Perhaps you’ve already been to Mexico’s famed beaches in Cancún, Cozumel, and Oaxaca, which are among the most prized in the world. You may have also passed through a border turnstile for a night of sleazy underage partying in TJ or Juárez. Maybe you’ve even joined the crowds of tourists and locals to gape at ruins in Chichén Itzá, El Tajín, or el Templo Mayor. Now what?
Culture. Head south of the border for a quiet exploration of Mexico’s colonial interior. Here are three cities off the beaten path, rich in culture, and ripe for savoring. And don’t forget your passport—you are now required to present it to cross the border into Mexico and back.
Located in the state of Hidalgo about three hours from Mexico City on the way to Acapulco, Taxco is nestled in the hills and surrounded by silver and other mines. Following a bumpy bus ride (or for those who are braver, a drive in your rental car), explore the main town square, where silver and stone beads are for sale at prices far below American silver jewelry. If you like beaded bracelets or necklaces, or like to buy materials for making your own, Taxco is the Holy Grail. Don’t forget to peek down side streets, where vendors set up their booths with even cheaper strings of opalite, tourmaline, and amber.
Special tips for Taxco: Bring cash for the toll roads and street shops. Bring a backpack or baby jogger for small children as walkways are narrow and hilly and pedestrians must often share space with cars.
Located in the very heart of Mexico—there’s even a monument here to mark the center of the country—is the small, quiet town of Tequisquiapan, famous for its rich dairy products, leather, and old-time haciendas, built around now-depleted thermal pools. Tequis, as it’s called for short, is in the state of Querétaro and is a two-hour drive from Mexico City, making it a weekend destination for Mexico City residents. This town is so small it doesn’t even have a movie theater, so it truly is the place to go if you want peace and quiet, casual shopping for handmade ceramics and baskets, and lazy meals in the town square.
Special tips for Tequis: breakfast, lunch, and dinner served at La Charamusca are all divine and economical. Also, if you go in October during the monarch migration, you can look up in the sky to see masses of over ten varieties of butterflies fluttering about (in addition to monarchs) on any given day.
This city is the place for drama, culture, and mystery. Located three hours north of Tequis and accessible from the Leon Bajío airport, Guanajuato is situated on top of a mountain and is invisible until you reach it…by way of underground tunnels. Most driving takes place in these wormholes, so you’ll need to find an underground parking lot and break free to the surface. Walking is pleasant—there are no stop signs or neon lights. Here you can explore museums, cathedrals, theater, literature, and even see Guanajuato’s famous mummies in their own museum. Stop to rest and philosophize on the stone steps of the university, or have a bite to eat near the garden in the city square. Because Guanajuato is a tour stop for international ballet and theater, and is an intellectual hot spot in Mexico, you’ll mingle with students from all over the world.
Special tips for Guanajuato: every October, Guanajuato is the site of the Festival Cervantino, an international celebration of art, music, dance, and more, and named after Cervantes, the author of Don Quijote. The scale of the festival is along the lines of Mardi Gras in New Orleans of yesteryear, and drinking wine from bota bags is one of its defining characteristics, so take the festival into account when planning your trip.