Mexico is a stunning country and one that we all should visit at some point on our travels. It’s not all tourist towns like Cancun and Tijuana, this country has something for everyone, if you know where to look.
You’ll find natural beauty in hidden lagoons, quaint small towns, remote areas full of marine life, Mayan ruins, and lots more. Join me as we take a look at the best hidden gems in Mexico so you can make sure you hit all the right spots on your next trip.
Lake Bacalar or Bacalar Lagoon as it’s also known sits way down south on the Yucatán peninsula in Quintana Roo near to the border with Belize. It’s one of the hidden gems you have to see as it’s one of the most beautiful places in the country.
Let’s start with the small town of Bacalar as it’s labeled as a Pueblos Magicos (Magic Town) by the Mexican tourist board for its unique characteristics and surrounding natural beauty.
At Bacalar, you’ll find a freshwater lake called the lagoon of seven colors, and it’s about as pretty as a place can get. It’s named the lagoon of seven colors because there are literally seven shades of blue and green on this stunning lake.
Hop in a kayak or go out on a glass-bottom boat tour and cruise across this stunning hidden gem where you can have a refreshing swim in shallow pools, see Cenote Azul and stumble upon hidden secret bars in the mangroves.
This is one of the most unique places to visit in Mexico and a hidden gem worth spending some time at.
Another gem in Mexico that is worth visiting is the Grutas De Tolantongo, in fact, it’s more than worth visiting, it’s a must-see when you visit Mexico. You’ll find the Grutas about a 3-hour drive north into the central highlands of Central Mexico from the capital Mexico City, in fact, it’s the perfect weekend getaway from the capital city.
The Grutas Tolantongo is a series of natural pools and is a popular destination with locals and tourists alike. These natural wonders are filled by hot springs that form completely underground and fill the pools with crystal clear azure blue waters.
The Grutas is one of the main attractions of Central Mexico and there are even some boutique hotels where you can stay, one of which has created a chain of pools you can soak in that are filled by the springs.
If you’re in Mexico City then you should definitely hire a rental car and make the 3-hour journey north to see the best of Mexico hidden gems.
Sitting right on the tip of the Yucatán peninsula a little further north of Isla Mujeres lies Isla Contoy in the Caribbean sea and it’s one of the hidden gems in Mexico you have to see.
Isla Contoy is an island that is on the bucket list of every nature enthusiast as it’s a deserted island that is also a protected national park.
You can visit the island on day trips from the many all-inclusive resorts in Cancun but the number of visitors is limited in order to protect the island so be sure to book in advance
On the island you’ll find beautiful beaches to stroll along, you can swim in the crystal clear waters, snorkel with turtles (that also nest there), and see the many nesting seabirds that call the island home.
It’s one of the most amazing places in Mexico to see if you like to get off the beaten path, and one very relaxing experience on any Mexico trip. Not many travelers make it to the island but make sure you do.
Another of the hidden gems in Mexico you have to see, and it’s also on the Yucatan peninsula like the other hidden gems above, is the Suytun Cenote.
Sitting in the heart of the Yucatan State near to the small town of Valladolid is the giant cenote Suytun but what’s a cenote? Cenotes are sinkholes formed by limestone that lets crystal clear water bubble up from the ground to make stunning natural pools.
The Suytun Cenote is huge and when standing in the middle of it you can’t help but be blown away by the size, the beauty of the water, and the amazing cave structure that surrounds it. When visiting the cenote you’ll find a wonderful platform where you can take great pictures from and swimming in the cenote is nothing short of amazing.
Guanajuato city is one of the hidden gems of mainland Mexico that every haphazard traveler must take a look at. Tucked up in the hills of Guanajuato state is a gorgeous colonial city full of colorful streets and colorful buildings that puts most other colonial towns in Mexico to shame.
As you walk around the cobblestone streets you will be blown away by the architecture of the Basílica Colegiata de Nuestra Señora de Guanajuato, University of Guanajuato, and you should definitely pass by the Guanajuato mummy museum as it’s a sight worth seeing that you can’t find many other places.
You’ll also find some great restaurants, cultural sites, and quite a few mariachi bands will be playing in the streets.
The surrounding areas of the city are also perfect for exploration for anyone who loves hiking off the beaten path. You can wander the trails of El Cerro de La Bufa mountain, hop on mountain bikes and see the incredible views across this must-see Mexico destination.
