Everyone’s heard of Cabo and Cancun, but Mexico has more. So much more! Here are some of the lesser-known gems in this wonderful country – and each one of them could be worth a week-long trip in itself.
● Huatulco: Or, in other words, a beachgoer’s paradise. This charming town near Oaxaca is a wonderful place to spend a week on the beach. And it’s one of Mexico’s most forward-thinking destinations, loaded with rules to protect the environment and preserve the ambiance. Buildings cannot be more than six stories tall, and the wonderful, lush surroundings are mostly untouched.
● Punta Mita: Just sixteen kilometres north of Puerto Vallarta, you’ll feel like you’ve entered into another world. And a world loaded with glam! From vacation rentals to high-end hotels like the Four Seasons, golf courses, and private beaches, here you’ll be able to lay down for a week and truly relax.
● Guanajuato: If you Instagram a picture of yourself standing in this central Mexican city, before a hill piled with houses in every color – vibrant and bright like the feathers of tropical birds – your followers will be convinced that you hacked into Photoshop. And you might have trouble believing this place yourself. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, this Guanajuato is a kaleidoscope in every sense of the word: from the bustling plazas to the lovely Mercado Hidalgo, where you can buy authentic souvenirs aplenty. Don’t miss the city’s famed underground streets and tunnels, which you can explore on a walking tour or at your own leisure.
● San Miguel de Allende: Visit this wonderful mountain city, part of the state of Guanajuato, and ninety kilometres east of the city of that name. Walking the cobblestoned streets, it will feel like you’ve stepped back in time. And there’s history here for sure: from the days when this was a stopover point for transporting silver out of the mountain mines, to when it fell into disuse, until it was revived by a Chicago native who transformed it into the artist’s and expat’s hub that it is today.
● Zacatecas: Also in Mexico’s centre, this wonderful, colonial city is a must for history lovers – or anyone who wants to see how the real Mexico is, away from the crowds. The city got its start as a silver mining hotspot – and some of the old mines have become museums today. There’s also a nearby hill, the Cerro de la Bufa, where you can ride a cable car to the top and be rewarded with sweeping vistas of the city below.
● Mérida: The capital of the Yucatán is sadly overlooked as a tourist destination, with everyone flocking to Cancún and missing out on the wonderful history here. But everything you can do from Cancún – Mayan ruins or pristine beaches – you can do from Mérida. And then some! Wander the Paseo de Montejo, lined with stone mansions, and get a sense of the colonial times at the Sunday Market. Then wrap up the day in one of a dozen quaint boutique hotels
Mexico is – if nothing else – huge. And unlike a lot of the world’s biggest countries (Russia, Canada, and the USA – because of Alaska) it’s not just a frozen wasteland. Pretty much every part of the country is inhabited, and pretty much every part of the country has things going on. In fact, a trip to Mexico without a guide wouldn’t just be foolish – because you’d miss out on so much – it would be downright intimidating!
The best way to see Mexico is – simply – to make more than one trip. Pick one or two places off of this list that sound nice – and limit your touring to them. Actually find time to relax during your vacation, instead of always running around. Trust that this warm, wonderful country will be calling you back, and that you’ll return.
That said, here are the top, must-see spots for your many visits to Mexico:
1. Puerto Vallarta There’s a lot more here than the wonderful Pacific Ocean. There’s wonderful, authentic regional food. Tequila tastings, even. Check out the landmarks, like Los Arcos and the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe – all of which make for wonderful photo-ops. And then there’s the ocean. There are wonderful beaches – rivalling any in Cancún. Or head to the shore for a cruise to one of the nearby islands, or a whale watching tour.
2. Cozumel This island is a famous stopping point for Caribbean cruises – but it’s a great trip from the mainland, too. The highlights are the wonderful reefs that surround this Caribbean jewel, around which there are wonderful spots for snorkel and scuba. The marine life that you’ll see is unbelievable. 3. Cancún, Tulum, and the Playa del Carmen This whole beach – from Cancún to Tulum – is worth a stay of a week, or maybe even a month. The sand is spotlessly white, and coconut palms abound. After all, this is the Caribbean! The Caribbean coast – and the Yucatán Peninsula – is a wonderland of pristine beaches and beautiful jungles, mystical Mayan ruins and sinkholes filled with water where you can plunge in for a swim. Even if you visit nowhere else in the country – Cancún is a must-see!
