The Mexico Bucket List: Top 12 Things You Must Experience in Mexico (before you kick it!) Plus 12 Honorable Mentions

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The MEXICO Report
TRAVEL Section

By Susie Albin-Najera

As Mexico is celebrating both its bicentennial this year (200th anniversary of independence, September 15, 1810) along with the 100th anniversary of its revolution (November 20, 1910), the entire year of 2010 has been proclaimed by President Felipe Calderon as “Año de la Patria,” or “Year of the Nation.”

What are you doing with the years you have?  If you haven’t been to Mexico, you are missing out on some of the world’s most incredible sites. There are so many miraculous places of interests, historical sites, ancient pyramids, extraordinary cathedrals, breathtaking waterfalls, ruins, jungles, beaches, farms, villages, lakes, indigenous cultures and much more to experience.

Along with the list below, you can also visit the World Heritage List of MEXICO site, to see the list of Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) areas.

Well, in honor of Mexico’s history and for the sake of enriching your life experiences, I decided to ask my fellow Mexico travel experts their top picks for The MEXICO Report’s “Bucket List”.  A bucket list is a list of things you hope to do before you ‘kick the bucket’.  It can include cities to visit, foods to eat, languages to learn, sites to see, anything you want or have dreamed about doing.

You are never too young or too old to start (or even finish) your bucket list, and let’s face it, Mexico deserves to be on your list.

These places below will light up your eyes, make your heart pound and take your breath away. It was such a pleasure to join forces with my fantastic contacts in being able to create this list for you.  Mil gracias!

The MEXICO Bucket List: (in no particular order)

1. Mérida (198 miles from Cancun) – “Founded upon the ruins of the Mayan city T’ho, which was constructed with white limestone and means “Face of Infinity,” art, traditions, culture and history are the main attractions. In the downtown Historic Center, you can visit the city cathedral, an impressive 16th century construction. You can check out some amazing cenotes (sinkholes) in underground river systems and take in beautiful natural scenery at the Reserva de la Biosfera Ria Celestun, a biosphere reserve and habitat the third largest in the world of pink flamingos.  Also near the White City are many spectacular archaeological zones where you can discover the grandeur of the ancient Mayan culture at sites such as Uxmal, Dibilchaltun and Chichen Itza.” – Jorge Gamboa Patron, Mexico Tourism Board

2. Sea Turtle Experience (Nuevo Vallarta area) – “I was living in a hotel in Nuevo Vallarta at the time and the hotel manager asked security to wake us if turtles came up on the beach to hatch their eggs. I was woken up at around 4am to watch this huge (very heavy) mother turtle make her way up the beach, patiently and painstakingly dig a hole, lay her eggs and then softly cover them up so they were protected. She then leaves them forever, drags herself back to the water and swims away. It is said that turtles return to hatch their eggs in the exact spot where they were laid by their mother.” – Sylvie Laitre, Mexico Boutique Hotels

3. Tepoztlán (near Mexico City in the state of Morelos)“This is one of my favorite spots in Mexico especially after climbing the Cerro del Tepozteco (named after Tepoztécatl, an ancient Mexica warrior) which is known as a place of high energy concentration and home to an ancient pyramid. The legend says that Tepoztlán was the birthplace of Quetzalcoatl.”  – Mariana Bermudez, Mexican Consulate, Los Angeles

4. Cabo Corrientes (South of Puerto Vallarta) – “A short distance south of Puerto Vallarta. Unspoiled, beautiful and few travelers. You can drive there from PV in less than an hour.” – Dave Simmonds, Mexico Premiere / One Town at a Time

Sierra Lago (photo courtesy of Robin Noelle)

5. The Copper Canyon (in the Sierra Tarahumara, in the southwestern part of Chihuahua) – “This place has a special place in my heart, especially leaving the train and hiking deep into its depths!” – Zachary Rabinor, Journey Mexico

6. Juanacatlán Lagoon (2.45 hours east of Puerto Vallarta, outside of Mascota) – “I stayed at the amazing Sierra Lago on the Lagoon. It was breathtaking, as was the drive up the mountain to the lake.” – Robin Noelle, Moon Guide to Puerto Vallarta (8th Edition)

7. Riviera Maya – “This area offers travelers a more engaging, multifaceted vacation experience in tune with the natural environment and with the world’s ever-increasing social and ecological awareness.“- Erika Garcia, CEO, Yucatan Holidays

