6 Incredible Places to Visit in Mexico for First-Timers

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Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit Mexico

Mexico is a massive country with boundless variety and endless places to visit. There is so much scenic beauty, incredible cities with rich UNESCO heritage, and more delicious food and cultural phenomenons than I could even attempt to cover in just one article.

But, if you’re planning a trip and wondering what the must-visit places in Mexico are, this list will be a good starting point!

You might find yourself already dreaming up your next visit before you even leave. I, for one, have been to Mexico more than 15 times, and many of my visits tend to span several months at a time!

Keep reading to learn about some of the must-visit places that make a trip to Mexico magnetic – from rugged coastal towns to gastronomic hotspots, to buzzing cities that rival Manhattan or Paris. The only thing left for you to do is choose which one – or more – to visit first!

6 Incredible Places to Visit in Mexico for First-Timers

1. Oaxaca City

Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit Mexico, Oaxaca City
Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit Mexico, Oaxaca City
Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit Mexico, Oaxaca City
Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit Mexico, Oaxaca City

Oaxaca City is one of the most unique places to visit in Mexico and an ideal destination for all the foodies and culture-seekers out there. It is Mexico’s food capital after all, and it’s not hard to see why. 

Oaxacan cuisine is a rich tapestry of flavors that embodies the cultural heritage and diversity of this region nestled in the far south of Mexico. This signature cuisine is most famously characteristic of its variety of moles – complex sauces made with countless painstakingly layered ingredients, including different types of chilies, seeds, and spices.

Beyond food, there are so many things to do and see in Oaxaca City that make this an incredibly enriching place to visit in Mexico for first-timers!  

Things To Do in Oaxaca City

  • Explore the Zocalo – Oaxaca City’s central square, also known as the Plaza de la Constitución. 
  • Take a tour of Monte Alban, a famous archeological site not far from the city center.
  • Take a day trip to Hierve de Agua, a series of waterfall-like rock formations said to have mineral-rich healing properties for all who visit. Pro tip: check ahead of time for availability or book a tour, like this one, as this site was closed when I visited! 
  • Get lost in the local markets where you can stumble upon art, food, souvenirs, jewelry, and anything else you can think of! Some popular markets to visit in Oaxaca City include Mercado Benito Juárez, Mercado 20 de Noviembre, and the Mercado de Artesanias
  • Take a walking tour of the city center. There are many free walking tours you can do, like Free Walk Oaxaca or GuruWalk Oaxaca, which typically just suggest an optional gratuity as compensation for the guide’s time.
  • Visit Oaxaca’s botanical gardens, or the Jardin Etnobotanico de Oaxaca, on a guided two-hour tour that costs just $5 USD. 
  • Visit El Tule Tree – the world’s widest tree (measuring 46 feet in circumference) which is said to be more than 2,000 years old.
  • Take a cooking class like this one on Airbnb Experiences, and learn how to make local specialties like mole, tlayudas, and memelas. 
  • Sample Oaxaca City’s boundless varieties of mezcal, a smokier cousin to Mexico’s famous tequila. One of my favorite spots is Los Amantes Mezcaleria. 

Visit one of Oaxaca City’s neighboring small towns known for their signature craftsmanship, including San Bartolo Coyotepec, San Martin, Tilcajete, Teotitlan Del Valle, and Arrazola, for the most authentic souvenirs and keepsakes from your trip. Take a day tour of Oaxacan arts to see multiple towns in one afternoon and learn firsthand how these signature Oaxacan crafts get made.

Places To Stay in Oaxaca City

  1. Hotel Azul de Oaxaca
  2. Casa Antonieta
  3. Boulenc Bed and Bread
  4. AYOOK
  5. NaNa Vida Hotel Oaxaca 

See all Oaxaca City hotels, here.

How Much Time to Spend in Oaxaca City

3 days minimum.

I recommend spending at least 3 days in Oaxaca City to give you enough time to explore the historic city center, check out the ruins, and visit neighboring artisan towns for a well-rounded cultural experience.

With even more time, you’ll cover more ground in terms of learning about Oaxaca City’s gastronomy and cafe culture. I spent a little over a week in Oaxaca and found it to be the perfect amount of time to get acquainted with the city! 

