Now, I know what some of you might be thinking - isn't Mexico just a place for all-inclusive resorts and endless beaches? Well, hold on to your sombreros, because Mexico has so much more to offer than just sun, sand, and unlimited margaritas!
From culture to cuisine, wildlife to world wonders, Mexico is full of unmissable experiences that will leave you wanting more. So, while this list is by no means exhaustive, here are some unmissable experiences to kick-start your Mexican adventure.
1. Witnesses the Monarch Butterfly Migration
Each winter, millions of monarch butterflies migrate from Canada and the USA to the forests outside of Mexico City.
The sight of countless butterflies covering the trees, and forest floor, and filling the sky with a sea of orange and black is truly unforgettable. When you consider how light each butterfly is, it's astonishing to see so many of them around you that they can cause entire tree branches to droop under their combined weight. Not just one or two branches, but every branch of an entire forest of trees! And to add to the mesmerizing scene, there are thousands more fluttering above and resting on the ground below. It's an experience that you won't find anywhere else. There is nothing else quite like it.
2. Taste REAL Mexican Food
From tacos al pastor to elote (Mexican street corn), the flavors and aromas of Mexico's street food are incomparable to “Mexican” food you find elsewhere in the world. It may come as a surprise that many of the dishes we often think of as authentic Mexican food are not actually authentic at all! In fact, we have a whole post about real Mexican food and its Tex-Mex counterparts here.
If you’re not sure where to start, taking a food tour is a great way to try some of the country's best dishes and learn about the cultural and historical influences behind them.
Plus, eating street food in Mexico is not just about the food itself, but also the atmosphere and culture. The lively energy of the streets and the friendly locals make enjoying the food an experience in itself. Steer clear of restaurants catering to tourists and eat where the locals eat!
3. Attend Day of the Dead Celebrations
The Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, is a special time in Mexico when families come together to remember and honor their loved ones who have passed away. They believe that on this day, the souls of the dead return to visit the living world. Families put out offerings, like their loved ones' favorite foods, to help guide the spirits back to the living world.
The streets are filled with all sorts of colorful decorations, costumes, and altars covered in marigolds, candles, and pictures of the departed. You can hear traditional music and watch amazing dance performances throughout the cities and towns.
While this day is celebrated nationwide, the city of Oaxaca is famous for its Day of the Dead celebrations. You can join in the colorful processions, visit cemeteries covered in flowers and candles, and try traditional foods like pan de muerto and sugar skulls. If you're in Mexico City, there is a big parade with amazing floats, costumes, and performances!
If you’re interested in other events happening throughout the year, we’ve got a month-by-month guide to all the major events and holidays in Mexico here.
4. Experience 7 Shades of Blue in Bacalar
Bacalar is a small town in the state of Quintana Roo that is known for its stunning lagoon. This natural wonder is a large, freshwater lagoon that is often referred to as the "Lagoon of Seven Colors" due to its mesmerizing shades of blue and green. You can swim, snorkel, or kayak in the crystal-clear waters of the lagoon, or simply relax on its picturesque shores and take in the peaceful surroundings. The town itself is also charming, with colorful buildings and a relaxed, laid-back atmosphere. Bacalar is a great place to escape the crowds and experience a more tranquil side of Mexico.
5. Explore the Ancient Wonders of Chichen Itza
Nestled in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico lies Chichen Itza, a stunning tribute to the architectural and mathematical genius of the ancient Mayan civilization. The towering pyramid of Kukulkan, also known as El Castillo, stands tall as the star attraction of the site.
As you make your way through the site, you can almost imagine what life was like in this ancient city. From the Ball Court, where teams used their hips, elbows, and knees to try to score points by getting the ball through a narrow stone hoop, to the Sacred Cenote, a place for ceremonial offerings to the water god as well as human sacrifices, Chichen Itza provides a glimpse into the fascinating world of the ancient Mayans.
For a particularly special experience, during the spring and autumn equinoxes. The Mayans built the El Castillo pyramid to align with the movements of the sun and stars, as they had a deep understanding of astronomy. During the equinoxes, the afternoon sun creates a shadow illusion of a serpent crawling down the pyramid's steps, which was a significant religious symbol for the Mayans.
6. Swim (or dive) in a Jungle Oasis at a Cenote
Cenotes are natural freshwater pools created by the collapse of limestone caves. Filled with crystal-clear water and surrounded by vines and trees that create a natural canopy overhead, it feels like you’re swimming in a little jungle oasis! The Yucatan has over 6000 cenotes so there are plenty to choose from whether you’re interested in diving, snorkeling or just taking a refreshing dip to cool off.
