© istock/dimarik
© istock/dimarik

Mexico: The ultimate guide for newcomers

5 minutes to read
My beautiful and beloved Mexico, if I die far away from you, tell them that I am sleeping and bring me back to here to you - Jorge Negrete.

The chorus to the song, “Mexico Lindo y Querido”, Jorge Negrete’s famous ode to Mexico that all Mexicans know by heart, pretty much sums up locals and visitors' sentiments after experiencing the beauty, hospitality, and vitality that Mexico bestows. First-time travelers to Mexico will soon become repeat visitors to this paradisiacal land. It has the most stunning and captivating culture and nature that combine seamlessly in the physical, social, and spiritual expression of every town, city, and national park you visit, to say nothing of the Mexican people’s warm, welcoming, and fun-loving demeanor. This article will act as an ultimate guide to Mexico for newcomers, exploring the best attributes this diverse republic has to offer so that you can plan your trip according to your touristic preferences. 

© istock/Sicha69
© istock/Sicha69

First-time travelers to Mexico will soon become repeat visitors to this paradisiacal land, with the most stunning and captivating culture and nature that combine seamlessly in the physical, social, and spiritual expression of every town, city, and national park you visit, to say nothing of the Mexican people’s warm, welcoming, and fun-loving demeanor. This article will act as a guide to Mexico for newcomers, exploring the best attributes this diverse republic has to offer so that you can plan your trip according to your touristic preferences. 

Urban Tourism

Mexico has some of the world’s biggest, most diverse urban centers in the world with an abundance of museums, parks, colonial architecture, iconic neighborhoods, epic nightlife, and the most amazing street food you will ever taste. Obviously, the biggest, most well-known city in the republic is its capital, Mexico City, whose infinite cultural gems can easily take a month to explore. I have written various articles on the best museums and neighborhoods to visit as well as the smorgasbord of Mexican street food on every corner.

© istock/bpperry
© istock/bpperry

There are plenty of other wonderful cities to explore that get overshadowed by Mexico City. Guadalajara and Monterrey are the second and third largest cities in Mexico, each with specific geographical and cultural offerings. Guadalajara, located in the western state of Jalisco, is a highly creative city with beautiful green parks, outdoor markets, and a vibrant circus and street art scene. Additionally, it is only a few hours away from some of Mexico’s most prized Pacific beaches. Monterrey is a white-collar city surrounded by mountains with a very distinct northern Mexican culture, cuisine, and cowboy or caballero personality.

© istock/PinkBattousai
© istock/PinkBattousai

One of my favorite cities in Mexico is San Luis Potosi, located in the magical state that shares its name. Merida, in the state of Yucatan, is an equally unique and culturally significant southern Mexican city, an hour from the beach and minutes away from countless swimming holes called cenotes

Pueblos Magicos

While many beaches and large city destinations are well-known and visited on a massive scale, tourists often miss out on the charm and authenticity of smaller surrounding towns. For this reason, Mexico’s government initiated a campaign to promote tourism throughout the republic’s lesser-known but exceedingly magical towns or “pueblos magicos.” According to Wikipedia, pueblos mágicos are “imbued with certain characteristics that make them unique, historically significant, with great traditions, and offer magical experiences to its visitors” that include but are not limited to “symbolism, legends, history, important events, festivals, traditions, great food.” 

© istock/ChepeNicoli
© istock/ChepeNicoli

Visiting one of these pueblos is a must because they really convey the authenticity of Mexican culture in a way that will enchant and enamor you completely. They maintain their historical and cultural integrity, and they also have developed a cute and luxurious boutique hotel and Airbnb scene so that visitors can experience their authenticity comfortably while supporting the local economy. Pueblos Magicos can be found in every state. My favourites are Tepoztlan, Bacalar, San Jose del Pacifico, San Cristobal de las Casas, and Valladolid. The list goes on and on, and whichever one you end up in will be the highlight of your trip.

