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3 January 2022
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30 Best Places to Visit in Mexico. Mexico Places to See Before You Die

Jan 3, 2022
Read 15 min.

The pyramids are as striking and majestic as Egypt's. The remains of ancient cities excite the imagination and bring back memories of the end of the world predicted many years ago.

The rich historical and cultural heritage represented by monuments of Maya and Aztec civilizations and the period of Spanish domination attracts a huge number of tourists from all over the world every year. Its temples and archaeological complexes, palaces, and cathedrals amaze, delight, and fascinate. Mexico is a hot, sunny, and hospitable country where you can have an unforgettable experience.

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Historical and Archaeological Monuments of Mexico

Historically and archaeologically the most valuable monuments represent the culture of the ancient Maya and Aztecs. Today, the pyramids and ruins of ancient cities are reminders of once advanced civilizations and powerful empires.

There are about 200 archaeological sites open to tourists. They may differ depending on the culture and traditions of the tribes that represented them, but none of them will leave inquisitive tourists indifferent.

The Pyramid of Kukulkan in Mexico

➤ Teotihuacan

Today it is called the "ghost town" and the Aztecs called it "the place where the Gods touch the earth. The remains of the vast archaeological complex are only 50 kilometers from Mexico City, the capital of the country. The city reached its heyday in the 5th century when its population grew to 120,000 people. It is unknown why the city fell into decline, but beginning in the 7th century it was abandoned by its inhabitants. Since then, the giant city remains uninhabited but filled with tourists.

The name of the main street corresponds to the name of the ghost town itself, it is called "Street of the Dead". Here are the two main religious buildings – the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent.

Tip: If you came to the city on your own and not as part of a tourist group, you can get tips and answers to questions from the rangers, who walk around the entire area. For a full tour, you should allocate at least half a day, because the territory of the complex is very large.

➤ Chichen Itza

This is Mexico's most famous architectural landmark and is located in the center of the Yucatan Peninsula. In 2007, the former sacred city of the Itza people was recognized as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. The name comes from the mouth of the well, while the Itza was the first Mayan tribes to come to these territories around the 5th century.

One of the most grandiose centers of Maya civilization absorbed the knowledge and beliefs of these peoples about the structure of the universe. From the 12th century, the city fell into decline and emptiness. For several centuries the monuments of architecture were overgrown with tropical plants until at the beginning of the last century restoration work was carried out. As the result, the city became open to tourists.

The most interesting monuments within Chichen Itza are:

  • the Pyramid of Kukulcan, a cult structure 24 meters high and equipped with wide staircases;
  • Temple of Warriors and Jaguars with wall paintings;
  • Caracol Observatory;
  • ball fields;
  • the sacred cenote, a natural well that served as a place for sacrifices.

In the evening the city is illuminated by colorful illumination, which gives the city an even more mysterious appearance.

Tip: when visiting the Pyramid of Kukulkan, always bring a hat, water, and sunscreen. You will have to examine the structure under direct sunlight. Also, you should be prepared for the iguanas, which show fearlessness in front of visiting guests.

Guanajuato in Mexico

Photo: sunmarperm

➤ Uxmal

Another one of the ancient Mayan cities that is well preserved to this day. It is located in the northwest of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Uxmal is believed to have been built and transformed three times, taking its name from the word "three". Like the rest of the ancient cities on the peninsula, it passed through a period of prosperity and decline. It was abandoned by the inhabitants for unknown reasons after the 11th century.

The most interesting sights of Uxmal are:

  • the Wizard or Sorcerer's Pyramid, 38 meters high;
  • the Nun's Court, a convent of 74 cells, the place was named by the Spaniards, but it is believed that in Mayan times it was used as a military academy;
  • the Palace of the Ruler, decorated with masks of the rain god and images of a feathered serpent;
  • the Great Pyramid, on which climbing is allowed;
  • House of Doves.

Tip: there is no village or town near the architectural complex, but there are several hotels in which it is recommended to stay. It is more convenient than getting from the neighboring city of Mérida at a distance of more than 80 km.

➤ El Meco Archaeological Area

The peculiarity of this ancient city is its location close to the coast on the territory of Cancun. This allowed the city to grow and develop actively. It grew from a small fishing settlement into a bustling commercial center. Like other cities, it was suddenly abandoned by the Maya and fell into decline.

Today El Meco is less popular than other ancient cities, but there are green areas where you can take a break from the Mexican heat. The main structure is a pyramid with a temple on top, which offers a beautiful view of the sea lagoon. There are many iguanas and birds in the town.

Tip: the place is worth visiting if you are attracted to the ancient ruins but don't want to wander around with the crowds of other tourists. El Meco has far fewer visitors. The most convenient way to get there is by cab.

