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The Most Unique Places to Visit in Mexico: Hidden Gems and Beautiful Places


Jess Wandering admiring Balandra Beach in Baja California Sur, one of the most beautiful places in Mexico
Admiring Balandra Beach in on the Baja California Sur peninsula of Mexico.

What do you think of when you picture Mexico? Stunning beaches? Culture? Food?

There’s no doubt that Mexico isn’t a “hidden gem” destination, but we’ve visited several times now and I’m always in awe of the diverse landscapes, rich culture and unique places we get to explore and experience.

Whether it’s hiking up one of the highest volcanoes in Mexico, rappelling into a waterfall cave or experiencing the Monarch Butterfly migration, I want to share the lesser-known, breathtaking destinations and hidden gems in Mexico.

There’s no doubt that the famous beaches and Mexican cuisine are epic too, but here are some of the most unique places to visit in Mexico that you need to experience for yourself!

Jess Wandering standing next to a cactus in Mexico
The cardĂłn is the second largest cactus in the world and the largest in Baja California Sur. 
Mexico bucket list pin with images of Jess Wandering in various hidden gems in Mexico including hot springs, a cenote, and a canyon

***Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. Purchasing or booking through them earns me a commission that helps me continue creating more guides like this one.

You may also like:
How to see the Monarch Butterfly Migration in Mexico
Exploring Waterfalls In La Huasteca Potosina, Mexico
Exploring Cenotes In Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula
Everything You Need For A Packrafting Trip in Mexico

How to Get Around Mexico

By far the easiest and best way to get around Mexico is to fly into the closest airport to the area you want to explore and then rent a car from there.

While public transport is cheap and fairly extensive in Mexico, the best way to see a lot of these locations is by having your own vehicle.

Tips for Driving in Mexico

While driving in Mexico is generally safe, there are some precautions to take, particularly in Chiapas and Oaxaca where there are fewer motorways and roads are generally less maintained.

I would suggest avoiding driving at night. Poor road conditions can make it challenging. Always allow more time for your journey than you think you’ll need.

Many motorways are toll roads, and you’ll need to buy a toll pass from a gas station. Most tolls only accept cash.

We sometimes didn’t see a gas station for miles, so refuel at every opportunity once you reach around half a tank and look out for cash scams when you pay – always count your change!

Driving defensively is necessary in Mexico. People will turn, shift lanes, or pull a maneuver without notice or signaling. Be prepared for sudden maneuvers and stops – especially on the highway.

Jess Wandering packrafting in Mexico

Amazing Things to Do in Mexico Off the Beaten Path

1. Yucatan Peninsula Cenotes

If you’ve read anything about Mexico then you probably already know about cenotes, which are basically sinkholes below ground with stunningly clear water thanks to the way that the earth has filtered the rainwater that fills them.

Cenotes have become a lot more common on a tourist itinerary for Mexico, but nevertheless, there is a reason they’re becoming some of the most popular places to visit!

Without a doubt, my favorite place for cenotes is the Yucatan Peninsula, home to three must-visit Mexico cenotes: Cenote Noh-Mozon, Cenote Oxman, and The Pit Cenote.

Cenote Noh-Mozon

Jess Wandering on a rope swing in Cenote Noh-Mozon, a Mexico hidden gem

Located near Merida, Cenote Noh-Mozon is one of my favorite places in Mexico. With a wooden staircase that winds down to the crystal-clear turquoise water, you can easily climb into the enticing blue pool, or jump 9 meters from the top. 

This is a real Mexico hidden gem. We only saw one other couple there the entire afternoon we spent swimming and jumping into the cenote – visit before it becomes a popular spot.

The Pit Cenote

Scuba diving in Pit Cenote in Mexico

Located just outside of Valladolid, this is an amazing Mexican cenote to visit. As the opening is larger, the water gets a lot of sunlight, making it a much more comfortable temperature to swim in. With a rope swing, platforms to jump from, and 150ft depth for snorkeling, there are literally hours of fun to be had here.

If you want to get off the beaten track in Mexico, The Pit Cenote is a great place because it’s only open to scuba divers, meaning it’s a lot less crowded than other popular cenotes in Yucatan.

The Pit is the cenote famous for the light rays that stream through the vibrant blue water of the underwater cavern. To capture this, you’ll need to visit during the middle of the day when the sun is at its highest. We booked our dive with Dive Mike in Playa Del Carmen.

Cenote Oxman

Jess Wandering on a rope swing in Cenote Oxman above the beautiful blue water
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2. Bacalar

Jess Wandering kayaking in Bacalar Mexico, one of the most beautiful places in Mexico

Also located on the Yucatán Peninsula, I first visited Bacalar in 2019 and despite all the content I’d seen online, nothing could have prepared me for these colors.

Bacalar sits on the edge of Lake Bacalar, called the Lagoon of Seven Colors due to the vibrant blues and turquoise. We spent an entire day on the lagoon, diving in the shallows and kayaking along the waterways.

