When it comes to long weekend getaways, traveling internationally can seem daunting. Luckily, many major U.S. cities are under a four-hour flight from some great destinations in Mexico. In just three days, you can explore ancient ruins, get scuba certified, hike through a canyon, or relax on the beach. Did we mention there’s also tequila, fish tacos, and mole? Here are our top 10 picks for the best places in Mexico to spend a long weekend.
1. Los Cabos, Baja California Sur
Once a favorite destination for the rich and famous, Los Cabos has long been a vacation hot spot. This beachfront getaway is comprised of two cities, giving it a wild (Cabo San Lucas) and mild (San Jose del Cabo) side. Cabo Wabo, the Sammy Hagar-owned restaurant and nightclub, and Rock & Brews, the KISS-owned restaurant and bar, are popular stops for partiers, though you can get a better taste of Cabo by joining a cooking class, dining at one of the many top-notch restaurants, or seeking out a tequila, mezcal, and Mexican wine tasting. Oh, and don’t forget those famous Baja fish tacos. Between spa visits and rounds of golf, treat yourself to the truly memorable experience of whale watching (November to March) or volunteering with baby sea turtles (July to November). Other outdoor activities include hanging at the beach, sportfishing, snorkeling, sailing and strolling through the historic, cobblestoned streets of San Jose del Cabo’s Gallery District, keeping an eye peeled for unique boutiques and art galleries.
Our pick for a Los Cabos hotel: The Cape, a Thompson Hotel
2. Sayulita, Nayarit
Sayulita is about a one-hour drive from the closest major airport in Puerto Vallarta, but it’s worth the extra travel time. The slow pace, beautiful beaches and sleepy beach town vibes are perfect for resetting over a long weekend. It’s a great place to spend the day out on a sailboat, relaxing in a hammock, sunbathing on the beach or doing some yoga. Need a little more action? Sayulita is a popular surf spot, making it a great place to learn how to balance on a board. You can also explore trails on ATVs, go for a bike ride through the jungle, horseback ride on the beach or zip through the treetops during a canopy tour. If you’re looking to spend some time with the local wildlife, join a whale-watching excursion, strap on a snorkel, or grab your binoculars and see how many colorful birds you can spot on a bird-watching tour. The town is also designated as a Pueblo Magico for its historic significance and preservation of Mexican heritage, and we definitely recommend learning about the indigenous Huichol culture and people, who are still living in town and usually selling handmade crafts.
Our pick for a Sayulita hotel: Haramara Retreat
3. Tequila, Jalisco
Tequila is a small town in Jalisco, just an hour from Guadalajara, and it’s the only place in Mexico where you can legally produce tequila. It can be a bit of a tourist trap, but it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site and a must-visit for any true tequila lover. Before you start boozing, gain some knowledge about this spirit with a trip to the Museo Nacional del Tequila, or head to the beautiful blue agave fields and learn more about the production process. A visit to several of the distilleries is a must, though enthusiasts will want to check out the oldest distillery in Latin America, Fabrica la Rojena (owned by Jose Cuervo, naturally). To help soak up all the booze, Tequila also has a decent amount of historic cantinas and local eateries (don’t get caught in the Cholula restaurant tourist trap).
4. Copper Canyon, Chihuahua
The Copper Canyon is a series of six canyons within the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains in northwestern Mexico. This UNESCO World Heritage site boasts sweeping views and a hearty amount of outdoor activities, making it an excellent choice for hiking, biking, or horseback riding. The Copper Canyon Railway is a popular way to get around, taking passengers through the canyons to and from Los Mochis and Chihuahua in nine stops. This incredibly scenic journey takes between nine and 16 hours one way, depending on which train you catch, though we recommend doing a hop-on, hop-off so you can stretch your legs and get into the canyon. It’s worth getting off the train to see the Cerro de la Mascara petroglyphs, hike off the Divisadero stop, and tour the cave homes of indigenous Tarahumara people near Creel.
5. Cozumel, Quintana Roo
The island of Cozumel is small enough to cover in a long weekend, but still filled with enough activities to keep you occupied for days. It’s a popular stop on the cruise ship circuit, but there’s more to the island than the glittering shops at port. For starters, Cozumel’s turquoise waters are renowned with divers all around the world, thanks to the great visibility, year-round accessibility, and abundant marine life across nearly 50 dive sites along the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second-largest reef in the world. A long weekend is just enough time to get scuba certified. If you’re already certified, jump in and swim with over 500 species of fish, turtles, sharks, and coral, or visit the underwater sculptures of the Museo Subacuatico de Arte. While you’re on land, check out the San Gervasio ruins, visit the beach, hike around Punta Sur Eco Beach Park, go on a chocolate tour, and eat and drink your way through the city.
