Recently I took the plunge and decided to try my hand at traveling. Although I am not an expert – and there’s certainly a lot more traveling I would like to do – my first time in Mexico meant a whole lot to me and I also left feeling proud that I finally found the guts to do it. Continue reading to uncover seven fun experiences for a first-time traveler in Mexico you too should give a try soon.
I chose a tour that began and ended in Cancun with stops around the country, before staying on a few more days alone. I felt this was the perfect way to experience the country as a first-time traveler and it led to many opportunities to mingle with locals, discover amazing architecture and even scale some ruins.
Because I traveled around Mexico – rather than staying in one town or city – I discovered a real mixture of places. This, of course, means I have a varied list of things that you simply must do:
1. Jungle Trek around the ruins of Palenque
If Chichen Itza is too crowded for you than Palenque is the next best thing. Here, you’ll find beautiful ruins that are so stunning they’re almost eye-watering, being all set to a backdrop of the classic Mexican jungle. If you really want to feel like you’re in another world, this is where to do it.
A guided tour is well worth the money here – listen to the history behind the ruins, relish in the opportunity to climb a couple and make sure to take a bunch of breathtaking photos at the top. Afterward, follow a guide into the jungle for a trek that is off the beaten track and will most definitely leave you feeling like Indiana Jones.
Keep an eye out for the monkeys here too – although they’re loud, they’re not so easy to spot.
2. Swim in a cenote
I visited a few cenotes during my time in Mexico and they are all each so different from the last. The first one I visited was just a short drive away from Chichen Itza and was a beautiful sight.
It was a lot of fun to swim in too – after all, where else are you going to have the chance to swim in an ‘underground’ pool/natural sinkhole?
3. Spend some downtime in Mahahual
If Playa Del Carmen or Cancun is too touristy for you, Mahahual is the answer.
What this coastal town lacks in liveliness makes up for with sandy white beaches and authenticity. With everything within walking distance, you’ll find yourself occupied with energetic mornings spent both in and out of the sea (many of the beach clubs offer all sorts of watersports), laid-back lunches, relaxed beach afternoons and a slightly livelier nightlife. The only difference is, Mahauhal’s nightlife is less busy and more chilled – and you’ll be spoilt for choice with the bars and restaurants on offer.
The whole town is entirely Instagram worthy, and there are plenty of opportunities to plonk yourself down on a swing to order at the bar.
4. Watch a sunset in Campeche
I didn’t spend much time in this colorful city I’m afraid, but I enjoyed the evening I spent there, which resulted in a walk down to the seafront (admiring beautiful and creative graffiti) to watch the sunset.
Now, I’ve watched the famous Ibiza sunset before, but the lesser-known Campeche sunset blows that one out of the water. It truly is beautiful.
5. Snorkeling in the Lagoon of Seven Colours, Bacalar
I was in two minds about our boat trip on the Lagoon of Seven Colours – it was certainly beautiful and although I knew it wasn’t going to be seven different colors, essentially it was just like most lagoons and the water was two different shades of blue.
A cruise around this lagoon isn’t special in its own right – although it’s pretty – and could easily be a cruise around any lagoon. However, we stopped to snorkel and this made the trip for me. We were able to spot a vast array of colorful fish, and we were also able to snorkel over a cenote which was a unique experience.
Swimming off the ledge to a large black hole of darkness beneath me was scary but an experience on its own.
6. Do a shot of tequila at El Panchán, Palenque
Nearby to Palenque is the hidden gem of El Panchán – a unique cluster of hotels, cabins, a restaurant, and other services in the jungle. Don Mucho’s is worth the visit alone – an evening reservation at the authentic Mexican/Italian restaurant is a night well spent.
At night, the restaurant offers an almost romantic feel with low lights and candlelit tables. The food is delicious and the entertainment of a band and a fire show is even better.
Half the fun is getting to the restaurant (or exploring what else is on offer) – as it involves a walk through the jungle over wooden planks and small bridges over streams. It’s a truly unique experience leading to a fun evening, where good conversation flows and traditional music has you getting up and dancing.
Make sure you stop for a shot of tequila before you go.
7. Dance the night away at Coco Bongo
Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, seeing Spider-man and the Green Goblin in a slightly mistimed dance-off/air-based fight is kind of corny, but man is Coco Bongo worth doing.
If you’re only going to have one night out in Mexico, save some peso for here. It’s worth splurging to get a VIP table to be right in the middle of the action, as a night at Coco Bongo is a night like no other. It’s West End show meets Ibiza superclub with unique performances, jaw-dropping stunts, lots of dancing in between (and during!) and a whole lot of confetti.
Even if clubbing is not to your taste, I’d say you should experience a night out at Coco Bongo at least once in your life.
This list consists of just seven recommendations of many; of course, Mexico is a vast and beautiful place with so much to offer but I only had a short amount of time there. Other places I’d like to visit and would probably still recommend would be Playa Del Carmen (I’d have killed to have spent more time to explore) in this pretty place, the Island Of The Dolls in Mexico City and Xoximilco, the floating Mexican fiesta in Cancun (which just looks like a whole lot of fun).
There’s so much to see and do in Mexico that staying in one place isn’t always the best option – I traveled around a tour which was a wise choice given how much I got to see during the tour. I’d recommend you pick a few things from this list, rent a car in Cancun and seeing where it takes you. Ruins and cenotes are definitely must visit – but you don’t have to visit the ones I’ve mentioned above, as there’s a lot to choose from.
After all, anything you miss your first time around you can always make an excuse to come back for!
Check our list of unmissable experiences in Mexico City.