Few Mexican destinations can dazzle you with ancient Maya ruins, azure Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico waters and colonial cities all in one fell swoop. Actually, there's only one – the Yucatán Peninsula. The peninsula comprises parts of Belize and Guatemala, as well as three separate Mexican states: Yucatán, Quintana Roo and Campeche.
Yucatán State & the Maya Heartland
Sitting regally on the northern tip of the peninsula, Yucatán state sees less mass tourism than its flashy-and-trashy neighbor, Quintana Roo. It is sophisticated and savvy, and the perfect spot for travelers more interested in cultural exploration than beach life.
Eastern Yucatán State
Scrub jungle, intact colonial cities, cenotes aplenty and the Yucatán's largest coastal estuary are just a few of the attractions in the eastern portion of the state. And then there's Chichén Itzá, one of the 'new wonders of the world', as well as a smattering of less-visited (but nonetheless impressive) Maya ruins.
Mexico City is, and has always been, the sun in the Mexican solar system. Though much-maligned in the past, these days the city is cleaning up its act. Revamped public spaces are springing back to life, the culinary scene is exploding and a cultural renaissance is flourishing.
Cardón cacti, boojum trees, ocotillo, cholla and other desert marvels thrive in this beautiful desert area that sometimes doesn’t receive any rain for a decade. Look out for crumbling missions, date palms, coconuts and mangrove swamps as you meander southward. The 25,000-sq-km Reserva de la Biosfera El Vizcaíno is one of Latin America’s largest protected areas.
Cancún is a tale of two cities. There's a glitzy hotel zone with its famous white-sand beaches, unabashed party scene and sophisticated seafood restaurants. Then there's the actual city itself, with neighborhood taco joints and undeveloped beaches. Had your fill of raucous discos in the hotel zone? Escape to a downtown salsa club.
The state of Oaxaca (wah-hah-kah) has a special magic felt by Mexicans and foreigners alike. A bastion of indigenous culture, it’s home to the country’s most vibrant crafts and art scene, some outstandingly colorful and extroverted festivities, a uniquely savory cuisine and diverse natural riches.
Northern Central Highlands
From cobbled lanes and shaded plazas to vast deserts and cloud forest, Mexico's northern central highlands is a region as varied as its history, cuisine and cultures. It was here that enormous mineral wealth created rich colonial cities before revolutionary activity left ghost towns in its wake.
Western Central Highlands
Welcome to the Mexico of your imagination! Many of the elements that define the image of Mexico worldwide originated in the western central highlands amid slumbering volcanoes, sun-drenched avocado plantations and some of the country’s finest 'undiscovered’ pre-Hispanic ruins.
The Riviera Maya, a tourist corridor of white-sand beaches, scenic ruins and fun-filled cenotes, was made for road-tripping. Yes, it's growing fast, too fast some will say, but despite all the development, you can still find that small fishing town or head inland to catch a glimpse of the Mexico that tourism forgot.
Around Mexico City
With its daunting size and seemingly endless sprawl, the megalopolis of Mexico City might seem like a challenge to escape from, but even if you’re in Mexico’s capital for only a week, the ancient ruins, pueblos mágicos (magical villages) and stunning mountain landscape of the surrounding area should not be missed.