4. Mexico City Once the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, this mountain city – the country’s most populous – is loaded with culture and history. Aztec sites and ruins, fantastic food, and world-class hotels. Don’t miss the Palace of Fine Arts and the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. And consider a food tour – where you’ll be introduced to Mexico’s finest. One thing to know is that Mexico City is at a high elevation – 2,240 meters, or 7,350 feet. If you’ve ever had shortness of breath, keep this in mind before you sign up for any extreme sports in the city!
5. Cabo Many people – even if they’ve heard of nothing else in Mexico – know about Cabo San Lucas. But, while it’s renowned as a spring break party spot, there’s much more here. Go clubbing galore – but also check out this city’s fantastic, luxurious hotels and top-notch golf courses. If you’re looking from a respite from Cabo’s nonstop fiesta, stay in nearby San José del Cabo: a great place for relaxation.
Forget the ocean; when you come to Cancún and the Yucatán, the water you really need to swim in is in a “cenote”! What’s that? Pronounced “sen-oh-tay,”It’s an underground pool: a sinkhole where fresh water, which comes from the low-lying region’s many lakes and rivers, mixes with salt water from the sea. The ancient Mayans believed that cenotes were a direct link to the underworld. And in ancient times, human sacrifices may have been held at them.
Now, however, these wonderful pools of blue-turquoise water have a much less menacing draw. They’re a favourite spot – for locals and tourists alike – to plunge into the glowing, clear water and go for a swim.
A trip to Cancún wouldn’t be complete without a stop at a cenote. Fortunately, these unreal geologic formations – not found anywhere else in the world – are more than commonplace on the Yucatán Peninsula. There are hundreds; but here are some of the best:
● Cenote Dos Ojos (Two Eyes) is very close to Tulum, and it’s worth setting up a day trip to see both of the ruins and the pool together. At the cenote, you have the option to swim, snorkel, or just jump into the luxurious, tepid water. If you’re licensed for scuba diving, that’s an option too here – as long as you aren’t claustrophobic!
● Gran Cenote in Tulum is one of the best cenotes on the Yucatán Peninsula, though it is heavily trafficked. However, it includes all the amenities, and two swimming areas connected by a cave. In short, this visit to underwater stalagmites is well worth dealing with a few crowds.
● Cenote Suytun is one of the best cenotes to visit straight from Cancún – complete with a beautiful sunbeam that shines through the cave in the summer, giving this magical place the aura of an ancient Mayan sacrificial altar. Which – like many of its neighbours – it really once was!
● Cenote Samula is a bit off the beach – and off the beaten path – near Valladolid. And while it may be necessary to hire a driver to get there, the stunning watering hole is well worth it. The contrast between the brown rock and perfect blue water is | TravelAgentSociety.com | stunning, as light shimmers through the pool in colours you’ve probably never seen before.
● Cenote X’keken is in the same complex as Cenote Samula, and it’s easy – and well worth it – to go to both. You’ll get one of the best views of the startlingly pure blue waters of a cenote, just beneath the jutting rocks of the jungle from which dangle a multitude of exposed roots. The colours are spectacular and Instagram-worthy, for sure – so make sure you’re brought enough SD cards for your camera or phone!
● Cenote Angelita isn’t a touristy site. But if you’re a diver, you’ll have the experience of a lifetime here. Rotting wood on the bottom of this 60m (200ft)-deep, vertical sinkhole collects into a greenish-black cloud of hydrogen sulphate that hangs at the point where saltwater and freshwater – because of their differing densities – refuse to merge. Above, it may be daylight, but dive under this cloud, and you’re swimming in the dark
Okay, you don’t really need five reasons to go to Cancún. One should suffice: the beach in this city, if you’ve ever seen photos of it! But here are five reasons more that you should be packing your bags and setting out on a trip to the glorious Mexican Caribbean:
1. Check out – or, better yet, check into – the Moon Palace: one of the region’s top ten beach resorts, and all-inclusive to boot. Swimming pools? How about ten. Places to eat? The resort has a good twenty. Golf? Check. Spas? There are several. When you come to Cancún, you’re going to be at a premiere spot right on the Caribbean ocean. So let yourself get pampered a little!
