All of our favorite destinations in Mexico for ILP volunteers are here, so you don’t have to hunt around for them.
Mexico has endless destinations to go see, so we did a little work to help map it all out for you so you can spend less time wondering where to go first and more time getting out and exploring.
Get a little more info on the dreamiest spots in this country
Mexico Destination Guide
For ILP volunteers, so much of the appeal of spending a semester abroad in Mexico is all the weekend trips you can take, the gems that are worth 3-4 days of your time and, of course, the destinations that you need to take a week or more to really experience. Our ILP volunteers have every weekend off and vacation time split between their semester so we’ve blocked out which spots are best for those days off, plus added links where you can get a detailed guide to help you plan your trip. Handy, right?
- Day Trips Or Weekend Getaways
- Spend 3-4 Days In These Spots
- Your “Week Or More” Gems
- A Bit About Flights + Buses
Day Trips Or Weekend Getaways
From where ILP volunteers are living in the Mexican state of Guanajuato, these spot are anywhere from 1-4 hours away by bus or taxi, making them perfect cities to explore on a weekend or if you’d like a quick day trip.
Hot Springs In Grutas De Tolantongo
Warm water hot springs are hiding up in the mountains just a couple hours away from Mexico City and a couple hours away from where our ILP volunteers are living. Soak up the views and the springs after a day of hiking around caves and zip lining over the lush jungle when you visit Grutas De Tolantongo. It’s a spot that only locals know about and one that’s consistently a favorite for our volunteers, especially since it’s so close.
Bright And Colorful Guanajuato
Hike up into the hills of the city of Guanajuato and you’ll see a bright spread of towering cathedrals and stacks of colorful houses. Head inside the city and fall in love with the orange, pink, and blue walls of Guanajuato. The whole city makes for an easy day trip (the trip is less than an hour by bus) or a relaxing weekend if you want more time here. Get your Guanajuato Guide here.
Teotihuacan’s Stacked Pyramids
Sometimes called the City Of The Gods, more than a few have said that these pyramids are more impressive than the World famous Chichen Itza. We love that you can climb the rocky stairs up the Sun Pyramid to get a view of the whole valley — there’s info here about which pyramids to visit and the pros and cons of hiring a guide to help you plan your visit.
Cathedrals Galore In San Miguel De Allende
A weekend in San Miguel De Allende means a visit to what we think is the prettiest cathedral in Mexico: in the morning and evening light, this towering church turns the loveliest shades of pink and orange. It’s also home to a hot air ballon festival which we know is something on your bucket list.
Shopping In Leon
It’s hard to pick favorites, but Leon is so popular, some ILP volunteers have visited twice … or three times. It’s a short bus ride and well-suited for a day trip or a weekend visit if you’d like more time. We have all things Leon planned out for you so you know the best places to shop for leather sandals, the main square to people watch in and the cathedrals to visit. Oh, this is also the home to one of the coolest hot air festivals around which is pretty bomb.
The Spanish-Inspired City of Querétaro
Filled with gardens, Gothic-archways, churches, and home to a few restaurants from home that you may be missing after a few month of living in Mexico, Queretaro is the ideal day trip or weekend getaway. This city is also a hub of local festivals and celebrations, so visiting once or twice is worth your time.
A Weekend In Guadalajara
A historic downtown, popular food tours, the huge murals around the city painted by José Clemente Orozco, and all the food markets are reason enough to spend a weekend in Guadalajara, but we also love taking a day trip to the nearby city of Tlaquepaque during a visit.
Need more weekend trips? Here are some more of our favorite weekend getaways in Mexico.
Spend 3-4 Days In These Spots
These cities are either a bit farther away from where you’ll be living as an ILP volunteer in Guanajuato (and will want to spend more time here) or have enough to do that you wouldn’t want to squish it all in a weekend visit.
Waterfalls Galore In The Ciudad Valles
Talk about a hidden gem — you’ll find your pick of Mexico’s best waterfalls in the The Ciudad Valles: It’s a huge region that is home to turquoise pools and tumbling falls you can either jump into, or tour by canoe. It’s where you’ll find the famous Tamul Waterfall, as well as a few other swimming spots (and a rad cave) to adventure in. Since everything here is pretty spread out you’ll want a few days to be able to explore it all (this handy guide will help you out).
