Are you curious about the best places to visit in central Mexico? I’ve got you covered! Read on to learn about the best central Mexico cities, landmarks, and attractions!
Central Mexico is a region rich in culture, history, stunning landscapes, and picturesque cities.
After spending four years living in Mexico and traveling through 18 states, I can tell you that this is one of the most special areas of the country. And one that’s often bypassed by international tourists (but quite popular among Mexican travelers).
Whether you’re planning your first trip to Mexico or your 10th, this article will highlight some really incredible places to visit in central Mexico. If you’re keen to move on from tourist hotspots (or skip them altogether), there are some really unique spots to be found in central Mexico.
Much of Central Mexico had a big role in the mining industry at one point or another, so many of these destinations were (and still are) very prosperous, and it shows. You’ll find some truly stunning cities in this region– and that’s not even accounting for the landscapes.
Read on for insights on the best places to visit in Central Mexico, advice on transportation in this region, and tips and insights on climate, safety, and more!
Prepare to be captivated!
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Where is Central Mexico?
There is no official designation specifying what is meant by central Mexico, so for the purposes of this article, I’ll create my own. I consider the states to the north and northwest of Mexico City to be central Mexico. This happens to include the states that make up an area known as the Bajío region of Mexico.
And since I get to make the rules here, I’m throwing in the state of Hidalgo as a bonus. It’s not technically part of the Bajío, but I think it has more in common with these states than the states to the East.
Central Mexico is essentially the central highland area of Mexico, which serves as a cultural and geographical bridge between the northern and southern parts of the country. The area is known for its rich cultural heritage, economic significance, and geographical diversity.
The core states that make up central Mexico include:
- Inland Jalisco: The eastern side of the state is known for rolling hills, tequila-producing agave fields, and vibrant towns, reflecting a deep-rooted cultural heritage with rich traditions.
- Inland Michoacan: Characterized by stunning colonial cities, a rich indigenous culture, and incredible natural attractions.
- Inland Colima: Known for its lush landscapes, dominated by the imposing Volcán de Colima, this area offers all kinds of off-the-beaten-path experiences.
- Guanajuato: Famous for its colonial cities like Guanajuato City and San Miguel de Allende, this state is a blend of history, culture, and natural beauty.
- Querétaro: Known for its well-preserved historic center and vibrant cultural scene, Querétaro is a blend of the past and the present.
- Aguascalientes: Small but significant, this state is known for its traditional fairs and vineyards.
- San Luis Potosí: Offering a mix of desert, forests, and waterfalls, it’s a state with diverse natural attractions.
- Zacatecas: Renowned for its silver mining history and colonial architecture.
- Hidalgo: Known for its rich mining history, stunning natural wonders like the basaltic prisms of Santa María Regla, and the cultural heritage of the Pueblos Mágicos like Real del Monte.
Central Mexico Map
You can see the area I’ve deemed Central Mexico in the map below inside the yellow rectangle.
Again, this isn’t an official designation. My breakdown of the places in central Mexico will probably be different than someone else’s, but this map will help you envision the region I’m talking about.
The Best Places to Visit in Central Mexico
1. Guadalajara, Jalisco
Guadalajara is a vibrant city that beautifully blends tradition with modernity, making it a must-visit destination. As the second-largest city in Mexico and the epicenter of the country’s tech scene, it offers a dynamic and exciting atmosphere.
Dive into the cultural richness by visiting the Mercado San Juan de Dios, the largest market in Latin America. Even if you’re not looking to buy anything, it’s cool to wander through and take in the expanse of it all. The market is also a great place to try some traditional Jaliscense food, like tortas ahogadas or tacos de birria!
Nature lovers will adore the Bosque de Colomos, a vast nature park that provides a peaceful escape from the urban buzz. Wander through the Japanese garden, jog along the plentiful paths, or take a book and lay out on the grass for the afternoon!
For a shopping adventure, the colorful neighborhood of Tlaquepaque is the place to be, with its endless array of artisanías offering a true taste of Mexican craftsmanship. You can pick up all kinds of gorgeous pottery, textiles, and blown glass goods here.
