Mexico Hidden Gems: The 5 You Need to Know About

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Venturing Off The Beaten Path: 5 Hidden Gems of Mexico Travel eGuide

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Snag this FREE guide to discover 5 additional places.

Five Mexico hidden gems just wasn’t going to cut it! This country is huge, full of off the beaten path places  and so much more than just Cancun, Tulum & Cabo San Lucas! That’s why picking just 5 places was impossible! Get this blog as a pretty pdf & learn about 10 Mexico hidden gems. Hint: One of them is in the photo below & you need to know about it right now!

Campeche Yucatan Mexico

Mexico hidden gems & off the beaten path destinations are kinda my thing!

Looking to travel to some Mexico hidden gems? If so, you’re in the right place… and you’ve come to the right guide!

Here’s the deal:

👋I’m Shelley, and I have been a solo traveler in Mexico since April 2018! I have personally been to each place on the list  some more than once!

The great thing about planning a trip to Mexico is that it’s huge. There is something & somewhere for everyone.

I needed to keep this blog to a reasonable size, so I could only list 5 here.

However, in an effort shed some light on a country that is sooooo much more than just Cancun, Tulum, Mexico City & Cabo San Lucas, I created a FREE downloadable guide with even more places!

⬇️Your FREE guide is right down there ⬇️

In it, you’ll discover 5 additional Mexico hidden gems you’ll want to travel to likerightnow — in addition to the 5 places highlighted in this blog.

I don’t want to spoil any surprises, but I’ll give you a hint as to one of the places:

This place is located not too far from Mexico City, and is on every instagram travel influencer’s bucket list to visit and photograph.

Download your free guide now to see if you guessed right!

If all 10 of the places in there still aren’t enough, here’s one more of the beautiful Mexico hidden gemss you need to discover…

💡44 of the Most Instagrammable Places in Merida, Mexico

Ok, now let’s dive in to this blog!

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#1. Bacalar

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Bacalar Travel

Bacalar is basically a postcard. It is the perfect place for you to live your best crystal-clear-water vacation life.

Here, you can do all of the relaxing vacation things. No really, you can do them all here: Swim, eat/drink, read, lay in a hammock, chill, think, watch the sunrise, admire nature… and do a whole lotta nothin’.

Oh, and of course, try to spot all seven shades of blue in Bacalar Lagoon, AKA the “Lagoon of Seven Colors.”

Bacalar Lagoon

The colors of in Laguna Bacalar (Bacalar Lagoon) vary because the water depth ranges from 0-300 feet. In the shallows, you’ll see the bright turquoise blues, with the darker indigo shades seen in deeper waters.

The lighter shades & turquoise colors are so stunning they’ve earned Bacalar Lagoon the nickname, the “Maldives of Mexico.”

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Bacalar Mexico | 5 Mexico Hidden Gems | Off the beaten path Mexico | Travel Mexico Solo

Bacalar things to do & see

Los Rapidos Bacalar

One of the lagoon’s most popular places to spend the day is Los Rapidos (The Rapids). As the name implies, there are actually fast-moving rapids you can ride, swim in & play in!

There’s a restaurant, bar, kayak rentals, water hammocks, swings & bathrooms, so you can easily hang out there all day long.

Cocalitos Bacalar

Take the boat tour around the lagoon & visit the Canal de los Piratas (Pirate’s Channel). You can find companies along 1st Ave., the street that circles lagoon.

Another option is to take a boat tour from Cocalitos. This is a popular “beach club” (lagoon club?) to spend the day relaxing, swimming, eating & drinking.

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Cenote Azul

Besides Bacalar lagoon itself, the second most popular place to swim is Cenote Azul (Blue Cenote). It is also one of the deepest cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula, at about 300 feet!

Just as with the other places listed, you could spend the whole day here. There is a restaurant, lockers for your stuff & bathrooms on-site.

Also check these places out:
  • Parroquia de San Joaquin (Saint Joaquin’s Parrish/Church)
  • Fuerte de San Felipe (Saint Felipe’s Fort)

Bacalar Mexico fort canon | 5 Mexico Hidden Gems | Off the beaten path Mexico | Travel Mexico Solo

Traveling to Bacalar

State: Quintana Roo
Bacalar is near: Cancun, Tulum, Mérida
Best time to go to Bacalar: Nov.-May
Bacalar is known for: Blue water, Tranquility, Nature

How do I get to Bacalar?

Bacalar is all the way down in the southern tip of Mexico, and only a 30 minute drive to Belize. The closest airport is Chetumal International Airport (CTM), located about 30-45 minutes away in the city of Chetumal.

