Want to go somewhere in Mexico other than the typical touristy destinations? Try these underrated vacation spots instead.
Been there, done that, and bought the t-shirt that reads: “One tequila. Two tequila. Three tequila. Floor.” Even if you haven’t actually been to some of Mexico’s most popular destinations, perhaps you’ve heard and/or seen them enough on social media to feel like you have. Vacation hot spots in Mexico like Tulum, Cancun, and Cabo are some travel favorites, but you’re missing out if you don’t consider some of Mexico’s lesser-hyped cities. Whether you are seeking city vibes or sun and sand, here are a few alternatives for some of Mexico’s popular destinations.
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Find Boho Bliss in Puerto Escondido Instead of Tulum
Tucked away in the jungles of Mexico’s famed Riviera Maya, Tulum has exploded in popularity in recent years. This popularity grew even more during the pandemic when Mexico was one of the few countries that hadn’t closed their borders to U.S. travelers. With its convenient location, just an hour away from Cancun International Airport, its world-class gastronomy scene, and vibrant nightlife, travelers flock to its sandy white beaches along the Caribbean coastline and find bliss in its boho-chic vibes. However, some believe Tulum has become too popular with all this newfound popularity, causing overcrowding and skyrocketing prices.
If you’re looking for a beach destination in Mexico that still possesses that boho-chic charm but at a fraction of the cost and with a fraction of the crowds, you may want to consider Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca. This Pacific coastal town is widely known for some of the best surfing in the Western Hemisphere. If surfing isn’t exactly your vibe, you can still find endless beaches with calmer waters to placate more easy-going water adventures like snorkeling and diving. As the birthplace of mezcal and the food capital of Mexico, Oaxaca lends exquisite local flavors that have been passed down for generations. Savor everything from high-cuisine tasting menus to streetside tacos while enjoying the balmy breeze and sounds of waves crashing in the background–but without the sticker shock, you may find at popular beach clubs and restaurants in Tulum.
Puerto Escondido also provides easier access to the beach. With the lack of large developers, Puerto Escondido’s popular beachfront, Zicatela, is dotted with independent home rentals and boutique hotels that will often cost you less than $100 per night. Give Puerto Escondido a try if you want that away-from-it-all, boho experience in Mexico.
Soak up Those Stunning Beach Vibes in Isla Mujeres Instead of Playa del Carmen
If it’s one thing Riviera Maya, and its destination hot spots like Playa del Carmen, is known for is its stunning cerulean waters and sublime sandy shorelines. Which is why it’s no surprise that travelers and ex-pats alike set up base in Playa del Carmen, whether for a short-term visit or long-term stay. However, with its continued growth and large developments replacing those laid-back roots with upscale options, many find that Playa del Carmen is losing the charm that attracted them to the destination, to begin with. Also, if you visit between May-October, you may find the beaches lined with sargassum (aka seaweed), as this is the peak time for the plant to wash ashore.
A dreamy alternative: Isla Mujeres. This tiny island is just a 15-minute ferry ride away from Cancun. Isla Mujeres may only be five miles long and half a mile wide, but it boasts some of Mexico’s most beautiful beaches, sans sargassum! Many of the beaches in Isla Mujeres rarely get hit with the amount of seaweed that can be found on other beaches in Riviera Maya. In addition to having seaweed-free beaches, Isla Mujeres is home to Playa Norte, one of the world’s best beaches. Located on the island’s northern end, Playa Norte is everything Caribbean paradises are made of—powder-soft, palm-fringed beaches with crystalline waters lapping the shores. The beach also recently received Blue Flag status, one of the world’s most recognizable certification awards for beaches, marinas, and boats.
Take a City Break in Guadalajara vs. Mexico City
As the second-largest city in Mexico, Guadalajara is wildly underrated as a city getaway compared to its capital counterpart, Mexico City. While Mexico City is teeming with tourist attractions and countless alluring neighborhoods, like La Roma, Zona Rosa, Polanco, and Condesa, which makes this city a never-ending adventure, the traffic alone is enough to make even the most experienced traveler’s patience fly out the window. Think sitting in traffic for 45 minutes to an hour just to go a few miles down the road. In contrast, Guadalajara is equally filled with exciting attractions and its own pueblos magicos (magical towns) like Tlaquepaque. However, it is much more accessible and easier to navigate. Many of Guadalajara’s attractions are within walking distance of the Guadalajara Cathedral, which lies in the city’s heart.
Big city life also comes with big-city price tags; we’re looking at you, Mexico City. You’ll find that your dollars will go further in Guadalajara when it comes to bars, dining, and accommodations. Speaking of nightlife, Guadalajara’s nightlife strip, Avenida Chapultepec, is conveniently located in the historic center, whereas you’ll have to factor in travel time in Mexico City for a night out on the town if you are partying in opposite directions of your accommodations. To top it all off–TEQUILA! We’re talking about both the drink and the city. Guadalajara is just 45 miles away from the Tequila, the city that is the birthplace of the famed spirit. You can easily take a day trip and explore the agave fields and even the distilleries where tequila is made!
Live the Luxe Life in Punta de Mita, Riviera Nayarit Instead of Los Cabos
With a long list of A-list celebrities, like Beyonce, Jay-Z, George Clooney, and Rihanna sinking their toes in the sands of Los Cabos, this popular destination has long been heralded as the ultimate destination for a lavish getaway in Mexico. But, move over, Cabo! There’s a new luxe destination on the rise, and it goes by the name Punta de Mita in Riviera Nayarit. While you may not be able to pinpoint Riviera Nayarit on a map exactly (no worries, many can’t), this 192-mile stretch of coastline has seen a boom over the past few years, and it is a strong contender for the title of “New Luxury Capital of Mexico.” Ritzy five-star resorts such as Conrad Punta de Mita and One&Only Mandarina opened their doors in 2020, while Secrets Bahia Mita and Dreams Bahia Mita popped up on the scene in 2021. Development continues in 2022 and 2023, where travelers seeking the luxe life can even expect to see the region’s first luxury glamping resort, Naviva at Four Seasons.
Besides incredible beaches and top-tier resorts, travelers can enjoy signature golf courses and even catch a polo match at La Patrona Polo and Equestrian Club while sipping mimosas over brunch. Luxury travelers are now seeking Riviera Nayarit’s quieter and more exclusive scene versus Cabo’s more touristy scene. If you are looking for the new “it” luxury scene in Mexico, give Riviera Nayarit a try.
Live Your Best LGBTQ+ Life in Puerto Vallarta Instead of Cancun
With a gamut of gay-friendly beaches, resorts, nightlife experiences, and let’s not forget being one of Latin America’s most progressive nations regarding LGBTQ+ rights, Mexico is a popular destination for LGBTQ+ travelers. Popular cities like Cancun have their fair share of gay bars and resorts; however, Puerto Vallarta is the place if you’re looking for a better LGBTQ+ destination in Mexico. Not only is it the first Mexican city to receive the Gay Travel Approved distinction by GayTravel.com, but Puerto Vallarta is also home to Mexico’s biggest gayborhood, Zona Romantica, which is lined with gay bars, restaurants, resorts, and clubs. Puerto Vallarta also hosts one of Mexico’s largest gay pride annual festivals.