10 Best Things to Do in Mexico

Posted May 14, 2014 by

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In the news, it sometimes seems like Mexico is all about gun violence and spring-break foam parties, with precious little in between. But the country's enduring popularity is a testament to its many charms. From food that's recognized by UNESCO to natural wonders you simply can't find anywhere else, Mexico remains a treasure trove for the world traveler. Here are 10 of the absolute best things to do and great places to experience it all.


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For many, a tropical vacation requires nothing less and nothing more than a perfect beach. But perfection, like beauty, is in the eye of the beachgoer, and so even something as simple as the classic combination of sand and surf isn't a one-size-fits-all endeavor. With coastlines on the Caribbean, Pacific, and Sea of Cortez, Mexico offers many varieties of perfection: powdery sand beaches and rocky shores, crowd-free expanses and packed hot spots, and calm swimming bays and tantalizing surf breaks.

Relax: Celebrated for its white sand and warm, shallow water, Playa Norte on Isla Mujeres off the coast of Cancun earned the number-one spot on TripAdvisor's best beaches in Mexico list this year. Frommer's faves include Sayulita and Los Cabos. And U.S. News & World Report gives top marks to the beach below the ruins at Tulum.


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When you eat in Mexico, you're not just fueling your body, you're savoring the very foundation of the culture. In 2010, Mexico's traditional cuisine was among the first foods that UNESCO recognized on its list of intangible cultural heritage. The designation paid tribute to the country's "elaborate and symbol-laden" food, and drew special attention to the Michoacan state for its efforts to make traditional cuisine a means of sustainable development.

Taste: Seek out the local specialties when you travel. Try carnitas in Morelia, Michoacan; mole in Oaxaca; tacos al pastor in Mexico City; and the spicy seafood soup chilpachole in Veracruz.


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Archaeological Ruins

The term New World doesn't do justice to the ancient splendor of Mexico's Aztec and Maya ruins. You've got to see these massive, majestic lost cities—some of them thousands of years old—in person to appreciate their impressive, sometimes sinister grandeur. Since many have spent centuries preserved under a thick blanket of jungle, ongoing archaeological excavations create a surprising what's-old-is-new-again feeling, offering fresh reasons to visit every few years.

Visit: Head to Chichen Itza and Uxmal on the Yucatan Peninsula, Teotihuacan near Mexico City, and Tulum for its unbeatable setting on a cliff overlooking the turquoise Caribbean Sea.


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From the stone carvings crowning Aztec pyramids to the vibrant folk art still produced today, art is woven into the very fabric of Mexico. You'll find it in equal measures in museums—where you can go to admire paintings and murals by famous Mexican artists including Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera—street markets, galleries, and even wildly adorned cemeteries. But to really live and breathe the spirit of art, head to a destination known for nurturing and celebrating artists working today.

Visit: San Miguel de Allende, tucked high in the hills of Mexico's central highlands, is a UNESCO World Heritage of Humanity site. The colonial town draws an eclectic mix of artists and art aficionados from Mexico and around the world. For a more urban backdrop, head to Guadalajara. Mexico's second-largest city is known for its public art and thriving contemporary-art scene. For more art in Mexico, consider Todos Santos, Monterrey, or Puebla.


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Natural Wonders

Canyons longer and deeper than the Grand Canyon. A volcano that rivals Kilimanjaro. The world's second-largest barrier reef. Mexico's greatest natural wonders may not all be world renowned, but in terms of sheer "wow" factor, they're right up there with the global greats. And the variety of ecosystems—from tundra to jungle and desert sands to beach dunes—makes it a unique destination ideal for travelers looking to see the world from on high as well as down low.

Discover: Named for the greenish-copper hue of its canyon walls, Copper Canyon in Chihuahua stretches for miles. In Veracruz, volcanic Mount Orizaba beckons climbers to its 16,000-foot peak. There are also plenty of smaller wonders, including Hierve el Agua natural rock formations in Oaxaca, pictured above.


