Welcome to the Places To Visit in Mexico guide. Mexico is one of my favorite countries. Mexico is a country rich in history, culture and magnificent and varied landscapes, with its lush jungles, contrasting with semi-desert mountains for example. I traveled to Mexico twice, in 1999 and at the end of 2015. As much as we were rare to visit certain archaeological sites in 1999, I had the great pleasure, more recently, to note that a Mexican middle class had emerged and was now discovering its rich past.
Mexico is an easy country to travel. In 1999, I did not speak English or Spanish, I left France with my backpack without booking any hotel in advance, and yet I was able to respect the schedule I had set myself without great difficulty, contact with very friendly Mexicans making things easier.
The bus network makes it possible to connect the cities, sometimes at the price of a night spent in it, but that should not scare off a hardened backpacker🙂.
Header photo Temple of The Inscriptions – Palenque. Credit photo : Olivier Bergeron
Table of contents
- Monte Alban
- Hierve El Agua
- San Cristobal De Las Casas
- Lagos De Montebello
- Waterfall El Chiflon
- Agua Azul
- Dzibilchaltun and Cenote
- Chichen Itza
- Playa Del Carmen
- Dolphin watching – Punta Allen
- Mexico city
- Going more far
- Reference to Places to Visit In Mexico
- FAQ Places to Visit in Mexico
Teotihuacan is a must in this Places To Visit In Mexico guide. We gone to Teotihuacan on a one day trip from Mexico City. The site is around one hour from Mexico.
Two imposing pyramids dominate the site : The pyramid of the sun and the pyramid of the moon.
Don’t forget to visit the temple of Quetzacoatl with his impressive head of feathered serpents and his heads of the god Tlaloc with 4 eyes and 2 fangs.
The construction of Teotihuacan took place mainly from the first century to the 7th century after Jesus Christ.
several buildings along the causeway have frescoes to explore between 2 pyramid climbs.
If you have the time, there is small archeologic satellite around the main site for the fans like me.
Oaxaca is my favorite city in this Places to Visit In Mexico guide. I go there twice and i burn to come back here again, maybe as digital nomad, why not !!!
The trip from Mexico City by bus took around 6 hours and half. the road in mountain is impressive with deep ravines. During my first trip in 1999, we stop to look at a bus fallen in a ravine !!
Let’s come back to Oaxaca, Oaxaca is a vibrant city, full of life with a colonial style. Many colorful houses dot the town. The zocalo with its arcades is effervescent.
Among the remarkable elements of the city: the cathedral
Do not forget to take a tour of the local markets, variegated and colorful, in particular the typical « Mercado suarez » or « Mercado 20 Noviembre » market which offers various products ranging from chocolate, fruit and vegetables, Moles sauces to flowers etc….
In Oaxaca I like to buy the black and lustrous pottery from San Bartolo Coyotepec , also called barro negro. The surface of the pottery is lustrous with quartz crystals.
Try some mole sauce dish in restaurant during your stay. I remember in my first trip in 1999 to ordered a chicken with Mole Negro sauce. I was surprised in this time to taste a chocolate flavored sauce !
You can drink too some delicious hot milk chocolate.
Don’t miss the « grill » alley, fragrant and smoky, in the « 20 noviembre » market, a paradise for the meat lovers, the hell for the vegans, it’s an opportunity to sit down with the locals!
I have to admit that usually when leaving Oaxaca, my luggage is weighted with a bottle of Mezcal Anejo!!
From Oaxaca, it’s easy to do some day trips like Monte Alban , Hierve El Agua, Mitla, visiting Mezcal distilleries and the Tule Tree.
My favorite stay in Oaxaca :
Hotel Las Golondrinas with its lush floral garden.
Address :Calle de Tinoco y Palacios 411, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., Mexico
This archeological site worth the visit in the Oaxaca state. This impressive site is surrounded by arid mountains.
The best is to take an organized trip from Oaxaca , the site is just a few kilometers outside the city.
When I gone there in 1999, we were only 2 or 3 frenchs on the site. Now, it’s a pleasure to see a lot of medium classes mexicans , visiting Monte Alban, eager to discover their own culture.
Tips : The sun can be very harsh on Monte Alban, i advise you to use suncream , otherwise sunburn !!