➤ The Ancient City of Palenque

The Spanish gave it its present name, and in its heyday in the 7th and 8th centuries it was called Lakam-ha, "the Great Water." For centuries after its decline, the city was hidden under tropical thickets, but today much of it has been restored. Six kilometers away is the modern city of the same name.

The most interesting structures of Palenque are concentrated in the group of the Temples of Christ. These are the Temple of the Sun, the Temple of the Cross, and the Temple of the Leafy Cross. The former residence of the city's rulers is an attractive and grandiose Palace. Architectural monuments are decorated with numerous bas-reliefs. Another reason why tourists love Palenque is that they are allowed to climb the pyramids.

Tip: when visiting Palenque, be sure to pay attention to the bas-relief image resembling an astronaut's spacesuit. Many consider it evidence of a visit to Earth by aliens from outer space.

Temple of Inscriptions in Mexico

➤ Monte Alban

The ruins of this city are a monument of architecture of one of the indigenous peoples of Mexico, the Zapotec. The Zapotec civilization belongs to the most ancient pre-Columbian civilizations. Located among the mountain peaks the city had not only commercial and religious significance but also strategic importance.

In modern parlance, the Zapotecs pursued a tough policy toward neighboring territories, receiving tribute and expanding their influence. By the end of the 9th century, it had lost its importance. The central square of the town is well preserved as are the buildings built of stone for various purposes.

Tip: if you are intending to visit Monte Alban, it is better to have water and a snack, as there are no cafes or restaurants nearby.

➤ Palenque

Palenque is a small, quiet town in the state of Chiapas in the south. For a long time, it was a typical, unremarkable province, gaining city status only in the mid-19th century. It was made famous by the ancient Mayan ruins discovered by Father Antonio Solis.

In the city itself, the central historic part and the temple are interesting. Nearby are picturesque waterfalls. But most tourists come here to admire the ancient ruins nearby.

Tip: Palenque is the most ideal place to visit for tourists who want to feel the color of the Mexican province. You will not have a problem with accommodation as there are many hotels for every taste.

➤ Chapultepec Palace

Since the late 18th century, the palace in Mexico City has changed its purpose several times. It has been used as an imperial residence, a military academy, an astronomical observatory, and today functions as the National Historical Museum.

Tip: be sure to climb to the roof of the castle. There is a huge garden with alleys, trees, and flower beds.

➤ The Mayan City of Tulum

Another ruin of an ancient city is located near the resort of Cancun. A distinctive feature of the city is its location on a high cliff. It is the only Mayan city that was enclosed by a fence wall. El Castillo is the primary assignment. It is located just off the coast of the Caribbean Sea and supposedly served an additional role as a lighthouse for ships.

Tip: when visiting the ruins you can take your bathing gear with you, there is a very cozy beach in a small cove with white sand.

➤ San Fransisco de Campeche

Fortress city lies in the bay of the Gulf of Mexico. It was founded by the Spaniards on the site of a Mayan settlement in the 16th century. Thanks to trade with Spain, the city quickly became rich, although more than once it was attacked by pirates.

The main attractions of the city are:

  • the central square of Zocalo;
  • Campeche Cathedral, one of the first Baroque temples in Yucatán;
  • Jesus Church;
  • Sea Gate, the main entrance to the old town;
  • Santiago Bastion with its Botanical Garden.

Tip: in the city, pay attention to the colorful, colorful houses and the beautiful sunset in the Gulf of Mexico, the goal of many photo tours.

➤ Templo Major

This unique open-air museum in Mexico City opened in 1987. It contains many artifacts related to sensational finds in and around the capital. Here you can see everyday objects and utensils of ancient peoples, sculptures, jewelry, images, and figurines of deities.

During sightseeing, you can learn how the ancient peoples of Mexico lived and what were the achievements of their civilizations.

Tip: foreigners are allowed free admission on Sundays.

Pyramid of the Sun in Mexico

Religious Buildings

The most famous and majestic temples are in Mexico City.

➤ Mexico City Cathedral

Huge, ancient, and magnificent. These three qualities are united in the Cathedral of the nation's capital. It was built in Baroque, Renaissance, and Neoclassical styles at once and traces its history back to the end of the 16th century.

The temple is located in the very center of Constitution Square. The beauty of the interior decoration of the cathedral is not inferior to the external grandeur. Among the finishing materials used were gold, marble, and ivory.

Tip: when you visit the cathedral, be sure to observe a certain dress code, which requires closed clothing.