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Mexico is home to more than 30 sites—including 10 historical cities—on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Each represents a different chapter in the history of the land: Campeche is recognized for its city walls and colonial Baroque architecture; Oaxaca, with its historical center designed to resemble a checkerboard, and Mexico City in part for its chinampas, or floating gardens.

Wander: Other cities on the World Heritage register include Guanajuato, Morelia, Puebla, Queretaro, San Miguel de Allende, Tlacotalpan, and Zacatecas.


(Photo: Thinkstock/Hemera)


With its mountains, volcanoes, canyons, and waters, there's plenty to challenge both adventure newbies and devoted enthusiasts. Here you can rappel among flitting swallows into a massive single-chamber cavern, perfect your backstroke next to a waterfall in a jungle cenote, or ride on horseback up a mountain and hang glide back down. Raft, climb, snorkel, and hike to find a Mexico that's a million miles away from the beachfront bars and all-inclusive resorts of beaten-path Mexico.

Explore: Visit Sotano de las Golondrinas (Cave of the Swallows), the Yucatan's many cenotes, and Valle de Bravo for climbing, riding, and hang gliding. VisitMexico has many more suggestions for adventurous travelers.


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In Mexico, wildlife isn't a backdrop, it's a star attraction. Late October brings up to a billion monarch butterflies descend on the mountains of Michoacan for a winter vacation far from the cold. The Sea of Cortez—that body of water between mainland Mexico and the Baja California Peninsula—is so abundant in marine life that Jacques Cousteau called it the "world's aquarium." Such abundance ensures good odds for travelers looking for a chance to see wildlife in its natural environment.

Spot: The Sea of Cortez is home to species representing one-third of the planet's marine mammals. And the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Michoacan is a 200-square-mile protected area that plays host to the migrating butterflies between fall and spring each year.


(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

Water Sports

Mexico looks to the sea. Its nearly 6,000 miles of coast offers an inviting playground for surfers, sailors, swimmers, snorkelers, and sport fishers. With three major bodies of water from which to choose—the azure Caribbean, unrestrained Pacific, and rich, warm Sea of Cortez—you can find ideal conditions for every water sport.

Splash: Puerto Escondido, Punta Mita, and Sayulita are among the country's favorite surf spots. Snorkelers and divers can explore the world's second-largest barrier reef (which Mexico shares with neighboring Belize) on the Riviera Maya. Sport fishing rules in destinations including Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos, and Mazatlan.


(Photo: Martijn Munneke via flickr/CC Attribution)


Before the Spanish Conquest in the 16th century, the land that would become Mexico was home to hundreds of indigenous nations. And while colonization changed nearly everything in the ensuing 500 years, Mexico's first natives remain a defining force in the country, making up about 10 percent of the population. The largest pockets of indigenous culture and language thrive in the states of Oaxaca, Veracruz, Chiapas, and Puebla.

Learn: In Chiapas, explore Maya traditions in San Cristobal de las Casas and Tzotzil culture in San Juan Chamula.

A Note on Safety: In its January 2014 travel warning for Mexico, The State Department points out that millions of visitors safely visit Mexico each year and that the Mexican government dedicates "substantial resources" to protecting visitors. Violent activity is mostly centered in the border region, but you can find a breakdown of visitor advisories by state in the travel warning. Visitors are encouraged to maintain low profiles (avoiding flashy jewelry and clothing with U.S. sports or military logos) and maintain awareness of their surroundings.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title 10 Best Things to Do in Mexico.

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Trip Report: Los Cabos, Mexico

Posted May 14, 2013 by

Los Cabos Arch-DD

Los Cabos is on the tip of the state of Baja California Sur—an arid and cactus-filled land, yet fertile due to its peninsular body surrounded by the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean. Los Cabos consists of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo.

High Points: After leaving behind a snow-blanketed Boston, I heartily welcomed the Cabos sun. The warmth set the stage for my five-day trip. From the friendly people to the spicy food, Los Cabos' warmth was like a welcome mat to Mexico.