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3. Matacanes Canyon

Jess Wandering in Metacanes Canyon in Mexico

A canyoning adventure of a lifetime in Monterrey, Mexico! This 20km canyoning route had us rappelling 90ft into waterfall canyons and caverns, cliff jumping into blue pools, ziplining across lagoons and stunning waterfalls, there were even a few natural water slides. It felt like a real Lara Croft moment.

They also have what is claimed to be the “world’s longest bicycle zipline” if you really want to get your adrenaline pumping.

We did our canyoning experience and all our other tours in Monterrey with Gaia Xtreme.

4. Ecological Park La Huasteca

Outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers need to visit Ecological Park La Huasteca in Monterrey, famous for its extensive and epic climbing and hiking routes.

While there is a small entrance fee to enter the park, most of the climbs are free. The park’s natural attractions are jaw-dropping mountains and rock formations, protected for their natural beauty.

We decided to take the famous (or infamous) Ruta VĂ©rtigo – Route Vertigo which is a narrow path installation on the rock face of one of the highest peaks in Ecological Park La Huasteca.

Jess Wandering on La Via Ferrata Ruta Vertigo in Mexico

La Via Ferrata – Ruta Vértigo

Made up of narrow planks of wood and metal rungs, Route Vertigo is part of the Via Ferrata route. If the near-vertical uphill hike, dramatic suspension bridge, and rappelling don’t have you white-knuckling it, then the single-foot wide planks of wood that hug the rock face at 300m high definitely will!

This experience definitely took me outside of my comfort zone but in the best way possible. And the views of La Huasteca are so beautiful. As with all our trips in Monterrey, we booked this excursion with Gaia Xtreme.

5. Huasteca Potosina

Drone photo of Huasteca Potosina waterfall in Mexico, a Mexico hidden gem

Huasteca Potosina is the land of waterfalls, and there are so many epic ones to visit!

La Huasteca Potosina is fairly off the beaten track in Mexico but so worth visiting. It’s located in the north central state of San Luis Potosi, and it really is a place you need a car to explore fully!

The most famous waterfall in the area is Tamul Waterfall which spans a massive 300 meters with roaring water from two rivers converging into the most spectacular cascade. I couldn’t stop taking pictures from every angle. This waterfall was so surreal that it looked like something that could only have come from a movie CGI.

We spent two days around Tamul waterfall, swimming, hiking, and cliff jumping before continuing on to even more beautiful places like Cascada Salto el Naranjo, Puente de Dios, Cascadas el Meco, and Minas Viejas.

You can read more detail about all of these waterfalls in my Huasteca Potosina waterfalls guide, including how to get there, safety tips, driving tips, and the best time to visit one of the most beautiful places off the beaten path in Mexico.

6. Hierve el Agua

Jess Wandering in Hierve el Agua

Hierve el Agua is the perfect day trip from Oaxaca City. These mineral springs and rock formations are a geological site made up of a series of rock pools filled with surreal green-blue water that occurs due to the mineral deposits.

Although they look like hot springs, the water is cold – very cold! So you’ll need to be brave if you want to take a dip. 

This is one of the most spectacular natural wonders in Mexico, the pools look like a natural infinity pool with the best views of the surrounding landscape.

A short hike from the pools is the famous petrified waterfall which is visible from the cliff top when you visit the pools.

It’s easy to drive here from Oaxaca if you have a car, but there are also buses and tours available. Remember to bring cash if you’re using public transport and for the entry fee to Hierve al Agua (it’s only a couple of dollars).


7. La Venta River & Arco Del Tiempo 

Jess Wandering packrafting La Venta River through a canyon

La Venta River is a river in the state of Chiapas that runs through a limestone canyon that is over 80m long and with cliffs towering over 500m above the river.

This area of Mexico has quickly become one of my favorites after my recent packrafting group tour (see how it went here!).

Along the canyon, there are caverns, waterfalls, sinkholes, and rock formations including the Arco Del Tiempo, meaning “the Arch of Time”.

This stunning cavern opening looks like a huge open archway, and you can paddle through the water towards the light shining through the opening.

Jess Wandering packrafting down La Venta River in Chiapas Mexico

I used to think seeing this spot was the main attraction of La Venta River, but there is so much more to see, do, and enjoy which is why I keep finding myself going back.

Outdoor adventures and water lovers – don’t skip this area if you’re in Chiapas. Packrafting here is absolutely one of the best experiences you’ll have in Mexico!

Get my full Packrafting Gear Guide.

8. Grutas de Tolantongo 

Jess Wandering standing on the edge of a hot spring at Grutas de Tolantongo Mexico

Possibly one of the most surreal places in Mexico although it might not be so much of a hidden gem anymore since our first trip in 2019. The hot springs at Tolantongo are definitely one of the more unique things to see in Mexico.

Grutas Tolantongo is a series of tunnels, caves, and hot springs, surrounded by tropical jungle greenery. While it’s essentially a thermal water park, this feels like a real oasis – and a welcome opportunity for relaxation after some of the more adrenaline-fueled activities on this list!

Tolantongo is in the Mezquital Valley and is a 1.5-hour drive from Pachuca, you can even take tours and day trips from Mexico City if you don’t have a vehicle.

