What is Mexico Famous For? 48 Wonderful Things Mexico is Known For

Mexico is a gorgeous, sprawling country that is rich in history, culture, natural beauty, and unparalleled gastronomy. If you are considering visiting here for the first time, you might be interested in learning about the various things Mexico is famous for. 

Sure, you might have heard of things like mariachi, tequila, and mezcal, but Mexico goes far beyond that. I have been living in Mexico for the last two years and I am constantly finding new things to love about my new home. 

What is Mexico Famous For?

In this post, we will look at 48 different things that Mexico is famous for, to give you an idea of what to do and what to look out for during your time here.

A colorful mural of a Lele doll in Santiago de Queretaro
A colorful mural of a Lele doll in Santiago de Queretaro

Lele dolls 

Colorful Mexican ragdolls known as “Lele dolls” have become something of a symbol of the country in recent years. The dolls hail from the central state of Queretaro and have a history dating back thousands of years. 

While today the adorable smiley dolls are made from colorful fabrics and sport long plaited hair, the original versions were very different. The indigenous Otomi people first made Lele dolls out of clay, using corn for their hair. 

The dolls were placed on the graves of deceased children, believed to ward away evil spirits. However, when the Spanish colonizers arrived in Mexico, and the local people saw how dolls were made as toys, they adapted Lele accordingly. 

Buying a handmade Lele doll in Santiago de Queretaro is a nice way to support indigenous female artisans. Lele is found everywhere here – on street art murals, on virtually every souvenir sold, and even as the lights on pedestrian crossings. 

One of the preserved mummies of Guanajuato with an open mouth and a pained expression on her face
Many of the Mummies of Guanajuato have somewhat alarming expressions

The Mummies of Guanajuato 

The Mummies of Guanajuato are a somewhat macabre yet nationally famous exhibition in the city of Guanajuato. A collection of around 200 well-preserved and naturally mummified bodies of people who died during the 18th and 19th centuries is on display in the museum.

Many still retain their skin, hair, and the clothing that they were buried in. Due to the unique climate and conditions in Guanajuato, they have not decomposed. 

The exhibition is certainly not for the squeamish and it raises some questions about the ethics of having human remains on display, etc. However it is one of the most famous attractions in Guanajuato, and various Mexican horror movies have been made about the mummies. 

The pyramid at Cholula has been overgrown with grass and looks like a regular hill

The Great Pyramid of Cholula 

When you mention pyramids, the first place that probably comes to mind is the Pyramids of Giza in Cairo, Egypt. However, as impressive as they are, the largest pyramid in the world is actually the Great Pyramid of Cholula (“Tlachihualtepetl”) in the Mexican state of Puebla. 

As centuries have passed, the impressive stone pyramid has become overgrown with grass so from a distance, it looks like it is just a hill. At the top, you will find the gorgeous yellow “Our Lady of Remedies” chapel which dates back to 1594. 

Delicious sweet breads for sale at Pan Montejo in Merida

Pan dulces (Mexican sweet bread) 

Pan dulces are a type of Mexican sweet bread that are often enjoyed as a mid-morning snack, alongside a steaming hot cup of coffee or cafe de olla. Bread is arguably one of the only good things to come from the Spanish colonization of Mexico and was first introduced to the country in the 16th century. 

Following the French occupation in the 18th century and the presence of expert bakers and patisserie chefs in the country, the sweet, sugary pan dulces as we know them today came to be. There are dozens of different varieties of pan dulces. 

One of the most famous is the “concha” – a shell-shaped sweet bread topped with vanilla, chocolate, or flavored icing sugar. “Puerquitos” are another great treat to look out for when you head to a Mexican bakery. 

These are gingerbread-flavored sweet bread cookies cut in the shapes of little pigs. 

Making homemade guacamole at a cooking class in Playa Del Carmen

Guacamole 

When you sit down to eat at any traditional restaurant in Mexico, you will often be presented with a bowl of complimentary nachos or homemade tostadas, paired with salsa. This is commonly guacamole – a favorite and world-renowned Mexican dip made by squashing avocados (aguacate) and blending them with fresh chopped tomatoes, onion, a dash of lime juice, chili, and cilantro. 

