Cancun and Baja dominate the average American’s itinerary when it comes to Mexican getaways. And you can’t blame anyone for wanting a little R&R in paradise. All-inclusive resorts, sunbathing by day, clubbing after dark, leaving your troubles stateside…

Tempting no doubt, but monstrously hot tourist traps like these reside in their own little bubbles separate from the real Mexican experience. With a rich history rife with battles for independence from Spain, and a charming culture, Mexico has a lot to offer those oddballs willing to dip outside their comfort zones. So wait up on booking that flight to Cancun or Baja, you’ll probably change your mind after seeing these stunning alternatives.

Mexico City

Mexico City Even when squinting against the horizon, Mexico’s capital city seems to stretch almost endlessly across the Valley Of Mexico. With a cityscape this colossal to explore, Mexico City could very well become the sole destination for your trip. Just a day spent around Zocalo square nets proximity to the Metropolitan Cathedral, National Palace, and Templo Mayor; the city’s most popular tourist sites. Or visit the Square of Three Cultures to roam about leftovers from days of Aztec domination. Then, when your appetite strikes from all the sightseeing, treat yourself to a smorgasbord of street food.

San Miguel de Allende

14486875580_aef10e831c_k A scenic cruise 170 miles northwest from Mexico City lands you in the historic town of San Miguel de Allende. The picturesque town center has drawn hordes of renowned artists looking to capture its atmosphere since the early 1900s. The baroque Spanish architecture—a centerpiece of certain Diego Rivera murals—belies the fact that San Miguel de Allende was Mexico’s first municipality to claim independence from Spanish rule. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you’d do well to pop in for a stay to take in the sites and browse the eclectic array of local handicrafts.

Playa Del Carmen

M Carmen Sixty miles south from the waters of Cancun, on the nose of the Yucatán Penninsula, lies a mellow beach town with exciting escapades on offer for the more adventurous. Trailblaze jungle-side for a dive into the alluring, clear waters of a cenote—sinkholes brimming with water from underground rivers. Or trek south to Tulum for a look-see at Mayan temples overlooking a cliff overlooking gorgeous laps of shoreline. As the sun tucks away for the night, young party monsters head to Coco Bongo Nightclub for a soft-core version of Vegas inspired bashes.

Mérida

Merida Since you’re already settled into the Yucatán, slide several hours inland to the region’s largest city Mérida. Up-kept structures from a bygone colonial age and a constant string of festivities in the many town squares give Mérida an air of schmaltz. There are several museums to explore—the Museum of Mayan World is of particular note—but blase exploration of this historically dense city proves a fine substitute. Just a stroll down the mansion-laden Paseo de Montejo reveals all manner of trivia about the former Spanish ruling class.

Puerto Vallarta

M Puerto This world-famous beach town differs from Baja and Cancun by way of rich local culture and cuisine. PV’s mountain canopied streets draw international chef elite each year to perform in the gourmet festival(held every November) and relish avante-garde expressions of classic Mexican dishes. Aside from usual beach fare, there are boat cruises in the nearby Mismaloya to tour massive grottoes and arching caves. Or, if you arrive between December to February, whale watching!


Guanajuato

guanajuato-1241466_1280 Guanajuato came to during the Spanish ransacking of La Valenciana, a mine which yielded 2/3 of the world’s silver at the time. Since then, Guanajuato has morphed into a lovely maze of colorful, tangled alley ways. Wandering through you’re apt to encounter many extensive markets. The biggest, Mercado Hidalgo, is worth it for the cheerful veneer alone with sunny stalls of fresh fruits and veggies, handcrafted traditional wear, trinkets, meats, and cheeses. At sunset, take the funicular tram-car for a stunning take on Guajuato’s vibrant mix of villas and cathedrals.

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