Expert instructor Nacho Gutierrez teaches aspiring surfers in Cozumel, Mexico (photo: Cozumel Surfing)

Choose Your Own Mexican Travel Adventure

By Kellie Davenport

With thousands of hotels in Mexico, choosing a resort can often feel like dipping into a box of chocolates—you never really know what you’ll get. That’s why we’ve curated some experiences and hotels to help find your perfect spot in the sun.

Mexico’s Pacific coast attracts serious boarders seeking challenging surf breaks. But for wobbly newbies, the calmer waves of the Atlantic coast make for the perfect training ground. Former pro surfer Nacho Gutierrez runs Cozumel Surfing where beginners can learn to hang ten before the end of their holiday. Gutierrez and his experienced crew will teach the whole family, from grade-schoolers to grandparents. Spring for a private family lesson—rates are surprisingly reasonable and customizable based on your group’s needs.

Stay at the Occidental Allegro Cozumel ($)
Between its pristine stretch of Playa San Francisco beach and mini water park, this resort focuses on water fun. And when kids get bored with aquatic pursuits, sign them up for pottery painting on the beach. Families will also get a kick out of the traditional thatched-roof cottage accommodations.

Mexican Travel Cenotes Mayan Riviera Cancun Swimming
One of Mexico’s prettiest swimming holes (photo: Hemis/Alamy)

These subterranean sinkholes are probably the prettiest pits you’ll ever see. Formed by the collapse of limestone bedrock, cenotes dot the Yucatán Peninsula, with a particular concentration near Cancun and the Mayan Riviera. Most are operated by local tour outfitters and are easily accessible. Kids can swim in these protected alcoves without potentially dangerous waves and strong currents. And snorkeling here affords ample opportunities to view sea life in more tranquil waters.

Stay at the Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa, Cancun ($)
Underground swimming is a stone’s throw from this budget- and family-friendly spot. Several cenotes are a short drive from the resort. And when you’re craving a little adults-only time, the hotel can arrange a romantic candlelit dinner for two.

Though they are among earth’s oldest creatures—predating even some dinosaur species—sea turtles are also some of the most endangered. It’s estimated that only one in 1,000 turtle hatchlings survives to adulthood. Along the Pacific coast, Mexican hatcheries closely monitor egg-laden beaches to safely deliver tiny turtles to the sea. Ecotours Vallarta’s turtle camp lets animal lovers aid in conservation efforts. Children (age eight and up) and adults help biologists scour the beach for nests, collecting eggs and delivering to them to the turtle “nursery,” where they can be hatched, safe from potential predators. During the hatching season, campers can even release hatchlings into the sea as they begin their arduous journey to turtle adulthood.

Stay at the CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort ($$)
The beach at this family-friendly resort is home to many nests of the Olive Ridley species of sea turtle. At the property’s private turtle nursery, guests of all ages can attend nightly releases, where they name their four-flippered friend before sending it into the surf (weather permitting).

Mexican Travel Oompah Band
Oompah musicians make Mazatlan uniquely groovy (photo: Reuben Reynoso/Alamy)

Mazatlan enjoys hundreds of sunny days each year—maybe that’s what attracted the influx of German immigrants who settled here in the 19th century. Sun-seeking Bavarians brought with them two of their best-loved traditions: beer and music. Today, the local brew is German-founded Pacifico and the regional sound is banda, an oddly pleasing marriage of oompah and mariachi music. Concerts can fill stadiums with thousands, though you’re just as likely to find busking bandas on any given night in Mazatlan’s main square.

Stay at the Costa de Oro Beach Hotel, Mazatlan ($)
After a banda-filled night, this traditional-style hotel is the perfect place to lay your head. Well-suited for families, most rooms are mere steps to the beach and many suites boast panoramic views of the Pacific.