Different places and families often place their own spin on guacamole. You might also sometimes be presented with dips like chimichurri (technically Argentinian but often served in Mexico), Sikil Pak (A Yucatecan pumpkin seed dip), and a spicy red jitomate salsa that is often served in grilled chicken restaurants. 

Vendor selling smoothies, cakes and desserts in Guanajuato City
Vendor selling smoothies, cakes and desserts in Guanajuato City

Street vendors 

Street vendors are an important part of Mexican culture. Across the country, you will find mercados where vendors set up their stalls (“tianguis”) to sell everything from artisanal goods to street food and second-hand clothing. 

There are some large, famous markets, such as the Mercado San Juan de Dios in Guadalajara (the largest covered market in Latin America), or the Mercado Lucas de Galvez in Merida. 

However, you also often see a stall or two just pop up at the side of the road, outside gas stations, etc. Street food in Mexico is safe to eat as long as you use your common sense and you can enjoy a cheap, affordable meal for just a few dollars. 

Elotes (corn on the cob grilled and topped with mayonnaise, cream, chili, and cheese) are very popular as are “tostilotes” – tostito chips topped with sweetcorn, jalapeños and a plethora of toppings. 

Street art of Frida Kahlo in an alleyway (callejon) of Guanajuato City

Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo and her signature monobrow is one of the most famous Mexican icons. Even people who aren’t familiar with art or Frida’s work have no doubt seen her picture at some point or another. 

Kahlo is best known for her self-portraits. During her lifetime, she painted more than 143 imaginative portraits that dealt with different themes like identity, grief, death, and adultery. 

Kahlo was born in Coyoacan, Mexico City in 1907 and her home, Casa Azul has been preserved as a living museum which you can visit today. 

Lucha libre 

Lucha Libre is a type of professional wrestling that hails from Mexico and is known for its wrestlers who wear colorful masks and capes. Just like American wrestling, many of the moves and shows are theatrical and the sport is not like boxing, where actual pain is inflicted upon opponents. 

Many of the moves are named after the famous wrestlers that created them, and multicolored, sequin-clad Lucha Libre masks are sold as souvenirs at mercados all over the country. While Lucha Libre shows do travel across Mexico, the best place to catch one is in Mexico City. 

Some of the most famous luche libre wrestlers include the late “El Santo” who was featured in the earlier mentioned movie featuring the mummies of Guanajuato, and “Mil Mascaras” (The Man of a Thousand Masks). 

Diego Rivera and other Mexican artists 

While Frida Kahlo might be the first artist that springs to mind at the mention of Mexico, there are countless other Mexican artists who have made substantial contributions to Mexico’s art and culture scene. Kahlo’s husband, Diego Riviera, was one of the most famous Mexican muralists and he created over 10,000 works of art during his lifetime. 

(You might recognize his image, as he is featured on the back of the 500 peso bill.)

José Clemente Orozco and David Alfero Siqueiros were also key artists in the Mexican muralist movement. The works of these three artists went beyond simply creating beautiful things to admire but were often used as a means of political expression and tackled subjects such as the Mexican Revolution and the Mexican identity. 

Cinco de Mayo 

Cinco de Mayo (5th May) is probably one of the best-known Mexican celebrations in the United States but did you know that it isnt really celebrated in Mexico? The only place that celebrates Cinco de Mayo is the state of Puebla, where the local residents host parades (desfiles) and parties to commemorate Mexico’s 1862 victory over the French who tried to invade. 

Elsewhere in Mexico, it is generally business as usual on this day and the popularity of the holiday is mostly thanks to American beer companies. Still, across North America, it has become a fun celebration to recognize Hispanic cultures, food, and traditions.  

The legend of Popocatepetl 

Popocatepetl is an active stratovolcano that straddles the states of Puebla, Morelos, and Mexico state, in Central Mexico. It can be seen from the city of Puebla de Zaragoza, and the nearby pueblo magicos of Cholula and Atlixco. 

If you are interested in hiking, there are several trails that you can take around the base of it. The volcano is somewhat intimidating as many minor explosions have taken place here in recent years and it is often seen spitting out fire and ash. 

