-ground streets and alleyways are too narrow for cars. This makes the city perfect for pedestrians to explore.
Mexico’s Copper Canyon is a network of impressive canyons, together far exceeding the size of America’s Grand Canyon. A good way to see the canyons is via the Chihuahua al Pacifico Railway, which reaches an altitude of 2,400 metres and passes over a phenomenal 37 bridges, offering spectacular views.