After a gazillion trips to Mexico, we’ve come to love it more than we ever thought we could. From the resorts of Cabo San Lucas to the ruins of the Yucatan Peninsula, we have some amazing ideas, tour recommendations and unique Mexico destinations to explore. So many Mexico travel plans to share!
If you’re either not sure of the type of Mexican vacation you want to have, or you just don’t even know what destination to choose, we can help with that. Road trip plans make it easy to find unique sites and activities, while resort and timeshare info will help you understand just what sort of leisure experiences await you.
Granted, we have not been to every area of Mexico, but we’ve covered a lot of ground and had several very different trips. If you’re looking for info about a place we haven’t been yet, let us know and we’ll add it to our list!
Picking a Mexican Vacation Destination
Have you been to Mexico for vacation before? No? Well, you’ll find there are several different sorts of experiences when it comes to travel style and how you’ll spend your time within each destination. Some people see a Mexican vacation as an opportunity to explore the desert or go on underwater safaris, while others see it as a chance to just lay by the swimming pool and drink. I can be either, but destinations are more known for one over the other.
Western Mexico includes the Baja Peninsula and Sea of Cortez. Here you’ll find whale sharks, grey whales, several National Parks and Preserves, and a wide variety of small towns and beaches. The primary Mexican vacation destinations you’ll probably consider in Western Mexico are:
- Cabo San Lucas / Baja California Sur
- Ensenada / Baja California (Northern Baja)
- Mazatlán / Eastern Sea of Cortez
- Puerto Vallarta /Nueva Vallarta / Punta Mita
- Acapulco / Zihuantanejo
When you consider Central Mexico for a vacation, the options are very different and much more center on cultural and adventure experiences. In Central Mexico you’ll find:
- Chihuahua – not very touristy in comparison to Western Mexico
- Monterrey – very historic and beautiful, but very industrial
- Guadalajara – feels more like a Spanish city than Mexico, but clearly has Mexican elements
- San Miguel de Allende – famous for being THE picturesque historic city
- Mexico City – the fifth largest city in the world, it’s huge and diverse
- Michoacán – this is the mountainous area, including the Monarch Butterfly Preserve
- Oaxaca – the food / culture center of Mexico
Lastly, there is the Yucatan Peninsula. I love the Yucatan and am torn between loving it and Baja California Sur more. Ancient Mayan ruins and jungle cenotes make exploring the Yucatan Peninsula such a unique adventure. Here on the Yucatan you’ll find:
- Cancun – THE destination (but not the best overall)
- Tulum – Mayan ruins and nature
- Valladolid – my favorite small, colorful city
- Merida – beautiful, cultural and tropical
- Campeche – a destination often overlooked by American tourists
- Isla Holbox – a Caribbean island with no cars
Cabo or Cancun for a Mexican Vacation?
Let’s assume you’re planning a Mexican vacation to one of the most popular spots, either Cabo San Lucas or Cancun… But first, how do you choose between Cabo or Cancun?
Since these two places are where most families venture, that’s what we focus on. There are other Mexico destinations that offer more of a city-focused type of trip, mainly in Central Mexico, but since we love nature and small towns so much, that’s our primary type of trip to Mexico.
So, which of the most popular Mexico destinations is right for you? Cancun or Cabo San Lucas?? There’s a lot to consider… Check out our complete guide to making this decision, as we lay out the differences and benefits of each Mexican vacation destination.
Best Things to Do in the Cancun Area
Between climbing Mayan ruins and swimming with sea turtles there is a lot to consider. Also, the Yucatan has so many colorful towns and islands. The cenotes are not to be missed, because who doesn’t want to swim in a tropical jungle cave or swimming hole?
Tip: book a Cancun hotel that’s NOT an all-inclusive resort so that you actually leave the property!
Check out our Yucatan Road Trip itinerary for a great plan to explore beyond the tourist centers of Cancun and Tulum. It’s an adventure you don’t want to miss. There are some small town Mexico destinations on this road trip that you’ll love!
Top Picks for Mayan Ruins Near Cancun
We’ve all the information on the best Mayan ruins to visit near Tulum and our favorite archeological site on the Yucatan Peninsula: the Ruins at Coba. It’s worth the drive (not too far) out of the way! Mayan ruins are something that touring the Yucatan can offer that you won’t find over on the Baja Peninsula. In central Mexico you’ll find Aztec ruins and a lot of Spanish history, but the Yucatan’s Mayan ruins are just amazing to me.
Find a Mayan Ruins tour that’s right for your trip!
The Unique Natural World of Yucatan, Mexico
And here is where I think a Mexican vacation to the Yucatan really shines. The amazing natural wonders and wildlife you’ll find around Cancun and Tulum is phenomenal. It has to be said that the juxtaposition of the jungles and the Caribbean sea is a special one. This perfect setup makes for some of the most remarkable things to do in nature.