However, Popocatepetl also finds itself at the center of a romantic Mexican legend. The story goes that Popocatepetl and the nearby volcano of Iztaccíhuatl were two giants that existed during the days of the Aztec Empire. 

Popocatepetl was a respected warrior, while Iztaccíhuatl was a princess. The two were planning a wedding when a love rival falsely informed Iztaccíhuatl that her lover had died in combat. 

She died of a broken heart, not knowing the truth. When Popocatepetl returned and found his lover had passed away, he knelt beside her, vowing to watch over her. 

As earth and snow covered their bodies, they became volcanoes.

Rows and rows of hot sauce for sale at Mexican Walmart

Hot sauces 

Mexico is famous for its hot sauces and literally hundreds of varieties exist. Head into any supermarket or grocery store in Mexico and you will see shelf after shelf of brightly colored hot sauce bottles. 

One of the most popular is salsa Valentina – a relatively mild hot sauce that is often enjoyed on top of potato chips and popcorn and is tasty, even if you don’t have much of a spice tolerance. 

Salsa Huichol is another national favorite, created by a man named Roberto Lopez in the state of Nayarit, Central-Western Mexico. Lopez, who came from humble beginnings, would sell the salsa from his bicycle, packaging it in old Pacifico beer bottle containers. 

Mexicans will often add a dash of the sauce to tacos, breakfast foods, and meat dishes and it is a dinner table staple for many people. 

Flamingoes in their natural habitat in Celestun, Yucatan

American flamingoes and other migratory birds

Mexico is starting to gain more and more recognition as an excellent birdwatching destination in Latin America. Every year, thousands of migratory birds flock to the countrys rivers, wetlands, and coastlines to mate in warmer climes. 

One of the most easy migratory birds to see is the American flamingo, which can be found in the western parts of the Yucatan state between November and April every year. At this time, more than 35,000 flamingos head to the Celestun Biosphere Reserve to mate. 

From April, they head eastwards toward Rio Lagartos and Los Coloradas. Other interesting birds to add to your radar include the cute Yucatan woodpecker, the gorgeous yellow-breasted tropical kingbird, the white-winged dove, and the yellow kiskadee. 

Enjoying tacos dorado de pollo in Pitillal, Vallarta

Tacos 

While we have already acknowledged the wonder that is Mexican food, delicious, mouthwatering tacos are deserved of a category of their own as they are such a major food staple in Mexico. Literally thousands of varieties exist because, as far as Mexicans are concerned, virtually anything can be rolled up and made into a taco. 

Popular fillings are carne asada (barbecued beef), arrachera, and tacos al pastor (pork with pineapple). People here even enjoy tacos for breakfast, with egg and spinach or “papas con chorizo” (chorizo with potatoes) being popular fillings. 

Fun fact: while tacos are often served in hard, crispy shells in the US, in Mexico, the authentic way to enjoy them is in soft, warm flour or corn tortillas. The main fillings are then topped with ingredients like tomato, onion and cilantro

Teotihuacan 

Teotihuacan is an impressive ancient city that awaits just 90 minutes away from Mexico City. Unlike most major ruins in Mexico, Teotihuacan was not built by the Mayans. 

In fact, nobody is sure exactly who built it, who its leaders were, or why it was eventually abandoned. Some historians have theorized that the city must have been built by the ancient Toltecs but since they flourished hundreds of years after the peak of Teotihuacan, that might not be the case. 

Regardless, this is an impressive historical site to see and a must-do day trip from Mexico City. You have probably seen photos of Teotihuacan on the internet or on historical documentaries. 

It is characterized by its large pyramids (the pyramid of the sun and the pyramid of the moon), and its “avenue of the dead”. 

The Monument a la Patria in Merida, Yucatan

The safety reputation 

While arguably being one of the more negative things that Mexico is famous for, most people think about Mexico and their minds automatically go to the country’s reputation as a “dangerous” destination. Sure, there are dangerous parts of Mexico but as a tourist, you are not likely to find yourself in such places. 

Anywhere of touristic interest within Mexico is relatively safe, provided that you use your common sense and take precautions. However, Mexico is somewhat “famous” for this reputation no doubt thanks to the US media’s portrayal of the country and the abundance of narco shows on Netflix. 