The Monarch Biosphere Reserve (courtesy of Betsy McNair)

8. The Monarch Biosphere Reserve (located mostly in the eastern part of Michoacán) – “Standing in the midst of thousands of monarch butterflies as they fluttered all around me – landing on my nose and my hands, filling the air, cascading off trees”. – Betsy McNair, My Mexico Tours

9. Puebla – “Because I love talavera, chocolate and history. And the mole poblano comes on talavera plates in this historical place.” – Jessica Lilly Arent, All About Mexico

Verana, Yelapa (courtesy of Mexico Boutique Hotels)

10. Verana, Yelapa (near Puerto Vallarta)“I had the pleasure of staying at Verana, high above Yelapa and enjoyed morning coffee with the wild parakeets racing overhead and overlooking the Yelapa bay was awesome!” – Robin Noelle, Moon Guide to Puerto Vallarta (8th Edition)

11. Yucatán Country Club – “If you like golf, we have a one of the best golf courses in the whole country!” – Jorge Gamboa Patron, Mexico Tourism Board

12. The Pyramids of Monte Albán (Oaxaca), Palenque (Chiapas) and Tulum (Quintana Roo) – “The positive energy and spiritual intake you experience at these pyramids is truly life changing” – Susie Albin-Najera, The MEXICO Report

Honorable Mentions:

1. The Fiestas Grandes de Enero in Chiapa de Corzo (Chiapas) – “Feeling my heart thump to the beat of the hundreds of Parachicos dancing and shaking their rattles to the beat of the drum and call of the reed flute.” – Betsy McNair, My Mexico Tours

Playa Mayto (photo courtesy of Robin Noelle)

2. Playa Mayto (1.45 hrs South of Puerto Vallarta) – “One of my favorite places because it’s just a long, curved white sand beach with not a single hotel, condo, hut, or palapa on it, save the small 8 room hotel at one end where you can get refreshments and have access to modern bathrooms.” – Robin Noelle, Moon Guide to Puerto Vallarta (8th Edition)

3. The Coasts of Oaxaca and Michoacán “These are very special places for me: small fishing villages, slow pace of life, outrageous surf (yes, I am addicted to surfing, but not a “surfer”), hammock hanging and the best sea food in the world!” – Zachary Rabinor, Journey Mexico

4. Driving the transpeninsular highway from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas “When you see a road, dirt or paved, heading to either coast, take it. The people and the beauty you will find is the Mexico you will never forget.” – Dave Simmonds, Mexico Premiere / One Town at a Time

Preparing Caldo de Piedra (courtesy of Betsy McNair)

5. A bowl of Caldo de Piedra (Sta. Maria de Tule, Oaxaca) “Looking into a bubbling jícara filled with fish, shrimp, vegetables, and broth all bubbling around the red-hot rocks just taken from the fire, its fragrant steam rising to me as it was placed on the table in front of me by the proudest cook I’ve ever met.” – Betsy McNair, My Mexico Tours

6. The Fiesta Days for Saint Michael (San Miguel de Allende) – “Standing in the jardín at night looking up at the tallest castillo of fireworks I’ve ever seen as it sparkled and spun and whistled while just beyond it the Parroquia the church bells rang out for what seemed like a solid hour.” – Betsy McNair, My Mexico Tours

7. Carnitas and an ice-cold cervezas in Dolores Hidalgo (Guanajuato) – “Jose Alfredo Jimenez belting out Camino de Guanajuato on the jukebox in the background. (And a visit to his fabulous nearby tumba afterwords.)” – Betsy McNair, My Mexico Tours

8. Remote camping on both sides of the Baja Peninsula (Baja California) – “Remote fishing villages and surf on the pacific and translucent water, marine wonderlands.” – Zachary Rabinor, Journey Mexico

9. The Chocolate Factories of Oaxaca (City of Oaxaca) – “From a mile away you can smell the rich aroma of pure cacao. The market I visited was the 20 de Noviembre market, where incredible sauces, powders and pastes for Oaxaca’s famous mole and chocolate dishes are prepared. I bought the pure chocolate and made the most extraordinary hot chocolate known to man or woman.” – Susie Albin-Najera, The MEXICO Report

10. Chiapas and Oaxaca… “Deep rich culture, amazing food, handicrafts that blow your mind!” – Zachary Rabinor,  Journey Mexico

