Mexico's biggest secret? It's our #1 pick for a country where you can do a ton of traveling on the weekends. You have it all in Mexico: fabulous beach resorts to vacation to, world wonders and ancient ruins to explore (not to mention the fabulous fresh fruit and horchata bag drinks) but that's not even counting the weekend adventures — Mexico has a dozen-plus unreal vacation spots that are close enough for you to visit on a regular weekend. When it comes down to it, Mexico is one of the best countries to travel to if you want to do a lot of traveling a tight budget.
So if you are looking for a few undiscovered gems (some only cost a few pesos) we’ve got you covered.
Love the idea of traveling all around this gorgeous country?
See what living and volunteering in Mexico is all about
Each of ILP’s schools in Mexico right now are close to some really amazing cities that are only a few hours away (so easily done on a weekend or day trip) — here are our absolute favorites.
- San Miguel de Allende
- Grutas De Tolantogo
- Dolores Hidalgo
San Miguel de Allende's Stunning Streets
Some say this city is the prettiest and most photogenic in all of Mexico. The most famous church in the city (“Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel” ) towers above a busy city square, and turns the most stunning shades of pink and orange at the sunset. Bookended by palm trees and you've got quite the view.
The Zocalo (which is basically a city park) is also a huge hit: a sprawling center where you'll find benches for people watching, little pop-up popsicle and churros stands, and on the weekends, lots and lots of street performers and musicians. The entire design of the city is laid out to be photographed, with narrow alleyways of painted buildings hung with colorful flower boxes and the occasional festival. More than a few ILP volunteers visiting have been lucky enough to spot Mojigangas: huge puppets dressed up like a happy bride and groom, or famous figures from history walking down the Spanish-inspired streets. In a nutshell, get your camera ready for a weekend in San Miguel de Allende.
Shopping In Sunny, Sunny Leon
One of the must-see spots in Mexico that most tourists miss unless they're spending some serious time in Mexico, and not just hopping from beach to beach. Maybe Leon's biggest draw is all the shopping: there's a market called Zona Peil that has stacks and stacks of leather sandals — woven with bright yellow straps, pattered with blue and red, strung with a herringbone design ... you name it. 3,000+ vendors set up shop selling everything from belts, bags, shoes, purses, wallets, boots, you name it. Leon is sometimes nicknamed the shoe capital of the world, and a visit to Zona Peil makes that title pretty fitting.
But you can also visit the temples and cathedrals, too. Our favorite is the towering Neo-Gothic church with a stained glass rose in the middle, and intricate windows painted creamy whites and pale pinks, complete with a crypt in the basement.
It's a pretty city year round, but we're a fan of visiting Leon in November so you can see a hot air balloon festival in the city: wake up early and see the sun-streaked sky above Leon dotted with dozens of hot air balloons? Yes, please.
Don't miss anything with our Leon city guide.
Guanajuato's Rainbow City
An absolute must-see if you're into the most colorfully breathtaking views spilling out below you. In Guanajauto, so many homes and storefronts are painted in the brightest colors, creating a cityscape dotted with canary yellows, bright tangerines, soft teals, pops of hot pink, and dashes of bright green. The entire effect is completely mesmerizing when you take the funicular up to the top of this hill and you can see the rainbow houses spread across the rolling hills. It's amazingly pretty.
Once you have your fill of the view, one thing you'll have to do is visit the Alley of the Kiss where supposedly, two lovers were forbidden by their families to see each other, but the narrow alleyways allowed them to kiss from their balconies. Wondering what else to see? Check out our Guanajuato Guide.
Stroll European Streets In Querétaro
Hang around hand-painted murals, ancient aqueducts that remind you of the architecture in Rome, and see a free comedy show on Sundays out in the main plazas while you munch on churros or sip chilled horchata. The pedestrian-only street Andodores runs right smack in the middle of the historic center letting you wander the shops, peek into restaurants, toss a coin or two in the fountains and admire the statues that pepper the city center. The city has a European feel to it, with gorgeous cathedrals and basilicas completing the scene.
