Mexico is a country that occupies a special place in the cultural imagination of the United States and many other countries. Whenever we hear mention of the United States’ southern neighbor, we think of stereotypes like wild nights on the mescal in desert towns or beachfront Spring Break parties. But beyond the tourist traps of Cancun and Los Cabos, Mexico is full of incredible places that make it a brilliant place to spend a month or so backpacking around. Here are our personal highlights from many years of living and traveling in Mexico.
1) La Paz, Baja California
Few and far between are the Spring Breakers who manage to get up the Baja Peninsula as far as the capital La Paz. This sleepy cities borders the sea and is a world away from the party atmosphere of Cabo San Lucas. If you come at the right time of year, you can swim with whale sharks which come to mate only a couple of hundred meters away from the city’s main seafront promenade.
2) La Huasteca Potosina, San Luís Potosí
One of Mexico’s jewels of natural heritage, this massive nature reserve is replete with hundreds of incredible waterfalls. Drive for miles through the lushest jungle scenery before you cool yourself off with a swim. Do not forget to visit the surrealist garden of Edward James!
3) Mazunte, Oaxaca
While the surf town of Puerto Escondido sees a lot more visitors, Mazunte is the place to go if you like the quiet life. The beach here is perfect for swimming, and if you take a hike around the coast the west, you are met with some of the wildest virgin beaches in the whole of Mexico.
4) Calak Mul, Campeche
If you are ever down south and you are interested in your pre-Columbian history, make sure you do not miss the mysterious ruined city of Calak Mul. You have to rent a car and drive 60km into the jungle on a one-way road, but when you get there, you will not be disappointed by the Jungle Book-esque scenes that await you. You can even play a game of hide and seek among the ruins, but be careful not to get lost!
5) Barrancas del Cobre, Chihuahua
The best way to see the Barrancas del Cobre (Copper Canyons) is by taking the train known as “El Chepe” from either Chihuahua City or Los Mochis, Sinaloa. From there you will be taken on a ride along tracks hacked improbably into the sides of deep ravines bordered with sparkling rivers. The views from the many bridges that you will pass across have to be seen to be believed.
Mexico is much more than its famous beach towns and parties. If you are prepared to go a bit further afield, you can find nature and landscapes that are stunning enough to rival any other place in the world. It is just a case of getting away from the beaten track.