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Things to Do in Mexico

Mexico conjures images of ancient ruins, colonial towns, endless beaches, and cities pulsing with life. The country's two long coastlines lure travelers with countless opportunities for fun in the sun. On the west coast, the Pacific Pipeline—legendary among surfers—runs from Baja all the way past Puerto Escondido, while the Caribbean side is better known for spectacular coral reefs and warmer, gentler seas. On either coast, you'll find boating, parasailing, diving, snorkeling, fishing, kayaking, and more. Whether you prefer the flashy resorts of Los Cabos and Cancun, upscale Playa del Carmen, or the more traditional glamour of Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco, Mexico has a beach town for you. Blessed with natural beauty and a rich heritage, Mexico also boasts the largest number of UNESCO-listed sites in North America, including the Maya ruins of Palenque, Chichen Itza, Tulum, and Coba. From grand colonial cities like Puebla and Oaxaca, to the many "pueblos magicos" (magical towns), such as Taxco and Valladolid, Mexico's colorful streets and regional cuisines never fail to enchant. The country's abundant tropical rainforests are home to a variety of wildlife, and eco-adventure parks like Xel-ha on the Riviera Maya pack in family-style fun with ziplining, hiking, and guided safaris. Many visitors arrive via Mexico City, and while the sprawling capital can be overwhelming at first, don't be deterred. Cultural riches await you, including a world-class art scene, historical museums, cosmopolitan dining, nonstop nightlife, and easy access to the Teotihuacan pyramids. Just don't try to drive.
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Malecón
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Running 5 kilometers where the town meets the sea, the Malecón is a main road of La Paz. Lined with restaurants, bars, and shops, it is an energetic center of tourist activity. Its wide, clean boulevard is dotted with small sculptures, benches, and beachgoers, all with views of the sand and palm trees. It is a great place to take a peaceful stroll, though often you’ll be joined by those cycling or jogging the path.

The presence of vendors, musicians, and fisherman make it a lively hotspot to gather and take in the local culture. Often artists have their work on display by the small pier. It’s an especially good spot to grab a seafood lunch made with fresh ingredients from the surrounding waters. The Malecón also comes alive at night, beginning with the sunset that many come to view from the edge of the sand.

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La Bufadora
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On a peninsula along the Baja California coast, the blowhole ‘La Bufadora’ is a marine geyser that shoots ocean water straight up into the air. It occurs naturally from ocean waves that push water into a sea cavern, which causes the pressure to build and then explode when the water recedes. Depending on the level of the tide, the water can climb as high as 60 feet from the sea.

It’s often seen after a short scenic drive from nearby Ensenada, and has become well known as a natural phenomenon of the area. Legend explains that one of the many grey whales that migrate off the coast here swam too close to shore, and that the geyser is reminiscent of the whale’s spout while waiting to be discovered. There are always beautiful views of the coast here, and a small local square with shops and restaurants nearby.

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Xihuacan Museum and Archaeological Site (Museo Xihuacan)
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Opened to the public in 2013, the Xihuacan Museum and Archeological Site offers a unique look at a pre-Columbian temple site as archeologists uncover it. Located in the area around Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, on Mexico’s Pacific coast, the archeological site include a religious pyramid about 45 feet tall and 300 feet square at the base, which remains only partially uncovered, and an ancient ball court that is one of the largest ancient courts in Mexico, second only to Chichen Itza’s. The nearby museum houses around 800 artifacts uncovered at the site, including ancient pottery, tools and art works, along with exhibits about the people who inhabited the area across more than four millennia.

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Tulum
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Tulum, the site of a Pre-Columbian Maya walled city and a port for Coba, is one of the best preserved coastal Mayan cities in the Yucatan, in tandem with Chichen Itza and Ek Balam. Highlights of this archaeological site include the Temple of the Frescoes, which has spectacular figurines of the 'diving god.'

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La Quebrada Cliff Divers
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Acapulco's iconic attraction, made famous in Elvis flicks, Ray Austen stunts, and every cheerfully scrawled holiday postcard sent home ever since, are La Quebrada Cliff Divers. Beginning in the 1920s, these brave young men and women began leaping for the crowds some 45 craggy meters (150 terrifying feet) into a wave-crashed inlet just 4 meters (13 feet) deep. And that's if they time it just right.

The ritual begins with a prayer at the shrine to La Virgen de Guadalupe, carved into the cliff-top platform. Then, the divers carefully calculate when their target will have enough water to soften their fall. Finally, they leap. First in the afternoon, and as the sun sets, again. The final dive of the night plunges past torches into a sea of fire (lit with flaming gasoline), no easy feat.

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Rio Secreto Nature Reserve
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Rio Secreto, or the “Secret River,” is a series of caves carved out by the flow of an ancient underground river in Mexico. While the reserve is most famous for its large half-sunken cavern—a popular diving spot—you can also explore eerie passageways, swim in the river, and admire dripping stalactites, stalagmites, and colorful mineral formations.

