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Things to Do in Mexico

Mexico conjures images of ancient ruins, colonial towns, endless beaches, and cities pulsing with life. The country's two long coastlines lure travelers with countless opportunities for fun in the sun. On the west coast, the Pacific Pipeline—legendary among surfers—runs from Baja all the way past Puerto Escondido, while the Caribbean side is better known for spectacular coral reefs and warmer, gentler seas. On either coast, you'll find boating, parasailing, diving, snorkeling, fishing, kayaking, and more. Whether you prefer the flashy resorts of Los Cabos and Cancun, upscale Playa del Carmen, or the more traditional glamour of Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco, Mexico has a beach town for you. Blessed with natural beauty and a rich heritage, Mexico also boasts the largest number of UNESCO-listed sites in North America, including the Maya ruins of Palenque, Chichen Itza, Tulum, and Coba. From grand colonial cities like Puebla and Oaxaca, to the many "pueblos magicos" (magical towns), such as Taxco and Valladolid, Mexico's colorful streets and regional cuisines never fail to enchant. The country's abundant tropical rainforests are home to a variety of wildlife, and eco-adventure parks like Xel-ha on the Riviera Maya pack in family-style fun with ziplining, hiking, and guided safaris. Many visitors arrive via Mexico City, and while the sprawling capital can be overwhelming at first, don't be deterred. Cultural riches await you, including a world-class art scene, historical museums, cosmopolitan dining, nonstop nightlife, and easy access to the Teotihuacan pyramids. Just don't try to drive.
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Stone Island (Isla de la Piedra)
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This offshore island is a popular excursion stop for cruise ship passengers docking in Mazatlan, but most of the visitors are locals on weekends and it’s not very crowded on non-cruise weekdays. The main reason to visit is to lie on the beach, swim, and eat grilled seafood at a thatched-roof restaurant, but you can also explore the island by horseback or on walking trails. The beach here is a good spot for seashell collecting.
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Tulum
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One of the best preserved Mayan sites, Tulum is a must-see attraction on the coast of the Yucatan. Tulum, the Walled City, is mounted high on the edge of a cliff, towering above the Caribbean Sea and a beautiful white sandy beach. It was only inhabited by the nobles, high priests and esteemed citizens, whereas the lower classes lived in simple wood and thatch huts beyond. The ruins here are truly spectacular, especially Tulum's main temple, dedicated to the Diving God.
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La Quebrada Cliff Divers
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Acapulco's iconic attraction, made famous in Elvis flicks, Ray Austen stunts, and every cheerfully scrawled holiday postcard sent home ever since, are La Quebrada Cliff Divers. Beginning in the 1920s, these brave young men and women began leaping for the crowds some 45 craggy meters (150 terrifying feet) into a wave-crashed inlet just 4 meters (13 feet) deep. And that's if they time it just right.

The ritual begins with a prayer at the shrine to La Virgen de Guadalupe, carved into the cliff-top platform. Then, the divers carefully calculate when their target will have enough water to soften their fall. Finally, they leap. First in the afternoon, and as the sun sets, again. The final dive of the night plunges past torches into a sea of fire (lit with flaming gasoline), no easy feat.

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Rio Secreto Nature Reserve
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Kept hidden from the public until 2007 and strictly adhering to its sustainable tourism model, the evocatively named Rio Secreto, or “Secret River,” is deserved of its reputation as the best kept secret of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. A dramatic series of caves carved out by the flow of an ancient underground river, the Rio Secreto is most famous for its large half-sunken cavern, one of few in the world that is accessible to non-professional divers.

Venturing underground, visitors can explore the eerie passageways that once formed part of the mysterious, yet much talked about Mayan underworld; swim in the fabled underground river; and admire the unique natural caves, dripping with stalactites, stalagmites and strikingly colored mineral formations.

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Arch of Cabo San Lucas (El Arco)
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Nature has carved some amazing formations at Los Cabos, and El Arco is perhaps the most famous.

A signature icon of Los Cabos, the limestone arch carved by time, tide and wind runs down to the water’s edge and into the sea. From a distance the formation looks for all the world like a dragon, and up close the arch frames sky, sea and sand for picture-perfect photos.

Take a cruise by day or sunset for views of El Arco from the water, and look out for sea lions basking on the shore.

