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Things to Do in Mexico

Mexico conjures images of ancient ruins, colonial towns, endless beaches, and cities pulsing with life. The country's two long coastlines lure travelers with countless opportunities for fun in the sun. On the west coast, the Pacific Pipeline—legendary among surfers—runs from Baja all the way past Puerto Escondido, while the Caribbean side is better known for spectacular coral reefs and warmer, gentler seas. On either coast, you'll find boating, parasailing, diving, snorkeling, fishing, kayaking, and more. Whether you prefer the flashy resorts of Los Cabos and Cancun, upscale Playa del Carmen, or the more traditional glamour of Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco, Mexico has a beach town for you. Blessed with natural beauty and a rich heritage, Mexico also boasts the largest number of UNESCO-listed sites in North America, including the Maya ruins of Palenque, Chichen Itza, Tulum, and Coba. From grand colonial cities like Puebla and Oaxaca, to the many "pueblos magicos" (magical towns), such as Taxco and Valladolid, Mexico's colorful streets and regional cuisines never fail to enchant. The country's abundant tropical rainforests are home to a variety of wildlife, and eco-adventure parks like Xel-ha on the Riviera Maya pack in family-style fun with ziplining, hiking, and guided safaris. Many visitors arrive via Mexico City, and while the sprawling capital can be overwhelming at first, don't be deterred. Cultural riches await you, including a world-class art scene, historical museums, cosmopolitan dining, nonstop nightlife, and easy access to the Teotihuacan pyramids. Just don't try to drive.
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Arch of Cabo San Lucas (El Arco)
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Nature has carved some amazing formations at Los Cabos, and El Arco is perhaps the most famous.

A signature icon of Los Cabos, the limestone arch carved by time, tide and wind runs down to the water’s edge and into the sea. From a distance the formation looks for all the world like a dragon, and up close the arch frames sky, sea and sand for picture-perfect photos.

Take a cruise by day or sunset for views of El Arco from the water, and look out for sea lions basking on the shore.

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Tulum
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One of the best preserved Mayan sites, Tulum is a must-see attraction on the coast of the Yucatan. Tulum, the Walled City, is mounted high on the edge of a cliff, towering above the Caribbean Sea and a beautiful white sandy beach. It was only inhabited by the nobles, high priests and esteemed citizens, whereas the lower classes lived in simple wood and thatch huts beyond. The ruins here are truly spectacular, especially Tulum's main temple, dedicated to the Diving God.
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Lover's Beach (Playa del Amor)
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Playa del Amor - or Lover's Beach - is a true hidden gem, nestled amongst the craggy rocks of Land’s End. Reached only by boat, this perfect crescent of sand is surrounded by rocky outcrops, including views of El Arco.

The secluded location is a romantic destination for a day by the sea, the lovely stretch of sand extending across the Land’s End peninsula from the Sea of Cortes to the Pacific Ocean. The water here is dangerous, so take care if you go for a swim or snorkel, and only enter the water on the Sea of Cortes side of the beach.

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El Malecon
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Puerto Vallarta locals and visitors alike strut their stuff on El Malecon, the city ’s iconic boardwalk overlooking the Bay of Banderas. It’s the place for sunsets strolls, rollerblading, ice creams and admiring the many public street sculptures that adorn the boardwalk.

You’ll see sculptures of dolphins, loving couples, a seahorse, angel and various abstract works. The malecon also takes in the color and vibrancy of the local fish market and the graceful arches known as Los Arcos that make up the city’s public amphitheater for outdoor entertainment.

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Bay of Cabo San Lucas
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The Bahia de Cabo San Lucas is the cape’s hub for water sports and beach activities. Rent jet skis and kayaks at Medano Beach, or hang out at the resorts lining the long stretch of sand overlooking the bay.

Take an underwater snorkel tour of the bay and nearby Sea of Cortez, or go diving off the Chileno reef or Cabo Pulmo Marine Park. There are charter boats for sports fishing in the world’s marlin capital, or more gentle cruising in a glass-bottom boat on the bay at sunset. For youngsters, what could be better than a cruise aboard a pirate buccaneer’s cruise, me hearties.

