Ahhh Mexico! One of my favorite destinations in the entire world! And so close and easily accessible from the United States. I even have an apartment in Cancun because it is only a two-hour flight from where I am in Texas!
Now, most of you are probably familiar with Cancun, Cabo, Cozumel, Puerta Vallarta and a few other of the more popular beach destinations – which are all fabulous. However – there is a lot more to discover in this diverse country than just those gorgeous beaches including a lot of cultural and historical richness.
That being said – I asked Kitzia Morales Torres from the International Association of Destination Wedding Professionals (IADWP) to talk to us about all those other somewhat unknown and / or off the beaten path areas as not just destination wedding possibilities but also as vacation destinations for anyone interested in seeing more of Mexico. Kitzia is 100% Mexican and her love and pride of her country is truly infectious!
Below is an overview of the areas Kitzia and I spoke about during our chat. I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the options Mexico offers if you have always thought of it as only a beach destination. Read on and you will see what I mean!
Why Visit Mexico: As I noted in the opening paragraph – Mexico is a very convenient destination to get to with most of the major US cities offering plenty of direct flights.
The landscapes themselves vary from white sand beaches with turquoise blue water to jungles to mountains to deserts and valleys. Here you’ll find archeological sites, historical cities and magical towns. Mexico is a very colorful country – they just love their colors there! And it is reflected in the way they dress, eat, in their art and the way the decorate houses and churches – you’ll find color everywhere! But according to Kitzia – one of the country’s biggest assets is their people – who grow up with a strong sense of hospitality, close family ties and pleasing each other – and this all shows in the way they warmly welcome visitors to their beloved country.
Beach Destinations: There are fabulous beaches on both coasts of the country – each offering their own unique treasures and flavors.
- Cancun: Probably the most famous of all of the Mexican beaches, Cancun resides in the southern part of the country on the eastern side and is known for its crystal blue waters and the hotel zone where most hotels can be found. And – there are many other beach destinations in the vicinity – in fact – should you chose to fly into Cancun you can make it a multi-destination or combination beach trip – including Tulum, Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen, Isla Mujeres and Cozumel.
- Riviera Maya: This area is south of Cancun and home to the town of Playa del Carmen and is pretty much a paradise with its white sand beaches, natural parks and archaeological sites.
- Tulum: Tulum is more of a bohemian city with beautiful views. You will not find all inclusives here as in many of the other beach destinations, but it is filled with amazing places including an adult tree house resort which is an experience to die for.
- Isla Mujeres: This is is a newer area featuring some pretty amazing accommodations and an opportunity to swim with the dolphins!
- Cozumel: Featuring the second largest coral reef system in the world it’s no wonder that Cozumel is the ideal place to practice driving!
- Las Cabo: Up north on the western side of the country in Baja is another well-known beach destination – Las Cabo. This already amazing destination is really blooming now – with lots of new hotels popping up.
- Mazatlán: Here you will find amazing gastronomy, fabulous music and an overall very happy atmosphere.
- Puerto Vallarta: Moving down the west coast you’ll find Puerto Vallarta which is a culturally rich area and also a popular destination for same sex couples. This is another area where you can do a beach combo and include Riviera Nayarit in your itinerary along with Puerto Vallarta.
- Acapulco: This chic beach destination has marvelous restaurants and breathtaking views. In fact – Kitzia says you will not find a more beautiful sunset than those over Acapulco Bay! As with Cancun and Puerto Vallarta – Acapulco can become a multi – destination trip by combining it with Ixtapa.
Colonial Cities: More than just beaches – Mexico is home to beautiful cities and towns as well.
- San Miguel de Allende – San Miquel de Allende is located in the state of Guanajuato and filled with beauty and cultural influences from nearby from Guanajuato and Zacatecas – two other colonial destinations that have a lot to offer. At one time a very rich area due to the silver and gold when it was a Spanish colony – you are surrounded by history and culture when you are here – especially in its buildings.
- Oaxaca and San Cristobal de las Casas: As per Kitzia – these two are definitely worth visiting and should be on your agenda thanks to wonderful food and the culture they have to offer.
- Yucatan Peninsula: Getting to and exploring the Yucatan peninsula is quite easy. For instance, you can fly into Cancun and drive the three hours to its capital – Merida – by car. The drive is on a very safe highway with much to discover along the way. You’ll see a variety of colonial towns and important archaeological sites like Chichen Itza. In fact – there are over fifty archeological sites in the Yucatan Peninsula thanks to the Mayan people in the small towns throughout the peninsula who preserve the Mayan culture well. You will even be delighted to see a pink water beach that gets its pink hue from too much salt in the water! You’ll also spot beautifully crafted mansions and other buildings – many turned into hotels or museums but still there and still beautiful. And fun fact – for centuries, the Yucatan Peninsula was isolated from the rest of Mexico and thus they actually forged better relationships with New Orleans, Florida, Cuba and Europe than the relationship they had with Mexico and get a lot of their influences from them.
- Merida – This is actually where Kitzia resides – not far from Progreso Port where the cruise ships dock. I personally love this area as it has a Parisian feel, a French flavor if you will – with a Mexican touch. Here you will also find the magnificent colonial mansions I mentioned above – thanks to its rich background.
