The Best Things You Can Do In Mexico Outside Resorts

When people think “Mexico,” many think of 5-star resorts, luxurious escapes where you sit on the beach while sipping piña coladas all day. As relaxing as that may be, it would be a shame to forgo all of the incredible sights, culture, and history that Mexico has to offer.

Here are some of the most incredible things you can do in Mexico that you won’t find at a resort.

Mexico Has More Museums Than Any Other City In The World

frida
Photo Credit: @Museofridakahlo / Instagram
Photo Credit: @Museofridakahlo / Instagram

Bet you didn’t know that Mexico City is home to more museums than any other city in the world! You can go museum-hopping and find pretty much anything, from beloved artist Frida Kahlo’s House, the most popular one, to a museum dedicated to tequila and mezcal.

Trade The Beach For A Hike In The Self-Governed Village Of Sierra Norte

Sierra Norte
Photo Credit: @vics_gaspar / Instagram
Photo Credit: @vics_gaspar / Instagram

Up in the Sierra Norte mountains, eight villages live autonomously. That means they’re not controlled by the government, so they have their own laws, justice system, and way of life. Go for a hike through these “Pueblos Mancomunados” for a rewarding experience.

Take A Stroll Through The Trendy Juarez Neighborhood

Masala y Maiz
Photo Credit: @fannysinger / Instagram
Photo Credit: @fannysinger / Instagram

The Juarez neighborhood has evolved in recent years with cutes boutiques, bars, parks, and restaurants popping up. The cuisine alone is to die for, with spots like Masala y Maiz, which blends Mexican and Indian cuisines, and Niddo, a little outdoor corner for brunch.

Whatever you crave, from chocolate to wine, you’ll find it here.

Live Your Own Make-Believe Scary Movie By Visiting La Isla De Las Muñecas (Island Of The Dolls)

La Isla de las Muñecas
Photo Credit: @arturojmartinezs / Instagram
Photo Credit: @arturojmartinezs / Instagram

Like the name suggests, this an island filled with hundreds of hanging, decomposing, decapitated dolls.

The story behind it is that over 50 years ago, Don Julian Santana left his wife and child to move to the island. He saw a young girl drown and then devoted his life to honoring her by collecting and hanging hundreds of dolls.

Go For A Scenic Trail Ride On El Chepe Into Copper Canyon

El Chepe
Photo Credit: @unmexicanoporelmundo / Instagram
Photo Credit: @unmexicanoporelmundo / Instagram

The Chihuahua al Pacifico (or El Chepe) train travels 405 miles between Chihuahua and Los Mochis in northwest Mexico. It took 90 years to build.

In fact, it feels like you’re going back in time as it rumbles through the hills, rivers, and bridges before arriving at Copper Canyon (four times larger than the Grand Canyon). The destination is an adventure in itself, with zip lines and cable cars.

Go On A Spiritual Journey Where The Flowers Grow (Xochimilco)

GettyImages-1164930124
Photo Credit: Robert Knopes/Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images
Photo Credit: Robert Knopes/Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Back in the day, farmers made reed rafts on this lake and filled them to grow fruits, vegetables, and flowers right on the water. Over time, the gardens became manmade islands. The floating gardens were then called Xochimilco, meaning “where the flowers grow.”

You can take small boats through the connecting canals to experience them for yourself.

You Can’t Go To Mexico And Not Go To The Beach

GettyImages-1222119438
Photo Credit: Medios y Media/Getty Images
Photo Credit: Medios y Media/Getty Images

You don’t need fancy resort access to experience the calm, turquoise water and white sand of the beaches of Tulum. They’re right over the Caribbean coastline. Plus, the town is a hotspot for dining. Try having dinner on the mesmerizing beach!

Visit Mexico’s Cultural Center At The Palacio De Bellas Artes

Palacio de Bellas Artes
Photo Credit: @daniel.crz / Instagram
Photo Credit: @daniel.crz / Instagram

The palace’s exterior alone is a beautiful showcase of art nouveau and art deco architecture. On the inside, vaulted glass windows on marble floors host a national theater full of cultural events such as dance, theater, and opera that you can attend.

The top floor is also home to the National Museum of Architecture. Make sure to take in the famous murals along the way.

Time Your Visit With The Day Of The Dead Festival For A Unique Cultural Experience

Día de Muertos
Photo Credit: @esme.maquillaje / Instagram
Photo Credit: @esme.maquillaje / Instagram

The Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is an unusual festival that is meant to honor the dead. It has a history dating back thousands of years to the Aztecs. Unlike western culture, it celebrates rather than mourns the lives of passed loved ones.

Families typically visit the cemetery to clean and decorate the graves. However, some even spend the night and have a little fiesta.

