Mexico has long been known to North Americans as the place where you go to drink, party and sit, day after day on the beach. Mexico however; happens to be one of my favorite backpacking destinations! After visiting Mexico many times it has ranked at the top of my list for “favorite destinations”, however, not for the beaches, but instead for its history and people. Historic Maya, Aztec, and Colonial Spanish cities are spread throughout the country adding to Mexico’s incredibly in depth and complex history. Mexico’s landscapes are also just as spectacular; from giant blood red copper mountains to lush humid dense jungles, and vast open barren deserts that make all corners of this nation an adventure waiting to happen. Mexico’s population is currently over 125 million which makes for some incredible diversity among its people. You can still find Mayan language speakers and the descendants of Spanish explorers throughout this fast pace country. Once you leave the Yucatan you will be amazed at how cheap of a travel destination Mexico really is. Most days in Mexico I only spent around 25 USD, and that’s including those desperately important evening cervezas. So grab your backpack and head to Mexico for something other than the beach with one of my top favorite Mexican “off the beaten track” destinations.
Ah Oaxaca, this is where Mexico becomes so incredibly authentic to me. Oaxaca City is a bright, colorful and beautiful contrast of Spanish Colonial architecture, mixed with a traditional Mexican flare. Throw in flying Luchadores, Mexican skull art, vibrant festivals, and some of Mexico’s most exotic markets. Oaxaca is Mexico in all ways possible. If you’re looking to learn Spanish then look no further as Oaxaca offers some of Mexico’s best places to learn Spanish. Enter the markets here and order some Mole and you will taste some of Mexico’s best cuisines! Oaxaca will introduce you to the REAL side of Mexico’s cuisine and get you away from those constant taco meals. Outside of Oaxaca City, you will find a beautiful stark desert with huge black cactus inhabited mountains. This desert, however, conceals some of Mexico’s oldest ruins. Take in Mt Alban the ancient Zapotec capital sitting atop Alban’s peak. This site, being one of Mexico’s most impressive sights, dates back to 500 BC and offers an in-depth look at how this civilization lived and thrived. Alban also offers incredible 360-degree views of Oaxaca’s desert and area. Oaxaca remains to be one of Mexico’s poorest regions so volunteering opportunities here are plentiful and will leave you with a piece of Oaxaca in your heart. Getting lost in Oaxaca City at night was amazing, this city shows its true colors at night with festivals, lights, food and some of the most interesting and sincere people in Mexico.
My Favorite Accommodation in Oaxaca – Hostal Casa Del Sol USD$10-40: This hostel is fantastic, in the heart of Oaxaca City it offers a great location and a really Mexican feel with it decorations and old building feel. Walk out the front door and you are greeted with cobblestone roads and beautiful street vistas.
Mexico City is big, no it’s HUGE. Mexico’s rough and tough capital city is full of so many sights and sounds it will keep you busy for years to come. It’s also a great place to witness Mexico’s new and old culture. The new culture being Mexico’s urban clubs and restaurants that offer a uniquely Mexican feel, but at a new modern Mexico style. Party at night and drink up some Mezcal (Smokey tequila variation) and tequila while munching on some crickets perhaps at one of these great backstreet places in Mexico City’s heart. During the day Mexico City offers very photogenic sights. From enormous Spanish cathedrals to the sleepy Aztec built canals Xochimilco, Mexico City will leave you fully impressed. The city also offers some of the best museums in all of Mexico which happen to be located on an ancient Mexican site itself! If history is not your thing, then head over to the Arena Mexico to witness some incredible feats by Mexico’s masked Luchador wrestlers (the crowd goes insane here!). Mexico City’s diverse sights and people will leave you wondering why more people don’t start their trip to Mexico here. I loved drinking Mezcal in Roma Norte district. Bar hopping between these traditional styles Mezcalerias was fantastic!
My Favorite Accommodation in Mexico City – Hotel Catedral USD$40-70: This hotel located in the historic center is a beautiful showcase of traditional Spanish architecture and décor. It’s not a cheap place but it well worth splurging to stay here as it is a sight in the city itself. The rooftop patio offers amazing views of the city and a great place to relax with a drink. I will always drop a few extra notes to stay here.