2. Mexico City

Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit Mexico, Mexico City
Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit Mexico, Mexico City
Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit Mexico, Mexico City
Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit Mexico, Mexico City

Mexico City is one of the top places to visit in Mexico, whether it’s your first visit to Mexico or you’re a seasoned Mexico fan. With a booming population size that towers over other sprawling metropolises around the globe, Mexico City is the kind of place that will make you dizzy in the best way.

Perfect for history lovers, shoppers, culture seekers, and foodies, it also has many iconic landmarks like the Templo Mayor, a temple discovered in the late 1970s, which was a hub of ancient political power. 

I have been to Mexico City multiple times and I still find myself dreaming of my next visit. It is the kind of city that makes you hungry for more, and the kind of place my Mexican friends like to call “the new center of the world.”

Honestly, once you visit, it’s easy to see why!

Things To Do in Mexico City

  • The city’s Zócalo is one of the largest public squares in the world and is home to the National Palace and the Templo Mayor. The Zócalo, also known as Plaza de la Constitución, is a historical and architectural marvel and a vibrant hub for cultural activities and public events. Throughout the year, it hosts diverse events and parades that capture the spirit of Mexico City, such as the Mexico City Alebrije Parade.
  • Head to Museo Frida Kahlo, also known as the Blue House (Casa Azul), where the renowned artist Frida Kahlo resided since birth. The museum gives an intimate insight into Kahlo’s life and work. Pro tip: Reserve your ticket or book a tour online in advance or you’ll be met with an enormous line! 
  • Explore the Museo Nacional de Antropologia. Here, you’ll dive deep into Mexico’s pre-Columbian past, discovering artifacts from the Mayan civilization, the Aztecs, and many other indigenous cultures. Highlights include the Sun Stone (or Aztec Calendar) and the recreation of Pakal’s tomb from Palenque.
  • Explore the Museo Jumex, Mexico City’s contemporary art museum, featuring works from leading international artists and a significant collection of Latin American art.
  • Take a boat ride through Xochimilco, Mexico City’s sunken gardens. This is a colorful and chaotic (in the best way) experience where you’ll find floating vendors selling everything from micheladas and churros to mariachi performances which you can enjoy from the comfort of your own trajinera (boat). 
  • Watch an infamous Lucha Libre match in the Arena Mexico.
  • Visit the ruins of Teotihuacan, or better yet, view them from above in a hot air balloon ride that lets you soar across the site!

For more things to do in Mexico City, check out my guide to the best things to do in Mexico City here.

Places To Stay in Mexico City

See all Mexico City hotels, here.

How Much Time to Spend in Mexico City

4-5 days minimum.

Because of Mexico City’s sheer size, you’ll want to dedicate at least 4 days (ideally, 5) to truly experience an array of what this Mexico destination has to offer.

Spend 1 day wandering the touristic core of Roma Norte, La Condesa, and Polanco; 1 day in the historic center; 1 day in Coyoacan and Xochimilco; 1 day visiting the ruins; and 1 day museum hopping and eating your way through the city’s countless bars and restaurants.

Now that’s a crash course of Mexico City! 

3. Puerto Vallarta

Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit Mexico, Puerto Vallarta
Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit Mexico, Puerto Vallarta
Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit Mexico, Puerto Vallarta
Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit Mexico, Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta is one of Mexico’s most popular places to visit and the perfect destination for both relaxation seekers and adrenaline junkies who love to explore and experience natural beauty. From its crystal-clear beaches to verdant green forests and tropical jungles, this destination has opportunities for outdoor adventure like zip-lining, ATV riding, hiking, and diving. 

In addition, the waters that surround Puerto Vallarta are home to tons of marine wildlife, making it a dream for snorkeling and diving enthusiasts as well.

If you are traveling to Mexico with friends or with your family, Puerto Vallarta is a well-rounded choice that can truly offer something for everyone.

