Visiting Pueblo Magicos in the Yucatan is a highlight of any trip to South Eastern Mexico. There are currently twelve different pueblo magicos in this region, each one seemingly more charming than the last.
If you are not familiar with the term, pueblo magicos are Mexican towns and villages that have been recognized by the Mexican Tourism Board for possessing a particularly interesting culture, history, or gastronomy. Generally speaking, if you see that somewhere has been recognized as a pueblo magico, it is a good sign that it is a worthwhile place to visit.
There are currently 177 pueblo magicos in Mexico. New towns and villages are frequently being added to the list or taken into consideration for future inclusion and indeed more than 43 new destinations (3 of which are in the Yucatan) have been added to the list in 2023 alone.
This article has been written by a British Travel Writer who has been living in the Yucatan capital of Merida for the last two years (me!) I have made it my mission to explore my new home extensively and I have visited every pueblo magico in the Yucatan region during my time here.
Safe to say, you are in good hands here 😉
Best Pueblo Magicos in the Yucatan:
12 Yucatan Pueblo Mágicos
The Yucatan peninsula is a culturally rich region in southeastern Mexico that is perhaps best known for its links to Mayan indigenous cultures, its ancient ruins, and world-famous archeological sites like Ek Balam and Chichen Itza.
Its distinct regional gastronomy and its colonial architecture also help make it quite unlike anywhere else in the country. The peninsula is made up of three separate and distinct Mexican states.
Quintana Roo is the most touristic of the three, home to ultra-popular tourist destinations like Cancun and Tulum. For now, the Yucatan state and the state of Campeche remain a little more off the beaten path.
12 of the 177 pueblo magicos in Mexico. are found in the Yucatan peninsula. Seven are in the Yucatan state, two are in Campeche state, and three are in the state of Quintana Roo.
Izamal was the first place in the Yucatan state to be recognized as a pueblo magico back in 2002. Valladolid followed suit ten years later in 2012 and Mani and Sisal were recognized as Yucatan pueblo magicos in December 2020
In the summer of 2023, Motul, Espita, and Tekax were added to the list.
A large part of the reasoning behind the Mexican pueblo magicos program was to promote tourism in often overlooked regions. While a “pueblo magico” status usually means somewhere is worth a visit, it definitely isn’t exhaustive of all of the wonderful places in the region.
There are a great deal of culturally rich towns, cities, and villages in this part of Mexico that many international tourists haven’t even heard of. Kikil, Chicxulub, Acanceh, and Santa Elena, for example, all have plenty to offer and have been some of my favorite places to explore.
I would even go as far as to say that some of these places that most tourists haven’t even heard of are even more deserving of your time than some of the places on this list. Perhaps as more and more tourists start venturing off the beaten path here, word will finally get out about them and in turn, more destinations will be recognized as pueblo magicos.
The pueblo magico of Mani sits in the south-central part of the Yucatan state. It is located approximately 100km southeast of Merida and 16km east of Tikul respectively.
Its location, close to the ruins at Mayapan, Uxmal, Kabah, Sayil, and Labna makes it a great stopping point when exploring the lesser-known Puuc route. Arguably the most famous structure in Mani is the faded red former Convent of San Miguel Arcangel.
This grandiose place of worship sits in Mani’s main central square (Zocalo) and dates back to 1548. Its interiors are just as spectacular as its exterior and the church contains a beautiful vibrant collection of mural paintings, sculptures, and art pieces that were made locally in the Yucatan between the 17th and 19th centuries.
Several small shrines to the Virgin de Guadalupe can be found around the convent complex and the wider zocalo. Directly opposite the convent is the Mani Municipal building.
Many people in Mani still live in palapa-style houses with thatched roofs. As you meander around the backstreets, past tortillerias, and vendors selling elotes and fresh bread from rickshaws, you will see numerous advertisements for curanderos (witch doctors).
Mani, like Izamal, Valladolid, and Sisal, has been recognized as a Yucatan pueblo magico and is charming in its own right. But it sees a fraction of the visitors experienced by other Yucatan pueblo magicos.
This is perhaps, in part, due to the fact that it awaits away from the main tourist trail. As of yet, there is little tourist information or promotion for the town online.
