Luckily for you, I’ve put together 6 Mexico itineraries ranging from 1 to 4 weeks that will take you to some of the best towns, cities, and attractions in Mexico.
“So, which itinerary is best?”, you may wonder.
Well, it all depends on your specific interests and goals!
Most travel blogs only share one itinerary for Mexico, often based on one trip. But this country is HUGE, so let’s take a wider look at the possibilities.
I’ll give you an idea of what to expect from each travel route so you can pick one that fits your interests and available time.
Best for backpackers: the classic route from Mexico City to the Yucatan
Best for beaches: Yucatan, the Oaxaca coast, or Baja California
Best for resorts: Cancun or Cabo is where you’ll want to be!
Itinerary 1. Mexican Culture, Cuisine & Coast
In a nutshell: For a perfect sampler menu with buzzing cities, cuisine, archaeological sites, nature, and beach life, this 2-week Mexico itinerary is your best bet. It’s amazingly varied and includes the cultural city of Oaxaca and the laidback and largely unspoiled beaches of the Pacific coast.
How to shorten: For a perfect 10-day trip, you could potentially start in Oaxaca and cut Mexico City (as painful as that decision may be, as the capital is amazing!). Or you can leave out the beach destinations for a more culture-focused trip.
When I’m traveling I often want a little bit of everything. Give me some culture, a dash of adventure, and a heaping of delicious food and I’m happy. If this sounds like you, then you’ll surely love this Mexico itinerary.
Start by flying into Mexico City. There are a lot of international airlines heading there, so you should be able to find a flight that fits your budget.
Mexico City is full of incredible food, museums, and historical sights, so I highly recommend spending around 4 days. Some of my must-sees are the Zocalo, the Aztec pyramids of Teotihuacan, and the Frida Kahlo Museum. It’s highly worth going on a walking tour of the historic downtown so you can fully appreciate the history and culture. You can plan your stay using my in-depth Mexico City guide.
You can also take one of my favorite day trips out to Xochimilco, a canal system of artificial islands where you can take a colorful gondola down the waterways. Boats will pull up beside you to sell you yummy cocktails, tacos, and even mariachi bands! It’s one of the most fun activities in Mexico City.
You can take this tour that includes Xochimilco and Coyoacan for a boat ride and a walk down the cobblestone streets of the latter. In between, you will visit the esteemed National Autonomous University of Mexico. To conclude the day, you can stop at Casa Azul, the birthplace of Frida Kahlo, where you can dive into the artworks made by the passionate artist.
On your way out of the capital, head to Puebla for a day where you can discover the old city center and delicious food. It’s a much calmer city than the capital and it’s known for its unique chiles en nogada, where a fried chili pepper is stuffed with a variety of meats and topped with walnut cream sauce and pomegranate seeds. Delicioso!
Then it’s off to Oaxaca for 3 days. From Puebla, it takes about five hours to get to and the easiest way is to take a coach bus. You can book a bus from Mexico City to Oaxaca online via 12go.
This colonial city is surrounded by ancient ruins and brimming with incredible street food. There are tons of things to do in Oaxaca; it’s a great place to explore the traditional Mexican culture and visit some of the local markets and craftsmen workshops.
Oaxaca has done more than other cities in Mexico to preserve its beauty and original architecture. You can enjoy its mostly traditional low-rise buildings, shaded patios and courtyards, and various ancient churches and monasteries.
It’s also a culinary hotspot, famed for the mole negro, a complex black sauce involving a long list of ingredients, typically deep, smoky, and chocolatey. It’s something you absolutely must try!
If your time is limited and you’d like to get a great impression of Oaxaca, consider this full-day Oaxaca tour.
The last part of your trip will take you to Puerto Escondido. This beach town on the Pacific Coast of Mexico is known for its surfing waves and quaint vibe. It’s a great place to relax after all of the hustle and bustle of Mexico City and Oaxaca.
However, before you arrive, I recommend stopping in San Jose Del Pacifico for the night. It’s a small mountain town favored by hippie types with lots of nature and delicious food. There are lots of wooden eco-hotels to choose from, such as Alto de La Sierra. Backpackers will want to check out Bostel Rancho Viejo, a mountain hostel that feels almost like a remote refuge.
Once you arrive in Puerto Escondido, head to Playa Zicatela for some of the best surfing in the country. You can hike up nearby mountains, explore the wildlife reserves, or just relax on a hammock and watch one of the best sunsets in the world.
