I lived in Mexico City for a couple of months and I had a great time, but the truth is that I’m not in love with the city. It’s too polluted, there’s a lot of traffic and it rains every day if you go during the wet season.
But the main advantage is that it’s very well located and it allows you to reach many points of interest around, either by car, bus or plane. As usual, I was working from cafes during the week and exploring during the weekend, also thanks to a local friend that drove me everywhere each weekend!
While the city may not be my favorite, the surroundings are amazing: there are plenty of colonial towns and archeological sites to visit within 2 to 4-hour drive.
Here is my personal list of the best weekend (and daily) trips from Mexico City.
One of the most impressive archeological sites in Mexico is Teotihuacan, second only to the more famous Chichen Itzá for majesty and number of visitors per year.
The Piramide del Sol and Piramide de la Luna overlook the rests of what used to be the biggest economic, political and religious center in Mexico in the Aztec age. A multicultural pole, where many cultures coexisted and lived together.
You can climb up both of the pyramids and enjoy the view of the city from a unique point of view, but be aware that the queue to climb up the Piramide del Sol can be as long as one hour! And actually, I enjoyed more the view from the Piramide de la Luna, as its position is more centric and you can appreciate the city and the other pyramid better.
My suggestion is to go there in the evening and join the night tour: not only there are way fewer people, but also the experience of visiting the city in the dark while the pyramids are enlightened with different colors is quite stunning. You will walk in the dark along the main street (Avenida de los muertos) with an audio guide explaining the history of the place and it will almost feel like you are there alone, as the other tourists are hidden in the dark.
The last half an hour of the experience you will sit watching a projection on the Piramide del Sol itself that will almost bring it to life. Book the tour in advance as it goes sold out very easily.
Spend the night in the city and come back to the ruins by day, as it’s a totally different experience, of course. But with a lot more people.
Teotihuacan is a one-hour drive from Mexico City and you can probably reach it easily by bus too.
If you stay overnight, you can book a room at Posada Los Ahuehuetes.
2. Puebla and Cholula
Cholula is a pueblo magico (magical town) very close to Puebla so it’s worth visiting them together.
The pueblos magicos are hundreds of colonial towns in Mexico, with nice small and colorful houses, that still maintain many old traditions and views. Many of them are protected by UNESCO.
Cholula may seem just a little town with many churches (a lot actually! A legend says that there are 365 churches, one for each day of the year), but it’s something more. In the center, there is a big hill with a nice yellow church on the top.
Why is it so special? The hill is actually not a hill, but a pyramid. Actually is not even a pyramid, but six pyramids, one inside the other like a matryoshka!
A tunnel excavated manually tens of years ago by archeologists allows you to cross the hill from one side to another and appreciate the pyramids, built one on top of the other in various centuries. An ancient unknown civilization built a first little pyramid ages ago dedicated to Quetzalcoatl.
While the city around grew, they decided to expand it: they covered it with soil and added a new pyramid on the top. And so on, they continued to expand it in height and width, until the seventh pyramid, making it the largest pyramid ever (4.45 million cubic meters)!
Eventually, the last pyramid got covered by ashes of the nearby volcano, people left the place and nature took over, converting the pyramid into a hill. Lately, another civilization arrived and, thinking it was just a hill, built another temple on top of it.
When the Spaniards arrived, they did what they used to do everywhere: erasing pagan temples and building churches in their place. This is why now there is a church on top of the hill, as Spanish too didn’t know it wasn’t a hill.
Only in recent times, archeologists discovered it and created the tunnel that you can now enter. A visit with a guide is totally recommended, otherwise, you will just walk the tunnel without really understanding the history or even noticing the six pyramids, as they need to be pointed out in order be seen.
There are also some ruins around the hill and a small pyramid, which is actually just a reconstruction made by archeologists.
You can then climb up the stairs to the church on the top and, if you are lucky and there’s good visibility, you will be able to see the impressive volcano Popocatépetl, that sometimes even smokes. There’s a romantic Aztec legend (very similar to Romeo and Juliet) telling the story of the warrior Popocatepetl and her spouse Iztaccíhuatl, eventually converted in two volcanoes by gods. Both can now be seen from the top of the hill: Popo standing in his magnificence and the profile of Itza laying down in his arms.
