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Mexico is world famous for their all-inclusive resorts. People are drawn in by the cheap deals, spend a week partying in the Riviera Maya, and then write off the entire country with a “been there, done that” attitude.
It kills me.
Ask any backpacker who’s explored the rest of Mexico about their experience and they’ll rave for hours, myself included. The food is fantastic, the people are kind, and the tequila flows all night long.
It’s not easy to make swim-up bars and endless buffets boring, but in comparison to these hidden ruins, pristine lakes, cliffside towns, and active volcanoes, they start to look that way. Without a doubt, these four offbeat Mexico destinations are way better than any all-inclusive resort in the country!
1. Laguna Bacalar
Visit to: relax on the idyllic water swings.
Expect to spend: $200 on a weekend trip for two.
Get there: with daily ADO buses from the station on Calle 12 and Avenida 20 in Playa del Carmen. The trip takes four hours.
The Maldives aren’t in most bloggers’ and backpackers’ budgets (at least, not mine) but Laguna Bacalar definitely is.
This offbeat Mexico destination is appropriately nicknamed the Lake of Seven Colors because the white limestone bottom and varying depths give it such a wide variety of turquoise hues. On her shores, the sleepy town of Bacalar exudes its own charm with a fort, a town square, and more than enough bars, restaurants, and eateries to get you through a weekend.
I recommend visiting for at least two days, but I would have happily extended my stay to three or four. Plan to swim, snorkel, kayak, take a boat trip, visit nearby cenotes and eat and drink to your hearts content.
Bacalar is the place to go for anyone who wants to enjoy the beauty of Mexico without the typical crowds that usually come along with it!
Book your stay at Yaxche Centro Hostel and get free transport to their private beach with hammocks, a bar, and picturesque water swings. Eat ceviche and tacos at Mexico Gourmet and don’t miss the surprisingly good vegan burgers and milkshakes at Mango y Chile.
2. The Coba Ruins & Nearby Cenotes
Visit to: climb a Mayan pyramid.
Expect to spend: $50 on a day trip for two.
Get there: with daily buses on the Valladolid route from the Terminal Autobuses de Tulum ADO station. The trip should take one hour.
The Coba Ruins and nearby cenotes are only an hour from the famed beaches of Tulum so there’s no excuse to miss this offbeat Mexico destination.
The main draw of the Coba Ruins, and what sets them apart from hundreds of others in the country, is the Nohoch Mul pyramid. This is one of the best offbeat Mexico destinations because it has one of the last Maya ruin that tourists can still climb.
To avoid the crowds, the best time to visit is in the early morning. We took the first bus from Tulum at 7:20 am and had the pyramid almost entirely to ourselves. From the top, sweeping views of the thick jungle canopy and ancient overgrown ruins will transport you back in time.
As awesome as the ruins are, your day isn’t over yet. Next, rent bikes and ride down the street to the Choo-Ha and Tamcach-Ha cenotes.
Exploring these underground caves is a quintessentially Mexican experience because there are over 6,000 in the Yucatan Peninsula alone. Here you can swim, snorkel, and face your fears to jump from the 5 and 10-meter diving platforms.
Book your stay to Tubo Tulum hostel to rent a budget-friendly tent or spend a one-of-a-kind night sleeping in concrete tubes. After you visit the ruins, stop for a filling lunch at El Faisan before heading off to the cenotes for the afternoon.
3. Izta-Popo National Park
Visit to: see an erupting volcano.
Expect to spend: $40 on a day trip for two.
Get there: with daily buses to Amecameca from the TAPO station in Mexico City, then grab a taxi to the park entrance at Paso de Cortez.
Wouldn’t it be kind of crazy if you visited New York City, took a short bus ride out of the city, and found yourself in a national park full of active volcanoes?!
In Mexico City, that’s exactly what you get when you leave the city limits. Somehow, Izta-Popo National Park has flown under the radar of Mexico tourism itineraries for years but I’m here to put an end to it.
This park is one of my favorite offbeat Mexico destinations because it boasts the second and third largest mountains in the country. However, the main draw is definitely the frequent volcanic activity. Popo Volcano regularly puffs out small plumes of smoke during her (absolutely adorable) eruptions, and you can hike as much or as little as you want because she’s visible from even the entrance of the park.
Pack snacks, lunch, and plenty of water for the hike because there’s no food inside the park.
Visit to: experience a European side of Mexico.
Expect to spend: $150 to $200 on a weekend trip for two.
Get there: with daily buses from Terminal Central del Sur in Mexico City. The trip takes 3 hours.
I’ve got a habit of slipping cliffside towns like Cinque Terre and Veliko Tarnovo into my travel itineraries, but I never expected to find such a charming one in Mexico.
The small town of Taxco was built by Hernan Cortes himself in 1529 and the population has been mining the nearby silver reserves ever since.
Taxco is one of the most relaxing offbeat Mexico destinations. While here I recommend browsing the jewelry shops, enjoying the sunset from Cristo Rey, and snapping plenty of pictures of this photogenic escape from Mexico City.
Then, round off your trip with a visit to the Pozas Azules, natural pools where you can jump off boulders and swim under waterfalls in dazzling turquoise waters.
Ditch the All-Inclusive Resort for these 4 Offbeat Destinations in Mexico
Whether you choose to hike among active volcanoes, explore a colonial cliffside town, relax at a pristine lake, or climb ancient Maya ruins, this guide to four offbeat Mexico destinations has something for every kind of traveler.
Slap some cream on that sunburn and leave the cocktails behind, because it’s time to discover the rest the best that Mexico has to offer!
Ready to go? Explore the complete Mexico Guide to find more hiking, beaches, good eats, and everything else you need to plan an amazing trip!