There are so many things to do in Mexico that are not beaches or all-inclusive resorts. Spend a couple weeks in Mexico, get off the beaten path and dig deeper than Señor Frogs, we’re here to introduce you to some amazing things to do. Hint: Not even one of them is lounging on a beach!
People often think the only reason to visit Mexico is to stay in an all-inclusive resort in Cancun or Puerto Vallarta. And while that’s one part of Mexico, that is far from what this country is about.
I’m not gonna lie, we sort of put off traveling to Mexico for a while – not because we were worried about it being unsafe (more on that later) – but because we honestly didn’t know much about what Mexico had to offer besides cocktails on the beach.
And we’ll be the first to tell you, we were missing out. Big time.
Yes, Mexico’s beaches are beautiful, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to kick back at an all-inclusive if that’s what your heart desires. But that’s not all there is to Mexico.
There is so much adventure to be had, food to be eaten, friendly people to meet and culture to be experienced, that we’ve created a list of incredible things to do in Mexico that have nothing to do with the beach.
We only wish it hadn’t taken us so long to discover the depth of this incredible country. And we’ve only just scratched the surface. We can’t wait to return to experience more of what Mexico has to offer.
Psst! You’ll need a place to stay while on all these adventures and we’ve got your covered. We’ve put together a detailed list of the best Airbnbs in Mexico for every type of traveler. This list includes Airbnb stays all across the country, so be sure to bookmark it before your next trip.
Other resources for traveling in Mexico
1. Go museum hopping in Mexico City
Among other things to do in Mexico City, there are some of the best museums in the world there. The city has over 150, and recently held the title for most museums in a city in the world.
Even if you don’t consider yourself a “museum person,” there are a few we’d recommend popping into.
- National Museum of Anthropology: See the Sun Stone (sometimes called the Aztec Calendar). (Closed on Mondays)
- Palacio de Bellas Artes: Some of the best murals from famous Mexican artists. And the dome roof on this place is stunning.
- Frida Kahlo Museum: Learn about the life of possibly the most influential person in Mexico. (Closed on Mondays)
- Soumaya Museum: Even if only to admire the stunning building (but also to see the art).
- Museo Jumex: Known as the MOMA of Mexico City, you’ll know you’re there when you see the “floating” car outside the entrance.
- Natural History Museum: A great place for families with kids.
- University Museum of Contemporary Art: Showcasing Mexican art from the 1950’s and onwards.
- Museum of Modern Art: A Mexico City institution showcasing Mexican and International modern artists.
2. Take a dip in a cenote
These natural sinkholes are created when limestone ground collapses and groundwater fills the gap, creating a crystal clear pool. They were once a source of water for the Mayan people, and today are a popular spot for visitors to swim and dive. And the Yucatán peninsula is the only place in the world where you can find these unique pools.
Fun fact: There are just about 7,000 cenotes in the Yucatán
We put together an entire article that breaks down the details of all the best cenotes in Mexico by area so you can decide which ones to visit and what to expect. Our top recommendation for first-time visitors to the Riviera Maya area is to head to Cenote Azul, just outside of Playa del Carmen.
Another plus: cenotes offer unique and incredible diving experiences that vary from one sinkhole to the next. Whether you’re an avid scuba diver (like we are!) or into freediving, we’d highly recommend seeking out a diving experience in a cenote.
Recommended cenote dives for your first time: Choc Mool, Kukulkan, or Dos Ojos. If you have your advanced divers certification and can go 30 meters deep, we recommend El Pit as a deep dive!
3. Explore the Yucatan Peninsula
Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is the “hook” at the bottom of the county where you’ll find some of incredibly rich history and geographical wonders alongside some of the country’s most popular spring break destinations.
Our first tip: Leave Cancun in your rearview mirror and branch out to discover everything else this region has to offer.
Together with our Editor, Amanda, we have a combined 2+ years living in this part of Mexico and we’ve come up with tons of adventurous things to do in the Yucatan.
4. Spend the night in an eco dome treehouse
We’ve gotta be honest with you… we didn’t love Tulum. That’s not to say it’s not worth a spot on your Mexico itinerary. It’s just that we found other places in Mexico to be more to our personal taste.
That being said, the absolute highlight of our time spent in Tulum was staying in this incredibly unique Airbnb.
This off-grid geo dome treehouse isn’t for everyone but if you have an adventurous spirit and are looking for a unique experience, we think this stay is totally worth it!
The dome is very well equipped and the amazing hosts have seemingly thought of everything you need during your stay. This is a glamping experience, so be prepared to feel pampered with a few eco-friendly touches, like a composting toilet (it’s not as bad as you think, we promise).
We were a bit nervous about not having air conditioning in the heat of Mexico, but the dome is pretty shaded and the powerful fan is actually very comfortable.
