Friday, June 21, 2024

Need a different winter vacation? Try these 5 alternative Mexico getaways

The season that stretches from Christmas to New Year’s is a popular time of year for locals to escape city life and unwind with a change of scenery. There are staple destinations where you are sure to bump into one of your neighbors: Tulum, Acapulco, Cabo, Oaxaca City and San Miguel de Allende are historically fashionable holiday havens.

If you’d like to go somewhere a bit more tranquil that still boasts cultural flair, consider the following five options. Not only will they serve to satisfy that travel itch, the chances of bumping into your personal trainer while digging into your fourth tamale are slim to none. 

Puebla’s Sierra Norte

This Puebla region is a stunner. Its green and mountainous landscape, dotted with ancient ruins, is sure to please any outdoor enthusiast. This is also the spot to celebrate holidays and traditions in a most authentic manner. And in case you were wondering, the entire state of Puebla is a culinary goldmine. 

Tuliman Falls in Zacatlan, Puebla
Zacatlán, Puebla’s Tulimán Falls is the second highest waterfall in Mexico. It’s inside a nature park with gorgeous views and a variety of activities, including archery and zip-lining.

There are seven Pueblos Mágicos in this region, and each showcases a distinct personality. 

  • Bird lovers will appreciate Pahuatlán, well-known among birders as a hotspot for seeing Puebla’s hundreds of extremely colorful avian inhabitants. The Mirador de Ahila, a nearby lookout point that gives you a panoramic view of the area, is perfect for bird spotting.  
  • An architecture junkie? Check out Cuetzalan, whose name means “place of the quetzals,” although the only “quetzals” left in Puebla are the performers of the Quetzal Dance, an folkloric tradition believed to be one of the oldest surviving ones in Mexico. This charming town feels like walking into Mexico’s colonial past, in large part due to cloud forest surrounding it and its colonial-era buildings.     
  • Chignahuapan may not be as beautiful, but the thermal baths here far outweigh its aesthetic downsides, not to mention it is the place in Mexico to purchase delicate hand-blown glass Christmas ornaments.
  • Traveling with family? Picturesque Zacatlán offers everything from ziplining to museum hopping, during which you can sip on a homemade cider (some of it alcoholic) cultivated from the surrounding apple orchards it’s known for. The town is also filled with modern mosaics made by local artists. Check out nearby Tulimán Falls for the ziplining inside a park that affords amazing views.  
Oaxaca
In Oaxaca, they have it all: beaches, colorful flora and fauna and picturesque urban areas steeped in Mexico’s history. (Creative Commons)

Oaxaca

The traditional festivals of Oaxaca city make it a bustling destination for tourists during the holidays, which is why we suggest bypassing the quaint and colorful city altogether and beelining it for the beach. 

Despite its rising popularity among the international crowd, the coast of Oaxaca is still a more restful alternative to hotspots like Cancún, Mazatlán or Puerto Vallarta. If the beach is not your scene, maybe a nighttime boat ride through a bioluminescent bay will do? And wildlife aficionados will be thrilled to know that turtle-nesting season is in full swing through January. 

Other attractions include surfing, hiking, whale watching, fresh fish for lunch or simply lounging with a good book.

Holbox

If you’re feeling a more Caribbean vibe, this tiny island just might be the ticket. While you may have to deal with throngs of would-be beachgoers and partiers in and around the Cancún airport, hang tight and keep your eyes on the prize: from the airport, you’ll need to make a two-hour escape north to the town of Chiquila, where you’ll hop on a ferry and hop off in paradise. 

Holbox is whimsical and charming and especially quiet over Christmas. The car-free, lackadaisical culture lends itself sweetly to long, lazy days on the beach. 

If lounging on a hammock in crystal-clear waters isn’t your jam, fret not. You can be active here, despite the island’s small size. 

Sign up for a day or night (or both!) of snorkeling or a kayaking experience in the bioluminescent bay. Join a street art walking tour, explore the endemic wildlife on a Three Islands boat tour or try your hand at kitesurfing with some private lessons.

Holbox Island
Need to sunbathe but not surrounded by drunk tourists? In late December, it’s peaceful in Holbox. (Photo: Depositphotos)

Valle de Guadalupe

As the rest of Mexico flocks to the coastline, why not head slightly inland where you can immerse in Baja’s laid-back vibes and sip wine without the usual gaggle of snowbirds, where the weather is temperate yet the sun is forever shining? 

Valle de Guadalupe isn’t polished. It isn’t flashy. It’s raw, earthy and lawless in its approach to wine tourism. New restaurants are popping up frequently, and wine quality is constantly improving. 

The landscape is gorgeous, with rolling hills of vineyards against a backdrop of beautiful blue sky. Outside of remarkable Mexican wines and fantastic food, there isn’t much to do, but that’s the beauty of it. 

Consider this excursion a period of downtime, where you can fully enjoy the people you’re with and the libations you’re savoring. 

Campeche
Colorful Campeche is the perfect warm place to take it easy during the hectic holiday season. (Photo: Depositphotos)

Campeche

Utterly overlooked by the international crowd, Campeche is brimming with culture, museums and Maya undertones. This pastel-hued seaside town was once a pirate’s treasure trove and, as a result, is surrounded by fortresses. 

The charming downtown requires just two days of sightseeing, so you can devote substantial time to exploring outside the city. Within just a three-hour drive, you can visit mind-blowing Maya archaeological sites and biospheres like Edzná, Calakmul and Balakmu;  the easygoing fisherman’s village of Isla Arena; the pink flamingos in Celestún; and the cenote in Miguel Colorado.

This holiday season, leave the crowds behind and give yourself the gift of a vacation in Mexico’s many off-the-beaten-path treasures.  

Bethany Platanella is a travel writer and contributor to Mexico News Daily. To find out more about Bethany, visit her website.

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