9. Soltano de Popocatl, Veracruz

Jess Wandering rappelling down into Soltano de Popocatl Veracruz Mexico

A 197ft underground waterfall sounds pretty epic, right?!

We went rappelling here, straight down through the opening into the cavern and down to the blue pool below. It’s a short hike to get to the top of the cave where you’ll get rigged up to rappel down into the cave in two sections.

With water mist in the air, the deafening roar of the falls, and being suspended in mid-air in a cave, this is one of the coolest places to visit in Mexico as well as one of the more unique Mexico activities  – so of course, we couldn’t resist an adventure like this.

10. Biblioteca Vasconcelos

Jess Wandering standing in Biblioteca Vasconcelos, the Megabiblioteca in Mexico City

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that I love books and have a monthly book club, so you can imagine my bibliophile excitement when I was able to visit Biblioteca Vasconcelos, aka the Megabiblioteca.

This huge library is one of the best things to see in Mexico City and is located next to Buenavista train station. It’s become famous for its unique interior design and the fact that it’s home to over 600,000 books (but is intended to hold up to 2 million)!

The entire place is lit by natural lighting, and they’ve also incorporated gardens and a greenhouse. Without a doubt, this is one of the most unique places in Mexico and one of the most unique libraries in the world.

11. Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve

monarch butterflies in the monarch butterfly biosphere reserve

I’ve been lucky enough to see the Monarch Butterfly Migration in Mexico twice now, and seeing the cloud of orange as millions of butterflies descend on the region doesn’t get any less spectacular.

These delicate butterflies travel thousands of miles each year from the Northern USA and Canada, to spend winters in the higher elevations of the mountains in Central Mexico. The Biosphere Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and visiting here is the best way to see and experience this phenomenon.

The Biosphere Reserve is a protected natural area that is ticketed and regulated to protect the species.  There are several butterfly sanctuaries within the reserve as well as a couple in the surrounding areas.

I recommend reading my Monarch Butterfly guide to decide which sanctuary location in the biosphere works best for you.

The best time to visit is January and February, but weather conditions can affect how active the butterflies are during your visit.

12. IztaccĂ­huatl

Jess Wandering hiking iztaccihuatl in Mexico

Known as the third-highest mountain in Mexico, IztaccĂ­huatl is no joke to climb. 

Meaning “White Woman”, Iztaccíhuatl is a dormant volcano located close to Mexico City in Iztaccíhuatl–Popocatépetl National Park. I highly recommend spending a few days acclimatizing to the altitude in CDMX before doing this hike. We spent a few days there but Quinn still got hit by altitude sickness.

We spent the night at the park visitor’s center Base Camp before getting up at midnight to start our ascent up the 17,343 ft mountain to see the sunrise from the summit.

The views are absolutely beautiful, looking down into the Valley of Mexico and seeing the smoke from Popocatépetl, the second mountain in the National Park and the second-highest mountain in Mexico. Nothing makes you feel the sheer scale of this planet like standing on the side of a 17,000 ft mountain and taking in the vast expanse of the landscape around you.

13. Pet a Whale

I never expected to get this experience in Mexico, but I know whale watching in Mexico is especially popular in Baja, so we decided to head out on a boat trip with BajaRAW Tours to see if we could spot any humpback whales or grey whales.

We saw so many whales and dolphins and the tour was already so worth it to see these majestic creatures up close. But towards the end of 8 hours on the boat, a grey whale swam right up to our boat and we were able to pet him!

It’s thought that whales seek out contact to help them remove barnacles from their skin, but to have such a huge and majestic animal so close to us, just hanging out with our boat, was magical.

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14. Balandra Beach

Jess Wandering standing on a rock looking down on Balandra Beach Mexico, one of the most beautiful places to travel in Mexico

A spontaneous trip with almost-strangers led me to discover Playa Balandra, a pristine white sand lagoon with turquoise blue water in Baja California Sur.

This is one of the most beautiful beaches in Mexico and is the perfect backdrop to a beach day with white sandy shorts and shallow waters that are perfect for wading out far when you fancy a dip.

There’s a short hike up the hill beside the beach for an incredible panoramic view of the entire bay – definitely one of the best places to visit in Mexico if you love a beach paradise!

I’ve been to Mexico many times over the years, and this list of the best places only just scratches the surface of the incredible natural beauty of the country. So make sure you get off the beaten path to discover some of these unique Mexico hidden gems and remember to Leave No Trace. Protect the places you visit by leaving them the same, or better, than you found them.

You may also like:

How to see the Monarch Butterfly Migration in Mexico
La Huasteca Potosina Mexico Waterfalls
Best Yucatán Peninsula Mexico Cenotes
Everything You Need For A Packrafting Trip in Mexico

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unique places in mexico pin with images of Jess Wandering in Mexico bucket list locations including a cenote, hot springs, a canyon, and bacalar

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Hi, I’m Jess, an outdoor enthusiast based in Seattle. I grew up exploring the Pacific Northwest, and early on was infected with the travel bug. I tried to suppress my wanderlust in pursuit of a traditional career path, but after a short stint as a lawyer, I left the confines of my office to get back in touch with my roots. Now, I wander the world taking photos, making memories, and sharing my love for travel with others!

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