For now, Mani remains one of the Yucatan’s best-kept secrets.
Izamal, the Yucatan’s “yellow city” is perhaps one of the best-known Yucatan pueblo magicos. Its vibrant buildings and churches are all painted in the same uniform shade of bright yellow.
They have probably danced across your social media feeds, even if you are not familiar with the name of the city. However, despite being one of the most popular and best places in the Yucatan state to visit, Izamal is never busy or crowded.
For the time being, it remains an authentic Yucatecan settlement that has not been gentrified or changed by tourism.
Nobody is certain as to why exactly the houses, churches, and buildings are all bright yellow. The main running theory is that they are painted that color in honor of the Mayan sun god Kinich Kakmo.
Indeed, an ancient pyramid dedicated to this deity can be found in the center of the city. One of Izamal’s best restaurants (Kinich) is also named after him.
Izamal is one of the oldest, continually inhabited settlements in Southern Mexico. It was founded by Zamná, a priest of the god Itzamná, in the Late Pre-classic period (750 to 200 A.D.).
Unfortunately, during the Spanish colonization of Mexico, many of the original buildings were destroyed.
One of the most notable buildings in central Izamal is the Convento de San Antonio de Padua. This convent is one of the oldest in the Americas and was built in 1561.
It is still in operation to this day. As you explore Izamal, you may find some of the nuns walking through the town or enjoying lunch in the convent’s rear gardens.
Sisal is the newest Yucatan pueblo magico. It was awarded its title in December 2020. The little fishing village takes its name from the sisal plant that was farmed in the region during the henequen boom.
Sisal was established as an important trade port by the Spanish conquistadors in the early 19th century. At that time, the Yucatan was one of the richest places in the world.
The sisal plant was being grown and farmed to produce carpets, handicrafts, mats, twine, rope, and other objects. Sisal trading port enabled locals to sell their produce across the Americas and the world.
Grand Yucatecan haciendas were popping up throughout the state as the industry thrived.
American, British, and European travelers started arriving at the port by boat and were welcomed as early tourists to the region. Sadly, the invention of synthetic fibers saw this booming industry fall into decline.
Today, Progreso is the main port in the Yucatan. However, many locals in Sisal still make their living from the water by fishing and operating exquisite seafood restaurants.
The town is quite small. It is home to just a handful of restaurants and stores selling trinkets and other interesting Mexican souvenirs to tourists.
The main draw of visiting is the pristine stretch of coastline that extends for miles from Sisal. Sisal Beach offers translucent azure waters and soft, powdery white sand.
It is one of the most beautiful beaches in the Yucatan and could rival the beaches of the Caribbean for its beauty. The town sits in the northwestern corner of the Yucatan state and is a little tricky to get to.
As of yet, it has escaped the attention of most international tourists. Stop by on a weekday and you may find that you have the entire beach to yourself.
Valladolid is a popular stopping point on any Yucatan itinerary. The city itself is bursting with history and charm.
However, its convenient location close to the ruins of Ek Balam and Chichen Itza makes it a popular place to spend the night for people traveling from Cancun. (Indeed, you can get from Valladolid to Chichen Itza in around 50 minutes).
The city is named after the city of Valladolid in northwestern Spain which was the capital of Spain at that time. It was built on top of a Mayan town known as Zaci in 1543.
The Spanish pillaged temples, houses, and shrines to gather stones and other materials to build their city.
This controversial move (as well as many other abhorrent actions by the conquistadors at that time) led to many violent clashes between the Maya and the Spanish. Today, Valladolid is quite a sleepy, peaceful town.
Its modern-day reality provides a stark contrast from its violent beginnings. Like all Mexican towns and cities, the city center is concentrated around a main square known as the “Zocalo”.
The San Servacio church can be found at the center. It was built by Priest Francisco Hernandez in 1545 and then demolished in 1705 before being rebuilt into the structure that exists today, in 1706.
The park in front of San Servacio church is known as the Parque Principal Francisco Cantón and is a popular rendezvous point for locals. The little Mercado opposite is filled with vendors serving all manner of Yucatecan dishes and Mexican street food favorites.