Guadalajara also happens to be the birthplace of Mariachi music and a hub for tequila production. There are lots of venues throughout the city to catch a performance. The Plaza de los Mariachis and Restaurante El Patio (in Tlaquepaque) are great places to start!
2. Tequila, Jalisco
The pueblo mágico of Tequila, just an hour away from Guadalajara, is a delightful destination that offers a unique blend of culture, history, and spirited fun. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it boasts picturesque landscapes and a rich heritage that’s deeply intertwined with the production of Mexico’s most famous beverage.
The journey to Tequila is an adventure in itself, especially if you hop aboard the Jose Cuervo Express, a Tequila Train that promises scenic views and a festive atmosphere.
Once there, you’ll be charmed by the town’s gorgeous central square, where you can watch the captivating Voladores de Papantla perform high above the ground.
Tequila offers numerous distilleries, from the world-renowned Jose Cuervo to smaller, artisanal producers, each offering a unique insight into the art of tequila making. Dive deeper into the history of the spirit at the National Museum of Tequila, where you’ll learn about its origins and production process.
While Tequila makes for a fantastic day trip, spending a whole weekend allows you to savor the tastings. You know… so you can remember your visit after you leave! 😉
3. Chapala & Ajijic, Jalisco
Ajijic and Chapala are neighboring towns nestled on the shores of Mexico’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Chapala. They offer a delightful escape from nearby Guadalajara, which is about an hour away.
Strolling along the malecon in Ajijic and Chapala provides breathtaking views of the lake and a peaceful atmosphere to unwind and soak up the local scene.
For the more adventurous, hiking El Tepalo, especially during the rainy season from June to August, is a must-do. You’ll be rewarded with stunning waterfalls and inviting pools to dip into. In the dry season, it’s still a worthwhile trek for the spectacular lookout views.
The colorful village of Ajijic is located about 20 minutes from Chapala, a little further west along the lakefront. The town is incredibly picturesque, with a lovely central plaza and all kinds of great shops and restaurants.
Both Ajijic and Chapala are popular amongst immigrants from the US, Canada, and beyond, making them inviting spots for those considering a longer stay or relocation. You’ll have no problem finding a community of others with shared interests. One of the big draws for this area for immigrants from up North is the pleasant climate– locals always boast that it’s spring-like all year round.
If a move is on your radar, check out the Lake Chapala Society. It’s a non-profit organization that offers an array of events, workshops, and resources for folks in the area.
Whether you’re stopping in as a traveler or considering making a move to Ajijic or Chapala, these beautiful lakeside towns are worth a visit!
4. Colima City, Colima
Colima, the charming capital city of Colima state, is a delightful destination for those looking to experience one of the more off-the-beaten-path destinations in central Mexico.
With just under 150,000 residents, it offers a mix of modern historic architecture, including a beautiful neoclassical cathedral, the Basilica Menor Catedral de Colima. Colima is a university town and a popular shopping destination for those living anywhere in the state. It has a lively atmosphere and stunning scenery.
Culture enthusiasts will love the city’s museums, especially the Museo Universitario de Artes Populares Maria Teresa Pomar, dedicated to regional folk arts and handicrafts. The Museo de la Ciudad de Colima offers insight into the history and legacy of the city.
For those drawn to nature’s wonders, the Volcan de Colima, an active volcano just 20 miles away, offers breathtaking hiking and climbing routes—best enjoyed with a guide for a safe and informative experience. The volcano sits at the edge of the Sierra Madre mountains and is the highest peak in the state of Colima, with an elevation of 13,990 feet (4240 m).
There are a couple of cool archaeological sites in the area, too: El Chanal and La Campana. Either of these would make a fun excursion from the city, offering the chance to soak up the beautiful scenery while learning about ancient civilizations.
Don’t miss a visit to the nearby town of Comala, about 20 minutes from Colima, known for its picturesque white-washed buildings and historic charm.
5. Morelia, Michoacan
Morelia, the captivating capital of Michoacán, is known as the most Spanish city in Mexico. In fact, Morelia was called Valladolid until after the Mexican independence movement.