The city of Puebla is very close to Cholula. It’s bigger and not as colonial as Cholula, but the main attraction is food. Try the famous mole poblano and chile en nogata. The former is chicken covered with a sauce made with chocolate and chile (not too spicy, I swear).
While the latter is a big sweet green chile covered with white cream and pomegranate. Probably the best food I had in Mexico!
Don’t forget to visit also La Pasita, a bar opened in 1916 where you can drink their famous pasita, a raisin liquor with a piece of cheese dipped in. The place itself is worth a visit, just for its weird interior decorations. But the drink is also pretty tasty!
Puebla and Cholula are a 2-hour drive from Mexico City. You can spend the first day visiting Cholula and sleep at Cholula Rooms and go to Puebla the following day.
Another pueblo magico, Tepoztlán is a small village 2 hours south of Mexico City.
The main reason to come here is the 1-hour hike up a sheer bluff overlooking the town, where you will find the archeological site of Tepozteco, with an Aztec pyramid on the top dedicated to Tepoztecatl, the god of pulque.
Pulque is a Mexican drink sacred to the ancient Aztecs, made of fermented agave. You can try it everywhere in the town, of course.
The view from the top is nice, even if the pyramid is not that big and during the weekend it can get very crowded. If you are lucky, in the surroundings on the top you can find some cute coati, a relative of the raccoon.
Another must-do is eating the famous tepoznieves, traditional water or milk-based ice creams with many flavors, included tequila or mezcal. The most famous shop is in the main square of the town, but actually, the street vendors make better nieves and they add real mezcal directly in your cup!
If you want to stay overnight, I recommend Balcón de Santo Domingo, which has a beautiful panoramic view and a nice pool.
Taxco de Alarcón is a pueblo magico in the state of Guerrero, 4 hours by bus from Mexico City, known for being the most ancient mining center in the continent thanks to its silver mines.
It’s probably one of the most beautiful colonial towns in Mexico: thanks to its narrow paved streets, squares and small white buildings, sometimes it looks like you are in a town in South of Spain.
You will have to exercise a lot: there are no flat streets! Everything is ups and downs, as Taxco is built on a hill, with a labyrinth of streets.
There are many things to do: from having a margarita on a terrace near the main square to walking up to the viewpoint with the statue of Christ or taking the cable car to the Hotel Montetaxco overlooking the entire city.
You can also spend a second day at the Grutas de Cacahuamilpa, one of the largest cave systems in the world. The visit last about 2 hours, a 4-kilometers round trip in the underground. There are pretty impressive chambers with huge formations, stalagmites, and stalactites. You can reach the site with an easy bus ride from Taxco or by car.
Tip: don’t miss the agua de coco in Taxco. It’s not just simple coconut water, as they blend together coconut pulp and make it white and very tasty! And eat at the local market.
I recommend staying at Casa Frida: the view of the city from here is stunning!
5. Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende
Guanajuato is not actually behind the corner, as it’s at least a 4-hour drive from Mexico City, more with traffic.
It’s also a beautiful pueblo magico, characterized by very colorful buildings and a historic center with Spanish colonial style.
One of the main tourist attractions is the so-called Callejoneada, a night tour around the narrow streets of the town by a band of Mariachi-like musicians, singing and telling local stories and legends. The tour ends in the famous Calle del Beso (street of kiss), where couples are encouraged to kiss on specific stairs in the street, and taking a picture.
During the day you can take the funicular and reach the viewpoint on the top where you can enjoy the view and have a drink on the terrace. Also, don’t miss the traditional dish: enchiladas mineras, fried corn tortillas with chili sauce, filled with cheese and meat.
Driving one hour and a half more, you can also reach San Miguel de Allende, voted the most beautiful city in the world by Travel + Leisure magazine and declared Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
It’s a picturesque town, known for its pretty cathedral and a nice view from the viewpoint.
You can spend the first night at Hotel Real de Minas Guanajuato.
Mexico is beautiful, there are so many things to see and visit! I hadn’t the time for that, but you may also want to check out the archeological site of Tula, known for its giant ancient statues, or the hike of Nevado de Toluca, or maybe you want to climb up the Iztaccíhuatl volcano or check out the archeological sites of Malinalco, Xochicalco or Teopanzolco.
Too many things and not enough time!