Mexico remains one of the most popular vacation destinations for families, friends and couples, attracting more than 20 million visitors each year. Boasting palm-fringed beaches, miles of turquoise waters, and adrenaline-pumping adventures at every turn, it’s no wonder so many Americans head south of the border for some much needed R&R.
Endless sunshine and beautiful coastal cities account for much of the country’s tourism appeal, but Mexico’s rich cultural heritage and colonial cities offer interesting landmarks and points of interest. Did you know that Mexico has the largest number of UNESCO World Heritage sites in all of Latin America? From mighty geologic formations to ancient Mayan cities, here’s a roundup of famous landmarks and attractions that are definitely worth exploring.
Affectionately known as the Grand Canyon’s southern cousin, the Copper Canyon is one of Mexico’s most popular natural attractions and is in fact much larger and deeper than its northern counterpart. Located in Northern Mexico’s Sierra Madre Occidental, this stunning geological wonder is comprised of six separate canyons, which were carved out by converging rivers that empty in the Gulf of California. One of the best ways to discover the Copper Canyon is by hopping aboard the Chihuahua-Pacifico Railway, which climbs over 2,700 feet and passes through 86 tunnels. Adventurous spirits can explore the canyon floor by horseback or mountain bike, with plenty of chances to interact with indigenous Tarahumara communities.
If your travel itinerary includes Cabo San Lucas, you can’t miss a boat ride to the area’s most iconic (and romantic) landmark — El Arco. Meaning “the arch” in Spanish, this beautiful rock formation juts from the sea, marking the union of the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of California. The arch has become a famous attraction for several reasons. Besides its distinctive beauty and geological significance, El Arco also happens to lure large groups of playful sea lions and occasional migrating whales. A sunset cruise to El Arco promises incredible photo opportunities, and water taxis offer cheap roundtrip transportation from the Cabo marina.
Situated just eight miles from the booming beach town of Cancun, Isla Mujeres (Island of the Women) is the place to go for crystal clear waters, white sand beaches and incredible snorkeling and diving among colorful coral reefs. This island paradise is much more than a tourist hotspot and local landmark, however. Isla Mujeres is steeped in history. During Pre-Columbian times, the island was a sacred spot to Ixchel, the Mayan goddess childbirth. Ferries shuttle day trippers over from Cancun to enjoy the island’s postcard-perfect beaches and unparalleled underwater adventures. The island even has a cool turtle farm that is sure to entertain the kids.
The sprawling Mayan city of Chichen Itza is an easy day trip from Playa del Carmen or Cancun. Dating back more than 1,500 years, this Maya complex is one of Mexico’s most well-preserved and popular archaeological sites. A visit to Chichen Itza promises many chances to marvel at the incredible achievements of this ancient civilization, which produced the hulking Pyramid of Kukulkan and the rounded observatory of El Caracol, which was meticulously aligned with the motions of Venus.