Driving is an option from any of the Mexico’s other Yucatan destinations: Cancun, Riviera Maya, Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Merida, Valladolid, etc.!

Make sure to take the toll roads, as they are well-maintained and generally safer. Oh, and bring cash for the tolls.

It usually takes about 4-5 hours by car from Cancun, Riviera Maya & Merida, and 3-4 hours from Tulum, Playa del Carmen & Valladolid.

Not renting a car?

No problem!

The best way to get to most Mexico hidden gems is actually by bus! Bus transportation in Mexico is very common, just opt for the luxury class busses, sit back and enjoy the ride! The biggest company is ADO, which goes just about everywhere.

💡Afraid to Travel Alone? These 5 Powerful Tips Will Help

Cocalitos Bacalar swings | 5 Mexico Hidden Gems | Off the beaten path Mexico | Travel Mexico Solo

Bacalar Stromatolites

The giant circular disks you’ll see in the water are called stromatolites. They are among the oldest living things presently found on Earth, and also found only in a handful of places.

It’s not super easy (or quick) to explain what they really do, but basically they filter the lagoon’s water & keep it so beautiful. Stromatolites do for the lagoon what coral does for the ocean, among other things.

Please practice responsible tourism & do not touch them! In addition, only use eco-friendly & biodegradable sunscreen when swimming in Bacalar Lagoon.

#2. Guanajuato

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Guanajuato Travel

THE COLORS!! While most of Mexico’s old Colonial cities more-or-less follow a color scheme, Guanajuato (pronounced wan-uh-wat-toe) is every color of the rainbow.

You can easily spend the day taking photos while just walking the town’s narrow, winding alleyways. These quaint streets look like something right out of an old European village… just way more colorful!

Keep in mind there are several universities in Guanajuato, so the town can be a noisier & more of a party town than other Mexican cities.

One of the biggest festivals in all of Mexico, the International Cervantino Festival, takes place here each year in October. This is followed immediately after by Mexico’s famed Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead).

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Guanajuato State & City

Guanajuato is both the name of the city & the state. This can get confusing because the town is usually just referred to as Guanajuato, rather than Guanajuato City, it’s full name.

Alley of the Kiss Guanajuato Mexico | 5 Mexico Hidden Gems | Off the beaten path Mexico | Travel Mexico Solo

Guanajuato things to do & see

Aimlessly Wander Around

No, really. Just walk around downtown, go to a cafe, take some photos  then take more photos. Guanajuato is like being in a painting. It is almost sensory overload just being somewhere so pretty!

If you prefer a map, check out the FREE Google Map below with 24 of Guanajuato’s most instagrammable places.

Callejon del Beso

The Callejon del Beso (Alley of the Kiss) is located up on one Guanajuato’s many hills, behind the Plaza de Los Angeles (Plaza of the Angels).

I’ll let you google the story for yourself, but if there was ever a Mexican “Romeo & Juliet” story, it happened on the two balconies in that  ⬆️ photo!

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Museo de las Momias

The town’s most popular museum is the Museo de las Momias (Mummy Museum), which is just what it sounds like — a museum of mummies.

Yes, real mummies.

One of the most fascinating things about Mexican vs. U.S. culture is how death is considered a much less taboo subject. It’s a much less taboo subject here, and often, it’s a celebration (ie. Día de los Muertos)!

Also check these places out:

FREE Google Map of Guanajuato’s Sites

Guanajuato colorful streets | 5 Mexico Hidden Gems | Off the beaten path Mexico | Travel Mexico Solo

Traveling to Guanajuato

State: Guanajuato
Guanajuato is near: San Miguel de Allende, Mexico City, Guadalajara
Best time to go to Guanajuato: Nov.-May
Guanajuato is known for: Colors & Beauty

How do I get to Guanajuato?

Guanajuato is in Central Mexico, about 5 hours by car or bus from both Mexico City & Guadalajara.

The good news?

You can just fly directly into Guanajuato International Airport (BJX)!

Honestly, you can (& should!) make this area of the country its own trip by visiting Guanajuato, Queretaro & San Miguel de Allende.

San Miguel is popular with American expats, tourists & foodies — Top Chef even filmed there in Season 12!

You can dine at restaurants from some of Mexico’s best chefs in San Miguel, including Enrique Olvera of Pujol, considered one of the best restaurants in the world. He also made the menu at Moxi in San Miguel.

Queretaro, like Guanajuato, is a cute, colorful Colonial city.

