Mexico is a popular destination among both Americans and Canadians: Cancun, Riviera Maya and Puerto Vallarta being the top choices. While there is fun to be had in each of these destinations, there is so much more to see and do throughout the interior of the country — and I highly recommend taking time to visit places like Guanajuato, Mexico City, and Oaxaca.
The list of things to see and do and experience in Mexico is a long one.
Here are 16 things I think every single traveller needs to experience in Mexico:
1. Watch a Lucha Libre match at Arena Mexico in Mexico City
Forget WWE wrestling, Lucha Libre is where it’s at! I’ve never been a wrestling fan, I prefer the violence of mixed martial arts and ultimate fighting, that being said I am a HUGE fan of Lucha Libre. Arrive at Arena Mexico early and buy tickets from the window, then get ready for the most entertaining night of your life. The bigger the crowd, the better. Oh, and never look away or go to the bathroom during a match. Seriously, all the best moves seem to happen when you’re not paying attention. You can also go with a group of travellers, which can be even more fun!
2. Eat street tacos in Puerto Vallarta
Tacos are found throughout Mexico, and yes, you should make a point of trying every single kind of taco you can find. So why should you specifically eat tacos in Puerto Vallarta? Easy, most of the vendors are concentrated around a couple streets near the Malecon and beach, making it easier to find a snack when you want one. Another option is to take a street taco food tour with Vallarta Eats — make sure you have an empty stomach as you’ll eat a lot of tacos!
3. Visit the ruins of Chichen Itza, Tulum, Palenque, Teotihuacan, and Monte Albán
There are ruins strewn throughout Mexico. Chichen Itza and Tulum will be crowded most of the time, but sites like Teotihuacan (just south of Mexico City), and Monte Albán (a short distance from Oaxaca) are not as busy, but still very impressive. While it’s possible to wander around the ruins solo, hiring a guide is highly recommended as you’ll learn more about not only the history of the ruins but of Mexico as well. **Many hostels and hotels will offer guided tours to ruins that are close by.
4. Surf in Sayulita
A quaint little beach town roughly 30 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta, Sayulita is extremely popular among Mexican travellers, expats, as well as surfers from around the world. The beach is small, but the waves are good. If you’ve never surfed before, no worries, you can take surf lessons!
5. Go Scuba Diving in Cozumel
Forget spending your time stretching out on the white sandy beaches, squeeze yourself into a wetsuit and go scuba diving in the turquoise blue waters of the Caribbean Sea. Cozumel offers a variety of reef dives, both shallow and deep — which go as deep as 130 ft. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, try a little night diving as well.
6. Celebrate Cino de Mayo in Puebla
Despite what many believe, Cinco de Mayo is not the same as Mexico Independence Day. Cinco de Mayo is actually a celebration of the Mexican army’s win over the French during the Battle of Puebla on 5 May 1862. While Cinco de Mayo is celebrated throughout Mexico, attending the celebrations in Puebla is truly unforgettable.
7. Travel interior Mexico by Bus
Okay, it’s not likely that your bus will fall into a sinkhole, then end up floating down a river. Actually travelling by bus in Mexico is far more comfortable than travelling by bus in the USA — some of the buses even have wifi! No need for chicken buses. There are buses for all budgets, and I highly recommend switching things up from time to time. Taking a premium bus for a late night, eight-hour, the trip from Mexico City to Oaxaca was the best $60 I spent in Mexico.
8. Enjoy Mexican hot chocolate and churros at El Moro in Mexico City
There is something delightful about escaping the heat inside a Mexican diner, ordering a cup of hot chocolate and a plate of churros, then dipping a sugar coated churro into the thick chocolate and eating it. OMG, simply amazing. There are a few cafes/diners in Mexico city to choose from, but my personal favourite is El Moro.
9. Learn how to make chicken mole tamales in Oaxaca
Oaxaca is currently the hottest foodie destination in Mexico and the go-to spot for anyone who loves mole. While spending time in Oaxaca learning more about mole and tamales by taking a cooking class. Tamales are not for everyone, I for one am not a fan, but chicken mole tamales are the exception.
10. Snorkel with Whale Sharks near Isla Holbox
Forget swimming with dolphins, swimming with whale sharks is the thing to do during your time on Isla Holbox. Snorkel in the Gulf of Mexico and swim with whale sharks in their natural environment. Of course, it’s important to be respectful, listen to your guide, and of course, filming all the action on a GoPro is an absolute must.
11. Experience Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) in Mixquic, a small town on the edge of Mexico City
If you’ve watched the new James Bond film, Spectre, you’ll have an idea of what Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) looks like in Mexico. Celebrated each year on November 1st and 2nd, dia de los muertos celebrates the lives of those who are deceased: food, parties, and doing things the deceased enjoyed all play roles during the festivities. While observing the way locals honour the lives of family members who have died, participating in the street parties and parade are also highly recommended.
12. Visit a tequila factory
Drinking tequila in Mexico does not involve shot glasses, lime wedges, and salt — unless you’re staying in a tourist resort. In Mexico, tequila is a locally produced liquor that is meant to be enjoyed and savoured; most locals will sip tequila the way some people sip a fine brandy. Finding a tequila factory is relatively easy in Mexico, almost all tours offered in places like Puerto Vallarta will include a stop at a tequila factory — and six shots of locally produced tequila!
13. Go on a Salsa dancing retreat in Oaxaca
Did you know that Oaxaca is one of the Salsa capitals of the world? It would only make sense then that you should take Salsa lessons during your time in the city. There are several schools in Oaxaca, many of which offer private lessons. There is also a Salsa retreat which includes accommodations, healthy gourmet meals, and ten hours of private dance instruction. A truly unique experience.
14. Participate in a Hridaya Silent Yoga Retreat in Mazunte
Yoga retreats are gaining popularity, and the Hridaya Silent Yoga Retreat in Mazunte is a 10-day experience that you are not likely to forget. Learn to meditate, find your centre, Hatha yoga sessions, and more. This particular retreat is extremely popular, so book early!
15. Go to the zocalo in Mexico City for Mexico’s Independence Day celebrations
Mexican Independence Day (September 16th) is the most important holiday in Mexico, and where should you celebrate such a significant holiday? Mexico City of course! Venture to the zocalo along with the throngs of Mexicans and be ready for a day of celebrating, and a night of partying and fireworks.
16. Visit Casa Azul (Frida Kahlo Museum) in Mexico City
Frida Kahlo is probably one of the most important, and famous, celebrities in Mexico. Her influence can be seen throughout the country. During your time in Mexico City take a hop-on hop-off bus tour or taxi to the Frida Kahlo museum to learn more about her life and art. Arrive early as there are often lines to get inside!
Planning a trip to Mexico?
- Lonely Planet Mexico: I love using Lonely Planet guidebooks during the initial planning stages of a trip. If I find a chapter that is particularly helpful, I will buy the chapter as a PDF and load into my iPad for when I’m on the road.
- DK Eyewitness Mexico: I like the mixture of information and photographs in the DK travel guides, plus I know one of the writers who updates this guidebook, so I feel confident in the information that has been provided. Great for families or history buffs.
- Eat Mexico: Recipes from Mexico City’s Streets, Markets & Fondas: I have taken the author’s food tour offered in Mexico City, and I love that she now has a cookbook. If you want to try authentic Mexican food at home before you go, try the recipes in this book.