Before arriving in Mexico during our ongoing Trans-Americas Journey we estimated that we’d spend about eight months in the country. By the time we finally tore ourselves away we’d spent 18 months driving 24,737 miles through 29 of the 31 states in Mexico. We recently went back through all 177 of the posts we’ve published about Mexico on our travel blog and compiled this list of the top 10 reasons to travel to Mexico.
Top 10 reasons to travel to Mexico
1. The beach is just the beginning
It’s easy to get the impression that Mexico is one long, white sandy beach peppered with frosty cold Coronas and festively-colored hammocks. And there’s plenty of that. However, the great big pleasant surprise about Mexico is its geographic diversity. For example, the north offers expansive deserts. The vast central area of the country is downright mountainous (the capital, Mexico City, is at 7,350 feet or 2,240 meters). One of the largest canyon systems in the world is in Mexico along with enormous volcanoes, meandering caves, impressive waterfalls, and tumbling rivers. Here are some awesome outdoor adventures in Mexico.
Copper Canyon exploration
This series of six interlocking canyons in northern Mexico is both larger and deeper than the Grand Canyon. We know because we spent a month exploring the area on the Copper Canyon train, driving through the Copper Canyon, and hiking through the Copper Canyon from Cusarare to El Fuerte. We camped on the rim of the Sinfarosa area of the Copper Canyon, enjoyed the area’s massive Basaseachi Waterfall and generally got a sense of the indigenous Tarahumara (who, we learned in the canyon, actually prefer to be called Raramuri) and the gorgeous world they fled into to escape the enslaving Spanish.
Cenote swimming in the Yucatan
When the ceiling of a cave falls in and the cave fills with crystal-clear fresh water it’s called a cenote. They’re gorgeous oasis perfect for snorkeling and even scuba diving, as we found out when we jumped into Dos Ojos Cenote in southern Mexico for one of the most other-worldly scuba dives of our lives. Near Merida you can rent a horse-drawn cart to pull you along a small-gauge railway track around a long circuit that includes stops for swims at three dramatic cenotes. Up the adrenaline factor by joining the locals and swinging into the water off massive descending tree roots, Tarzan style.
Laguna Media Luna lake diving
Speaking of other-worldly dives, how about diving in a crystal clear, constantly warm, spring-fed, fresh water lake at 3,200 feet (975 meters)? You can do it in Laguna Media Luna in central Mexico.
Lagos de Montebello beauty
You can’t dive into them, but the collection of brilliantly colored lakes (turquoise, jade, aquamarine) that make up the Lagos de Montebello region in southern Mexico is stunning and includes one of the closest things to a US-style national park road in all of Mexico.
Colossal Cacahuamilpa Caves
We’ve ventured inside a lot of caves on the Trans-Americas Journey but none were as surprisingly awesome as the massive Cacahuamilpa Caves in the Parque Nacional Grutas Cacahuamilpa in central Mexico. One of the largest cave systems in the world, it has two rivers running through it, impressive rock formations and no nasty bat poop smell. Honest.
Nevado de Toluca trekking
The active Toluca Volcano in central Mexico (just 50 miles / 80 km from Mexico City) is the fourth highest peak in the country. At 15,354 feet (4,680 meters) it’s a weather-beaten, rugged corner of the country most visitors don’t visit. We did, though the summit eluded us…
Rafting the Rio Antigua
White water rafting in Mexico was born in the Jacolmulco region of Veracruz state in the central/southern part of the country and the area continues to offer watery thrills.
2. You’ll become a better cook (and a better eater)
Since leaving Mexico not a day goes by that we don’t long for the amazing food we ate there. There just is no beating the food you get in Mexico. Whether you have $1 or $100 to spend on a meal you’re gonna get good eats. Here are a few appetizers.
– Making mole poblano at the cooking school at Mesones Sacristia hotel in Puebla
– The tempting tacos of Mexico City
– Why everyone should mix lemon sorbet and cheap red wine like they do in Queretaro
– The best ice cream in the country
3. You’ll finally learn how to drink good tequila (and mezcal)
Tequila is a passion in Mexico–a delicious, fascinating passion. To be called tequila the stuff must be made from blue agave from specific regions in Mexico including the town of Tequila (near Guadalajara) where large producers and small producers rub shoulders. Tequila can also be produced in the Los Altos region. Yes we visited both areas. What’s your point?
Tequila may be “the drink of Mexico” but in the foodie state of Oaxaca (birthplace of mole, tlayudas and much more) a community of small batch mezcal makers is quietly at work on a tasty revolution.
