Whether you want to go backpacking or take a gap year in Mexico, this country is huge and there are so many amazing places to go.

Check out our guide to the best backpacker destination in Mexico and plan the ultimate trip today.


1. Cancun

Cancun beach strip

Okay, Cancun is one of the most touristy destinations in Mexico home to luxury resorts but if it is your first time visiting Mexico, it is somewhere you should see.

Cancun is the party capital of Latin America and located in a beautiful setting in the east of the country on the ocean. Although this is more of a family / luxury destinations, there are accommodation options for all budgets including cheap hostels in the Old Town. 

In Cancun you can also avoid tourists by doing day trips or not visiting the main hotel strip. This is also one of the best places to see beautiful beaches and book adventure activities like scuba diving courses in Mexico.


2. Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen beach palm trees

Playa del Carmen is another popular beach destination and a great place to party or relax. It offers an alternative to Cancun and although it is still very touristy with large resorts, its smaller and less built up than Cancun and also cheaper with a variety of accommodation options.

There is amazing nightlife, modern facilities, worldwide food options and a spectacular coast. Playa del Carmen is also very safe whilst if you like the idea of volunteering in Mexico you can join rewarding projects including helping sea turtles.

If you plan on travelling the east coast you really should include Playa del Carmen on your itinerary. If you wanted to travel further south this Mexico and Belize 2 week itinerary is recommended.


3. Tulum


Tulum is located close to Playa del Carmen which used to be a small quiet off the beaten track fishing village but it has now turned into one of the trendiest locations in Mexico.

Tultum is now one of the most popular locations on the east coast due to the scenery, beaches and Mayan ruins. The coastline here is spectacular and with the increase in tourism over the past decades, there are now so many eco accommodation available to stay in.

The highlight of Tulum is definately the Mayan ruins with the backdrop of the ocean - spectacular. Check out more of our tips for visiting Tulum.


4. Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza

Guadalajara is home to tequila and the majestic ancient temple of Chichen Itza.

This is one of the best temples in the world which you've probably seen in a million Instagram photos. Lots of local and international Mexico tour companies offer trips here from places like Cancun. Its a great day trip and usually you will stop off at other places along the way include the option to go swimming in Cenotes - the ancient underground pools located in Mexico.

If travelling independently aim to arrive early as it gets popular with more tourists as the day goes on and there are lots of temples and ruins to explore.

Remember to be respectful of the local culture and customs and don't climb any temples where there are notices - the locals will not appreciate it.


5. Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres is one of the most beautiful and laid-back destinations in Mexico. Located just across the Bahia de Mujeres (Bay of Women) from Cancun, day trips can be organised here, but staying a few days is recommended if you like beaches and island life.

Expect a peaceful paradise with some of the most beautiful beaches in Mexico. Lots of activities are available here including scuba diving and watersports. 

Isla Mujeres is also one of the safest destinations in Mexico.

These articles will give you some inspiration for what to do on Isla Mujeres. 


6. Mexico City

Mexico City architecture

Thousands of tourists visit Mexico every year, most head to Cancun and the Riviera Maya on the east coast where there are large resorts and beaches. But Mexico City is easily one of the best cities in the world to explore and is somewhere that shouldn't be missed.

If you are flying into Mexico City, be sure to spend a few days here exploring the city, or if planning an overland trip in Mexico make sure you add it to your itinerary. 

In Mexico City you can see ancient ruins or explore the backstreets to see daily life in the capital. This really is an underrated city with so many food choices, from world class restaurants to some of the tastiest street food you will try in Mexico.

Visiting Mexico City on a budget is also easy as prices for accommodation and eating out are very cheap.


7. Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta is our first entry on the Pacific west coast of Mexico. Located in Jalisco state, this city is famous for its beaches, adventure sports and nightlife.

Puerto Vallarta is a popular destination with Americans due to the easy access from places like California and the main draw for foreigners is the amount of beautiful white sandy beaches.

In the backdrop of  proximity to the majestic Sierra Madre mountain range. These towering peaks provide a breathtaking backdrop for the city and offer many opportunities for outdoor adventures like hiking, mountain biking and zip lining.

The city centre is really old and scenic with cobblestone streets and tourist attractions like the Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe church. There are also so many boutique shops, bars, clubs and restaurants whilst the beachside promenade of El Malecón is popular with tourists both day and night. 

If you're interested in seeing whales in the wild, plan a visit from December to March.


8. Palenque


Palenque is a city in the Mexican state of Chiapas in southern Mexico and home to some of the best Mayan ruins in the Americas. Palenque is a special destination for anyone interested in history and ancient ruins, located deep in the jungles of Chiapas. 

The vast archaeological Mayan Ruins here are as important and impressive as those in Chichen Itza, Uxmal and Tikal and really are amazing to see in person. 

You really should add Palenque to your itinerary - it is easily one of the most stunning places to see in Mexico.


Plan Your Mexico Backpacking Itinerary

Narrowing down our list of places to visit to just 7 was really difficult, but these really are the main highlights of any backpacking adventure.

There really are hundreds of amazing destinations to visit and where you go really depends on your interests but hopefully our guide has highlighted some of the unmissable locations.

Check out our essential things to know befire visiting Mexico, or if you want to discover more of the country lots of Mexico tours travel overland taking in all the main highlights.

Would you like to recommend anywhere we've missed? Let us know!