October 20

5 of the Best Cultural Attractions in Mexico

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Where else you can find seemingly endless sunshine, stunning natural scenery, world class cultural wonders, and beautiful sandy beaches… in one single place!?

Mexico’s rich culture, fascinating mix of native people, distinctive culinary creations, and vibrant folklore can please every sort of traveler. It’s one of the most unique and attractive countries in the world, and there’s enough to keep you entertained for months (just to get you started check these 40+ fun facts of Mexico). 

Mexico Top Attractions

If you spread your wings and head to this captivating country, make sure not to miss these top tourist attractions:

Chichen Itzá, Yucatán:

For those who wish to soak up the facts and history of an ancient civilization or fancy a day of exploring and admiring an exclusive archeological site, the Mayan City of Chichén Itzá is an absolute must.

chichen itza

This epic stunning cultural attraction, which is sprawled across a vast tract of grassland (6 sq. miles) in the northern Yucatán Peninsula, was declared as being one of the New Seven Wonders of the World back in 2007, and for very good reason.

Chichén Itzá is an absolutely incredible place to see and quite rightly ranks as one of the most popular cultural attractions in Mexico (and the world), drawing over 1.2 million visitors each year.

With origins dating back to the 6th century, this unique archaeological complex, made up of beautiful stepped pyramids, massive temples and magnificent stone structures, is considered the biggest of the ancient Mayan cities located in Mexico, and easily the most prominent among all.

chichen itza mexico

It was built and occupied by two different indigenous groups: the Mayans (c. 900–1519 C.E.) and the Toltecs (1000 C.E.) – as a result, the architecture and sculpture of the city reveals outside influences and the fusion of two different visual traditions.

Highlights of a visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site are numerous, but I’ll just mention the most recognizable ones.

A must-see here is the temple of Kukulkán, also known as El Castillo, which stands prominently in the center of the city.

It is a four-faced pyramid that was devoted to Kukulkán, an important Mayan deity worshiped by a majority of Mesoamerican people. They believed he was one out of three gods that created the world.

Thanks to its majesty, this iconic temple has become one of the most famous landmarks in Mexico.

teotihuacan pyramid mexico

While the pyramid was dedicated to the feathered serpent god, it was primarily built to help the Mayans in their continuous astronomical endeavors. It actually acts as a physical calendar, one that perfectly aligns with the sun.

The pyramid’s stairways, which all rise towards the shared temple platform, located at the top, feature 91 steps. If we add the number of steps plus one (for the top platform) it would total 365, the exact number of days in a year.

Another noteworthy point of interest is El Caracol, an almost 1,000 year-old observatory. From this impressive building, located to the south of the temple of Kukulkán, the Mayan priests were able to study the earth’s rotation, and thus determine accurately the date they were.

Also of interest are the numerous stone statues, including many examples of the famous Mayan Chacmools.

Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur

Located on the southern tip of the 800-mile-long Baja California Peninsula, where the sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean, is Cabo San Lucas, one of the most famous sites in Mexico and the preferred seaside escape of many tourists and spring breakers from all over the world.

cabo san lucas

Around 2 million visitors come here every year because of the pleasant climate (which remains the same most of the year) and the beautiful scenery. Cabo is also popular for its great golf and fishing, as well as for the variety of watersports it has to offer, like whale watching, scuba diving, snorkeling, and jet skiing.

los cabos kids el arco

Picture at El Arco. We did not expect to see a group of sea lions hanging out in the area!

A stroll along the white beach gives the opportunity for amazing pictures of El Arco (The Arch), which is Cabo’s distinctive natural rock formation and one of the most iconic Mexican Landmarks.

While you find the perfect angle for shooting this spectacular arching stone cliff you can have striking views of the grey whales that constantly frolic in the ocean, as well as additional rock formations along the coastline.

seals la paz mexico

There’s also an exciting nightlife, lots of shopping and restaurants, and a great variety of all-inclusive hotels and quality resorts for any budget. This lively Mexican attraction is full of action all year long and can offer you an unforgettable holiday experience.

