There are so many amazing things to do in Mexico.
Whether you want to explore hidden beaches, swim in cenotes, climb ancient ruins, or eat the best food you’ve ever had in your life, it’s all possible in Mexico.
I’ve been living in this incredible country for four years and counting. There is nothing I love more than finding new places that I’ve never been before.
Whether you are backpacking Mexico, you have a mid-range budget, or you’re prepared to splurge on total luxury, there are things to do in Mexico for everyone. I truly mean that.
This is without a doubt the most comprehensive post on my blog about Mexico. You’ll find links under each of these activities, locations, and hotels that will allow you to read even more about how you can enjoy them on your next trip to Mexico.
The Ultimate List of Things to Do in Mexico
I have broken the article down into different categories, including the ancient ruins that you don’t want to miss, lesser known beaches where you won’t be surrounded by other tourists, the cities and small towns worth your time, the most incredible festivals around the country, and then a more general list of fun things to do around the country.
Explore the Ancient Ruins of Mexico
Mexico has so many different indigenous cultures, so many ancient cultures. It’s a country with so much history and you can actually see it with your own eyes in pretty much every state in the country.
If you want to learn about the Mayan ruins, then you’ll want to get yourself to the Yucatan. Base yourself in Merida, and you’ll be able to see tons of Maya ruins.
If you’re interested in the Aztecs, then get yourself to Mexico City where you can wander the crumbling walls of Templo Mayor, the temple that marked the center of the ancient capital, Tenochitlan.
Then there’s the lesser known cultures like the Olmecs in Veracruz and the Zapotecs in Oaxaca and other central regions of Mexico.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. These are just the ones that I think should be added to your list.
Teotihuacan has a special place in my heart. I’ve visited this incredible site no fewer than seven times, and each time I discovers something totally new.
It’s located about an hour away by bus from Mexico City and is well worth checking out when you visit.
There are several different ways to explore these ancient ruins, which were one inhabited by a culture that archaeologists still know very little about, the Teotihuacans.
You can take a private tour from Mexico City with a company like Journeys Beyond the surface, you can take a group tour with a company like Get Your Guide, or you can go it alone and simply take the bus or an Uber to get there.
The Get Your Guide tour allows you early access to the park so you can enjoy it without any other tourists around, always a bonus.
Or splurge and get yourself a hot air balloon ride over Teotihuacan. It’s an early start (usually a 5am pickup in Mexico City), but watching the sunrise over these pyramids is truly magical.
There’s no denying that Chichen Itza is the most famous pyramid in Mexico. It gets more than 2.5 million visitors each year and when you visit it feels a bit like all 2.5 million people are there with you.
However, there’s a reason this structure is so famous.
It really is one of the most breathtaking things to see up close. Even if you have to use Photoshop to get rid of all of those tour groups out of your photos once you get home.
I have tons of tips about visiting Chichen Itza in this post including how to avoid the crowds, how to see it without a huge tour group, and what you need to know before you go.
Uxmal is growing in popularity due to its close proximity to Merida and the fact that everyone thinks there won’t be any other tourists there (surprise! we all know about it now!).
However, it is far less crowded than Chichen Itza and still just as stunning. An added bonus of visiting Uxmal is that you can still climb up the different pyramids and explore in ways that you definitely cannot at Chichen Itza.
Tulum Archaeological Site
The ancient ruins that are just about crumbling into the Caribbean Sea in Tulum are some of the most picturesque in the whole country.
The Mayas knew what they were doing when they set up this amazing place to call home.
The ruins can get very busy, but if you are based in Tulum for a few days, you can get up early and get to the archaeological site before anyone else.
Alternatively, join a tour with Get Your Guide and get a much better understanding of the history of this incredible place. These tours often include more ruins like the nearby Coba as well as a stop at some local cenotes.
Calakmul is the best ruins site in the entire country.
There I said it.
This hard to get to biosphere in the middle of the jungle in the state of Campeche, is one of the country’s biggest hidden gems.