Las Pozas also referred to as Edward James Las Pozas is a landscaped garden that was created by Edwards James, a British 19th-century art critic with a unique perspective. This is one of the more unusual hidden gems in Mexico and you’ll find it tucked up in the jungle-covered hills of central Mexico.
This landscaped garden covers around 80 acres and is packed full of old sculptures and other strange bits of art such as floating homes and lookout points. All the old sculptures are now wrapped up in the jungle with twisted vines and mosses that only add to their unique diversity.
Walking around this wonderful place is nothing short of being in a fantasy land and you’ll find art integrated with ponds, waterfalls, and flowers, doors that lead to nowhere along with staircases that do the same.
Todos Santos sits on the Baja California Peninsula on the southern end in Baja California Sur about an hour north of Los Cabos and Cabo San Lucas. Unlike the nearby beaches of Los Cabos, you can actually swim on the amazing beaches around Todos Santos and it’s one of the coolest beach towns in Mexico that you can hang out at.
The town is full of creative art galleries and has a very low-key artsy vibe to it that is lovely to be in. You’ll find quaint little restaurants, interesting things to see, and it has some of the best surf in Mexico as the breaks hold big swells of the pacific ocean.
If you’re looking for a relaxing town to hang out in or to ride some of the best waves in Mexico, then this is one of the places you have to go to in Mexico. It’s also the perfect place to base yourself from if you want to explore the rest of Baja and enjoy some fishing and diving as well as the arid desert landscapes around it.
One of the top destinations in Mexico to visit is the Copper Canyon which is pretty much Mexico’s version of the Grand Canyon. The canyon is made up of six different river gorges and is the perfect place to be if you love to explore the outdoors.
You’ll find the canyon in the Sierra Madre Occidental in northern Mexico and it’s famous for the blue-coppery tones that sit on the side of the bluffs during the summer. You can go hiking, enjoy bike riding, see the magical rock formations, and have the chance to see wildlife such as cougars and more.
Visiting the canyon is one thing but getting there is an experience in itself and I’d recommend getting the El Chepe train from Mexico City to Chihuahua City after which the canyon is easily accessible via a public bus or cab ride.
Puerto Escondido located on the west coast of Mexico is one of the most beautiful and chilled surf towns Mexico has to offer and it’s not just for pro surfers, it’s for both beginners and non-surfers too.
There are numerous beaches around this cute town in Southern Mexico where you can swim, learn to surf, surf the biggest wave in Mexico, and see the abundant marine life too. The seas around the beaches are home to huge pods of dolphins and turtles too, there is even a turtle sanctuary you can visit while you’re there.
Another thing you must do while in Puerto Escondido is to go for a swim at night as the sea is full of bioluminescence and as you swim, every movement you make will be lit up by the lights of tiny organisms as you go.
The town is also a lot of fun with vibrant nightlife, great restaurants, and you should go to the main square to try out all the delicious street food on offer.
La Paz, a quaint little town on the east coast of Baja Sur on the Sea of Cortez is a place you have to stay at in Mexico if you love peaceful surroundings, stunning beaches, and spending time with amazing sea creatures.
The Sea Of Cortez is regarded as the aquarium of the world as it’s home to whale sharks, sea lions, and lots more. You can go scuba diving with them all, visit the Isla Espiritu Santo to see the sea lion colony, and you can also hop in a snorkel there too.
A Lot of the tours are guided by marine biologists particularly in regards to seeing whale sharks and you can learn a lot about the ecosystems around La Paz just by chatting to them.
You’ll also find one of the most beautiful beaches in Mexico near La Paz called Playa Balandra. It’s ideal for swimming and is protected by a crystal clear lagoon that is waist-deep for a long way out.
The surrounding area is also great for hiking and the views of the amazing ocean landscapes from the top of the hills are stunning.
Hierve El Agua in Oaxaca is another magical spot in Mexico that you kind of have to see to believe. It’s pretty much an infinity pool that sits on the top of a petrified waterfall and it’s for sure one of the coolest places in the world to go for a swim and a hike too.
You’ll find this magical spot in San Lorenzo Albarradas and at the end of an unpaved road, you’ll find the mystical pool. It looks like there is a waterfall falling out of the pool but it’s actually a trick being played on your eyes as there is a white rock that creates the illusion of falling water.
It was made by freshwater springs that had too much calcium carbonate in the water and slowly deposited it to make the cliffs over thousands of years that also hold the pools at the top, four of which are natural and two are large artificial pools.