There are two airports near Puerto Escondido, from where you can easily get back out to Mexico City. You can easily book a domestic flight with Volaris or VivaAerobus using the 12Go booking platform.
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Itinerary 2. Silver Towns & Colonial Cities
In a nutshell: Dive in and discover central Mexico, which has been the most thriving part of the country even going back to Aztec times. It’s home to some of the prettiest colonial cities and towns — and it’s where silver mining left a rich architectural and cultural legacy. This itinerary is best for city exploration, museums, art, wine tasting, and more.
On this itinerary, you’ll travel from Mexico City to the small mountain town of San Miguel de Allende and finish in Guanajuato, a colonial city famous for its silver mines.
I recommend having at least a week but if you can stretch it to 10 days then you’ll get the most out of your trip.
Spend your first 3 nights in Mexico City and explore its historic sites such as the Zocalo and Templo Mayor. You can check the top things to do in Mexico City for some detailed inspiration.
You can even take some day trips out to Puebla and Teotihuacan or spend at least an overnight in Taxco. They’re located in the opposite direction of where we are going next, but these are some great places to explore if you have more than a week. Mexico City is incredibly well-connected, so it makes a great base to explore in any direction.
Then head out to San Miguel de Allende for a day or two. This perfectly preserved colonial city is known for its silver mines and colorful buildings and is easily one of the most tourist-friendly places in the region. Spend your days walking around the cobblestone streets, eating delicious food, and visiting some of the many galleries found throughout the town.
San Miguel de Allende is where many tours and activities start from, so it’s worth saving a day for a day trip here. The bus to San Miguel from Mexico City takes about 4.5 hours and can be booked here. If there’s no direct connection at your preferred time, take a bus to Queretaro and change there.
While Mexico itself is not a major wine-drinking country, the area around San Miguel de Allende is actually covered in vineyards, mostly producing sparkling wines for export. Going on a wine-tasting tour here is a great idea and will reveal how underrated Mexican wine is.
Then it’s off to Guanajuato for 3 days, a medium-sized city known for its narrow cobblestone streets and tunnels carved out of the mountains. Here you’ll find a world of historic churches, colorful markets, and leafy plazas.
Guanajuato might just be the most beautiful city in Mexico, so you’ll cap off this trip with a real highlight. A coach bus back to Mexico City takes about five hours. Alternatively, you can fly from Guanajuato to Mexico City and catch your flight home from there.
Itinerary 3. Beaches & Adventure in The Yucatan
In a nutshell: Mexico’s uncontested crowd-pleaser can be touristy for sure, but the Yucatan peninsula is also by far the easiest region of Mexico to spend some time! You can get a mix of everything in the Yucatan, but this itinerary is definitely more focused on beach and water activities. This area is best for a fun beach holiday feeling, though the city of Merida and the Mayan ruins can add a cultural aspect as well.
The Yucatan continues to be one of the most visited regions in Mexico and it’s easy to see why. It’s perfect for those who have between one week and three weeks and love a mix of beaches and adventure.
The best starting point is Cancun, where you can find flights from most major cities in North America and Europe. I don’t recommend staying in over-commercialized Cancun unless your flight happens to get in late. Instead, I would head to Puerto Juarez, just 30 minutes from the airport, and spend a few days in Isla Mujeres, the small island located off the coast of Cancun.
Here you can snorkel, scuba dive, or just lay out on one of the many tranquil beaches. It’s certainly on the more touristy side, but you absolutely won’t mind when the waters are blue, the seafood is excellent, and you get to stay in a charming Mexican beach town.
Since the Yucatan is on the eastern side of the country, you won’t get to watch the sunset. Because it’s an island, the exception is Isla Mujeres, where you’ll get some of the best sunsets full of pink and orange hues.
For the best time, book this Isla Mujeres catamaran tour from Cancun. You will have a chance to snorkel in the pristine waters of these parts, enjoy drinks, and relax on the beach. Book your dates ahead as this tour gets booked quickly!
From Isla Mujeres, you can take a coach bus to Tulum and explore its ruins which are situated right on the beach. Tulum has become one of the most popular beach towns in Mexico as it offers a bit of luxury and some great adventures nearby such as snorkeling, zip-lining, and swimming in cenotes (river caves).
Tulum has gotten some flack for being overpriced and overhyped and maybe that’s not undeservedly so. Some do consider it a favorite, but it definitely has a scene and you need to bring plenty of money to properly enjoy the beachside area of Tulum. Costs are closer to Miami than to Mexico. If you’re looking for somewhere more low-key, there are several great alternatives to Tulum.
