Travel to Mexico is not new. Visitors have been flocking to her shores for hundreds of years. Mexico is well known for the thousands of miles of coastline, the magnificent colonial cities, the beaches of Baja, and the white sand beaches of the Yucatan.
The Mexican government works hard to promote tourism and, in addition to world-renowned hot spots such as Acapulco, Guadalajara, and Puerto Vallarta, much money and time has been built infrastructure in a particular group of towns such as Ixtapa, Cancun, and Loreto.
Savvy travelers, however, know that the true joy and magic of “Magical Mexico” is found in the lesser-touristic Mexican towns. Over one hundred pueblo magico, Magic towns, are on many travelers radar and there are a multitude of other towns and villages that draw those in the know. Jump on a jet plane, and fly away to one of these 5 best Mexican towns you’ve probably never heard of.
Patzcuaro is near perfection. A stunning old town, founded in the 1320’s, surrounds one of many large plazas and is edged by cafes, restaurants, and one of the best markets in all of Mexico. The surrounding streets wind and weave their way along 400 year old cobblestones and gorgeous architecture, are complete with all of the color and pomp that defines this exotic land. Inexpensive food carts mesh effortlessly with 100 year old coffee shops, and the overall feel is far more European than Mexican in feel. The daily market is a treasure, offering up everything from live chickens to food stands to vegetables to booths selling baskets or offering knife sharpening. A fun day trip involves a short boat trip into the lake to climb the pilgrimage at Isla Janitzio.
Cuitzeo, another pueblo magico, takes a little bit of work to find its charm. A rather small village compared to many, Cuitzeo only needs a bit of time to embrace the magic. One of the magic Mexican towns featuring a monastery, the foot wide walls and arches lend themselves to an earlier period. Multiple delicious local restaurants are an easy meander away from the main square, and all along the way you will find yourself captivated by the fascinating glimpse into a way of life right out of the past. In addition, a variety of local artisans create offerings covering a huge range of crafts.
Tapalpa is a bit of a mystery. The location is prime, within an easy days drive from Guadalajara, Morelia, and perhaps even Puerto Vallarta. But this stunning city is just far enough off the “tourist trail” that is sees very few visitors, further lending itself to create a feeling of stepping back in time. The narrow streets are pure old Mexico, lined by white washed stucco topped by red tile roofs. Windows are framed by multi-colored shutters and ancient stone streets force the visitor to mind their feet as they find one photo opportunity after another.
The colorful, small city of Guanajuato is well known on the tourist trail. Lesser known, and perhaps even more magical, is the high-altitude city of Zacatecas. Like its better known sibling, Zacatecas sits in the crux of several high hills creating a narrow valley. An amazing array of colors wash the surrounding hills in a rainbow-like kaleidoscope. Not a single straight street is to be found, giving the impression that a walk through old town is more of a meandering forest path than a large urban environment. For a fascinating glimpse into the past, grab yourself a grilled tamale before heading to the former monastery, turned ceremonial mask museum, at the Rafael Coronel Museum. Sitting at 8100 feet elevation, Zacatecas is certainly not for the faint of heart, yet this fascinating city continues to enchant.
5. San Cristobal de las Casas
San Cris may not be a fully new name to Mexico aficionados, however with a location high in the hills of Chiapas in southern Mexico, this exotic city is far off the path of most travelers. Quite simply, it’s not easy to get to. A full day’s drive from either the Pacific coast or the Gulf of Mexico, San Cris is a mix of comfortable urban city and quaint hill tribe village. More than the others, San Cris is a blend. Pedestrian streets are lined by western-style cafes and coffee houses, while locals from a multitude of tribal ethnic groups also wander these same streets selling their local craftsmanship. A Thai restaurant can be found as easily as a local taco cart, and wine shops abound. The near-perfect juxtaposition of old and new, San Cris features color and design along with an undeniable authentic charm.
Visit One of These Mexican Towns
Each of these five amazing Mexican towns easily has a dozen others near them that are equally appealing. One of the joys of this large and diverse country is the capability to travel from one shore to another, from sea level to over 10,000 feet in elevation, and feel as though you are transported to another time and place all within the same land. For travelers who are only familiar with the well-traveled tourist path, it is in their best interest to venture off that well beaten trail and explore some new terrain.
For historians and artists, these colonial Mexican towns offer up rambling landscapes, architecture that is hundreds of years old, and a thriving ancient culture. Shoppers will find themselves wishing they owned two or three homes because of the number and quality of artisan crafts and gorgeous furnishings available to them. Magnificent tiles in the Spanish tradition, elaborately carved furniture, and wrought iron light fixtures are just a few of the most popular to take home.
Romantics will feel all of the magic of these colorful Mexican towns as they meander their way down winding cobblestone streets surrounded by mariachi music and taco carts.
Mexico truly embodies the old and the new, effortlessly combing the magic of hundreds of years of history with a modern, thriving culture. A must on anyone’s bucket list.