Traveling south of the border might sound like a lot of planning, but getting to Mexico can actually be fast and easy. Did you know that some of the best Mexican destinations are less than a three-hour flight from Houston? Pristine beaches, colonial towns, jungle adventures, world-class resorts, and all the Mexican food you can eat are all available via direct flights to Mexico from Houston. Get your passport and your sunscreen ready, and start planning your next adventure in one of these super-accessible Mexican destinations.
We hope you love the spaces and stays we recommend! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to book a stay.
You don’t really know Mexico until you know Oaxaca. This southern state on the Pacific Coast of Mexico is famous for its cultural diversity and the preservation of its indigenous heritage, and there is no better place to experience the true colors of the region than in Oaxaca City. The streets of Oaxaca — lined with impressive colonial buildings, the bustle of traditional markets, and public plazas — can instantly transform from tranquil and quiet into full-blown festivity, and it won’t be long before you run into a wedding taking over the streets around Santo Domingo Cathedral as if it were carnival season.
Day trips from the city offer great opportunities to shop for local crafts, try all the varieties of mezcal, and witness the cultural richness that characterizes small-town Mexico. Explore a little further outside the city and you will find the archaeological remains of the ancient cities of Monte Alban and Mitla, but also unique natural wonders like the petrified waterfalls of Hierve el Agua and the impressive Tule Tree — a Montezuma Cypress tree famous for having the stoutest trunk in the world.
But let’s talk about food. Oaxaca is one of those places where finding a bad meal will not be easy. The rich flavors of hoja santa, chapulines, and mezcal are present in every single merendero and in the aisles of every market. For a truly immersive experience, visit Mercado 20 de Noviembre and follow your nose to the Pasillo de Humo where fresh meat is sold by the kilo but also prepared and served on delicious tlayudas — huge tortillas topped with beans and Oaxaca cheese. Consider also a visit to Los Pacos for the best mole in Oaxaca and to Sabina Sabe for a dinner full of local flavor and mezcal cocktails.
In the tropical mountains that border Banderas Bay, Puerto Vallarta feels wild and tropical, but also quaint and pampering. Contrasts abound in this city that feels like a small Mexican village and a high-end resort town. A tranquil evening exploring the art galleries of Zona Romantica around the Cuale River and catching the sunset from the boardwalk will make you consider staying here longer than expected, which probably explains the large expat community that has enhanced the town’s diversity.
The wilderness surrounding Vallarta is packed with adventures for the whole family and some of the best coastal destinations in Mexico are easily reachable from here. This includes the pristine beaches of Riviera Nayarit — where local favorites like Sayulita, Punta Mita, Litibu, and San Pancho are just a few miles away from each other. There’s also the famous Hidden Beach or Playa del Amor, an underground crater beach that’s easily reachable by boat from Puerto Vallarta.
If you’re looking for one of the best all-inclusives in Mexico or you want to experience a day of adrenaline rappelling down tropical waterfalls and swinging through the canopies of The Predator movie set, Puerto Vallarta has an incredible variety of options for different travelers. On top of this, the town is famous for its active nightlife scene and gastronomic offer, and also for being one of the first openly LGBTQ+ destinations in Mexico.
If you are visiting Mexico in search of those picture perfect beach vacations, ditch Cancun from your itinerary and fly directly to Cozumel. This is one of Mexico’s largest islands and it has all the natural beauty you would expect from a Caribbean getaway, without the overwhelming development and tourist crowds common to its mainland counterparts.
Snorkeling and scuba diving are the best ways to explore Cozumel’s natural surroundings, which include underground caverns, coral reefs, and the submerged sculptures of the Museo Subacuatico de Arte. It comes to no surprise that Jacques Cousteau declared Cozumel as one of the best diving destinations in the world. Not in the mood for diving? Head to Tortugas Beach for a day of white sands and turquoise waters or take a catamaran tour of El Cielo, a sandbar off the coast of the island that gets its name from the hundreds of sea stars you can admire at close distance.