While visiting Bacalar last year, we rented a car and drove to Xpujil, a tiny little town on the edge of this enormous biosphere. Then we took a tour with a local guide and we got to be Indiana Jones for a day.
Most of the site is still being excavated, so there are wobbly steps and ropes to help you get up onto the viewing platforms. It’s rugged, but that’s what makes it so amazing.
It’s also easy enough to visit as a side-trip from a vacation to Cancun or Tulum.
Palenque is a tiny little town with a very big Mayan archaeological site. It’s tucked into the jungle, much like Calakmul, but much more accessible.
A trip to Oaxaca would not be complete without getting yourself to Monte Alban.
While it’s not impossible to get there on your own, it can be a little bit of a hassle. It’s much easier to take a tour of Monte Alban with a local company or you can pre-book this tour with Get Your Guide.
Going with a guide also means you can learn about the history of this incredible site, one of the most ancient in this region of the world.
Monte Alban is one of the oldest cities in Meso-America, dating back to 500 BC. It was one of the centers of the Zapotec culture during the height of their political and economic power.
While in Oaxaca, I also highly recommend checking out Mitla. This is a much smaller site, but still packed with history and really quite beautiful.
Many of the indigenous cities like Mitla were destroyed when the Spanish arrived, however, Mitla was spared simply because many of the buildings were covered what the Spanish thought were crosses.
They did deconstruct several of the buildings that did not have crosses on them and they used those stones to build a nearby church.
El Tajin is somewhere that I still haven’t had a chance to visit, but is high on my priority list of things to do in Mexico.
One of the incredible things about El Tajin is that it has 365 windows around the main pyramid building. One for every day of the year. A sort of calendar.
It’s said that there is proof of civilization in this location dating as far back as 5600 BC. Due to this, it remains unclear who originally built this ancient city.
The best way to get to El Tajin is to fly into Veracruz and then rent a car from there to visit El Tajin. It’s still about four hours away from El Tajin, so many recommend staying at the beach area near Tajin called Tecolutla.
Visit the Lesser-Known Beaches in Mexico
Most people know Mexico for its incredible beaches.
I know as an American from New York, my first knowledge of what to do in Mexico was when my parents went on a vacation without me and my brothers to Cancun.
These are definitely not completely unknown places. They still have all of the amenities you want around you when you go on vacation.
They are just perhaps not on everyone’s radar when planning a beach holiday to Mexico.
These are the places that are still relatively affordable, slightly further off the beaten track, and have far fewer tourists than those that I mentioned above.
Riviera Maya Beaches
These are much smaller towns with fewer tourists (although they are not exactly “off the grid”). They are definitely cheaper than their bigger neighbors.
It’s also worth noting that these are not the places to come if you’re looking for big, all-inclusive resorts.
These are the place to come if you want to rent a little bungalow on Airbnb and eat street tacos, grilled fish, and lounge on the beach without tons of hawkers asking if you want to go on a jetski ride.
If you love Puerto Vallarta, then you may want to look at heading south along the Costa Alegre, or the Happy Coast.
The Costa Alegre runs from just north of Manzanillo to just south of Puerto Vallarta. There are over 100 miles of coastline, six bays, and over 30 beaches.
If you want to base yourself in one of the towns, Barra de Navidad is home to a handful of great hotels and plenty of really great restaurants.
Chamela is also a great place to base yourself for some more high-end hotels with a few more amenities.
La Paz and Loreto
Many people head to Cabo San Lucas in Baja California Sur, but not nearly as many people get themselves over to the other side of this peninsula.
Both La Paz and Loreto are on the east side of the Baja California Peninsula, so instead of facing the ocean, their beaches are along the Gulf of California.
There are calm waters to paddleboard and snorkel in. There are whales to see during their migration periods. You can even swim with whale sharks or with sea lions.
This is one of my favorite little secrets. Exploring its bays is one of the best things to do in Mexico.
Huatulco is home to 9 bays, over 30 beaches, and the best shrimp tacos I’ve ever eaten.