Forget shots. Start sipping.
4. You’ll really appreciate a good cup of coffee
A visit to the coffee plantations in the Ruta del Cafe in Chiapas is a tasty education in the economics of coffee, how to brew a perfect cup, and a glimpse at impressively innovative organic farming methods that are changing the way coffee is grown in Mexico. It doesn’t hurt that many of the plantations now have gorgeous hotels and spas on site too.
5. They’ve got animals all over the place
Monarchs on the march
Monarch butterflies know Mexico is a great place to go. Every year, between November and March, hundreds of millions of monarchs somehow navigate their way to the exact same areas of central Mexico—some flying 5,000 miles (8,000 km) or more from where they were born in Canada and the northern US. Scientists say they’re drawn to Mexico’s fir trees, but can’t provide a more complete explanation than that. Once the butterflies arrive, they rest and eat then mate like crazy before attempting the return flight home. And you can stop by and check them out.
In the Rio Lagartos Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO site in Yucatan state, we saw thousands of long-legged, pink stunners as they gorged on the shrimp that thrive in this unique super-salty estuary.
Cave of swallows
Every morning thousands of swifts fly up and out of their home inside a 1,220 foot deep pit called the Sótano de las Golondrinas (Cave of Swallows) in San Luis Potosí state. The birds burst out into the world and spend the day feeding before returning home in the evening. Yes, we have video.
Abyss of the parrots
The Sima de las Cotorras (Abyss of the Parrots) in Chiapas state is another feathery find as hundreds of parrots squawk their way out of an almost perfectly round sinkhole that’s 525 feet (160 meters) wide and 460 feet (140 meters) deep.
Scarlet macaws and howler monkeys
Centro Ecoturistico Ara Mocoa Las Guacamayas is a sanctuary for the flamboyant namesake birds (guacamayas is Spanish for scarlet macaws) and a haven for other jungle finds like howler monkeys. You’ve got to hear it to believe it…
6. You won’t believe how great the hotels are
We’ve stayed in hundreds of hotels in Mexico from quirky boutique properties to flawless all-inclusive resorts. Here are just a few of our most memorable Mexican stays.
Verana: A hippie-chic hilltop retreat outside Puerto Vallarta (as published in Afar)
Maison Couturier: French farmhouse charm in Veracruz
Clarum 101: Guadalajara’s hidden hipster
Casa de Mita: Your Punta Mita beach home, only WAY better
Grand Velas All Suites & Spa Resort:Riviera Maya all-inclusive-ness, perfected
Casa del Atrio: The best arty b&b bargain in the laid back (but happening) town of Queretaro (as published in our piece for National Geographic Traveler)
Boutique Hotel Quinta Chanabnal: A Mayanist infuses his passion into the first boutique hotel on the doorstep of the Palenque archaeological site
Boca Chica: Elvis was here, sushi by the seashore, and a dose of retro Acapulco
7. You’ll be amazed by the Mayans
We don’t know exactly how many Mayan archaeological sites there are in Mexico. We do know that we visited 54 of them–from stars like Palenque and Chichen Itza to little-visited off the beaten path sites like Hormiguero. We’ve compiled this handy alphabetized list of archaeological sites we’ve visited with links back to our original posts about them. so you can easily plan your own Indiana Jones adventures.
8. You’ll never watch US-style rodeo the same way again
Rodeo was invented in Mexico, specifically in the Lagos de Moreno area of Jalisco which is still a hotbed of horsemanship. Lagos is where we spent many blissful days riding from hacienda to hacienda (often over stretches of the original Camino Real), watching amazing horse trainers at work, cheering along with the crowd at charreadas (Mexican rodeos), taking part in branding day and learning how to ride like a charro (Mexican cowboy). Sort of.
9. The cultures (and culture) will floor you
Mexico is a huge country and every region has produced distinct cultures including the Aztecs and the Lacandon, who cling to existence with less than 1,000 members. Vibrant (literally) cultures remain strongest in Chiapas where many different traditions in clothing, food, and customs exist in and around San Cristóbal de las Casas.
For culture of another kind, you can’t beat the museums of Mexico City where you can see everything from ancient Olmec heads carved out of enormous boulders to the most modern of modern art. We’re from New York City and we were floored by the museums here.
10. You’ll have a clue what you’re talking about when the issue of tourist safety in Mexico comes up (again)
For the record: after 18 months of independent overland travel driving nearly 25,000 miles (4,000 km) through 29 of the country’s 31 states we can report, first hand, that we have never seen or sensed any threat or danger of any kind at any point anywhere in Mexico. Period.
