Photo: Agua Azul

There’s a whole lot of Mexico beyond the beach.

Here in the U.S., travel to Mexico gets pigeonholed as: coastal resort, spring break, all-inclusive, Pacifico on the beach. But there’s an ever-growing set of travelers discovering that the country is also one of the best destinations for adventure travel.

Just look at last month’s Adventure Travel Trade Association summit, held in Chiapas, which sold out two months prior to the event.

With jungles, caves, mountains, waves, and 6,000 miles of coastline, Mexico is pretty much as diverse as it gets, with sick adventure options in every category. And as we here at Matador have always argued, it’s a safe as well as awesome destination.

Check out 5 of your best Mexican adventures below; then, getsome.

[Tip: For the latest updates and stories out of Mexico, visit Mexico Today.]

Photo: sethbienek

1. Dive one of the top sites in the world

Where: The island of Cozumel, off the coast of the Riviera Maya, is pretty much as good as it gets.
Adventure payoff: Walls, pinnacles, coral gardens…

The reefs off Cozumel’s west coast are accessible to divers of all abilities. Beginners can stick to the shallows, while experts can keep going down 150 feet or more to check out rarely visited formations and wreck sites frequented by abundant marine life.

There are over 500 varieties of fish to run into, plus different species of sea turtles and, if you make it up to Isla Holbox north of the Yucatan, whale sharks.

Make it happen: Dive Paradise is one of many, many dive outfitters in operation on Cozumel.

2. Climb the highest volcano in North America

Where: Pico de Orizaba stands at 18,491ft (5,636m) on the border between Puebla and Veracruz states.
Adventure payoff: Strap on crampons in “tropical” Mexico.

Orizaba is Mexico’s highest peak and the third tallest in the hemisphere. It’s a great mountaineering option for professionals looking for altitude training minus the inclement conditions of other mountains of this stature, or for climbers new to gasping O’s at 18,000+.

There’s a route that starts at 16,000ft, but technical alternatives — both ice and dry — exist if the elevation alone isn’t enough of a challenge.

Make it happen: As their name suggests, Summit Orizaba can help you get it done.

3. Kayak the waterfalls of Huasteca Potosina

Photo: Agua Azul

Where: The Rio Santa Maria and other Huasteca Potosina rivers cut through semi-mountainous terrain in southern San Luis Potosi.
Adventure payoff: Whitewater + waterfalls in tropical surroundings.

The region of Huasteca Potosina is known for its turquoise rivers, which spill through the eastern Sierra Madre and form a series of ridiculously paddle-able rapid runs and waterfalls. If hucking yourself off a 15-footer in a kayak is above your pay grade, several outfitters also lead raft tours.

A river trip in Huasteca Potosina means you’ll be constantly surrounded by tropical scenery. The region is also home to numerous hot springs. Domestic tourism is pretty strong here, but foreigners have yet to discover it. Go now.

Make it happen: Agua Azul runs 8-day itineraries that cover Rio Santa Maria and a couple nearby stretches.

4. Surf the Mexican Pipeline

Where: The beach break at Puerto Escondido’s Playa Zicatela.
Adventure payoff: Depending on your skill level / hangover status, either put on or take in a tube-riding clinic.

From Cody Forest Doucette’s 24 hours in Puerto Escondido:

Zicatela Beach is the terminus of a deep offshore canyon which channels every ounce of energy in the southern Pacific and deposits it in grand fashion on the shallow sandbars. One of the best beach breaks in the world, it is known as the Mexican Pipeline and deserves the title.

The waves break close to shore and if it’s pumping, some of the best in the world will be out front. If you came to surf be prepared to get pounded and show plenty of respect as the waves, and the locals who ride them, have a low tolerance for errors or false bravado.

Make it happen: Get to Puerto, on the Oaxacan coast, and the rest should be self evident.

5. Cave dive the cenotes

Where: Much of the Yucatan Peninsula is undercut by a massive cave system that can be accessed at various spots.
Adventure payoff: Zipline into an underground pool, tube down a subterranean river, explore caves yet to be mapped.

Just as there’s a lot of Mexico beyond the beach, there’s a lot of the Yucatan below ground level. The limestone bedrock is extremely porous and underground rivers are common. Where the surface rock erodes and collapses, a cenote forms, exposing the water below.

What you do with the cenotes is up to you. You can snorkel them, zipline into them, tube on the subsurface rivers that connect them, or, in special locations, strap on a mask and tank and explore the most extensive aquatic cave systems in the world.

Make it happen: Hidden Worlds offers a variety of tours in and around the cenotes.

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