Watching Mariachi Vargas live in Merida

Mariachi

Mariachi are one of the first things that many people think of when someone mentions Mexico.

A mariachi band is a group of musicians that perform using stringed instruments.

At a minimum, there are four players in a band but there are often more than 10!

The musicians play an array of different stringed instruments – including acoustic guitars, violins, and vihuelas – a small five-string guitar with a rounded back. The ensemble usually wears a black, formal-looking mariachi uniform known as traje de charro

This outfit is based on the clothing worn by cowboys in Jalisco (charros). It consists of tailored, ornamented trousers, boots, wide bow ties, sombreros, and short jackets.

Nobody is certain of the precise origins of mariachi music but it is believed to have originated in west-central Mexico around the 1700s. More specifically, Guadalajara and Tlaquepaque in Jalisco are usually credited for being the birthplace of mariachi.

What is Mexico famous for? Hanging out at Hacienda Sac Nicte in the Yucatan
Hanging out at Hacienda Sac Nicte in the Yucatan

Haciendas 

Gorgeous haciendas are scattered throughout Mexico, particularly in the Yucatan peninsula. These grand rural houses are comparable to ranches and while the main buildling would serve as a homestead for affluent Spaniards, the outhouses would be inhabited by farmhands or used for industrial and agricultural purposes.

Many haciendas popped up during the henequen boom in the 18th and 19th centuries when there was a large global demand for the natural fibers produced by the sisal plant.  Other haciendas existed to raise cattle and other animals and to farm vegetables.

The henequen boom led to Merida and the Yucatan becoming one of the richest places in the world at one point. However, the discover of synthetic fiber saw a sharp drop in the demand for henequen and many haciendas were subsequently abandoned in the 20th and 21st centuries.

In the 20th and 21st centuries, many haciendas fell into abandonment. Fortunately today, many have been converted into beautiful luxury hotels, restaurants, or event spaces and choosing to stay in one can really enrich your trip to Mexico.

Delicious tequila “cantarito” cocktails

Tequila 

Tequila, a distilled alcohol made from the Weber blue agave plant, is one of the most iconic Mexican alcohols. It is a product of designated origin, means that it can only be made in and around Tequila, Jalisco if it is to be marketed as an authentic Mexican tequila.

Brands like Jose Cuervo and Don Julio may be among the best-known tequilas internationally, but there are tons of domestic brands that the locals keep to themselves.

El Tequileño, or Siete Leguas D’Antaño extra añejo make great souvenirs from Mexico or gifts for your friends and loved ones. You can also take day trips to Tequila from Guadalajara and ride the infamous Jose Cuervo train.

The Paseo de las Animas Dia de los Muertos procession in Merida

Día De Los Muertos

One of the most famous Mexican traditions is no doubt Dia de Los Muertos (the day of the dead). Mexicans have a slightly different relationship with death than people from other cultures. Although losing a loved one is always upsetting, their lives and memories are celebrated every year after their passing. 

For Dia de los Muertos, processions and parades take place all over the country, people decorate the graves of their loved ones, and they prepare a special altar to remember the deceased person, decorating it with their favorite foods, drinks and trinkets.

The official Dia de Los Muertos dates fall on the 1st and 2nd of November but the celebrations often extend over as much as two weeks. Each state has its own different way of celebrating.

In Mexico City, a huge parade (Desfile) with giant, larger-than-life floats is paraded through the city streets. The Yucatan peninsula celebrates a slightly different version of the holiday known as “Hanal Pixan”.

In the capital of Merida, you will find the Paseo de las Animas (passage of souls). This is a candlelit procession where locals walk from the cemetery to the Zocalo in the center of town, representing the journey of the deceased into the world of the living.  

What is Mexico famous for?
A delicious plate of cochinita pibil served up in the Mexican Yucatan

Mexican food 

Mexican food is known around the world for its flavor, spice, and variety. It is also UNESCO-protected and was recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010.

Things like tacos, burritos, fajitas, and nachos are perhaps the first things that come to mind when you mention Mexican cuisine to most people but the reality is that the food here is so much more than that. There are hundreds of different dishes, and the cuisine varies from state to state.