Here’s more about travel in Mexico
I missed some of these Mexico favorite posts so this is a good recap. When I was in Mexico in January, I was incredibly surprised by two things you mention, the food and safety. I never felt unsafe or in danger and the food always had me wanting more.
Yay for Mexico! I love all of your reasons, most especially #10. Nothing annoys me more than when people trash and entire country based on fear. I never felt unsafe when I was in Mexico last month, either!
Wow, Mexico is definitely a place I want to visit as part of my out West trip. I didn’t realize how many beautiful landscapes and just breathe taking views there are. Thanks.
That’s a very impressive list. I really like your run down on accommodation options.
Always amazing how the real world with regards to safety differs from what the media tell us. I love Mexico and don’t plan to stop visiting.
This is a really great top 10 list. Mexico is such a big country and has so much diversity. I hope to go back and explore more of the things you mention in this post.
This is a great top 10 list! I love your part about appreciating coffee… I love Mexico – haven’t traveled nearly as much of it, but it still has a special place :)
I really need to get back to Mexico at some point in 2012 and kick around for a lot longer than I did last time.
This seems like all one would need as a guide to a trip to Mexico.
I trust you guys to hunt out what is good and if/when I get to go to Mexico again, this article is my first port of call.
I’ve bookmarked it on trunk.ly and delicious.com, stumbled it, and tweeted!
[…] live in Mexico, but what are the other 9 reasons to go to Mexico (for expats and travelers alike!) The list was created by the Trans-Americas Journey team Karen Catchpole and Eric Mohl who are also Lonely […]
[…] Here’s proof. … Read More […]
What a wonderful retrospective piece on your journey through Mexico, it was refreshing to see someone go so much deeper than the stereotypical beaches and hotspots that people often associate with Mexican Tourism. I re-posted this article on my blog, which features yoga and holistic lifestyle in Mexico. Please take a look! http://www.HolisticMexico.org, and follow me on Twitter @HolisticMexico. Thanks!
It must have been hard to pick just 10 reasons. And if I added 11 I’d say Mexico City. It is one of the most energetic and dynamic cities in the world.
Stay adventurous, Craig
We have been travelling to Mexico every year for over a decade and agree that there is much to love about Mexico. While we have experienced many of your ‘top ten’ there are obviously more that we have to add to our ‘must see/do’ list. Thank you for a great summary.
Wow! What a thoroughly excellent post. There’s so much more to Mexico than the all-inclusives so many of us Canadians tend to opt for. Thanks for shedding some light!
Good for y’all! Wonderful attitudes and adventures. I drive a ‘mere’ 9,000 miles each year in Mexico in order to update my maps, road logs and books. It is exciting to ‘meet’ someone who actually goes to more places in one year than I do. It is stories like yours that we need more of, in order to combat the flood of negative press.
Should I be able to help you in the future, please ask. You might even be able to find somewhere new to go on my site. Helping people plan driving trips is what I do, but more importantly, I encourage them to be like you – looking for the offbeat as well as the well-known. But, as you all said, the people of Mexico are why we travel as much as the scenery.
Great article! there´s so much to see in Mexico that 18 months aren´t enough! Thanks for sharing all the beauties of our beloved Mexico.
Whenever you have time, come visit us in La Paz, BAJA SUR and explore the famous “aquarium of the world” Sea of Cortez. You´ll be delighted with the town, the people and nature all around!
Thanks Sandra. We spent a month in Baja, including La Paz, earlier in the Journey and loved it. Sadly we still haven’t had time to get some of the older stuff up on the blog.
We love Mexico- the food, the people, the beaches… the only thing I don’t like is the Mexico City International Airport- worst airport ever!
What a great article Eric, how did you get that shot of the Gorilla? I think because I haven’t been away in such a long time. No.1 would be my first stop!
Thanks AJ, but that’s not a gorilla as they only exist in Africa. It’s a howler monkey
Hi just curious any advice as to how to raise this topic with my Mexican friends that tell me not to drive to Monterrey anymore or to take the bus? Or what to say to my friend’s father who refuses to allow her to return to Monterrey? And to my friends that stay in at night in Reynosa and Matamoros because of the violence in their previously safe neighborhoods? Also, do you think it is safe for me now to drive Hwy 101 to Cd. Victoria and on to El Cielo Reserve?