The city is steeped in history and culture. It was once the home of the prehispanic Purépecha and Matlatzinca cultures. The city was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001 in honor of its beautifully preserved historical buildings and charming historic center.
With just under 750,000 inhabitants, Morelia has an abundance of museums and plays host to many cultural events throughout the year. One being the Festival Internacional de Música de Morelia. This classical music festival, held annually since 1988, features performances by hundreds of different musicians from all over the world.
One of the best ways to experience Morelia is by strolling through the picturesque streets and soaking in the ambiance. There are several lovely parks and plazas, as well. Pop into the Central Cultural de Clavijero to learn more about the art and history of the region.
6. Patzcuaro, Michoacán
Located about an hour from Morelia, on the shores of Patzcuaro Lake (Lago de Patzcuaro), is the colonial town of Patzcuaro. It’s home to about 80,000 people and is known for its blend of colonial and indigenous culture.
This town is a really popular place for tourists seeking an authentic Day of the Dead experience. It draws visitors during other festive seasons like Christmas and Easter as well. While it’s a beloved spot for Mexican tourists, international travelers are quickly catching on to its allure.
As you meander through the town, the stunning architecture will surely catch your eye. Make sure to visit the Biblioteca Gertrudis to admire the impressive mural. And don’t miss the Casa de los Once Patios, a former convent transformed into an arts center where you can purchase local arts and crafts and even participate in workshops with artists.
For a little adventure, hop on a boat to Isla San Janitzio, where you can shop for artisanías and wander through the scenic village.
Patzcuaro makes a great day trip for Morelia, but it’s worth spending a couple of days there so you can enjoy the atmosphere and the scenery without having to move at a fast pace.
7. Reserva de la Biósfera Santuario Mariposa Monarca, Michoacan
Visiting the Reserva Mariposa Monarca in central Mexico is a bucket list experience that nature lovers and adventure seekers shouldn’t miss.
Located in the state of Michoacan, this Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2008, is the migratory home for millions of Monarch butterflies.
Starting in November, these fascinating creatures embark on an incredible journey from Canada and the US to blanket the reserve in a mesmerizing display of color and life.
The best time to see the butterflies is between November and March. During this spectacular natural phenomenon, the air fills with swirling butterflies, and the scenery transforms into a living canvas of fluttering wings.
Sometimes, the butterflies are so plentiful that they land gently on your hands, head, and shoulders.
The biosphere reserve is accessible via guided tours from Morelia or Mexico City, or you can venture to the reserve independently.
A local guide will lead you on hiking trails through the park, ensuring you have a safe and informative visit.
8. Santiago de Queretaro (Queretaro City)
Queretaro City is a gem in the heart of Mexico. It beckons solo travelers with its enchanting blend of history and culture.
Stroll through its UNESCO-listed historic center, where colonial architecture provides a stunning backdrop to every step. As you wander, you’ll find yourself amidst charming plazas, like the lively Plaza de Armas, and striking churches, such as the ornate Santa Rosa de Viterbo, and gorgeous historic buildings.
Visit in the spring like I did, and the streets will be lined with stunning purple jacaranda flowers, making the whole place even more beautiful.
Not only is it truly gorgeous, but Queretaro’s historic center is one of the cleanest places I’ve ever been in Mexico (no shade to the rest of the country, but this is a cut above).
Another must-see sight is Queretaro’s iconic aqueduct. According to my pal Alex, who spent several years living in Queretaro, the best way to see the aqueduct is to walk up to the Mirador de los Arcos– a plaza offering a scenic overlook of the city.
For a taste of local life, venture into one of the markets to pick up some fresh food staples. In the evening, check out Queretaro’s diverse array of restaurants and bars.
9. Tequisquiapan, Queretaro
Located about an hour outside of Querétaro City, Tequisquiapan is a picturesque town that boasts cobblestone streets and beautifully preserved historic architecture.
Part of Queretaro’s Ruta de Vino, Tequisquiapan is a popular destination for an afternoon of wine tasting.