One of the best parts about staying here is it is located very close to a little known cenote. During our visit there, we had it all to ourselves and it was one of our favorites in all of Mexico.
Another highlight was the breakfast at this place. We don’t want to spoil the surprise too much but it is magical and changed everyday!
Good to Know:
- It is highly recommended that you have a vehicle to drive yourself here, as it is about a 15 minute drive from the actual town of Tulum. On that note, the road there is pretty bumpy and wild, but you can get there in a regular sedan rental car if you drive slowly.
- We’d recommend spending a minimum of two nights here, as one night wouldn’t be enough to experience the location.
5. Soak up the culture in Mérida
A gem in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Mérida is often overlooked by tourists who flock to nearby Cancun and Tulum, meaning this exciting city has fewer crowds and offers a more authentic glimpse into the “real Mexico”.
With a population of about 1 million, nearly 60% of the residents of Mérida are Mayan and of indigenous origin. This is why there is a richness of Mayan culture throughout Mérida.
One of the best ways to experience this culture is by attending a free event in the Plaza Grande. Mérida’s Plaza Grande hosts free events almost every single night including live musical performances, sound and light shows, theatrical performances, and Pok-ta-Pok reenactments.
Another great idea is to take a free walking tour of the city to get your bearings and learn more about the interesting history. In fact, there are so many unique things to do in Mérida, you could easily spend your entire vacation there!
6. Fall in love with San Cristobal de las Casas
If you’ve never heard of San Cristóbal de las Casas, it’s time you learn…
This laid back mountain town in Southern Mexico has a way of making those traveling through fall in love and often stay longer than expected. Packed with rich culture, cute cafes, colorful textiles, and nearby nature, it’s easy to see why.
The colorful town in the Mexican state of Chiapas reminded us a bit of one of our favorite towns in Colombia: Salento, and we knew right away we would have a hard time leaving.
From learning about the unique history to trying the local spirits, there are so many fun things to do in San Cristóbal de las Casas.
7. Cruise past crocs in the Sumidero Canyon
Set within a national park of the same name, the towering walls of Mexico’s Sumidero Canyon are home to a range of endangered species such as crocodiles, spider monkeys and ocelots. A two-hour river cruise through this magnificent wonder is one of the top adventurous things to do in Chiapas, Mexico.
Instead of signing up for an expensive guided tour, the easiest and most affordable way to experience the canyon is the way the locals do. All you have to do is show up at the Embarcadero Bella Cahuaré and buy tickets on-site.
Tickets cost 200 MXN for the boat tour + 50 MXN for the National Park wristband ($13 USD in total). Boats leave as soon as they are full, and the tour will be all in Spanish. But you don’t need to understand the language to enjoy the ride and spot the animals that everyone will be aiming their cameras at.
Tip: Bring sun protection as it can get extremely hot during parts of the cruise where there is no shade. A water bottle is also a good thing to have, but there will be an opportunity to purchase drinks and snacks from a snack boat while on the tour.
8. Float effortlessly down channels through a lagoon in Sian Ka’an
Teaming with wildlife, the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is made up of 1.3 million acres of protected land and sea just south of Tulum on the Yucatan Peninsula. The reserve was given UNESCO World Heritage status and is the largest protected area in Mexico and is the only place in the country to find endangered species like the black-handed spider monkey and the West Indian manatee.
One of the best ways to explore the diverse jungle ecosystem is by water. On the coastal side you can go on an ocean safari and spot dolphins and sea turtles in the wild while you get a chance to snorkel over the protected reef system.
However, the inland side of the reserve (accessed through the town of Muyil) offers a real unique experience. Hire a boat to take you on a tour of the lagoons where you’ll have the opportunity to get out and float effortlessly along ancient waterways surrounded by lush mangroves. It’s like a natural lazy river!
We’ve written in detail all about how to visit the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve without a tour.
9. Discover Ancient Ruins
The Maya people were the original inhabitants of Mesoamerica, what we know today as southern Mexico and Central America. The ancient civilization is said to be the most advanced and sophisticated of the time.
Mexico is packed with hundreds of Mayan ruins, varying in size and popularity, that are scattered throughout the south and open to the public for exploration. Exploring ruins is probably one of the most popular things to do in Mexico outside of visiting beaches, so plan to arrive early and be prepared for crowds.
Named one of the New 7 Wonders of the World and an UNESCO World Heritage Site, crowds flock to it like moths to a light. If you go here, be prepared to share the sight with plenty of other people, and read up on what to expect at Chichén Itzá.
How to get there:
There are multiple options for getting there if you don’t have a rental car. You could take a first class ADO bus from Mérida or Playa del Carmen. This option should take an hour or 2 depending on which city you depart from and will cost somewhere in the range of $8 USD.
Alternatively, you can take a second class bus through the Oriente bus terminal in Mérida. These buses leave more frequently and the cost will be closer to $5 USD. However, these buses stop along the way so you’ll need to allocate extra time if you choose this option.