Princessa cub at Vallarta Zoo (courtesy of Robin Noelle)

11. Yucatán Peninsula – “Cenotes, Caribbean Sea, Mayan archeological sites swimming with whalesharks off Isla Holbox.” – Zachary Rabinor, Journey Mexico

12. Vallarta Zoo (Puerto Vallarta) – “Holding a 3-month-old lion cub and a 6 week old jaguar cub at the Vallarta Zoo is one my lifetime highlights reel.” – Robin Noelle, Moon Guide to Puerto Vallarta (8th Edition)

This list go on forever, but do yourself and your soul a favor – go experience the magic of Mexico…

If you have visited a place in Mexico that you love, please feel free to share it in the ‘comments’ section below!

*All photos used with permission.

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Susie Albin-Najera
Susie Albin-Najera is the creator and editor of The Mexico Report, an award winning travel blog showcasing news, deals and resources for the modern traveler. Najera is a writer, author, travel blogger, marketing and public relations specialist and producer. Najera serves on the host committee for Maestro Cares, founded by singer Marc Anthony and producer Henry Cardenas; and on the advisory board for Corazon de Vida, providing aid to children in Mexico. She is also the creator of 'The Real Heroes of Mexico' showcasing community heroes in Mexico and producer of Latino Thought Makers. Najera has been recognized by the Mexican Consulate and Mexico Tourism Board for fostering positive relations between countries and her dedication to showcasing Mexico as a premiere destination. She can be reached at info@themexicoreport.com

32 comments for “The Mexico Bucket List: Top 12 Things You Must Experience in Mexico (before you kick it!) Plus 12 Honorable Mentions

  1. 2016-09-09 at 11:06 pm

    Hey, Susie, fantastic experience after reading your outstanding blog article. You know Mexico is a beautiful city along with rich culture, historic remembrance and more. I am planning to enjoy this awesome city next year. By the way, your article is really helpful for me. Thanks and Keep it up dear.

  2. selena.keesecker
    2011-03-31 at 3:30 pm

    Here is another for the bucket list!!!! Check out this http://www.youtube.com
    videopromocionalOCVPuerto Penasco, Sonora

    We go here often as it is close and often referred to as “Arizona’s Beach”. One may take a trip by checking out CEDO, or Pinacate Bio-Reserve. …..amazing!

  3. Abigail
    2010-06-05 at 10:37 am

    La Gruta Cacahuamilpa between Taxco and Ixtapan de la Sal. Gruta Tolantongo con aguas termales!

    • 2010-06-05 at 9:22 pm

      Been there! What a great place. I would also add to the bucket list Desierto de los Leones, a monestary that was constructed by Friar Andrés de San Miguel between 1606 and 1611. Its really worth getting to.

      • 2010-06-05 at 9:38 pm

        Thank you Mark! I just Googled some photos of the Monastery and it is gorgeous! Thanks for the recommendation!

  4. Jeff
    2010-06-01 at 8:26 am

    This is really a great list!! Thanks for the article!! I would like to add Santa Rosalia on the Sea of Cortez side in La Baja. It is a bit of France in Mexico and is a beautiful city!! Don’t forget to see the church designed by Gutav Eifel. My fiancee and I just spent a week in Guerrero Negro. We went to see the whales in the San Ignacio Lagoon and that was a “wow” life experience for sure. Everyone must see the whales at least once in their lifetime!!! La Baja is a beautiful place to visit, and I think it is overlooked. There is so mush to do there, and the desert in the Spring time is awesome!!!

  5. 2010-05-31 at 10:27 pm

    James – thank you so much for the fantastic suggestions! Yes, there could be a LOT more on my list but I kept it shorter for blog’s sake. I will check into those places and maybe they’ll go on my bucket list! Thanks again.

  6. 2010-05-31 at 4:45 pm

    Do you only go to tourist areas already well known in Mexico? I believe the Sierra Gorda and the Huasteca Region of Mexico could easily pass some of the places you have mentioned. Perhaps you will visit sometime.

  7. 2010-05-02 at 6:00 pm

    There are many places in Mexico that I love. However, I must vote for the Toltec pyramid complex of Teotihaucan. Going there with don Miguel Ruiz (The Four Agreements) or his son and nagual successor don Jose Ruiz is a spiritually phenomenal experience. I have been there six or eight times with these two teachers or other teachers who are graduates of their classes. I highly recommend going on a spiritual journey with them to Teo.

