After crossing into Mexico on October 9, 2021, our time in this beautiful country is almost up! As we get ready to overland into Central America, we’re looking back to appreciate our top 10 favorite places in Mexico.
We hope you’ll consider visiting at least one of them and will share your favorite place in Mexico in a comment. We want to see so much more of this country in the future!
Pátzcuaro is a small town located on Lake Pátzcuaro, southwest of Morelia. It is one of the 132 Pueblo Mágicos in Mexico, which have been designated as “magic towns” because of their cultural, historical, or scenic value.
We camped at Rancho La Mesa overlooking the town and lake. Collectivos, public transportation vans, took us right into the center for a few pesos each. In town, there are two large plazas. We enjoyed breakfast at La Surtidora on the larger Plaza Vasco de Quiroga. This restaurant has been around since 1916!
We were also fortunate enough to see the town’s nativity display before it was taken down in early January. It was the best we saw in Mexico during the Navidad season.
You can get a good feel for Pátzcuaro’s town center in our video:
When you visit the area, make sure to take a boat out to the island of Janitzio. You can hike to the top to see the massive statue of José María Morelos, hero of Mexican independence. There are usually traditional dancers and food vendors up there, as well as a collection of restaurants and bars.
9/ Valle de Bravo
Valle de Bravo is not far west of Mexico City, making it a popular weekend getaway for the well-to-do in Mexico’s capital. While the secret is out about Valle de Bravo within Mexico, we hardly saw any foreign tourists there.
Valle de Bravo is also located on a lake, and we were able to camp at a marina in the neighboring town. While we enjoyed beautiful Valle de Bravo itself, the big highlight was our day trip to the monarch butterfly sanctuary at Piedra Herrada. This was undoubtedly one of the most moving encounters with nature we’ve experienced in our lives:
We also really loved the Sunday market in Valle de Bravo, which was so full of beautiful people and interesting things to see:
Puebla is the fourth largest city in Mexico, so there is a lot to see and do, no matter your taste. Speaking of taste, the state of Puebla is famous for its cuisine (“poblano” means “from Puebla”). For example, if you’ve ever tried the chocolaty sauce called mole, that’s from Puebla. Chile relleno (stuffed chile) and the nationally famous chile en nogada also originated in Puebla!
We enjoy staying near the main zócalo, or city plaza, in an Airbnb. We did so back in early 2019 during our first overland trip into Mexico, and repeated the experience again this year. The cathedral on the plaza is one of the most stunning in the country (and we’ve seen a lot of them now). There is also a beautiful fountain lit in colors at night and lovely portales to walk through.
The town of Cholula is located just outside Puebla and is also worth a visit. The pyramid there is the largest pyramid by volume known to exist in the world, and you can walk through tunnels underneath it!
Campeche was a spontaneous stop on our way up the Yucatan Peninsula. But we ended being fascinated by its history and surrounding fortress walls–originally built to protect from pirates. Campeche also has a scenic malecon along the water.
Calle 59 is the pedestrian-only street known for its eateries. We highly recommend Luan for breakfast and La María Cocina Peninsular for lunch or dinner. The food at La María may feel unfamiliar at first, but take a chance and trust the outcome. We really enjoyed our food there and my cocktail was delicious. La María is located close to the main city plaza.
We also recommend the free Museo El Palacio. It isn’t large, but it’s nicely appointed and explains the fascinating history of Campeche.
Watch our Campeche fun in this video:
Mahahual was another last-minute spontaneous stop, but it wasn’t on our way to anywhere! In order to get to Mahahual, you have to drive to the bottom of Mexico’s Caribbean coast. Mahahual is four hours, 45 minutes south of Cancun.
After a tourist-soaked few days navigating down the Riviera Maya, Mahahual was a welcomed change. It’s a bustling beach town, especially because it’s a cruise ship stop. But many of the tourists there are Mexican, rather than internationals. This always gives a place a more authentic feeling and that’s what we prefer.
Mahahual is a diving and snorkeling destination with the largest atoll in Mexico. It doesn’t have the crashing surf you’ll find farther north, so it’s especially good for little swimmers.
5/ San Luis Potosí
The capital city of San Luis Potosí will always be special to us because it was our introduction to interior Mexico in 2019 and the place that made us fall in love with Mexican culture.
Similar to Puebla, we stayed in an Airbnb less than two blocks from the main plaza. This is definitely not a quiet place, but we’ve learned to love Mexican city sounds and the lives they represent.
We made a lot of video content while we were in San Luis Potosí. We hope you’ll dig in to see what mainland Mexico is really like:
- Top 5 favorite plazas in San Luis Potosí historic center
- Our favorite food, landmarks, and hidden gems in San Luis Potosí City
- Día de los Muertos in Mexico!