Barranca Del Cobre, Chihuahua:

Lying in the far north of Mexico, very close to the border with United States and deep into the Tarahumara mountains is located the Grand Canyon’s southern cousin: Barranca del Cobre, generically-known by its English translation of Copper Canyon.

This is one of the most breathtaking and unique places to visit in Mexico and should be a top priority in your bucket list, especially if you have a particular ‘gusto’ for adventure and are looking for a unique travel experience.

raramuri hut copper canyon

Copper Canyon in Chihuahua

It consists in a spectacular network of canyons with an extension of about 60,000 (!) kilometers, making it several times larger than its better-known cousin across the border, the Grand Canyon.

The most popular way to explore the Copper Canyon is actually aboard of the ‘Chihuahua al Pacifico’ (El Chepe) Railway, which features striking views of the copper and green colored rocky walls.

overlooking copper canyon

Overlooking Copper Canyon, a few zip lines into the adventure.

But if you want to get a good grasp of the Mexican culture and learn about the indigenous people who live here, a plunge further the Canyon floor is a must. To do so, you can walk, take the cable car down or even on horseback.

All in all, this canyon system is definitely one of the must see places in Mexico for those ‘pueblo magico’ lovers and outdoor enthusiasts – its exceptional natural beauty will leave even the biggest cynic bloomed away (here are some fantastic travel quotes for even more inspiration).

Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco:

Stretching around the sparkling blue Bahia de Banderas (Banderas Bay) and backed with the lush-covered Sierra Madre mountains is Puerto Vallarta, often shortened to just 'Vallarta', one of the points of interest in Mexico.

This beautiful coastal town just appeared on the vacation radar back in the 60's with the Hollywood filming of 'Night of the Iguana'.

rapelling vallarta adventures

Yup, I was having fun!

 

Since then it has become a playground for North America's social elite and an extremely popular beach destination among foreigners looking for second homes in a sunny, warmer climate.

It offers a great variety of water sports and outdoor activities, including jet skiing, horseback rides, diving, kayaking, surfing and day trips to neighbor cities.

Along with some of the most exclusive beaches Mexico has to offer, leading hotels, stylish restaurants and relaxing spa treatment centers, make this place a paradise for tourists.

sunset sailing boat horizon

Can you think of a better view during s sunset sailing cruise? I didn't think so.

For those whose vacation idea is to get away from it all and immerse into the local culture, the city also boast many locations to shop for art and crafts or to simply stroll along picturesque cobblestone streets and enticing boardwalks with their many green spaces and sculptures.

After sunset, younger travelers can get a glimpse of the 'exotic Mexico' by enjoying the pumping nightlife and numerous LGBT-friendly spots in what is the gay beach capital of the country.

Whether you’re a retired looking to settle down, an adventure-hungry backpacker or are just planning a family trip to create good memories with your loved ones, you won’t get bored at this amazing resort town – options are endless!

Cancún & the Mayan Riviera, Quintana Roo:

Situated along a beautiful stretch of coast line on the Gulf of Mexico are the resort-filled destinations of Cancún, Playa del Carmen and the Island of Cozumel, collectively known as the ‘Riviera Maya’. This spectacular area is one of the most visited places in Mexico, drawing over five million visitors each year.

cancun

The spectacular Caribbean Sea

The Mayan Riviera is home to crystal clear turquoise waters, powdery white sand beaches and a relaxing atmosphere where you can get away from the stress of everyday life. Here you’ll find a rich gastronomy, an exciting nightlife, exclusive spas and some of the world’s best diving & snorkeling areas.

These beautiful Mexican attractions are ideal for groups and couples. They offer a wide range of group activities such as golf, jungle tours, dolphin & stingray swims, and all kind of watersports, including snorkeling among reefs and tropical fish, and scuba diving in the world’s largest underwater museum.

But if you’re more into eco-tourism, looking for pristine environments to stay away from the big crowds, I have very good news to you – much of the region is still not urbanized and isn’t hard to find many amazing places to be alone and enjoy the Caribbean scenery, including some incredible National Parks and animal sanctuaries.

cenote cancun

There are also a few hidden spots, like the ‘Rio Secreto’ Cave of Playa del Carmen and the ancient ruins of Tulum, the only Mayan city built overlooking the ocean, which is among the places of significance in Mexico, thanks to its cultural heritage.