The Iglesia De San Juan Chamula Will Give “Church” A New Meaning

Iglesia de San Juan Chamula
Photo: @carolineseydeau / Instagram
Photo: @carolineseydeau / Instagram

This church is open to everyone in a small village just outside San Cristobal. They say that once inside, what you’ll see is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. However, photos are not permitted to prove it.

Instead of benches, pine needles are spread out on the floor. You’ll be sitting on the ground as thousands of candles flicker while traditional rituals are performed. The chants are frantic, chickens get sacrificed, and liquor is consumed.

Taste The Original Churros At El Moro Churerría

El Moro Churerría
Photo Credit: @churreriaelmoro / Instagram
Photo Credit: @churreriaelmoro / Instagram

In Mexico, early evening time is churro time! Families and friends reunite to indulge in this sweet fried dough dipped chocolate. Here, you’ll find one of the most famous and beloved churro shops (churrería).

You’ll be able to witness how it’s made as you watch the cooks dip, fry, and sugar-coat the pastry. The shop itself is cute, with blue and white tiles, bright lighting, and long communal tables.

Instead Of Tequila, Try Mezcal Right Where It’s Produced

Mezcal
Photo Credit: @sustomezcal / Instagram
Photo Credit: @sustomezcal / Instagram

While you can find mezcal around the country, the best place to try it is in Oaxaca. The region is famous for its mezcal farm. There, you can watch the process of how it’s made, or do a tasting at a little mezcaleria.

There are also many local restaurants that get creative with mezcal cocktails.

Go Hiking On A Volcano Without Waking Up The “Sleeping Woman”

Iztaccihuatl
Photo Credit: esteban_a_l/ Instagram
Photo Credit: esteban_a_l/ Instagram

The hike up Iztaccihuatl volcano, the third-highest peak in Mexico, makes for a popular day trip. They call the volcano the “Sleeping Woman” or “White Woman,” based on the Aztec language.

This is because if you look at it at the right angle, the four snowy peaks look like a woman lying on her back.

Walk Through The City Of Gods

Teotihuacan
Photo Credit: Filip Gielda/ Unsplash
Photo Credit: Filip Gielda/ Unsplash

The ancient archaeological site of Teotihuacan is located 45 minutes northeast of Mexico City. There, you’ll find the Avenue of the Dead, the monumental Temple of Quetzalcoatl, and the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon lined across the valley in geometric patterns.

This model of urbanization and city planning guided many cultures after. This site is so incredible some people believe it was built by aliens.

Take A Dip With The Fish In Cozumel

Cozmel
Photo Credit: @rachelmakesphotos / Instagram
Photo Credit: @rachelmakesphotos / Instagram

This island is filled with adventure opportunities, and it’s considered one of the best places to go scuba diving in the western hemisphere. This is thanks to its crystal clear waters and its abundance of marine life.

You’ll see everything from tiny seahorses to massive eagle rays!

Cheer Your Heart Out At A Lucha Libre Match

Lucha Libre
Photo Credit: Jaime Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images
Photo Credit: Jaime Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images

Lucha Libre is like the Mexican equivalent of WWE in the US, so it’s not “real” fights, but choreographed ones. This doesn’t stop the crowds from going wild and cheering on their favorite wrestlers, though. Lucha Libre matches are actually quite popular amongst locals, and definitely something to experience.

Take A Little Piece Of Mexico Home By Shopping At The Coyoacan Market

Coyoacan Market
Photo Credit: @oftravelsandtales_ / Instagram
Photo Credit: @oftravelsandtales_ / Instagram

The market was founded in 1921, and it has since become Mexico City’s most iconic shopping destination. It sells anything and everything you can imagine at affordable prices, from produce to textiles. It looks so colorful as you walk through its narrow alleys.

Make New Friends At The “World’s Aquarium” (Open Water)

Baja California
Photo Credit: Todd Cravens / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Todd Cravens / Unsplash

The waters of Baja California have been dubbed “the world’s aquarium” by Jacques Cousteau, thanks to the abundance of marine life that lives in them.

A boat trip has a good chance of seeing blue whales, humpbacks, fin whales, sperm whales, dolphins, and even orcas.

Go Back In Time With A Day Trip To Puebla

Puebla
Photo Credit: @pauu.hp / Instagram
Photo Credit: @pauu.hp / Instagram

The colonial city of Puebla is found right below the snowcapped Popocatépetl volcano. It is home to preserved baroque cathedrals, palaces, and tiled houses that go all the way back to the 16th century.

The town comes alive at night, too, with music, food, and lit-up buildings.

Feast Your Eyes On Yucatán’s Pink Salt Lakes

Yucatán
Photo Credit: @femmetravel / Instagram
Photo Credit: @femmetravel / Instagram

The water of the lake is actually pink. Las Coloradas are pink pools that run through little Mexican fishing villages.

You can’t swim in them anymore, but they’re still worth seeing with your eyes to take in the fascinating phenomenon.