The Yucatan city of Motul is one of the latest destinations in the Yucatan state to be recognized as a pueblo magico and it was identified as such in summer 2023. The city, just under an hour east of the capital of Merida, is a worthy stopping point en route to Telchac Puerto, Rio Lagartos, or the northern Yucatan beaches.
The main reason that Motul has received a lot of regional recognition in recent years is because the city was supposedly the birthplace of a beloved Yucatecan breakfast delicacy: huevos motuleños. (I say supposedly because some locals in Telchac Puerto are now arguing that they invented the dish but well, it isn’t called huevos Telchac Puerto is it? 😉 )
You will find this delicious desayuno dish served in Comida Yucateca restaurants everywhere from Tulum to El Cuyo, but if you want to sample the very best of the best, you need to head to Doña Evelias Huevo Motuleños restaurant in the Mercado Municipal 20 de Noviembre in the central square.
Sampling huevos motuleños in Motul
Every establishment takes a slightly different approach to their huevos motuleños recipe but the “typical” way to make the dish is to serve two fried eggs sunny side up on lightly fried tortillas slathered with frijoles (refried beans), add some peas, chunks of ham, cilantro and a generous sprinkling of queso rancho and then drown all of it in a lightly spiced tomato salsa.
If you want to eat the dish the Mexican way, you can then add a dollop or two of hot sauce. Wash it all down with a cinnamon-infused cafe de olla.
There is almost always a queue outside Doña Evelias, especially at weekends but the food is well worth the wait. Traditional dancers wearing Yucatecan huipul and guayaberas, along with folk musicians entertain you as you dine.
When you’re sufficiently stuffed, the lower level of the Municipal 20 de Noviembre is worth a quick stroll through. Take some photos and admire scenes of local life as Motul residents shop for fresh fruit and veggies, coconuts, and street food.
The market is a little run down, but hopefully, with the pueblo magico funding, it will be improved in the coming months and years. From there, cross into the central Parque Municipal and admire the gorgeous burgundy Iglesia San Juan Bautista.
If you happen to be in Motul in July, you might be fortunate enough to catch the annual huevos motuleños festival where locals compete to see who can create the best version of the dish, and live musicians and mariachi perform to delighted crowds.
Tekax, meaning “place of the forests” in Yucatec Mayan was designated a pueblo magico in 2023. Few people have heard of Tekax on an international scale and even many of those that live in the Yucatan peninsula are likely to draw a blank if you mention it.
However, the small city, located close to the Uxmal ruins and the Puuc archeological route, has received attention in the region in recent years thanks to the creation of “El Callejón” – “the alley”.
This narrow winding road is filled with more than a dozen murals and showcases some of the best street art in southeastern Mexico. The paintings here are not only beautiful, but they all have a deeper meaning and each provides a subtle nod to various aspects of life and culture in the Mexican Yucatan.
For example, they show colorful depictions of the sacred kapok tree, of indigenous Mayans singing and dancing in traditional huipul, and of Kukulkan – the serpent bird man feared and revered by the ancient Mayans.
If you are looking for more adrenaline-pumping activities during your time in the Yucatan, you can also organize a local ATV tour that takes you to some of the “grutas” (caves) around Tecax. The Kalmankal, Sartenejas, and Chocantes Grottoes caves were believed by the ancient Mayans to provide links with “Xibalba” – the Mayan underworld.
Today, you can visit them to understand their spiritual importance for the Mayans, and admire their impressive stalagmite and stalactite formations, and see the mysterious reddish handprints that the Mayans left on their walls. A trip to Tecax can be tied in with a visit to the archeological site of Chacmultun.
The small Yucatecan town of Espita sits in the municipality of the same name in the central part of the Yucatan state. It awaits some 51km away from Chichen Itza and Valladolid, close to the city of Tizimin.
You are very likely to pass along the nearby Yucatan carretera 295 on your way towards Rio Lagartos and Las Coloradas pink lakes so, you could easily take a detour to visit Espita along the way. The town is characterized by its colorful colonial architecture and its “K’íiwik Espita” central square (zocalo) which is flanked by the gorgeous 17th-century church of San Jose.
The little streets that veer off from the main square, with their colorful stores and houses, are a photographer’s dream. Of particular interest is the mercado “Juan José Méndez” which first opened its doors back in 1906.
