Off The Beaten Path In Mexico: 8 Amazing Spots For Families

Travel with kids doesn't always have to involve a resort or theme park. In fact, it can involve trying out new and unique destinations! Throughout our travels through Mexico, we've loved going off the beaten path in Mexico. It's actually the type of travel we love to do best!

We're currently in Puerto Escondido, a beach town in southern Mexico that's fairly well-known among the surfing community, but not so familiar to most Americans and Canadians. We love the low key vibe of this beach town, and love that it's a destination that's slightly off the beaten path in Mexico.

This post was last updated on September 23, 2021.

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Enjoying the ocean in Puerto Escondido (January 2019)

Why we love going off the beaten path in Mexico

While I don't look down on theme parks or resorts, these places also tend to have the most tourists. The introverted side of me can get a bit overwhelmed by being around so many people all the time. Even in big cities like New York City, San Francisco, or Mexico City (all of which I absolutely love, by the way), it can sometimes feel too crowded and hectic. This feeling is especially strong in the popular tourist areas that we visit.

From time to time, it's nice to do something different. Instead of the usual tourist activities, we like to take off the beaten path vacations. We like to go to places that aren't as frequently visited. To us, it doesn't necessarily mean going completely off the grid. But it does mean going somewhere that most tourists will usually overlook.

For some great ideas for going off the beaten path, buy a copy of the Mexico travel guide book for your trip.

A benefit of going to places not often frequented by tourists is that they tend to be easier on the budget. Since we're traveling full-time, finding affordable places to visit is important to us, in order to make our dollars stretch. We've been lucky to be able to find some places that are off the beaten path in Mexico, to all us to make the most of our precious dollars.

Read here to find out how much it costs to travel in Mexico with kids for a month.

Taking a rest in Mexico City (January 2019)

Where can you go off the beaten path in Mexico?

Here in Mexico, most tourists will flock to the beach. And I don't blame them. Mexico has some pretty amazing beaches. We've even found a few nice ones here in southern Mexico.

But visitors are surely missing out when they don't go off the beaten path in Mexico. And if you happen to be slow traveling, and spending an extended amount of time in Mexico, there's no reason no to go somewhere that tourists don't often visit.

There are so many cities in this country that are absolute gems. But they aren't necessarily popular among American or Canadian tourists. Here are a handful of our favorites.

Posing by a mural in Puerto Escondido (January 2019)

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1. San Miguel de Allende (Guanajuato State)

We spent a month in exploring all the things to do San Miguel de Allende, a city located in central Mexico. And we intend to go back again in the late spring. This town has been named the be best city in the world by Travel + Leisure, and it's not hard to see why. From the beautiful colonial architecture, to the thriving culture, San Miguel de Allende is a great starting off point for families wanting some off the beaten path vacations.

While twenty to thirty percent of the city's population are actually expats, it may be a bit of a stretch to call San Miguel de Allende off the beaten path. But it does offer a nice alternative to the Mexican resort towns that you read about in the glossy magazines. And many tourists to Mexico still have not heard much about the city.

Walking through San Miguel de Allende (November 2018)

2. Guanajuato (Guanajuato State)

For us, Guanajuato is a much better city to go off the beaten path in Mexico. This town is just an hour and a half away from San Miguel de Allende, yet holds a much stronger historical significance to Mexicans than San Miguel de Allende. The city played a role in the Mexican War of Independence, where many of the indigenous people working as miners rose up against the Spanish in protest.

We love Guanajuato, and the city has just as many things to offer visitors as San Miguel de Allende. But Guanajuato also gets a fraction of the foreign tourists that San Miguel de Allende gets, and we like that a lot. It really forces us to get to know the Mexican culture more, rather than relying on places that cater to foreigners.

Guanajuato, a city off the beaten path in Mexico
The city of Guanajuato (December 2018)

3. Reserva de la Biosfera Santuario Mariposa (Michoacan State)

When it comes to off the beaten path vacations, one of the things we enjoy doing is visiting bioparks and nature reserves. In Mexico, a wonderful nature reserve to visit is the Reserva de la Biosfera Santuario Mariposa, the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary. It's located in the state of Michoacan, about two hours away from Mexico City.

The Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary is a great place to see monarch butterflies during the months of November through March. We'd heard about the monarch migration, but hadn't realized you could visit the monarch butterfly's wintering grounds until we came to Mexico. I'm so glad we visited the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary, as it was such an incredible sight to see!