My time in San Jose del Cabo was spent meandering about art gallery-filled cobblestoned streets, perusing the town's markets and shops, and visiting the Mega (something like a Costco, and what seems like geared for ex-Pats). I found a sketchy water canal with colorful street murals, rode local buses (there are several varieties, including the urbanos, the co-ops, and even some with AC), shopped around for fine tequilas to bring back home, and spoke with several cigar vendors about the famous Habanos. (Did you know Fidel once hired his own personal cigar roller?)

Walking about the town, folks are ready with a quick "hola" and "buenas tardes." I made friends with Tim, the (highly stressed) landscape designer for Hollywood stars at Baja Brewing Co. I chatted up Geraldo the bartender, who's going to make it a point to go running on the beach more often. Then there was Laurel and Sharon, daughter and mother, beachside Malibu residents who's ancestry ties them with the Rockefellers. Oh, can't forget Eduardo, El Encanto Inn's concierge. Ever-helpful, Eduardo promises to show me around where the locals hang out upon my return to Los Cabos—a certain move in my near future.

Low Points: Unfortunately, headlining the news these days is Mexico's rampant drug-affiliated violence. That, however, shouldn't dissuade you from making a trip to Los Cabos. I felt safe in San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas.

Scarier are the gouging prices. Being in Mexico I expected wares and services to be a lot more affordable than what I encountered: $50 for a bottle of mid-tier tequila, $40 for a one-way cab ride from San Jose del Cabo to Cabo San Lucas (a 20-mile distance on a toll-less road). A typical dinner starts at $15, sans drinks.

Savings Strategy: From cab fares to trinkets, be ready to haggle. It's almost expected of you to do so.

Where I Stayed: I stayed in two hotels while at San Jose del Cabo. The Hotel El Ganzo is hip and artsy. Past guests include Slash of Guns 'n' Roses fame; party-boy Charlie Sheen; Mexican artist Gabriel Macotela; Manuel Pujol Baladas, known as the Young Dali and infamous for falsifying his namesake's work; and one of my fave musicians, Damien Rice (swoon).

For a more affordable and authentic San Jose del Cabo experience, check out Encanto Inn. Take advantage of the hotel's central location for Art Walk. Every Thursday evening from November through June, the town's art galleries stay open late into the evening, enticing patrons with complimentary wines and hors d'oeuvres.

If You Go: Take advantage of the rich marine life that surrounds you and dive, snorkel, kayak out to Cabo's famous Arch and Lover's Beach, fish, swim with whales—whatever it is you prefer, just soak in the surrounds. If you're anything at all like this Northeasterner, it's not often you have an opportunity to try out as many of these marine adventures in a single destination.

For beachside centrally located accommodations in Cabo San Lucas, stay at Casa Dorada. Though I only lunched there, I was blown away by the impeccable service—one of the genuinely friendliest I've ever met.

For the calendar of events, more accommodations options than what is listed above, and general destination tips, peruse the Los Cabos Tourism Board site.


Read the original story: Trip Report: Los Cabos, Mexico, by Patricia Magaña


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Taste Oaxaca, Mexico, Without a Hefty Bill

Posted September 8, 2010 by Kate Hamman

Oaxaca As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Oaxaca is a smorgasbord of cultural flavors. However, you don't have to spend a lot of pesos to get a taste of the city. You can learn how to create an authentic Mexican meal at home, dine on traditional dishes such as mole, and stay at an inn for just $50 per night.

Seasons of my Heart Cooking School: Whether you're new to cooking or a long-time chef, Seasons of my Heart will teach you a thing or two about Mexican cuisine. Choose from half-day, full-day, or week-long classes. For the full-day class, you'll begin by exploring a local market to taste and find the meal's ingredients. Upon returning to the school, you'll don an apron and create five different dishes to eat at the end of class. Full-day classes cost $75, and include transportation.

Hotel Azucenas: Located in a renovated colonial home near the town square, Hotel Azucenas offers relaxation and comfort in the heart of Oaxaca. Each of its 10 rooms overlook an interior courtyard, and come with morning coffee delivery. The hotel offers a fresh breakfast buffet, and you can spend your day lounging in the rooftop terrace garden or the cafe bar. Rooms start at about 625 pesos per night (about $48 U.S., see for current conversion rates).