Honestly Will, I can’t. A major caveat to our comment regarding safety in Mexico is the northern Border areas. Though we still feel transiting through on the pay highways is not an issue, there ARE definitely issues in these areas, which includes Monterrey though, modern Monterey is probably safer than other cities in the north. That said, we would drive this area, including the road down to Cd. Victoria.
I understand your trepidation about driving the border region because all you hear is bad news and rumors. I speak from my own experience and from that of several dozen clients whose trips I have planned recently. My opinion is not the only one and many people disagree with me. That is their right. I am not arguing with anyone. But I do speak from recent actual, on-the-road experience.
I have driven from both Reynosa and Matamoros through Cd. Victoria, past El Cielo 3 times in the past 10 months. I have driven the same route less than a month ago, except from Cd. Victoria to San Luis Potosi once. I have sent many of my clients there. Not one has had trouble.
Frankly, foreign tourists are unlikely to have any trouble. While you hear about carjackings and bus hijackings and mass murders, the ones that are true involve people other than tourists. The actual number of Americans who died from all causes in all of Mexico last year is 106 out of all the millions of tourists. Your chances of being hit by lightening in the USA is only slightly greater.
While your Mexican friends are honestly relating their experiences, I humbly suggest that yours, as a tourist, are different. I also humbly suggest that I heard the same thing from my Mexican friends 20 years ago. In fact, a friend of mine was the editor of a newspaper in Mexico City. He bought a car in the USA and wanted to bring it down. His wife would not let him. She said it was too dangerous. He said, ‘But Mexico Mike drives all the time.’ ‘That is different,’ she said, ‘he is a gringo.’
So my vote is to not let fear run your life and visit El Cielo.
A last note: a friend of mine, here on the border, lost her husband recently. He was killed in Mexico. He was run over by lifeguards horsing around on jet skis at Playa del Carmen. That is very sad. His death was reported as, ‘American killed in Mexico’ on some blogs. His death will also go into the statistics of Americans killed in Mexico.
Thanks Mike. Well said, our sentiments exactly.
What a great big breath of fresh air to read your enthusiastic reporting and view your glorious images of Mexico! #10 says it all and I plan to broadcast your message far and wide. Thank you and congrats on what appears to be nothing short of an epic road trip. You’re inspiring me to start planning my own. Buen viaje!
Thanks for the kind words Betsy.
Mexico looks really beautiful and that would be my main reason to go there. The other things you mentioned are just details to me, except maybe the food. I wonder how real mexican tacos taste. :D
[…] 10 Reasons to visit Mexico […]
I’ve bookmarked it on trunk.ly and delicious.com, stumbled it, and tweeted! I never felt unsafe when I was in Mexico last month, either! I drive a ‘mere’ 9,000 miles each year in Mexico in order to update my maps, road logs and books.
We haven’t spent nearly as much time as you guys have, but we really loved it there, from the ruins at Coba and snorkeling the cenotes to tracking monkeys in Punta Laguna and seeing Mariachis in PLaya Del Carmen. Definitely want to see more of the country soon.
This is totally more than ten reasons! I’ve never been to Mexico (although I’m not sure how conducive the current political climate is for visiting right now), but it is certainly somewhere that I want to visit some day. Maybe I’ll even start to like tequila!
You will definitely start LOVING tequila. Drinking the real stuff makes all the difference. And don’t worry too much about the politics in Mexico. The Mexicans don’t!
We really need to visit south of USA but not sure when we will ever find the time or chance to go.
Great list and overview of reasons to visit Mexico. I have to admit that I’ve never been and I don’t like Mexican food. I don’t know any Spanish either. And I say all of that having lived in California for the last 11 years. I am still interested in the culture and people but have yet to make it to Mexico.
At first I was a bit surprised when I found out Mexico has the third most UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I couldn’t name any off the top of my head!
It says a lot about the country that is has so many, though. And it meas there are plenty more reasons to visit if the tequila isn’t enough!
Actually Mexico has the sixth most Unesco World Heritage Sites after Italy, Spain, China, Germany and France.
Mexico it’s number one in World Heritage Sites in America.
One more reason to visit Mexico :)
Mexico is the must beautiful place. I am delighted of reading your stories.
I am glad you guys are sharing your good experiences about Mexico.
Welcome to Mexico any time, (mi casa es su casa) Cōātlicuē Tonāntzin (mother earth) will reward you with joy and blessings for admiring her beauty and understanding her message. Her message is to do not destroy her, not disrespect her, we can share the peace and happiness all together.
“I am a bit worried about all the craziness that every single year happens in Cancun during the spring break. Please lets do something to avoid the Maya’s home gets destroyed.”