Monarch butterfly sanctuary, off the beaten path in Mexico
Monarchs at the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary (November 2018)

4. Guadalajara (Jalisco State)

Most tourists avoid the city of Guadalajara. But I think it's a shame. Since Guadalajara is the second largest city in Mexico, it's a hotspot for music, food, and tequila in Mexico. We spent a week and a half in Guadalajara, and thoroughly enjoyed exploring all the things to do in Guadalajara with kids.

In terms of activities that families can enjoy in Guadalajara, families can spend an afternoon riding bikes at Parque Metropolitan or they can listen to mariachi music at many restaurants throughout the city. Additionally, families can visit the amazing Guadalajara Zoo.

A street in Guadalajara, Mexico, an off the beaten path in Mexico destination
A street in Guadalajara (March 2019)

5. Puerto Escondido (Oaxaca State)

Among the beach cities of Mexico, there are a few cities that get the most attention: Cancun, Cabo San Lucas, and Puerto Vallarta. Cities like Mazatlan and Acapulco have also been long-standing popular tourist destinations. But after spending two weeks in Puerto Escondido, I am realizing there are so many other wonderful beach towns to explore, especially if you're willing to go off the beaten path in Mexico.

Here in Puerto Escondido, we've been enjoying soft golden sands and crystal clear waters, with half the number of tourists you'll find in the popular beach towns! And with costs that are a fraction of what you would pay in the popular beach resort towns it's a lot cheaper for us to enjoy this paradise.

Playing on the beach in Puerto Escondido (January 2019)

6. Progreso (Yucatan State)

Another beach city to visit is Progreso, a small city on the northern coast of the Yucatán peninsula. In recent years, Progreso has become a stop for cruise ships, serving both Carnival and Royal Caribbean cruises. The city boasts a pier that is 6.5 km (4.1 mile) long.

Families visiting Progreso can enjoy warm beaches. But they can also enjoy exploring nearby Mayan archaeological sites and limestone water-filled sinkholes called cenotes. There are also mangroves and estuaries for families to explore as they go off the beaten path in Mexico.

Swimming in the waters of Progreso (January 2021)

7. Merida (Yucatan State)

Another city that's slightly off the beaten path in Mexico is Merida. While most tourists tend to visit the Yucatan peninsula for its beaches, Merida is a worthwhile destination in its own right. The city is steeped in culture and history, and was once the site of an ancient Mayan city.

Today, Merida is a bustling city of more than 800,000 people. Visitors to Merida can explore historic sites, taste the best of Yucatecan cuisine, and enjoy swimming in cenotes. Every Sunday morning, the city transforms one of its main roads into a bike lane where families can enjoy biking.

Visitors to a cenote near Merida going off the beaten path in Mexico
A stunning cenote near Merida (April 2021)

8. Cozumel (Quintana Roo State)

If you must travel to Quintana Roo state, why not visit the island of Cozumel, rather than sticking to Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or Tulum? While not completely off the beaten path in Mexico, Cozumel certainly offers visitors an alternative option to sprawling all-inclusive resorts.

Cozumel is accessible by ferry from Cancun or Playa del Carmen, or by plane. Activities in Cozumel include snorkeling, biking, horseback riding, diving, and paddle boarding. Or you can simply spend your day playing on the beach, enjoying the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea.

A beach cabana in Cozumel, slightly off the beaten path in Mexico
A secluded beach cabana in Cozumel (May 2021)

Check out my Mexico posts to learn more about exploring this unique country with kids.

Taking a chance by going off the beaten path in Mexico

Doing off the beaten path vacations involves taking a chance on a new destination. For some people, this can seem scary. There are just so many unknowns!

We certainly had our own set of fears and anxieties before going to the places we visited in Mexico. We didn't know what Guanajuato or San Miguel de Allende would be like. And even coming here to Puerto Escondido, we weren't sure if there was going to be anything for our family to do.

But the best thing about travel is that the unknown can often lead to the most pleasant surprises. Here in Puerto Escondido, we've enjoyed nothing but friendly people, beautiful beaches, and an abundance of sunshine and good weather. I'm so glad we decided to go off the beaten path in Mexico!

Have you done some off the beaten path vacations of your own? Share your experiences in the comments!

Are you planning to visit Mexico as part of a bigger family travel adventure? Use my ebook, Hey Kids, Let’s Go Travel! as a resource for tools, advice, and action steps for planning your trip.

Going Off The Beaten Path In Mexico | The Wandering Daughter
Why it's good to go off the beaten path in Mexico. Our favorite spots for off the beaten path vacations in Mexico. #familytravel #offthebeatenpath #Mexico

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