4 Top Destinations in Mexico (That Aren’t Beaches)
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Throughout the month of May, we’re exploring Mexico at The Points Guy, so check back regularly for flight and hotel reviews, features and deals from our neighbor to the south.
If someone mentions a Mexican vacation, you probably picture sandy beaches and frozen drinks. With 5,800 miles of coastline, Mexico has no shortage of places to get sun and fun, and best of all, you can get to Mexico and back in a comfy lie-flat business class seat.
But there is so much more to Mexico than just its coastline. Here are four top inland destinations that offer colonial charm, amazing food and immersion in Mexican cultures that go deeper than your lost shaker of salt.
San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende, in Guanajuato province, is a colorful colonial gem and for that reason is also a vibrant artist colony. The city of 140,000 is walkable, easy to navigate and family-friendly. San Miguel de Allende is an expat retirement hot spot, so English is widely spoken. If you’re looking for an easy entry into Mexico’s interior, San Miguel is your place. However, it will likely be the most expensive of the four options.
Getting to San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende’s Querétaro Intercontinental Airport (QRO) is easy to get to from Mexico City and directly from many American cities. The easiest and most frequent option would be via Aeroméxico and Delta using Delta SkyMiles and routing through Mexico City, Atlanta, Detroit or Chicago. Delta doesn’t publish an award chart, but it does have wide-open availability in economy from Atlanta for 34,000 and first for as low as 54,000 SkyMiles round-trip + $85 in taxes. Other options are American Airlines through Dallas or United connecting in Houston. From Querétaro it’s about a 90-minute drive to San Miguel de Allende.
Where to Stay in San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende lacks points hotels but has a surplus of adorable, independently owned properties. A good luxury option for families in San Miguel de Allende is the Rosewood Hotel. Rosewood offers not only a kids club and in-room kids amenities but also in-room, kid-sized paint sets and easels for your mini-Matisse through its “Artist in You” program. Rooms are from $375. You could book Rosewood Hotel through the Ultimate Rewards portal or utilize Citi Prestige Card’s fourth-night-free benefit to help offset costs.
Oaxaca made TPG‘s list of influencer-free spots for good reason. Over 3,000 years of history come alive with pre-Columbian ruins and Baroque churches mixing with modern architecture. Monte Albán, about 20 minutes from the city, is a pre-Columbian Zapotec capital and an archeological site as well-preserved as Teotihuacan or Chichén Itzá but with fewer crowds.
Oaxaca is well-known for its skilled silversmiths, so be sure to set aside time for gift shopping. Your friends and family will love the affordable handmade sterling silver trinkets and treasures, many set with native stones such as turquoise.
Getting to Oaxaca
American Airlines recently launched flights from DFW to Oaxaca (OAX) and there is good availability for 30,000 miles round-trip in economy and 50,000 miles in business from numerous connecting gateways. United via Houston or Delta/Aeroméxico via Mexico City are other options.
Staying in Oaxaca
The Holiday Inn Express Oaxaca-Centro Historico gets terrific reviews. With free breakfast and a downtown location, you won’t go wrong at 15,000 points/night, especially if you have the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card with the fourth night free. Cash rates could be a good option as well — in the $70–80 range. Rooms are only rated for three online, so I would contact the hotel before I put a second kid in the room. At these low rates, two rooms could also be a good option.
A Mérida visit could easily be combined with a trip to Cancun if you wanted to enjoy both beach and culture. After you tire of jet skis and lazy rivers, you can savor a different side of Mexico.
If you are visiting Tulum or Chichén Itzá, Mérida would be a great companion as it houses the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya (Mayan Culture Museum). The museum houses more than 1,100 Mayan artifacts, and I found that seeing the relics helped make the building sites come to life. The Mayan Culture Museum is open from 9am to 5pm Wednesdays through Mondays. Sundays are free for Mexican residents so they will be more crowded. Admission is 150MXN (about $8) for foreigners.
Getting to Mérida
If you want to use points to fly directly into Mérida (MID), you can get there on American Airlines via Miami for 30,000 miles in economy and 50,000 miles in business round-trip. Availability looks wide-open. United Airlines flies to Mérida via Houston. Availability on United looks good for 35,000 miles round-trip in economy but almost nonexistent for saver awards in business. To use SkyMiles you will need to connect in Mexico City via Aeroméxico.
You will find much cheaper cash prices if you fly into Cancun and take the bus to Mérida. It’s about a 4.5-hour ride on comfortable ADO buses that leave frequently from the airport.
Where to Stay in Mérida
The Hyatt Regency Mérida is a rare Category 1 that you might actually want to stay in. At 5,000 points a night, it’s hard to go wrong. IHG and Hilton are also represented with multiple properties. Be sure to check cash prices, as there are rooms as low as $40/night.
I wrote about my adventures in Puebla over Cinco de Mayo but would happily return any time of year. Puebla and neighboring Cholula make for a lovely long weekend. Cholula is the home of Tlachihualtepetl, the Western Hemisphere’s largest pyramid, which doesn’t get as much recognition as other sites because it has not been completely excavated. It has tunnels that take you into the pyramid as opposed to just over it.
You might want to bring an extra bag for souvenirs. Talavera pottery, which is what you think of when you think “Mexican pottery,” is from Puebla. Another special item to bring home would be mole, the sauce that combines chilis and chocolate into a magical melange. Many restaurants sell packages that would be safe to pack in a checked suitcase.
Getting to Puebla
Puebla has a regional airport but you’re likely to find that Mexico City (MEX) is a better gateway. Be sure to check cash prices before you book award tickets. If you want to use miles, Delta partners with Aeroméxico, which flies nonstop from a dozen US gateways. United and American also offer good coverage for as low as 15,000 miles each way for American and 17,500 miles each way for United in economy. Once you get to Mexico City, the easiest and most comfortable route to Puebla is via the Estrella Roja bus. The two-hour ride is a breeze.
Staying in Puebla
IHG and Marriott both have properties where I’d gladly stay in Puebla. The Marriott Puebla Hotel Meson del Angel is a Category 2, which costs 12,500 Marriott points per night or 50,000 points for five nights as the fifth night is free. The InterContinental Presidente Puebla also looks lovely and is 25,000 IHG Rewards points per night with the fourth night free using the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card.
Mexico has gorgeous beaches but if you venture inland, you’ll find winning destinations that are off the tourist trail. More important, they are places you visit to enjoy being there rather than places you visit to do things. There are, in fact, plenty of things to do, but you may find that most of your fun is just wandering and taking in a different pace of life.
For more information about Mexico, check out the following:
- The Best Time to Take Your Dream Mexico Vacation Is Now
- Puebla, Mexico: The Family-Friendly Cinco de Mayo
- 3 Best Mayan Ruins in Mexico’s Riviera Maya to Visit With Kids
- 7 Amazing Spots in Mexico’s Riviera Maya That Aren’t Tulum
Featured photo by Glow Images / Getty Images.
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