Beyond the beach: Mexico’s 6 best inland destinations

Feb 24, 2020

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A Mexican vacation can be so much more than sandy beaches and frozen drinks. Here are six inland destinations that offer colonial charm, amazing food and immersion in Mexican cultures that will stay with you longer than your tan. Best of all, you can get to Mexico and back in a comfy lie-flat business-class seat.

Check out TPG’s Mexico hub for everything you need to know about traveling to the beaches, ancient ruins and inland destinations.

In This Post

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San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel de Allende, in Guanajuato province, is a colorful colonial gem and a vibrant arts 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 our six destinations.

(San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. Photo by ferrantraite/Getty Images)
San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. (Photo by ferrantraite/Getty Images)

Getting to San Miguel de Allende

Querétaro Intercontinental Airport (QRO) is easy to get to from Mexico City or directly from many American cities. From Querétaro it’s about a 90-minute drive to San Miguel de Allende. 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 SkyMiles and in first class for as low as 54,000 SkyMiles, round-trip + $85 in taxes. Other options are American Airlines through Dallas or United connecting in Houston.

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 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. Rooms are from $375. You could book Rosewood Hotel through the Ultimate Rewards portal or use Citi Prestige® Card’s fourth-night-free benefit to help offset costs. The information for the Citi Prestige has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Rosewood San Miguel de Allende offers an Inspiring Artist amenity. Image courtesy of the resort.
Rosewood San Miguel de Allende offers artistic inspiration for all ages. (Photo courtesy of The Rosewood Hotel)

Oaxaca

In Oaxaca — which made TPG’s list of influencer-free spots last year — 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 known for its skilled silversmiths and its barro negro (“black clay”) pottery, so be sure to set aside time for shopping. Your friends and family will love the affordable handmade sterling silver trinkets and treasures, many set with native stones such as turquoise.

Barro Negro from Oaxacan Silver. (Photo by Vicy / Shutterstock)
Barro negro pottery. (Photo by Vicy/Shutterstock)

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.

Where to stay 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 reward. 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.

(Photo courtesy of Holiday Inn Express)
(Photo courtesy of Holiday Inn Express)

Mérida

A Mérida visit could easily be combined with a trip to Cancun if you wanted 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 also be a great companion destination with its Gran Museo del Mundo Maya (Mayan Culture Museum). The museum holds 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 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Mondays. Sundays are free for Mexican residents so they will be more crowded. Admission is 150MXN (about $8) for foreigners.

Gran Museo del Mundo Maya in Merida. (Photo by Francisco J Ramos Gallego / Shutterstock)
Gran Museo del Mundo Maya in Merida. (Photo by Francisco J Ramos Gallego/Shutterstock)

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 Delta 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.

Related: Mistakes most tourists make in Mexico

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.

(Photo courtesy of Hyatt)
(Photo courtesy of Hyatt)

Puebla

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.

Related: Puebla, Mexico: The family-friendly Cinco de Mayo

You might want to bring an extra bag for souvenirs. Talavera pottery, which is what you think of as 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.

Talavera pottery in Puebla, Mexico. (Photo by marcviln / Getty Images)
Talavera pottery in Puebla, Mexico. (Photo by marcviln/Getty Images)

Getting to Puebla

Puebla has a regional airport but you’re likely to find that Mexico City (MEX) is a better gateway. Check cash prices before you book award tickets. If you want to use miles, Delta partners with Aeroméxico, which flies nonstop from a dozen U.S. 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.

Where to stay 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 looks lovely and is 25,000 IHG Rewards points per night with the complimentary fourth night using the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card.

(Photo courtesy of Hotel Presidente Intercontinental)
(Photo courtesy of Hotel Presidente Intercontinental)

Guadalajara

If you want to spend your Mexican vacation looking for your lost shaker of salt, get to Guadalajara. Mexico’s second-largest city is a gateway to the land of tequila. In fact, you can visit the town of Tequila and see the agave fields that provide the nectar of the gods. What better soundtrack to accompany your libations than mariachi and Guadalajara is the home of Mexico’s signature musical style.

Getting to Guadalajara

United, American, Delta, and Aeromexico offer nonstop flights to Guadalajara from many U.S. gateways. Sample prices on Delta are 40,000 SkyMiles round-trip in economy or 70,000 in business class, plus $105 in taxes, from Atlanta. You might also want to check the budget airline Volaris and use an “eraser” card such as the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card to offset the cost.

Where to stay in Guadalajara

As in many cities in Mexico, hotels on points could be a bargain. The Hyatt Regency Andares Guadalajara gets great reviews and could be a deal at 8,000 World of Hyatt points a night during standard dates. The Westin is a solid option at Category 3, costing 17,500 Bonvoy points on standard dates. The Hilton features a rooftop pool and goes as low as 20,000 Hilton Honors points in low season.

Hyatt Regency Andares Guadalajara (Photo courtesy of Booking.com)
Hyatt Regency Andares Guadalajara. (Photo courtesy of Booking.com)

Mexico City

Mexico City is a prime long weekend destination, especially for families. Whether you want to immerse yourself in history or indulge your inner foodie, Mexico’s capital will not disappoint. You can even visit the museum of chocolate and do both at the same time.

With a world-class archaeology museum and Teotihuacan’s pyramids, Mexico City makes it easy to step back in time. And at the end of your days you can rest at a selection of luxury hotels that bring you firmly back into the 21st century.

Getting to Mexico City

You’ll find an embarrassment of riches when you look for award tickets to Mexico City, but you might do better looking for cash fares first. I’ve seen frequent sales to Mexico City from various U.S. gateways, with many under $200 round-trip. Aeromexico flights (via Delta SkyMiles) will be the most plentiful option. I currently see prices as low as 23,000 SkyMiles round-trip in economy or 67,500 in first class, with $114 in taxes, for the Atlanta to Mexico route.

Where to stay in Mexico City

TPG recently reviewed the St. Regis in Mexico City and it was terrific. The hotel gets especially high marks for having standard rooms that sleep four. The indoor infinity pool is also nice. As a Marriott Category 6, it would be covered by the Bonvoy Brilliant annual-night certificate on standard dates.

On the boutique end of the spectrum, I’m a huge fan of Las Alcobas, which is also a Bonvoy Category 6 property. It’s the only hotel where I’ve ever been asked to select a scent profile for my toiletries and had a butler draw me a bath with a customized sachet.

If you’re staying on a budget, check out The Hampton Inn Centro Historico. The hotel has long been a family favorite in Mexico City. You’ll likely do better with cash rates, as deluxe rooms with 500 square feet go as low as $130.

(Photo by Nicholas Ellis / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Nicholas Ellis/The Points Guy)

Bottom line

Mexico has gorgeous beaches but if you venture inland, you’ll find winning destinations. More important, they are places you visit to enjoy being there. There are 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:

Featured photo by Glow Images / Getty Images.

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