Located on the outskirt of Mexico City just 50km away is the massive archaeological site of Teotihuacan. Teotihuacan was Mesoamerica’s greatest city at one time, Piramide Del Sol the largest of the many pyramids is the third largest pyramid in the world! Climbing atop this massive structure gives you an overview of how impressive this city must have been in its day. The area is frequented by many tourists; so with many tourists comes the overwhelming amount of sombrero sellers and hawkers alike. But Teotihuacan is so big that it’s easy to escape the tourists and hawkers here and have a genuine adventure surrounded by some of Mexico’s greatest relics. Teotihuacan area is also fascinating to hike around. It’s dry desert climate and cactus covered hills are great for escaping the city if you need a bit of nature. My favorite experience here was just simply climbing the enormous Piramide Del Sol and watching the sun set over the city and desert landscape.
My Favorite Accommodation in Teotihuacan – Being so close to Mexico City I visited here as a day trip. Getting here by local bus is simple, easy and cheap from the station Mexico City Norte.
Yes I know Tulum is in the Yucatan and is a highly touristic area, but hear me out! All the tour buses and tourists come here as a day trip from one of the millions of resorts. Meaning that not too many people actually stay here in Tulum. Tulum has a great Hostel and drinking scene and a backpacker’s vibe to it. And staying here means you can visit Tulum ruins at any time of day to avoid all the tour groups. Tulum’s ruins are spectacular! The Mayans this time really could not have picked a more picturesque location. Walk through the hillside ruins and discover sacrificing temples and old markets then head on down to the beach and hunt for more undiscovered hidden archaeological gems. Tulum’s beaches are also amazing. Most tourists don’t come here for the beach so you usually end up having quite a private beach experience here, (with exception to the Tulum Ruins beach of course which gets very busy mid-day). Tulum also offers some great Scuba Diving outfits and yoga classes. So if you’re looking for a beach getaway with a little bit of adventure than Tulum is a great place to kick back and enjoy a peaceful side of the Yucatan. While visiting Tulum towards sunset I went snorkeling and found more pieces to this ancient city beneath the depths of the ocean. When I surfaced from the water I was faced with one of the most amazing views of the temple-dotted shoreline.
My Favorite Accommodation in Tulum – Weary Traveler USD$ 10-30: The weary traveler is by far the best hostel in the area…. Well at least for the money. Being in the Yucatan you will notice prices go up fast, but the Weary Traveler has remained an affordable place for travelers. It’s also conveniently located near the bus station making it easy to find.
Deep in the dark jungles of Chiapas lays one of Mexico’s best uncharted/unexplored Mayan ruins that gets overlooked by many. Palenque is where travelers come for a jungle adventure. Huge temples and pyramids half buried in the red earth amidst a dark and noisy jungle, Palenque is awe inspiring. Most of the ruins are still undiscovered and ongoing excavation is happening, so there is still the chance to explore and come across some secrets that lay hidden here. There is also lots of mystery about Palenque and its history. This can be explored by visiting the Palenque’s wonderful museums and exploring the temple walls which are covered in texts and paintings. Palenque is not the easiest place to reach, however. Situated quite far from the Yucatan, and Mexico City makes this place isolated. Therefore it’s one of the best sights in Mexico! If you’re looking for true adventure in the deep heart of Mexico then head over to Palenque as I did. I will never forget sitting atop one of the temples in the evening listening to Macaws, and the noise of the jungle beginning to awaken for the night. At night this place becomes magic with the moonlight reflecting off the gray temples and the black noisy jungle surrounding you and this surreal place.
My Favorite Accommodation in Palenque – Hotel Xibalba USD$ 40-80: While in Palenque why not make the Mayan experience even better by staying in a traditional Mayan style hotel. With ancient sarcophaguses and Stonewall carvings, this place is crazy cool. Not the cheapest but well worth the bit of extra money for the experience.