For instance, Yucatecan food is very different from the food you will find in say, Jalisco or Sinaloa, Northern Mexico. You could spend months/years here and still constantly be discovering new dishes.

A cavernous cenote in the Yucatan town of Homun

Cenotes 

Cenotes are natural freshwater sinkholes found in the southern part of Mexico that were formed by a weakness in the earths surface when the Chicxulub meteor crashed into the earth some 65 million years ago. The meteor wiped out the dinosaurs, as well as 90% of the lifeforms on earth at the time.

Swimming in cenotes is a highlight of any Yucatan itinerary and it is estimated that there are more than 7,000 of them in the Yucatan peninsula. Some were used for spiritual and sacrificial rituals by the Ancient Maya, and some still have Mayan handprints painted on their walls! 

There are some famous cenotes like cenote suytan and cenote ik kil that you have probably seen all over social media, but there are plenty of lesser known ones too which are just as gorgeous

In the Yucatan town of Homun, you can find an anillo de los cenotes (ring of cenotes) where there are more than 20 cenotes concentrated in a small area.

What is Mexico famous for? The San Antonio de Padua convent in Izamal
What is Mexico famous for? The San Antonio de Padua convent in Izamal

Pueblo Magicos 

As you travel around Mexico, you will note that many charming towns and villages have been labeled as “pueblo magicos” or “magic towns”. Mexican pueblo magicos are settlements that boast particularly special history, culture, gastronomy, or natural scenery. 

There are currently 177 pueblo magicos in Mexico, with new towns and villages constantly being added or submitted for review. This is part of an initiative by the Mexican Secretary of Tourism and it has been ongoing since 2001. 

Huasca de Ocampo in Hidalgo, Tepoztlan in Morelos and Real de Catorce in San Luis Potosi were three of the first pueblos magicos. If you see somewhere given a “pueblo magico” label, it is usually a good indicator that it is worth visiting and it is fun to try and cross all of these destinations off your Mexico bucket list.

Watching the sunset from San Bruno, Yucatan

Gorgeous beaches and coastlines 

The entire raison d’etre that many people travel to Mexico in the first place is for a beach getaway in sunnier, tropical climes and there are hundreds of stunning coastlines to be found here.

The Riviera Maya, Costa Maya, Puerto Vallarta and the surrounding Jalisco beaches, Sayulita Nayarit and Baja California Sur are among the most popular coastal destinations in the country.

Along the Caribbean coast, the beaches are characterized by translucent azure waters that run parallel to the soft, powdery white sand. Despite the fact that millions of people travel to Mexico every year, it is very easy to head to lesser-known secluded beaches and escape the crowd.

Instead of Cancun, head down to Akumal or Mahahual. Instead of the beaches of the Riviera Maya, head to Yucatan state beaches like San Bruno, San Crisanto, Uaymitun, and El Cuyo.

Chocolate 

Did you know that chocolate was actually invented in Mexico? The first cacao plants were found here and the Olmec, one of the earliest civilizations in Latin America, was the first to turn the plants into a hot cocoa beverage.

Today there are several chocolate museums scattered throughout the country where you can learn all about the history of chocolate and its importance in Mexican culture, as well as many excellent artisinal chocolate stores.

A indigenous street art painting in Chiapas

Indigenous groups 

Few people realise how diverse Mexico actually is when in fact, the country is home to 68 different indigenous groups, who speak over 350 different linguistic variants of 68 different languages across the country.

If you visit the Anthropology Museum in Mexico City, you will find a huge exhibition hall dedicated to the various indigenous groups that can be found in Mexico.

Each of these groups has its own language, customs, culture, and traditional dress.

Not only are there 68 different languages spoken across Mexico, but there are also 350 different linguistic variants.

The exhibits give background information on each indigenous group. They show the different handicrafts produced by them, what clothing they wear in their day-to-day lives and for weddings, etc.

Sitting on the grass in the fantastic Mayan archeological site of Kabah

Ancient Mayan Ruins 

The Ancient Mayans were one of the most dominant and sophisticated civilizations in Mesoamerica. They were centered in what is now Guatemala, but much of Southern Mexico was also their territory.

