As travelers get more adventurous and do the deep-dive into experiential travel, destinations that were once considered too far to access are seeming more and more accessible. And that holds true for off-the-beaten-path destinations in Mexico. As the Tulums and Sayulitas of the country continue to be discovered and developed, travelers are looking for the next best, undiscovered gems to be able to say, "We knew it when..."
"We are seeing a shift in interest in [the luxury travel] market," said Zachary Rabinor, CEO of Journey Mexico. "There's a shift toward the under-the-radar places, all places that have tremendous interest in terms of the beach, but also a parallel growing interest in the more culturally rich destinations."
As we head into 2019, here are four rising destinations that Rabinor suggests agents have on their radars.
The small seaside town of Todos Santos is just 45 minutes north of Cabo San Lucas. Long-known by surfers and artists as one of the top spots in the Baja peninsula for tranquility and epic waves, the destination has been luring in new experience-seekers for the last couple of years. Why? Because it's an incredibly charming colonial city, with a perch overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
As Los Cabos continues to rise as a primarily luxury travel destination, millennials and other travelers who are more budget-conscious are looking for new ways to experience the Baja peninsula. Todos Santos is splashed with color across its colonial-style buildings. One of Mexico's Pueblos Magicos, it abounds in cultural allure, from its cobblestone streets lined with art galleries and architecture to its cute cafes, coffee shops and tapas bars.
The cathedral in San Cristobal de las Casas, in Chiapas. Photo Credit: Meagan Drillinger
One of Mexico's southernmost states, Chiapas is a verdant jungle paradise, complete with the steamy lowlands that rise up into the cooler, coffee-cultivating highlands. It's in the state of Chiapas that you'll find the amazing Mayan archaeological site Palenque, as well as the mystical city of San Cristobal de las Casas, which is nestled in the mountains, surrounded by pine forests, and steeped in mystic tradition.
The predominant culture in San Cristobal de las Casas is the Tzotzil Mayan community, known for their dyed textiles and crafts in jade and amber. They also still practice shamanism, and often the air in San Cristobal is pungent with incense. The city is stunningly beautiful and diverse from an architectural perspective, with examples of Baroque, plateresque and neoclassical.
The icon of the city is the canary-yellow cathedral that stands overlooking the valley below, with its expansive plaza out front where there are always crafts set up for sale. San Cristobal is also a great base from which to explore nearby surrounding natural highlights, like the Sumidero Canyon National Park. Boat trips set sail multiple times a day through the canyon, where visitors can gaze up at the rock face walls that rise as high as 3,300 feet.
Palenque sits much lower than San Cristobal, shrouded by jungle. The Mayan city is a Unesco World Heritage Site, home to temples and buildings all around the compound, many of which remain still uncovered tucked in the jungle. Southeast of Palenque are two other pre-Hispanic cities, Bonampak and Yaxchilan.
While Chiapas is still a little more difficult to reach -- you'll have to go either by bus or fly into southern cities like Chetumal and drive -- the proposed Mayan train route, which is expected to begin construction under president-elect Lopez Obrador's upcoming term, will include Palenque on the route. This means that visitors will be able to fly into Cancun and set off on a rail journey that will make a stop in Palenque.
Within the Sierra Tarahumara mountain range is Mexico's veritable "Grand Canyon." The walls of Copper Canyon, or Barrancas del Cobre, are even longer and deeper than those of the Grand Canyon. The canyon earns its name from the color of its walls. One of the more popular ways to explore Copper Canyon is aboard El Chepe, the train that runs its length from Los Mochis to Chihuahua, crossing over bridges and winding through tunnels carved into the mountains.
Travelers looking for a longer visit can combine El Chepe with a visit to Mazatlan. Los Mochis is about four hours from the coastal city, so visitors can fly into Mazatlan, spend time at the beach, and then embark on the rail journey. Or, in the reverse, fly into Chihuahua and end the journey with a relaxing beach vacation.
The Uxmal archaeological site is a short drive from Merida. Photo Credit: Meagan Drillinger
Merida had a short-lived stint in the spotlight a few years ago when new direct flights started opening up the city. But since then the buzz on the city has seemed to have quieted. But Merida is not to be overlooked. It's a culturally rich and vibrant colonial city in the state of Yucatan, about a five-hour drive from Cancun.
Though it's a veritable city, Merida exudes a small-town charm, with its centro historico, colonial architecture, cafes, art galleries and cantinas. It is also a gastronomic paradise for foodies looking to experience the richness of Yucatecan cuisine. Plus, the city is within a short drive to Mayan sites like Uxmal and beach hideaways like Celestun and Progreso.
Most flights to Merida connect through Mexico City. You can reach Merida via Aeromexico, United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, InterJet, Volaris and VivaAerobus.