    • 2010-05-03 at 4:34 am

      Awesome Linda! Thank you for commenting, that is a GREAT experience. Thanks for sharing it! :)

  8. Tim
    2010-05-01 at 11:06 am

    I’m sorry. I just notice my email address was missing an “n”.
    Tim

  9. Tim
    2010-05-01 at 11:03 am

    Hi Susie,
    I don’t even know how I came across your site but I am so glad I did. I’m a writer too and plan to move to maybe San Miguel by the end of the year. But I’m not sure; there are so many wonderful places to visit and I am sure to live also.

    Tim Benz
    Arizona

  10. 2010-04-29 at 4:32 pm

    Hi Susie,

    San Cristobal de las Casas is truly a magical place. Wonderful people and sights. Casa Na Bolom is a small inn which houses a lot of the treasures that Frans and Trudi Blom collected over the many years they interacted with the Lacandones … definitely a must see!

  11. 2010-04-29 at 9:42 am

    I spent 6 months living and travelling in Mexico with my 8 yr old daughter last year as part of an 18 month round the world trip. Never have I been more happy living anywhere than I was in Oaxaca.

    But you have left ZACATECAS off your list, shameful!! :op

    Very few travellers, but amazing architecture, food and an unforgettable free light show every week. It also has an old silver mine with a bar where at night you can get your kicks, we also travelled on the worlds only cablecar that crosses a whole city.

    I thoroughly recommend Zacatecas!

    • 2010-04-29 at 9:55 am

      Thanks for the comments and recommendation for Zacatecas. Sounds incredible! Would love to visit someday!

  12. 2010-04-27 at 6:10 am

    When I was a tour operator, we sent 100’s of women to Ixtapan Spa Hotel and Golf Resort in lovely Ixtapan de la Sal, a historic spa town 5400 ft. high, 65 miles from Mexico City. I now do the marketing for the resort and find that new guests are surprised at our existence in this gorgeous area that looks like California, but costs 1/10th of its US equivalent. http://www.spamexico.com is our site

  13. Kuini
    2010-04-25 at 8:23 pm

    Las year my daughter and I visited Cancun. There we were treated like Queens my daugter fell in love with this wonderful paradise. Mexico is a beatiful place to visit.

  14. Iwalani
    2010-04-23 at 10:24 am

    I am so glad that someone mentioned the drive on the Baja coast….stunning! Endless deserted beaches. I have been to Puerta Vallarta, Monterey and Saltillo but now it’s time to take this Bucket List and explore Mexico some more.

  15. 2010-04-22 at 6:12 pm

    Hi Susie,
    That’s a great post
    Thank you for promoting Mexico
    I suggest this Tour
    http://www.tequilaexpress.com.mx/
    Sal

    • 2010-04-22 at 6:16 pm

      Thank you Salvador! That sounds very interesting, I’ll have to check it out. Thanks for sharing the link.
      Cheers!

  16. 2010-04-22 at 5:39 am

    Día de los Muertos and Semana Santa in Ajijic are great additions to the list too!

  17. 2010-04-22 at 5:37 am

    Semana Santa and Día de los Muertos in Ajijic are great additions to the list too!

  18. 2010-04-21 at 10:17 pm

    Ay, you made me yearn for Mexico so much!
    My favorite town has to be Oaxaca. My favorite ruin Monte Albán.
    Favorite beach: Tulúm
    Lived in Tepoztlán for 4 months and the quesadillas azules in the mercado can not be beat.
    Favorite natural wonder: Cenotes and Agua Azul

    The Lagunas de Montebello on the border of Chiapas and Guatemala are gorgeous.

    I´ll stop..I could go on and on!!
    thanks for this list..I really need to visit the Puerto Vallarta area.

  19. 2010-04-21 at 8:55 pm

    GUANAJUATO!!!

  20. Marco
    2010-04-21 at 5:04 pm

    Awesome article Susie!

  21. 2010-04-21 at 4:48 pm

    Dear Susie,

    I am happy to say that I have been to more than a few of the places on your lists. I would add driving the Ruta Puuc in the state of Yucatan. Sayil, Labna, Kabah and the Hacienda Tabi are all worth seeing and its a day trip (including Uxmal) from Merida.

    • 2010-04-21 at 5:04 pm

      Hi Mark! Thank you for posting that info! I’m going to have to add that to my list!

      All the best,
      Susie

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