Dancers about to perform on the Malecon of Puerto Vallarta
Thomassin Mickael/Flickr

Mexico's Best Cultural Experiences and Nature Sights

By David Baird and Shane Christensen
It's no secret that many tourists who head to Mexico never see more than the beach and the bottom of a margarita glass. But those who explore this vibrant country's natural wonders and interact with the locals are amply rewarded. Here are some of our favorite Mexican sights and experiences.
A dancer kicks up her heels in Mérida, Mexico
Gabriel Perez/Flickr
Regional Folk Dancing
From the Ballet Folclórico in Guadalajara to the Ballet Folklórico in Mexico City or the almost-nightly park dances in Mérida, Mexican folk dance events are diverse and colorful expressions of Mexican traditions.
A monarch butterfly perches on a branch, surrounded by dozens of others, in Michoacan, Mexico
Michoacán’s Million Monarch March
Mexico is an exotic land, and no place drives this home more than a mountain forest where you stand surrounded by the fluttering wings of millions of monarch butterflies. The setting is the rugged highlands of Michoacán, from mid- to late November through March.
Soccer plays on a field in Tijuana, Mexico
Futbol Matches
Few nationalities match the passion of a serious Mexican fútbol (soccer) fan. From dusty rural fields to massive urban stadiums, you can join fanáticos chanting fight songs for their team. If you have trouble learning the words, all you really need to know is, “Goooooooooooooool.”
A desertscape in Baja Sur, Mexico
Desert Landscapes in Baja Sur
The unique plant life and painted desert colors are a natural curiosity in Los Cabos, where hiking, horseback riding and ATV trips explore the area. The arid desert contrasts magnificently with the intense blue of the sea surrounding the peninsula.
The portrait of a mariachi musician with his trumpet
Dennis Jarvis/Flickr
Música Popular
Nothing reveals the soul of a people like music, and Mexico is the home of diverse range of styles that you’ll hear in many different settings. You can enjoy brassy mariachi music in the famous Plaza de Garibaldi in Mexico City , under the arches of El Parián in Tlaquepaque, and in other parts of Guadalajara. Or perhaps you’re in the mood for romantic boleros sung to the strumming of a Spanish guitar, or what Mexicans call música tropical and related cumbias, mambos, and cha-cha-chas? It’s all on offer.
A ridley turtle swims in the water
Heather Paul/Flickr
Sea Turtle Nesting Beaches
Between June and November, sea turtles return to the beaches of their birth to lay their eggs in the sand. With natural predators and poachers threatening these species, many communities have established protected nesting areas. Most are open for public viewing and participation in egg collection and baby-turtle release. Turtles are found along the Yucatán coast, in Baja Sur, on the Oaxaca coast, in Puerto Vallarta, and on Costa Alegre.
Fireworks in the sky over San Miguel de Allende
Esparta Palma/Flickr
Mexicans share such a passion for fireworks and such a cavalier attitude toward them that it’s a good thing the buildings are cement and stone, or the whole country would have burned down long ago. Many local traditions surround fireworks, and every festival includes a display. The most lavish are called castillos, and the wildest are the toros that men carry over their shoulders while running through the streets, causing other revelers to dive for cover.
A dock at Laguna Bacalar in Mexico
J Barcena/Flickr
Technicolor Laguna Bacalar
The waters of this crystal-clear, spring-fed lake—Mexico’s second largest, though it’s actually a lagoon—are noted for their vibrant variations in color, from wispy blue to deep blue-green and turquoise. The surrounding area is a mecca for birders, with over 130 species identified.
A boy walks through a plaza in Guanajuato
Eneas de Troya/Flickr
Passing the Time in Mexico's Plazas and Parks
All the world may be a stage, but some stages have richer backdrops than others. That's why we highly recommend just heading to the nearest town plaza, sitting down and watching daily Mexican life unfold before your eyes. Alive with people, these open spaces are not the modern product of urban planners, but instead are rooted in the traditional Mexican view of society. Several plazas are standouts: Veracruz’s famous zócalo features nearly nonstop music and tropical revelry. One look tells you how important Oaxaca’s zócalo is to the local citizenry; the plaza is at once remarkably elegant, grand, and intimate. Mexico City’s Alameda has a brooding, dramatic history—heretics were burned at the stake here during the colonial period—but today it’s a people’s park where lovers noodle, cotton-candy vendors spin their treats, and the sound of organ grinders drifts over the crowd. San Miguel de Allende’s Jardín is a mix of artists with sketchbooks, and neighbors catching up on all the gossip; at festival time, it's here where the music, dancing and fireworks are. Guanajuato and Querétaro have the coziest plazas, we think.
A view of buttes in Copper Canyon
Eli Duke/Flickr
Rugged Copper Canyon
This network of handsome, remote, and unspoiled canyons is larger than the Grand Canyon in the U.S.A. It incorporates towering waterfalls, vertical canyon walls, and mountain forests in the canyon-rim country; and semiarid desert inside the canyons. This is the land of the Tarahumara Indians, who gained their legendary endurance from adapting to this wilderness
A whale tale spashes the ocean
Whale Watching
Every year from December to April, magnificent humpback and gray whales return to breed and instruct their young in the waters of Banderas Bay, fronting Puerto Vallarta, and in Los Cabos.
The seafront promenade, or malecon, in Puerto Vallarta
James Diggans/Flickr
Strolling El Malecón
Wherever there’s a seafront road, you’ll find el malecón bordering it. A wide sidewalk for strolling, it usually comes complete with vendors selling pinwheels and cotton candy and often impressive public sculptures. In some areas, it has supplanted the plaza as a center of town life. The most lively are in Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlán, La Paz, Cozumel, and Veracruz.