Mexico has been a popular traveling destination for North Americans, and in the past years, it has also become increasingly famous to Europeans and Asians who are seeking places with astonishing sights to see. (Must See Places in Mexico)
But beyond Mexico’s grand attractions and ancient ruins, the country also has a rich culture that has been built up for years by a mix of native and colonial influences — this is best seen in many aspects such as the local cuisine or its vibrant music and dance traditions. Let’s not forget that Mexico additionally has rich flora and fauna, thanks to its prime geological location across climate zones.
With that said and done, to ensure that you make the most of your trip here, check out this list of the top 10 must see places in Mexico!
10 Must See Places in Mexico
Barranca del Cobre, Chihuahua
Found in the northern part of Mexico in the Siera Madre Occidental is this massive 65,000sqm landscape that is made up of six distinct canyons! These canyons were formed by six rivers that flow through the western side of Sierra Tarahumara as they converge into the powerful Rio Fuerte. As a result, the canyon’s walls have a copper or green color (which is the origin of this location’s name).
As a famed destination for a lot of hikers and campers, this is one of the must see places in Mexico that can be explored by foot, horseback or burro, and train.
- El Chepe Train: one of the best ways to get around the vast expanse of the Copper Canyon as it meanders you through numerous scenic gorges and bridges. Divisadero is one of the photo stops on the train line and it will offer you views into the famed Urique Canyon which is the deepest of the six canyons.
- Barrancas de Sinforosa: located in Guachochi, this place consists of natural volcanic stones that are said to have been formed around 20-30 million years ago. It’s a great place to go to especially since it will reward you with the famous ‘Cumbres de la Sinforosa’ viewpoint after a drive through a dirt road for about 1.5 hours.
- Barrancas del Cobre Adventure Park: located near Creel, the park contains one of the longest ziplines in the world that would take you over a breathtaking canyon at over 80 miles an hour (the start point will be at 2,400 meters).
Where to stay? See the top Chihuahua hotels
Top experiences? See Chihuahua’s top activities and tours
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Guanajuato, State of Guanajuato
This is a city in Central Mexico that is regarded as an extraordinary UNESCO World Heritage Site! It was first founded in 1559 due to the region’s rich silver and gold deposits; nowadays, it is famed for its crisscrossing tunnels, opulent colonial buildings, and brightly colored houses on steep slopes that are often placed so close to one other.
As a visitor, you will love this city’s picturesque features; and if you’re into the arts, the city is also best known for its annual Festival Cervantino. Cultural activities for films, theater, orchestras, and callejoneadas (famed musical Guanajuato tours held by students who perform serenades and narrate legends at each stop) are held in abundance during the festival; but even if it’s not the day for Festival Cervantino, you’ll find that the city is never short of such youthful artistic vibrancy due to the fact that there are over 20,000 students in the city’s University of Guanajuato.
To make the most of your stay in this city which is one of the must see places in Mexico, don’t forget to stop by the following places, as well as possibly do day trips to some other key areas in the state of Guanajuato:
- University of Guanajuato: appearing in a lot of postcards, this is one of the top things to do in Guanajuato due to the grand architecture of the university. Apart from the Instagrammable stairs, don’t forget to drop by the Astronomical Observatory which is open every afternoon; it will grant you panoramic views of the city from 30 meters high.
- Callejón del Beso (Kiss Alley): this is a tiny alley in the city that has been named as such because the balconies are so close to each other that persons from each side can easily reach across and kiss. Legends even say that if a couple kisses on the third step, they are to be blessed with happiness for seven years.
- Mineral de Pozos: one of Mexico’s Pueblos Magicos (Magical Towns) which is also often referred to as a Pueblo Fantasma (Ghost Town) due to the fact of how this place has been abandoned by its citizens twice! Nevertheless, it’s truly a quiet getaway nowadays with only about 2,000 residents.
- San Miguel de Allende: a 1.5-hour drive away from the city of Guanajuato, this colonial-era city is popular for its well-preserved and picturesque architecture. Those looking for old-world charm with first-world amenities will truly love the scene in this vibrant town!
Where to stay? See the top Guanajuato hotels
Top experiences? See Guanajuato’s top activities and tours
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Isla Holbox, Quintana Roo
Known as “The Hidden Gem of Quintana Roo“, Isla Holbox is famous for its endless white sandy beaches, lush coconut trees, grand whale sharks, and pristine blue waters. In fact, it is a typical getaway for most tourists who want to escape the bustle in Tulum, Cancun, and Playa del Carmen!