Things To Do in Puerto Vallarta

  • One truly unique feature of Puerto Vallarta is its vibrant art scene. Wander el Centro and the Malecón (Puerto Vallarta’s promenade) for a taste. This beautiful promenade is adorned with sculptures made by Mexican and international artists, essentially transforming the area into an open-air museum. Every Tuesday evening, the city organizes a free public art walk, where visitors can explore local art galleries and meet the artists. 
  • Go ziplining, rappelling, or off-roading in the nearby Sierra Madre Mountains. Vallarta Adventures’ Outdoor Adventure offers a unique blend of adrenaline-pumping activities, including zip-lining, rappelling down waterfalls, and off-road driving in the Sierra Madre Mountains.
  • Spend the day at the Bay of Banderas, Mexico’s largest natural bay characterized by its protected, calm waters. 
  • Wander the Zona Romantica, a cool pocket of Puerto Vallarta teeming with boutiques, galleries, and LGBTQIA+-friendly bars. 
  • Experience the abundant marine life found just off the shores of Puerto Vallarta by scuba diving. And no, you don’t need to be certified in order to give scuba diving a try!

Places to Stay in Puerto Vallarta

  1. Casa Kimberly Boutique Hotel
  2. Hotel Mousai Adults Only
  3. Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel
  4. Grand Miramar All Luxury Suites & Residences
  5. Casa Nicole Boutique Hotel

See all Puerto Vallarta hotels, here.

How Much Time to Spend in Puerto Vallarta

4 days minimum. 

Excluding travel days, you want at least 1 full day to relax and soak up Puerto Vallarta’s beaches, and 1 full day to explore or enjoy Puerto Vallarta’s countless activities. With more time, you could visit neighboring Mexico destinations like Sayulita (one of my personal favorites) or Punta Mita.

4. Tulum

Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit Mexico, Tulum
Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit Mexico, Mexico City
Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit Mexico, Tulum
Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit Mexico, Tulum

Tulum is one of those places to visit in Mexico that offers varying extremes. On one hand, you have relaxing yoga retreats, beautiful beaches, and the highest concentration of healthy food options in Mexico (gluten-free, vegetarian, and more) for those seeking wellness. 

On the other, you have a buzzing scene of parties and nightlife that extend to the early hours of the morning for night owls looking to dance and drink the night away.  

You either love or hate Tulum once you’ve visited, but I for one am absolutely captivated by this special place in Mexico rich with Mayan culture and impressive geological features that can’t be found anywhere else on Earth.

Things To Do in Tulum

  • Explore some of the enchanting cenotes signature of Quintana Roo for a refreshing dip or snorkeling journey in crystal clear waters said to be ancient communication pathways with Xibalba – the Mayan underworld.
  • Visit the Tulum Ruins, which provide a fascinating glimpse into the ancient Mayan civilization. 
  • Take a trip to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, where you can marvel at the diverse flora and even catch a glimpse of a sea turtle if you’re lucky.
  • Check out the annual Art With Me Festival, an immersive, community-driven festival combining art, music, workshops, and wellness activities. 
  • Learn more about pre-Hispanic indigenous culture and reconnect with your energy through a temazcal ceremony. 
  • Snorkel with turtles in Akumal, a 30-minute drive or bus ride from Tulum. 
  • Go big at a Tulum beach club, where you’re bound to spend some money but with the tradeoff of amazing DJ sets and beautiful beachside vistas. Some Tulum beach club favorites include Taboo Beach Club, Vagalume, and Papaya Playa Project. 

For more things to do in Tulum, check out my guide to the best things to do in Tulum here

Places to Stay in Tulum

  1. Nomade Tulum
  2. Papaya Playa Project
  3. Hotel Bardo Adults Only
  4. Hotel Tiki Tiki Tulum
  5. Hotel Holistika

See all Tulum hotels, here.

How Much Time to Spend in Tulum

5 days minimum.

While Tulum is close to receiving its own airport, it is currently a more ‘remote’ place to visit in Mexico as it requires a 2-hour transfer from the Cancun Airport. You’ll want at least 3-4 full days in Tulum outside of travel days to best enjoy Tulum’s beach area, town area (as they are quite far from each other), cenotes, and Mayan ruins! 

See my recommended one-week itinerary in Tulum, here.

5. San Miguel de Allende

Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit Mexico, San Miguel de Allende
Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit Mexico, San Miguel de Allende
Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit Mexico, San Miguel de Allende
Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit Mexico, San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel de Allende is a picturesque city and one of the most unique places to visit in Mexico.

