best cities to visit in mexico
With a rich culture, ancient ruins, pristine beaches, and mouthwatering cuisine, Mexico has to be on your bucket list of destinations. Source: AFP

From the ancient Mayan city of Chichén Itzá to the vibrant celebrations of Día de Muertos (the Day of the Dead), and of course, the mouthwatering Mexican cuisine, Mexico is a country bursting with unique history, culture, and beauty.

It’s no surprise that it easily attracts millions of tourists from all over the world — in 2023, the World Tourism Organisation reported that 42 million international tourists visited Mexico, eight million more than in 2022. 

For those living or studying abroad in the US, Mexico is just right next door, a perfect and nearby option for your next travel destination, promising adventure and wonder.

The fear that Mexico is not a safe country to visit

Unfortunately, Mexico has built a reputation for being unsafe over the years.

Cartel violence, kidnappings, and general street crime in the country have headlined news worldwide.

Even Reddit threads are questioning the safety of travelling to Mexico, with a user asking: “I want to go to Mexico with my partner during the summer but my family says it’s too dangerous and I’ll get hurt or maybe killed. Can anyone confirm or deny if Mexico is safe to visit?”

The post has received mixed responses, though one user concludes, “Every country has its good and bad places. There are parts of the town I live in in the Midwest USA that I would not go to after dark.”

Countries like Canada, the US, and the UK have even created and continuously update their travel advisory websites to advise their citizens on how to travel in Mexico and which cities to avoid.

  • The Government of Canada states, “Exercise a high degree of caution in Mexico due to high levels of criminal activity and kidnapping.” The government then lists states, including their cities, that Canadians should avoid travelling to and the type of crimes in the country. 
  • The US Department of State encourages citizens not to travel to Colima, Guerrero, Michoacan, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, and Zacatecas state due to crime and kidnapping. The department has compiled a list of states to reconsider and exercise increased caution when travelling, with Campeche and Yucatán being the only states citizens can openly travel to without worrying too much about safety.
best cities to visit in Mexico

Safety is a big concern for many tourists when travelling in Mexico due to the crimes committed in the country. Source: AFP

Ways you can practice safety

Even if a country is deemed “safe” to travel, there are precautions that you should always practice while travelling.

  • Keep your travel companions or someone from home informed of your travel plans, and provide them with regular updates on your location. 
  • If separating from your travel group, send a friend your GPS location; if you’re taking a taxi alone, take a photo of the taxi’s license plate and send it to someone you trust. 
  • Be extra vigilant when visiting banks or ATMs, and always keep an eye on your belongings, such as your bags, devices, or jewellery. 
  • Monitor local media closely to receive updates on the country’s or city’s status.

Now that you know some practices on how to stay safe, it’s time to explore the beautiful cities of Mexico.

10 best cities to visit in Mexico that are safe for students

1. Campeche

Nestled in the Yucatán peninsula, Campeche is one of the safest cities on the Gulf of Mexico, making it one of the best cities to visit in Mexico.

Here, you’ll see well-preserved historical buildings dating back to the 17th century, such as the Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción. If you’re looking for a getaway, try a four-hour drive down south to Calakmul by booking day-trip tours to Calakmul’s UNESCO-protected Biosphere Reserve and the Calakmul Archaeological Zone.

No trip to Campeche is complete without a meal at Marganzo Restaurant. Between its coastal setting and cuisines, chow down to traditional Mexican food made with the freshest seafood at reasonable prices for students.

2. Cancún

The common misconception about Cancún is that it’s the best place for spring breakers looking for wild nightlife. While that may be partly true, there’s another side to the city that’ll sweep you off your feet too. 

This city is home to many UNESCO sites and natural wonders. You can swim in one of Cancún’s UNESCO biospheres, Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, or trek the El Meco Archaeological site. Just a drive away is the Biosphere Reserve of Ria Lagartos, another UNESCO-certified biosphere where you can witness flamingoes, pelicans, and crocodiles chilling together.

If you’re looking for an activity that will blow your mind, pop over to the world’s largest underwater museum. MUSA (Underwater Museum of Art) surrounds the waters of Cancún with over 500 life-size sculptures that help enhance coral life. 

3. Cozumel

Cozumel provides the best of both worlds for those looking for a laid-back holiday by the beach or an adventure-seeking holiday.

Located off the eastern coast of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, Cozumel is an island and municipality in the Caribbean Sea with white sandy beaches and cosy hotels. Playa Uvas is one of Cozumel’s best beaches, with its beach club offering hammocks, seafood restaurants, and tiny spas — the perfect combination for a relaxing holiday after stressful exams. 

Adventure-seeking peeps can check out the ATV excursions, deep-sea fishing, and snorkelling in the world’s second-largest barrier reef systems too.