Entrance Fee: 533 MXN (about $26 USD per person)
A lesser-visited Mayan ruin located not far from the famous Chichén Itzá. The cool thing is, Uxmal is one of the few remaining Mayan ruins where you can still explore inside the temples and pretend you are Indiana Jones or Lara Croft.
How to Get There:
To take the bus from Mérida, buy a round trip bus ticket to Uxmal from the ADO TAME bus station between Calle 68 & 70. (This is a second class bus terminal across the street from the first class ADO CAME station.) Ask for the arrival times for your return because you will need to wait for the bus outside the site.
Small and not quite as impressive as the others on this list, but the carvings are well preserved and there are some incredible intricate details. Plus, it is part of many Hierve el Agua tours, and is easily accessible from Oaxaca.
How to get there: Probably your most comfortable option for getting to Milta from Oaxaca is by taxi. Most Oaxacan taxi drivers will take you to Mitla for the right price, just be sure to negotiate so you don’t get ripped off.
Entrance Fee: 65 pesos (just over $3 USD)
Our Favorite Mexico Ruin: Palenque
If you want to get off the typical tourist path and see one of Mexico’s best ruins, keep reading…
If you are seeking a truly unique and off the beaten path experience, head to Chiapas where you’ll find the Mayan ruins of Palenque tucked away in the jungle. Instead of being caught up in a crowd of sweaty tourists clutching selfie sticks, you’ll hear howler monkeys screeching and spot exotic birds flying overhead.
Though it can be a bit difficult to get to, exploring Palenque is worth the effort. Read up more about this lesser-traveled area of Chiapas for our top tips.
10. Go Trekking in the Sierra Norte Mountains
If you think Mexico is just about sand, sun and cocktails, we’re about to change your mind.
High up in the Sierra Norte Mountains lie 8 small autonomous villages. They are not controlled by the government, so they have their own laws, justice system and way of life. It is a fascinating place, and the best way to experience these “Pueblos Manucommunandos” is by hiking between them with a local guide.
Insead of palm trees, you’ll find pines. And the heat of the coast will be replaced with crisp mountain air. Spend your days where few tourists venture, meet the villagers who proudly call this place home and give back to their community.
Expediciones Sierra Norte has a big focus on eco-tourism, and we had a fantastic hiking experience in the Sierra Nortes. It was one of our favorite things to do in Mexico.
11. Visit Iglesia de San Juan Chamula: The most interesting church in the world
After a while, churches (or temples or mosques) start to blend together. But San Juan Chamula is different.
Located in a small village just outside San Cristobal, visitors are allowed to enter this church. But once you’re inside, photos are not allowed, and what you’ll see is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.
Unlike typical churches, there are no benches to sit on. Instead, pine needles are spread out on the floor and churchgoers sit on the ground. Thousands of candles flicker and traditional rituals are performed. You’ll hear chants and people praying frantically aloud. You’ll see chickens being sacrificed and liquor being drunk.
It’s something you have to see to believe. We would highly, HIGHLY recommend going with a guide, as you would never understand half the things in front of your eyes on your own. We are wary of tours, but this one was incredibly good and one of the best things to do in Chiapas.
12. Go chasing [Chiflon] Waterfalls
While traveling through Mexico and Central America, we saw our fair share of waterfalls. Big, small, crowded, tranquil. And one of our favorite waterfalls from our 3 months of travel in this region was El Chiflon, which is not far from San Cristobal.
The aquamarine water is such a brilliant a blue, you’ll wonder if your mind is playing tricks on you. Follow the trail and stop off at all the little paths that lead to secluded spots you’ll have all to yourself.
And when you finally make it to the main falls, you’ll be sprayed with mist of the many tons of water pounding down.
Do it yourself: Find out everything you need to know about visiting El Chiflon without a tour group.
13. Take a dip at Hierve el Agua
This petrified waterfall is a sight to behold. There are two cliffs that make up this attraction; the larger of the two is a white rock formation that looks just like water flowing over the edge of a waterfall. The second, smaller cliff has man-made pools that are perfect for swimming or snapping photos for Instagram.
Hierve el Agua was created by a mineral-rich spring, and is one only two petrified waterfalls in the world. And although the name means “the water boils over” in Spanish, the pools are deceivingly cool (but refreshing on a hot day).
Fun Fact: Find out where in the world the other petrified waterfall is!
Located not far from Oaxaca, many tour operators offer a popular day trip that includes seeing this waterfall along with a handful of other activities (world’s widest tree, ruins of Mitla, traditional weaving village, mezcal farm).
The tour is quite cheap and basically consists of a van that will drop you off at all the sights above. Read more about our Hierve el Agua experience.
Insider Tip: If you’d prefer to spend more time at the waterfall and go at your own pace, consider renting a car. This region is actually a very easy place to drive.