Now, centuries later, it continues to delight hundreds of locals who pass through its door every day to purchase fresh fruit and veggies and Yucatecan street food delicacies like salbutes, papadzules, and panuchos.
If you have an adventurous food palette, you can also sample a local tripe dish that is only found in this part of the Yucatan. Espita is worth a visit any time of year but during December, it is particularly magical as local markets and fairground rides are set up around the Iglesia San Jose to celebrate the church’s patron saint and to prepare for Christmas in Mexico.
Best Pueblo Magicos in the Yucatan:
The state of Quintana Roo is the most popular Yucatan peninsula state among tourists. Destinations like Cancun, Tulum, and Playa del Carmen are among the best-loved travel destinations in Mexico.
Millions of international travelers arrive at Cancun airport every year to experience the crystal-clear waters of the Mexican Caribbean. Experiencing the nightlife of Cancun and the fascinating Mayan ruins tucked away in the dense jungle are bucket list experiences for many.
There are currently three Yucatan pueblo magicos to be found in Quintana Roo. Lake Bacalar was the first town to receive this accolade in 2006.
The gorgeous Isla Mujeres would go on to be named a pueblo magico in 2015. Ultra-popular Tulum would eventually follow suit in 2018.
Lake Bacalar is a gorgeous lake that sits in the southernmost part of the state of Quintana Roo. It is close to the border with Belize. This spectacular lake is 42km long and 2km wide and is home to an array of wildlife species and natural wonders.
Bacalar is often referred to as being the “lagoon of seven colors” because the waters here shimmer in different shades of blue and turquoise. It is home to the largest freshwater microbialite reef in the world, as well as the world’s oldest life form.
Microorganisms that live beneath the surface known as stromatolites only exist in a handful of places across the globe today (with Lake Bacalar being one such place). They are more than 6 billion years old!
As you may expect, with Bacalar being a lake town, you can enjoy all manner of water-based activities here. It is possible to kayak, stand-up-paddleboard, swim, and take a boat tour across the lake. (Jet skiing is not recommended as it can pollute the lake and harm the stromatolites).
There are some gorgeous hotels, cabins, and accommodation options here where you can wake up beside the lake to watch the sunrise over the water every morning. The restaurants in Bacalar town cater to every taste and budget.
You can find fine-dining and casual waterfront eateries serving everything from traditional Mexican dishes and regional delicacies, to sushi, Japanese food, and Mediterranean cuisine. Lake Bacalar also makes a great base for exploring the southern region of Quintana Roo which is often overlooked.
From here, you can take day trips out to the idyllic beach town of Mahahual, the ruins of Chacchoben, and Lake Noh-Bec.
Isla Mujeres (translation: the Isle of Women) is a Mexican island that sits 13km off the coast of Cancun in the Caribbean Sea. It boasts everything that you could want from a tropical island getaway.
Think white sand beaches with bright blue translucent waters that are backed by dense coconut groves. If you want all of the beauty of the Riviera Maya beaches without the crowds and the rowdiness, Isla Mujeres is a great place to travel.
Playa Norte is the most popular beach on the island and it is certainly a breathtaking one. The beach is serviced, meaning that you can rent palapas, sunbeds, and umbrellas from one of the waterfront restaurants for a few pesos or for meeting a minimum spend at their establishment.
If you get hungry, you don’t have to venture far to find delicious food. You can simply flag down one of the waiters or street vendors.
Playa Tiburon, Playa Lancheros, and Playa Indios are also worth adding to your radar. These gorgeous spots are home to several upscale beach clubs and beach restaurants where you can tuck into delicious seafood.
Since Isla Mujeres is such a beloved destination, it is tricky to find secluded beaches and coves here. If you are looking for peace and quiet, one nice choice is Zama’s Beach Club on the southern end of the island.
Another spot to add to your radar is Captain Dulches just South of Playa Loncheros. If you happen to travel to Isla Mujeres or nearby Holbox between May and September, you can opt to swim with whale sharks if that interests you.
The Quintana Roo pueblo magico of Tulum needs no introduction. Some 10-15 years ago, Tulum was nothing more than a paradisical stretch of coastline and a small fishing village (similar to how El Cuyo is today).
