I had the pleasure of spending 3 months traveling in Mexico in early 2016. As I boarded the plan leaving home I began my voyage with no expectations, and the only thing I was certain about was that I wanted to go absolutely everywhere except Cancun.
In this article you will discover some of Mexico’s best kept secrets. What you won’t find here is mention of all inclusive resorts, package deal tours or high-rise hotels that keep you locked in and gated from the vibrant culture, friendly local smiles and vast beauty that this incredible country has to offer.
Here are a few of my favorite places that you’ll find on your next visit to Mexico – should you wish to venture off the beaten track.
This isolated fishing village is hidden off the Pacific Coastline, a 1hr boat ride south of Puerto Vallarta. The cobblestone roads and sandy pathways into the jungle and nearby waterfalls make way for a fun adventure on horseback or quad bikes.
There isn’t much tourism in Yelapa. No Aztec ruins. No nightclubs. No wifi. No backpacker hostels. You’ll go here to relax and enjoy the beauty of being on an island with no distractions.
For the more adventurous types, you can hire a boat and explore neighboring islands, go fishing with the locals or try the local drink Raicilla. Not for the faint hearted, Raicilla is Mexican Moonshine that is made from the Agave plant (the same as Tequila).
The Raicilla you’ll find in Yelapa is made with a little more spice than you’ll find elsewhere. According to locals of Yelapa, they use a variety of agave plants in the distillation and some contain mescaline, the hallucinogenic found in peyote.
The Mayan ruins of Palenque are located in the jungle of Chiapas and you can easily spend a whole day here exploring.
Climbing up and throughout the temples and ruins, I really felt like I was stepping back in time to a lost civilization, the experience of which can only fully be appreciated by being there and absorbing the magic of these thousand year old remnants of a distant era.
I’m not one for crowds, and if I have to stand in line for something, chances are I’ll avoid it altogether. Palenque is much less touristy and crowded than the popular Chichen Itza Ruins in the Yucatan, giving you more time for stepping back in time, not out of other people’s holiday-snaps!
There are loads of walkways and hidden paths that lead you through the jungle and between sites. If you look keep your eyes peeled, you’re bound to see howler monkeys in the trees, and you’ll definitely hear them!
A surrealist sculpture park built by a mad Englishman in the middle of a sub-tropical rainforest, surrounded by waterfalls and natural swimming pools. Las Pozas is nothing short of magical with impressive architecture and a touch of madness.
The creator Mr Edward James was an eccentric billionaire philanthropist & one day in the 1950’s decided that he’d had quite enough of the city life of London. The very next day he left England to spend the rest of his days building a garden in the heart of the Mexican jungle.
As you approach the gates to this jungle garden you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a real life enchanted kingdom. Every childhood fairytale dream come true. Waterfalls you can climb into, sculptures you can climb over and on, rock pools so crystal clear they sparkle like they’re filled with diamonds.
The wild journey there will take you roughly 17hrs on a bus north of Mexico City. The winding road takes you through cloud forests, green valleys and mountain tops while hugging a very steep cliffside – best not to peer out the window if you don’t like heights. Las Pozas is then a 20 minute walk from the main square of Xilitla.
This tiny surfing town boasts one of the most famous surfing destinations you’ll find in Central America. Every year big wave and pipe surfers from around the world flock to this little beach town to enjoy or compete in events.
If you’re new to surfing or just looking to relax then head down to La Punta or Zicatela beach, both a short walk north from Escondido where you’ll find more friendly waves.
The sunsets in Escondido are by far the best I’ve ever seen. Every afternoon the whole town will stop what they’re doing and make their way to a lookout or sit on the beach and watch the beautiful sun set over the horizon.
It was a beautiful reminder to take a moment to stop and appreciate the simple everyday joys of life.
You can find basic beachside bungalows for around $15USD per night, but check the dates you’re planning to go because if there’s a surf comp, or a festival, Escondido fills up fast!
San Lorenzo Albaracas is a small village 70km outside of Oaxaca City. It’s not hard to find tour companies that travel here daily. Hierve el Agua from a distance looks like a waterfall but it is actually a formation of dried natural mineral salts that create the effect of running water.
There are also salt mineral pools you can swim in that overlook a desert of rolling hills covered with cactus vegetation. The salt pools with their high mineral content are reputed to have healing qualities… and you’re skin will be marshmallow soft afterwards!
San Miguel de Allende
I challenge you to not fall in love with San Miguel. This romantic city is decorated with colorful streets, Spanish influenced architecture and colonial charm.
The main destination here is the church. Standing tall in the centre square you couldn’t miss it if you tried. Looking like the Disneyland Castle, the 17th Century Parroquia was build from pink limestone and lights up the whole centre of town at night.
The charms of the city capture the hearts of many, so it’s no surprise that San Miguel is home to a large expat community of artists, writers, dancers and musicians from all over the world.
That being said, there are loads of museums and boutique art stores decorated with paintings, sculptures and beautiful clothes to occupy your time as you wander the streets.
There are also loads of excellent coffee shops, rooftop bars and fine dining restaurants where you can enjoy a glass of vino as you gaze down over the dancers and performers in the streets who create a warm and lively atmosphere to the city come nightfall.