A rich heritage and tasty culture.
So you've been to Cancun, or Tijuana. That's fine, but next time try Mexico – the real one, found only when you get away from the slummy border towns and touristy beach resorts. A single trip can hardly do the country justice – it has mountains, beaches, desert canyons, jungles, laid-back hacienda towns, pyramids. Easy to love (and hate), Mexico City is the nonstop capital, with Spanish plazas built over Aztec pyramids and leafy bohemian hoods like Coyoacán, where Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera lived. The second city, Guadalajara (seven hours north), is the lively home of tequila and the mariachi. The area in between is filled with lovely colonial-era "silver towns" like Guanajuato, gringo-burg San Miguel de Allende, and Pátzcuaro (mesmerizing during the all-night cemetery festival at the Day of the Dead). Southwest of Mexico City, artsy Oaxaca City is a colonial wonder amidst valleys and pre-Hispanic towns, where dishes come soaked in the chocolate mole sauce. Over on the Caribbean, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen are better than Cancun, but they get cruise-ship visitors too; farther south are the beachside Mayan ruins at quieter Tulum, while inland you can climb the famous Mayan pyramids at Chichen Itza and take in street-music fairs every weekend in gorgeous Mérida. Dangling south of California, Baja gets many visitors to the jock-ridden bar scene of Cabo, but the Sea of Cortez – especially near quiet La Paz – is more tranquil.