Valladolid, Yucatan
Valladolid, Yucatan
Valladolid, Yucatan, Mexico
Bacalar Lagoon, Quintana Roo
Bacalar Lagoon, Quintana Roo
Bacalar, Quintana Roo, Mexico
San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas
San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas
San Cristobal de las Casas, Chis., Mexico
Tepoztlan, Morelos
Tepoztlan, Morelos
Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico

Magical nature 

© istock/Luis Cuevas
© istock/Luis Cuevas

To most outsiders, Mexico is most famous for its natural beauty. To say Mexico lives up to this reputation is an understatement. Mexico has the most diverse abundance of nature you will ever find. Whether you are looking for beaches, mountains, forests, or deserts, Mexico has every type of topographical category imaginable. 

© istock/SHansche
© istock/SHansche

There is something for everyone, and within each category, there are multiple subsets. For example, beach lovers have their choice of surf, sand, and watercolour as Mexico has beaches in the Caribbean, the Gulf, and the Pacific. Mountain lovers have their choice of snowcaps, canyons larger than the U.S.’s Grand Canyon, or lush tropical mountains

Tulum, Quintana Roo
Tulum, Quintana Roo
Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico
© istock/segarza
© istock/segarza

Many nature destinations are combinations of desert and beach, jungle and beach, mountains and waterfalls, and in the rare case of San Luis Potosi, jungle and desert! The diversity of flora and fauna along with the massive areas of protected, uninhabited lands makes Mexico one of the premier countries for nature lovers. Whether you want relaxation, extreme sports, wild animal safaris, or a solitary stint in the wild, you will find it in Mexico.

Real de Catorce, San Luis Potosi
Real de Catorce, San Luis Potosi
Real de Catorce, San Luis Potosi, Mexico
© istock/emicristea
© istock/emicristea

Cultural heritage and Mexican social customs

There are few peoples prouder of their cultural heritage than Mexicans. Mexico's cultural diversity is astounding with hundreds of native tribes with their own languages and customs still very much alive. There are also ancient cultures that persist through the incredibly well-preserved ruins all over Mexico. The most famous of these is Teotihuacan, from the ancient Aztec empire, right outside of Mexico City, and the beautifully preserved Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, Coba, Tulum, and Palenque. In Oaxaca, the impressive ruins of Monte Alban are beautiful remnants of the Zapotec peoples.

Monte Alban, Oaxaca
Monte Alban, Oaxaca
Calle Monte Albán, Trinidad de Viguera, Oax., México
Palenque National Park, Chiapas
Palenque National Park, Chiapas
Palenque, Chis., Mexico
Coba, Yucatán
Coba, Yucatán
Carretera Federal Tulum 307, 77793 Cobá, Q.R., Mexico
Chichen Itza, Yucatán
Chichen Itza, Yucatán
Chichén Itzá, Yuc., México
Teotihuacan
Teotihuacan
San Juan Teotihuacan de Arista, Méx., México
© istock/Photogilio
© istock/Photogilio

Perhaps the unique aspect of Mexico is the fusion of indigenous and European cultures into a wholly Mexican term: Mestizo. Mexicans embrace the plight of their indigenous population at the hands of Spanish conquistadors, and yet they are proud of the turbulent culture clashes endured over the history of their republic. 

I recommend that you take at least one cultural heritage tour on your trip to let the friendly and knowledgeable local Mexican guides explain Mexico’s complex history and how it shapes their identity today. Mexicans as a people are some of the friendliest and fun-loving people you will meet. They are always willing to share, whether it be a meal, their homes, a laugh, or a lively conversation. They are known for their informality, so do not expect the kind of punctuality or political correctness you are used to in Europe, Canada, or the United States. 

© istock/diegograndi
© istock/diegograndi

Nature lovers, history buffs, and culture seekers will all find many things to love in this ultimate guide for newcomers to Mexico. With so many different regions, cultures, and wilderness to explore, I can assure you that your first trip to Mexico will not be your last.


The author

Julia Holland

Julia Holland

Hello, I am Julia and I live in Mexico. I came to Mexico as an anthropologist working in Chiapas and I fell in love with this country: the pure and savage beauty of nature, the humility and warmth of the local people, the rich and varied culture. I decided to stay and Mexico is what I call home.

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