Hidden Gems in Mexico: 21 Incredible Places Recommended by a Local

Hidden gems in Mexico are not an oxymoron. Despite the fact that Mexico is such an incredibly popular tourist destination and that over 25 million international travelers venture here every year, you will know that a lot of people that do travel to Mexico tend to stick to the same few places.

Places like Cancun, Tulum, Playa Del Carmen, Puerto Vallarta, and Los Cabos are tourist favorites. However, Mexico has so much more to offer.

Mexico is a vast country. (It is the 13th largest country in the world after all!) 

There are plenty of opportunities to escape the tourist hordes and go off the beaten path in Mexico. And yes, there are areas where you can have pristine beaches and white sand shores all to yourself – even in the peak of the tourist season.  

This article has been written by a Travel Writer living in Merida Mexico. it will run through some of the most beautiful hidden gems in Mexico.

Many of these Mexico hidden gems are culturally rich, stunning, safe, and boast a wonderful local gastronomy. They are safe to travel to, provided you use the same common sense precautions as you would when planning a trip to any other part of the world. 

21 Incredible Hidden gems in Mexico 

Puebla de Zaragoza, Puebla 

Hidden gems in Mexico
Hidden gems in Mexico

Puebla de Zaragoza is the capital of the state of Puebla in Central Mexico. A lot of people visit Puebla on a day trip from Mexico City. 

However, there is so much to do here and in the wider region of Puebla state that if your schedule allows, it is well worth spending three to four days here.

Puebla was founded by the Spanish in 1531. It was created as a midway point on the commercial route from the port at Veracruz to Mexico City

At that time, it was named the “City of Angels”. Puebla quickly became one of the most important cities in “New Spain.” 

Today, its historic center has UNESCO world heritage status. It is filled with gorgeous ornate baroque-style buildings that date back to the 16th and 17th centuries.

Meandering around the Puebla zocalo, and sipping coffee alongside the well-heeled crowd that hangs out in the square’s al fresco coffee shops makes you feel like you are in Europe. Indeed, Puebla has a very different culture and ambiance from many other Mexican cities.

There are a few Puebla attractions in particular that you should look out for while you are here. The Biblioteca Palafoxiana Dates back to 1565 and is the oldest library in the Americas.

Puebla Cathedral is the focal point of the zocalo and is known as one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Latin America. Puebla is home to over 280 churches. 

So, you almost have one new place to visit every day of the year. 

Los Mochis, Sinaloa 

Hidden gems in Mexico

Los Mochis is a sprawling Mexican city that sits in the northern part of the state of Sinaloa. It was founded in the early 20th century by an American man named Benjamin Francis Johnson. 

Johnson opened a Sugar Factory in the region. As trade and jobs started to thrive, the city grew and expanded.

Los Mochis is not a tourist destination. You will not see any other international travelers here. 

The small handful of people that do pass through the city sees it as a necessary evil in order to board the El Chape train. But what Los Mochis lacks in aesthetic value, it makes up for with its local street food scene and culture.

If you want to get a glimpse of what life is like in real Mexico away from the tourist crowds, Los Mochis offers the perfect opportunity for that. Start your trip here by exploring the botanical garden.

The garden was created by Benjamin Francis Johnson and given to his wife as a gift several hundred years ago. During his travels around the world, Johnson collected seedlings from various plants and brought them back to Mexico to plant here. 

So today, many stunning flowers and trees that are not native to Mexico thrive in this park. For example, Asian banyan trees. bamboo forests, and other colorful plants.

Nearby the Plazuela 27 de Septiembre square is a great place to people-watch with a cappuccino. Many street vendors set up their stalls here and sell delicacies that you will only find in Sinaloa.

Tacos el chavo are one great local delicacy to try. These are simple tacos stuffed with mashed potatoes and topped with frijoles (beans).  

Los Mochis residents love to eat them for breakfast and you will find them sold on virtually every corner. 

Merida, Yucatan

The city of Merida is the capital of the Yucatan state in Southern Mexico. In recent years, Merida has started to appear more on people’s Mexico travel radars. 

However, it still sees a fraction of the tourists as other more popular Mexican travel destinations. Merida was founded in 1542 by the Spanish Conquistador Francisco de Montejo y León. 

It was built on top of the Mayan city of T’Hó. Controversially, the remnants of many old Mayan temples and religious buildings were used as building materials by the Spanish to create new churches.

Today, Merida is widely regarded as being one of the prettiest colonial cities in Mexico. It is a worthy stopping point as part of a wider Yucatan itinerary

If your schedule allows it, Merida is worthy of a two or three-day itinerary of its own. Here, you will find world-class restaurants serving traditional Yucatecan food.

