If you want to avoid crowds and the larger resort areas when traveling to Mexico this winter, here’s a peek at lesser-known areas and attractions. They may not be on everyone’s list, but isn’t that precisely what makes them worth exploring?
Consider These Six Unexpected Mexico Vacation Spots and Activities
We’ve uncovered some premium spots in Mexico where you can swim, hike, boat, and explore without maneuvering through hordes of people. So, get ready to escape the cold Canadian winter and enjoy the Mexican landscape, nature, art, and Mayan history on your timeline.
Bacalar, Quintana Roo
Forty-two-kilometer-long Lake Bacalar (also known as Bacalar Lagoon) is an oasis for travelers seeking a breather from the resort areas of Quintana Roo. The town of Bacalar is one of Mexico’s pueblos mágicos, villages throughout the country designated for their mystical and mythical characters and for keeping their architecture, culture, folklore, and history intact. Be sure to explore the Fuerte de San Felipe, the citadel built to defend against pirates, and then head to Bacalar Lagoon, also known as the Lagoon of the Seven Colors, for its shimmering tints of blue.
One of the freshwater lagoon’s special geologic features is its ancient stromatolites, large living fossils that crop up throughout the water. Venture out by sailboat or kayak with a partner to explore cenotes, secret swimming spots, and those stromatolites. Paddle up to bars tucked among mangroves when you work up a thirst. There are lots to do in Bacalar, as the area is becoming one of North America’s adventure gateways.
Cenote Yax-Kin, Quintana Roo
If you’re traveling with kids and looking for a laid-back day by the water, try Cenote Yax-Kin. This charming natural swimming area lets you and your family members relax in cool, clear water. Toddlers can “swim” along the edge. Older kids can try snorkeling. A local favorite, this cenote provides a splash-down by the water for a few hours or all day. It has chairs, hammocks, a swing, a grill area a changing room. Bring life jackets in case they aren’t available for rental when you visit. And pack or buy meals ahead of time as only snacks are for sale. Easy-going Cenote Yax-Kin can be reached by Colectivo (shared bus), rental car, and taxi (arrange for a pick-up later).
Calakmul Biosphere Reserve & Calakmul Ruins, Yucatan
At ancient Calakmul, just 50 to 70 visitors a day visit the ruins of this vast Mayan city—what was once the capital of the Kingdom of the Snake. Located in the remote, unspoiled Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, a trip to Calakmul has been described as an unparalleled, immersive experience and very different from Chichen Itza, Tulum, and Coba. The UNESCO World Heritage Site contains a pyramid dating back to 400 A.D. and is thought to be the largest ever built by the Maya.
The biological diversity of the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve is also astounding: 350 species of birds and almost 100 species of mammals, including howler monkeys and large vertebrates in danger of extinction, such as the puma (Puma concolor) and the jaguar (Panthera onca). And 80% of the plant species of the entire Yucatan Peninsula can be found in the Reserve.
Plan to spend 3-4 hours; or more if you are a photographer or passionate about the Maya. Check websites to understand fee structure and hours and routes among structures. Also, all on-site signage is in Spanish, so research or download information ahead of time if you aren’t fluent.
To get to Calakmul, look at a rental car or bus leaving from nearby towns. Keep in mind that entering enter the Biosphere Reserve, takes an hour to get to the site.
Sima de las Cotorras, Chiapas
Chiapas state, in southern Mexico, is home to the UNESCO El Ocote Biosphere Reserve and its many sinkholes, one of the most notable being the immense Sima de las Cotorras. Located 1.5 hours from Tuxtla, the sinkhole is home to emerald-feathered cotorras (monk parakeets), which fly out of the sinkhole every morning, creating a colorful and camera-worthy sight! Visitors can also rappel into the sinkhole, hike to see ancient cave art, zipline and climb.
Las Grutas de Tolantongo, Hidalgo
The area’s rivers and waterfalls have beckoned visitors to this special spot. And then you see the gorgeous blue-green pools that tier the hillside, appearing like a massive stucco fountain filled with people enjoying the warm natural spring waters. Las Grutas de Tolantongo breath-taking water features and more are found in the Hidalgo sierras in a box canyon 4 hours north of Mexico City. You can spend a day splashing in the pod-like pools clinging to the hill. Or enjoy playing by the river and camping overnight. Arrange to rent camping equipment, so it’s waiting when you arrive. Nearby hotels also let you enjoy all the activities, including an early rise to hike or explore hot springs, thermal springs, and grottoes.
Las Pozas, San Luis Potosí
Perhaps one of the most fantastical spots to spend 1.5 hours, Las Pozas, the Edward James Sculpture Garden in Xilitla, delights visitors. Described as a surrealist garden, nature and man-made structures don’t need bond so much as intertwine. The 19th-century English art critic had his ideas about art when he created the sculpture garden in San Luis Potosí, saying its elements would eventually become entirely new.
Composed of 27 buildings and almost 9 hectares of gardens, Las Pozas is in high demand, so buy the limited-timed tickets early. Check the website before purchasing tickets and review its guidelines for footwear for your tour. Xilitla is a 7- to 8-hour drive from Mexico City, and visitors to the area often stay several days, hiking and exploring the area.
Plan for Currency Conversion Before Traveling
Once you’ve finalized your travel plans to include some lesser-known sights and areas of Mexico, consider sending your spending money ahead. With Western Union online or through our money transfer app, you can send a money transfer to a Western Union location in Mexico and pick it up in pesos once you arrive. This way, you can avoid carrying cash on the flight or exchanging Canadian dollars for pesos at airport kiosks that charge higher conversion fees.
For this holiday season*, Western Union has a special offer for new customers—a $0 Transfer Fee** for making your first transfer in the app or on the website!***
* Promotion is valid only until February 28, 2023.
** FX gains apply.
***For new customers exclusive to Western Union.