14. Cheer on Wrestlers at a Lucha Libre match
Lucha Libre is to Mexico what WWE is to the US. While not “real” wrestling at all, seeing one of these comically choreographed “fights” is one of the best things to do in Mexico City if your’e looking for a fun way to spend the evening.
Grab some beers at the concession booth, get comfy in your seats and be prepared to be entertained.
Lucha Libre matches are popular amongst locals, and it’s fun to watch them cheer for their favorites.
While you can join a tour group to see a Lucha Libre match, it is completely safe and easy to do it yourself (plus, it’s much cheaper). We’ve even put together all the directions and tips you’ll need to see a Lucha Libre match without a tour group.
15. Sample the best Mexican dishes on a Food Tour
There is so much more to traditional Mexican food than tacos and burritos. The food in Mexico varies by region, flavors and ingredients. In fact, Mexican cuisine is the first ever to receive UNESCO’s culinary cultural heritage status.
Mexico City is a foodie paradise, but where do you begin? With a cuisine as diverse (and delicious!) as you’ll find in Mexico, it’s difficult to know where to start.
Just like taking a cooking class, a food tour is a great way to get the inside scoop on the country’s cuisine and learn about the culture from a different perspective. Typically, you’ll try street food as well as restaurants. And you’ll be let in on some of the local hotspots and hidden gems that you’d never find on TripAdvisor.
We like taking food tours during our first days in a country, so we get acquainted with the cuisine and learn some tips for finding the best food during the rest of our trip.
Read up on our Mexico City Food Tour experience.
16. Bike around Mexico City
There is a certain stigma about Mexico City: It’s unclean and unsafe. You’ve heard that, right? Well, we had too.
But we were surprised to find it neither dirty or dangerous.
Our hotel had free bike rentals, so we hopped on and found it to be a fantastic way to explore the city.
We rode past beautiful architecture, hip cafes and cobblestone streets shaded by flowering trees. We found wide bike lanes and parks with people walking dogs and families enjoying the afternoon.
If your hotel doesn’t have bikes to use, you’ll find bike rentals all around the city, including a few bike share projects where you can rent them for a very reasonable price.
Sure, there are places that are unclean and unsafe, just like any city. Stick to neighborhoods like Coyoacan, Roma and La Condesa, and you’ll feel perfectly safe.
If you’re looking for a way to fit it all in, we put together the perfect 3-day itinerary for Mexico City covering all of our favorites (including a lot of the highlights covered in this article!).
17. Get in touch with your spiritual side in a Temazcal Ceremony
If connecting with your spiritual side is something you seek, this ancient Mayan ritual might be an interesting experience during your travels through Mexico.
Temazcal is a ceremony that takes place in a heated dome and involves being “whipped” with herbs paired with special massage techniques.
While this experience isn’t for everyone, it can be a very interesting thing to do in Mexico for those with an open mind. In fact, it was one of the highlights and favorite things to do in San Cristobal de las Casas.
Read more about our Temazcal experience so you know what to expect so you can determine if a temazcal ceremony is for you.
18. Eat ALL the tacos
Synonymous with Mexican cuisine, you can’t visit this country and NOT try a taco (or 72!). There are many different kinds of tacos, and each region has its specialty. Try tacos al pastor (pork and pineapple) in Central Mexico, fish tacos on the coast and carne asada in the north. You’ll even find a wide selection of vegan tacos in Mexico City.
And the beautiful thing about tacos is you’ll find them everywhere – from street vendors (our favorite) to fine dining restaurants – there is a taco for every budget and palate.
Go out and eat as many as you can, because it’s hard to match Mexico’s tacos anywhere else in the world.
Here are some of the types of Mexican tacos you should try to find:
- Al Pastor: This tacos consists of marinated pork cooked on a slow-turning vertical rotisserie and traditionally topped with pineapple, onion and cilantro.
- Carnitas: The literal translation of this word means ‘little meats’ which is a cute name for what is basically the Mexican version of pulled-pork.
- Barbacoa: Traditionally these tacos would be prepared with goat or sheep meat that is slow cooked over an open fire, but it’s most commonly found with beef these days.
- Birria: Similar to barbacoa tacos, but birra includes an extra step of letting the meat simmer in a spicy guajillo-chili broth.
- Chorizo: Influenced by the Spaniands, Mexicano chorizo is typically made with seasoned minced pork and makes an excellent taco filling.
- Suadero: Slow cooked beef marinated in citrus is what defines the suadero tacos, most commonly associated with street food in Mexico City.
19. Taste Mezcal
While many people think tequila is the most popular drink in Mexico, they’d be wrong. The alcohol of choice is mezcal, which is also derived from the agave plant.
While traveling in Mexico, it would be pretty difficult to not try the stuff (unless you don’t drink, of course).