If you don’t want to fly, the best way to get to this, and most Mexico hidden gems, is by bus!

Mexico’s bus transportation is safe, inexpensive & reliable… just opt for the luxury class, sit back and enjoy the ride! The biggest company is ADO, which goes just about everywhere, but also check out Primera Plus.

San Miguel de Allende Mexico church | 5 Mexico Hidden Gems | Off the beaten path Mexico | Travel Mexico Solo

#3. Holbox Island

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Holbox Travel

The only island on this list of Mexico hidden gems!

The thing you’ll love most about this Holbox is that it still manages to feel like the small town fishing village it was 20 years ago.

With the exception of a few work trucks, cars aren’t allowed on the island. There are no street lights, golf carts & bikes remain the main modes of transport & the roads are “paved” with beach sand.

You won’t find neon t-shirt “tourist shops,” tour operators don’t scream at you to buy one of their tours ⁠— There’s not a Señor Frogs in sight! It’s just beautiful beaches for miles, hammocks in the water, and “good vibes,” as the kids say!

Best of all, you never have to wear shoes on Holbox (pronounced hole-bosh, btw).

Holbox provides a nice mix of tranquil & lively. Meaning, there’s peace & quiet when you want it, and also hip nighttime spots for a live music, a delicious dinner and drinks. To which, I emphatically recommend Big Fish!

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Holbox Island Hammock | 5 Mexico Hidden Gems | Off the beaten path Mexico | Travel Mexico Solo

Holbox things to do & see

Lay in the water hammocks

With many discovering Holbox via Instagram, some of the island’s most instafamous landmarks are the hammocks in the water.

If you’re looking for some chill hammock time, head to Punta Cocos beach. The more famous spot is on the other end of the island at Playa Holbox beach. There, you’ll also find the giant, colorful HOLBOX letters.

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See the bioluminescence

Go see the bioluminescence at Punta Coco beach at night. You can (usually) see it all year long, & during any moon phase, but it’s most vibrant during the new moon  when the moon’s not visible in the sky.

Punta Coco is also a great spot to watch the sunset if you want to be away from the crowds. The main sunset viewing spot is from the main fishing pier.

Swim with the whale sharks

If you visit during June-Aug., you can take a boat tour to swim with whale sharks, the largest fish in the ocean! Don’t worry; they aren’t actually sharks & don’t even have sharp teeth. They are huge though  40-feet-long huge!

Pretty PLEASE do keep this in mind:

Only use an ethical tour company that keeps the animals’ safety & well being as their top priority 🐳

Also check these places out:
  • Yum Balam Nature Reserve
  • Boat Tour to Cabo Catoche
  • Punta Mosquito: You might see some wild flamingoes, especially if you visit between April-Oct.

Holbox Island | 5 Mexico Hidden Gems | Off the beaten path Mexico | Travel Mexico Solo

Traveling to Holbox

State: Quintana Roo
Holbox is near: Cancun, Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya
Best time to go to Holbox: Dec.-March
Holbox is known for: Beach, Nature & Island Vibes

How do I get to Holbox?

To get to Holbox, you first have to get to the town of Chiquila, and then take the 20-minute ferry ride over. 

By Bus

Nearly every bus company operating in the Yucatan Peninsula has daily trips to/from Chiquila. The biggest bus company is ADO, which goes just about everywhere.

Mexico’s bus transportation is safe, inexpensive & reliable  and often the best way to get to all of these small-town Mexico hidden gems!

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By Car

If you are driving your own car to Chiquila, you’ll have to leave it there before taking the ferry over.

Not to worry though!

There are a few paid parking lots right next to the ferry dock. This is also where you buy your ferry tickets.

You can leave your car in one of the lots at the daily rate of about $7 per day. The lots have guards, so your car will be safe, but remember to err on the side of caution & take all of your valuables!

Taking the Ferry

There are a a couple of ferry companies & they (pretty much) run daily, every hour or so, from about 6am-8pm. You can buy your tickets right at the ferry dock in Chiquila.

By Plane

Holbox also has a small airport for private planes. You charter the whole plane, so you pick the time you want to fly. The flight time is only 30 minutes, so there is a lot of convenience with this option.

With convenience comes expense; so a flight charter is, of course, the most expensive option. By “expensive,” think about $600 for up to 5 people for a 1-way charter out of Cancun.

Holbox Island sunset | 5 Mexico Hidden Gems | Off the beaten path Mexico | Travel Mexico Solo

#4. Oaxaca

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Oaxaca Travel

Of all the places on this list, Oaxaca likely has the most name recognition, as far as Mexico hidden gems go.