There are more than 200 Mayan ruins scattered across Mexico alone, with more than 4,400 across wider Latin America. Many have still not been discovered or fully excavated and archeologists are constantly uncovering new ancient cities! 

The Mayan civilization peaked around the sixth century A.D. and were eventually abandoned around 900AD – an event no doubt triggered by the Spanish colonization of Mexico. The Mayans excelled at agriculture, pottery, writing, calendars, and mathematics and many of their impressive settlements are still being excavated and discovered.

Chichen Itza is no doubt the most famous ruin in the country, but if you have a keen interest in history, you should also make time to visit some of the lesser known ones.

Chacchoben, nestled in the heart of the southern Quintana Roo jungle, and Edzna, Mayapan, Ruta Puuc, and Ek Balam are all worth adding to your radar.

Merida, Yucatan
Merida, Yucatan

Beautiful colonial cities 

The Spanish colonization of Mexico was a violent, bloody, and upsetting time and after years of suffering and oppression, the Mexican people didnt gain their independence until 1821.

However, in their wake, the Spanish built several beautiful colonial cities, some of which are the most picturesque settlements in Mexico today. Ornate, opulent mansions were built along cobbled streets, using the money that was made from the henequen boom and from silver mining.

Some colonial cities in Mexico are so well preserved that they feel seemingly frozen in time. The city of Campeche, in the namesake Campeche state, is widely regarded as being the most beautiful colonial city in the country. 

It was a thriving trade port during the 17th century – mainly dealing with the export of dyewood and salt. It became the capital of the Yucatan peninsula several times throughout the 19th century, before being appointed the capital of the new state of Campeche in 1863.  

Santiago de Queretaro, Guanajuato City, Merida, El Fuerte and San Miguel de Allende are other spectacular colonial settlements.

A delicious maracuya (passionfruit) mezcalita cocktail

Mezcal

Mezcal is a Mexican alcoholic drink that has started to gain more international recognition in recent years. Like tequila, it is distilled from an agave plant, but it is produced in a slightly different way and tends to have a more “smoky” flavor.

More than 90% of Mexicos mezcal production takes place in Oaxaca, although Guerrero, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Zacatecas and a couple of other Mexican states also dabble in the production.

You can enjoy mezcal neat, served in a little glass called a “veladora”, but it is also great when blended into fruity cocktails and “mezcalitas”.

A little red catholic church in Parque Itzimna, Merida

Mexican superstitions and folklore 

There are many weird and wonderful Mexican superstitions that people believe in Mexico. For instance, if you place your handbag on the floor, it is bad luck and is said to mean that you will lose money.

I n some indigenous Mexican communities, it is believed that burping expels evil from the body? If people are sick, they drink fizzy drinks such as Coca-Cola and force out burps to expel the evil that has made them unwell!

Papantla flying men performing on the banks of Lake Chapala

Voladores de Papantla (Flying men)

The Voladores de Papantla (Flying Men) is a colorful dance that has been a symbol of Mexican culture since Aztec times. The dance is so special that it has been designated as an “intangible cultural treasure” by UNESCO.

This dance sees five men known as “voladores” or “birdmen” dress in colorful attire and dance around a 90 foot pole before slowly climbing it to the top.

Once at the top, the master birdman plays a song on his flute while the other four tie themselves to ropes and begin to spin slowly toward the ground.

You may be lucky enough to see this dance firsthand during your time in Mexico as it is commonly performed in tourist areas such as the Puerto Vallarta Malecon, Chapultepec Park in Mexico City, and the waterfront of Lake Chapala in Jalisco. 

A steaming hot cup of Chiapas coffee

Mexican Coffee

Mexican coffee is among the best in the world and the country is the world’s largest producer of organic coffee. (Colombian and Ecuadorian coffee often overshadows Mexican coffee on a global stage but the reality is that the beans produced here are excellent).

Approximately 50% of coffee beans grown in Mexico are exported around the world, while the remainder is enjoyed domestically. There are four main coffee-growing regions in Mexico. Namely, they are Chiapas (44%), Veracruz (29%), Oaxaca (11%) and Puebla (11%). 

There are significant differences in the flavor and acidity of the coffee produced in different regions. Chiapas coffee is known for being strong and slightly bitter to taste. Meanwhile Veracruz coffee is usually smooth with notes of chocolate. 