You can find mezcal around the country, however, the best place to try it is in Oaxaca, as this region is famous for producing high quality spirits.
You can go to a mezcal farm where you’ll get to see the process of how it’s made, or you can pop into a little mezcaleria and do a tasting and choose your favorite. Or if you don’t like to drink the stuff straight, you can go to a restaurant that specializes in creative mezcal cocktails.
Lucky for you, we did our research and tried all three. Read up on some of the best places to taste mezcal in Oaxaca.
20. Learn how to make your favorite dishes in a Mexican Cooking Class
Mexican cuisine is one of our favorites, so we were super excited to learn how to make some dishes ourselves. We’re kind of obsessed with taking cooking classes on our travels, and when researching the best place to take a booking class in Mexico it was hard to choose.
Each region has their own style and flavor, and you could easily take cooking classes all around the country and have completely different experiences.
We ended up choosing to take a cooking class in Oaxaca, since this region is known to have some of the best food in Mexico. Plus, the cooking classes here are far cheaper than in Mexico City.
We had a blast going to a local market and shopping for ingredients before going to a local’s home where we learned how to cook several different dishes. Our host even made us perfect margaritas to enjoy with our meal. Salud!
21. Go sailing on the Lagoon of Seven Colors in Bacalar
Situated at the southern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, just north of the Belize border, the small town of Bacalar hasn’t been hit by mass tourism yet. Instead this town is more popular with backpackers and has a quiet and relaxed vibe. In fact it’s one of the best places to visit in Mexico for off-the-beaten-path destinations.
The real draw to this small lake-side town is the Lagoon of Seven Colors, named such as it appears in seven miraculous shades of blue.
Sadly, with the effects of climate change and growing tourism, the once brilliant lagoon has begun to fade. As such the only way we’d recommend experiencing this natural wonder is by eco-friendly sailboat.
Take a sail boat tour around the lower portion of the lake starting near Xul-Ha. This section of the water is still turquoise blue and sailing allows you to get close to the water to see the stromatolites, or living rocks, up close from the boat.
Yes, you read that right, living rocks!
Stromatolites are prehistoric (really, really old) rocks that have the special ability to photosynthesize and therefore filter the water using sunlight and release oxygen. These rocks have gained this ability over millions of years and can be ruined by one step of a tourist.
Do not touch or walk on these unique rocks that are helping regenerate the Lagoon of Seven Colors.
How to get there: Bacalar is about a 3-hour drive straight down the coast from Playa del Carmen through Tulum. The easiest way to get there is to rent a car and drive yourself. However, ADO buses make the journey once a day from Playa del Carmen. A ticket will cost you about $25 USD and the ride will take 4 hours.
22. Explore Chapultepec Castle
The Chapultapec Castle will make you swear you’ve been transported out of Mexico City and straight to the south of France (or somewhere else in Europe).
Set atop a hill in Chapultapec Park, visitors get an unparalleled view of Mexico City. And inside the castle itself, you’ll be wowed with immaculate murals, lavishly decorated royal rooms and manicured gardens.
Insider Tip: Riding through the park on bike is a great way to get to get to Chapultapec Castle.
23. Explore Isla Holbox on a bicycle
Isla Holbox (pronounced ‘hole-bah-shh’) is an island off the north coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. Part of the Yum Balam Nature Reserve and is only accessible by ferry, this car-free island is a unique place to explore on foot or better yet, with a bicycle!
Once you’re there, you can check out the street art, shops and eateries all over town. Or peddle to the beach where you’ll find a mile-long sandbar to stroll down.
Just park your bike just past Hotel de Nubes and follow the small trail at the end of the road to the water. You’ll have the wade into chest deep water for about 50 feet until you reach the sandbar.
We have an entire guide to visiting Isla Holbox, including all the best things to do, where to eat and where to stay.
Other highlights of the island include:
- Kayaking through mangroves in the nature preserve
- Viewing bioluminescent plankton at night
- Swimming with whale sharks (if you’re on the island from June – Sept)
- Taking a boat tour to see the flamingos in the Yalahau Lagoon
24. Float down the colorful canals of Xochimilco
The colorful neighborhood of Xochimilco is an UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its canals and floating gardens. As one of the most touristy things to do in Mexico, it’s also a popular place for locals to celebrate special occasions, like birthdays and quinceañeras.
Some love it and others hate it, but no matter where you stand, there’s no arguing Xochimilco is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced.
The waterways are filled with trajineras, which you can rent by the hour and ride through the canal way, past mariachi bands and food vendors. This activity is best enjoyed in large groups (the boats can carry up to 15 passengers!) but you can still get a private boat if you are only a few.
There are tours to this famous spot, but it’s easy to visit Xochimilco on your own. It is just a 45 minute Uber ride outside of the city. Once you arrive, you will see the trajineras lined up and ready for boarding. Just walk up and negotiate a price for you and your group based on how long you want to float.
