Chichén Itzá is arguably Mexico’s biggest archaeological tourist trap. Once you’ve battled the queues to get in, the walkways are lined with vendors selling dubious traveller tat and blowing on whistles which replicate monkey calls. Oh, and good luck getting any photos with no interlopers spoiling the shot! No, instead you should go to Palenque, Chiapas. As it’s a far more verdant archaeological ruin, and one that’s popular but not too popular, so you’ll have a much more immersive experience.
Skip Mexico City and head to Guadalajara to get that big city experience without all the chaos. A sprawling region surrounded by plenty of day-trip worthy spots, Guadalajara has small-town Mexican charm with all the amenities you could possibly need. From nightlife, to top-class dining options and impressive regional dishes, you’ll wonder why people so often skip over Mexico’s second city after you’ve spent some time there.
Many sites tout Tulum or even Isla Mujeres as the ‘off the grid’ alternatives to touristy Cancún and Playa del Carmen, but honestly, they’re just as bad. (Although, they do have a rather more hipster vibe, that’s for sure.) Even so, for an actual alternative to those popular destinations, you should make your way to Isla Holbox, which remains (so far) a blissfully out of the way, laidback Caribbean island somewhat untouched by mass tourism.
Instead of San Miguel de Allende, arguably the favoured Mexican destination of North American retirees and a popular daytrip hotspot, go further north to Zacatecas. As a destination sandwiched between the true north and the Central Highlands, it’s infrequently added to the itinerary of travellers in Mexico, is home to the country’s best-preserved example of decadently ornate Baroque architecture, and is way less populated with tourists than it’s Guanajuato state alternative.
Tucked into the state of San Luis Potosí, Las Pozas Sculpture Park is one of Mexico’s most breathtaking destinations. Created by a British eccentric, it’s a surrealist masterpiece deep in the jungle and yet, amongst out of towners, it’s often overlooked. So, skip the ‘obvious’ spots and go hunt down what is essentially Mexico’s coolest, open air art installation.
Sayulita is the favoured spot for aging hippies and wannabe ravers down the Central Pacific Coast of Mexico, yet instead of going north from Puerto Vallarta, you should instead go south to Yelapa. A laidback beach community, it certainly has a rep for luxury, eco-friendly resorts and yoga retreats, but it’s also far less commercial. This is the place to go if you’re craving that relaxing beach retreat without the surfers and stoners of Sayulita.
There are basically no commercial passenger trains in Mexico. No, this is a country you have to traverse by bus or by plane. However, there are a few cool tourist trains open to the paying public. While many opt for the very tourist oriented Tequila Express, that will whisk you right to the heart of Jalisco’s tequila-producing towns, fewer venture north to ride through the Copper Canyon on El Chepe. However, given the beautiful views and multiple adventure activities on offer in towns along the route, more people really should consider it.