That said, the cenotes in Tulum are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Swimming in an open water cave is a truly magical experience and the beaches are indeed gorgeous.
If you want to have a one-of-a-kind experience, book this Tulum Cenotes adventure tour to see three magical cenotes that will definitely take your breath away.
Say goodbye to the beach for a couple of days and head to Valladolid which is in the center of the Yucatan. I would recommend spending two days here. Home to lush jungles, cenotes, and the ruins of Ek Balam, it has a lot to see and do, and it’s also the closest place to the incredible ruins of Chichen Itza.
Continue south to the city of Merida, which is known as the cultural capital of the Yucatan. The city has great restaurants, vibrant nightlife, and a colonial old town full of churches and buildings in pastel colors. You can read more about all the things to do in Merida.
After Merida, on your way back to Cancun, stop in Isla Holbox for a few days of relaxation and exploration. The little island is the perfect ending to your trip, with zero cars and sandy streets it’s perfect for those who want to get in touch with nature. The island has white sand beaches, turquoise waters, and incredible sunsets.
Depending on the time of year, you can catch a glimpse of migrating whales as they pass through the waters and also see the beaches light up at night with the bioluminescence.
One reality to be aware of in the Yucatan is that many beaches have suffered from sargassum (seaweed) washing ashore. The resorts always try to clean it up, but it can sometimes spoil the ‘postcard perfect’ look. It typically only affects specific areas, so if you’re traveling around the Yucatan, you have to be impossibly unlucky for it to affect your entire beach experience. This app will let you check the latest sargassum situation at the beaches.
For a unique experience, this Isla Holbox stargazing and kayaking tour will take you to another world as you will witness a star-studded sky above and the bioluminescent sea life below.
Itinerary 4. Classic Highlights of Mexico Route
In a nutshell: For independent travelers and backpackers who want to hop around several regions in Mexico, this is considered the go-to travel route. It takes more time to travel than a typical short holiday allows, so make sure you have at least several weeks. If you do, it makes for an incredible ‘best of Mexico’ trip.
My first-ever trip in Mexico followed almost exactly this route and it created such great memories that I fell in love with Mexico forever! This itinerary is jam-packed but will take you to some pretty spectacular places in Mexico so make sure to leave yourself plenty of time. At least 3 to 4 weeks is ideal.
This itinerary is pretty much a mashup of everything you would want to do in Mexico; explore ancient ruins, hike through jungles, swim with whale sharks, and relax on the beach.
You can start in Mexico City or Cancun, but I suggest starting in the capital so that you frontload your trip with cities and culture while keeping beaches and nature towards the end.
What I like most about this itinerary are pacing and variety: you’ll get about a week of city travel, then some time to chill on the Oaxaca coast, followed by more active travel in the mountain town of San Cristobal, the ruins of Palenque, and Merida, and then capped off with some more beach time again. This is a great rhythm that won’t tire you out so easily.
Start your trip with two to three days in Mexico City. The capital is full of history and culture, modern-day skyscrapers, great food, and nightlife.
Then hop to Puebla, Oaxaca, and then Puerto Escondido. You can read the first itinerary above for all the details on what to do in these places.
If you’re a backpacker you may want to stay for longer in Puerto Escondido than, say, Tulum in the Yucatan. The former has much more of a surfer- and backpacker vibe and the coastline here is not nearly as developed and trampled as in Cancun, Tulum, or Playa del Carmen. Backpackers often rate Puerto Escondido as their favorite beach place owing to its more down-to-Earth vibe.
From there, continue east to San Cristobal de las Casas. This town is known for its colonial architecture, colorful markets, and friendly locals. You can explore nearby villages, hike up mountains or take cooking classes while here. Take a day trip to the Sumidero Canyon and take in the incredible views. You’ll float along the river and get to visit the cute town of Chiapa De Corzo.
I adore San Cristobal, which has such a great atmosphere. It’s also one of the cheapest destinations on this route, so if you’re on a budget you’ll get by a lot easier here. There’s also a lot to do in and around San Cristobal de Las Casas.
It’s located at 2,200 meters above level so you might need a few days to adjust to the altitude and the different temperatures but it’s lovely and I can’t recommend it enough.
The Mayan ruins of Palenque are also located in the state of Chiapas and here you’ll really feel like you’re in the middle of the jungle. The partly overgrown ruins have retained a bit more mystique than the more open-spaced and often crowded Chichen Itza. Chiapas is also home to some incredible jungle waterfalls that you can best see on a day trip from San Cristobal.
