Mexico City offers enough attractions and great food to keep first-time visitors occupied for weeks. But if you've visited the capital before, or if you're coming in for business and can tack on a few extra days, the D.F.'s central location makes weekend trips easy. Whether it's nature, relaxing spa experiences, or gorgeous colonial architecture you crave, one of these three short jaunts should satisfy your whims.
Why Go: A couple of hours north of Mexico City, this state is the place to get the world's best barbacoa—incredibly flavorful barbecued lamb. It's quite naturally beautiful and home to Grutas Tolantongo, a sort of private park that boasts an incredible network of natural hot springs and caves, as well as several accommodation and food options.
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How to Get There: Ovnibus has departures from the Mexico Central del Norte bus station to Ixmiquilpan every half hour. After arriving, take a combi, a small van that operates as a bus, to the market, where you'll want to tuck into some barbacoa at any of the half dozen or so vendors offering it. This roasted lamb meat takes hours to prepare and is deeply smoky and juicy. Try it in tacos or consommé and don’t miss the chicken option. Once you're stuffed, head two blocks toward the San Antonio church where you'll find a bus station with a shuttle leaving to Grutas Tolantongo. Bring plenty of cash because there are no ATMs and limited opportunities to use a credit card at the site.
Where to Stay: Many people opt to camp by the river. If you go that route, attendants will set up tents and sell you mattresses and blankets. For a more civilized stay, reserve your room ahead of time at Hotel La Gruta, which overlooks the site's warm turquoise river. If you leave Mexico City early in the day, one night should be enough, but book two for a more leisurely mini-vacation.
What to Do: Grutas Tolantongo is all about the hot springs. With your entrance fee, you get access to the river and caves, splendid caverns with constantly flowing warm water and a natural “massage” courtesy of several waterfalls. Your ticket also gets you into Paraiso Escondido, a network of dozens of small manmade pools arranged on a hillside. It's worth the extra few dollars to enter La Gloria, an extensive network of small, isolated thermal pools, accessible from the main Grutas area.
Where to Eat: The restaurants at Grutas Tolantongo and Paraiso Escondido all offer pretty much the same menu of well-made, well-priced Mexican staples. You can't go wrong there, but to mix it up, head downriver and around the corner (toward the camping area called El Jardin). There you'll find a dozen or so comedores, simple, open-air restaurants where seasoned female cooks offer comfort food like egg breakfasts, soups, or quesadillas and gorditas fresh off the griddle.
Why Go: Tepoztlan, a tranquil town an hour or so south of the D.F., is made for rejuvenation. The whole place is filled with spas offering affordable massages and the traditional herbal steam baths known as a temascal. There's great food at the local market and a mountain to climb with the ruins of a temple at the top.
How to Get There: From the Mexico Central del Sur bus station, the Pullman de Morelos bus company has departures to Tepoztlan every twenty minutes. You'll be conveniently dropped off in the center of town.
Where to Stay: Vereda Tepozteca (Del Tepozteco 28; +52 739 395 2137) is an affordable hotel just a few blocks from the main action. Call ahead because they do tend to fill up on weekends. You'll want to book two nights to have time to experience everything.
What to Do: Definitely do a temascal, the traditional Mexican steam bath that might include a ceremony with songs, depending on where you book it. To find one, simply walk around and you'll encounter many spas offering the service, often bundled in packages with massage or other treatments. On your second day, climb the Tepozteco, the green mountain that looms over the city, where many UFO sightings have occurred. The hour or so ascent leads you to a ruined temple at the top. Leave early in the day to avoid heat and crowds. If you have extra time, hit up the Taj Mahal shop (Av. Revolución 12; +52 739 395 0936), which sells semi-precious crystals, to help you get further into the town's New Age vibe.
Where to Eat: You'll find the best grub at the central market, which is stuffed with food stands offering traditional fare. Be sure to try cecina, a regional specialty of cured beef that tastes a bit like a Mexican prosciutto. For a proper sit-down meal head to Los Colorines (Avenida Tepozteco 13; +52 739 395 0198), a sprawling restaurant that's been popular for decades. If you're craving dessert, hit up any branch of Tepoznieves for the best ice cream and sorbet in town.
San Miguel de Allende
Why Go: About three and a half hours from the capital by bus, this charming colonial town and its colorful, bougainvillea-draped houses will make you want to head directly to the nearest realty office. There's also a remarkably cosmopolitan restaurant and shopping scene in San Miguel de Allende, thanks to the high number of expats (who aren't numerous enough to make the place feel like Cancun).
How to Get There: Primera Plus runs luxury buses from D.F.'s Mexico Central del Norte terminal to San Miguel de Allende four times daily.
Where to Stay: The elegant Rosewood San Miguel de Allende is the nicest option, located next to tranquil Juarez Park. Be sure to visit the property's Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar, which boasts the best views in town (even better than the city's mirador, or lookout point) and excellent food and drinks, including stellar tuna tostadas and a colorful margarita tasting flight. Book at least two nights for time to see everything.
What to Do: Take advantage of cool temperatures in the morning to wander the town, which is full of cobblestone lanes dotted with break-your-heart-adorable colonial houses. Take in the Disney-pink sandstone church next to the lively, centrally located El Jardín. Do some boutique shopping along Recreo, where you'll find stores selling textiles, jewelry, and other artsy souvenirs.
Where to Eat: Chef Enrique Olvera, who rocketed to international fame with Pujol in Mexico City and opened Cosme in New York City last year, has a restaurant, Moxi, inside the chic Hotel Matilda. His tasting menu might include the likes of vegetables in eggplant mole or rabbit tacos. For lunch, the prix fixe at contemporary Mexican spot Cafe MuRo (Callejon De Loreto 10-B; +52 415 152 6341) is a bargain, or keep it casual with a hulking torta (a Mexican sub sandwich) at Tortitlán (Ancha de San Antonio 43; +52 415 152 8931).