In fact, each year, the town celebrates its love for vino with the Fería Nacional de el Queso y el Vino. Typically held in late May, this is the perfect opportunity to indulge in local delicacies.
Tequisquiapan’s warm, inviting atmosphere makes it a popular weekend spot for city-dwellers looking to savor a slower pace of life. It offers a similar allure for solo travelers. With about 50,000 residents, it’s not a tiny town, but it’s mellow and beautiful.
10. Bernal, Queretaro
Just 37 miles from Querétaro City lies Bernal, a captivating Pueblo Mágico that offers a handful of compelling attractions.
Bernal is famous for the impressive Peña de Bernal, one of the world’s tallest monoliths, measuring over 1,000 feet. The feature is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a popular destination for hikers and climbers.
Whether you opt to ascend the monolith or simply enjoy it from afar, Bernal is a lovely town to visit. You’ll enjoy wandering the colorful streets and sampling local food as you go.
Pop into the Museo del Dulce Mexicano to learn about some of Mexico’s famous sweet treats.
Bernal makes a great day trip from Queretaro or Tequisquiapan, but it also offers some lovely hotels if you’re looking for a laid-back place to stay for a few days.
Where to stay: The Hotel Posada Maria Bonita offers a lovely view of the Peña de Bernal.
11. San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato
You’ve seen the photos, but San Miguel de Allende (SMA) is even more stunning in real life. This incredible Pueblo Magico is routinely voted one of the best cities in the world, and it’s certainly one of the most popular cities in Mexico.
At the heart of SMA stands the iconic Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, whose striking gothic façade is a must-see. Wander the cobblestone streets and find yourself amidst a paradise for art lovers, with galleries and boutiques brimming with unique pieces you’ll be longing to take home.
Don’t forget to visit the tranquil El Charco del Ingenio, a botanical garden offering a peaceful retreat and stunning views of the countryside.
San Miguel is in no way off the beaten path, and the main square can be downright overwhelming on holiday weekends, but there’s no question that the place is magic. I wrote it off for years, thinking it would be too overrun with tourists to be enjoyable, but that was a mistake.
If you can’t stomach the thought (or the prices) of staying in SMA, visit as a day trip from Guanajuato City. It’s a much more laid-back base.
12. Guanajuato City, Guanajuato
My favorite city in central Mexico (and definitely one of my top 5 in Mexico) is Guanajuato City. Guanajuato is a university town made up of colorful streets and a labyrinth of winding callejones, aka alleys, but doesn’t it sound more enticing in Spanish?!
These callejones aren’t sketchy, though. They’re whimsical pedestrian thoroughfares that make way to some of the city’s most popular attractions, including the Callejón del Beso.
Guanajuato is steeped in art and history– once a prominent mining town and now the host of the annual Festival de Cervantino, an international art festival that takes place each October.
You’ll find tons of incredible museums, including the Alhondiga de Granaditas, the childhood home of the famous Mexican artist Diego Rivera, and the macabre Museo de Momias.
There’s also a fun local market, Mercado Hidalgo, which is a good place to grab a cheap lunch or a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice in between activities.
If nature and scenery are more your vibe, take a musical horseback tour through the countryside or wander the grounds of the ex-Hacienda San Gabriel Barrera. One of the best things to do in Guanajuato is hike up to the Pipíla monument to take in the view of the city. If you’re not up for the trek up the hill through the winding callejones, you can hop on a cable car to the viewpoint.
I once spent two weeks in Guanajuato, and one of my favorite activities was taking a walk around the Presa de la Olla, a water reservoir just outside of the city center. There are lots of beautiful homes in the streets leading to the Presa and some great cafes to pop into along your walk!
In the evening, join a callejoneada, a musical walking tour of the city’s most famous callejones. I’ve never done anything like it anywhere else!
Interest piqued? Check out more awesome things to do in Guanajuato!
13. Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato
Dolores Hidalgo is the perfect place to learn more about Mexico’s history. Specifically, the independence movement. It was here, in front of the Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, where Miguel Hidalgo delivered his famous “grito,” calling for independence and sparking the movement.