The cuisine in this part of Southern Mexico is very different from what you will find elsewhere in the country. Many dishes still follow the same recipes that were used by the ancient Maya centuries ago. 

Wayan’E, Habaneros, and Kuuk are three excellent Merida restaurants to add to your radar. Some of the best Mayan ruins in Mexico are also located in or around Merida.  

Dzibilchaltun, Uxmal, and Mayapan are all places that you can visit on day trips from Merida. When choosing where to stay in Merida, opt to base yourself close to the Zocalo or Parque Santa Lucia. 

That way you are within short walking distance of the city’s main attractions. 

El Fuerte, Sinaloa 

El Fuerte is a Pueblo magical in the northern part of the state of Sinaloa. The town is a stopping point along the El Chepe train route that runs from Los Mochis Sinaloa to Creel Chihuahua.

El Chepe is widely known as being one of the most gorgeous railroads in the world. However, it arguably sees a fraction of the tourists that it would if it was located elsewhere on account of many concerns about the safety situation in Sinaloa. 

El Fuerte was founded by the Spanish in 1564 when they were exploring the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains. It is one of the most beautiful Spanish Colonial towns in Mexico. 

Its cobbled streets are filled with pastel-colored houses and quaint Catholic churches that seemingly transport you back in time. According to local legend, El Fuerte is also the birthplace of the fictional Zorro. 

Several statues and murals of this Mexican hero can be found scattered around the settlement.

In the early days, El Fuerte was known as San Juan Bautista de Carapoa. However, the name was later changed in 1610. 

Exploring El Fuerte

El Fuerte literally means the Fortress. this name is taken from the old fortress that still sits on top of the hill above the town protecting it defensively. The town square is home to the 1804 Parroquia del Sagrado Corazon de Jesus church which still functions today. 

The El Fuerte fortress has been converted into a museum whose exhibits tell the history of the region. From up here, you have unparalleled views of the settlement, the Rio Fuerte, and rolling green hills that extend to the state border with Sonora. 

The nearby Cerro de la Mascara (hill of the masks) is an ancient ceremonial site that was created by the Yoreme-Mayo and Tehueco indigenous groups between 600AD and 1450AD. There are some interesting petroglyphs (wall carvings) here. 

You can’t get more off the beaten path in Mexico than this. nobody is certain about the history or purpose of this site. 

Mani, Yucatan

Hidden gems in Mexico
Hidden gems in Mexico

There are four pueblo magicos in the Yucatan state. Pueblo magicos are unique Mexican settlements that have been identified by the Mexican tourism board as possessing particularly special culture, history, gastronomy, or natural sites.

Sisal, Izamal, Valladolid, and Mani are the pueblo magicos that you will find in the Yucatan. Although many tourists fall in love with the yellow city of Izamal, very few venture to Mani. 

Mani sits in the south-central part of the Yucatan state. It is 16 km east of Tikul and 100 km southeast of the city of Merida. It is known for its meliponarios (honey farms and beekeepers). 

The beekeepers in this region harvest honey from a specific type of stingless Yucatan bee that is only found in this part of the world. The bee is known as “Xunan Kab” and there are less than 100 people who still keep this endangered bee in Southern Mexico today.

It was also kept by the ancient Maya centuries ago who believe that the honey produced by the bee had Mystic healing properties. There are a number of meliponarios to choose from in and around Mani. 

Exploring Mani Yucatan

One of the best is Meliponario “U Naajil Yuum K’iin” which is owned by an ex-priest named Father Luis Quintal Medina. Not only can you purchase excellent quality honey here. 

But father Luis is somebody that deeply cares about the well-being of the bees and of keeping this tradition alive. When you visit, he is more than happy to spend his time talking through how he takes care of the bees and harvests the honey.

The center of Mani is also worth your attention. In the city’s central square, you will find the 1549 Franciscan Church known as Parroquia y Exconvento de San Miguel Arcangel. 

The interiors of the church are just as spectacular as the exterior. This grand place of worship contains a beautiful collection of mural paintings, sculptures, and art pieces that depict scenes from the bible. 

They were created locally in the Yucatan state between the 17th and 19th centuries. They are quite unlike anything else you will find elsewhere in the region. 

Misnebalam, Yucatan

If you like spooky or abandoned places you will surely like the Pueblo Fantasma (Mexican Ghost Town) of Misnebalam in the Yucatan. The abandoned settlement sits just off the highway between Merida and the beach town of Progreso.

Once upon a time, this was a thriving community home to over 170 people who worked on the farms and in the nearby hacienda. However, according to local legend, paranormal activity that took place in the region over the last 100 years caused the local residents to gradually move away one by one.

