One of the biggest mistakes first-time visitors to Mexico City usually make is staying within the city limits. Ancient ruins, impressive mountains, colonial cities, and even enchanted forests are just a few hours away. Plan ahead and don’t hesitate to grab a bus or rent a car to go out and explore some of Mexico’s greatest attractions.

Sun Pyramid outside Mexico City

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Teotihuacán — Teotihuacán is one of the biggest archeological sites in Mexico, and it’s just an hour and a half away from the city. Arrive here really early to avoid crowds and stretch those legs if you’re going to try to reach the summit of the Sun Pyramid, the largest climbable pyramid in the world. The climate tends to be hot and dry here, so don’t forget your hat, sunblock, and plenty of water. Once you’re done with the archeological area, head to La Gruta, a unique restaurant inside a cave that’s just a few minutes from the pyramids. Tours to Teotihuacán can be organized at most hotels and tourism kiosks. Take into account this trip will normally take a whole day.

Active Popocatepetl volcano in Mexico

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Paso de Cortés — This national park will put you in the middle of two of Mexico’s highest peaks: Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl. Popocatépetl has been active since the mid-’90s, and the park’s main parking lot is the closest you can get to this mountain. Don’t worry, the view from here is still impressive. Iztaccíhuatl is not active, and it’s a popular climb among mountaineers, but you can also hike along one of several routes that roam around the volcano. El Paso is an hour drive from Mexico City and can only be reached by car. There are camping areas around Iztaccíhuatl, but you’ll have to come prepared with all-season tents and some good sleeping bags if you plan to stay overnight.

Callejon de los Sapos in Puebla Mexico

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Puebla — This colonial city is just two hours away from Mexico City. Puebla has a very rich culinary tradition, and many people consider its cuisine the best in Mexico. This is the birthplace of chiles en nogada and mole poblano, two iconic Mexican dishes. The lovely city center is packed with historical buildings and churches. On the outskirts of Puebla, you’ll find the town of Cholula, famous for having the largest pyramid in the world. Buses to Puebla depart from the Mexico City TAPO bus station every half an hour.

Mixquix, Mexico, Day of the Dead celebrations

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Mixquic — This small town has gained international fame due to it’s Day of the Dead celebration. During the first two days of November, people dedicate all their efforts to decorate the local cemetery with flowers and candles. At night, the place is lit up by candlelight in an event called alumbrada, and the whole town goes into a festive mood. Mixquic is technically inside the city limits, but it will take you a couple of hours to get here. Keep in mind the place gets really crowded for Day of the Dead festivities. Buses to Mixquic depart every few minutes from Central de Autobuses Taxqueña.

Historic convent in Tepoztlan, Morelos, Mexico

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Tepoztlán — This small, quirky town just an hour south of Mexico City is known for its relaxed, hippie vibe and for the amazing mountains surrounding it. Tepoztlán also feels a lot more tropical than Mexico City, being a perfect place to take a day or two off from the city buzz. Buses depart to Tepoz from Central de Autobuses Taxqueña every hour or so and cost around 120 pesos. We’ve listed it as a day trip, but it’s also a great spot to spend a whole weekend.

Nevado de Toluca crater lake in Mexico

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Nevado de Toluca — This is the fourth highest peak in Mexico. The crater of this inactive volcano has two alpine lakes that are easily accessible by a 20-minute hike. The volcano is 15,350 feet above sea level, so walk slowly and carefully, even if the trail seems fairly easy. The place can also be very cold and windy during winter. You can find some tour providers online, but the best way to get there is by car, so either rent one or convince a local friend to get you there. Reaching the Nevado will take you around two and a half hours from Mexico City, but you really want to arrive there early since the weather can be unpredictable in the afternoons. The last part of the road is unpaved and quite difficult to navigate at night, so make sure you’re on your way back to the city before nightfall.

The Marquesa Mexico, Valle de San Geronimo

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La Marquesa and Desierto de los Leones — Just on the outskirts of Mexico City, these forested areas are packed with activities that contrast with the city routine. You can rent a quad bike, a horse, or just explore the different routes these places have to offer. Quesadillas and other traditional dishes are served in multiple kiosks there.

Mexican town, Mineral del Monte, commonly called Real del Monte, Hidalgo

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Real del Monte and surroundings — The state of Hidalgo is full of attractions for those willing to explore it. You can start at Real del Monte, a small ex-mining town in the middle of the mountains just two and a half hours away from Mexico City. Not far away from this town is San Miguel Regla, famous for its basalt prisms and waterfalls, and El Chico National Park, where you’ll find plenty of options for outdoor lovers like mountain biking, ziplines, via ferrata climbing paths, and lots of hiking opportunities. The forests around the area are said to be inhabited by elf-like creatures, and you can learn everything about it at the local Museo del Duende.