To search for flights and compare prices to Oaxaca, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Gunion)

High Prices are History in Acapulco

Posted September 3, 2010 by Kate Hamman

Acapulco As a major port for cruise ships, Acapulco accommodates all types of travelers. Some come to shop, others to party, and then there are those who come to learn about the city's history. If you're one of the latter, you can spend days exploring the most relevant historical monument in the city. Once you've worked up an appetite, dine on the beach at a restaurant that's been serving patrons for more than half a century. At night, relax in an all-suite hotel run by a woman who has quite a history of her own.

Acapulco Historical Museum: Housed in the Fort of San Diego, which at one time was the most important Spanish fortress along the Pacific Coast, the Acapulco Historic Museum is the place to go for a history lesson in Acapulco. Within its 15 exhibition rooms, you'll learn about the fort's role in the conquest of the Southern Seas, commerce with Asia, and the Mexican war of independence, as well as other historical moments. Admission costs 30 pesos (about $2.32 U.S.; check for current exchange rates).

Etel Suites: Senora Etel, the great-grandniece of John August Sutter, who played a hand in the great Gold Rush of 1849, has struck it rich with her homey suites. Service is the main priority here, and it's hard not to feel welcome. Overlooking Bahía de Acapulco high above the Old City, the Etel offers views of the ocean and La Quebadra cliffs. You can spend days here relaxing in the rooftop garden or by the pool. Each suite comfortably sleeps three, and has a terrace.

La Cabana Restaurant Bar and Club de Playa: With humble beginnings as just a palapa more than 50 years ago, La Cabana has become a popular restaurant among tourists and locals alike. With the beach just steps away, you can watch the waves roll in as you enjoy a tropical drink or dine on the original shark tamales. You can also take your food to go for a picnic elsewhere.

To search for flights and compare prices to Acapulco, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Mexico Tourism Board)

Party in Cabo San Lucas Without Spending Your College Tuition

Posted August 11, 2010 by Kate Hamman

Cabo When it comes to good times, Cabo San Lucas puts the salt on the margarita glass. Because of this, students flock to the lively city year after year for fun in the sun and happening nightlife. Come sail high above the sea, hang upside down in a bar, and stay in your own private bungalow without spending your college tuition.

Caborey Parasailing: With more than 40 years of experience, Caborey Parasailing is the place to go if you want to soar 600 feet above the ocean while being propelled by a speedboat. You can go solo, or take one of your closest pals and try it tandem. Each trip lasts about an hour-and-a-half, but you're only in the air for about five to 10 minutes. Rides cost $25 per person for a five-minute "quickie," $35 per person for eight to 10 minutes, or $70 for an eight-to-10-minute tandem ride.

The Giggling Marlin: Hang upside down while drinking a margarita at the Giggling Marlin, where you'll be hoisted up by your ankles just like a proudly caught fish on display. The party doesn't stop there, as the bar offers plenty of other ways to drink right-side up. If you get hungry, you can also order from a full menu of Mexican and American entrees.

The Bungalows Hotel: In the heart of Cabo San Lucas, stay at a private suite or bungalow where you can recharge after a night on the town. Relax by the fountains, carved stone benches, swimming pool, and lush gardens. Each of the 16 rooms comes equipped with a kitchenette, Mexican furnishings, and a private bath. In the morning, enjoy a full gourmet breakfast served in the brick-paved nook. Suites start at $75 per night, and two-bedroom bungalows start at $95.

To search for flights and compare prices to Los Cabos, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Index Open)

Dive Into Affordable Prices in Cozumel

Posted July 9, 2010 by Kate Hamman

Cozumel Cozumel may be the epitome of a tropical paradise, with long stretches of sandy beaches, a kaleidoscope of marine life along its coral reefs, and warm water temperatures. And it doesn't even cost a fortune to visit. You can spend your days in the water, and your nights in a cozy inn. Once you feel rejuvenated, you can get lost in a souvenir store before you dine high above the ocean.

