There are over a hundred of these magically colorful cities boasting the best food, the prettiest architecture, or the most unique chapters of history … here are our favorites!
You may know about the beaches and the food in this country, but Mexico is way more than that — just talk to our volunteers! After spending a whole semester living in here, you’ll come home with stories about visiting hidden corners of the country you had no idea existed. Hop onto a $5 bus and find yourself swimming in cliffside hot tubs, trekking to crystal blue waterfalls, or explore more than a few of these Magic Towns.
READ NEXT: All about volunteering in Mexico
Quite a few of these Magic Towns make for a perfect weekend getaway for our ILP volunteers since they’re only teaching English part-time for the semester. And if the idea of jumping around every weekend to a new picturesque spot to explore, you’ll want this full-on-guide to Mexico’s Magic Towns.
Wait, What Is A Magic Town?
I mean, the name alone should be a pretty good hook, don't you think? But in more detail, Magic Towns are carefully picked as a way to highlight the best of the best of Mexico. That may mean places with the best food, villages home to a chapter of unique culture, towns that capture some sort of national treasure, and areas that are just exquisitely beautiful. See why you can't truly see Mexico without exploring a handful of these gems?
It's not easy to become a Magic Town. You have to have at least 5,000 people and be reasonably easy to visit from a city. The town needs to form a Pueblo Magico committee, then establish plans to help the town foster tourism. Other elements are also considered to make sure the town is a worthwhile addition to the list of Magic Towns.
When this all first started, there were just three Magic Towns: Huasca de Ocampo, Real de Catorce in San Luis Potosi, and Tepoztlan. Now, there are currently 121 (!) Magic Towns that are all up for visiting, but we definitely have our favorites.
Read about + find a full list of the ones to check out below.
A Few Of Our Favorites To Visit
This list is the best kind of biased, a handful of the highlights we think you'll just love. Some of these are a quick day trip from popular vacation spots, or easily visited on a weekend depending on where you are during your ILP semester, so no excuses! You've got to visit at least a couple of these Magic Towns.
Isla Mujeres (Near Cancun)
This island was once a hiding spot for pirates, now it's the perfect getaway from the tourist-slammed beaches of Cancun. Just take a ferry ride and you're there! You'll find a slower-paced island that is best explored via golf cart. Out of all the beaches in Mexico, some ILP Volunteers say they're favorite days in the sand and sun were on Isla Mujeres (because, hello! Just look at that water).
Spend time lounging on the sand or visiting the turtle sanctuary — Volunteers loving relaxing and soaking up all the chill things to do on Isla Mujeres.
Cholula (Near Puebla)
Cholula is just a quick taxi (or free tourist train ride) from the city center of Puebla. Once you make the jump over, you'll experience an excavated pyramid, secret tunnels beneath the pyramid, hilltop churches, and much more. Another highlight?
The pyramid here is one of the main attractions to Cholula, and for good reason. It's a massive, partially excavated archaeological site complete with tunnels to climb through and museums to explore. Technically known as Tlachihualtepetl, this pyramid holds the title of the world's largest pyramid if you're measuring by the base. Tlachihualtepetl has a base of 450 meters per side (more than 1,450 feet). By contrast, the Great Pyramid at Giza measures in at 230 meters (around 175 meters) ... roughly half the size!
Atlixco (Near Puebla)
If you've got Magic Towns on your must-see list while you're in Mexico, this colorful little city should be at the top if you're in Puebla.
The painted streets aren't the only thing that makes this town so colorful — keep an eye out for the large production of botanicals blooming! Altlixco has been nicknamed 'The City of Flowers' and 80% of the cut flowers grown here are actually sold to the United States. This flower culture has only been reinforced by stunning botanical gardens and flower-filled festivals (more on that, below).
The town boasts a beautiful botanical garden and Baroque churches, all framed by towering volcanoes. Be sure to soak up the views of the volcanoes that seemingly guard the city. You can sometimes see a curl of smoke from nearby Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl towering behind the many Folk Baroque churches in the area.
Real De Monte (Near Pachuca)
Tucked away outside of Mexico City (near the city of Pachuca, if you're familiar with that city) is a Magic Town we just can't get enough too — Real De Monte. It's an old mining town, crammed full of history you can see and taste — but really!
