Beyond Beach Resorts and Tourist Towns – finding the real Mexico

Ten places to discover in Mexico beyond Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo San Lucas.

1.Rio Lagartos:
Retire in Rio Lagartos, MexicoExploring the estuary by boat we see a group of flamingos a short distance away. It is barely past sunrise and the world is honeyed with golden light. And there they are in front of us, thirty or forty flamingos feeding in the shallows. It is a magical moment. For three and a half hours we travel down the unspoiled estuary seeing pelicans, frigates, cormorants, ibises, royal terns, herons, and hawks.

The Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve is on the north coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. It is home to over 395 species of birds including more than 43,000 flamingoes! They collect there in the summer for breeding and nesting and then spread out along the coast during the winter.

Take a bus from Vallodolid to Tizimin then a taxi to Rio Lagartos. Best choice is to stay overnight and take the early morning tour though there are afternoon tours available.

2. Tlacolula Market:
Tlacolula Market, MexicoThe state of Oaxaca has the highest indigenous population in Mexico. The village of Tlacolula, a short distance from the city of Oaxaca de Juárez, has a large market every Sunday that includes one sale yard for large animals, and another for small animals. What a feast for the senses it is. Apart from the addition of motor vehicles and cell phones, market day has been happening in the same way for hundreds of years. Plunge into the madness and mayhem of the biggest indigenous market in Oaxaca where you can buy just about anything from fruit and vegetables to intestines to live chickens to beautiful embroidery. This humming weekly affair is a window into the real Mexico.

You can easily get to the market by taxi or collectivo from Oaxaca de Juárez.

3. The Guelaguetza Festival:
GuelaguetzaDuring the second half of July every year the Guelaguetza Festival, a huge two-week affair, is held in both the city of Oaxaca de Juárez and numerous nearby villages. The festival includes several daily traditional dance performances, food, mescal, and mushroom festivals, puppet shows, performances by the State Traditional Folk Ballet Company, a competition for the “Corn Princess”, and a mole (sauce) festival. There are two Saturday parades of all the different groups of dancers. There are two four-hour long performances of a key piece of Oaxacan history at the 10,000-seat stadium. And there are four four-hour performances of traditional dances on the last two Mondays of July, again at the stadium. If you really want a full-on experience of the dance and music traditions of the many indigenous groups of southern Mexico the Guelaguetza Festival is all that and more. Truly spectacular!

Book your tickets online early for the stadium performances. Every performance will be sold out.

4. La Manzanilla:
Retire in La Manzanilla, MexicoOn Mexico’s Pacific coast, fifty miles north of Manzanillo, in the state of Jalisco, is Tenacatita Bay. The innermost part of the bay, five miles in from the open sea, is a perfectly curved new-moon-sliver of a beach approximately six kilometers long. At the southern end of this beach is the fishing village of La Manzanilla, population 2000 Mexicans, and in the winter 500 expats. Despite the expat influence La Manzanilla is still a quiet dusty fishing village with a beautiful beach. This is a place that Mexicans come to for their holidays. There is an abundance of exotic birdlife, and bright tropical flowers. There are several small grocery stores, a fishing co-op where you can buy fresh fish every day, and accommodation ranging from a tent on the beach to hotels to upmarket apartments. There are no resorts here, just a down home village, a beautiful beach, and friendly people.

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  1. Beautiful article Alison! such evocative photos 🙂 We spent a few days in Guanajuato some years ago, and small-town Mexico is so beautiful. Plan to travel more there in the future! Thanks for the inspiration.
    cheers, Danila

  2. Such a great summary of some of Mexico’s stand out cities and things to do.
    Having visited several of these places during our own travels in Mexico, it was so much fun to read Alison’s summary on each as well as enjoy her fabulous photos. Makes me want to pack my bag and head back to Mexico!

  3. Eileen O Norman

    April 25, 2017 at 6:37 pm

    This is exquisite and amazing. I hope you are compiling a book or books. Your writing and your photos, never the less the unusual places you visit, are far above most travel books or articles. Loved this. Pure delight. Eileen

  4. Thanks so much Danila. Oh we loved Guanajuato! I hope you get back to explore Mexico further – it has so much to offer – including some amazing dive sites I’ve been told 🙂

  5. Thanks Anita. It’s a pretty amazing country isn’t it? I don’t know if we’ll ever gat back – we’ve been four times and there’s so much more of the world to see. Still – I’ve read about some amazing places on the Baja that could entice me back.

  6. Thank you so much Eileen! What wonderful compliments. We’ve been talking about a book for a long time and maybe it will happen one day. The idea is certainly there on the back burner.

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