For as much time as I have spent in Mexico, I am still always surprised and delighted to discover parts and places I have never been to, or even heard about before. From new discoveries to soon-to-be-launched hotels as well as experiences that have remained below the radar for decades, here are five experiences in Mexico you might not know exist.
A cenote was recently discovered outside of Valladolid, Yucatan, and in its wake a brand-new travel park has emerged. The 131-acre Hacienda Chukum opened in February, centered on the Chukum-Ha cenote. Three natural openings in the cavernous ceiling illuminate the waters below. There is also a rope swing and a 50-foot repelling wall. Visitors can explore the park through local tour operator Aventuras Mayas.
Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca
Though by no means new, one of Oaxaca's greatest natural treasures is still far off the beaten path for most tourists. Visitors to Oaxaca City would be remiss to overlook this stunning natural phenomenon. From a distance, this enormous rock formation that towers above the jungle looks like a frozen waterfall. Upon closer inspection, visitors will discover that it is actually constructed of mineral deposits on top of a limestone mountain. On either of the ledges of the mountain are two freshwater pools, as well as hot springs that are bubbling with calcium carbonate and magnesium. The minerals from the pools seep through the cliffs creating the frozen flow appearance of this magnificent structure.
Hierve el Agua is a perfect day trip from Oaxaca City and can be arranged through local tours or via private drivers.
Glamping in Espiritu Santo
Off the coast of La Paz in Baja California Sur is the island of Espiritu Santo. Espiritu Santo Island is a Natural Protected Area that was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1995. Known for its turquoise waters and pristine beaches, the entire island is only 11 miles long. It's also teeming with wildlife, from sea lions and manta rays to dolphins and turtles. No humans live on Espiritu Santo, but if you want to spend the night it is possible to arrange an evening glamping with Camp Cecil.
Camp Cecil has a base on one of the island's best beaches, with walk-in tents with real beds, lanterns, beach towels and storage space. An on-site chef prepares meals daily at Xantas Cafe. Guests can spend the day kayaking, hiking, swimming, stand-up paddle boarding, nature watching and more.
The boat to Camp Cecil departs from La Paz at 9 a.m. on the day of the reservation. Travelers can fly into San Jose del Cabo or La Paz.
La Casa de La Playa, Destino Xcaret
Destino Xcaret is readying to open the next hotel on the expansive, 915-acre compound of which the explosive Hotel Xcaret is a part. Slated to be the second hotel of 12 to open over the next few years, La Casa de La Playa will open this summer with 63 spacious suites with private plunge pools that are categorized into three concepts: Nature, Wellness and Fun. The adults-only, eco-friendly resort will have four restaurants, two pools, a spa, mezcaleria, chocolate shop, wine cellar, and library.
In the next eight years there will be 6,000 hotel rooms, a stadium with capacity for a 12,000-person audience, a convention center, and an entertainment and commercial center with promenades along the river.
Guests of the properties receive full access to the Xcaret parks, as well, as part of the All-Fun Inclusive program.
Later this year, the government of Jalisco will be completing a high-speed highway connecting Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta. The 5.5-hour trip will be reduced to 2.5 hours, making it entirely possible to hit both Puerto Vallarta and Guadalajara in one weekend getaway.
Along the drive, travelers can discover one of the more peculiar ruins of Mexico -- Guachimontones. This Olmec archaeological site is home to circular pyramid structures, which is a rarity for Mexico sites. The Unesco World Heritage Site remained largely unheard of until about 2009. Before then, visitors had to ask the locals around the town, Teuchitlan, in order to make their way there. Today it is far more accessible to tourists, with a large visitor center and a museum.