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Cabo San Lucas
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Love it, hate it—or can’t remember it—there’s no denying that Cabo San Lucas is a town that’s fueled by fun. Partygoers flock to the oceanfront beach bars and resorts all lining the strip, and carry the party deep into the night at the thumping downtown discotecs. Anglers spend the day slathering on sunscreen and listening for zinging reels, as they troll the waters for trophy fish that leap from the cobalt sea. On the outskirts of town, surfers race across peeling waves from Zippers to Todos Santos, and snorkelers explore the rocky reefs of Playa Santa Maria. At Land’s End—where the 1,100 long Baja Peninsula finally submits to the sea—stand on the sands of “Lover’s Beach,” where jagged rocks embrace a cove that’s completely hidden from view. Watch as sea lions splash on the rocks and tour boats cruise the “tip,” and head back towards town for an afternoon meal of seafood served on the sand.

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Pelican Rock
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Even though this spot is named for the pelicans that clumsily land on the rocks, it’s the animals and action beneath the water that warrant all the attention. Here, at this protected swimming spot by “Lover’s Beach” and the famous rocks of “El Arco,” snorkelers, swimmers, scuba divers, and cliff jumpers all play together in the tropical sun outside of Cabo San Lucas. The rock is popular with Los Cabos snorkeling tours, and snorkelers have the chance to see frogfish, goatfish, lobsters, nudibranchs and even some white tipped sharks. Strap on a tank and head 60 feet down to find schools of silvery jacks, or climb up 15 feet up the side of the rock before splashing in the waters below. A small, protected section of shoreline is exclusively reserved for swimming, and colonies of sea lions bark and lounge on the craggy rocks offshore.

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Rio Secreto Nature Reserve
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Kept hidden from the public until 2007 and strictly adhering to its sustainable tourism model, the evocatively named Rio Secreto, or “Secret River,” is deserved of its reputation as the best kept secret of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. A dramatic series of caves carved out by the flow of an ancient underground river, the Rio Secreto is most famous for its large half-sunken cavern, one of few in the world that is accessible to non-professional divers.

Venturing underground, visitors can explore the eerie passageways that once formed part of the mysterious, yet much talked about Mayan underworld; swim in the fabled underground river; and admire the unique natural caves, dripping with stalactites, stalagmites and strikingly colored mineral formations.

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Banderas Bay (Bahia de Banderas)
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Beautiful Banderas Bay - or Bahia de Banderas - is just one of the reasons why Puerto Vallarta is such a highly sought-after beach resort destination.

The Pacific Ocean bay is Mexico’s largest, lapping the two Mexican states of Jalisco and Nayarit. Its long beautiful coastline runs for 42 miles (68 km), 25 (40) of them in Puerto Vallarta.

Banderas Bay is the number-one location for sports and eco adventures on the water, from parasailing and surfing to yachting from the port’s ritzy marina.

Whale-watching in these waters is also popular, especially December to April when the whales come here to calve.

Get out on the water of Banderas Bay in a sea-kayak, or cruise to one of the many islands dotting the bay.

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Los Arcos National Marine Park
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One of the most popular snorkeling destinations in the Bay of Banderas is Los Arcos. The protected marine park has all manner of treats in store for avid snorkelers and divers.

There are islands to visit, reefs to dive, tunnels to swim through and caves to explore, providing plenty of the arches and grottoes that give the park its name.

The marine life is stupendously varied, from clownfish to rays, octopus and lobsters and angelfish.

Organize a day cruise for relaxing at sea and peerless diving and snorkeling in the caves of Los Arcos.