Hierve El Agua
Around 70 km east of Oaxaca, Hierve El Agua is a really lovely site with nice landscape and made up of beautiful petrified waterfalls.
The rock formations and the blue, green, turquoise ponds sit on a cliff that overlooks the valley below.
We came to Hierve El Agua on a day trip from Oaxaca.
And yes it’s possible to take some baths.
Around 50 km from Oaxaca, Mitla is a pre-Columbian archaeological site of the Zapotec culture with some influence of Mixtex culture too.
Despite the site is small, it is famous for the geometric patterns that adorn the structures.
We went to Mitla on a one day trip from Oaxaca.
San Cristobal De Las Casas
San Cristobal is a charming city of Chiapas, with its colorful houses and picturesque markets, a peaceful stopover before Palenque and the Yucatan.
Blue hour is a great time for take photohgraphy inside city of San cristobal with colorful houses.
One of our favorite game in Mexico, is to take photography of beetle inside cities.
From San cristobal , you can make excursions to the El chifflon waterfall and the lagunas Of Montebello.
During our stay in San Cristobal , we choose the hotel Casa Margarita. Address : Real De Guadalupe, 34, San Cristobal De Las Casas, 29200, Mexico
Lagos De Montebello
Lagos de Montebello is a series of lakes in a remote region of Chiapas near the Guatemalan border.
The region is a bit mountainous and a bit cooler than San Cristobal or Palenque and offers beautiful landscape.
On some lakes it is possible to go rafting. They have beautiful colors : from deep blue to turquoise .
We went to Lagos De Montebello on a one day trip from San Cristobal De Las Casas. We enjoyed the rather wild road and the crossing of small villages. The road is long from San Cristobal and we had a short time to visit the lakes. For a next trip here, renting a car, to take our time and admire the beauty of these lakes is an option that I am considering.
Waterfall El Chiflon
El Chifflon is a serie of waterfalls in the state of Chiapas. The river also forms magnificent basins of turquoise blue water.
We went to El Chiflon on the same day trip than Lagos de Montebello from the city of San Cristobal de Las Casas.
It is possible to take baths in calmer pools, however beware of weather conditions and rainy weather where the current could be stronger
This archeological site is magical, it is so beautiful and so mythical that during my first stay I went back there 2 days in a row.
The descent into the Tomb of Pakal from the Temple of Inscriptions is steep and suffocating, the humidity is oppressive
The atmosphere is so enchanting that during my first stay I sat at the top of the stairs of the Temple of the Cross for more than an hour, just gazing at the lush jungle and its shades of green in the treetops and listening to the howler monkeys.
Archeology Corner : Recently in may 2022, INAH of Mexico just announces the discovery of a stucco head of the young Maize god at Palenque.
If you want to eat cheap and on the go, don’t miss the « polo carbon » gargotes (a french word for cheap and small restaurant), succulent charcoal-grilled chickens scattered in the town of Palanque.
A small anecdot, during my first stay, I was not very used to eating spicy food, seeing some magnificent tacos not very far from my hotel in Palenque, I decided to buy one, it was so spicy that I ran to my hotel room quench my thirst and put out the fire !! I have since learned that a milk product is much more effective against hot pepper fire, hence the famous yogurt lassi in Indian restaurants.
The city of Palenque has nothing sensational in itself, except for its extraordinary archaeological site. Nevertheless, it constitutes a good base to go to Agua Azul, Misol-Ha and their beautiful waterfalls flowing into magnificent turquoise blue basins. It is also possible to make excursions from Palenque to the archaeological sites of Yaxchilan and Bonampak.
The site of Palenque is very very hot, the atmosphere is moist, do not forget to take water and sunscreen even if it will end up dripping
Coming from Palenque, the arrival by boat on the archaeological site of Yaxchilan, surrounded by a verdant jungle and very remote near the guatemala border, was impressive, a good little scent of adventure. As the boat got closer to the pier, my Indiana Jones heart, sleeping inside me, beat faster and faster, the excitement of discovering this new site taking over me , after observing wildlife along the river « Rio Usumacinta »..
On the same day trip from Palenque with the waterfall Misol Ha, Agua azul is serie of nice waterfalls with beautiful turquoise ponds in the state of Chiapas. Agua Azul meanings blue water in spanish language.
The calcium bed of the river « Rio Xanil » is responsible of the turquoise color.