Make your Mexican vacation even more affordable by considering these factors—when booking and when you arrive at your destination

There’s more to Mexico’s rhythmic traditions than hat dances. Troupes across the country are working to preserve folk dances, many of which date to pre-Columbian civilizations. One of the oldest and most celebrated is Mexico City-based Ballet Folklórico de México de Amalia Hernández. The 75-person cast stages colourful performances of historic dances several times a week at the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts). The stunning art deco dance hall also houses a mural by Mexico’s prodigal son, Diego Rivera.

Stay at the Krystal Grand Reforma Uno, Mexico City ($$)
This plush design hotel is walking distance from the Palacio and other cultural hot spots, like the Museo Mural Diego Rivera and Teatro Metropólitan. The hotel boasts some museum-worthy qualities, including a gleaming atrium and luxe spa.

Mexican Travel San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende is one of Mexico’s cultural capitals (photo: Ferrantraite/iStock)

Located in the central highlands, San Miguel de Allende is arguably Mexico’s prettiest town. The UNESCO World Heritage Site oozes colonial charm, artistic flair and quaint corners. The town has attracted local and ex-pat architects, sculptors, painters and writers for centuries. Today, travellers can take craft workshops to test their art acumen. Mold local red clay to craft sculptures or mobiles. Or put brush to canvas to capture the beauty of the pink stone church, Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel. Most local studios offer classes in English.

Stay at the Hotel Monteverde Best Inns, San Miguel de Allende ($)
Though it’s within walking distance of the city centre, this hotel’s lush garden and cobblestone courtyard make it feel like a countryside escape. An added attraction for culture lovers: The Centro Cultural Ignacio Ramírez El Nigromante, a museum and art gallery housed in a former convent, is a short five-minute stroll from the hotel.

Originally distilled in the town of Santiago de Tequila in the 16th century, the spicy spirit remains one of Mexico’s top exports. But not all tequilas are created equal. Hone your tequila-tasting tongue by getting to know the five official categories: Blanco, clear, young tequila with robust taste; Joven, light gold with smooth flavour; Reposado, golden and aged up to a year; Añejo, amber hue and goes down smooth; and Extra Añejo, superior quality, aged for a minimum of three years and best served neat and chilled.

Stay at the BlueBay Grand Esmeralda, Riviera Maya ($$)
Guests can order their own tequila sampler in the Lounge Bar at this all-inclusive resort—or ask for a few different varieties over dinner at Mexican restaurant Don Isi. Be sure to always demonstrate proper sipping technique—with no salt or lime, which dull the tequila’s flavour.

Mexican Travel Fish Chef Baja Peninsula
There’s nothing like fresh-caught fish from Mexico’s Baja Peninsula (photo: Stockyimages/iStock)

Mexico’s Baja Peninsula boasts some of the best—and most diverse—sport fishing in the world. The Sea of Cortez, off the coast of Cabo San Lucas, is home to more than 700 different species. Local fishermen commonly reel in tuna, marlin and grouper to supply local restaurants and resorts. Charter a boat at affordable rates or join a group excursion to reel in your own catch of the day. Many resorts will happily cook your haul for lunch or dinner—but ask to have it filleted aboard the boat first.

Stay at the Royal Solaris Los Cabos ($$)
Avid anglers—and their non-fishing families—will find a slice of paradise at this upscale resort. Rooms feature private balconies, many with postcard views of the Sea of Cortez. And after getting their fishing fix, guests can hit the links at the Fonatur golf course, which is a short walk from the hotel.

Mexican culinary traditions date back centuries and even millennia, to the earliest Mayan civilizations. Indigenous ingredients like maíz (corn), beans, seafood, tropical fruits and veggies remain cornerstones of the Mexican diet—albeit with a few contemporary twists. Choose a hotel that offers classes to learn some traditional techniques, like the proper way to wrap a tamale and the nuances of regional ceviches.

Stay at Dreams Los Cabos ($$$)
This chic Cabo retreat features luxe accommodations and amenities—including poolside cooking workshops. Sign up for a culinary class and learn to make everything from paella and mole to margaritas.

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