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More Things to Do in Mexico

Guadalajara Cathedral

Guadalajara Cathedral

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The heart of every Mexican city is its cathedral, and Guadalajara is no exception. Officially known as the Basílica de la Asunción de Nuestra Señora de la Santísima Virgen María, the Guadalajara Cathedral towers over the city’s central plazas. A mishmash of Gothic, baroque, Moorish, and neoclassical styles, the building is atypical for a Mexican cathedral, and its unusual design has made it an emblem of the city.

Since 1561, the massive cathedral has weathered eight earthquakes, two of which did serious damage. An 1818 quake demolished the central dome and towers. The distinctive tiled towers you see today date back to1854. The interior is awesome in the original sense of the word; the stained glass windows are reminiscent of Notre Dame, and 11 silver and gold altars were gifts from Spain’s King Fernando VII. But it’s not all just finery --- the cathedral also has its share of macabre relics.

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Cabo San Lucas

Cabo San Lucas

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Love it, hate it—or can’t remember it—there’s no denying that Cabo San Lucas is a town that’s fueled by fun. Partygoers flock to the oceanfront beach bars and resorts all lining the strip, and carry the party deep into the night at the thumping downtown discotecs. Anglers spend the day slathering on sunscreen and listening for zinging reels, as they troll the waters for trophy fish that leap from the cobalt sea. On the outskirts of town, surfers race across peeling waves from Zippers to Todos Santos, and snorkelers explore the rocky reefs of Playa Santa Maria. At Land’s End—where the 1,100 long Baja Peninsula finally submits to the sea—stand on the sands of “Lover’s Beach,” where jagged rocks embrace a cove that’s completely hidden from view. Watch as sea lions splash on the rocks and tour boats cruise the “tip,” and head back towards town for an afternoon meal of seafood served on the sand.

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Taxco

Taxco

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High in the rugged mountains, the city of Taxco de Alarcon was once an isolated Spanish stronghold. It is known for the mines producing rich, gleaming silver, and generations of artisans who create some of Mexico's most beautiful jewelry. Culture lovers will enjoy the baroque facade and soaring interior of 18th century Catedral de Santa Prisca, while active travelers will enjoy hiking to waterfalls and mountaintops around town.
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Querétaro

Querétaro

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Looking for a quaint escape from the hustle and bustle of Mexico City? Queretaro is the place for you. With the full name of Santiago de Quertetaro, this town is the capital of the small but diverse Mexican state of Queretaro.

A step back into colonial times, Queretaro is known for its history, culture and pink stoned walls. See the Art Museum, the Regional Museum or the odd but pleasurable Mathematics Museum. The city center has some affordable street vendors selling local arts and crafts, and the colonial center of the city has two bullrings. Not too far from Mexico City, here you can find not just stimulating history and good shopping but also great traditional Mexican food as well. Memos, Che Che, and Los Compadres all serve up great traditional Mexican fare at a fair price all in the historic city center.

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Mr. Sancho's Beach Club Cozumel

Mr. Sancho's Beach Club Cozumel

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Find everything you need for a relaxing and fun day at the beach with an all-inclusive day pass to Mr. Sanchos Beach Club Cozumel. Situated on a private, 1,500-foot-long stretch of white-sand beach, Mr. Sanchos has all the usual beach amenities like umbrellas and lounge chairs, as well as an infinity pool and an Aqua Park with inflatable climbing structures and water trampolines. Day passes include all you can eat and drink from the restaurant and bar, and there are abundant activities available for an additional fee, including parasiling, ATV tours, massages and horseback riding.

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Teotihuacan

Teotihuacan

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Just north of Mexico City are the mysterious Teotihuacán Pyramids, built beginning around 300 BC as the centerpiece of an enormous city, often compared to ancient Rome. They were inexplicably abandoned centuries before the arrival of the Aztecs, who called the ancient architectural marvel the "Birthplace of the Gods."

Neither they, nor modern archaeologists, have been able to unravel the secrets of these massive ruins, presided over by the third-largest pyramid in the world. Constructed according to precise astronomical measurements, and filled with the bodies of sacrificial victims, it was perhaps a place where bloody rituals were performed to keep the end of the world at bay. But no one really knows.