The water in the pools is crystal clear, turquoise, beautiful, and are packed full of minerals. Bathing in the fresh spring water is nothing short of refreshing.
Sitting in the Huasteca Potosina region the Tamasopo area is covered in lush green jungles with multiple waterfalls all around that crash into their plunge pools. Between the sounds, the smells, the birds, and after a swim, you’ll feel like you’re in heaven on earth.
Of all the waterfalls to spend your time at, the Puente de Dios on the Gallinas River is known as the most beautiful. You can see magical stalagmites and stalactites on the rocks, swim into small caverns, and enjoy bathing in the plunge pool of the waterfall itself.
If you love spending your time in the ocean, specifically fishing, diving, and snorkeling then a visit to the sea of Cortez, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a place you have to visit. This sea is teeming with life and you can snorkel or dive with everything from a whale shark to a sea lion as well as whales, dolphins, and more.
It’s not just for people who like to spend their time underwater either, you can also hop on a boat and go to see whales, dolphins, turtles, and more on a fun cruise around the sea.
The area is also amazing for fishing and if you enjoy catching fish or want to try there isn’t a better place to do it. You can walk along the beach and cast into the crystal clear waters with the hope of catching roosterfish, jacks, bonito, and lots more.
If you’re a fly fisherman, you should also try catching a roosterfish on fly as they are absolutely incredible to sight cast to from the beach, and if you land one, you’ll have caught a pinnacle species on a fly rod.
Sierra Gorda is a very unique biosphere reserve north of Mexico City and it’s one of the places most people don’t think to visit when in Mexico, which is a mistake.
The reason the reserve is so special is because of its blend of ecosystems where semi-desert meets forests along with towering cliffs, waterfalls, and rivers too. It’s a magical place to visit and hiking around it will give you a great taste of history too as within the biosphere reserve are beautiful churches from old missions that are lovely to see.
You can choose to stay within the reserve at some of the Eco camps when you visit to get a truly immersive experience or you can stay outside of it in Pinal de Amoles and take trips to different parts of the reserve each day.
Walking around the pretty streets is an experience in itself thanks to its delicious food, markets, and between all the parades, it kind of feels like you’re at a traditional Mexican party every day of the week.
The old churches are lovely to walk around and you should try out some of the many local restaurants that serve some of the best traditional Mexican food around.
Just outside of Oaxaca city you’ll find ancient ruins to visit including Mitla and Monte Albar, you visit a Mezcal distillery too, and try some of this delicious traditional drink.
Playa Sayulita is one of the best beach destinations you can head to in Mexico, especially if you’re looking for a laid-back vibe and to escape the craziness of spots like Playa Del Carmen.
You’ll find Sayulita just an hour from Puerto Vallarta on the central pacific coast of Mexico and it’s a bit of a bohemian town with a bit of everything.
The local beaches are known for their great waves and thus you’ll find a lot of surfers in town and there are plenty of surf schools in case you want to learn while you’re there. You’ll also find an excellent food scene in the area and there are some great little hotels to stay at too.
Hanging out at the beach is something everyone does and you’ll find the facilities make this a little too easy and relaxing. You can hop into a beach hut for a massage, rent sunbeds to sunbathe on, and have a little swim in the lovely sea.
Just north of Sayulita is the beach town of San Pancho which is lesser-known to tourists and has much more of a local vibe. The reason it’s less popular than other beaches is that the sea around San Pancho isn’t very safe for swimming but it more than makes up for it in other ways.
If you’re looking for a place in Mexico to settle in for a month or so, this is the spot. You’ll find yoga centers, pilates sessions, and even Spanish lessons readily available which makes long-term stay a lot more pleasant.
The beach is beautiful for long walks and the sun sets directly into the sea right off the beach. You’ll find local restaurants along the beach serving up fresh ceviche and a great vibe.
The ancient Mayan ruins of Calakmul are our final hidden gem in Mexico you should see and they are a little better than all the other Mayan ruins around too.
You’ll find these ruins right in the middle of the rainforest about an hour or more from popular towns like Playa Del Carmen and they date back to 400 AD.
There are some 7000 ruins at Calakmul that are all extremely well preserved and now intermingled with the jungle and it was once the capital of the Kingdom of The Snake. Around 50,000 people were governed from the ancient city.
When visiting the ruins you can actually climb up the ruins even the largest pyramid ever discovered from the Mayans which is a part of the Teotihuacan pyramids.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!