Mexico has always been a favorite travel destination for U.S. citizens. It’s nearby, it’s sunny and who doesn’t love tacos? Really, your biggest problem will be deciding where in Mexico to go. But don’t worry, Winetraveler will lend a helping hand below. If you’d like a little culture, fewer mega-resorts, a more enriching travel experience or simply something different, here are some Cancun alternatives.
Mexico Travel Tips & Practicalities
Travel logistics: Mexico welcomes visitors via air or through land border crossing should you fancy a road trip. It’s possible to fly to several Mexican hubs nonstop from many cities in the U.S. with airlines such as American, Delta, United, Spirit, Frontier, Aeromexico, JetBlue and Southwest. Check for current flight deals during your travel dates here.
If you’re heading to a smaller destination, expect a layover in Mexico City, or you can opt for a rental car. Road safety and traffic regulations vary greatly by region, so it’s best to research your chosen spot before renting.
When to visit: The best time to visit Mexico for dry, sunny weather is December to April, though November and May can be optimal months for budget travelers. If you travel outside these times, the rain (or hurricane) is always a possibility.
A note on currency, language and insurance: Many vendors in Mexico will accept U.S. dollars, but it’s best to always have Mexican pesos on hand. Many locals speak English, but you may want to brush up on your Spanish, especially if you’re heading off-the-beaten-path or outside of resort areas. We recommend having travel insurance.
San Miguel de Allende
For those who prefer culture to the beach, San Miguel de Allende is a UNESCO World Heritage Site worth a visit. If you don’t speak Spanish, it’s okay, as the town is popular among ex-pats and retirees. This 16th-century city will charm you with its colorful way of life. You’ll feel the bold tones in every fiber of your being: the vibrant-hued buildings, the bright textiles and artisan goods of the local markets and even the pale pink glow of the city’s most iconic landmark, the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel (it was modeled after Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia).
Day trips to nearby hot springs or desert hiking spots will offer a whole new outlook on Mexico’s diverse flora and fauna. You can browse various hotel options here.
For those who want to experience a bit of everything, head to the state of Oaxaca. From the capital’s (which is also named Oaxaca) museums and cultural sites (we love the astronomical observatory) to the mezcal distilleries to the stunning, white sand beaches, the region has so much to see and do. Highlights include the Hierve el Agua waterfall and mineral pools and Monte Albán, archeological ruins that rival the famous Chichén Itzá. We recommend exploring by car for ease, and there are plenty of affordable accommodation options.
Mexico City (CDMX)
Mexico City may just be the best destination for a Winetraveler reader (someone who adores gastronomy through travel). Known as an emerging foodie capital, the city’s innovative cuisine goes well beyond your typical Mexican delights like quesadillas and enchiladas. But that’s the joy of this chaotic city. You can sit in a no-frills taco shop and eat the best taco de pastor (think juicy Adobe pork shaved into a piping hot corn tortilla with a slice of pineapple on top) for lunch, and have a refined cut of octopus with habanero, ayocote bean and Veracruz sauce for dinner as part of a tasting menu at a Michelin-starred restaurant such as Pujol. Luxury and boutique accommodations are both abundant.
If you’re wondering if there’s an (almost) untouched paradise left on this earth, there is: Holbox. Pronounced ‘Hole-bush,’ this car-free island is located north of the Yucatan peninsula. It’s an ideal alternative to Cancun for sunseekers and beach bums wanting a true escape. Stay by the beach, rent a bike and cruise past the white sands. You’ll see the occasional group of pink flamingos and some of the most epic sunsets found in all of Mexico. Scuba divers and whale watchers will also have plenty to do and see in the waters surrounding this idyllic island.
Skipping the salty, turquoise seas of the Riviera Maya may seem crazy, but further inland, Lake Bacalar is rumored to have not one or two, but seven different hues. You can swim and kayak in the lake, and nearby, there are plenty of cenotes and archeological ruins to explore in the nearby area too. And if you want to compare the lake’s hues of green and blue to the ocean’s waves, the coastline is just an hour away by car. There are some really beautiful boutique resorts nearby.
Valle de Guadalupe
We couldn’t leave one of Mexico’s most beloved wine regions off this list: the Valle de Guadalupe. Set in Baja California, you may have heard the region referred to as the Napa Valley of Mexico. Stories of the region say that the grapevines date back to the Spanish conquest. The Spaniards allegedly ran out of wine, planting vineyards. Other stories say it was the Jesuits who planted the vines in the 18th century. Either way, today, you can stay here and visit over 100 wineries in the region. Plan to sip Cabernet Sauvignon or Chenin Blanc amid rolling hills and desert cacti.
For an epic beach getaway free from high-rise hotels and all-inclusive resorts, head to Zihuatanejo. This coastal area is about 150 miles north of Acapulco. (If by chance you do want those mega-resorts, stay in nearby Ixtapa instead). Hanging palm trees shade the blissful La Ropa Beach, the perfect place to toss down that towel and soak up the sun. When you tire of just relaxing, do something a little more active. The region offers activities like horseback riding, boat tours, water sports, whale watching and scuba diving.