You can stay in the little town of Crucecita or by the beach in Santa Maria. If you really want privacy, you can rent a house or a condo on the quieter Playa Arrocito. For luxury lovers, get a room at the fancy Secrets hotel in Playa Conejos.
There are plenty more things to do in Huatulco as well if you don’t just want to lounge by the beach. Did I mention the shrimp tacos?
I had never heard of this little beach town before, but it is a particular favorite amongst the expat crowd in Mexico City.
After a visit of my own, I totally understand why.
It has a decent-sized town with a big supermarket, plenty of local restaurants, and a few smaller shops to get cheap food to take away.
Puerto Escondido has great waves for surfing.
It has the huge Zicatela beach and the little Carizalillo beach (my personal favorite). There are great little Airbnb options and cute (and very cheap) hotel options.
There are awesome bars along the beach where you can sink your toes in the sand while sipping an ice-cold craft beer.
Have I sold you on it yet?
This little gem just north of Puerto Vallarta is popular with those in the know, but there still aren’t really that many people in the know.
Unlike its neighbors to the south, Bucerías is in the state of Nayarit and is much smaller and quieter than the beach towns of Jalisco.
There are cobblestone streets, colorful houses, and incredible ocean views. And although it’s a quieter beach town, there are still plenty of things to do in this Mexican beach town.
You can go sailing, jet skiing, or kayaking right off the beach. You can explore the art scene here by taking a class or simply exploring a few of the galleries around town.
There are plenty of hotels as well as Airbnb options available around Bucerías as well.
Ok, this isn’t technically a beach town. But it IS a little dusty town with a stunning lagoon that should be added to your list of things to do in Mexico.
Bacalar Lagoon, sometimes referred to as the lagoon of seven colors, is one of the most stunning little “beach” towns in Mexico.
The town is small, but home to great seafood and plenty of activities to keep you busy for several days. My favorite thing to do there was rent a kayak and get out on the water.
My second favorite thing to do was sample the seafood at the local restaurants along the main street.
Watch: What to Do in Bacalar
Explore Mexico’s Big Cities
While beaches have long been number one on the list of things to do in Mexico, the cities are making a comeback.
I’ve lived in Mexico City for almost four years now and I have fallen in love with the big city life. It’s sparked my interest in visiting other cities around Mexico and I haven’t been disappointed.
Cities are where so many of the country’s people live. Mexico City has over 20 million residents. 1.5 million people live in Guadalajara. Just over 1 million people call Monterrey home.
For me, that means this is where you find the cultural centers. This is home to food from around the country and lots of people to talk to.
Mexico City is of course number one on the list of best cities to visit in Mexico in my personal opinion
There are so many great activities in CDMX to keep pretty much anyone busy.
After Paris, Mexico City is the city with the most museums in the world. Whether you want to learn about the ancient cultures of Mexico, you love art and culture, or you want to get a better understanding of tequila and chocolate, there’s a museum in this city for you.
It’s also home to, in my personal opinion, the best food in the whole country. You can enjoy fine dining at Pujol or Quintonil or eat the best street tacos of your life. You can sample food from pretty much every region of the country and none of it will break the bank.
I have so many articles on my blog about Mexico City, so feel free to browse around the CDMX section of the blog to read more.
Mexico’s second-largest city, Guadalajara, is packed with great things to do. For those that don’t love huge cities, Guadalajara is a great way to experience city-life in Mexico without being overwhelmed by the capital.
There are a few reasons why I really love Guadalajara and that is the museums, the layout, and walkability of the city, the access to nature basically within the city limits, and the food.
There are so many great restaurants in Guadalajara with food that is native to this part of the country. My absolute favorite is the carne en su jugo, meat served in a rich and delicious broth with tortillas and plenty of onions and cilantro.
It’s also the place to head if you want to explore local towns like Tequila (where the famous drink is made) or Tlaquepaque (a fun town to listen to live mariachi bands).
Mexico’s third-largest city is totally different to the other two cities.
It’s located much further north and not only is the accent of the locals very different, but the whole layout of the city and the foods you’ll find are pretty different, too.
