© Getty Images

Northwest Mexico

The dramatic beaches of the Sea of Cortez and the abundant marine life, including some 40 sea lion colonies and 27 species of whale and dolphin, are magnets for visitors: Puerto Peñasco, Bahía de Kino and San Carlos all beckon travelers. The region, encompassing Sonora and northern Sinaloa, still bursts with homespun character. The strains of norteña (country) music and the inviting smell of carne asada (grilled beef) waft past cowboy-hatted locals on the streets.

The perfunctory towns and cities won't detain you long: Los Mochis harbors little of interest except as a jumping-off point for the spectacular train ride through Copper Canyon or the ferry to Baja. The state capital, Hermosillo, is a vast and faceless place with little cultural interest. The glorious exception is Álamos, a colonial jewel surrounded by peaks of the Sierra Madre Occidental, which is replete with atmospheric hotels and restaurants and well worth a side trip.

Top attractions

These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Northwest Mexico.