However, word has started to get out about Tulum in recent years. Not only is it one of the most popular travel destinations in Latin America, but Tulum is sadly also starting to become a victim of over-tourism.
Still, Tulum has its charm and some places become popular for a reason. The Tulum ruins are among the most impressive Mayan ruins in the country.
They are situated on a rocky bluff facing out to sea and this is the only Mayan site on the Caribbean coast. There is even a gorgeous beach set at the foot of the cliff where you can swim in the clear blue waters against the backdrop of the sunbleached ruins.
Many “Instagram famous” sites like the Daniel Popper statue and various signs and photoshoot setups rank high on people’s Tulum to-do lists. You can generally always expect crowds and queues in Tulum, but you can avoid some of the tourist hordes if you choose to travel here out of season.
(For example, outside of the peak December – March period). Some stunning natural wonders await just outside of Tulum too.
Just south of Tulum, you can visit the Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve. This UNESCO-protected site is home to thousands of species of birds, animals, flora, and fauna.
The reserve’s coastline extends over 120km and contains several majestic beaches in its grasp which are backed by lush, dense jungle.
Best Pueblo Magicos in the Yucatan:
Campeche state is the least visited state in the Yucatan tri-state area. If people venture here at all during their time in Mexico, they do so to wander along the cobbled streets of UNESCO-protected Campeche city, or to marvel at the Mayan temples of Edzna and Calakmul.
The Yucatan pueblo magicos in Campeche state are seldom visited. This is partly because they are situated in remote parts of the state which are difficult to reach unless you rent a car.
The little town of Palizada was designated as a pueblo magico in 2011. Isla Aguada is the newest Campeche pueblo magico. It was recognized as such in December 2020.
The city of Palizada sits in the southwestern part of Campeche state, on the banks of the namesake Palizada River and close to the state border with Tabasco. Centuries ago, this river was incredibly important for trade.
The British and Spanish would transport wood across the country via boats that sailed along these waters. Today, Palizada is about as off the beaten path as you can go in Mexico.
A handful of hotels exist to accommodate the very few travelers that pass through the region. A visit here is about meandering along the waterfront, taking time to get lost in the narrow streets and passageways, and admiring the unique architecture of the houses.
They boast high, pointed roofs made with tiles imported from Marseille. Their interiors boast mosaic flooring and hand-carved wooden furnishings.
On the boardwalk, you will find a small replica of the US Statue of liberty. And in the central square awaits the adorable red and white Church of San Joaquín.
Isla Aguada is a small, picturesque fishing village encompassed by virgin beaches on the Gulf of Mexico. It is home to approximately 5,000 people, most of whom work in fishing and agriculture.
There are several gorgeous, paradisical beaches here that boast fine white sand shores that run parallel to crystalline turquoise waters. Playa Coquitos, Playa Cayo Arenas, and Playa Pública are all gorgeous spots to relax and unwind.
Truthfully, you could spend several days in Isla Aguada, detaching from the world and lounging around on the beaches eating fresh coconut and chicharrón. Isla Aguada has a fascinating history behind it too.
Today, the little island is connected to the mainland by a series of roads and bridges. It takes almost 2 hours to drive here from Campeche and transport options are limited.
In the 17th century, the island became a favorite hang-out spot for pirates. They would come and take refuge here while celebrating their plunders from nearby towns and ports.
(Campeche city was a huge victim of pirate attacks and it is for this reason that the city has so many defensive fortresses, walls, and ramparts). Eventually, in 1762, Governor Don Bernardo Sáenz Montero got tired of the pirate attacks and sent a team of armed men to fight them.
It is said that these armed men became some of the first settlers on the island. Today, from the Malecon, you can take a day boat tour out to Laguna de Términos.
This is a protected nature reserve that is home to many dolphins. Nearby, the Porfiriato lighthouse makes a great vantage point for views over the Gulf of Mexico and the town and contains a small museum telling the island’s history.
Final thoughts on the best pueblo magicos in the Yucatan
Do you have any further questions or concerns about planning a trip to the Yucatan peninsula or understanding the best pueblo magicos in the Yucatan? I live in the capital of Merida and would be happy to assist with any questions that you have.
Have a wonderful time exploring Mexico. Safe travels!
Buen Viaje! Xo