Monterrey has one of the biggest and most beautiful parks, Parque Fundidora. It used to be a steel factory, but the city has totally turned it around and now some of the old factory buildings are beautiful art features. Other buildings that are still intact have been turned into museums.
The nightlife scene in Monterrey is fantastic thanks to having so many large universities around. It’s also got some seriously great tacos and the best cabrito in the country (although I haven’t sampled many others, so can’t be 100% sure).
Watch: What to Do in Monterrey
Visit Some Pueblos Magicos
Cities are where Mexicans live and Pueblo Magicos are where they vacation.
I was listening to a podcast from Spanish and Go and they were talking about how Mexicans have basically made up a word for visiting local Mexican towns on the weekends.
“Vamos a pueblear” or roughly translated as let’s go visit a town.
Pueblo Magico is a term that has been given to 121 (and counting) pueblos or towns around Mexico. The designation is given by the Mexican government.
There are different ways towns can get this title, but usually, the towns have something about them that makes them special; a historical significance, legends surrounding the start of the town, they make something there that isn’t made elsewhere, they’re really freaking beautiful.
A few of my personal favorites that are easily accessible during popular trips to Mexico include:
- Peña de Bernal (easy to get to from Queretaro)
- Valle de Bravo (easy to get to from Mexico City)
- Comala (easy to get to from Colima or Manzanillo)
- Tepoztlan (very easy to get to from Mexico City)
- San Pedro Cholula (a great day trip from Puebla)
- Mazunte, Oaxaca (easy to get to from Puerto Escondido)
- Todos Santos (easy to get to from Los Cabos)
Check out the Festivals Around Mexico
Mexico is a country that loves a good party. And when they throw a good party, it’s a big party.
These are some of the most famous festivals around the country that you may want to consider planning your trip around.
Day of the Dead
Day of the Dead or Dia de Muertos, is a festival in Mexico that is celebrated differently around the country.
It is growing in popularity in Mexico City simply because there are more people here. There are now several different parades leading up to the event and it’s a really fun atmosphere to be in during this time of year.
Outside of Mexico City, the day is celebrated very differently. Other great places to see this incredible event take place include Oaxaca, Patzcuaro, and Merida (where it’s actually called Hanal Pixán, the Maya name for it).
It is named after Miguel de Cervantes, the writer of Don Quixote.
It’s a strange thing for a small city in Mexico to be celebrating, but actually Don Quixote is pretty famous in these parts. Back when only the rich could attend the theater, locals began putting on street shows of Don Quixote for free for the people of Guanajuato to enjoy.
The tradition continued for generations and there is even still a plaza where you can watch the show for free throughout the year.
But the festival that comes each year is no longer about Cervantes and Don Quixote. However, it still encompasses the idea of making art and live theater more accessible.
The whole city turns into a stage and around every corner you can find singers, dancers, actors, and painters creating art right in front of your eyes.
It’s an incredibly popular festival, so be sure to book tickets and hotels well in advance.
La Gualaguetza is an annual dance festival in Oaxaca and indeed one of the most important events on the city’s calendar each year. It’s always in July and there are usually several days of events and shows to enjoy.
The word Guelaguetza comes from the Zapotec guendalezaa which means to give a gift or share something. It’s a beautiful sentiment for a beautiful festival.
Several of the regions of the state of Oaxaca take part in the festival showing off their local clothing, dances, music, and arts. Tickets sell out several months in advance, so be sure to plan accordingly and book in advance.
I was in Oaxaca a few years ago to simply explore the city. I didn’t know anything about the Guelaguetza festival at that point in time. So of course, all of the tickets were already sold out.
But younger dancers and singers took to the local plazas throughout the day to offer free shows to people around the city.
Dia de Independencia
Independence Day in Mexico is a fascinating time.
Every city in the country has a celebration and a “grito” or shout that mimics the start of the fight against independence in Mexico. The biggest gathering is of course in the Zocalo in Mexico City where the president gives the grito.
However, you can also see the local mayors and governors giving gritos in every other city and state around Mexico. Another fantastic place to see the grito is in and around Guanajuato.