➤ Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe

This is one of the most respected places of worship in the city. According to legend, the Virgin Mary appeared to the inhabitants of this place and commanded the construction of the temple. According to legends, the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe saved residents from various troubles.

However, historians claim that there was an ancient Aztec sanctuary, and sacrifices were made here. The basilica was built in Baroque style and was rebuilt several times.

Tip: the temple has a library, museum, and souvenir store.

➤ Temple of San Felipe Neri

The temple is a Roman Catholic parish church founded in the late 16th century by the Jesuits. The first building was almost destroyed by a flood, in its place was erected a new temple in the Baroque style with elements of Gothic and Neoclassicism.

The building embodies a harmonious combination of strict canon and luxurious decoration. Today the church is a Declared Monument of History and is under the protection of the state.

Museums and Theaters in Mexico

The country is known not only for the ruins of ancient cities and monuments of the greatest civilizations. It also has a vibrant cultural life.

➤ National Museum of Anthropology

The museum is located in the western part of the city, on the territory of the park. It features a rich collection of pre-Columbian artifacts. Most of the exhibits are related to the Mayan culture. The museum consists of two sections: anthropological and ethnographic and occupies two floors. In total, there are 11 exhibition halls.

Tip: when visiting the museum, you should also check out its library, which has over 300,000 volumes.

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➤ Museum of Underwater Sculptures

The museum is located in the resort of Cancun. About 750,000 people visit it every year. In the underwater kingdom, you can see not only composite sculptures of people but also cars, boats, houses, and even an underwater mine. The exhibits have a profound meaning, showing people the defenselessness and vulnerability of humans to the natural environment.

The sculptures are made of a special water-resistant material combining silicone, cement, and fiberglass.

Tip: this museum is primarily for divers.

➤ House Museum of Leon Trotsky

The museum is located in the Coyoacán district, a suburb of Mexico City. Here one of the leaders of Bolshevik Russia and a fervent fighter for the world revolution spent the last months of his life up to his tragic finale. In 1940, Trotsky was fatally wounded in his own home.

The museum was officially opened in 1990. Here you can see the personal belongings of the revolutionary, documents, and his works.

➤ Palace of Fine Arts

This is the name given to the opera house and museum in central Mexico City. Construction lasted more than 30 years and was interrupted by revolutionary events. But this Mexican construction project paid off – today it is a magnificent building made of very valuable Carrara marble. Inside, the walls are decorated with frescoes.

Tip: even frescoes sometimes have a scandalous reputation. One of these, "Man – Ruler of the Universe," is in the Palace. Its author, a communist artist, refused to remove Lenin's image and preferred to remain without honorarium. He had to confront the almighty Rockefeller himself.

➤ Frida Kahlo Museum

The museum is dedicated to the life and work of the artist Frida Kahlo. It is located in a suburb of Mexico City, not far from the Trotsky Museum.

The Frida Kahlo Museum is the former home of the artist, where she was born, grew up, and died. The exhibits include personal belongings, paintings, and books.

➤ Museum Sumaya

The futuristic building looks like a curved hourglass or a huge anvil. The museum's founder is Mexico's richest man and gambling collector Carlos Slim.

The halls display collections of paintings and sculptures from Mexican civilizations and European masters. The real pride of the establishment is one of the largest collections of Rodin's sculptures – about 400 pieces. In addition, there are works of art by Leonardo da Vinci, El Greco, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall.

Tip: there are no windows in the museum, so get ready to enjoy the works of art against the light coming in through the transparent roof.

Istaccihuatl-Popocatepetl National Park in Mexico

Interesting Places, Parks, and Entertainment

➤ Xcaret Eco-Archeological Park

This park is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for creating the most natural habitat possible for regional fauna and flora. The tropical jungle is home to about a hundred different species of trees and shrubs.

In the midst of the lush vegetation on the shores of the clear azure sea, you can relax on a well-kept beach. And in the park, you can also enjoy the underground rivers, diving and swimming with dolphins.

Tip: don't miss the evening show, where you'll enjoy a performance with real Mexican passion and temperament.

➤ Interactive Aquarium in Cancun

One of the most impressive aquariums is located within this famous resort. It was opened in 2000 and in two decades has managed to gain significant popularity among vacationers. Here live stingrays, eels, clownfish, jellyfish, anemones, local coral reef fish, and even piranhas.

Thrill-seekers can visit the contact zone, where they can get acquainted with the inhabitants of underwater depths. There is also a pool with sharks (swimming with them is not provided!).

Tip: since the Aquarium is centrally located, it's not difficult to find. Most hotels are within walking distance. There are also buses and cabs.