Coral Reef Inn: Cozumel is an ideal place to get your feet wet, but when you're ready to return to dry land, the Coral Reef Inn provides a great place to ditch your snorkel gear. This adults-only inn offers five suites, with pillow-top beds and high-quality linens available in each. Rooms start at $75 per night. You can also save money by cooking your own meals in the full-service kitchen.

Los Cinco Soles: Downtown San Miguel, Cozumel's main town, overflows with specialty bargain stores, including Los Cinco Soles, the last store on the waterfront, where you'll find a collection of Mexican crafts, jewelry, and art. Items are reasonably priced, but you can still print coupons off the website for extra savings. If you need a break from browsing, you can drink a killer margarita and relax behind the store in Pancho's Backyard.

Coconuts Bar and Grill on the Hill: While driving along Cozumel's east coast beaches or gallivanting about the island, be sure to stop at Coconuts for ocean views and tasty eats. Perched on the island's highest point, this rustic restaurant screams tropical with its authentic palapa roof and traditional Mexican fare. If you're hankering for something a bit more American, the kitchen also makes a mean hamburger.

To search for flights and compare prices to Cozumel, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Index Open)

Cabo San Lucas Invites You to Join in the Fun

Posted July 2, 2010 by Kate Hamman

Cabo san lucas Can’t decide between “exciting” or “relaxing” on your next trip? Head to Cabo San Lucas, where you can start off by livening things up with sizzling nightlife and spicy foods. Then, after you've imbibed and danced the night away, you can crash in a cozy and laid-back hacienda.

The Office on the Beach: The last thing you want to think about while on vacation is work, but this office gives new meaning to the rat race. Here you can sit on the beach under the palapa and watch the waves roll in as you enjoy one of the bar's signature margaritas. This office started serving food and drinks in the 70s, and has been going strong ever since. And if you're in town on a Thursday, stop by for the Mexican Fiesta, where you can dance the night away under the stars.

Casa Pablito: Nothing says vacation quite like waking up in a Mexican Hacienda-style room and stepping outside into a pool with an "in the water" bar and whirlpool. Relaxation is the name of the game at Casa Pablito, where breakfast is served in the canteen until 11 a.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and noon on Sundays. To help cut costs while visiting, get acquainted with the in-room cooking facilities and refrigerators.

Felix' Fine Mexican & Seafood Restaurant: It's unlikely you'll ever find a salsa bar of this size anywhere else. In fact, with more than 1,200 unique recipes, Felix' claims to have the world's largest. It features at least 30 to 40 different types each night, ranging in spiciness from "bring-the-kids" mild to "Whoa Nellie." In between sampling salsas, you can sip a margarita under the bougainvillea-covered awning, dine on pozole, and listen to Mexican music. Be aware that if you come before 1 p.m., Felix' will be Mama's Royal Cafe serving breakfast foods.

To search for flights and compare prices to Los Cabos, which is home to Cabo San Lucas’ nearest major airport, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Boutique Hotel Casa Pablito)

Hide Away for Less in Zihuatanejo, Mexico

Posted June 28, 2010 by Kate Hamman

Zihuatanejo It may be hard to pronounce—you can call it Zihua (zee-wah) for short—but its exotic name just makes Zihuatanejo feel more like a secret hideaway. Even at the end of the popular film, The Shawshank Redemption, the two characters escape to the safety of its shores. You can also run away to paradise and hide on your own private terrace, but when you feel it's safe to leave, there's a local market to explore and fine cuisine to remind you how good freedom feels.

Hotel Brisas del Mar: Sitting high above Zihuatanejo Bay, Hotel Brisas del Mar offers private terraces with commanding views of the ocean, where you can swing in a hammock and watch the day drift by. The real draw of this family-owned hotel, besides the terrace bar, restaurant, and pool, is the price. Rooms start at $107 for a junior suite, and you'll be staying right on Madera Beach, which is only a ten-minute walk from all of the excitement downtown.