But how many people do you know who have actually visited?

Your answer is likely Not many.

This is unfortunate, because, for me, Oaxaca is the Mexico people imagine Mexico to be!

There’s everything here: ahhhmazing Mexican food, mezcal, rich history, colorful festivals, beautiful nature, colonial architecture, pre-hispanic sites, indigenous artisan communities  and did I mention the food!?

Let’s just say that Oaxaca is known as the Foodie Capital of Mexico for good reason!

Oaxacan Food Guide 🌮🌶 ☕️

  • Mole negro: There are actually 7 types of mole, but this is the most popular.

  • Tamales oaxaqueños: Oaxacan tamales, also called tamales ojas (leaf tamales).

  • Chapulines: The infamous Mexican grasshoppers! You’ll find people selling them on the streets & in the markets.

  • Also try: Tlayudas, Quesillo, Tasajo, Memelas, Nieves, Chocolate oaxaqueño & Cafe de olla.

Dia de los Muertos

Each year, for a few days in late-Oct./early-Nov., many Mexicans believe the veil to the spirit world is lifted and our departed family members return Earth-side.

Rather than a somber funerary event, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a celebration.

Families join together to create elaborate ofrendas (alters), filled with marigold flowers, candles, copal incense, photos of their loved one and whatever food & drink they would want to consume on their arrival.

Though this is Oaxaca’s biggest festival, the Guelaguetza Festival might be its most colorful!

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Oaxaca State & City

Oaxaca is both the name of the city & the state. This can get confusing because the town is usually just referred to as Oaxaca, rather than Oaxaca de Juárez, it’s full name.

Hierve el Agua Oaxaca | 5 Mexico Hidden Gems | Off the beaten path Mexico | Travel Mexico Solo

Oaxaca things to do & see

Eat & Drink

Eat. A lot. Then, drink mezcal. Oaxaca is where mezcal was born, and it’s taken very seriously here. Head to El Rey de Matatlan, one of Oaxaca’s top spots for distillery tours & mezcal tastings.

Many of the country’s most famous chefs also have restaurants in Oaxaca. Usually atop many diners’ lists is Alejandro Ruiz Olmedo‘s restaurant, Casa Oaxaca.

For a casual, but authentic (and amazing!!) Oaxacan food experience, Itanoni is your place.

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Hierve el Agua

Hierve el Agua (Boiling Water). It is one of most beautiful & photographed places in Oaxaca.

Actually, it’s technically about 40 miles outside of the city in the town of Roeguía, but you can get there within an hour by taxi.

Pro Tip: Go early! It gets crowded by about 10am.

Oaxaca church in downtown | 5 Mexico Hidden Gems | Off the beaten path Mexico | Travel Mexico Solo

Centro Historico

It’s easy to spend a full day walking around Centro Histórico (Historic Center, or Downtown), taking photos of the beautiful architecture, checking out boutiques & art galleries… and eating!

If you have time, do the guided walking tour of the Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca (Botanical Garden). They are offered in English several times per week.

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Monte Alban

Both Oaxaca’s Centro Histórico and Monte Alban are UNESCO World Heritage sites!

This pre-hispanic city functioned as the capital of Oaxaca’s indigenous Zapotec people until 800 AD. It was then uninhabited for unknown reasons.

Monte Alban is the most visited archeological site in Oaxaca, with Mitla coming in second.

Also visit Oaxaca’s art towns:

Oaxaca art rugs | 5 Mexico Hidden Gems | Off the beaten path Mexico | Travel Mexico Solo

Traveling to Oaxaca

State: Oaxaca
Oaxaca is near: Puerto Escondido, Mexico City, Chiapas
Best time to go to Oaxaca: Oct.-March
Oaxaca is known for: Food, Festivals & Culture

How do I get to Oaxaca?

Oaxaca is in southern Mexico, about 6 hours by car or bus from Mexico City.

The good news?

You can just fly directly into Oaxaca International Airport (OAX)!

If it were me, I’d fly. However, for those who prefer a bus, Mexico’s bus transportation is safe, inexpensive & reliable! The biggest company is ADO, which goes just about everywhere, but also check out Primera Plus.

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pinata Oaxaca | 5 Mexico Hidden Gems | Off the beaten path Mexico | Travel Mexico Solo

#5. Sayulita

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Sayulita Travel

It’s almost as if good vibes were invented in this chill bohemian town, the last of the Mexico hidden gems on this list.