Swimming In Chiapas
Take a river cruise down the Sumidero Canyon, hang out with monkeys in the nearby jungles, and splash around in the Agua Azul after seeing the ruins in Palenque. Chiapas is another area that is a place you’ll want to fly into, then take a few bus rides to nearby spots to help fill up three or four days of adventures.
Tours Galore In Puerto Vallarta
In Puerto Vallata, our favorite thing to do is to take a boat tour to Los Arcos where you’ll find Thailand-esque pinnacle islands just floating in the blue, blue water. It’s one of the best spots to go snorkeling, too, but you’ll find lots of things to here. Come for a few days of beaches, whale watching, and tourist pulls like swimming with dolphins in this favorite cruise-ship stop off.
Hiking In Huacaste
This region of Mexico is bursting with adventures: thanks to thick jungles that hide some tumbling waterfalls, zip lining, repelling, plus the chance to try your hand at white-water rafting. You’ll want to hire a guide and tour company to take to you to all the adventures found in Huacaste.
Our Fav Waterfalls In Sierra Gorda
A little untapped gem known as the Sierra Gorda Reserve is where it's at. Come to this section of the country and find out what we mean. Complete with thundering waterfalls and thick forests, you’ll feel like you hopped over to Costa Rica (without the price tag of actually going there). Wondering where this magical place is hiding? Welcome to Sierra Gorda!
Your “Week Or More” Gems
Either we love these spots because you can easily spend a whole week in that particular place, or there are so many day trips to take once you arrive, that you’ll want to spend a week exploring all of them.
Backpack The Yucatan
Luckily for you, we've talked with Amy, an ILP volunteer who spent her vacation backpacking the Yucatan — and we have her whole itinerary here, full of details like how much time to spend in each place, how to get around, top things to see, and more. Her and her group visited Isla Mujeres, Tulum, Merida, Valladolid, Chichen Itza, Cancun and more. Here's all you need to know about backpacking the Yucatan.
This is hands down the favorite vacation spot for ILP volunteers: The chance to release baby sea turtles, swimming in glow-in-the-dark plankton, plus so many amazing beaches seems really hard to argue with. The city used to be a sleepy surfer town, but huge waves bring in surfers all over the world, so the word has gotten out a bit. Don’t worry, it’s still not as crowded or as expensive as some of the other places in Mexico. Find all the best beaches, restaurants, places to stay and things to do in Puerto Escondido right here.
Huatulco is not a town but a region found on the south-ish western coast of Mexico, found in Oaxaca state if you're familiar. This sprawling coastal region is made up of a few communities to center your trip around — La Crucecita, Santa Cruz, and Santa Maria Huatulco.
There are nine bays cut out from the coast here, boasting over 30 beaches that are just as beautiful as you'd ask for when planning a Mexican beach vacation. The weather here is perfect, boasting an average of 330 sunny days per year, with warm and humid days that are ideal for exploring all there is to do here!
We love Cancun, but not enough to stay there for a week solid. It’s a hot spot for tourists thanks to the miles of gorgeous beaches, but that can often lead to some pretty high prices and lots and lots of crowds Our pick? Spend a day or two in Cancun, then the rest of your time exploring places like Tulum (read more below) then tack on a day trip to somewhere like Chichen Itza, Isla Mujeres, or the sleepy Isla Holbox.
Get It All In Tulum
Tulum is an absolute must-visit, if only for the cenotes. These are underwater limestone caves that are filled with the most incredible spots to swim. Tulum is also famous for the ancient ruins that are perched above a white-sand beach lined with swaying palm trees. Basically, if you want beach, jungles, ruins, and more, you’ll love Tulum.
Since you’ll be traveling to get to this part of Mexico we suggest combining a trip to Tulum with somewhere like Cancun as well to help fill up your time.
A Bit About Flights + Buses
For the most part, buses are the way to go in Mexico if you're looking for an inexpensive way to get around. Mostly, volunteers tend to book on Primera Plus. We've actually got a whole guide to help you navigate Mexico's bus system so make sure to check that out.
But if you're headed across the country, it's worth it to fly to some destinations.
To get to places like Tulum, Puerto Escondido, or basically any of the beachy vacations, you'll want to fly rather than take a series of (long) bus rides. To help you out, we’ve outlined which budgets airlines in Mexico to look for if you’re hunting for a good fare.
Mexico’s hiding more than you think
This country is more than the beaches, the jungles, and the vacations … and our ILP volunteers get the best of what Mexico has to offer by living here for a semester.