This is the home to the start of the fight against Independence so you can see a great festival in both Guanajuato and the nearby town of Dolores, Mexico where the original grito was given.
Carnaval isn’t a particularly popular event in most of Mexico, but in Mazatlan it is huge.
Like most Carnaval celebrations, it takes place the week before Lent starts. This means it changes every year, but usually falls somewhere between late-February and early-March.
You can always find the most up-to-date information about Mazatlan Carnaval here.
It includes a huge parade as well as music events, an art event, a masquerade ball, and several nights of fireworks.
La Feria de San Marcos
La Feria de San Marcos is the largest fair in the entire country.
It takes place on and around the date of the feast day of Saint Mark (San Marcos in Spanish), April 25th.
It takes place in the city of Aguascalientes and is a festival that encompasses what all good local festivals encompass: lots of really loud and smoky fireworks, really great fair food (love feria breads in Mexico, they are delicious!), and plenty of music in the streets.
The most popular events at this fair are the bullfights, but there are also livestock sales and other sorts of rodeo-style events.
In addition, there are usually quite famous Mexican musicians scheduled to play throughout the day and plenty of not-so-famous musicians playing late into the evenings so that people can dance.
Semana Santa is the week before Easter and is often a huge event all over the country.
The main event in most towns usually happens on Good Friday when re-enactments of the passion of Christ. This is when Jesus carried the cross to the place where he would eventually be nailed to it.
The largest in the country is in Mexico City in the Iztapalapa neighborhood. It’s the most well-known in the country and receives the most media attention as well as the most visitors.
Usually millions of people line the streets of Iztapalapa to watch the event.
The re-enactment doesn’t just happen in Mexico City, though. There are smaller re-enactment events all over the country. I once saw it in Oaxaca as well as in the small Pueblo Magico of San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas.
Epic Things to Do in Mexico
Of course, besides the amazing beaches, big cities, magical towns, ancient ruins, and incredible festivals, there are still so many incredible things to do in Mexico.
These are just a few of the amazing places to visit and activities to take part in on a trip to Mexico that I think you should consider.
1. Take the El Chape train through Copper Canyon
This has been a long-time dream of mine.
Copper Canyon is actually a series of canyons in the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range.
Taking the train was incredible. But in the end, the best part was the hiking. Hiking in Copper Canyon really blew me away.
You can watch the videos from that experience here:
- The Start of Copper Canyon in Creel
- Hiking in Copper Canyon
- Taking the El Chepe Train Through Copper Canyon
The El Chape train is one of the few train journeys that you can take in Mexico and it runs between Chihuahua and Los Mochis in Sinaloa.
You used to be able to pre-book tickets on the train, but after the start of the Covid lockdown, the train became more of a commuter rail. It’s unclear if things will change to go back to allowing bookings in the future.
But for now, you can take the train by simply buying tickets on the day or a few days in advance from either the station in Chihuahua or Los Mochis.
You can get off at several of the different stations in order to spend the night and explore the canyon by hiking, horseback riding, and even ziplining.
2. Hike to the peak of Iztaccihuatl (or Nevado de Toluca)
There are so many amazing hikes that you can do around Mexico, but two of the more challenging hikes are to the top of Iztaccihuatl and the top of Nevado de Toluca.
However, you don’t have to hike all the way to the top if you simply want to get into the mountains that surround Puebla and Mexico City.
I hiked about halfway up Iztaccihuatl and it was so much fun. You can watch a video of that here.
The best time for hiking these mountains is between late-February and late-April when it is warm and dry. Once the wet season starts it is far too dangerous and during the winter months, there can be snow to contend with.
3. Eat all the food
Mexico is home to some of the best food in the world.
Yes, there are incredible tacos and world-class quesadillas, but there’s so much more to Mexican food than the few dishes that get exported around the world.
Mexican food is varied depending on the region you’re visiting and each dish should be sampled and savored.
Sample the flour tortillas of the north, the carne asadas, and the cabrito. Eat corn tortillas and rich chocolate sauces and different types of pan dulces.