As one of the most popular attractions in Mexico, the staggering selection of accommodation is nothing less but impressive. Whether you’re drawn to 5-stars properties, all-inclusive resorts or charming boutique hotels and cabanas, Cancun and the entire Mayan Riviera make available an array of exceptional lodging choices to please everyone’s budget and needs.

Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo:

Isla Mujeres is a beautiful, peaceful paradise located just 8 miles away from Cancun Mexico, well known for its white-sand beaches, calm turquoise waters and the friendliest locals in the Mexican Caribbean. It’s one of the most famous places in Mexico and the perfect place to take a beach break or unwind from the rigors of life.

Most people plan their vacation around Cancun and mark Isla Mujeres as a side trip or a quick getaway from the crowds. However, the island is a destination by its own right, and it’s also way more affordable than other Mexico attractions, such as Cancun. 

isla mujeres mexico

Isla Mujeres generally has a relaxing vibe, but don’t be fooled, it includes everything you need to stay entertained during your entire holiday. You can fill your day with watersports, shopping, exploring or simply swimming and lazing around on the Island’s gorgeous crushed-coral beaches.

With the beauty of the Caribbean, the region’s cultural heritage, and the easygoing charm and diversity of the locals, Isla Mujeres has become a natural refugee for tourist from all over the world.

Samalayuca Dune Fields, Chihuahua:

The Samalayuca Desert and its shifting dune fields are part of the much larger Chihuahua Desert region, the biggest desert in North America. With an extension of more than 200,000sq miles, it occupies about 30% of the total continent’s desert area.

samalayuca desert

No sandboarding for me, but I did enjoy the views. Some of them are up to 40 m (around 120 ft) high!

These imposing mountains of sand lie across the much traveled north-south route between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso. The Spanish discovered the trail in the 16th century, and used it to reach the area where they eventually founded the city of Santa Fe.

Later, the route became essential for the transport of goods and merchandise. In past years, the Dunes were also used as a setting for several Hollywood films, including Conan the Destroyer, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Nowadays, modern techniques of desert irrigation have made possible the cultivation of zucchinis and other vegetables, creating more employment in the agricultural sector.

Thanks to these efforts, local tourism is growing and thus improving the site’s economy.

Sadly, they’re often overlooked because of their proximity to Ciudad Juarez. Most visitors are put off by the city’s high murder rate. While the number of homicides has gone down, Ciudad Suarez has struggled to shake its reputation as a highly violent city.

As you can see in the video above I actually spent a few days visiting Ciudad Juarez and had a great time...and I did this just the year after it was names the most violent city in the world.

Either way, the tourist and recreational potential of this amazing Mexican attraction is undeniable. It features the most stunning views and a rare but beautiful ecosystem.

Here you can do sanboarding, rent a quad bike, have a picnic or walk alongside an experienced local guide who will teach you the secrets and history of the desert.

Monte Alban, Oaxaca:

Overlooking the valley of Oaxaca are located the awe-inspiring ruins of Monte Alban. This UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the top attractions in Mexico and a must see when talking about ancient Mesoamerican cities.

Spanning over 1,500 years of history, the Zapotec capital grew from a small rural village into a powerful metropolis of around 35,000 inhabitants. Along the way, their control and influence expanded throughout the region.

During the city’s peak - between 300 and 700 AD - they evolved into a highly organized, priest-dominated society; most of the stone structures you see today originate from that time period. Eventually, this great power came to an end and the site was left abandoned.

Here you’ll find massive temples, a large ball court, an observatory, several tombs filled with treasures, and unique stone carvings. There’s also a museum and a pretty small café featuring an outdoor terrace, where you can cool off before heading back down to the city.

It takes about 2 hours to properly explore the site, a bit more if you take a guide (available in Spanish, English, French and Italian). If you’re planning to visit, you should come early in the morning before it gets too hot and the tour buses arrive.

Anyhow, Monte Alban is not as popular as other archaeological remains in Mexico, like Chichen Itza or Teotihuacan, so you won’t find large crowds and will be able to stroll around without a bunch of tourists at your side.