You can easily spend about half your day floating down the canals in trajineras, the colorful, hand-painted traditional boats.
Bring your own alcohol and snacks or wait until you get there to fill up on local favorites (like Micheladas!). There will be boats selling all kinds of snacks and drinks along the canals, so come hungry!
Tip: Bring your own speaker to enjoy your favorite music (though you may be competing with other boats and mariachi bands passing by!)
25. Have an delicious brunch
While brunch might not be the first thing you think of when traveling to Mexico, we can assure you that the brunch scene is ahhh-mazing.
You’ll find fantastic bakeries and trendy brunch spots in the bigger cities, like Mexico City and Oaxaca, and you’ll be surrounded by locals and other travelers looking for a morning pick-me-up.
Here are some top brunch spots:
Playa del Carmen:
26. Search for street art
One of our favorite free activities in any city around the world is getting lost and searching for street art. Many cities in Mexico have a growing graffiti art scene, but some of the best artwork we saw was in Oaxaca.
Just wander around the streets and see what you find. It’s a great cheap thing to do in Mexico, because it’s free and can easily be paired with other activities.
27. Experience thrilling nightlife
You’ll find great nightlife all around Mexico, and there is a scene for everyone.
Whether you want live music, hole-in-the-wall atmosphere, craft beer, rooftop views or a proper nightclub, you’ll find it.
- Mexico City: La Condesa and Roma neighborhoods are chock full of places to go out and get a drink.
- Oaxaca: The streets just west of Santo Domingo are pretty lively once it gets dark. Check out Los Amantes Mezcalería and Coffee Prague Bar for some nights out.
- San Cristobal: Head to Real de Guadalupe for the best nightlife. La Viña de Bacco has decently priced wines and you get tapas with every order.
- Mérida: There is always something going on in the Plaza Grande after dark. The street with the most bars in the central historical district is Calle 62.
- Puerta Vallarta: You’ll find plenty of nighttime hotspots in Zona Romantica. Walk the Malecon boardwalk to find the biggest clubs in town.
- Playa del Carmen: Whether you’re looking for live music, salsa dancing or hip DJ sets, you’ll find all the nightlife you can imagine on (and around) 5th Avenue.
Psst! Read up on all the fun things to do in Playa del Carmen before your visit.
28. Explore the largest indigenous market in Latin America
Exploring local markets is one of the best ways to get a glimpse into the everyday lives of locals.
Just a 45-minute drive outside of Oaxaca City, the town of Tlacolula grows exponentially in size each Sunday when they hold their weekly market.
We’ve been to our fair share of markets around Asia, Europe and South America, so I guess you could say it takes a bit to impress us. But impress us it did.
At this market, you’ll find mangoes next to DVDs, and bras next to potatoes.
But the most interesting part of this market is that it draws indigenous peoples from all around the region. They come here to sell their own goods or to stock up for the week, and you’ll see a variety of colorful and intricately designed traditional clothing.
Read up on our tips for visiting the Tlacolula Market during your time in Oaxaca (including how to get there).
29. Be serenaded by a mariachi band
This style of music is ubiquitous in Mexican culture, and it’s likely you’ll hear the catchy melodies of stringed instruments and cheerful voices without searching hard.
Mariachi Square in Mexico City (Plaza Garibaldi) is a surefire way to see a singing quartet in their signature suits.
30. Visit a traditional weaving village
Supporting local artisans is a wonderful way to give back to the place you’re visiting while coming home from your travels with a unique souvenir.
Even if you don’t plan to buy anything, learning about the process of making handcrafted rugs is really interesting. Not far from Oaxaca City, there is a collection of small villages where the main trade is weaving rugs and wall hangings using natural materials and dyes. They are made completely by hand on a loom, and it is quite interesting to see the work in action.
If you do want to take one of these beauties home with you, be prepared to spend at least $50 USD (for a small piece) and upwards for larger rugs. Once you see the process and the natural materials that are used to craft these pieces by hand, you’ll understand the pricing.
31. Float in a hot air balloon over Teotihuacán
Just about an hour and a half drive from Mexico City, Teotihuacán is a massive archeological complex with notably intact ancient ruins. Pronounced “tay-oh-tee-wah-KAHN”, these ruins are all that’s left of what was once a thriving Mesoamerican metropolis.
The highlights here are the Pyramid of the Moon and the Pyramid of the Sun, both of which you can climb up to get a view of the whole ruins.
While climbing the pyramids can be entertaining, the best way to see Teotihuacán is from the sky!
A hot air balloon tour of the ruins at sunrise is one of the top things to do in Mexico. You can find tours on Get Your Guide to include transportation to and from the city, plus breakfast, a 1 hour balloon flight and entrance to the park on foot afterwards.
Insider Tip: To avoid the crowds, try to arrive at the site as early as possible (the site opens at 9 a.m.). Don’t forget to pack plenty of water and wear sun protection, as there isn’t much shade at this archeological site.
