Mexico has something for everyone. There are white sand beaches and pastel-coloured colonial towns, cities full of museums and crowded taco stands, vast mountain ranges, steamy rainforests and deserts. It’s a diverse country, in landscape, culture and cuisine. Here are ten places to visit that are off the main tourist trail.
Valladolid, a small colonial city in the Yucatán Peninsula, is known for two things: the aquamarine cenote in the centre of town, and its food. Walking around you can smell corn in the air. Mayan women sell tamarind and chilli sweets on the quiet streets by the plaza, there are fantastic restaurants serving traditional Yucatán dishes and two busy food markets where you can squeeze on to plastic benches and eat tamales and sopa de lima.
Centro de Artes de San Agustín
A 30-minute taxi ride from Oaxaca, the Centro de Artes de San Agustín is an art school founded by Francisco Toledo, one of Mexico’s leading artists. The building is a restored textile factory and in the main gallery huge cotton spools and machinery sit alongside the exhibitions. Outside, large pools supply water to the nearby paper mill and there is a terrace that looks out over the Sierra Madre mountains.
Every Sunday up to 1,000 traders from the villages around Oaxaca make their way to Tlacolula, where the market spreads out over most of the town. You can buy meat and vegetables and grill them yourself in the central food hall, or go to one of the many food stalls outside and eat squash blossom and quesillo quesadillas or memelas covered in hot tomato salsa.
Walking through the doors of the Biblioteca Vanscocelos in Buenavista, a northern neighbourhood in Mexico City, feels like stepping into a science fiction film. It’s a megabiblioteca, a ‘megalibrary’; a geometric labyrinth of metal staircases leading up to balconies and reading nooks. A huge whale skeleton covered in graphite rings hangs in the atrium, and outside are lush green gardens.
Santiago de Querétaro
For some reason Querétaro doesn’t get many international visitors, making it a great place to experience life in a Mexican city without other tourists. The charming colonial centre is a UNESCO heritage site with cobblestone pedestrian streets, tree-lined plazas and fountains. Each building is a different pastel shade. The old town is full of ornate churches and theatres, as well as restaurants serving food from all over Mexico.
Bernal is a historic pueblo overlooked by a huge rock formation. It’s one of the largest monoliths in the world and you can climb the 300-metre trail to the top for a view of the surrounding mountains. Bernal is also famous for its gorditas, small tortilla pockets stuffed with meat or vegetables and cheese. There are roadside stalls and cafes selling them all over town.
In the heart of central Mexico, the Sierra Gorda mountain range is one of the most ecologically diverse parts of the country. The landscape changes from desert to rainforest as you drive along the mountain roads, with plenty of waterfalls, hikes and viewpoints to stop off and see. There are also five 18th century Franciscan Missions, churches with unique facades inspired by local indigenous design.
It’s easy to get lost in Guanajuato. The winding lanes climb steeply from the city centre and before you know it you’re standing at the top of a hill looking down at grand colonial buildings in lime green and pastel pink and royal blue. It’s one of the prettiest cities in Mexico, with a large student population and lively cafes and plazas.
About 20 minutes to the southeast of Guadalajara, Tlaquepaque is a town made for wandering. The pedestrian streets are lined with bright paper flags, the main square is surrounded by ice cream shops. It’s known for its pottery and you’ll find boutiques selling colourful plates and terracotta bowls, and a craft market, as well as shops where you can try tequila made just an hour away.
There’s one main street in San Pancho and it leads to the beach. It’s a barefoot, surfboard-under-the-arm kind of town, with dogs sleeping under restaurant tables and people grilling fish at the side of the road. And the golden sand beach, with its backdrop of palms and a couple of bars, is big enough that you can always find a section to yourself.
Copy and Images by Yasmine Awwad/Peekingduck