Top 5 Places I’ve Been in Mexico

Since this is essentially for friends and family back home, here’s an update. I started writing this earlier in the week on Monday after my last trip, but on Tuesday I went to work feeling extremely tired. I then went to a weekly appointment and realized something wasn’t feeling right. I spent Tuesday night tossing and turning and couldn’t get to sleep. At 5 a.m. I texted work and told them I wouldn’t be coming in as my body began to ache and my stomach began to feel nauseous. I didn’t go to work the rest of the week and spent it on my couch recovering from an apparent stomach virus. I would assume that I caught it in Mexico City.

Anyway.

Oddly enough when I speak to many people from Mexico, I find that I’ve visited more places in their own country than they have. I can see how that would work. Back home, I’ve only been in B.C. and Alberta and have never been to the eastern provinces of Canada. I’m actually a bit embarrassed sometimes when people ask me what Quebec is like and I have no answer for them. I generally tell them they have poutine and speak French. The next question that they ask me is, “what’s poutine?” 

I wanted to write a list of the top 5 places I’ve been in Mexico just as a way to reflect on some of my past experiences and maybe give myself an idea where I’d like to go next. I’ve been to some of these places more than once and I’m just basing it off the experiences I’ve had at each place. 

5. Cancun, Quintana Roo

Like many tourists, this was the first beach I visited in Mexico (for spring break, shocker, I know) and it didn’t disappoint. The first time was with a group of around ten friends. We rented a villa and took turns rotating who would sleep on the floor each night (I somehow ended up on it a couple of nights in a row). We went to a different nightclub every single night and it was one of the most memorable and hilarious weeks I’ve had in all my years in Mexico. Four of the guys in the group ended up on a documentary titled Crime, Carnage and Cancun that aired on the BBC in the UK (that should tell you how the trip went).

The second time I went was pretty much the same deal, with a smaller group of us renting a house again for the week-long bachelor party for one of the best friends I’ve made while living in Mexico. Being in our 30’s, we had to take a couple of nights off in that trip. Anyone who’s in their 30’s knows the hangovers last a little longer. The groom lost his wallet on the first night out, and then proceeded to donate the new pair of sunglasses his future wife bought him to the Caribbean waters on what I think was the third day. I’m not sure at which point he lost his dignity. He’s still happily married, luckily.

4. Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco

I was torn between putting Puerto Vallarta or Sayulita on this list. I decided on Puerto Vallarta because I’ve been there twice now and it’s a place where my late grandmother would drive her motorhome down from Canada and spend her winters, so I have a connection it.

The first time I went I spent most of my time in Nuevo Vallarta for the wedding of one of my best friends from my hometown. It was a special week because it was the only time all of my childhood friends have all gathered together outside of our own country. Growing up with the Pacific Ocean always a five minute walk from where I slept at night, it always feels nice to get close to it again.

The second time I went was with my mom last year during spring break. Puerto Vallarta has a large expat population, with a lot of Canadian snowbirds calling it their part-time home (beer is expensive in Canada), which makes it pretty easy to feel at home there. The airport is a lot more central to the city than some of the other beach cities (Cancun, Los Cabos, Playa del Carmen), so it’s nice for a quick visit. I would say it’s also the least expensive of those aforementioned beaches. You don’t get the Caribbean water, but I found that it’s a more relaxing atmosphere than Cancun or Playa del Carmen. 

3. Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo

I’ve been to Playa del Carmen twice now and I’d describe it as a mini-Cancun. Part of me actually prefers Cancun because you can walk along the beach in isolation because it’s so much larger than the beach in Playa. What put it ahead of Vallarta and Cancun on my list was the experience I had when I was there visiting Mayan pyramids at Coba and riding through the jungle on bicycle to swim in a cenote (an underground cavern of fresh water). I also got to visit some Mayan ruins at Tulum that trip. That was an awesome experience and one I’d like to try again.

The second time was for the wedding of my friend from the bachelor party in Cancun. It was a beautiful wedding and very memorable. I even donned a traditional Scottish kilt (my friend is Scottish) and won’t soon forget the bagpipes playing while his wife walked through the white sand to say “I do” to him. A beautiful wedding and some beautiful memories.

The nightlife isn’t as wild in Playa del Carmen as it in Cancun, which is fine for me these days. We ended that trip with a night out at Playa Del Carmen’s branch of Coco Bongo, which essentially offers the same show as the one you get in Cancun.

2. Tequila, Jalisco

Most of my friends and family back have a love/hate relationship with the gift provided to us by the blue agave plant: tequila. Generally, it’s from some rough nights out they’ve had with Jose. I guess it’s called a tequila sunrise because you can still taste it in your mouth long after the sun rises the next morning. 

The town of Tequila in Jalisco is certainly more pleasant than a hangover. Guadalajara, the second biggest city in Mexico, and one I’ve visited numerous times is just under an hour and a half drive away from Tequila. Alternatively, you can take one of the express trains from the center of Guadalajara which cost roughly the equivalent of $100 Canadian that will get you there and back. The train ride includes several stops along the way at distilleries and restaurants. I’ve never done it this way, but next time I’m in Guadalajara it’ll be on my list of things to do.

When I visited Tequila it was only for an afternoon, but I explored it on foot and went around to various stores and asked for a taste test of their tequila. Some of them were the best I’ve ever tasted and I would have grabbed a bottle had I not had a carry-on only ticket booked to return home. Something about sipping a tequila cocktail while walking around its hometown felt very Mexican, and it’s something I think everyone who loves the spirit should experience at some point. 

There’s a great Mexican series on Netflix titled Tequila worth checking out if you’re into foreign language television (this is a recommendation for my grandpa). It gets into the sometimes brutal nature of doing business in Mexico, as it revolves around a wealthy family whose tequila based corporation has roots planted in the town I’ve written about here.

1. Guanajuato City, Guanajuato

Celebrating the Mexican independence in Guanajuato was a very special experience. The city is found in the state of the same name, which happens to be the state known as the birthplace of Mexico’s independence. Guanajuato was the site of the first battle in the war for independence, providing a just reason for it to be named a World Heritage Site in 1988.

Cinco de Mayo is probably the most well known celebration outside of Mexico, but it doesn’t hold nearly as much significance inside the country. The independence celebration is easily the biggest celebration of the year and takes place every September 16th. Based on its history, Guanajuato is understandably a popular spot to celebrate the occasion. When I attended it, I somehow managed to get a great hotel room that overlooked the iconic yellow church by showing up without a reservation (I wouldn’t recommend doing that). If yellow church is too difficult for you to say you can call it by its real name, Parroquia de Basilica Colegiata de Nuestra Senora de Guanajuato. It’s the largest building in the city and was built in the 17th century. The city has an awesome market named Mercado Hidalgo where you can find local crafts, souvenirs and food.

The city itself contains dimly tunnels that run underneath the city that I experienced firsthand when I drove through them. It’s easier to find a parking spot on the outskirts of the city, which is quite common, and leave your car there and spend your stay walking around on foot. I don’t think there’s a better place to celebrate Mexican independence.