Mexico is a huge country and it’s hard to know where to go if you only have a limited time to visit this nation. Some people prefer the beaches, some might want to take advantage of the culture, history and international restaurants, and others could consider emigrating to spend their retirement years there. Below are some of the towns and cities that we consider must-see destinations in Mexico – plus some useful notes to help you get an idea of what this amazing country offers.
Must-See Destinations in Mexico
First on our list of must-see destinations in Mexico is Chapala. Located in central Mexico, Chapala has the largest expat community in the world and offers lots of activities to keep one busy. If you like to play tennis or golf, or even get involved in garden clubs, animal rescue, or theater, this lovely town with a year-round spring climate is a good bet. Chapala’s location, just 20 minutes from Guadalajara’s international airport and an hour from the capital city itself, is a good home base to travel to the beach, to the mountains, or to the States or Canada.
Cons – Because Chapala is such a pleasant town with lots to do and great weather, it is definitely getting overrun with Gringos and is losing some of its innocence and true Mexican culture. Traffic congestion is a problem during the snowbird season and prices continue to rise. Still, it is a great value compared to the States. For the most part there aren’t problems with drugs or the darkness it attracts, but there have been altercations between the police and gang members in recent years.
Oaxaca, Mexico takes the second spot on our list of must-see destinations in Mexico. Located in southwestern Mexico, Oaxaca is a beautiful colonial city with picturesque architecture. The colorful indigenous add zest to the ordinary walk through town. Offering food specialties like mole and locally made chocolate, Oaxaca – as a living cultural center with lots of museums, free concerts and cultural events – also has an international feel. The Zocalo Plaza is one of the finest in Mexico, and there is a large variety of restaurants to choose from, city markets, and famous churches. For a day trip you are close to the Maya ruins of Monte Alban, and you can visit the largest tree in the world there.
Cons – There aren’t many cons about Oaxaca, although it has a cooler climate overall than the Lake Chapala area and prices are slightly higher. It’s more populated and larger, and is definitely a city – which some would not take as a negative feature at all.
3: Caleta de Campos
If you like beaches, here are two completely different styles of beach from which to choose. Caleta de Campos, located in the Mexican state of Michoacan, is an undeveloped beach town where if you would like to be involved with the locals and eat fresh grilled fish and shrimp at a palapa shack on the beach, this is the place. The horseshoe beach is wide and gorgeous. Completely non-touristy, you won’t be annoyed with the sounds of jet skis or bothered with vendors begging you to buy – that’s why Caleta de Campos takes the third spot on our must-see destinations in Mexico.
Zicatela, Puerto Escondido, located in southwestern Mexico, is an old fishing village transformed into a surfer’s paradise. Choose to board surf or body surf, there are lots of little coves to escape from the tourist crowds. You can enjoy delicious fresh seafood beachside and watch the sun set. Zicatela is becoming more developed every time we visit, but it has a cutesy, arty feel to it. The larger city of Puerto Escondido is walking distance away offering larger shops, pharmacies, and open markets.
Cons – Both beaches are hot and humid in the summer, which can be unbearable. On the one hand, Caleta is wonderfully undeveloped, but one could feel isolated, especially if you don’t speak Spanish and services are limited. For the conveniences of banking and medical, one must travel 40 miles away to Lazaro Cardenas, which could get old after a while. Zicatela is a hopping place with lots of action and a focus on being hip. It is close to Puerto Escondido, but that city is not nearly as colorful or intriguing and there is city traffic.
Zacatecas is a World Heritage site with historical classic Colonial buildings, walking streets, tours, museums, and pleasant plazas – giving it the #5 spot on our must-see destinations in Mexico. There are excellent Mexican and international restaurants. Quality silver and leather shops are found throughout the city. Easy transport to and from major Mexican and U.S. cities via airport or bus is a plus.
Cons – In the highlands of Mexico the temps can be cold during winter, in the mornings or in the evenings. Like San Francisco, the streets have a steep slope and there are many steps to climb. If you are handicapped or have health issues with your back or legs, this might present an uncomfortable problem for you. High altitude might also be a consideration. The city is upscale and more pricey.
Some say Jerez is the most Mexican town in all of Mexico, and is an hour away from Zacatecas. This easy-to-navigate town has lots of shops, and offers clean, simple living that is family oriented and traditional. Everyone seems friendly in that small-town-sort-of-way and locals are eager to make conversation and engage with strangers. Streets are walkable and not steep like either Zacatecas or Guanajuato, with shops and grocery stores easily accessible on foot or by bus.
Guanajuato is another World Heritage site and is a photographer’s paradise. This city is cosmopolitan and offers a full variety of restaurants, entertainment, fabulous scenery and culture. Guanajuato teems with vitality, history and the influence from the students of the University. Every turn of the corner offers you a photographic opportunity and is a goldmine for sketching or watercolor topics. Pricing for lodging and food is available in all ranges and transport to, from and around the city is easy. Lots of free theater and concerts.
Cons – Guanajuato is also located in the highlands of Mexico and can be cold in the mornings and evenings. Altitude may pose a problem and streets are steep and winding.
Many people love Merida, which is located on the Yucatan Peninsula. It has the region’s best museums, and is only 22 miles to the Gulf of Mexico Coast. There are lots of affordable places to eat and thriving markets. If you want to see the pyramids of Chichen Itza, you can come and go in one day if you would like. The Maya ruins of Tulum are reachable in a day but seeing them is not a day trip. There is gorgeous Colonial architecture, sweet barrio churches, wide boulevards and a very active main Plaza with mimes, shops and entertainment. Upscale hotels, restaurants and outdoor cafes can entertain you for hours.
Expats who live here enjoy the historical culture and social activities. Merida also boasts of many regional hospitals and medical centers offering full services for the city, the whole Yucatan Peninsula and for neighboring states.
Cons – Hot and congested with belching traffic, Merida is a city of almost a million inhabitants and has humid, tropical climate.
From stunning beaches, to highland mountain towns, cultural World Heritage sites to local small town charm, Mexico offers something for everyone.
Travel warnings: The above locations are not a target for the drug cartel violence, however, U.S. Department of State recommends travel during the daylight hours, to use the cuota roads and to stay off rural roads. Do not make yourself a target by wearing expensive jewelry or by flashing new digital toys. Do not walk on lonely streets late at night.
What are your must-see destinations in Mexico? Share your thoughts with the Frayed Passport community!
About the Author
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance, medical tourism and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their award winning website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible available on their website bookstore or on Amazon.com.