➤ Island of Dead Dolls

A common island in the south of Mexico City has gained terrifying fame after a large number of old dolls were discovered here. Many spooky legends and tales are associated with them. The most popular one tells of a hermit who collected dolls and used them as scary stuffed animals.

There are now over 1,000 dolls on the island. Most of them are deformed or faded in the sun, and that makes them look even more frightening.

Tip: visiting the island is not recommended for young children and those with a sensitive psyche.

➤ Xplor Amusement Park

The park is located an hour away from Cancun. Here you will find unique rides and incredibly colorful show programs. All rides are equipped with the latest technology and a high level of safety. Here you can go down into a cave and wander through the jungle on an expedition, ride quad bikes and take pictures with iguanas and pink flamingos.

Tip: check the park's hours of operation. It is usually closed on Sundays for testing rides.

➤ Acapulco Resort

Located on the Pacific coast of Mexico, the resort is among the most popular in the world. The mild climate, well-kept beaches and hotels, and vibrant nightlife are all factors that make you wish you were back here as soon as you leave.

Acapulco's sandy beaches and shallow entrance to the water make it suitable for family holidays with children. And the abundance of nightclubs attracts adventurous young people.

Tip: if you like extreme entertainment, you can try your strength and nerves on a special attraction – dizzying jumps off a cliff 34 meters high in the bay of La Quebrada.

Cancun in Mexico

Photo: club-travelers.ru

Mexico's Natural Attractions

The country's lush tropical nature is also one of its attractions.

➤ Popocatepetl

An active volcano in the state of Pueblo makes its presence felt from time to time. It consists of three zones: the green zone, the dead zone, and the permafrost area. Many coniferous forests grow at the foot of the smoking mountain, so there is room for pleasant walks.

On the slopes of the volcano, there are 14 monasteries, which are often visited by curious tourists.

Tip: the most favorable time to visit Popocatepetl is March and April, and the most favorable autumn months are September and October.

➤ Mexcaltitan Island

City on the water or Mexican Venice is the poetic name given to the island in the bay of the lagoon Grande de Mescaltitan.

It is home to a small village of less than a thousand people. When it rains, the streets are flooded and residents are forced to travel by boat. Village houses hang directly over the water, giving the village a feeling of Venice. The island has a round shape and looks very picturesque from the bird's eye view.

➤ Copper Canyon

The site consists of 20 separate canyons. They vary in depth from one to almost two kilometers. There is a lot of greenery here, but copper has never been mined.

The most efficient way to explore the canyon is by train. It has been built intermittently since the 19th century. Today it is 652 kilometers long and has 39 bridges and 86 tunnels. The total trip takes about 15 hours and passes through towns and high canyon cliffs.

Although tourism is the main source of income for the local population, hermit settlements leading a secluded lifestyle can still be found on the slopes.

The Copper Canyon in Mexico

Photo: destination360.com

➤ Cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula

The peninsula is famous for its cenotes, natural hollows filled with water. In Mayan times they were considered sacred, but nowadays they are used for recreation. Cenotes come in open and enclosed forms, resembling water caves.

Some of the most famous include:

  • the sacred cenote of the city of Chichen Itza;
  • Ik Quil, a picturesque place near Chichen Itza;
  • Shkanche, a well-formed by an underground river;
  • "Two Eyes" cenote near the city of Tulum;
  • Gran Cenote, the entrance to the cave system.

Tip: closed cenotes can be accessed with a tour. Visitors are given vests and masks.

➤ The Cave of Giants Crystals

A cave in Mexico's Chihuahua desert is famous for its giant crystals. Some of them grow up to 11 meters in height. Such caves were first discovered by the Sanchez brothers in 2000 when they were digging a new mine. The authorities are now working hard to preserve this unique object and protect it from an adverse environment.

Tip: the conditions in the cave are not the most conducive for regular walks. The temperature rises to 50°C and the humidity is 90°C. Prolonged stay in such conditions, and even without special equipment is not recommended.

The Most Interesting and Colorful Tours in Mexico

Leading positions in the excursion tourism industry in Mexico are associated with visits to the remains of ancient cities. The classic option is Chichen Itza, the Mayan cities, and cenotes. Another popular route is Coba+Tulum.

Lovers of active recreation usually choose to visit a theme park, and extreme tourists are attracted by jeep tours and safari tours, swimming with dolphins and sharks, diving, and visiting the underwater museum of Cancun.

And of course, the capital city of Mexico City is impossible to ignore. In one day it will not be possible to see it all but to get an overview tour with a visit to the most famous sights. The program usually includes a visit to Teotihuacan.

Mexico – it is not only antiquities but also stunning nature. Many tours are dedicated to ecotourism, where there is an opportunity to observe fauna in its natural habitat.

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