4. Cabo San Lucas

Cabo San Lucas is one of Los Cabos’s significant cities and one of the best cities to visit in Mexico, as it offers a truly immersive experience. You can find yourself on ATV tours by the Migrino Desert, tequila tasting, camelback riding, golfing at one of its many golf courses, and powered paragliding down the city’s coastlines.

Located by the southern tip of Los Cabos, you can participate in various water activities, such as kayaking, luxury sailing, snorkelling, and swimming with whale sharks.

best cities to visit in Mexico

Chichén Itzá is well over 1,500 years old, and it is one of the most important examples of the Mayan-Toltec civilisation in Yucatán. Source: AFP

5. Merida

Merida offers unique and unforgettable experiences, making it one of Mexico’s best cities to visit. It is located within the state of Yucatán, with colonial and Mayan history deep in its cultural roots.

Just an hour’s drive from the city lies the pyramid of Chichén Itzá, one of the largest Mayan cities ever built and one of the New Seven Wonders of The World. The pyramid and the other ruins cover an area of four square miles, slightly bigger than Boracay Island in the Philipines. It’s a must-visit site when in Merida, welcoming over 2.5 million visitors each year.

Beyond that, you can make your way to the pristine beaches of Merida, where you can dive into exciting water activities like paddle boarding, diving, and kayaking.

6. Mexico City

Of course, a trip to Mexico inspires the thought of strolling down the streets of the capital and the largest city in the country. This is the City of the Palaces, where every corner promises a share of culture and history.

Among its skyscrapers and modern architecture, several historical buildings can fill your trip with rich culture. Zócalo, Mexico City’s main square, is a must-visit as several major landmarks surround it, including the National Palace of Mexico and the Metropolitan Cathedral

There are ancient sites like the Templo Mayer, a 13th-century Aztec temple. For art enthusiasts, Casa Azul — more commonly known as Museo Frida Kahlo — is where you’ll find the life story of renowned Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. A trip to the Xochimilco Canals will take you to see a side of Mexico you hadn’t even imagined. 

7. Monterrey

Monterrey is just a three-hour drive from Border Colonia, Texas, USA, for those looking for a quick getaway. It is one of Mexico’s largest cities and a melting pot of culture, history, and nature.

Monterrey offers many fun activities, from exploring caves to boat rides and sightseeing. Parque Ecologico Chipinque is one of Monterrey’s ecological parks, where you can hike, cycle, and jog while taking in its breathtaking scenery and spotting wildlife such as the coati, a racoon-looking animal. The Garcia Caves, the world’s second-largest cave system, is also a place to visit.

Monterrey’s food scene makes it one of the best cities to visit in Mexico. Its speciality dishes, cabrito and machaca, are must-tries. 

best cities to visit in Mexico

Aktun Chen is a scenic rainforest park with an underground cave where tourists can swim and explore. Source: AFP

8. Playa del Carmen

Known for its crystal clear waters, laid-back vibe, and white sand beaches, Playa del Carmen is a colourful city on the mainland by Cozumel. This is where you want to be if you’re looking for an island getaway. 

Playa del Carmen has activities identical to those of the other cities mentioned, but here is what sets it aside and why you should plan a trip to the island. Compared to the different towns, Playa de Carmen is surrounded by several famous underwater caves that you can explore, including Rio Secreto, Aktun Chen, Cenote Chaak Tun, and Ecopark Kantun Chi.

9. Puebla

Puebla is home to colonial architecture, hand-painted Talavera tiles, the birthplace of the famous Mexican dish, mole, and the Biblioteca Palafoxiana — recognized by UNESCO for being the first and oldest public library in the Americas. 

Foodies will have a blast in Puebla. Mole, the city’s most traditional dish, can be found throughout the city. You can also find chiles en nogada (stuffed poblano chiles), chanclas (a Mexican sandwich), and chalupas (Puebla style tacos).

If you’re worried about the calories, you can burn them off with sightseeing tours of Puebla’s colonial architecture, churches, and archaeological sites.

10. Valladolid

Valladolid is a hidden gem on the Yucatán peninsula. Its vibrant yet peaceful and safe environment makes it one of Mexico’s best cities for students to visit.

Valladolid has a rich history filled with preserved buildings such as the Convent of San Bernardino de Siena. Walking through the streets, you can fully immerse yourself in its colourful scenery and culture while discovering hidden gems, including artisan shops and traditional markets from the late 19th century.

The culinary scene in Valladolid is a highlight, with various local restaurants offering traditional Yucatecan cuisine. Restaurants like El Atrio del Mayab provide authentic Mexican dining experiences with traditional dishes made from fresh, local ingredients that are reasonably priced.