The settlement and the Misnebalam Hacienda were founded by Don Fidencio G Marquez. In 1921, Don Fidencio was driving down one of the narrow roads that lead to Misnebalam when he was assassinated.

His killers were never called and many people believe that his untimely passing placed a curse on the town. Locals started to report that they saw the hacienda owner’s ghost wandering around the grounds of his property as if he had unfinished business and was unable to rest.

He is not the only ghost that is said to haunt this area either. People have also reported seeing the ghost of a small boy named Juliancito who has been seen running through the nearby fields and playing with a ball. 

An old roofless abandoned church sits across from the Hacienda and is also said to be haunted by the ghost of a priest donning a black gown. As Misnebalam residents became more and more spooked by the paranormal activity in the area, they gradually left town. 

The final residents left in 2005. 

This is one of the best-hidden gems in Mexico for people interested in spooky places. Misnebalam boasts roads to nowhere and old, worn signs promoting businesses that no longer exist. 

Tlaquepaque, Jalisco 

Tlaquepaque (Tuh – laa – kay – paa – kee) Is a city in Jalisco that sits 10 km south of the state capital of Guadalajara. It is a pueblo magico and it is home to a population of over 570,000 people. 

This area of Western Mexico is recognized as being the birthplace of mariachi music. Tlaquepaque in particular is credited for helping the music gain global popularity. 

There is a historic Square in the center of town known as El Parian. It is encircled by bars and restaurants and Mariachi perform here every day to a crowd of delighted tourists and locals.

The bandstand at the center of the square was constructed in 1878 and Mariachi have been performing here since 1927. When they started doing so, it was a controversial move by the event organizers. 

At that point in time, mariachi music wasn’t widely accepted and a few people frowned at the decision to allow Mariachi to perform. However, The Mariachi that performed here attracted crowds every night, and word about their music started to spread far and wide. it is thanks to the Mariachi of El Parian that the music is so well known around the world today.

This part of Jalisco is also known for its ceramics, pottery, and handicrafts. It is a great place to pick up unique Mexican souvenirs. 

Be sure to browse the stores and boutiques that line the porticoed 18th-century promenade of Calle Independencia. There are also a few interesting ceramics museums that are worth checking out. 

Notably, the Pantaléon Panduro Museum of the National Ceramics Contest (C. Prisciliano Sánchez 191) and the Museo Regional de la Ceramica (Calle Independencia 237, Centro).

Topolobampo, Sinaloa 

Topolobampo is a quiet beach town that sits just 22km away from the city of Los Mochis in northern Sinaloa. Los Mochis residents will often venture here at weekends when they want some R&R by the coast. 

The seafront Malecon overlooks the Gulf of California and is filled with restaurants serving seafood, birria, and other Mexican favorites. There are a few interesting local treats to look out for at the street food carts too. 

Treat yourself to one of the crazy coconuts; fresh coconut is chopped into pieces and then topped with nuts, tropical fruits, candies, hot sauce, and chamoy. You can also buy 12 oysters for 80 pesos. 

The “Sinaloan” way to eat them is to douse them in hot sauce and eat them at the cart. From Topolobampo, you can also take a tour in a little fishing boat to the coves and beaches nearby.

A little dolphin known as El Pechocho lives in isolation in a nearby cove known as El Bichi. (He isn’t captive, he just loves the area and lives there voluntarily!) 

El Pechocho has become something of a local mascot. From the boat, you also have a wonderful viewpoint over the colorful houses of Topolobampo, which have been painted in various pastel shades and decorated with vibrant murals.  

Comitan de Dominguez, Chiapas

The charming mountain town of San Cristobal de Las Casas is a lot of people’s reason for wanting to visit Chiapas. However, there are also a lot of lesser-known and equally charming towns and cities located elsewhere in the state. 

The city of Comitan de Dominguez, close to the Guatemalan border is one such example. Comitan was recognized as a Pueblo Magico in 2012. 

It makes a nice alternative place to base yourself in Chiapas. You can easily reach the El Chiflon waterfalls, Lagunas de Montebello, and the archeological sites of Tenam Puente and Chinkultic from here. 

Comitan is home to a population of 140,000 people but has a very “small town” vibe about it. At the Museo Arqueológico de Comitán (Primera Calle Sur Ote., Centro), you can view artifacts that have been excavated from the region. 


Melissa Douglas

Melissa Douglas is a British Travel Writer based in Merida, Mexico and the Editor-in-Chief of Mexico Travel Secrets. She has over seven years worth of experience in working in travel media and has travelled to 57 countries, mostly solo. Throughout her career, Melissa has produced written content for several high-profile publications across the globe - including Forbes Travel Guide, the Huffington Post, Rough Guides, and Matador Network.

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