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Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California)
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The Sea of Cortez (or Gulf of California) lies between the Baja California Peninsula and mainland Mexico. This stretch of the Pacific, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the most diverse seas in the world and home to more than 3,000 marine species, including hammerhead sharks, sea lions, and sea turtles.

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Arch of Cabo San Lucas (El Arco)
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A signature landmark of Los Cabos, El Arco de Cabo San Lucas—known locally as simply “El Arco” or “the Arch”—is a limestone arch carved by time, tide, and wind. The natural attraction runs runs down to the water’s edge at Land’s End, the southern tip of Cabo San Lucas (which itself is at the southern end of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula) and into the Sea of Cortez. From a distance, the rock formation looks like a dragon; up close, the arch frames sky, sea, and sand for prime photos.

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Huatulco National Park (Parque Nacional Huatulco)
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In 1998 this national park, which spans tens of thousands of acres of Oaxaca countryside, was declared a protected area and later designated as a UNESCO Biosphere reserve. As a result, Huatulco National Park has become a destination for travelers looking to get back to nature and spot rare species of animals and birds that exist nowhere else in the world.

Exhaustive conservation efforts have preserved the ecosystems of the tropical forests, mangroves, coral reefs and wetlands that make up this park. Visitors agree the park’s untouched beauty makes it worth a trip and easy access from nearby Cruz Huatulco means it a breeze to get to. Despite easy access this crystal blue bay manages to remain untouched. So whether it’s charting a boat to snorkel, dive, or fish in the pristine surrounding waters, or lounging on one of the deserted beaches, Huatulco National Park offers visitors a chance to experience the country as it used to be.

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Cabo San Lucas
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Love it, hate it, or can’t remember it, there’s no denying that Mexico’s Cabo San Lucas is a town fueled by fun and firewater. From deep-sea fishing to fishbowl sipping, Cabo always delivers on its reputation as the Baja Peninsula’s favorite resort town thanks to its combination of kid-friendly water sports, whale-watching opportunities, world-class beaches, and raging nightlife.

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More Things to Do in Mexico

Mision de Nuestra Senora del Pilar (Our Lady of Pilar Church)

Mision de Nuestra Senora del Pilar (Our Lady of Pilar Church)

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Founded by Father Jaime Bravo in 1723, the mission sits against the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Todos Santos on the Pacific Baja coast. Originally developed as an outpost of a larger mission in nearby La Paz, it became the principle mission of the Jesuits in the area upon its closure. With colorful stained glass surrounding the altar, the interior contains the statue of the Virgin of Pilar that the town celebrates annually with a festival in October. It has become a religious and historic landmark of Todos Santos.

Perched high on the hills above town, a visit to the mission offers views of the ocean and the Valle del Pilar. The structure is surrounded by colorful flowers, clean and simple in its design. The Virgin of Pilar is considered the patron saint of Todos Santos, and the mission remains a symbol at the heart of the area.

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Taxco

Taxco

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High in the rugged mountains of the northern state of Guerrero, the city of Taxco de Alarcon was once an isolated Spanish stronghold. Today, it is known for its silver mines and the generations of artisans who create some of Mexico's most beautiful jewelry. In addition to the silver shops, take in the town’s architectural and natural attractions.

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Querétaro

Querétaro

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Looking for a quaint escape from the hustle and bustle of Mexico City? Queretaro is the place for you. With the full name of Santiago de Quertetaro, this town is the capital of the small but diverse Mexican state of Queretaro.

A step back into colonial times, Queretaro is known for its history, culture and pink stoned walls. See the Art Museum, the Regional Museum or the odd but pleasurable Mathematics Museum. The city center has some affordable street vendors selling local arts and crafts, and the colonial center of the city has two bullrings. Not too far from Mexico City, here you can find not just stimulating history and good shopping but also great traditional Mexican food as well. Memos, Che Che, and Los Compadres all serve up great traditional Mexican fare at a fair price all in the historic city center.

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Diego Rivera House-Museum (Museo Casa Diego Rivera)

Diego Rivera House-Museum (Museo Casa Diego Rivera)

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Visit this museum to see Diego Rivera's early childhood home, which has been turned into a museum dedicated to his life and work. Alongside original artworks and the personal effects of Rivera—one of Mexico’s most influential muralists and artists—you may also see temporary exhibits from other artists.

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Teotihuacan

Teotihuacan

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Known as the City of the Gods, Teotihuacán was the metropolis of a mysterious Mesoamerican civilization that reached its zenith around AD 100. Once the largest city in the region but abandoned centuries before the arrival of the Aztecs, Teotihuacán boasts towering pyramids and stone temples with detailed statues and intricate murals.

