Seven incredible off-the-beaten-path experiences in Mexico

From a remote beach oasis and a lesser-known mountain town to surreal botanic gardens. ✨

3 mins
Written by:
Matt Cheok

You could centre your entire travels around Mexico’s street food and be satisfied with your journey, sitting on a plastic stool, devouring a taco, quesadilla and gordita (in one delicious sitting) from a street vendor.

There’s no shortage of eateries on every corner, with many getting creative in their setups, cooking up feasts on hot plates placed on shopping trolleys or tricycles. The ingenuity is admirable and it’s certainly a sight to behold. In other words, exploring Mexico is like embarking on an eat-a-thon, and you might find yourself returning home a few pounds heavier.

Across the country you’ll want to sink your teeth into all the volcanoes, beaches, waterfalls, and esteemed Magic Towns. You’ll be enamored by the color not only in the architecture, but in the wonderful sense of community and hospitality that you’ll experience as a visitor.

Here are some of my favorite experiences to inspire your next adventure:

1. Wander through a botanic garden with a twist

Toluca’s Cosmovitral is quite unlike anything you’ve ever seen before considering it appears like someone’s dropped a botanic garden inside a church. With 71 stained-glass windows and 28 color varieties, visitors can get up close and personal with over 500 species of plants, mostly native to Mexico. Front and centre you’ll encounter the Sun Man piece, portraying the evolution of the universe, alongside a kaleidoscope of ceiling glass that creates an ever changing ambience depending on how the light enters at various times of the day.

The Cosmovitral was initially built as a market and then later converted into a 3,500 square metre site, and designed by Tolucan artist, Leopoldo Flores. With the help of some 60 artisans, the glass was imported with material from Japan, Belgium, Italy, and France.

Sun Man, Cosmovitral

2. Discover the enchanting silver town in Real de Catorce

Real de Catorce's rustic ambience, swinging saloon doors, and warm hospitality offer plenty in town for a visitor. In fact, just getting to this old mining town will have you glued to the window, passing through the dimly lit and claustrophobic Ogarrio Tunnel (a subterranean passage stretching 1.4 miles long) where its limited width allows for the entry of only one direction of traffic at a time.

The true magic of Real de Catorce exists when you step on the hiking trails leading out onto the surrounding cacti-dotted desert landscapes. We highly recommend trekking out to the ghost town of Pueblo Fantasma, and for those who prefer horseback adventures, the 4-hour return to Cerro del Quemado.

The region is also known for its peyote – a squishy hallucinogenic cactus. Those who consume this cactus can go on a ‘trip’ lasting anywhere up to 12 hours. For the local Indigenous population, it’s an important part of their ceremonies and used as a way to connect with ones ancestors.

Pueblo Fantasma, Real De Catorce

3. Chase waterfalls in Roberto Barrios

When visiting Chiapas – aka the waterfall state, you’ll want to bring your cozies because it boasts some of the most unforgettable swimming holes in the country. The turquoise waters of Roberto Barrios offers a bounty of cascading waterfalls (many of which you can slide down) in the middle of a jungle and surrounded by infinity pools. Better yet, when you’re done swimming you can perch yourself on the rocks in between the five-waterfall system to dry off and sunbathe. Reaching Roberto Barrios is reasonably straightforward, with infrequently run colectivos (local buses) from Palenque. However, it's usually best arranged through a share-taxi.

An aerial view of Roberto Barrios

4. Discover a remote beach oasis in Chacahua

Whereas the Oaxacan coast is pristine but often overcrowded, if you take a lancha (boat) from El Zapotalito and cruise through the glassy waters of a mangrove forest, you’ll reach the remote oasis inside Lagunas de Chacahua National Park. It’s dotted with cabanas, tents, and hammocks, right on the shoreline, with little to no phone reception or internet connection. Many of the accommodation options aren't available online, so arranging in person upon arrival is recommended. The owners are familiar with the process and will likely approach you before you seek them out.