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its significance in Mexican independence and its beautiful architecture, the cobblestone streets and colorful buildings have an incredible allure to them that makes it easy to fall in love.

San Miguel de Allende is home to many art galleries featuring renowned Mexican artists’ works where you can spend an entire day browsing. 

Don’t miss the sunset on one of San Miguel’s many rooftop bars, and be sure to check out the Jardín, the central square and beating heart of San Miguel de Allende where people gather day and night for everything from a casual stroll to a lively street performance against the backdrop of the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel.

Things To Do in San Miguel de Allende

Places to Stay in San Miguel de Allende

  1. Hotel Matilda
  2. Casa de Sierra Nevada
  3. Hotel Nena
  4. Casa Lool Beh
  5. Casa Florida B&B

See all San Miguel de Allende hotels, here.

How Much Time to Spend in San Miguel de Allende

3 days minimum.

San Miguel de Allende is a beautiful and compact city center, so 3 days will give you enough time to wander the streets, indulge in the food scene, and enjoy the city’s galleries and boutiques. 

6. Los Cabos

Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit Mexico - Los Cabos
Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit Mexico - Los Cabos
Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit Mexico - Los Cabos
Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit Mexico - Los Cabos

Los Cabos, situated at the very tip of the Baja California peninsula, is the perfect escape for those who want a laid-back, or luxurious, beach experience.

Think of Los Cabos as a destination that offers sun-filled days, brisk desert evenings, and long beachside walks. It has a lively social scene, amazing nightlife, fantastic restaurants, and an endless selection of spas.

Things to Do in Cabo San Lucas

  1. Sail to the Arch of Cabo San Lucas, also known as El Arco. This distinctive rock formation at the southern tip of Cabo San Lucas is a must-visit spot where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez.
  2. Take a tour between December and April to witness the most incredible display of humpback and gray whales as they congregate in warmer waters for the winter. It is without a doubt one of my favorite reasons to visit Los Cabos! 
  3. Experience the nightlife scene! From cocktail bars in San Jose del Cabo to full-blown clubs in Cabo San Lucas, Los Cabos transforms after dark. Don’t miss out on Clubs like El Squid Roe and Cabo Wabo, which although not the most luxurious, each serve as a sort of ‘initiation’ into Cabo culture after dark. 
  4. Explore Medano Beach (Playa El Médano), the most popular beach in Cabo San Lucas, known for its crystal-clear water and adventurous water sports.
  5. Go snorkeling or try your hand at scuba diving to appreciate the rich marine life found in Los Cabos. This particular region of Mexico is renowned for its marine migrations, from whales and orcas to mobula rays, which you might even want to plan your visit around. Don’t worry though, you’re bound to see an amazing array of colorful fish and reef systems all year long! 
  6. Visit San Jose del Cabo on Thursday nights for its popular neighborhood Art Walk, where galleries stay open late and restaurants bring in live music to light up the town center. 
  7. Savor Los Cabos’ farm-to-table dining sensibilities with a beautiful meal at farmside restaurants like Acre and Flora Farms.

For more things to do in Los Cabos, check out my guide to the best things to do in Los Cabos here

Places to Stay in Cabo San Lucas

See all Cabo San Lucas hotels, here and all San Jose del Cabo hotels, here

How Much Time to Spend in Cabo San Lucas

4 days minimum.

As Los Cabos is spread out across 3 different main regions (Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo, and The Corridor), you’ll want at least 3-4 days to fully enjoy one area of Los Cabos, and more time if you plan to spend time in other areas as well. If you have more than 6 days in Los Cabos, you should also plan to visit other nearby Mexico beach destinations like La Paz and Todos Santos! 

Whatever you are after, there are endless places to visit in Mexico that are bound to delight and surprise you. 

What part of Mexico are you thinking of visiting first? Let me know in the comments below!

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Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit Mexico
Rachel Off Duty: Places to Visit Mexico

Hey there! I’m Rachel, a travel writer and a full-time advertising / marketing expert. In 2019, I traveled more than 25 times while working 9 to 5, and since then I’ve committed myself to living a more adventurous life, even if it means bringing my laptop along for the ride.

Are you hungry to travel more, but overwhelmed with how to juggle work and play? You’ve come to the right place!

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