Similar to the previous itinerary you’ll then head to Merida and on to the beaches of the Mexican Riviera. You can take a catamaran tour around Isla Mujeres, relax on beautiful Playa del Carmen beaches and end your journey with a few days in Tulum or one of the Tulum alternatives.
Itinerary 5. Northern Mexico & Copper Canyon
In a nutshell: This route is something a bit different, including several less-visited but highly worthwhile places, before finishing with the unforgettable train journey through the Copper Canyon. Other routes may be better for a first-time Mexico experience, but if it’s your second time or you’re looking to extend your Mexico trip into another region, then the Copper Canyon is definitely something you won’t want to miss.
To be honest, this whole itinerary is a bit of an excuse just to make it to the spectacular Copper Canyon (or Barrancas del Cobre).
This jaw-dropping system of canyons is by some measures bigger than the Grand Canyon in the US. A train runs through the national park, giving you some spectacular views and getting close to the canyon edge about halfway through at Divisadero station. This train ride is easily one of the best things I have done in Mexico!
First, a little disclaimer. If you want to go this way north overland, you’ll have to go eventually through Sinaloa state, which at the time of writing has some safety concerns. The corridor via Mazatlan, Los Mochis, and on to the train journey is still marked as relatively safe (such as on the UK government’s travel advisories, which I prefer over the US ones), but other non-touristy places in the interior may be best avoided. I did feel safe around these areas when I followed the tourist trail here a few years ago, but it’s always worth checking the latest updates.
Wait, where were we? Right — for this route, you can start in Mexico City and then make your way up to Mexico’s second-largest city Guadalajara.
This is a great place to stroll around markets and plazas or to visit museums. I loved Guadalajara and found its size to be a bit less overwhelming than Mexico City. From Guadalajara, consider taking a side trip to Tequila, the birthplace of the drink and where you can take tours out into the agave fields that are on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
You can then make a trip to the beach resort of Puerto Vallarta and take a city tour, or head straight for Mazatlan. This expat and tourist city is full of big hotels at one end of its bay but also has a pleasant old town on the other that seems popular with surfers.
Then make your way up to Los Mochis. This is where the Copper Canyon train starts! Los Mochis itself is a totally unremarkable industrial place, so there’s no need to stick around. But the train ride is incredible, first going through flat lands at first but soon passing through mountainous landscapes surrounding the Copper Canyon.
Be sure to get off at the town of Creel, which is the base around here for hiking, cycling, and other activities inside the national park and around the canyons.
The train continues to Chihuahua City, but you can also easily take the bus from Creel as the landscapes are less interesting along this part. From Chihuahua, you can take a flight back to Mexico City.
Despite these parts being much less visited, I think the route is totally worth it — especially for Guadalajara and for the Copper Canyon.
Itinerary 6. Underexplored Veracruz
Why this itinerary? Okay, this one is for the travel enthusiast seeking an authentic alternative option. If you want to live the fantasy of discovering a part of Mexico for yourself, then try Veracruz!
It seems hardly any international travelers go to Veracruz state, making it perfect for an off-the-beaten-path adventure. You can explore an ancient site larger than Chichen Itza but without any crowds, dive into the culture in Xalapa, or chill beside the jungle lake of Catemaco. Knowing some Spanish will be helpful (though still not strictly necessary) on this route.
I know that the vast majority of travelers will be mainly interested in the Yucatan or central Mexico, but I can’t help but mention this alternative itinerary for those adventurous souls looking for something different!
Due to its long rainy season and having mostly beaches with dark sand, resort tourism never took off so much in Veracruz. That held back its tourism popularity in general, even though it’s filled with wonderful places to visit. If you’re looking to experience an authentic slice of Mexico, then this is where you should go.
The relative lack of tourism has nothing to do with security issues (it’s about as safe as Oaxaca or the Yucatan). However, Veracruz is slightly more challenging in a travel sense, in that fewer things will be in English and you’re less likely to bump into other foreign travelers everywhere.
The climate is humid and tropical, much closer to Costa Rica than the temperate feel of central Mexico. You can expect to find colorful heritage towns, tropical volcanic peaks, and epic ancient Precolombian ruins without any crowds.
Instead of giving a blow-by-blow here, you can check out my travel guide to Veracruz for some tips on how to plan a trip here.
This route may not be the ideal first-time Mexico experience as there are other more obvious places to go first. But if it’s your second time or you just want to go where few others go, then you’ll be able to find a wealth of hidden gems here.
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