What makes Mexico such a spectacular and beloved country is how diverse it is, both its people and its landscape. You have the beach, the mountains, the desert, and the jungle to explore. Despite endless options, tourists tend to flock to the same places over and over again, negatively impacting these popular tourist destinations. If you’re planning a trip to Mexico, consider exploring “off the beaten path Mexico” instead of the top tourist cities.
I started traveling to Mexico as a small child and I haven’t stopped since. There are few places that continuously surprise me, and Mexico is one of them. There are so many hidden gems in Mexico, as well as fantastic food, and wonderful people. With a never ending list of places to visit in Mexico, it can sometimes feel hard to know where to start.
I’ve compiled a list below of my favorite off the beaten path Mexico States, including the best cities within each, how to get there and what to do. These regions have significantly less international tourists and will give you a more authentic and cultural taste of Mexico. Plus, they are the best Mexican destinations for sustainable travelers, as they provide a great alternative to the most popular cities in Mexico.
Off the Beaten Path Mexico: Chiapas
When deciding where to go in Mexico, Chiapas should be at the top of your list. This region is home to the best off the beaten path Mexico destinations, including San Cristobal De las Casas, one of the best cities in Mexico. While very popular with locals, somehow Chiapas has managed to fly under the international tourism radar.
Bordering Guatemala, Chiapas is a diverse region filled with spectacular waterfalls, jungles, lakes, beaches and mountains. Here you’ll find rich culture with a large Indigenous population, vibrant small towns, ancient ruins, great shopping, and fantastic coffee. All of this and more makes Chiapas one of the best off the beaten path Mexico places to travel to.
The best places to go in Chiapas include Lagos de Montebello, Cascadas El Chiflon and Agua Azul for nature and water lovers. Palenque, an ancient city home to a thriving jungle and ruins, is also a must-see. While there is something for every type of traveler in Chiapas, it’s the ideal vacation spot for those who love nature, adventure and history.
Know Before You Go:
You can easily drive throughout Chiapas but it’s best to do so during the day on well-marked roads. While Chiapas is largely safe, some areas experience periods of conflict. As a tourist, be sure to consult a local guide before heading off on your adventures and save your traveling for daylight.
Best City to Visit in Chiapas: San Cristóbal De Las Casas
This pueblo magico is one of the best places in Mexico and my personal favorite city. San Cristobal is a vibrant, cultural melting pot with a prevalent Indigenous community and more recent European influence.
It’s a truly unique city that’s still somewhat undiscovered by tourists. Don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely some tourists here, but unlike many popular cities in Mexico, the tourists do not come close to outnumbering the locals and the popular areas are enjoyed by both locals and tourists.
Here you can find some of the best shopping, coffee, chocolate and cheese in Mexico. It’s a wonderful place to support local businesses and get to see a more cultural side of Mexico. For a full list of things to do in San Cristobal de las Casas, check out our guide here.
Off the Beaten Path Mexico: Campeche
Campeche is probably the best kept secret of Mexico. There are very few tourists who know about Campeche but once you do, you wonder why everyone isn’t here. Safe, gorgeous, home to several beautiful ruins and a gorgeous, low-key coastline – Campeche is off the beaten path Mexico at its best.
Campeche is a small state with a low population and it’s one of the safest places to visit in Mexico. You can easily drive throughout Campeche without seeing many tourists. With a hot and humid climate, the majority of Campeche is filled with jungles. Whether it’s exploring ancient ruins while trekking through the jungle, or basking on a tropical island before boating through mangroves, you have a lot to choose from in Campeche.
Some of the top attractions in Campeche are the breathtaking Mayan ruins. Be sure to check out Edzna, Xpuhil or trek through Reserva de la Biosfera Calakmul. If you’re interested in ecotourism, check out Ria Celestun in Parque Natural Petenes where you can explore coastal mangroves to observe wildlife such as flamingos and crocodiles.
Know Before You Go:
While Campeche has a gorgeous coastline that borders the length of the state, it doesn’t have many beaches. If a beach day is what you seek, try Playa Bonita near Campeche city or head down to Isla Aguada, right outside of Ciudad Del Carmen – Campeche’s second largest city.
Best City to Visit in Campeche: Campeche
No, that isn’t a typo – Campeche’s capital city is also named Campeche. Similar to the walled city of Cartagena, Campeche was once a fully walled city and Mayan trading port. Now, the historic walls are largely still standing and they are the city's biggest attraction.
In Campeche, you’ll find colorful streets, delicious food, and a picturesque malecon. This colonial city is relatively low-key and sleepy. It’s a great place to visit if you’re looking for a relaxing getaway while still being in a walkable, cultural city.
How to Get There:
Campeche has an international airport, just outside of the city. You can also easily bus or road trip here from the neighboring states, Yucatan and Quintana Roo.
Off the Beaten Path Mexico: Oaxaca
Oaxaca is the top Mexico travel destination for foodies. People come here for the food and for good reason. This is where most things in Mexico are grown, like corn and chocolate, and it’s the birthplace of Mezcal. Despite this, you won’t find many tourists throughout this large and stunning state.
Oaxaca is also the most ethnically diverse state in Mexico, and each city and pueblo offers a unique experience. Oaxaca has both mountainous regions and stunning coastlines, home to many of the most beautiful hidden beaches in Mexico.
Some of the top attractions in Oaxaca are Monte Alban and Yagul, beautiful historic ruins. For a taste of culture, history and true gastronomic delight, you must visit Oaxaca City. For off the beaten track beach towns, check out Mazunte and Bahias de Huatulco.
Know Before You Go:
Many parts of Oaxaca are largely cash based and ATM’s can sometimes run low. As a tourist, it’s best to avoid driving throughout the state – hire a driver or take public transit instead.
Best City to Visit in Oaxaca: Puerto Escondido
While Oaxaca City would be my first choice, in recent years it has seen an influx of tourism and can no longer be considered “off the beaten path Mexico.” Puerto Escondido on the other hand, is one of the last remaining hidden beach towns in Mexico. While most coastal Mexican towns are filled with all-inclusive resorts and upscale malecons, Puerto Escondido has none of that. This is largely due to how hard it is to get there with few direct flights.
Puerto Escondido is a fantastic secluded vacation spot in Mexico for those who love the beach and crave a laid back vibe. A town where many roads are still unpaved and beach bars have sand for floors, Puerto Escondido is a nod to simpler times. Here you’ll find legendary surfing, which is it’s main source of tourism, plentiful marine life, bioluminescence boat rides and more local tourists than international ones.
How to Get There:
You can fly into the centrally located airport or take a bus.
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