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Merida Cathedral (Catedral de San Ildefonso)

Merida Cathedral (Catedral de San Ildefonso)

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The second oldest cathedral in the Americas, the Mérida Cathedral (Catedral de San Ildefonso) was built atop a Mayan temple in the 16th century. Notable for its relatively austere façade and surprisingly stark Moorish interior, Mérida Cathedral also houses some of Mérida’s most significant religious artifacts, including the Christ of Blisters statue.

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Monte Albán

Monte Albán

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One of the oldest cities in the Americas, Monte Albán—an ancient Zapotec capital—is perhaps the most important archaeological site in Oaxaca and among the largest in Mexico. Head to Monte Albán’s flat mountain top for views of the city, then explore the vast site’s temples, tombs, underground tunnels, and ball court.

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Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza

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One of the Seven Wonders of the World, Chichen Itza—meaning "at the mouth of the well of the Itza"—is Mexico's most-visited archaeological site, a magnificent display of the advanced civilization of the Maya people and the ceremonial center of the Yucatan.

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Mazatlan Lighthouse (El Faro)

Mazatlan Lighthouse (El Faro)

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Thought to be the highest lighthouse in the Americas, El Faro in Mazatlán sits 523 feet above sea level and has been in operation since 1879. Now a Mazatlán landmark, visitors can walk along the glass lookout platform, admire panoramic views over the port city of Mazatlán, and catch some of the city’s best sunsets.

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El Malecon

El Malecon

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Like most boardwalks, Puerto Vallarta’s promenade, known as El Malecon, is dotted with sightseeing opportunities, cafes, shops, galleries, and performers. Overlooking the Bay of Banderas, the mile-long stretch offers scenic views during the day. And in the evening, the waterfront nightclubs and discos open their doors to party-seeking locals and visitors.

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Mr. Sancho's Beach Club Cozumel

Mr. Sancho's Beach Club Cozumel

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Set on a private stretch of white sand, Mr. Sancho’s Beach Club Cozumel allows you to avoid the island’s beachfront crowds and offers amenities for a relaxing seaside experience. Here you can swim in the Caribbean ocean, sample all you can eat from the restaurant and bar, float in the infinity pool, and relax in shaded cabanas.

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Guadalajara Cathedral

Guadalajara Cathedral

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The heart of every Mexican city is its cathedral, and Guadalajara is no exception. Officially known as the Basílica de la Asunción de Nuestra Señora de la Santísima Virgen María, the Guadalajara Cathedral towers over the city’s central plazas. A mishmash of Gothic, baroque, Moorish, and neoclassical styles, the building is atypical for a Mexican cathedral, and its unusual design has made it an emblem of the city.

Since 1561, the massive cathedral has weathered eight earthquakes, two of which did serious damage. An 1818 quake demolished the central dome and towers. The distinctive tiled towers you see today date back to1854. The interior is awesome in the original sense of the word; the stained glass windows are reminiscent of Notre Dame, and 11 silver and gold altars were gifts from Spain’s King Fernando VII. But it’s not all just finery --- the cathedral also has its share of macabre relics. Under the great altar you’ll find the crypts of bishops and cardinals, which date back to the sixteenth century. And to the left of the main altar you’ll see the Virgin of Innocence, which contains the bones of a 12-year-old girl who was martyred in the third century, forgotten, and rediscovered in the Vatican catacombs 1400 years later. The bones were shipped to Guadalajara in 1788.

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Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park

Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park

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Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park encompasses the island’s best-known diving and snorkeling spots, including the Palancar, Columbia, and Paradise reefs, as well as the Devil’s Throat at Punta Sur and the shipwreck ofFelipe Xicoténcatl—a minesweeper ship used in WWII. The park houses up to 26 species of coral and 300 species of fish.

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San Pedro Cholula

San Pedro Cholula

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San Pedro Cholula is a municipality located in the town of Cholula, which is part of the Mexican state of Puebla. Its many historic sites plus its under the radar atmosphere makes it an excellent area of Mexico to visit.

A top site in San Pedro Cholula is the Place de la Concorde, which is the main plaza in Cholula and is where much of the action occurs. An aesthetically defining aspect of the plaza is Los Portales, a blue wall consisting of 46 arches that stretches down one side of Place de la Concorde. The San Gabriel Monastery is another prominent site in Cholula; it was built on the site of the Quetzalcoatl Temple in the mid-1500s and is one of the largest Franciscan monasteries in Mexico.

The site that draws the most attention for visitors to San Pedro Cholula, though, is the Great Pyramid of Cholula, an ancient pre-Columbian temple that has the largest pyramidal base of any structure in the world. It also happens to be buried underground. Construction began after it was discovered in 1910 to unearth part of the pyramid and today visitors can walk through pathways beneath the earth to explore the Great Pyramid of Cholula. A hike to the top of the outside of the pyramid provides great views of Cholula and the surrounding area.

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