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More Things to Do in Mexico

Xenotes Oasis Maya

Xenotes Oasis Maya

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A tangled network of underground rivers runs through the Yucatán Peninsula’s limestone bedrock, accessible via cavelike openings called cenotes. With four of these scenic sinkholes on-site, this Riviera Maya adventure park invites visitors to swim, paddle, rappel, and zipline through caverns and crystal clear water.
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Zona Romantica

Zona Romantica

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Puerto Vallarta's Romantic Zone (Zona Romantica)—also called the Old Town, South Side, or Old Vallarta—sits away from the hotel zone and just steps from Los Muertos Beach. With artisan shops, streetside taco stands, and lively cantinas, this area of winding cobblestone streets maintains a more traditional, laid-back feel than the rest of the city.
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Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe)

Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe)

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The Patron Saint of Mexico, and of all the Americas, is the Virgin of Guadalupe. According to legend, she appeared to Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin on December 9, 1531. In his vision, she was a teenage girl of indigenous complexion, and spoke to the recently baptized Aztec in his native Nahuatl. There, atop Tepeyac Hill, she asked him to build a shrine in her honor. When the Spanish priests refused to believe Juan Diego's tale, she gave him a sign: Roses in December, and the miraculous painting, echoed all over the world, and still revered today.

Today, the Shrine of Guadalupe is the most visited Catholic religious site on Earth, and pilgrims attribute to her image all manner of miracles. They pack the enormous basilica, designed to offer a fine view of her image from anywhere within, asking her help with everything from relationship woes to healing terminal cancer.

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Santa Maria Beach (Playa Santa María)

Santa Maria Beach (Playa Santa María)

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Secluded, sandy, sunny, and serene, Santa Maria Beach is one of the nicest beaches in all of Los Cabos. If beachfront bars with thumping music are the Cabo scene you’re hoping for, then it’s best to stay back in Cabo San Lucas within walking distance of the resorts. If, on the other hand, an isolated beach without any resorts is what you had in mind—where snorkeling with schools of colorful fish is just a short swim from the sand—then load up the car, pack some sunscreen, and make the short drive to Santa Maria Beach for a dose of Baja tranquility.

This horseshoe shaped bay is a darling of snorkel cruises that ply the Los Cabos coast, but it’s also accessible as a short drive via a well-marked stop off the road. The middle of the week has fewer crowds, and mornings offer better conditions and calmer waters for snorkeling. For what it boasts in beauty, however, it definitely lacks in shade, so consider packing a beach umbrella to provide an escape from the sun.

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Punta Sur Eco Beach Park (Faro Celerain Ecological Reserve)

Punta Sur Eco Beach Park (Faro Celerain Ecological Reserve)

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Part of the Cozumel Reefs National Park (or Parque Nacional Arrecifes de Cozumel) Faro de Punta Celerain, also known as Punta Sur, Ecological Park offers some of the best diving and snorkeling around Cozumel. If you want to dive, go through one of the island's many dive operators. If you'd just like to snorkel, however, you can rent equipment and guides right here.

In addition to the undersea attractions, Punta Sur has broad, beautiful beaches (the reef is well offshore, so you can splash around safely), great seafood, and shady hammocks. If you're up for a some terrestrial exploration, you could climb the Faro de Punta Celerain (Celerain Point Lighthouse), with great views, or visit the tiny Mayan shrine to Ixcel, the fertility goddess, known as Tumba de Caracol. Punta Sur also has interesting wetlands, a magnet for migratory birds in April and May, and home to lots of crocodiles year-round.

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La Isla Shopping Village

La Isla Shopping Village

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Set along Nichupte Lagoon in Cancun’s Hotel Zone, La Isla Shopping Village is lined with boutique shops, waterfront dining, and luxury shopping. Stroll along the winding canals—which create a Venice-like atmosphere—sip cocktails in classy courtyards, and purchase souvenirs.
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Playa Palancar

Playa Palancar

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Playa Palancar is a laid-back beach where you can swim, snorkel, or just relax in a hammock under the coconut-palm trees. It’s one of Cozumel’s most beautiful beaches, with fine white sand and access to an outstanding coral reef just offshore. For a relaxing beach day away from the crowded tourist spots, there’s no better place.
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Medano Beach (Playa Médano)

Medano Beach (Playa Médano)

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The water may be wild elsewhere, but at Medano Beach - or Playa el Medano - there’s miles of safe, calm swimming and beach fun for all the family. Los Cabo’s most popular beach is a long, long stretch of beach towels, sun umbrellas, beach volleyball, pleasure boats and beach bars. Resorts and high-rise apartment buildings line the sands, offering beachfront restaurants and bars. Beach vendors stroll the sands selling everything from sombreros to jewelry, and when the sun goes down the beach turns into Los Cabo’s nightlife hub.