What is Mexico famous for?
What is Mexico famous for? Colorful piñatas for sale

Piñatas  

Piñatas are one of the most iconic symbols of Mexican culture. These are giant, colorful papier-mache boxes that are usually fashioned in the shapes of animals, cartoon characters, or other objects. 

Piñatas are filled with candy and then hung from the ceiling during parties at birthdays, Mexican Christmas celebrations etc, . Then, everyone uses heavy sticks to hit the piñata and break it open to retrieve the candy that’s inside. 

Interestingly though, piñatas don’t originate from Mexico. It is believed that the original piñatas were created in China and then the great explorer Marco Polo brought them to Italy in the 13th century. 

From Italy, the piñatas were taken to Spain, and then finally to the “New World” of Mexico.

A gorgeous stretch of coastline in Mahahual, Costa Maya

Whale watching 

Mexico is famous for its whale watching season which runs from December until March along the Pacific coast (Jalisco and Baja California Sur) and between June and August (for whale sharks) in Cancun and the Caribbean coast.

The California Gray whale is the most common species that you may be fortunate enough to see if you go whalewatching along the Pacific Coast. Every winter, more than 1,500 California grey whales migrate from Alaska to Mexico to breed before returning to Alaska, with their calves around March. 

A charro puts on a show with his rope at the charreria in Merida, Yucatan

The Charreria 

The charreria is the Mexican version of the rodeo and it is widely considered as being the “national sport” of Mexico. While charrerias do travel around the country, they are particularly popular in Guadalajara and wider Jalisco.

If you attend a show, you will be able to watch a number of games played with horses and cattle. Going to the charreria is as much about the atmosphere of the event, the street foods, and the costumes, as it is about the show itself. 

Banda music 

Banda music is one of the most popular types of music in Mexico today and you will often hear it played on the radio across the country, as well as in restaurants and taquerias. It dates back to the mid-19th century and is particularly popular in Sinaloa and other parts of Northern Mexico. 

Banda music has a specific sound that is immediately recognizable. An ensemble gathers to play songs using mostly wind, brass, and percussion instruments. 

Calle de los Dulces is a street lined with candy stores in Puebla, Mexico

Traditional candies (dulces) 

There are tons of delicious traditional candies (dulces) that you can try during your time in Mexico. Many candies here are somewhat spicy and made with chili – for example, “pica fresas” are spicy strawberry gummies topped with a thick layer of chii. 

“Camotes” are flavored sticks of sweet potato candy that hail from the state of Puebla and jamoncillo are Mexican milk candies that are in someway comparable to fudge.

Machaca 

Machaca is a type of dried meat (usually beef) that was created and used in Mexico as a way to preserve meat before the days of refrigeration. Meat would be cured and then dried out in the sun, before being pounded with a wooden mallet until tender. 

Today, machaca is still popular, especially in Northern Mexico states like Sinaloa and Sonora. It can be eaten as-is from the bag, in a similar fashion to beef jerky or it can be rehydrated with a dash of water and used to cook machaca and egg breakfast tacos or machaca and potato tacos.

Masked festivals and cultural events 

Various festivals and cultural events take place in Mexico throughout the year and timing your visit so that your travel dates coincide with a specific festival can be a great idea.

The Guelaguetza Festival in Oaxaca is one of the most famous, and celebrates Oaxaca’s rich indigenous cultural heritage. The annual Cervantina festival in Guanajuato takes place every October and has become the largest arts and culture festival in Latin America.

Gorgeous Huichol beadwork on display at the Anthropology Museum, CDMX

Huichol beadwork 

Huichol beadwork is a type of colorful indigenous artwork practiced by the Huichol people of Nayarit and Jalisco. It involves making vibrant, geometric patterns by sticking colorful beads into tapestries or animal-shaped figures.  

This style of beadwork has inspired artisans around the world and Huichol pieces can fetch high prices in artisanal stores and galleries across Mexico. You are very likely to see this type of art for sale in Puerto Vallarta or in Sayulita and Nuevo Vallarta. 