It’s worth stopping at the plaza to admire the church – it really is beautiful. Walk around the side, and you’ll see an impressive tile mural, as well!
Another of Dolores Hidalgo’s top attractions is the home of the famous Mexican singer Jose Alfredo. Even if you don’t know his music, his home is a fun and interesting place to visit. There are lots of interpretative signs highlighting the breadth of his career, too.
Slight spoiler– he’s written so many songs that it’s improbable that you’ve never heard one of them.
Once you’ve been converted into a fan, head to the Mausoleo de Jose Alfredo to admire his elaborate grave– a giant sombrero!
Dolores Hidalgo is also a fantastic place to shop for ceramics. You’ll spot many shops selling items akin to Talavera but uniquely local. They’re crafted right here in the city. The vibrant designs and intricate details make for perfect souvenirs or gifts.
I visited Dolores Hidalgo on a day trip from Guanajuato, and it was well worth the adventure. You could make it a day trip from San Miguel de Allende as well.
My tour was led in Spanish, and, save for myself and a couple of American travelers, the guests were primarily Mexican nationals.
It was cool to visit these historical and cultural landmarks with Mexican tourists who fully understood the depth of their meaning. I don’t know that it would have been so impactful, fun, or interesting if I’d gone on my own.
14. León, Guanajuato
Leon, Guanajuato, is an interesting and dynamic destination for travelers looking to explore the heart of central Mexico. As the largest city in the state, with a population of about 1.7 million, Leon offers a unique blend of industry, culture, and history.
Often mistaken for the capital of Guanajuato (that’s Guanajuato City!), Leon is, instead, the shoe capital of Mexico. Leon has an enormous leather industry and is the top producer of shoes in Mexico.
There are many opportunities to purchase locally crafted shoes and leather goods throughout the city. Those interested in leather production can take a tour through local tanneries, factories, and workshops to learn about each stage of the process.
But Leon is more than just shoes!
The city is home to beautiful colonial buildings that make a beautiful backdrop for your visit. The historic center has a number of beautiful landmarks, including the Arco Triunfal de la Calzada de los Heroes and the stunning Templo Expiatorio del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús.
Pop into the Museo de Arte e Historia de Guanajuato to learn more about the history of the region.
Leon is more of a business hub than a tourist destination, but it’s a picturesque city and offers some interesting attractions. It’s worth stopping for a couple of days in between trips to other popular destinations in the area.
15. San Luis Potosí, San Luis Potosí
San Luis Potosí, the capital of its namesake state, is an important city in central Mexico. San Luis is an important industrial and commercial hub with a population of around 1 million. It offers a vibrant mix of modernity and tradition.
The heart of the city is its stunning centro histórico, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Many of the buildings are a lovely shade of pink, thanks to their facades made from quarry stone from the region. As a big fan of the color pink, I was obsessed!
The city has an array of great restaurants, coffee shops, and cool shops to check out. There’s also a cool public market on the edge of the Centro Historico.
I had the chance to visit San Luis Potosí on a road trip in 2019. The purpose of the trip was to visit family, but I did have the opportunity to poke around in the historic center for a couple of days. My favorite activity was hopping on the tourist trolley (it leaves from the zócalo) to take a tour of the key landmarks and learn about the history of the city.
And for those who love the outdoors, the sprawling Tangamanga Park offers a lush, green oasis perfect for relaxation or recreation.
San Luis is a really beautiful city and a fantastic jumping-off point for visiting some of the natural wonders in the region, which I’ll tell you about below!
16. Huasteca Potosina, San Luis Potosí
If you love the outdoors, waterfalls, rafting, kayaking, and caving, La Huasteca Potosina is definitely going to be one of your favorite places in central Mexico!
The Huasteca is a geographical region of the Huastec indigenous group. The Huastec covers parts of Tamaulipas and Northern Veracruz, but Huasteca Potosina refers to the area found in the state of San Luis Potosí.
This area is characterized by rivers, waterfalls, jungle, and caves, making way for incredible scenery and exciting adventures. The Huasteca is largely rural, but there are small towns throughout the region.