One of the best wildlife encounters around is swimming at Turtle Beach in Akumal. Wow! An incredible experience, see how to visit Akumal and what the restrictions are for swimming in the sea turtle areas. This area has become more closely monitored in terms of tourist activity, but it’s just as amazing as ever, you’ll just need to visit as a part of a group.
Find a Sea Turtle guided experience here!
We get the most questions about cenotes on the Yucatan, and in particular where to find the best cenotes near Cancun. We’re created a guide to plan for the most exciting and beautiful adventures to these amazing jungle swimming holes, and you MUST visit at least one on your trip to Cancun or Tulum. Cenotes are what make the Mexico destinations on the Yucatan Peninsula so cool.
You’ll find there are a variety of cenote experiences as you start to plan your Mexican vacation, so if you aren’t sure exactly what you want, you can wait to choose your cenotes until you’re there in Cancun / Tulum. My favorite is Cenotes dos Ojos, as it’s both beautiful and a geology geek’s dream to visit.
Other Caribbean Mexico Destinations
Of course there is more to visiting the Yucatan Peninsula than just Cancun and Tulum. Between resort towns and small, colorful villages on the Caribbean Sea, you’ll find some of the best SMALL Mexican destinations here.
Playa del Carmen is an awesome small city just south of Cancun. It’s its own destination with nightlife, beaches and more. Playa del Carmen is a great home base for exploring the Yucatan, and with beautiful beaches, you could arrive and never even leave if you wanted.
And did you know that you can fly into Cancun and then visit both Isla Mujeres AND Isla Holbox? We have a plan for it all! You won’t need a car on either island, so plan to catch a shuttle or book private transportation to either’s ferry terminal. You’ll love the island life!
Isla Mujers is the more famous of the two Mexican island destinations, but both are beautiful. Isla Mujeres is more rugged, being on the windward side of the Yucatan and getting some rougher weather sometimes. Here you’ll find rocky cliffs AND beautiful beaches.
Isla Holbox is very different, being completely flat, sandy and a dreamy tropical island. There is a single townsite on Holbox with many small hotels. It’s very charming and a delight to explore. Here you’ll find epic Caribbean sandbars, murals and flamingos. It’s really a dream.
All About Baja California and Cabo San Lucas
Millions of people visit Cabo San Lucas every year, but did you know that there’s more to Baja California than just Baja California SUR? And there is more to Cabo San Lucas than El Squid Roe and Cabo Wabo? OMG!! So much more! Baja is one of our favorite Mexico destinations for its nature, colorful small towns and awesome food.
A road trip around Baja California Sur is an amazing adventure and very safe (despite media stigmas). We’ve done it with our kids multiple times and loved each journey around the Baja. Southern Baja is a beautiful place full of culture, wildlife, and endless beaches. Beautiful towns pepper the desert and cactus sunsets end your days.
But don’t limit your Mexican vacation ideas to just Cabo and Baja California Sur. There is a whole other state, Baja California, which stretches from the US/Mexico border to midway down the Baja Peninsula. A road trip around Northern Baja is awesome! You’ll get beautiful beaches, rugged coastline, wine country, the Sea of Cortez and colorful small towns.
Visiting Cabo San Lucas
Cabo San Lucas has long been a favorite vacation destination for our family, and we’ve been to Cabo MANY times, both with kids and without. Doing Cabo San Lucas with kids is really fun, and a great way to relax in the sunshine of the tropics. It’s one of the most fun family Mexico destinations.
One of the best things to do in and around Cabo San Lucas is snorkeling. Having snorkeled all around Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo, Todos Santos and more, we have a comprehensive guide to the best snorkeling spots in the region.
Also, for those that prefer to be guided, we’ve done a lot of ecotours in Cabo over the years, ranging from free diving with sharks to simple snorkeling and hiking. The best ecotours in Cabo are lead by passionate people aiming to education and protect the wildlife of the Baja.
Find a Cabo snorkeling ecotour that’s right for you!
Halloween and Dia de los Muertos in Cabo
Enjoying and experiencing Dia de los Muertos in Mexico is on many peoples’ Mexico travel plans. It really is remarkable and so different from Halloween activities in the USA. Heck, Halloween in Mexico is way different too. Take a look at what to expect from Halloween and Dia de los Muertos in Cabo San Lucas, because it’s not like what you’d think.
Navigating Mexican Timeshares
Encountering a timeshare or vacation ownership presentation in a Mexican vacation destination is nearly unavoidable. We own two timeshares and understand them well. There are some that are great and actually do provide long term value.
There are some timeshares in Mexican destinations that really don’t offer a better value than making your own tropical resort travel plans and booking on your own. We can help you understand timeshares and what is actually worth your time.
If you have any questions about visiting Mexico or planning a Mexican vacation, please let us know. We’ll be adding to our destination guide with more trips down, so check back for more updates.