Top attractions in central and south Mexico
Central and southern Mexico offer a choice of must-see attractions and adventures for active couples celebrating a honeymoon or romantic getaway, including:
Stroll along the monumental Calle de los Muertos (Street of the Dead) in the capital of what was probably Mexico’s largest pre-Hispanic empire. Along the way, climb up and explore the former palaces of Teotihuacán’s elite.
Marvel at the huge Pirámides del Sol y de la Luna (pyramids of the Sun and Moon), and within the Citadel, view the striking serpent carvings in the Temple of Quetzalcoatl and the carved pillars depicting a hybrid bird-butterfly in the Palace of Quetzalpapálotl.
Discover more sights in the Jaguar Palace and the Temple of the Plumed Conch Shells. Don’t miss Teotihuacán’s most famous mural, the Paradise of Tláloc, found in the Tepantitla Palace.
In the remains of the largest pre-Hispanic ceremonial pyramid ever built, wander the underground tunnels that honeycomb the original structure and discover ruins of earlier temples and steep ceremonial stairways.
Roam around the former capital of the Toltec empire – the largest city in central Mexico in the 9th and 10th centuries. Gaze up at the 5m tall figures of Quetzalcoatl, dressed as a heavily armed Toltec warrier and carved into columns that originally supported the roof of the sanctuary located on top of the Temple of Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli (Temple of the Morning Star).
Climb among terraced pyramids, wander around colonnaded buildings and reclining sculptures that may have been avatars of the rain god Tlaloc.
Nestled between the palm-covered mountains of the Sierra Madre range and the vast Banderas Bay, Puerto Vallarta offers a range of adventure activity as well as an insight into Mexico’s cultural traditions. Here lies the origin of the charro (traditional costume), the national drink tequila and the music of the Mariachi bands.
Stroll along cobblestone streets lined with red-roofed white stucco buildings or sip coffee on the malecon, a wide seaside promenade that hugs the oceanfront.
Discover a range of adventure activities away from the city such as scuba diving, kite-surfing, hiking, mountain biking, eco-tours and four-wheel drive safaris into the heart of the Sierra. Spot migrating humpback whales in Banderas Bay from December to April, swim with dolphins at the Nuevo Vallarta Dolphin Centre and scuba dive or snorkel Los Arcos underwater caves and the deep caverns of the Marietas Islands.
Hook up a charter on the 38km-wide Banderas Bay and cast your line for sailfish, dorado, marlin, bonita and yellowfin tuna, roostertail, jack cravel, pargo, red snapper and black, blue and striped marlin. Saddle up and join a charro (cowboy) on a horseback safari across the El Tuito River, visit cascading waterfalls in the midst of the lush jungle and spot iguanas and the coloured guacamayas.
Or take an eco tour to see some of the hundreds of bird species that live around Puerto Vallarta, including doves, macaws, hummingbirds, woodpeckers and parrots.
More about Puerto Vallarta . . .
Head to the 3000m-high highlands of Michoacán to see Oyamel pine forests smothered with orange- and black-veined monarch butterflies: from November to March, more than 100 million butterflies migrate annually from Canada and the United States to mate in the forests of Michoacán.
From the former mining town of Angangueo, hike to the sanctuary of Mariposas el Rosario to hear the gentle rustle of millions of wings beating and to see branches sagging under the weight of the butterflies. Go early in the morning when the butterflies are just waking up or later in the day when they carpet the ground in a blaze of colour.
Escape the bustling city streets for hiking and mountain biking trails that wind through the lush pine forests of San Nicolas Park at the heart of the Ajusco Mountains, just a 30-minute drive from Mexico City. Other hiking trails can be found around the base of Ixtaccmhuatl Volcano, or rug-up and climb the 5286m-high summit.
With temperatures often below freezing year round, you'll need warm clothes in addition to ice crampons, which you can rent in Tlamacas, the centre for local climbers. Sister mountain Popocatipetl, which erupted in 1994, is now closed to hikers.
Nearby Tule offers some of central Mexico’s most stunning archaeological sites, including a row of 3m-tall atlantes, or warriors, that overlook the main plaza of the now completely restored Templo de Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli (Temple of the Morning Star).
Mexico City itself is a sprawling, frenetic and fascinating city, home to some of the most powerful civilisations the world has ever seen. Explore ancient ruins, colonial squares and irresistible museums packed with fabulous Aztec and Mayan treasures. Stroll the famous Templo Mayor ruins in the Centro Histórico, which was built on the ruins of the original Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán.
Don’t miss the huge stone wheel of the moon goddess Coyolxauhqui, found in the ruins of the Pyramid of Huitzilopochtli, or the famous Aztec calendar sunstone on display at the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Chapultepec Park.
Along with pre-Columbian ruins and the great pyramid of Cholula, the state of Veracruz offers a huge range of climbing and white-water rafting adventures.
Rock climb Mexico’s highest mountain, a 5636m-high dormant volcano known as the Pico de Orizaba, or tackle the class II-V rapids of the Filobobos River from Xalapa, one of several great white-water rafting rivers in the region, located close to the magnificent ruins of El Cuajilote. The best time to raft is between May and August.
Head south and hike through the mountains of Los Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve, with views overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. Discover Lake Catemaco and hike or bike trails through the 40ha Parque Ecologico Nanciyaga.
Climb the 18m-high Pyramid of the Niches at El Tajin, one of the finest pre-Columbian structures in Mexico and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
At nearby Paplanta, watch voladores (flyers) scale a 25m-high pole, then fling themselves into space secured only by a rope tied around their waists. After 13 revolutions the voladores spin safely back to the ground. This replay of an ancient Totonac ceremony is held every Friday, Saturday, Sunday and during fiesta days; donations are gratefully received! Find Veracruz hotels . . .
Take a riverboat from Frontera Corozal down the Río Usumacinta to the stunning temple ruins of Yaxchilan. Discover palaces, temples, great staircases and monolithic carved stellas. See narrative stone reliefs carved on lintels spanning temple doorways, listen to the shriek of howler monkeys and spot toucans and spider monkeys flitting through the surrounding gum forest.
Catch a 6m-high wave off Playa Zicatela, a 40m-wide, 2km-long beach noted for one of the world’s best surfing breaks, nicknamed the ’Mexican Pipeline’. The summer months between April and September provide the biggest waves.
When you tire of the waves, hook up a charter and chase sailfish or other big game fish. Find Puerto Escondido hotels…
Sitting on a ledge surrounded by hills covered in lush rainforest lies the hauntingly beautiful Mayan site of Palenque, one of the most picturesque of all the Mayan ruins. Wander through ancient buildings with multiple piers and doorways. Marvel at the exquisite stucco façades in the Temple of Inscriptions above the crypt of a Maya king. Don’t miss the Multilevel Palace and the Temple of the Count.
Partially restored and in the heart of the jungle, this enormous ruined city is probably the biggest archaeological area in Mesoamerica, with more stelae and pyramids than any other Maya city.
Wander around the imposing and well-preserved structures and perhaps get an insight into life in an ancient Maya capital. Arrive early to spot local wildlife such as toucans, wild turkeys, peccaries and even jaguars, and listen to the booming of howler monkeys as they thrash around in the nearby forest.