The site is famous and you will find some foods and drinks shops along the river.
Some ponds have more quiets waters and that’s possible to take a bath. Be careful however if weather conditions aren’t good and if the flow of the waters is strong.
Misol Ha is a waterfall in the state of Chiapas, we combined its visit with Agua azul. You can walk behind the waterfall.
We went to Bonampak on the same day trip than Yaxchilan , both in the east of the state of Chiapas near the Guatemala border. Despite the site is small, it is very famous for its magnificent mayan frescoes very colorful and fresh.
The site also has several interesting steles.
Merida, in the Yucatan Peninsula, is a colonial style city, very pleasant to visit. In addition, it is an excellent base for visiting other sites in the region: Chichen Itza, Uxmal, the coastal town of Célestun and its flamingos of the Reserva de la Biósfera Los Petenes, Dzibilchaltun. I gone there in 1999 during my first trip in Mexico.
In this time, I stay at the El Gran Hotel, a lovely hotel with colonial style and a courtyard. Address : Calle 60 Number 496, Centro, 97000 Mérida, Yucatan, Mexico
Dzibilchaltun and cenote
Located about 17 km from Mérida in the state of Yucatan, the Mayan archaeological site of Dzibilchaltun is famous for its Temple of the Seven Dolls, so named because of seven small statues found on the site when the temple was discovered by archaeologists in the 1950s. The name of the site means “where there are writings on flat stones”. I gone there in 1999 on an afternoom trip from Merida with a local agency.
During the vernal equinox, the rising sun shines directly on one window of this temple and passes through the opposite window. The temple is connected to the rest of the site by a long sacbe.
Another centerpiece of the site is Cenote Xlacah, the deepest cenote in Mexico and which I personally find very beautiful. During my trip it was possible to swim there. The presence of this cenote and its drinking water probably contributed to the choice of the site by the Mayan builders.
Located in the Puuc Hills region of the Yucatán Peninsula and 42km to the south-east of the Uxmal site, Labna is a small maya mesoamerican site.
I went there in 1999 during a day trip on the puuc road from Mérida by the road 261.
The site was populated from 200 BC, reaching its apogee between 800 and 1000 AD. It was home to a population of 3,000 people. It is listed as a World Heritage Site of UNESCO, under the collective title of the “Pre-Hispanic Town of Uxmal.”
Its name comes from lab, old thing, and nah casa: « Old house ». In this site, the architecture of the flourishing Puuc style (11th and 10th centuries) predominates, but there are some samples of the early Puuc of the 8th century.
One of its most famous structures is a decorated arch (The gateway Arch) of remarkable perfection and fine ornamentation in the puuc style and depicting bas-reliefs like palm houses and stylized snakes . It must have been the entrance to a venue dedicated to large celebrations.
The pyramid-temple El Mirador is another structure on the site. Only the temple (puuc style too) at the top has been restored.
The Palace is located at the north end of the internal sacbé. This building had several construction stages until accumulating 57 bedrooms on two levels. In the west wing there is a rectangular molding that borders the openings, an example of the early Puuc; the rest corresponds to the flourishing Puuc, notable in the size of the frieze with tied columns, Chaac masks, stepped fretwork and latticework. On the front section of the first level, a zoomorphic mask stands out from whose jaws a human head emerges: to the north, another one, flanked by human figures, shows a Mayan date that corresponds to the year 862.
One of the most important sites of the ruta puuc, the archaeological site of Uxmal is located 62 km south of Merida in Yucatan. It is possible to make day trips from there. The site is less frequented than that of Chichen Itza and the visit is pleasant. The style is representative of the puuc region where it is located. Uxmal’s name would mean ‘three times built’.
The site would have known its apogee and its decline over a relatively short period in the 9th and 10th century.
The reconstruction of the history of Uxmal is still imprecise due to the lack of archaeological data, the research not yet being thorough.
The main buildings on the site are:
the pyramid of the Diviner or the Magician;
the Quadrilateral of the Nuns;
the Governor’s Palace;
the House of Turtles dedicated to the rain god Chac.
Pyramid of the Magician
The « oval or conical » shape of the pyramid is quite original compared to other sites I visited in Mexico
One of the most famous archeological site in this Places to Visit In Mexico post, Chichen Itza is situated in the Yucatan peninsula between the cities of Merida and Valladolid.