So just what made this otherwise tiny beachfront pueblo so famous (& Instafamous)?

The colorful flags!!

The flags are everywhere here, and while other Mexican cities have them as well, they aren’t usually up year-round. Sayulita rocks them all day, everyday.

Besides the flags, Sayulita is a laid-back, boho, hippie, surfer, beach bum, beach town — and what’s not to love about all that?!

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Sayulita flags | 5 Mexico Hidden Gems | Off the beaten path Mexico | Travel Mexico Solo

Sayulita things to do & see

Palaya de los Muertos

Playa de los Muertos (Beach of the Dead) is something you don’t see everyday!

Sayulita is a beach town, and part of a larger beach community, and they have to work with what they’ve got, so one of their cemeteries is located just behind this beach.

It’s arguably one of the prettiest beaches in Sayulita, too.

Surf Lessons

Learn how to surf at a surf school. There is a great wave that breaks just offshore, which is perfect for beginners.

You’ll find the majority of surf schools on Playa Sayulita (Sayulita Beach) near downtown.

Islas Marietas

If surfing’s not for you, book the tour to Islas Marietas (Marietas Islands).

There are two tours offered:

One lets you swim & snorkel near the islands…

The other one lets you actually go onto the hidden beach of Playa del Amor (Love Beach), which looks like something straight out of a dream!

Pro Tip: In an effort to keep this incredible beach pristine, the Mexican government restricts entry to about 125 people per day. If you’re interested in this tour, book it as soon as you arrive to Sayulita.

Also check out these places:
  • San Pancho
  • Playa Carricitos (Carricitos Beach)
  • Downtown Sayulita’s boutique shops
Marietas Islands Puerto Vallarta Sayulita | 5 Mexico Hidden Gems | Off the beaten path Mexico | Travel Mexico Solo

Traveling to Sayulita

State: Nayarit
Sayulita is near: Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara
Best time to go to Sayulita: Nov.-April
Sayulita is known for: Colorful flags, Beach, Surfing

How do I get to Sayulita?

Getting to Sayulita easy! Take a flight into Puerto Vallarta International Airport (PVR) and then take an Uber, private transport service, bus, etc. for the 1-hour trip to Sayulita.

If you’re coming from Guadalajara, you have the option of doable a 6-hour bus ride or a 1-hour flight. Flights within Mexico are generally not much more than the bus, so I’d personally opt for the flight.

To those who prefer buses, Mexico’s bus transportation is safe, inexpensive & reliable! The biggest company is ADO, which goes just about everywhere, but also check out Primera Plus.

💡Mexico Solo Travel: How To Be Safe & Crush It

Sayulita | 5 Mexico Hidden Gems | Off the beaten path Mexico | Travel Mexico Solo

#6-10. Get the Free Guide to find out!

Venturing Off The Beaten Path: 5 Hidden Gems of Mexico Travel eGuide

Download it now!

Snag this FREE guide to discover 5 additional places.

Five Mexico hidden gems just wasn’t going to cut it! This country is huge, full of off the beaten path places  and so much more than just Cancun, Tulum & Cabo San Lucas! That’s why picking just 5 places was impossible! Get this blog as a pretty pdf & learn about 10 Mexico hidden gems. Hint: One of them is in the photo below & you need to know about it right now!

Colorful umbrellas hanging over a walkway in San Cristobal de las Casas Chiapas Mexico

Which places would you add?

Mexico has so many off the beaten path places and hidden gem travel destinations that there’s no way I could possibly highlight them all. So… I’d love to hear from you!

Let me know in the comments down below what places you’d add. Also, which places caught your eye from the ones listed here?!

¡Hola Chicas!

👋I’m Shelley, a former Miami travel magazine editor, who ditched the office for the world! I have been a solo female traveler in Mexico for 2 years now, and want to pass my experience + expertise on to you.

Let’s Turn Your Dream Into Your Destination ✈️🌎

I write about all things Solo travel + Mexico travel. Check out my newest blogs from both of these categories below ❤️⬇️

I’d L❤️VE to hear your thoughts…

3 Comments

  1. Jyotsna Ramani

    Oaxaca and Bacalar were on my list but I just had a month in Mexico and ended up dividing it between Guanajuato, Mexico city and Playa del carmen/ Tulum. The cenotes are stunning there.

    Reply
    • Shelley

      You have to come back them!! Oaxaca & Bacalar are two of Mexico’s best places!!!

      Reply
    • Shelley

      You have to come back then!! Oaxaca & Bacalar are two of Mexico’s best places!!!

      Reply

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