For divers, cenotes offer a very unique experience. El Pit, for example, you can dive into the depths of this deep, circular cenote where you'll find a tree at the bottom, eerily surrounded by a cloud of hydrogen sulfide. At Dos Ojos, you can dive through underground caves and tunnels filled with stalactites and stalagmites with no tech diving experience necessary!
7. Experience the Excitement of Lucha Libre
Lucha Libre is Mexico's unique style of professional wrestling, known for its colorful masks and high-flying moves.
One of the most popular venues to catch a Lucha Libre match is the Arena Mexico in Mexico City. You can purchase tickets in advance or on the day of the match, but be prepared for a lively and crowded atmosphere.
8. Visit the Mysterious Pyramids of Teotihuacan
The Teotihuacan Pyramids, located just outside Mexico City, offer a glimpse into the lives of an ancient civilization. Despite being a UNESCO World Heritage site, there is still much we don't know about the people who built it, why it eventually collapsed, and the purpose of many of its buildings and structures, making it a bit of a mystery!
At its peak, Teotihuacan was thought to have been one of the largest cities in the world, with a population estimated to be between 100,000 and 200,000 people. From the top of the Pyramid of the Sun, you can get a good sense of its impressive scale. The Pyramid of the Moon is another highlight, with its detailed carvings hinting at its use for religious ceremonies.
9. Dive the Mesoamerican Reef in Cozumel
Cozumel is a small island off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, with crystal clear waters and plenty of marine life. It’s a great diving destination for both beginners and experienced divers thanks to the great visibility, calm conditions, and shallow reefs. In fact, Cozumel's coral reefs are part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the second-largest barrier reef system in the world.
Palancar Reef is one of the most popular dive sites on the island, with towering coral pillars and swim-throughs that make for a bit of a different diving experience. Santa Rosa Wall is another popular spot, with a dramatic 100-foot drop and lots of larger creatures like eagle rays, moray eels, and sharks.
For those interested in shipwrecks, Cozumel is home to the C-53, a sunken Mexican Navy vessel that attracts plenty of marine life. The ship's internal rooms are still pretty well intact, so it’s an interesting site to explore, especially if you are new to wreck diving.
As an extra bonus, during the right season, there’s a good chance of seeing spotted eagle rays!
10. Take a Train Through the Copper Canyon
Copper Canyon is a network of canyons in northern Mexico and is actually larger and deeper than the Grand Canyon! Within the canyon's vast network of gorges and valleys lies an abundance of waterfalls, rivers, and soaring cliffs.
There is really only one way to properly explore Copper Canyon and that is by taking the train. The train journey takes you through the heart of Copper Canyon, passing through tunnels, over bridges, and along steep canyon walls, giving you the best views of the surrounding landscape.
11. Experience Everything Oaxaca Has to Offer
From its colonial architecture and ancient ruins to its colorful markets and delicious food, Oaxaca is a culturally-rich destination with plenty to offer.
For cheese lovers, this region is also particularly well known for its cheese! Queso Oaxaca, a soft, stretchy cheese that is similar to mozzarella, is legendary in this region. No trip to Oaxaca is complete without eating some delicious cheese!
12. Get Up Close with the Wildlife in the Sea of Cortez
The Sea of Cortez, also known as the Gulf of California, is a world-renowned diving destination because of its incredible biodiversity. Jacques Cousteau, the father of scuba diving, even called it “the world’s aquarium”!
There are so many incredible marine wildlife experiences you can have here, such as swimming with whale sharks or getting to experience the mobula ray migration where thousands of these beautiful creatures gather to breed.
The Sea of Cortez is also home to dolphins and whales, such as the humpback whale, which can be seen up close on boat tours. Divers can explore the colorful reefs and, along with the usual tropical marine life, can also find sea lions.
13. Enjoy a Mariachi Band at Plaza Garibaldi
You can’t leave Mexico without listening to a live mariachi band! In Mexico City, Plaza Garibaldi is lined with bars and restaurants that feature live mariachi bands playing throughout the day and into the night. You can even hire a band to perform a particular song or just enjoy the lively music and atmosphere.
14. Watch a Football Match in Mexico City
For many Mexicans, football is more than just a sport - it's a way of life. And there's no better place to experience the passion and excitement of football than in Mexico City, home to some of the country's most legendary teams. Whether you are a sports fan or not, the energy and excitement of the crowds are infectious, as fans cheer on their favorite teams with chants, songs, and plenty of noise. So you can’t help but have a good time.
Mexico is a treasure trove of once-in-a-lifetime experiences. With rich culture, great food, beautiful scenery, and spectacular wildlife experiences you can’t have anywhere else, there’s a good reason why this country is such a popular destination. Whether your next trip to Mexico is your first or your 10th, it surely won’t be your last!