2. If you’re at all into ancient history, one of the best sites – and by far less crowded than the more well-known Chichen Itza – is Tulum, an easy day trip from the tip of the peninsula. You can wander these wonderful ruins alone or with a guide. (But if you actually want to learn anything about the ancients who built it, you’ll need a guide!) On the stone, iguanas pose so that you can take selfies. Overall, it’s an appropriate place on the shores of the Caribbean: relaxed.
3. Right off the coast from Cancún, the Isla Mujeres isn’t only for women. (And that’s despite the name meaning “women’s island” in Spanish!) Here you can enjoy the relaxed vibe of a Caribbean, while keeping the skyline of the city in sight. Spend a relaxing afternoon at the beach, between two of the best meals you’ll eat in Cancún. This island is renowned for its food, and you’ll find everything – from superb Italian and French flavours to wonderful, local Mayan and Yucatecan cuisine.
4. While the Tulum ruins are right on the beach, the ruins of Cobá are tucked away in the jungle. However, they are well worth the extra effort to get to. At Cobá, you’re allowed to climb one of the ancient Mayan pyramids, and get the reward of a spectacular vista across the Yucatán jungle. Furthermore, you’ll be enveloped by the feeling of authenticity: these ruins today are as surrounded by the ever-encroaching forest as they must have been ages ago. Cobá is a must-see – and the drive from Cancún is less than two hours!
5. Tired of beaches and ruins? Then it’s time to hit the clubs! The best club in Cancún, by far, is Coco Bongo – a huge dance club with a thousand incredible acts, any one of which will make you forget that you’re not in Las Vegas! Tickets come with unlimited drinks, and the club stays open well past the USA’s mandated closing time for such establishments. Dance the night away – and then sleep all day at the beach. You’re in Cancún!
Dubai may not be as renowned as Singapore for its gastronomical delights – but does it surprise you that there’s no shortage of excellent dining options here? This is a world-class destination, after all! If you’re spending some time in Dubai, you have to make it to at least one of these restaurants; ideally, all of them!
● At Al Mahara, in the Burj Al-Arab, Dubai’s swankiest hotel, star chef Nathan Outlaw – awarded two Michelin stars – carries you in a make-believe submarine ride to a restaurant with wall-high aquariums that make it appear like it’s underwater. The theme – as one might expect – is seafood, and the top-rated chef is constantly coming up with great dishes, making this one of the best places to eat in Dubai.
● Al Hadheerah is the restaurant of the Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa, set out away from the city in the midst of the sand dunes. This restaurant has fourteen live cooking stations, where skilled chefs prepare authentic Arabian food, while guests are serenaded with live entertainment. If you’re looking for local flavours, look no further! For an extra helping of culture, the Emirati Heritage Museum is nearby.
● If you like Asian fusion, you’ll adore Zheng He’s, where traditional Chinese flavours blend with modern Western presentation. The food is authentic – some of the best Chinese food you’ll find outside of China – and the ambience is spectacular, with mellow-lit tables out on the dock, overlooking the splendid Burl Al-Arab hotel. For any true foodie, this is a must-stop – and for anyone who just likes Chinese!
● Fancy Japanese food? You can find it in Dubai, at the Atlantis Hotel’s star restaurant, Nobu – a chain created by globally renowned chef Nobu Matsuhisa. Here you’ll get the best and most modern take on Japanese, blended with the Arabian influence that makes food in Dubai so special. Try seared black cod served with sweet miso sauce, or yellowtail topped with jalapeño. And if you want to learn the restaurant’s secrets, sign up for one of their cooking classes!
● At Choix Patisserie and Restaurant, three-Michelin-star-rated French chef Pierre Gagnaire takes creative cuisine to its limit. Located at the InterContinental Dubai Festival City, this restaurant is famous in the city – and beyond – especially with its high tea. Enjoy European and British flavours like the fish of the day, beef rib eye, or mushroom tortellini.
● Trust Dubai to offer something a little unique – which it does at Table 9, where Gordon Ramsay-trained chefs Nick Alvis and Scott Price have created a casual but memorable dining experience. Here a multitude of different chefs showcase their creativity and try to outdo one another. Table 9 is famed throughout Dubai for the entirely unique quality dishes that it brings to the table – each with personalized service. Options include a four-course menu, or seasonal favourites like king crab ravioli and portobello mushroom carpaccio.