Check out this video by the Kinetic Kennons to get an idea of what the area has to offer!
La Huasteca is best explored on a tour or with a rental car. Many travelers opt to base in Ciudad Valles and take day trips to points of interest from there. If you have time, you might bounce from town to town to see more of the region.
Ready to tour La Huasteca Potosina? This three-day tour from Ciudad Valles is led by an experienced local operator.
17. Xilitla, San Luis Potosí
Xilitla is nestled in the lush Huasteca region of central Mexico and home to about 51,000 residents and has roots in Huastec and Nahuatl culture. It is a pueblo magico and home to beautiful, colorful buildings.
The principal attraction in Xilitla is a surrealist sculpture garden called Las Pozas. Created by artist Edward James, who envisioned his own version of the Garden of Eden, Las Pozas is a mesmerizing sculpture garden where reality blends with fantasy. Wander among the whimsical structures, capture the unique artistry in photographs, and cool off in the serene natural pools.
Beyond Las Pozas, there are several natural attractions you can easily reach from Xilitla. Sótano de los Golandrinas (Cave of the Swallows) is the second-deepest pit cave in Mexico and a popular spot to go birdwatching.
You can also visit the Cascada Los Comales, a waterfall near Las Pozas. You can’t swim, but it is a fun and easy hike for those wanting to spend more time in nature.
Xilitla provides a perfect backdrop for a few days of exploration and relaxation in the Huasteca area. There are a few great hotels and restaurants that make it an easy stopover if you’re spending time traveling through the area.
18. Real de Catorce, San Luis Potosí
Nestled in the northeastern part of San Luis Potosí state, the town of Real de Catorce is a captivating destination that offers a unique glimpse into Mexico’s rich history and vibrant culture.
With about 1,000 residents, this quaint town is perched on the side of a mountain in the Sierra de Catorce range, one of the highest plateaus in Mexico, providing breathtaking views and a sense of serene isolation. Named in memory of 14 Spanish soldiers defeated by Chichemeca warriors, Real de Catorce’s past is as intriguing as its landscapes.
Once a flourishing 19th-century silver mining town, the crash in silver prices in 1905 transformed it into an enigmatic “ghost town.” Despite this, Real de Catorce’s silver reserves remain, and extensive efforts to block mining have been made to protect the town as an important area for indigenous groups, earning it recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Every spring, the Huichol peoples undertake a sacred pilgrimage here, traveling on foot from as far away as Nayarit to honor their ancestral traditions.
Real de Catorce’s blend of historical intrigue, cultural depth, and stunning natural beauty makes it a popular destination for Mexican nationals and international travelers alike.
Visitors can soak up the incredible scenery, visit historical sites, learn about the history of the mining industry, and gather insight into the significance this land holds for the local indigenous groups.
19. Aguascalientes City, Aguascalientes
Aguascalientes, the vibrant capital of its namesake state located in north-central Mexico, is a destination that many foreign tourists overlook.
Originally a Chichimeca territory and named for the thermal springs in the area, this city is steeped in a rich past that’s closely tied to the silver route through central Mexico. As a hub for mining, railway, agriculture, and manufacturing, Aguascalientes offers a mix of history and modernity.
One of the city’s most famous attractions is the annual San Marcos Fair, a dazzling event that draws around 9 million visitors each year. Held for three weeks, beginning in mid-April, this fair features events like bullfighting, charreadas (rodeo sports), and a myriad of cultural performances, art exhibits, and games.
The town itself boasts beautiful colonial architecture, interspersed with picturesque parks and plazas that invite leisurely exploration. Museums abound, offering insights into art and regional history. The Parque Tres Centurias features buildings from the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries (hence the name) and offers a museum, a beautiful fountain, and outdoor space to enjoy.
Just outside of town, the Vinedos Casa Leal offers a taste of Aguascalientes’ regional wine.
20. Zacatecas City, Zacatecas
Zacatecas, the captivating capital of its namesake state, is a city rich in history and beauty, making it a must-visit destination in central Mexico. As the home of the Zacateco indigenous peoples, this city has a deep-rooted cultural heritage.