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Chileno Beach (Playa Chileno)

Chileno Beach (Playa Chileno)

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One of the premier beaches in the Cabo San Lucas area, Chileno Beach offers sun-seekers unrivaled beauty, deep seclusion, and some excellent snorkeling opportunities. Protected by the Chileno Bay, the waters here are calm, warm, and clear, and the reefs that lie just offshore act as home to an abundance of sea-life. It’s no wonder that Chileno beach is one of Cabo’s most celebrated treasures, as a visit to the beach here is close to what you get in the rich Caribbean.

Chileno beach is a popular stop for those looking to do a bit of underwater exploration or to laze on the sunny shores of this secluded escape. Still, there are few accommodations to be found here (bathrooms aside), so if you’re planning on making the trek to Chileno Beach yourself, it’s best to bring your food and snorkel gear yourself, unless you’ve planned to take a tour of the area.

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Cenote Dos Ojos

Cenote Dos Ojos

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The Mayans called this breathtaking underwater destination a sacred well. Today, travelers call it a once-in-a-lifetime SCUBA diving experience. That’s because open water certified divers can explore the incredible caves and underground rivers that have been around for nearly 7,000 years. Some 300 miles of connected underwater passageways create what can only be described as a truly natural wonder. Visitors can get an up close look at the remarkable ecosystems that exist only here and float through clear blue waters in a landscape filled with rocky stalactites and stalagmites.

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El Cedral

El Cedral

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El Cedral is a small village on the southwestern side of Cozumel and also the site of the oldest Mayan ruins on the island. Spanish explorers first discovered the site in 1518, when it was a center of Mayan life and commerce. It later became the island’s first official city in 1847, andtoday it is home to a small community of quaint houses and farms. Visitors can view the ruins alongside a small church and the village of El Cedral as it stands today.

Most of the Mayan temple was torn down, but a small archway remains. Though it is just a fraction of the structure’s former glory, it is enough to visualize what daily life may have been like at the time of Mayan civilization. In late April, you can catch the annual Festival de El Cedral, celebrating local artists, music and traditions. Year-round there are vendors selling embroidered handicrafts and refreshments.

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Xochimilco

Xochimilco

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Perfumed with flowers and plied by trajineras, a sort of gondola cheerfully painted to reflect the canals' lush beauty, the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco were once the agricultural breadbasket of Mexico City. Today, these last lovely remnants of ancient Lake Texcoco are more a destination for young lovers and enchanted tourists in search of a romantic afternoon.

Though most of the Aztecs' massive system of canals have long since been drained, the suburb of Xochimilco ("Place of Flowers") offers a glimpse into the ancient beauty of of Tenochtitlán. The "floating gardens" that once fed the great nation are smaller, but still here; the trajineras may now come equipped with engines, but they are still festively decorated, and many carry troupes of mariachis and offer relaxed "restaurant" service.

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Coyoacán

Coyoacán

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Villa Coyoacan is 29 blocks of one of Mexico City’s most charming districts. Also one of the area’s oldest districts, the area is filled with cobblestone streets, counterculture museums, and small park plazas that date back to Spanish colonial times and have an absolutely charming feel. Independently ranked as one of the best urban places to live, Coyoacan is where Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and Leon Trotsky all chose to reside, and museums dedicated to them now fill their old houses. Tranquil on the weekdays, filled with culture and music come the weekend, Coyoacan is more than simply a nice neighborhood – it’s a hotbed of culture and a must-see if in Mexico City.

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