Mexico has more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other country in North America. The Meso-Americans already had great civilizations before the Spanish conquered and plundered their gold. But Spain left behind some beautiful European-esque towns like Puebla, Queretaro and San Miguel de Allende. If you’re only interested in seeing Mexico via cruise ship, this article isn’t for you. But if you want to have a more authentic experience, here are 7 great places to visit in Central Mexico.
On a visit to Central Mexico, chances are you’ll begin in Mexico City. Mexico City Airport conveniently connects beautiful destinations like Puebla and Queretaro via direct and comfortable buses. But North America’s largest city is a fantastic destination with a wealth of attractions.
Mexico City consistently ranks as one of the world’s very best cities for street food. It also has one of the world’s largest and most impressive squares, the Zocolo. Two of the most important artists of the 20th century, Diego Rivera and Friedo Kahlo feature prominently in museums around town. There’s an abundance of world class museums like the National Museum of Anthropology, which you could easily spend a day in. You can run around Mexico City for a week and still not see everything worthwhile.
Pyramids of Teotihuacan
The Aztec pyramids of Teotihuacan are a 1-2 hour drive outside Mexico City, depending on traffic. You can organize a tour either online or through your hotel’s concierge. You can also travel there via Uber or a private car. We don’t recommend hiring a taxi, if you go that route, just use Uber (sign up here and receive $20 credit). Uber is the cheapest and safest way to travel around Mexican cities because of its GPS tracking.
“The place where the Gods were created,” was built between the 1st and 7th centuries AD. The massive Pyramid of the Sun offers an amazing view of the complex of pyramids and ruins, and a horizon that extends for many miles. Visit on a weekday if possible because the steps to climb are narrow for the volume of people it attracts. Teotihuacan is Mexico’s most visited archaeological site.
After visiting Teotihuacan you can dine in the massive cave restaurant La Gruta, which is just a few miles from the pyramids. The dining room has multiple levels and we chose to have a view over the main dining area. La Gruta is a unique dining experience that’s both casual and elegant, with good food.
Queretaro is a UNESCO World Heritage site as it’s one of the 5 most beautifully preserved former Spanish colonial towns in Mexico. 3 hours northwest of Mexico City, Queretaro can be reached by comfortable direct bus from Mexico City Airport or the bus station.
One of the highlights of Queretaro is the impressive Roman style aqueduct built some 300 years ago. It’s extremely well preserved and a surprise to find in North America. The old town is a gem, featuring colorful architecture and an abundance of very good restaurants, pubs, cafes and shops.
San Miguel de Allende has previously topped the Conde Nast Traveler readers choice awards list for best cities in the world to visit. It’s also home to a sizeable American expat community. Beginning in the 1940’s expat artists started flocking to San Miguel and helped rebuild the town. Today it is home to some of Mexico’s most expensive real estate.
Narrow cobblestone streets are lined with colorful buildings and terracotta roofs. San Miguel’s colonial center is a UNESCO World Heritage site. So it’s strictly enforced that homes, churches and businesses retain their original and historic appearance.
We highly recommend ordering molcajete at Los Milagros, which our local friends who we stayed with took us too. Molcajete is a volcanic bowl filled sizzling meats, cheeses and vegetables in a spicy sauce. During our two week trip in Central Mexico we ate a lot of great food, and the molcajete at Los Milagros was possibly the best thing we ate.
Bernal and One of the World’s Largest Rock Formations (Pena de Bernal)
Towering over the charming Mexican village of Bernal is Pena de Bernal. Pena de Bernal measures 1,421 feet and is one of the world’s tallest monoliths. Bernal is home to just 4,000 people and while it isn’t very touristy, it’s extremely beautiful and laid back.
Bernal is just a 40 minute drive from Queretaro. Asides from being a pretty place to sip tequila, hike and enjoy good eats, it’s also a great place to shop. There are some high quality items to be found in Bernal for great prices.
For North Americans, Puebla is like traveling to Spain without the jet lag. Another UNESCO World Heritage Site formerly colonized by the Spanish in the 1500’s, it’s architecture is both beautiful and colorful. We spent our 12 year wedding anniversary in Puebla, which offered amazing value for the quality of the experience.
Puebla is one of the foodie capitals of Mexico. It’s the birthplace of mole poblano, sometimes considered the national dish of Mexico. Mole poblano combines around 20 ingredients into a rich sauce combining chocolate and chilli, which typically tops enchiladas stuffed with chicken or pork.
Surrounded by active volcanoes and other lovely Mexican towns like Cholula, Puebla offers amazing bang for buck on a romantic getaway. It’s also where Cinco De Mayo comes from!
If you fly into Mexico City, you can catch a comfortable bus directly from Mexico City Airport to Puebla. The trip takes between 2-3 hours depending on traffic, which is frequently brutal in Mexico City. But bus companies like Estrella Rojo are safe, comfortable and equipped with TV’s and wifi.
Cholula is basically a suburb of Puebla. Turibus (big red bus) has tours leaving Puebla’s Zocolo (main square) at 11am and 1pm on weekends. While the 5 hour tour is only in Spanish, it’s still worthwhile even if you don’t speak the language. We made it part of our 12 year wedding anniversary day and were glad we did.
Cholula is most famous for its massive Pyramid Tepanapa, 37 churches and stunning views of the nearby Popocatepetl (Popo) volcano. Many of the churches are extremely intricate. The two churches we visited on our tour were filled with ornate gold leafing, which is common in Mexican churches.
Safety, Where to Stay and More about Central Mexico
If you travel to the interior of Central Mexico a couple other great cities to consider visiting are Guanajuato and Taxco. Guanajuato is another UNESCO World Heritage Site town and Taxco is a beautiful cliffside town known as the “Silver City.” Mexico is the world’s leading producer of silver.
Before traveling anywhere in Mexico check travel advisories like the US State Department. Much of Mexico is generally safe when taking normal precautions. During our two week’s traveling around central Mexico we never found ourselves in a situation where we felt we were in danger.
For hotels, booking.com usually has the best deals. If you’ve never used it, we highly recommend checking it out. And if you’ve never used Airbnb, you’ll find great value in apartment rentals with consistently good reviews. Sign up here and receive $40 off your first stay over $75!
How does a DIY trip like this compare to visiting Mexico on a cruise ship? We’ve done that too, and you can read our review of the Norwegian Getaway cruise to Honduras, Belize, Costa Maya and Cozumel. Need help planning a trip to Mexico? Email me at email@example.com or leave a comment!