Sarah is an expat living in Mexico and getting to know the entire country.
Mexico is one of the most popular destinations in the world. That said, when people think about visiting Mexico, they usually think of popular destinations like Mexico City, Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Monterrey or Guadalajara. Those destinations are great, but Mexico has so much more to offer that tourists have yet to discover. Here are some amazing places that you should visit on your next vacation.
1. Isla Holbox
While Cancun is the most popular beach destination in Mexico, it is not for those that want to relax. That statement is particularly true during the high season and spring break. If you want to relax, then you should go to the smaller towns and beaches in Quintana Roo and Yucatan.
None of those beaches resemble paradise more than Isla Holbox. Holbox, as its name implies, is an island just off the coast of the state of Quintana Roo about two hours from Cancun. To get to Isla Holbox, you need to get to Chiquila where you will then need to take a ferry.
A Tourist-Free Paradise
When you leave the ferry, you will notice that you are no longer in a populated place—only about 1,200 people call Holbox home. Dirt roads are the norm here, and you will not run into large numbers of tourists. There are less than 10 hotels on the island, and that is a big part of the appeal.
The beaches are clean and beautiful, whale shark sighting tours are available, diving and snorkeling are some of the best in the world and the restaurants serve fresh and delicious Mexican food.
2. Islas Marietas
Puerto Vallarta is a very popular destination, but it suffers from the same problem that Cancun does; the tourism is too much to allow you to have a peaceful and quiet vacation. There are a few places around Vallarta that do give you great sights, and Corral del Risco is one of those towns. Corral del Risco is a small fisherman’s town, but the real reason to go there is to take a small boat to Islas Marietas.
Protected Islands With a Population of Zero
Islas Marietas are protected islands that you cannot stay in. The population of the islands is 0 and you are required to not take anything from it or leave anything behind you. You are also advised to put on your sunblock with at least one hour before your arrival so that the waters around the island remain clean.
There has been talk of prohibiting visits altogether, but while visiting is still allowed it is a great idea to take the tour. You will only be allowed to visit Playa Escondida, which feels almost like a crater where the ocean water comes in. Pictures of Playa Escondida look amazing, but they do no justice to the real experience.
3. Grutas de Tolantongo
Pachuca is one of the most overlooked cities in Mexico, and that is a mistake. The city of Pachuca has a lot to offer, but if you want to relax, then take the 2.5-hour drive to Grutas de Tolantongo.
Thermal Pools and Gorgeous Views
Grutas de Tolantongo has a lot of options depending on what you are looking for. You can just spend a day, camp for a couple of nights or stay in a hotel. The thermal waters that run trough this canyon make Tolantongo a popular destination with mostly Mexican tourists. The views are amazing and there are plenty of things to see. That is why it is odd that this place has not gotten more traction with international tourists.
To be fair, it is a bit harder to get to Tolantongo than it is to other places, but even if you have not rented a car, it is not impossible to make the trip. The easiest way is to head to Ixmiquilpan, Hidalgo, from Mexico City (Central del Norte). Once in Ixmiquilpan, head to Mercado Morelos where you will find the San Antonio station. Several small buses are stationed there to take you to Tolantongo. It sounds inconvenient, but once you get there, you will agree that it was worth it.
4. Laguna de Bacalar
Going back to the southern state of Quintana Roo will give you a lot of places that feel like paradise; one of those places is Bacalar. The lagoon at Bacalar is known as Laguna de Siete Colores which translates to "seven colors lagoon." The Bacalar lake (or lagoon as most people know it) is famous for its crystal-clear waters, with different shades of blue and green.
A Protected Natural Area
This gorgeous area was starting to suffer due to people leaving or dumping garbage in the water, but the Mexican government has now designated it a protected area and the efforts have paid off.
Bacalar is now one of the top destinations in the area, and tourists are encouraged not to disturb nature. There are animal and plant species that are exclusive to the area, and in some cases, you can’t even tell that you are right next to some. Boat trips around the lake are available, and you can rent canoes, which are highly recommended for those that are adventurous.
There are plenty of hotels to stay in, but none of them are big. Cenote Azul is right next to the lake and there is a bird sanctuary that you can visit nearby by taking one of the tour boats around the shore.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Sarah Friedman