- Izamal: In Izamal you will be delighted to see that all of the buildings are painted yellow and thus it is also known as the Yellow City. When I walked through Izamal I felt an amazing connection – it was like I was being told this great story of how it occurred. It is also known as the City of Three Cultures – including European, Native American and Mexican. Izamal is also one of the most important archaeological sites on the Yucatan Peninsula and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Chichen Itza: Chichen Itza is probably the most well-known of all the archeological sites on the peninsula thanks to its inclusion as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World – as well as being named a UNESCO archaeological site. Kitzia made a very interesting observation about how she views Chichen Itza in contrast to Uxmal (another Mayan ruin about ninety miles west from Chichen Itza) – calling Chichen Itza more masculine and warrior-like as opposed to Uxmal which is more feminine as it almost looks like they embroidered the stone they build with.
- Bacalar: It may take five hours to get to Bacalar from Cancun but there are so many things to see along the way it’s so very worth it! You can rent a car and drive it yourself or hire a driver to take you. There are numerous off the beaten path opportunities here and I love it because it allows for the whole mind, body, spirit experience which many of us need after the cabin fever that we’ve been experiencing in 2020. Bacalar is a great place to rest and be inspired by nature as it’s not very touristy and offers small luxury hotels as opposed to large resorts and all-inclusive properties. In fact, the Seven Colors Lagoon is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Here you can kayak, boat or surf to explore the lagoon and once you are back on land there’s a beautiful forest and archaeological sites to explore as well. And – on a side note – Bacalar actually borders Belize so you can combine the two for one amazing vacation!
Hidden Gems: A fact that I found quite interesting is that on the Yucatan Peninsula there are no rivers above ground – only underground rivers as they all flow under the soil. And because of that cenotes exist – which are absolutely beautiful places to go swimming! There are over six thousand of them – each unique in its looks and formations and most are easy to get to – although some can be more of an adventure to access! Even one of the Costco’s there has its own cenote! Between Kitzia and I we will make certain to help you discover and enjoy them as they are a unique experience and since they are not very crowded, they are a great way to social distance!
Haciendas are another must see and can be found through the peninsula. Yucatan was very rich in the 18th and 19th centuries and there are still a lot of the haciendas built back then in existence and some are even transformed into five-star hotels with amazing spas and views. Outside of these haciendas and around the small towns they reside in you will find authentic craft shops. And one thing about these that I found out while visiting is that many are working haciendas – and are very similar to the dude ranch experiences we have in the US.
There are many Natural Reserves throughout Mexico that are wonderful places to visit. The Rio Lagartos and Celestun mangroves are both home of hundreds of different kinds of beautiful birds and of course those majestic pink flamingos! They are truly a paradise for bird watchers and nature lovers alike. Oh, and at night there is the watching of the crocodiles! There really is a lot to do and see in both town and once again they are easily accessible as Celestun is just one hour from Merida and Rio Lagartos is on the way from Cancun to Merida.
Gastronomy: Mexico has a truly diverse gastronomy filled with plenty of exquisite food and drink and their delicious cuisine varies by region, based on the ingredients grown in each area. Now – granted you may eat Mexican food in the US BUT the true authentic experience must be done in Mexico. While most of us think of Mexican food as simply spicy – in reality – the flavors aren’t just spicy as you will find they have a diverse gastronomy throughout the country. This is due to the fact that right now there is a lot of interest in rediscovering and giving attention to the local flavors they grow. And thanks to these home-grown ingredients it is quite easy to eat healthy yet flavorful food. Gastronomy in Mexico is influenced by Spaniards and as well as Native Americans. The main ingredient or element of most dishes is corn, however they have a lot of other vegetables and spices that came from Asia and Spain.
Mexico is also known for its beer and spirits. It is the home to tequila and now mezcal as well. Mezcal has become very fashionable and is similar to tequila as it is made of agave also – but it is stronger, and the flavor is smoky. Kitzia let us in on the fact that she is in love with this spirit and that it’s great to mix with pineapple or lemon. Tequila comes from the central region of Jalisco and there is actually a town named Tequila where you can find out everything you want to know about tequila and more! Mezcal comes from Oaxaca in the southern part of Mexico – which is a very rich region culturally. In fact, visiting one or both of these cities t would be a great off the beaten path kind of adventure that we could arrange – including a distillery tour and gastronomic experiences!
And don’t forget its vino! The primary wine region in Mexico is Ensenada in the Baja California area. Here you will find great fresh seafood as well as the delicious wine – but be aware that the wine in Mexico is produced in small quantities and pretty much stays there in that region.
Type of Traveler: Mexico has a lot of accessibility in both its airports and attractions making it possible to travel with family members of all ages. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are – or if you have a condition that needs special attention – as it is also very accessible to the handicapped as well. Of course – Mexico is not only for families – it’s great for girls’ trips, guys trips, solo travelers, couples and more!
Updated COVID-19 Information: As of this writing visitors arriving at Mexican airports may be subject to health screenings including temperature checks. A negative COVID-19 test is NOT required, and US citizens are NOT required to quarantine.
As Kitzia noted in her presentation – between Mexico’s fascinating history, vibrant art scene and stunning architecture it’s so much more than just a beach destination as so many surmise. And you can keep going back – either to the Cancun area or other areas of the country and have new and different experiences each time – without breaking the bank as Mexico is a great value for your dollar!
For more details on things to see and do in Mexico, where to stay, it’s price points and more – contact your Travel Guru! Oh, and if you need a payment plan to fund your travel adventure – we got those too!
*NOTE: Starting April 1st all international visitors over age 15 to the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, which includes Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, Cozumel and Tulum, will have to pay a new tourism tax of 224 pesos.