When overseas travel first became something that was accessible to ordinary working people, the unusual weather and the simple fact that you weren’t at home was enough to impress most people. Whilst many of us still enjoy spending time at holiday resorts and relaxing in warm weather, the desire for a deeper and more authentic travel experience has become quite commonplace.
If you’re planning a luxury Mexico vacation and you’re keen to experience a taste of the ‘real’ Mexico, it’s worth doing a little research before you book your trip. If you want to absorb the local way of life, eat the local food and learn about the local culture, language and history, it’s important you choose a destination where life is largely undisturbed by mass tourism – or at least somewhere within an accessible distance of such a place.
The good news is that plenty of these kinds of places do still exist in Mexico. Whilst tourism to the country has soured in recent years, the hundreds of years of history – both modern and ancient –that Mexico has experienced have combined to create a nation enviably rich in culture and character, and all of its charms remain entirely discoverable to the savvy traveller.
Below you will find the top five places to consider for your Mexican vacation that will offer you a truly authentic taste of the country, its food and its culture.
The third largest city in the state of Yucatán is named after Valladolid, Spain – which was at the time the capital of that country. It is a place where there’s plenty to do, but which still retains a distinctly small-town feel.
If you’re interested in visiting Mexico’s world-famous landmarks and cultural sites, Valladolid is the perfect base. From here, you’re not too far from the natural wonder of Rio Lagartos, with its colourful landscape and abundant exotic birdlife, or the Mayan ruins at Chichén Itzá which really need no introduction.
And once you’re done exploring the incredible region, Valladolid itself offers a fully immersive cultural experience: the quiet, sun-drenched streets and pastel-coloured buildings simply couldn’t be more Mexican if they tried.
Halfway between Cancún and Playa del Carmen lies the fishing village of Puerto Morelos. Whilst the town has seen the arrival of the tourist trade in recent years, and does now offer excellent tourist facilities, it has nonetheless succeeded in retaining much of its traditional village charm – and its unmistakably Mexican mañana lifestyle.
Unlike its rowdy neighbours, Puerto Morelos is a place that is visited by those looking for quiet beaches and shallow waters during the day, and real Mexican food and atmosphere in the evenings. A great example of how small scale tourism can peacefully coexist with traditional lifestyles, Puerto Morelos is an idyllic location for people who want to experience the ‘real’ Mexico without having to stray too far off the tourist trail.
San Cristóbal de las Casas
Located in a small valley in the mountains of Chiapas, this cultural town is absolutely brimming with authentic Mexican charm. Its location in the mountains means it enjoys a much milder climate than many towns in Mexico, making it perfect for exploring and sightseeing.
With red tile roofs, cobbled streets and wrought iron balconies, this colonial town retains much of the old-world European charm that was brought to it by its Spanish settlers many hundreds of years ago. Today, it has a chic and bohemian vibe, and the atmosphere is charming and romantic.
The descendants of local Mayan people sell their crafts on the town’s streets, and if you venture into the surrounding villages you’ll discover a world where traditional native customs and beliefs still exist, and otherwise forgotten ways of life still thrive.
Whilst big cities aren’t often the first places that come to mind when it comes to finding the most authentic cultural experiences, they shouldn’t be forgotten altogether. In the case of a city like Oaxaca, it is of course true that the atmosphere is an unmistakably contemporary one – but it is an unmistakably contemporary Mexican one nonetheless.
With a creative vibe pulsing through the streets, Oaxaca is a haven for artists. In fact, it’s hard not to feel artistically inspired when confronted with a place of such captivating colonial charm. An exciting culinary and cultural scene unfolds beneath the shade of the trees that line the wide streets.
With a strong indigenous culture and some of the best museums in the country, colonial Oaxaca feels intimately connected with its history. The laid-back pace of life is frequently erupting into explosive fiestas that fill the streets with energy and excitement – in many ways capturing the fundamental juxtaposition between sleepy siesta and fiery fiesta that defines the Hispanic spirit.
The provincial capital of the state of the same name is arguably the most perfectly preserved colonial town in Mexico. After sustained pirate attacks in the 17th Century, the city was left in a state of disrepair until being declared a UNESCO site. After that declaration, significant restoration work took place and today the walled city centre contains narrow, cobbled streets, pastel-coloured buildings and impressive mansions that evoke so strongly the feel of the colonial era that it almost feels like an open-air museum rather than a working town. If Oaxaca is a taste of modern, cosmopolitan Mexico, then Campeche is a glimpse into Mexico’s colourful and fascinating past.