Our pick for a Cozumel hotel: El Cozumeleno Beach Resort
6. Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo
Playa del Carmen is a great pick for a long weekend getaway. This very touristy destination may not be best for folks looking to have an authentic Mexican experience, but it might be just right if you’re looking to have fun, drink yards of frozen margaritas, shop ‘til you drop, and eat all the food. Most of the action (aka shops, restaurants, boutiques and bars) and people are concentrated along the 5th Avenue, a wide pedestrian-only street that is just two blocks from the beach and runs the length of the entire touristic stretch of town. If you want to break up your days, it’s easy to hop on a ferry to Cozumel or hit up on the Xcaret themed parks on a day trip. But, if you just want to hang out at a beach club every day and go bar hopping every night, well that’s great, too.
Our pick for a Playa del Carmen hotel: Royal Hideaway Playacar
7. Oaxaca, Oaxaca
If you love getting to know a destination through its food, Oaxaca is your place. The culinary scene in this southern Mexican city is legendary, and it’s a great place to explore the gastro-historic elements of the country, as many dishes date back to before Spanish colonization. This is the land of mole, Oaxaca cheese and crunchy chapulines (aka grasshoppers). Come hungry and spend the long weekend visiting market stalls, chowing down on street food, and visiting some of the city’s stellar restaurants. Since you can’t be eating 24/7, schedule in a few breaks with a visit to the impressive Zapotec city of Monte Alban (just 20 minutes outside of the city), a walk through the Ethnobotanical Garden (next to the Church of Santo Domingo), or a day trip to the waterfall-like rock formations at Hierve el Agua.
Our pick for a Oaxaca hotel: Hotel Boutique Parador San Miguel Oaxaca
8. Cancun, Quintana Roo
While it may not be the most authentic destination in Mexico (the Hotel Zone was quite literally developed just for tourists), a quick trip to Cancun is an easy way to get in some sun, sand, and sugary fruit daiquiris. The Hotel Zone is just a 15-minute drive from Cancun International Airport. The strip is packed with chain restaurants and bars, but there are hidden gems — if you know where to look. Day trips to Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Akumal, and Tulum are readily available, and it’s easy to set up an excursion to one of the area’s eco-parks, like Xcaret or Xplor. Plus, you’ll have seaweed-free beaches, nightlife, and entertainment all along the strip.
Our pick for a Cancun hotel: Hyatt Ziva Cancun
9. Tijuana, Baja California
This just-over-the-border town has been a staple long weekend destination for folks in Southern California, especially those from San Diego, who only need to drive an hour to get here. It has reputation for being inauthentic and unsafe, and you’ll still find the cliche souvenir stands, drug culture, and tourist-heavy establishments along the main drag of Avenida Revolucion. However, if you dig below the surface, you’ll see a different city daring to emerge. Spend the weekend checking out the local contemporary arts scene, listening to live music, and eating food you can’t easily find north of the border. Start at the Tijuana Cultural Center (CECUT) for engaging exhibits on the history and culture of Tijuana (and Baja California). Foodies will also want to check out the many stalls at Mercado El Popo and sample their way through the food trucks at Telefonica Gastro Park. The contemporary art and street mural scene is best viewed with a tour. If you go on your own, be sure to check out the painted passageways, like Pasaje Rodriguez, and small galleries, like La Blastula.
10. Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco
Located along Mexico’s western coast, this town is known for its beach activities and vibrant nightlife. From its cobblestoned center to its contemporary art scene, visitors can expect a nice mix of modern and historic elements. A stroll down the mile-long Malecon beach boardwalk offers nice views of the waterfront, local sculptures, and shops. Beaches here have beautiful golden sand and the sunsets are out of this world, but if you’re looking for more adventurous activities, you can find that, too. Zip-lining, horseback riding, surfing, hiking through the Vallarta Botanical Gardens, snorkeling and whale-watching excursions are all fun ways to spend the day. Puerto Vallarta also has a diverse food scene, with options ranging from casual to contemporary fare. After dinner, head to a local bar to hear some live music or party until the wee hours of the morning at one of the many nightclubs.
Our pick for a Puerto Vallarta hotel: Secrets Vallarta Bay
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