The name means « At the mouth of the well of the Itza ».
The city was establish by the Mayas around 2 natural cenotes, a source of water around 415-455 AD , abandoned and then reinvested by the Toltecs after their migrations from the Mexican plateau to the south during the 10th century.
Following this conquest , a fusion style emerge, mixing maya ans toltec elements, by exemple with the stellar observatory Caracol.
Playa Del Carmen
Although touristy, Playa Del Carmen is a good place to relax after a long trip to Mexico and put down your bags for 2-3 days. The city is « cool » !!. Playa is a good central hub for visiting Tulum, Chichen Itza, Isla Cozumel from here. A long beach of fine white sand runs along the city.
A little personal anecdote, during my first trip here in 1999, a funny little poster in one of the bar/club along the port of embarkation indicated « If it’s too strong, it’s because you’re too old !! ». Thinking about it now, a small smile comes to my lips.
Tulum is a postcard image. the archaeological site is located on the edge of a cliff overlooking a turquoise blue sea.
To the north of Tulum, it is possible to find beaches for swimming. We went there with bikes rented at our hotel
It is quite possible to choose Tulum as a « base camp » for 2-3 days. Besides visiting Playa Del Carmen, it is possible to go directly to the archaeological site of Chichen Itza by bus from Tulum. Excursions are possible to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve and to Punta Allen to admire the dolphins.
Dolphin watching – Punta Allen
On my 44th birthday we took a day trip to Punta Allen from Tulum to see the dolphins and doing snorkling , an excellent choice for this special day and a very good memory, while admiring the mangroves of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.
We took turns driving an agency automatic vehicle through the dirt track leading to Punta Allen. Particularly exciting! And a short return to Tulum in the evening.
I went on a one-day visit to Puebla by bus from Mexico City, which is only about 100km away. The city sits all the same at 2135 meters above sea level. It was founded in 1531. Do not miss the zocalo, surrounded by colonial-style buildings, it is in the heart of the historic center of Puebla, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The interior architecture of the cathedral basilica, known as Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, its baroque style and its gilding are impressive.
Museo Nacional de Antropologia
One of the top attractions of the city to discover or have a taste of the archaeological richness of the country after your arrival at Mexico City airport.
From Mexico City, it is possible to make day trips to the archaeological site of Teotihuacan (40 km) and to the city of Puebla (100 km)
The Aztecs pyramids : The Templo Mayor
In the historical center, not far from the Zocalo, the templo mayor is the name of the step pyramid of Tenochtitlan, the ancient name of Mexico City. Although in ruins, the site shows that the mesoamericans built a new pyramid, covering an older pyramid, at the end of a cycle. Today the site shows the remains of the more primitive underlying pyramids.
The last inauguration of this temple, over 4 days in 1487, would have given rise to 3 000 to 84 000 human sacrifices according to the chroniclers, the blood streaming down the steps of the temple!!!
Well, a place to visit in Mexico city !!!
Metropolitan Cathedral or Catedral Metropolitana
This church overlooks the central square (zocalo) of Mexico City: the Plaza de la Constitution. The local name is Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de Marí. Built from 1571, it is in the Baroque style.
Cafe de Tacuba
Hotel: Our choice fell on a pleasant hotel in the historic center of Mexico City : the Hotel Isabel where it is also possible to eat.
Adress : Isabel La Católica 63, Centro Histórico de la Cdad. de México, Centro, Cuauhtémoc, 06000 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
Going more far
English books :
Arts of ancient Mexico – Jacques Soustelle
Daily Life of the Aztecs on the Eve of the Spanish Conquest – Jacques Soustelle
The Rise and Fall of Maya Civilization Sir John Eric Sidney Thompson
French books :
L’art du Mexique Ancien – Jacques Soustelle
Les Aztèques à la veille de la conquête espagnole – Jacques Soustelle
Grandeur et décadence de la civilisation maya – Sir John Eric Sidney Thompson
Les Olmèques des origines au mythe – Caterina Magni
Reference to Places To Visit In Mexico
National Institute of Anthropology and History of Mexico INAH
Historic center of Puebla – Unesco
Dzilbilchaltun Maya archeological site
For people who have visit Mexico along time ago, tThe surroundings of certain sites were cluttered with rubbish at the time, a huge clean-up has been undertaken since.