With its warm weather and easy going lifestyle, it’s no wonder that Mexico is a destination that many of us flock to. And with continuous promotion of vacation packages to entice us, how can you blame us!? With its increase in popularity over the past decade, many foreign hospitality corporations have built mega hotels that, although are very well maintained, do take away from a more authentic Mexican vacation. With Cinco de Mayo (a celebration to commemorate the victory of Mexico over French forces) just around the corner I thought it would be fun to highlight 3 of my favourite small Mexican towns that I hope will encourage you to travel off the beaten path next time you’re in Mexico or discover a new place to add to your bucket list.
1. Isla Mujeres
Literally translating to ‘Island of the Women’ this Mexican town/island is easily accessible to visitors by ferry from Puerto Juarez in Cancun. With its Mexican small town charm still in tact, this island has plenty to offer including white sandy beaches, small pedestrian laneways lined with family owned shops and restaurants, boutique size hotels, beach bars, snorkelling and scuba diving tours, and bike and scooter rentals for those who want to explore the 7km long island, just to name a few. Every time I go to Cancun I prefer to stay on Isla Mujeres versus the mainland because of the intimate nature and laid back atmosphere the island provides. I also always meet a cool group of young American or Israeli travellers who are also looking to avoid the overwhelming crowds of the bigger hotels in Cancun and Playa del Carmen. When you find a place with Mexican food this good, affordable accommodations and beaches that are clean and not overcrowded, you know you have hit the jackpot! Looking for a party? Head to Poc Na Bar – located on a beach and attached to Poc Na Hostel. There are plenty of young vibrant people looking to join you for a fun time.
2. Sayulita Nayarit
O’ the wonder of Sayulita! This is definitely one of my all time favourite spots in Mexico. Located about an hour drive from Puerto Vallarta this small Mexican town is where I one day dream of retiring to! Located on Mexico’s pacific coast, the small village of Sayulita backs onto the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains making for the best beach front views! A lot of American expats have moved to Sayulita to start anew and have opened small business-like hotels, small clothing boutiques, surf clubs and cafes while still protecting and maintaining the charm of this small village. Once a week you can also visit the farmers market and pick up some handmade souvenirs from the locals. This chill Mexican village is perfect for anyone looking for a rustic and beautiful destination to host a small wedding or a romantic getaway. With everything you need in walking distance, Sayulita is a perfect destination for those that enjoy wandering in and out of shops, strolling down the beach or even looking for a place to put your feet up and enjoy an incredible view.
3. Todos Santos
Legend has it that this quaint Mexican town located on the pacific coast of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula is where The Eagles song ‘Hotel California’ was inspired from. Located a little over an hours drive from the commercialized Cabo San Lucas, Todos Santos is a well preserved gem of a town. Known for its many galleries, this small town is full of artists, expats and hippies who enjoy the peaceful slow pace of living in small rural Mexican towns. Each year Todos Santos holds an annual Music Festival (originally started by Peter Buck of REM in the courtyard of the Hotel California) that draws quite a crowd. Aside from the music festival, there are plenty of activities in Todos Santos to keep you entertained including hanging out at some of the best remote beaches (like Las Palmas where you walk the beach virtually alone and can often see wild horses), weekly artisan and farmers markets, surfing, the best tacos I have ever had and turtle releases!
Although these towns may lack the extravagant services of the more commercialized destinations in Mexico, they do offer a more authentic experience and a new perspective on how to travel as a whole. If you give these small towns a chance you may just be surprised by how stepping out of your comfort zone can lead to some pretty awesome new encounters, great stories and fantastic experiences.