You may even want to consider taking a cooking class on your trip to Mexico to learn more about the cuisine. Airbnb Experiences is a great place to start with these as you tend to be able to learn from the locals and cook right in their homes.
4. Explore the local markets and weekly tianguis
A huge part of understanding the food and culture of Mexico is getting to the markets. Every city, neighborhood and small town in Mexico has a mercado.
Mercados are covered markets that are open pretty much every day of the week and it’s where most people do their shopping. It usually has fresh fruit and vegetable stalls, fish and meat stalls, food stalls where you can have breakfast or lunch.
Usually, these markets also have some clothing, shoes, home goods, and sometimes souvenirs if you’re in a touristy area.
Then there are tianguis. Tianguis is an Aztec word for market. They usually take place once a week and are outside in temporary stalls that tend to take up a street or two for a few hours.
They sell pretty much the same things that you can find in a mercado, but it’s a bit more like a farmers market where things are more local and fresher.
5. Huasteca Potosina
The Huasteca Potosina is one of the most naturally rich places in Mexico.
It’s located in the state of San Luis Potosi, so this is the most convenient place to start a trip. However, from here you’ll want to either take the bus to Ciudad Valle or rent a car and make your way out to this region of the country on a self-guided tour.
If you want an outdoor paradise where you can go kayaking, rafting, ziplining, hiking, swimming under waterfalls, or simply relaxing in a natural pool of turquoise waters, this is where you need to get yourself.
6. Natural beauty of Chiapas
Chiapas is another state for nature lovers.
You can explore Palenque, the ancient ruins that I mentioned above.
Read: 10-Day Chiapas Itinerary
7. Get to Know Frida and Diego
Interested in the life and love and chaos of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo?
Much of their story is told around Mexico City including the Frida Kahlo house where she was both born and where she died. You can visit their art collection at Anahuacalli. Learn about their work at the studio of Diego and Frida. Understand their political work (and jealousy) in Mexico at the Leon Trotsky house.
Of course, there’s also the very first mural that Diego painted in Mexico at the Colegio San Ildefonso. This is also where they met and is in one of the first scenes of the film Frida.
8. Sing with the Fanaticos at a local futbol game
If Mexico’s first religion is Catholicism, their second religion is futbol.
Getting tickets to a local football game is easy enough, you can read all about how to do that here.
If you’re in Mexico City, there are three teams to choose from: America, Pumas, and Cruz Azul. Then there’s Atlas and Chivas in Guadalajara, Tigres, and Rayados in Monterrey.
There are several other teams around the country in the main league and enjoying a weekend game with the fans is truly a piece of Mexican culture that you don’t want to miss.
9. Explore the history and culture of Oaxaca
If the above information about the amazing beaches, beautiful city, and ancient ruins of the state of Oaxaca hasn’t already sold you on a trip to this state, then maybe the food will.
Oaxaca is home to some of the country’s oldest food traditions and you can still find it being made from scratch all over the place.
The tlayudas grilled on the tiny parillas on the street in Puerto Escondido. The fresh quesillo cheese wrapped up like a ball of yarn.
The rich moles made with bitter chocolates and dried chillis and a seemingly endless list of ingredients.
10. Immerse Yourself in the Spanish Language
It took me far too long to start taking my Spanish seriously, but I’m so glad I finally did.
I read a quote in a Khalid Housseini book recently that said “if culture is a house, the language is the key to the front door.”
It’s so poetic and so true. When I started learning more Spanish I started to better understand the people and their culture here. I learned about certain words they use for things in Spanish and in particular, here in Mexico that make me smile.
Mexico is a great place to start trying to learn Spanish because the people here tend to speak slower than they do in other countries. People are incredibly helpful when you are trying to speak Spanish and they almost never switch into English like they do in other countries.
A few different places where you can study Spanish around the country include the Spanish and Surf school in Puerto Escondido, the Frida Spanish School in Mexico City, or with the amazing Jim and May of Spanish and Go.