When you think of a trip to Mexico, what comes to mind? Most consider pristine beaches leading from the party town of Cancun, down through the Riviera Maya; an easy, cost effective escape. I agree… and have spent a fair amount of time snorkeling the waters of Cozumel, exploring cenotes, shopping in Playa del Carmen, and relaxing in various villas scattered along the more remote beaches further south. Due to unfortunate dangers frequently advertised in the news, many travelers won’t consider an ‘off-the-beaten-path’ Mexican adventure to be a safe option.
I tend to be drawn to unique adventures, and believe that danger can generally be avoided if you are smart about planning, aware of your surroundings, and know enough of the language to avoid getting into sticky situations. I am also lucky to have family scattered across Mexico and Colombia, two areas that would have been very difficult to explore without the direction of a local. That said, when I told my Mexican family my plans to rent a jeep and explore the country, I was quickly told that I am a “gringa loca” and that I would be doing no such thing without a chaperon! Mexico can be dangerous, especially for a foreigner with plans to hit the roads solo. Thankfully, uncles, aunts and cousins came together in effort to help me achieve my Mexican adventure dreams!
Take it from me, there is so much more to Mexico than pretty beaches and all-inclusive resorts. The colors, the culture, and the food I experienced in the less-popular, inland towns provide a unique experience that I am excited to share! Below are a few of my favorite Mexican towns, all within 5 hours of Mexico City.
Big Mexican dreams were born in this tiny town, once known simply as ‘Dolores’. It was here that Miguel Hidalgo, who lead the Mexican War of Independence, gave his famous speech “The Cry of Dolores” where he called upon the people to protest against the Spaniards. The town was renamed in Miguel Hidalgo’s honor after Mexico achieved independence, and was protected as a historic landmark. This preservation effort has allowed the small town to keep much of it’s original architecture and culture.
The main attraction of Dolores is the historical church in the central square of town. I visited during the weeks leading up to El Dia De Los Muertos, and enjoyed strolling streets filled with families, selling creative treats in celebration of this ‘spirit’ual holiday, where lost loved ones are remembered and their lives celebrated.
I also learned an important lesson in Dolores – I may have some Mexican blood in my veins, but my belly is 100% gringa. I jumped at every opportunity to try delicious, authentic food. Some of my favorites were Cecina and Gorditas (which are nothing like what you order at Taco Bell – let me assure you). One morning we started our day with a traditional Barbacoa, where an entire lamb was smoked, low and slow, before EVERY part was used to create various tacos. I tried brain tacos (my favorite) and even gut tacos, and while I enjoyed every tasty bite my body was quick to reject these foreign treats! Beware!
San Miguel de Allende
This quaint but cosmopolitan city is absolutely dreamy. With narrow, cobblestone streets and fine architectural detail, I found San Miguel de Allende to be the prettiest town in Mexico! Due to its beauty and well-preserved Baroque colonial structures from the 17th and 18th centuries, foreign artists have been flocking to San Miguel for years, giving the town a top notch reputation for its intense cultural and artistic vibe. This is probably one of the most culturally diverse towns in Mexico, with artists, expats and even celebrities calling beautiful San Miguel their home.
This town, like most of significance in Mexico, is famous for the massive church in the city’s center. The Parroquia de San Miguel Archangel is a breathtaking vision of pink limestone.
I especially fell in love with this Gothic masterpiece, which is said to be inspired by Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.
Valle de Bravo
A popular weekend getaway spot for those who live and work in Mexico City, Valle de Bravo is the perfect Mexican, mountain town escape! The town is surrounded by mountain ranges and is home to a large lake, making it an ideal location for hiking, biking, water sports, and other outdoor activities.
For me, Valle de Bravo’s main appeal is paragliding! Its landscape and atmospheric conditions create an ideal environment for adrenaline junkies who find it thrilling to run off the high cliffs and soar over the lake.
This was my first experience paragliding, and you can consider me spoiled rotten. The price is the most reasonable I have seen, the landscape is breathtaking, and the perfect conditions account for my longest glide to date – I soared for an exhilarating 45 minutes.
This colorful college town sits deep in a valley surrounded by a drastic mountain range. The roads are steep and narrow, making the drive a nerve-racking one, but the architecture and beauty of the town makes up for the difficult access!
One of the highlights of my time was a visit to El Museo De Las Momias (The Mummies’ Museum), conveniently located beside a beautiful cemetery.
This particular museum may not be one celebrated or enjoyed by everyone. The museum displays mummified murder victims and criminals who were once buried alive, and even infants dressed as saints – the Mexican belief was that this would ease their passage to heaven. Some find all of this too creepy for comfort, but if you are open to, and respectful of, outside traditions, you may just find it fascinating!
One of my favorite churches, Templo de la Valenciana, is found high on a hillside overlooking the city of Guanajuato. Be sure to stop for a visit!
I hope you enjoyed reading about my favorite spots in Central Mexico! If you’re planning a trip, I encourage you to practice your Spanish, explore cautiously, and keep an open mind to the traditions that make these places so special.