It rose to prominence as a vital mining city for silver, gold, and other minerals starting in the 16th century and continues its legacy as a mining city today. The colonial part of Zacatecas has been honored as a UNESCO World Heritage site, celebrated for its stunning baroque architecture and the distinctive pink stone facades that adorn many of its buildings.
The main attractions in Zacatecas are deeply connected to its mining history. Visitors have the unique opportunity to tour old mines and visit mining museums, offering a fascinating glimpse into the city’s past.
Geographically, Zacatecas’s position on the side of a valley wall promises breathtaking views. For a truly unforgettable experience, hop on El Teleférico, a cable car that runs from Cerro de la Bufa to Cerro del Grillo, and marvel at the expansive views of the surrounding valley.
21. Grutas de Tolantongo, Hidalgo
The Grutas de Tolantongo in Hidalgo State is an aquamarine thermal river nestled within a picturesque canyon. You find a mesmerizing waterfall, a cave system, and a series of inviting pools perfect for a relaxing soak.
What’s more, man-made pools have been carved into the canyon wall alongside the river, creating a stunning vista that looks like it’s straight out of a fairytale. Major Rivendell vibes.
For those wishing to fully immerse themselves in this serene paradise, there are hotels and campsites right next to the river. Staying overnight affords you early access to the pools, enabling you to beat the crowds that arrive with the tour groups in the morning.
However, the hotels in the area don’t take reservations, and the reviews are a little iffy in terms of how comfortable they are in relation to the price. If you’re okay with a barebones stay, it’s probably fine, but if you’re hoping for luxury, you’ll probably be disappointed.
These hot springs have become a very popular tourist destination. Weekends and holidays at the Grutas de Tolantongo can be exceptionally busy, so planning a visit for mid-week is your best bet for beating the crowds.
If you’re not up for taking your chances on the accommodation, visit Las Grutas de Tolantongo as part of a day tour from Mexico City. It will be a long day but an unforgettable experience.
22. Pachuca, Hidalgo
Pachuca, the vibrant capital city of the state of Hidalgo, is a fascinating destination just 50 miles outside of Mexico City.
Home to the Otomí peoples and once a vital mining center for green obsidian, Pachuca now thrives as a city of industry and education, with an important university and numerous government offices.
One of the most unique aspects of Pachuca is the Cornish influence, a legacy of 19th-century Cornish miners, which you’ll notice in local delicacies like Cornish pasties and other cultural imprints throughout the city.
While Pachuca itself may not be a traditional tourist hotspot, it serves as an ideal gateway to the stunning mountain towns nearby and offers its own array of attractions.
Fans of the Netflix series “Club de Cuervos” will recognize the scenery from Pachuca because it was used as the backdrop for the fictional town of Nuevo Toledo. And on that note, soccer fans shouldn’t miss the chance to visit the Centro Interactivo Mundo Futbol, where they can learn all about the sport and its famous players.
The Reloj Monumental is one of Pachuca’s most famous landmarks. It’s a neoclassical clocktower crafted by the same engineers who worked on Big Ben.
Dive into Pachuca’s local traditions by learning how to make pulque at one of the city’s ex-haciendas and explore the ancient ruins of Xihuingo.
23. Mineral del Monte, Hidalgo
Mineral del Monte (also known as Real del Monte) is a charming Pueblo Mágico located just half an hour outside Pachuca. This delightful destination offers a unique blend of Mexican and British culture, making it well worth a visit.
This town was a major silver mining center in the 19th century, attracting immigrants from Cornwall, whose influence is still palpable today. You’ll find Cornish pasties (pastes), a savory treat, as a popular local specialty. They are celebrated with gusto during the Festival Internacional del Paste when visitors can immerse themselves in the art of making these delicious meat pies!
The town’s architecture, with some areas reminiscent of Cornwall, adds to its unique character and charm. Visitors can explore historical mines, admire the distinct architecture, check out local museums, indulge in the town’s unique culinary offerings, and take scenic hikes in the surrounding Sierra de Pachuca.