Zihuatanejo artisan's mercado: The Mercado is much more than just three blocks of individual stalls selling handcrafted goods, it's an experience. Not only can you buy original pieces of art, but you can watch sellers working on them as you shop. Most of the crafts are created in a small village outside the city, but completed here for the full effect. You'll find an array of woodcarvings, pottery, jewelry, and clothing spilling forth from each stall. Bargaining is an art form in itself and is expected, so never pay the first-asking price. Start low, and be prepared to meet somewhere in the middle.

Coconuts Bar Restaurant: For 30 years, Coconuts has been the "it" spot for fine dining, romantic atmosphere, and friendly service in Zihuatanejo. The restaurant occupies the oldest building in the city, built in 1865, and its lantern-lit courtyard ensconced by coconut-palm trees makes for a magical experience. The menu is fresh, fresh, fresh, and includes a range of flavorful seafood and meat dishes.

To search for flights and compare prices to Ixtapa, which is home to Zihuatanejo's closest airport, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: iStockphoto/Dana Baldwin)

Swine Flu Travel Information

Posted April 30, 2009 by Nicki Krawczyk

UsentrymaskREX_450x300 It may not be my job to be your go-to girl for potential pandemics, but there seems to be so much crazy information out there regarding the swine flu and the ins and outs, ups and downs of travel, that I thought it might be a good idea to compile a bit of useful information.

First of all, three cheers for new media! Through the uber-easy-to-use media-darling Twitter, real information from valid sources can be disseminated quickly and easily to those who want to hear it. Case in point (and as reported by NPR) the Center for Disease Control has been tweeting like crazy to keep the public up to date about outbreak information.

Also, our good friends over at SmarterTravel have put together a very helpful and regularly-updated article for those travelers who are concerned about swine flu and equally concerned about how it will affect their trips. Find information about current warnings, which airlines and hotels aren’t charging change fees, how to protect yourself en route, and more.

In an effort to come to your aid in as broad of a spectrum as possible, I’ll even present to you information on how to get into Mexico for less. Please note that the government has recommended that you not visit this country for non-essential trips. However, that means that there are lots of empty planes and plenty of cheap flights to Mexico to be found. It goes without saying, of course, but you'll be traveling at your own risk.

Speaking of which, if you’re willing to hedge your bets a bit, right now might be a great time to try to nab a flight to Mexico for several months into the future after (hopefully) the furor has calmed down. It’s somewhat risky in terms of timing and pricing, but I just found a round-trip flight leaving September 21st and returning the 28th from Boston to Cancun starting at $255. I’m certainly no prophet and prices could always go lower if airlines get desperate about trying to recoup losses, but just keeping your eyes open is never a bad idea.


Taste Oaxaca, Mexico, Without a Hefty Bill

Posted April 21, 2009 by Kate Hamman

Culinary-Mole-DEF As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Oaxaca is a smorgasbord of cultural flavors. However, you don't have to spend a lot of pesos to get a taste of the city. You can learn how to create an authentic Mexican meal at home, dine on traditional dishes such as mole, and stay at an inn for just $50 per night.

Seasons of my Heart Culinary School: Whether you're new to cooking or a long-time chef, Seasons of my Heart will teach you a thing or two about Mexican cuisine. Choose from half-day, full-day, or week-long classes. For the full-day class, you'll begin by exploring a local market to taste and find the meal's ingredients. Upon returning to the school, you'll don an apron and create five different dishes to eat at the end of class. Full-day classes cost $75, and include transportation.

El Naranjo: El Naranjo captures the flavors of Oaxaca by using traditional family recipes with a contemporary twist. The restaurant's seven types of mole draw people in from all over the world. Most popular is the negro, which uses 30 different ingredients. If you're in the mood for something spicy, try one of the chilies stuffed with pork, cheese, or a variety of veggies.

Hotel Azucenas: Located in a renovated colonial home near the town square, Hotel Azucenas offers relaxation and comfort in the heart of Oaxaca. Each of its 10 rooms overlook an interior courtyard, and come with morning coffee delivery. The hotel offers a fresh breakfast buffet, and you can spend your day lounging in the rooftop terrace garden or the cafe bar. Rooms start at about $40per night, and breakfast costs $4 per person.

To search for flights and compare prices to Oaxaca, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Gunion)

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