It's worth spending a couple of days here, especially if you want to hop over to the nearby magic city of Tequisquiapan: it's home to a pale pink cathedral, caves where you can mine for your own opal gems, and wander cobalt blue streets. Get more on Queretaro here.
Soak In Hot Spring In Grutas De Tolantongo
People see pictures from this place and instantly put Mexico on their "to travel list". The idea of soaking on hot springs hiding in the green hills is just pretty unbeatable. This place is an absolute gem, known only to people who really do their research about this part of the country and we're completely in love with a weekend here.
Turquoise water spills out in small waterfalls that you can zip line over, there's a cavernous cave for you to explore and of course a series of thermal pools perched above the whole scene, just to give you a taste of how to spend a weekend in this place. More pictures and tips for visiting Grutas here.
We've had a few ILP volunteers visit these pyramids and the world famous World Wonder, Chichen Itza ... and ended up liking the Teotihuacan pyramids better. Hugely massive pyramids and other structures line an enormous boulevard, creating a blueprint of what this ancient city used to look like. Teotihuacan is one of the only places where you can climb up on these ruins, marching up all 250 stairs to get to the top of the Sun Pyramid to really get a stellar view of the entire complex. See more of Teotihuacan here.
Dolores Hidalgo: History + Ice Cream
Get a taste of small-town Mexican life in this little city crammed full of history. Rumor has it that the city of Dolores Hidalgo was the birthplace of Mexican independence a couple hundred years ago so if you're set up for a weekend of history, this city is your spot. Apparently, volunteers who visit there in mid-September can hear the whole city shout “Viva Mexico” on the 16th to commemorate the occasion.
But visit year round, and you'll be able to see towering churches along with a few surprises: The city is home to the Mexico's most famous Mariachi player, and his tomb is a site to see. Complete with a curling ridge of bright mosaics that spill out from an enormous sombrero, this isn't your typical gravestone.
The city is also known for ice cream (now you have to visit, right?). Find for traditional flavors like smooth vanilla and rich chocolate studded with cinnamon, or be a bit brave and taste avocado, tortilla, or shrimp flavor. According to this blogger, it's a sin to leave the city without trying the ice cream.
Tula's Ancient Toltec Statues
We're big fans of exploring the ancient side of Mexico and heading to some of the ruins scattered around the country should make anyone's list. One lesser known spot that's close enough to visit on the weekend is in the sleepy city of Tula: just outside of the city are stacked pyramids topped with thick painted columns and intricately carved pillars, a "wall of snakes", and four impressively huge "warriors" that stoically watch over the area.
The little city of Tula used to be an impressive empire, and this last bit of architecture gives us a glimpse of what this empire used to look like. The fearsome faces of the Toltec warriors gives you an idea of what kind of fear and trepidation this empire struck in their enemies. Find a few tips on Tula here.
Visit Guadalajara For A Foodie Weekend
This is a definite weekend trip if only just to see everything in the Mercado Libertad or San Juan de Dios; a huge multi-level market that sells everything. I mean everything. Stereos, fruits, vegetables, CD’s, guitars, clothes, shoes, butcher blocks…everything.
We're also a big fan of visiting Guadalajara to peek at the massive murals that cover corners of the city, spending time in the butterfly dome at the Park Agua Azu, and taking the chance to take a walking tour of the best foodie spots in the city. A guide will take you to the best places to grab tacos, churros, salsas, moles, and other local foods from the best vendors for about $12.
But you can also get out of the city and visit the Instagram famous spot, Tlaquepaque. A quiet little town with an alleyway topped with a "ceiling" of opened umbrellas makes for quite the photo stop. Get info on Tlaquepaque and things to do in Guadalajara here.
Mexico's the adventure you're looking for
Unless you're not up for a semester of adventure through jungles and waterfalls, ancient ruins, colorful magic cities, or heading to the stretches of white sand and turquoise water found all along the coastline. Come live in Mexico and see what else you can find here.