9 Must-Visit Mexican Cities That Aren't Cancun or Tulum

When we think of vacationing in Mexico, for many of us our first thoughts are visiting the beautiful beaches of Cancun or Tulum. 

We look for luxurious resorts right along the coast with countless pools attached to them.

While these types of vacations are well needed, with a country, such as Mexico, filled with a rich history and culture we suggest adding one of these nine cities to your next vacation to fully engulf yourself in the beauty of Mexico.

*Please Note: These cities are not listed in any specific order and we will eventually be listing more cities to our list.

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1. Oaxaca

Located in southern Mexico in the state it shares a name with, Oaxaca de Juarez is an incredibly important city in Mexico. 

With world-class culinary experiences, stunning architecture, lush greenery, and two unique World Heritage Sites, Oaxaca becomes a favorite city for all those who visit.

Its history is quite astonishing as well. Home to numerous pre-columbian civilizations as evidenced by the Zapotec ruins, and the Mixtec ruins. 

It was then occupied by the Aztec people in the 15th century, but was then conquered by the Spaniards and designated a city by Hernan Cortes in 1529. 

To this day we can see some of the 16th century architecture still standing (such as the Church of Santo Domingo). 

Today this city is easygoing and lively and one that is well worth your visit.

Fun fact: Oaxaca was home to two Mexican presidents - Porfirio Diaz and Benito Juarez.

2. San Miguel

San Miguel de Allende is a show stopping city - streets painted in the most vibrant of colors, stunning hotels to meet our every need, restaurants whose produce are picked from local farms, music heard at nearly every street corner, rooftops with the most incredible drinks and views, and an enchanting skyline.

Located in the state of Guanajuato in north central Mexico, this city was founded in 1542 by Franciscan monk Juan de San Miguel. 

In 2008, this city was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO for its stunning architecture and history. 

Similar to other cities, SMA receives thousands of tourists a year and some eventually make this city their new home because it is that captivating. 

Fun Fact: SMA has some of the most famous luxurious properties that have been highlighted in Architectural Digest and The New York Times.

3. Taxco

Once a silver-mining city, Taxco de Alarcon is located on the Atache Hill in northern Guerrero, Mexico. 

This lovely city is lined with stunning Spanish colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, and iconic rustic-red roofs. 

Its landscape can be described in one word - breathtaking. 

Since Taxco is located on a hill, you have the ability to see the lush green hills which surround it from various lookout points in the city. 

Taxco is only two hours and forty minutes from Mexico City, meaning you can make this a day trip if you are only looking to stay a short time. 

But make sure to visit this city which was declared a National Heritage Site. 

Fun Fact: you visit the workshops of the silver artisans and even have the chance to make your own piece of jewelry.

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4. San Cristobal

Located in the state of Chiapas, Mexico, San Cristóbal de Las Casas is a beautiful colonial town with vibrant buildings and must-see churches. Part of the “Pueblos Magicos” of Mexico, this city will capture your heart. 

It is a place filled with magic, color, legends, and history, and its people are just as welcoming. 

While it is a small town, the nightlife here is as entertaining as the ones seen in bigger cities - great live music, bars, restaurants and all walking distance from each other. 

San Cristobal is a city you won’t ever be bored in. 

Throughout the year there are many festivities, ceremonies, and processions which date back to the city's founding in the 1500’s. 

Fun Fact: The indigenous language spoken here was the Tzetzal language which belongs to a group descendants of the ancient Mayans.

5. Guanajuato

Alongside San Miguel de Allende, the entirety of historic town Guanajuato was designated a World Heritage City. 

Located in the state of Guanajuato, and roughly an hour and a half from San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato was a former mining town. Remnants of its mining past can still be seen today and visitors even have the chance to see some of these mines for themselves such as the Valenciana Mine. 

Today this city is lively and artistic. With multiple colleges and universities here, there is a youthful feel in this historic town. There are countless incredible activities to do here.

For couples, make sure you don’t miss out on the Callejon del Beso (Alley of the Kiss) if you want to ensure your relationship will last. It’s close proximity to other cities, such as SMA, makes it a great place to plan day trips during your visit. 

Fun Fact: This city is deeply connected to the Spanish literary work of Don Quixote de la Mancha and its author Miguel de Cervantes. Each year a Cervantes festival is held in which thousands come to participate.

6. Merida

Located in the northwestern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, Merida has a mixture of Mayan and colonial culture. 

With ancient temples, sacred cenotes, mansions, and stunning nature you cannot miss out on visiting this city. 

By staying in Merida, you have the chance to visit many important Mayan sites including Chichen Itza, Kabah, Mayapan, and Uxmal. 

In the city, there are multiple museums and art galleries which are a must visit. 

While you’re here don’t forget to try their trademark dish the cochinita pibil. 

Fun Fact: Merida has been nicknamed La Ciudad Blanca (The White City) due to the white limestone that was used to construct many of its buildings.

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7. Pátzcuaro

Part of the “Pueblo Magico” in Mexico, Patzcuaro is a vibrant city well known for its Día de Los Muertos celebrations. 

Located in the state of Michoacán, the city sits next to Lake Pátzcuaro in which the ancient Purépecha would fish and farm. 

As with many cities in Mexico, Pátzcuaro was taken by the Spanish during their arrival in this country. 

Today this city continues to hold onto its indigenous roots while showcasing its influence of Spanish colonial style particularly in their architecture. 

While this city does not incorporate tourist attractions, visitors continue to flock back to this city for its incredible atmosphere. 

It’s a calm city, one which people who visit are looking for a place of relaxation and beauty.

Fun Fact: The LA Times labeled Pátzcuaro as a “city of soul” for its incredible sites, legends, and history. 

8. Mexico City

The capital of the country and the former center of the Aztec Empire. 

Mexico City has a wealth of culinary, entertainment, artistic, and cultural options for those who visit. 

With over 150 museums there is always something new to see and learn here. 

As with any big city, the nightlife is always a lot of fun and there are bars and venues to fit with different music styles. 

Of course, one of the main reasons to visit CDMX is for its history and remains of the great temples of the Aztec civilization. 

Mexico City is where the old world meets the new world.

Fun Fact: The Mexico City we see today was actually built on top of Tenochtitlan.

9. Puebla

Located in the state of Puebla, Puebla de Zaragoza was originally founded in 1532 and went by a different name (Puebla de Los Ángeles). 

The city sits between two volcanos Matalcueyetl to the west and Popocatepetl to the east. 

During its founding, this city was highly important to the Spanish military in their ability to control Mexico as it was positioned between Mexico City and the port of Veracruz.

Today you can see colonial buildings standing tall in the grid-pattern city center. 

Due to the importance of the city, it was given the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. 

Puebla is a manufacturing city best known for its production of talavera tiles, pottery, glass, and textiles. 

While you are here you will be in awe of the mix of architectural styles, the numerous churches/monasteries, museums, and the oldest public library in the Americas. 

Fun Fact: Puebla was renamed to Puebla de Zaragoza after General Ignacio Zaragoza who led a small Mexican troop in defeating the French during the Battle of Puebla on May 5th.

Cover Image Credit: @toniomm_

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About the Author

Eliana Flores-Barber

Eliana Flores-Barber is a Mexican-American writer and photographer based out of California. She graduated from Emerson College with a journalism degree and an art history minor. Her love of storytelling comes from her grandparents who always shared stories of their family history and life in Mexico. When she is not working, you can find her on the tennis court.

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