Thus, this mystic spot is one of the most enigmatic, as well as impressive, archaeological sites in North America. Its vast stone expanse of humbling temples are still covered with rich and detailed stone statues, even faded paintings.

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Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza

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The most important archaeological zone of the Yucatan and ancient capital of the Mayan Empire, Chichen Itza can be reached from several cities in Mexico. The ruins are best explored on a full day guided tour where you can learn why the site has been designated one of the modern wonders of the world. Even visit the Sacred Cenote, where human sacrifices took place to please the gods. Chichen Itza's extraordinary architectural beauty and fascinating history are sure to leave you in awe!
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Chankanaab Adventure Beach Park

Chankanaab Adventure Beach Park

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Relaxed Chankanaab Park - or Parque Chankanaab - is a lovely and laid-back "eco archaeological park," just south of the town of Cozumel. There are several attractions on dry land, including faux Mayan ruins, pleasant gardens, dolphin and sea lion shows, and good seafood.

The main attraction, however, is the wildlife rich undersea park, which you can explore with rented snorkel equipment. They also offer regular diving (you must have PADI certification) and the Sea Trek Adventure, like a resort dive with a breathing helmet but no certification necessary. You could also swim in a tank with dolphins, manatees and sea lions for an extra fee.

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Mayan Ruins of Coba (Zona Arqueológica de Cobá)

Mayan Ruins of Coba (Zona Arqueológica de Cobá)

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The Coba Ruins, built long ago—sometime between the years 500 and 900—lie deep in the heart of the Yucatan jungle. Visitors can rent bikes or hire rickshaws to travel among the knobby paths and thick forest that link the groupings of ancient pyramids and historic sites to one another.

A climb to the top of the Nohuch Mul pyramid, the tallest in the Yucatan, affords visitors a spectacular (if nerve-wracking) view of the jungle, as well as the astronomical observatory and game courts that surround it. From this vantage point, travelers can also check out the Mayan’s version of an interstate highway: elevated roads called sacbeob, that lead from the ruins to other Mayan cities.

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El Malecon

El Malecon

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Puerto Vallarta locals and visitors alike strut their stuff on El Malecon, the city ’s iconic boardwalk overlooking the Bay of Banderas. It’s the place for sunsets strolls, rollerblading, ice creams and admiring the many public street sculptures that adorn the boardwalk.

You’ll see sculptures of dolphins, loving couples, a seahorse, angel and various abstract works. The malecon also takes in the color and vibrancy of the local fish market and the graceful arches known as Los Arcos that make up the city’s public amphitheater for outdoor entertainment.

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Monte Albán

Monte Albán

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A Zapotec ceremonial center, Monte Albán crouches on a leveled mountain top. For a thousand years, the rulers of the city extracted wealth from the plains below. Today, the ruins offer panoramic views of the modern city of Oaxaca sprawling across the giant Oaxaca valley.

Monte Albán is the oldest city in the Americas. In addition to being unusually ancient (dating back to 500 BC), the site is unusually extensive. In its heyday, the city covered 25 square miles. Expanses of Monte Albán aren’t yet excavated, but it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to explore all the restored tombs and temples in one afternoon; the ruins encompass enormous plazas, a ball court, a mysterious monument known as the observatory, a network of underground tunnels, and a profusion of dank tombs, which were once decorated with bright frescoes and filled with treasures of gold and jade.

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San Pedro Cholula

San Pedro Cholula

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San Pedro Cholula is a municipality located in the town of Cholula, which is part of the Mexican state of Puebla. Its many historic sites plus its under the radar atmosphere makes it an excellent area of Mexico to visit.

A top site in San Pedro Cholula is the Place de la Concorde, which is the main plaza in Cholula and is where much of the action occurs. An aesthetically defining aspect of the plaza is Los Portales, a blue wall consisting of 46 arches that stretches down one side of Place de la Concorde. The San Gabriel Monastery is another prominent site in Cholula; it was built on the site of the Quetzalcoatl Temple in the mid-1500s and is one of the largest Franciscan monasteries in Mexico. The site that draws the most attention for visitors to San Pedro Cholula, though, is the Great Pyramid of Cholula, an ancient pre-Columbian temple that has the largest pyramidal base of any structure in the world. It also happens to be buried underground.

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