32. Try some strange food
If tasting tacos and mole sauce sounds a little boring to you (you might be crazy!), there are plenty of foods for the adventurous foodie to try.
- Mezcal worms: These little guys typically put in a bottle of mezcal for a bit more flavoring.
- Huitlacoche: Somewhat of a delicacy, this fungus that grows on an ear of corn–also know as corn smut–can be quite tasty in a quesadilla. Don’t knock it ‘til ya try it!
- Crickets: Do you like your crickets, spicy, salty, with a little garlic, or just plain? Because you can get all these flavors at many markets around Mexico.
- Bone marrow: Found often in stews, this interested ingredient has been rumored to be a secret to living a long life. With a rich and buttery flavor, sign me up if this is what longevity tastes like!
- Beef tongue: Try it on a taco, you’ll be surprised. You’ll see it on the menu as taco de lengua.
33. Learn about chocolate
Mexico is said to be the birthplace of chocolate, and if you love the stuff as much as we do, be sure to stop in a chocolate shop. They sell chocolate, of course, but they often have information on the process that goes into creating your favorite sweet treat.
Sit down and stay a while and enjoy a hot chocolate that’s made in front of you with the traditional wooden stir stick, called a molinillo.
Oaxaca is a great place to try hot chocolate. Find our favorite chocolate shop in Oaxaca.
34. Appreciate the diverse architecture
Mexico has no shortage of stunning architecture and colors to make any photographer dreamy-eyed.
From the European-inspired buildings of Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, to colonial churches and pastel facades in Oaxaca, to the steep cobblestone streets in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico’s architecture is both beautiful and diverse.
Venture to Tulum and Merida on the Yucatan Peninsula or Los Cabos in Baja for totally different vibes. Or make your way to San Miguel de Allende to explore this charmingly colorful town.
35. Learn about Frida Kahlo
You can’t travel far in Mexico without seeing paintings of this beloved artist. Known for her incredible artistic talents and her outspoken personality, Frida Kahlo is an iconic symbol of feminism and hope; and Mexicans are proud to call her their own.
The Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City is incredibly interesting, and describes a life of pain, beauty, fame and struggles.
Read all our top things to know before visiting the Frida Kahlo Museum.
Safety for Backpacking Mexico
Mexico has a reputation for violence and travelers often question whether this is a safe destination to visit.
We never once felt unsafe during our time in Mexico and we met several women traveling solo who felt the same.
That said, the reputation for violence is not unfounded. Before your visit, research the destinations you intend on visiting and see the current, up-to-date news.
Also, read up on our top tips for traveling safely, no matter where you are in the world.
2 Weeks in Mexico Itinerary
Mexico was the starting point of our 3 month journey through Central America. So we tried to budget our time wisely in Mexico and only visited 3 areas: CDMX, Oaxaca, Chiapas. We wished we had more than 2 weeks in Mexico, and can’t wait to get back in the future to explore more of this diverse country.
The fantastic part about visiting Mexico is you can pack in a ton of adventure, culture, food (and beaches if you’d like) in a short amount of time. We did all of the activities above (except for visiting the cenotes in the Yucatan) in just 2 and half weeks.
If you have 2 weeks and you’d like an adventure-packed trip in Central Mexico, this is the route we’d suggest:
- Mexico City: 3-4 days
- Oaxaca: 5-6 days
- Chiapas: 5-6 days
Check out our video from our 2-week backpacking trip through Mexico for inspiration…
(Hint: if you don’t see the video, you’ll need to disable your adblocker first)
Have more time? If you have more time, head up to the Yucatan, and catch a cheap flight out of Cancun, or add more time in the state of Oaxaca to get to the beautiful beaches in Puerto Escondido.
Are you planning a trip to Mexico?
If you’re planning a trip to Mexico, we’ve got loads of helpful resources for you! Start with our Mexico Travel Homepage, where you’ll find general info, and be sure to check out the articles below. Leave us a comment if you have any questions!
- You’ll wanna read up on the best places to visit in Mexico and keep this guide to the coolest Airbnbs in Mexico handy.
- Read this first if you’re planning some travel around the Yucatan Peninsula.
- If you have some more time to explore, you’ll want to check out these cenotes in Mexico, and the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, the true hidden gems of the Yucatan.
- If you’re a digital nomad, you’ll want to try out all the fun things to do in Playa del Carmen.
- Save this article if you’re planning a trip to Isla Holbox, Mexico island oasis.
- And don’t leave without spending some time exploring Mexico’s safest city, Merida.
- Read our ADO bus guide for the cheapest way to travel around Mexico.
- If you want more freedom, you might consider getting a car rental in Mexico to explore more hidden gems.
- There are tons of things to do in Mexico City, which makes a great destination for all types of travelers.