- Visit Mexico’s Santa María del Río for vibrant history and celebration (day trip)
- Outdoor adventure park for social good inside a Mexico national park (day trip)
Morelia, the capital of Michoacán, was a huge surprise to us! If we had known how amazing it is, then we would’ve planned to stay much longer. It’s been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with so much history and architectural beauty.
We barely scratched the surface of what there is to see during the few days we were camping at the convention center. But we did enjoy one of our favorite breakfasts of all time at Chango. I’ve been thinking about it ever since we were there in early January.
And then there’s the huge city center, with too many highlights to mention. Just walk around and explore! There’s Templo de San Francisco and Plaza Valladolid. You’ll think that’s the main square until you spot the towering Morelia Cathedral with Plaza de Armas next to it.
Plaza de Armas is surrounded by beautiful portales like Puebla, but I have to say Morelia takes the prize for all-around architectural beauty. Don’t miss the pedestrian walkway dedicated to gaspachos, which are famous Morelia creations made of cut fruit, cheese, and onion. Don’t knock it ’til you try it.
Morelia is the place on our top 10 list that I most want to spend more time in.
Compared to Morelia, Bernal is itty-bitty. Built in the shadow of one’s of the world’s tallest monoliths, Bernal has become a tourist destination without the big-city amenities. We were able to camp at a hotel right on the edge of the city center for an easy walk in, which was a lot of fun.
Eric isn’t sure Bernal should be listed so high on our list because of its size and limited things to do compared to a huge city like Puebla. But I happen to think Bernal is a magical place–especially if you can avoid busy weekends. It has definitely earned its Pueblo Mágico designation.
There are musicians busking in the streets, rooftop restaurants, and delicious baked goods. Don’t miss pan de queso, rolls stuffed with a creamy cheese mixture and flavors like blackberry, cajeta, and chocolate. Pan Tio Vi claims to be the original pan de queso purveyor in town.
There are local candy shops with delicious caramels I haven’t found anywhere else in Mexico. And if you need one more way to get cavities, then try pan de nata. It isn’t unique to Bernal, but I’ve had delicious specimens here (I prefer mine with lechera, sweetened condensed milk).
We highly recommend El Cantar del Viento if you’re looking for a hotel stay.
2/ La Huasteca Potosina
Unlike every other place on our list, La Huasteca Potosina is a region rather than a town. Mere hours east of the city of San Luis Potosí, we left the arid environment behind and arrived in a lush, tropical jungle. This area is full of waterfalls and turquoise waters, remarkable given its proximity to the Texas border.
We stayed at three locations as we made our way south through La Huasteca Potosina: Micos, Tamasopo, and Xilitla. We documented all of them on YouTube, in two parts:
Eric and I had some differences of opinion while making this list. But one thing we are completely agreed upon is our favorite place in all of Mexico: the city of Guanajuato.
We have been traveling full-time for more than eight years now, and this is the only place we can see ourselves retiring some day (after we finish driving around the world, of course).
We stayed in an Airbnb right around the corner from Teatro Juarez for 45 days, over Thanksgiving and Christmas, and fell in love. This city is full of performance arts, festivals, diverse food options, brilliant colors, and interesting history.
We produced a lot of video content during our long stay in Guanajuato, like this walking tour of the city center:
We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about our top 10 favorite places in Mexico! We also have a few honorable mentions to share:
- If this were only my list and I didn’t have to share with Eric, then Xalapa/Coatepec would’ve made the top 10. This is the coffee region of Mexico, located northwest of Puebla. Xalapa is home to Museo de Antropología, one of my favorite museums ever. The mighty Olmec heads, dated to the time of King David, are something to behold.
- One of our favorite campgrounds in Mexico is on Isla Aguada, a Pueblo Mágico. The campground is called Freedom Shores. It has RV and overland vehicle parking, plus hotel rooms. We enjoyed the restaurant on-site and taking a dolphin boat tour right from the property!
- Mérida is a large city at the top of the Yucatan. It was once the fashion capital of Mexico, with a heavy European influence. The architecture on Paseo de Montejo is striking.
- El Cuyo is a sleepy beach town on the Yucatan Peninsula. There isn’t much to it, but it’s a little hideaway from the crowds and feels more untouched than the surrounding region.
If you’re planning to drive through Mexico, then you’ll want to bookmark these general resources we’ve shared:
- Top 10 tips for driving through Mexico
- Reflections on overlanding Mexico after three months in the country
- Clothes for global overlanding
- Camp laundry without a washing machine