With its rich history, cultural fusion, and beautiful natural surroundings, Real del Monte offers a truly unique experience.
Is it safe to travel around central Mexico?
Safety in Mexico is a complex topic. While I do feel this region is generally safe for travelers, there are areas within central Mexico where it’s wise to seek out real-time information before traveling.
There are places in Guanajuato state that are considered “hot zones” in terms of violence/cartel activity, namely Celaya and Irapuato. These are towns that I would avoid entirely if visiting the region. There are bus routes that pass through them. I wouldn’t be overly concerned about this, but I recommend that you travel during the day.
The states of Colima and Zacatecas currently have a “Do Not Travel” advisory from the US State Department. They are hot zones, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t visit. I would encourage you to ask around about it before booking a trip, though.
Facebook groups (like mine!) can be a powerful way to get information on the situation on the ground in your chosen destination. You’ll receive better insights if you ask specific questions and include information about your travel style and experience.
For instance, avoid general queries like “Is Zacatecas safe?” Instead, ask things like:
- Has anyone been to Zacatecas recently, and can you comment on your sense of safety there? Then, if you get responses, ask follow-up questions about their travel style– were they partying? Did they go out at night? How old are they? Were they alone? Did they feel comfortable walking everywhere, or was it better to take a taxi?
- Can anyone recommend a safe neighborhood to stay in Zacatecas?
Ultimately, safety in Mexico is very nuanced. Your experience and risk tolerance will dictate your comfort level, and your travel style will influence your level of safety.
What is central Mexico known for?
Central Mexico is known for many things, including its rich and varied landscapes, and its deep routed indigenous cultures, which include prehispanic cultures like the Chichimeca, as well as Huichol, Otomí, Huastec, Zacateco, and many more.
Central Mexico also has a long history of mining. Many of the cities on this list played important roles in Mexico’s mining history, producing everything from silver and gold to obsidian.
Many parts of central Mexico also played important roles in the Mexican independence movement led by Miguel Hidalgo. The movement kicked off in Dolores Hidalgo, but many important battles were fought in other parts of central Mexico, including Zacatecas and Guanajuato City.
Mexico Travel Planning Resources
🌡️ Do I need travel insurance?
Yes! Healthcare in Mexico is affordable for minor ailments, but travel insurance will give you peace of mind if an emergency arises. Plus, you can add coverage for trip interruption, theft, etc. Get a quote from SafetyWing.
🏨 What’s the best way to find accommodation in Mexico?
I use a mix of Booking, Airbnb, and Hostelworld.
💸 How should I exchange money in Mexico?
Use local ATMS to withdraw cash. US travelers should open a Charles Schwab bank account because they’ll refund ATM fees at the end of the month.
Travelers from outside the US should open a Wise account to secure the best currency exchange rates.
📱 Where can I buy a local SIM card in Mexico?
Pick up a Telcel SIM card at any convenience store. Or, buy an Airalo eSIM online so you’re connected as soon as you land.
🗣️ Do I need to speak Spanish in Mexico?
No, but it definitely helps you feel more confident and connected.
✈️ What’s the best way to find affordable flights?
I use Skyscanner because it makes it easy to compare rates across different travel days.
🚖 How do I find a safe airport transfer?
I recommend GetTransfer for airport transfers anywhere in Mexico.
🚗 What’s the best way to find rental cars in Mexico?
I recommend Discover Cars because they aggregate prices across rental car companies, making it easy to find competitive rates.
🚐 How do I book bus tickets online in Mexico?
🤿 How do I find cool activities and tours in Mexico?
🇲🇽 How can I experience Mexico like a local?
Solo female travelers can hire a local female guide through Greether. Greeters will tailor tours based on your interests— it’s basically like experiencing a destination with a local bestie!
🧳 What’s the best luggage for Mexico?
Unless you’re staying at a resort, a travel pack is recommended. I’ve used this one from Osprey for the last 8+ years.
👯♀️ How do I connect with fellow travelers in Mexico?
Join my Female Travelers in Mexico Facebook group, a supportive community of fellow Mexico travel enthusiasts, where you can find answers to all your travel questions!