All in all, Monte Alban is the highlight of Oaxaca and shouldn’t be missed. Don’t just limit yourself to the Gran Plaza… climb the platforms, hike up the hills and explore as much as you can!

Guanajuato City:

While some may choose the coasts for their sexy beach destinations and luxury touches, those who want a taste of a more authentic Mexico should visit the UNESCO World Heritage city of Guanajuato.

It was founded in 1559 based on the state’s surrounding silver and gold deposits. Anyone who has studied basic European history knows that between the 16th and 18th centuries Spain was the richest country in the world, entirely because of places like Guanajuato, which they exploited ruthlessly.

guanajuato mexico

Having dinner right in front of the Theater.

However, much of the riches from the mines remained in local hands and the city was considered the wealthiest of Mexico right up until the late 19th century. The result is an abundance of fine baroque and neoclassic architecture.

Today Guanajuato is one of the most visited cities in Mexico and a ‘pueblo mágico’ filled with excellent museums, handsome theaters, picturesque markets, tree-lined plazas and brightly colored houses.

The city’s main roads and alleyways twist around the hillsides and plunge into a long network of underground tunnels, making it an excellent city for pedestrians.

One of the best known Guanajuato’s attractions is the macabre Museum of the Mummies. It gives you an up-close look at the mummified remains of residents who were buried in the city’s cemetery. They couldn’t longer stay in the ground because the fees weren’t paid for their plots.

Next up is the house of Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo’s late husband and famous Mexican artist. His birth place is now a museum honoring his life achievements and most important paintings.

Oh and we can’t forget about the city’s annual fiesta, the Cervantino Festival, which is one of the most important cultural events in Mexico, with music, dance, and theater groups from all over the world.

In short, Guanajuato is just fascinating and shouldn’t be missed by anyone traveling through the region.

Teotihuacán Pyramids, Mexico State:

Last but no less important; it’d go against the rules not to mention the sprawling Teotihuacán Pyramids when talking about famous tourist attractions in Mexico. Located just 31 miles northeast of the country’s capital city, Teotihuacan is known for its massive pyramids and important cultural heritage.

teotihuacan pyramid mexico

During its peak, this archaeological complex was Mesoamerica’s greatest city, covering more than 20sq kilometers. Nowadays, it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Mexico City and perhaps the entire country.

Pyramid of the Sun, Pyramid of the Moon and Avenue of the Dead are some of the highlights of this place. In addition to the two largest pyramids, there are dozens of smaller structures that you can also climb.

The view of the surrounding mountains and valleys from the top it’s impressive, so sit down and take it all in.

Best attractions in Mexico City

Museo Nacional de Antropologia:

This world-class museum is centrally located in CDMX within the boundaries of Chapultepec Park. You’ll find it on most ‘Top tourist attractions in Mexico City’ lists, and this one won’t be the exception.

It showcases some of the world’s most important pre-Hispanic treasures and tells through timeless artwork how Mexico’s indigenous descendants live today, with the contemporary cultures directly above their ancestral civilization.

The huge museum offers more than one can absorb in a single visit, so if you’re short on time I’d recommend you to take a guided tour to make sense of Mexico’s complicated history.

Catedral Metropolitana

Located in Plaza Zocalo, this monumental 16th century building is one of the major attractions in Mexico City, and for good reason. Built atop the Aztec’s Templo Mayor as a further show of Spanish domination, it remained in progress during the entire colonial period.

aztec indians mexico city

All those years of construction are the reason why it displays a catalog of different architectural styles. It also holds a great collection of paintings and priceless artifacts from the colonial era. If you’re coming to CDMX be sure not to miss it!

Other Tourist Attractions in Mexico City you should Visit

  • Museo Frida Kahlo
  • Palacio Nacional
  • Floating Gardens of Xochimilco
  • Palacio de Bellas Artes
  • Coyoacan Market

Conclusion

Mexico is a big country by almost any standard, with a rich history, delicious food and strong cultural heritage. These are some of the best cultural attraction in Mexico, bug take some time to explore on your own and you'll find that there's a lot more to discover wherever you go within the country!


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