There's a large European presence in this town, thanks to the immigrant miners who came here to strike it right and bring their culture with them. The result is a region of Mexico with a unique soccer (or futbol) heritage and a tasty snack we love grabbing on the street: pastes. They're also famous for their cheese pies, so come to Real De Monte hungry!
Valladolid (Near Cancun)
According to one ILP volunteer, Valladolid was her favorite vacation she took on her ILP semester. The reason? "We stayed in a hostel that was a tropical paradise, it was covered in vines and greenery of every kind and we spent my favorite day swimming in the most beautiful cenotes".
Not sure what a Cenote is? Get ready for your favorite part of Mexico — Picture a limestone sinkhole that’s filled with bright blue water, sometimes completely surrounded by a thick green jungle. There are a few different kinds, some are partially exposed, and feel kind of like a cave you can swim to from the river that flows into it. Others are completely underground (like a flooded cave), but my favorites are the open cenotes. These guys are like round swimming holes punched out right from the lush jungle (and are mad pretty).
Now they’re used as swimming and caving spots, but some used to be important religious sites for the Mayan people. Some historians have found evidence that the Mayan god of rain, lightning, and thunder visited cenotes, and led temples and villages to be built nearby.
Still need some convincing? In Valladolid, the streets are delightfully colorful, there are mosaic churches galore to explore, and this sleepy city is one of the best jumping-off points for cenote swimming. I'm sold.
See why Valladolid is a total favorite, here.
Sayulita (Near Puerto Vallarta)
Looking for bright murals, painted buildings, plus beaches, yoga, and smoothie shops? Find that and more in Sayulita, easily one of our favorite Magic Towns. It's easily reached from nearby Puerto Vallarta and makes for an amazing getaway, especially if you're able to swing a visit to Playa Del Amor, a secret beach you have to swim or kayak to via sea-tunnel.
Once you arrive, you'll see an almost perfectly circular hole of blue sunshine above you, and a sandy beach complete with gentle turquoise waves. It's one of our go-to spots for a chill, beachy weekend that will make you wish you were staying much (much) longer. Get more on Sayulita here.
Tequisquipan (Near Querétaro)
Feel like you’re strolling around in Europe when you visit Tequisquiapan’s main square and plan on coming to this Magic Town hungry — some ILP volunteers say you can find the best churros in all of Mexico in Tequisquipan. Gorditas are also a specialty: picture stuffed pastry crammed full of cheese, spices, and a couple of different kinds of meat. After lunch, take a tour of glittering opal mines and photograph the pastel pink cathedrals.
Since Tequisquipan is just a short bus ride from the beloved Querétaro, visiting is a no brainer. Get all the info you need for a trip to Tequisquipan here.
Bernal (Near Querétaro)
Hike one of the most iconic scenes in all of Mexico by tackling a trek up Peña. It's a huge monolith mountain that towers over the colorful town of Bernal — I think it's one of the prettiest Magic Towns on this list. You can also test your hand at rock climbing or repelling if you'd rather. It's an adventurous place, with stunning views and a bright and vibrant city center.
And don't worry, all of the things to see and do in Bernal are in one place.
Cuetzalan (Near Puebla)
This is so unique, we're not surprised it made the list of magic cities. There's a festival during the fall that pulls travelers from all around — and the city itself has seemingly stopped moving forward in time as is reflected in its colonial architecture and open street market. It's nestled into the surrounding rocky mountains and has been a stronghold in coffee production for the last few chapters, as well as being home to stunning caves, grottoes, nearby waterfalls, and more.
Overall, it's a picturesque town that's somehow still preserved much of the old charm that isn't found in cities that are visited by more tourists ... which is exactly why we love it. Check out more on our guide to Cuetzalan.
+ A Longer List To Check Out
If you're into traveling to all of the Magic Towns in Mexico, you'll need the full list. This blog post has it outlined for you, broken up by Mexican state.
You can also see when the city achieved its Magic Town status. Pretty handy, right?
Teach English + Spend a semester in Mexico
Have weekends off, teach part-time, and snag vacation days to explore every inch of this country. Get ready for waterfalls galore, jungley swimming spots, hidden Aztec ruins, magically colorful cities, and the chance to do some bucket list things, like release baby sea turtles into the sea.