Anecdotally, what was originally a two-night stay, quickly turned into a week and a half of ultimate relaxation, sunshine, and forced digital detox.

Aside from swimming and surfing, do consider an evening bioluminescence tour, and jump on a lancha across the lagoon, follow the dirt path, and ascend the island’s summit at sunset.

When it comes to eating, you should definitely check out Lia Del Mar. Here you can order an entire fish (with rice, beans and tortillas) for about $8 USD. We personally endorse the garlic and chilli pescado. There’s also a local who strolls up and down the beach and sells homemade empanadas and tacos. If you’re around on a Friday, there’s a good vibe at at the eatery run by an Italian bloke who actually flew in his pizza oven all the way from Italy.

Sunrise in Chacahua

5. Escape to the mountains of San Mateo

At the end of my 6-month adventure across Mexico, San Mateo undisputably claims top spot as my favorite destination for its tranquility and nature. Whilst travelers tend to flock to the Oaxacan mountain town of San Jose Del Pacifico, we urge you to instead visit its neighbor next door.

You’ll find cabins with their own fireplaces scattered across the foothills of the Sierra Sur in the mountains where the population sits at a modest 4,000 people. Leafy hiking trails peel off in every direction, with cascading waterfalls and fresh mountain air highlighting the experience. Do explore the routes to El Campanario and the longer hike to San Jose Del Pacifico.

After working up an appetite, you’ll quickly discover that many of the restaurants operate out of the back of local family homes. And at the top of that list, we strongly encourage the tasty quesadillas in the charming and colorful garden of Comedor Del Bosque.

Cozy forest cabins in San Mateo

6. Experience the Pueblos Magicos (Magic Towns) outside Mexico City

You don’t have to venture far from the capital to experience a blend of Mexico’s incredible tradition, culture, and jaw-dropping landscapes. The monolithic mountains envelop the town of Tepoztlan, where locals converge on weekends inside Mezcalerías (bars) for mezcal (a local distilled alcohol) and wander the cobblestone streets with tepoznieves (Mexican ice cream) in hand. In the town centre, no-fuss eateries like Antojitos Dona Olivia serve up hearty tacos and enchiladas, and visitors stroll up and down the main street’s craft and food markets with a very distinct bohemian flavour.

We highly recommend taking the local bus to the nearby town of Amatlán where it’s not uncommon to witness a local performance in the main square.

A local performance in Amatlán

7. Climb the giant, La Malinche

La Malinche punctuates the northeast skyline of Puebla, and ascending this dormant volcano at 4,461 metres is undoubtedly one of the most rewarding experiences you can have in the region.

To reach the trailhead from Puebla, you can avail the public transport options from CAPU bus station or alternatively, consider the convenience and affordability of arranging a shared taxi with a group.

The hike commences in low, lush green forests, opening up to a reasonably steep rocky clamber, and occasionally snow-capped peaks. The return journey to the summit should take about 7-8 hours, with spectacular razorback ridge views cutting through the landscape below, and the neighbouring town of Tlaxcala in the distance.

As far as logistics go, you won’t need any technical equipment, making this one of the most accessible day trips for visitors, and navigable without a guide. Bring your own food and fluids,  and at the end of the hike, there’s a little vendor serving up cold beer, tacos and quesadillas that truly hits the spot.

The route to La Malinche Summit

If you're currently mapping out your next holiday, let it be Mexico. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more well-rounded destination to suit the interests of all types of travellers.

Nos vemos allí – we’ll see you there!

Explore these great reads

Travel articles
What it's like to use onsen in Japan as a trans person
29
March
2023
5 mins
Travel articles
10 lessons from 10 years of solo travel as a woman
07
August
2023
4 mins
Travel articles
Sharing the summit: A hike to Everest Base Camp
23
January
2024
4 mins
Travel articles
Seven tips to help you pack for unpredictable weather
28
July
2023
3 mins