The secluded nature of the island doesn’t mean it lacks accommodation options. Beachfront villas, luxurious condos, and hotels are all readily available. Also, keep in mind that Cozumel is one of the preferred spots in Southwest Mexico to shop for jewelry.
Merida is the best option to explore the northeastern side of the Yucatan Peninsula. The town itself is a place that seems to exist out of time, with manors and estates that were built in the 1800s during the boom of henequen, an agave fiber that boosted the local economy and helped the rapid development of the town. These architectural marvels are scattered all around Merida and heavily congregate in the impressive Paseo de Montejo, just a few minutes away from the city’s historical center. Most of these mansions have been transformed into museums and galleries, which makes it easy to explore the interior as well as the gardens.
If you want accommodation that maintains the quaint vibes of Merida, try Casa Vagantes, a beautiful design-focused stay in the outskirts of the historic center that is ideal for couples.
The food offer of the Yucatan Peninsula is unlike anything you’ll find in the rest of Mexico. The flavourful cochinita pibil — slow roasted pork cooked inside an earth oven and spiced with lime, achiote, and habanero chiles — might be the star of the show, but don’t leave without trying panuchos, papadzules, kibis, salbutes, and a steamy bowl of lime soup. For a memorable dining experience that encompasses the rich gastronomic tradition of the Peninsula, head to Micaela Mar & Leña, definitely the best restaurant in town. Also pay a visit to La Negrita, a lively cantina favored by locals and tourists alike.
From Merida you can easily reach the small Caribbean beach towns of Sisal and Telchac, the yellow-colored town of Izamal, Ria Celestun — a natural preserve famous for its huge flocks of flamingos and countless cenotes. You can also visit the old city of Chichen Itza, one of the most impressive examples of Mayan architecture. And for those interested in shiny souvenirs should pay a visit to the neighboring city of Valladolid, famous for its gold jewelry.
Guadalajara is the second largest city in Mexico and the capital of the state of Jalisco. This region is home to some of the most renowned Mexican expressions in the world, including Mariachi music and tequila. The historic center of Guadalajara hosts an impressive collection of historical buildings and public plazas that make it stand out from most Mexican cities. Teatro Degollado, the Guadalajara Cathedral, a night out at Chapultepec, and a visit to the archaeological site of Guachimontones are just a few of the unmissable experiences to have in Guadalajara. La Perla de Occidente is also the perfect base for exploring the agave fields of tequila, the beautiful Chapala Lake, and the picturesque small towns of Mazamitla, Tapalpa, and Lagos de Moreno.
Meat lovers should consider a visit to Karne Garibaldi, a place that specializes in carne en su jugo — a flavorful stew of beef and bacon — and promises you’ll have a hot plate of meat in front of you in mere instants (18 seconds to be exact). If you want to try the local seafood specialties, look no further than Bienvenido Pariente. Looking for gourmet tacos? Head to Habanero Negro. And those who like spicy food should not leave Guadalajara without trying tortas ahogadas, the traditional carnitas sandwich bathed in super-hot red salsa. A good option to try this iconic dish is Tortas Toño.
The capital of Mexico is a must-see destination for any traveler. It doesn’t matter if you’re staying for a weekend, a couple weeks, or a couple months, there’s an itinerary that will fit your needs. Here you’ll be able to explore the history and the transformations of the country through its architecture and its dozens of world-class museums. Pyramids, colonial palaces, century-old cathedrals, gigantic urban forests — Chapultepec Park is twice as big as New York’s Central Park — and even a castle are all common sights in Mexico City. But the city also has a contemporary side that’s worth exploring; this includes Roma and Condesa, two neighborhoods where you’ll find an active international community and an exploding cultural and culinary scene.
Mexico City also offers plenty of day trip opportunities, including the famous pyramids of Teotihuacan, the picturesque towns of Tepoztlan and Malinalco, and the beautiful Puebla, famous for having some of the best food in the whole of Mexico.