In order to reach the island, you simply need to catch a ferry ride from Chilquila — the transporting station town on the mainland, and it will only take you about half an hour to travel by ferry from Chilquila to Isla Holbox.
Once on the island, visitors will find sandy roads from the small main village and all the way to the palm-fringed beaches. There are NO cars there, and if you want to explore, you can do so by foot, by bicycle, by bike, or by ATV.
I suggest visiting here around November to April (it has perfect weather but with more crowds starting in January); however, avoid the island around late May to November given that it’s peak hurricane season around the area, thereby the possibility of sargassum (seaweed) on the shores can also be high (not to mention that you can also get stranded).
To make the most of your beach staycation, consider the following things to do:
- Bioluminescent Night Tour: microscopic phytoplankton often causes the ocean water to glow blue whenever it is moved or whenever it splashes on the shore. This phenomenon happens all year but it is best to see it from April to November given that there are fewer daylight hours. To experience this, you can either take on a night snorkeling or a night kayaking tour!
- Three Islands Tour: there is a wide variety of wildlife around Isla Holbox and this tour will take you to Bird Island (to witness flamingos among many other birds), Passion Island (to try hand fishing or spot wildlife), and Yalahau Cenote (to swim in).
Where to stay? See the top Isla Holbox hotels
Top experiences? See Isla Holbox’s top activities and tours
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La Huasteca Potosina, San Luis Potosi
If you want to witness some of Mexico’s most breathtaking sceneries, the remote region of Huasteca Potosina should be on the top of your list! To start off, the area is filled with incredible waterfalls, deep canyons, crystal-clear rivers, and pristine swimming holes. Moreover, the region is widely known as the home of the native Huastec people (Tének).
It might be a bit inconvenient to reach Huasteca Potosina, but once you get there, you’ll get to experience a side of Mexico that not many visitors would know about! Some of the top sights you must venture out to are:
- El Sótano de las Golondrinas: a huge 1,500 feet deep sinkhole that is inhabited by thousands of birds! Truth be told, this is considered one of the largest and most impressive sinkholes in the world.
- Media Luna Lagoon: a clear body of fresh water that is great for diving or snorkeling as you get to see fossil remains of mammoths as well as archaeological objects that were left behind by pre-Hispanic cultures.
- Minas Viejas: a waterfall that holds blue waters and coral pink sand that make for a picturesque scene. For adventurous travelers, you can try rappelling next to the waterfall for a fee.
Where to stay? See the top San Luis Potosi hotels
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You can never go wrong with a visit to Mexico’s capital — sure, it may be densely populated but you will love its anthropological history, Latin American art, grand colonial buildings, and bustling streets!
As the oldest city in the Americas, there is much for you to explore here, making it one of the top must see places in Mexico.
- Templo Mayor: this was the main temple of the Mexica people in their capital which was called Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City). Today, it is part of the Historic Center of Mexico City which was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List back in 1987.
- La Ciudadela: an artisanal market that is over 50 years old! You’ll find an array of items here such as Huichol decoration, jaguar heads, replicas of pre-Hispanic art, colorful skulls, and many more!
- Zócalo: the historic central plaza that will already introduce you to a plethora of nearby landmarks such as the National Palace and the Metropolitan Cathedral. Don’t forget to drop by here at night to witness some public events, concerts, and festivals.
Where to stay? See the top Mexico City hotels
Top experiences? See Mexico City’s top activities and tours
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The Yucatán capital, Mérida is considered one of Mexico’s finest old colonial cities. It is also located in a prime geological position wherein visitors can explore the region’s many historic Mayan sites such as Chichén Itzá and Tulum.
TIP: Want to base yourself closer to Chichen Itza? Consider staying in Valladolid instead. Besides, it also has the same charm as Merida!
Completed in 1542 by the Spanish colonizers, Mérida was designed in a grid pattern which makes it easy to discover numerous attractive parks and old buildings. Plus, due to its history of being colonized, European influences can be found everywhere, particularly in its old city squares and plazas which were mostly designed and constructed by French architects.
- FREE Walking Tour: The Merida Tourism Office holds a free walking tour every morning that departs from the Plaza Grande and it is the perfect introduction to the city’s sights and history!
Where to stay? See the top Merida hotels
Top experiences? See Merida’s top activities and tours
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As the capital of the state of Michoacán, this colonial city’s narrow streets are speckled with well-preserved 17th and 18th-century buildings (built mostly from pink stone) — add its rich history and it easily became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.
- Plaza de Amras: constructed nearly 500 years ago, this public square holds many great cafés, restaurants, and shopping centers. You’ll also find a wide range of statues of revolutionary heroes, attractive stretches of gardens, and grand fountains.