- While you’re at it, this 3-day Mexico City itinerary makes for an epic vacation.
- Don’t skip our favorite underrated region, Chiapas, Mexico!
- There are plenty of unique things to do in San Cristobal, which also makes a great home base for exploring the surrounding nature, like El Chiflon waterfalls.
- If you’re headed west, here’s a great guide for things to do in Oaxaca, which is also where you’ll find the best food in Mexico!
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We want to hear from you!
Have you been to Mexico? What are your favorite places to visit? Are you heading to Mexico?Was this article helpful in planning your trip? Let us know in the comments below!
Comments (29) on “35 Incredible Things to Do in Mexico (that aren’t beaches!)”
Hello, Guys, thanks for your list, I have 10 years in Mexico and see I still have some things to do. I am surprise you did not speak much about Vallarat, I live there. I share this long list of things to do, maybe you would come to test some of them ; https://vivalatina-shop.com/blogs/custom-made-jewelry/things-to-do-in-puerto-vallarta
Awesome list! I am preparing for my second trip to Mexico now, I have seen Yukatan and Chiapas so I’m super excited to see the remaining part of the country. Thank you for the ideas!
hy i am actually at mexico right know and thanks for the great list. i am wondering where the first picture is? that looks amazing.
Hi Jolanda, the photo at the top of the article is actually from El Chiflon waterfalls in Chiapas. We have an entire article on how to get there without a tour (#24 on the list!).
Love your post! Great deets on hidden gems and some beautiful nature trips. This is exactly what I was looking for.
Ohh and great pictures too!!
Amazing piece! Please can you share details of your various tour guides as well as hotels you stayed at during your visit?
Amazing and pretty I want to visit Mexico
I so want to visit Mexico – for its history, culture and colorful flair. I can see some glimpses in California, so I wonder how fantastic the real one would be! Thanks for the wonderful details and tips on Mexico.
Love all of your ideas! I’d especially enjoy the waterfalls (they look amazing!), cenotes, ruins, and learning about chocolate. Thanks for sharing – I’ll definitely be using these when we go again.
What a great list! I always want to spend more time is this beautiful country and explore its history and nature. And also eat all of the tacos! 😉
Awesome list! I´m so jealous about the Lucha Libre thing! I´ve been to Cancun last year for a couple of days at the beach but I haven´t made it to a Lucha Libre Event. I´m such a Wrestling fan :-O
I enjoyed this article so much! I libe in central Mexico (mountains, not beaches), so I do tend to vacation in areas with beaches. However, I have been around central Mexico some and I love to see all the amazing things to do here. Like the petrified water falls – I didn’t even know of their existence! I did try grasshoppers at the cave restaurant outside of Teotihuacan and brain street tacos. I highly recommend the amazing food in Mexico, too.
We’ve taken three trips to Mexico in the last year or so, but barely scratched the surface! Can’t wait to go back and visit some of these places!
Mexico is a place I really want to visit next. Chitzen Itza is definitely on my bucket list. We’re not into resort type holidays and love exploring a country in full.
Hey Rio! You would love Mexico, and there are tons of ancient ruins all over the country to check out!
I hate the idea of just staying in a resort for my whole holiday, you barely experience a place! The chocolate looks the best part of this list for me, as a complete addict, but I also love street art and I think I would be in my element in Mexico!
I think we think alike, Amber. We’re not really "sit by the beach" type of people. The street art is super cool in Mexico, especially in Oaxaca!
Wow! Mexico does have so much to do! Would love to make a visit there! Thanks for the informative and resourceful guide! The pictures are amazing too!
Thanks so much Anjali!
Great list and tips! Mexico has so much to offer and so many delicious foods I want to try! Also, that waterfalls looks amazing!
Oh yes, Lyne, the waterfalls are excellent! We had so much fun playing around in them!
Wow, so many beautiful pictures and amazing suggestions in this post that I just want to buy a ticket to Mexico. I have been planning to visit this country for a long time and it never worked out for me. Hopefully one day I’ll get there too!
You should bump it higher up your list! Haha, we cannot say enough good things about Mexico!
I know what you mean! People often fall into the ‘stay in a resort the whole time’ trap. You might as well have stayed at a resort in your home country! There’s no difference if you don’t leave the hotel hahah
Exactly, and there is so much to see in Mexico. It’s such a beautiful country and the Mexican people are amazing! Highly encourage anyone to travel throughout Mexico!
This is awesome! It makes me want to go to Mexico! Looks like you had a great adventure. Pinning this article to save for my future trip to such a color country. Thanks for this!
Awesome, Thanks Lindsey! I bet you would really enjoy visiting Mexico!
Wow, thanks for writing such a detailed awesome post 🙂 Hierve el Agua looks so Dreamy!!
Thanks Richa! We loved every bit of our travels in Mexico and would highly recommend it to anyone!