A Huaracheria selling sandals in downtown Puerto Vallarta

Traditional sandals “huaraches” 

Mexican sandals known as “huaraches” are a type of smooth leather sandal that were traditionally used by farmers and laborers in rural areas of Michoacan, Guanajuato, Jalisco, and the Yucatán Peninsula, as a comfortable shoe to wear for work. It is even believed that in pre-Hispanic cultures, people would dress their dead with huaraches on their feet so that they could pass into the underworld with style and dignity.

Today, huaraches have adapted and changed over time. They are still comfortable, soft leather sandals but they are often handmade by artisan shoemakers in different stylish designs.

What is Mexico famous for? Kayaks sit on the banks of Lake Bacalar in Quintana Roo
Kayaks sit on the banks of Lake Bacalar in Quintana Roo

Natural wonders 

Mexico is home to dozens of natural wonders – from magical cascading waterfalls to dense jungles, deep canyons, and pristine beaches. The Sumidero Canyon in Chiapas is perhaps one of the most impressive. 

Of equal beauty are the various nature reserves in the country, such as the Ria Celestun Biosphere Reserve in the Yucatan State or the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve in Quintana Roo. 

Tropical islands 

Mexico may be best known for its tropical beaches, but few people are aware that there are also over 100 tropical islands within its territory. Close to Cancun and the Riviera Maya, you can sail out to the island of Cozumel, the car-free paradise of Isla Holbox or Isla Mujeres. 

In Campeche state, you can visit the lesser-known island of Isla Aguada and in Baja California Sur, you can sail out to the UNESCO world heritage site of Isla Espíritu Santo.

Mexican fruit 

One major advantage of traveling to a country with a largely tropical climate like Mexico, is the availability of many different varieties of fresh, juicy, tropical fruits. Many of these, like coconuts, limes, guavas, passionfruits, and papayas can often be enjoyed completely for free as they grow wild and in abundance in Southeastern Mexico and along the Pacific Coast. 

There are also a lot of fruits found in Mexico that are native to certain parts of the country. For example, the sapote, the sapote negro, and the mamay are only really found in the Yucatan. 

Wildlife 

Many interesting species of native and endangered wildlife live in Mexico, particularly in the jungles and the rainforest. The jaguar is the country’s national animal, and in these humid, sub-tropical zones, you will also find large cats like ocelots, jaguarundis, pumas, and margays along with other mammals like monkeys, armadillos, and tapirs. 

Delicious non-alcoholic agua frescas served in Progreso, Yucatan

Agua frescas 

Among the various soft drinks that you can find in Mexico, one that stands out is the “agua fresca”. Agua frescas are refreshing, fruity beverages that are made by blending mineral water with blended fresh fruit, sugar, and ice. 

Orange, lemon, and pineapple (“piña”) are popular flavors, but you can also get interesting agua fresca fusions. For example, piña con chaya (pineapple with Yucatecan spinach) or lemon with mint.

Ice lollies (paletas) 

Ice lollies are a great way to cool down during hot, sticky summer days and they are particularly refreshing in Mexico where they are made with fresh fruit pieces. There are many independent stores around the country, but arguably the most famous is “La Michoacana” which can be found in virtually every state. 

An artisanal ice cream vendor in Dolores Hidalgo, Jalisco

Ice cream (nieve)

Many ice creams (nieves) and paletas are often made with interesting flavors too. For instance, in the Guanajuato pueblo magico of Dolores Hidalgo, famous for its weird ice creams, you can try the avocado flavor, mole flavor, and even shrimp-flavored ice cream.  

Mayan trinkets for sale in Mercado Lucas de Galvez, Merida

Final thoughts on famous Mexican things

As you can see, there are tons of different famous Mexican things, and it is nearly impossible to see and experience all of them on one trip. The country might often be synonymous with its less-than-perfect safety reputation but there is a lot more to Mexico than initially meets the eye, with large areas of the country remaining largely untapped when it comes to tourism. 

Do you have any further questions or concerns about this list or about planning a trip here for the first time? As I mentioned, I have been living in Merida for the last couple of years and I’m happy to help out with anything you might need. 

Feel free to drop me a comment below or connect with me on social media and I will do my best to get back to you as soon as I can. 

Buen Viaje! Melissa xo 


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.

Similar Posts