- Morelia Cathedral: a Baroque-style Roman Catholic cathedral that also often holds many artistic and cultural events such as the International Organ Festival of Morelia, and the International Music Festival of Morelia. If you come on some Saturdays, the cathedral also becomes a place where you can witness a spectacle of sounds and fireworks.
- Morelia Aqueduct: completed in 1789 and featuring over 250 arches, this has served as the city’s main source of drinking water for years.
Where to stay? See the top Morelia hotels
Top experiences? See Morelia’s top activities and tours
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Oaxaca City, Oaxaca
Also called Oaxaca de Juárez, this is the capital as well as the largest city in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. As a UNESCO World Heritage site as well, the city is truly a treasure trove of historic sites and vibrant indigenous culture — that there is surely something to see, do, or experience for just about anyone!
- Templo de Santo Domingo: a 16th-century Baroque Catholic church that has a stunning square and gilded interior. It’s open every day from 7AM to 1PM and 4PM to 8PM.
- Mercado 20 de Noviembre (November 20 Market): this is an essential part of Oaxaca’s gastronomy where you will discover a huge array of selections and a food court. If you head over to the Smoke Aisle, you’ll first be handed a tray of chilies and onions at the entrance — afterward, you just have to make your way to your chosen meat stall where you’ll leave your tray as they grill your veggies along with your preferred meat.
- Benito Juárez Market: alternatively, this is where you can buy amazing souvenirs and they have a variety of local handicrafts such as embroideries, Oaxacan mezcales (distilled alcohol beverage), and more.
Where to stay? See the top Oaxaca hotels
Top experiences? See Oaxaca’s top activities and tours
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As a Pueblo Mágico (Magical Town), this is one of the top must see places in Mexico given that it holds magnificent Mayan ruins that have been well preserved over the years.
Palenque, which is also called Lakamhaʼ (“Big Water or Big Waters”) in the Itza language is located in the middle of a lush jungle in the state of Chiapas, and it can be easily accessed from neighboring towns such as Tuxtla Gutierrez (6 hours drive), Campeche (4.5 hours drive), and Villahermosa in Tabasco (2 hours drive).
Though it is smaller than the grand Chichen Itza, Palenque must not be missed because it holds some of the finest architecture, sculpture, and carvings that the Mayas have produced. The most famous on the site is the Temple of Inscriptions which is a pyramid temple with hieroglyphics that have been useful in helping archaeologists to interpret the Mayan language.
It helps to note though that a large part of the city still remains unexplored; after all, the rest of the complex spreads in the surrounding jungle. Still, what has been uncovered is breathtaking and promising to explore!
Where to stay? See the top Palenque hotels
Top experiences? See Palenque’s top activities and tours
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Reserva de la Biósfera Sian Ka’an, Quintana Roo
This biosphere reserve in Tulum is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is true to its name! After all, “Sian Ka’an” means ‘gate of heaven’ or a ‘place where heaven begins’, and with its rich natural beauty, diverse flora and fauna, and ancient archaeological sites, it’s truly a divine experience that every tourist in Mexico should take part in.
Some of the many activities that you can do here are not limited to birdwatching, snorkeling (see dolphins, turtles, and more), as well as boat tours among many others.
To access Sian Ka’an, there are two access points: Punta Allen and Muyil. The former is difficult to reach if you want to DIY your trip to this oceanic side of Sian Ka’an; so unless you have a 4WD car, it’s better to partake in an arranged tour. As for the latter that accesses the jungle, Mayan ruins, wetlands, lagoon, and mangrove forests of Sian Ka’an, it can be done easier by yourself with a car or by public transport.
Where to stay? See the top Tulum hotels
Top experiences? See Tulum’s top activities and tours
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TIP: It’s a good idea to crosscheck the prices with other popular travel insurance providers like World Nomads and HeyMondo (as my reader, you get 5% off)!
However, take note that a travel insurance’s affordability typically means lesser coverage; so please always ensure that you read the fine print in order to decipher which travel insurance company is the right fit for you and your trip!
Looking for more travel tips for Mexico?
Check out my other detailed Mexico travel guides!
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I hope this list of the top 10 must see places in Mexico has helped narrow down your choices for your upcoming itinerary. Enjoy!
I would like to visit!
Having spent half of this year in this country, I’d say this was a very good post, my favourite places I went to in Mexico were Guanajuato, Puebla and Tequila
I’m happy to hear this! It’s amazing that you managed to spend a lot of months there. Mexico is a great country!