Mexico’s Must-Visit Hidden Gems
It’s a fact that Mexico is a country of immense beauty with many eco-tours and natural attractions, some of which are more famous than others. If you’re looking for something incredibly unique to do on your next stay at your home away from home, this article covers hidden gems to discover in the destinations of Puerto Vallarta, Riviera Nayarit, Los Cabos, Cancun, and the Islands of Loreto. These one-of-a-kind activities and places to visit are off the beaten trail and lesser known, but still absolutely wonderful. By the end of this article, we hope that you will have added some of these amazing places to your bucket list!
1. Puerto Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta is a gorgeous city surrounded by the azure Pacific ocean and lush green Sierra Madre mountain range. In addition to the usual places that you probably already heard about or visited such as Marietas Islands, Los Arcos ¨the Arches¨, and the Malecon ¨boardwalk¨, there are also some hidden gems that you may not have heard about.
If you are looking for a truly unique day trip, Quimixto is a small fishing village where the local kids still play with balls rather than iPads. The town is only accessible by boat. To get there, you will need to take a taxi to Boca de Tomatlan. Once you arrive, turn right towards the pier and head to the beach, where you will find several water taxis that depart once they are full. The water taxis cost 100 pesos per person each way or 200 pesos roundtrip (price subject to change).
Boca de Tomatlan is a charming fishing village known by the locals in Quimixto and is 13 miles (approximately a 45-minute drive) from Villa del Palmar Puerto Vallarta and 25 miles from Villa del Palmar Flamingos (just over an hour’s drive).
Once in Quimixto, you can relax on the beach and visit the waterfall. You can either jump into the waterfall from the cliff or you can choose to walk down the stairs into the water. You can enjoy a nice lunch and a margarita or beer at El Paraiso Restaurant next to the waterfall.
If you prefer a guided tour, you can take the Sea Safari tour offered by Vallarta Adventures, which includes a boat ride, snorkeling trip, horseback riding, and a stop at the waterfall in Quimixto. Please ask our Member Services Team for more information and to book this tour.
San Sebastián del Oeste
For the ultimate day trip outside of the city, visit San Sebastián del Oeste, a charming town that dates back to the 17th century. Take a stroll through its quaint cobblestone streets and explore the architecture and unique buildings. Try the local coffee or go for a tequila tasting. If you’re a foodie looking for a heavenly gastronomic experience, make sure you stop at Jardin Nebulosa for lunch. Vallarta Adventures also offers guided tours to this historic town, so please ask our Member Services Team for more information and to book this tour.
San Sebastián del Oeste is 47 miles from Villa del Palmar Flamingos (approximately a 2-hour drive) and 43 miles from Villa del Palmar Puerto Vallarta (approximately a 2-hour drive).
2. Riviera Nayarit
While Puerto Vallarta is the most talked about destination in the Bay of Banderas, there are actually two states that lie between the Ameca River. Puerto Vallarta is located in the state of Jalisco, but just across the river heading north, you will enter into the state of the Riviera Nayarit, also just commonly called Nayarit. There are several distinct towns within the state of Nayarit that are worth visiting including: Nuevo Vallarta, Bucerias, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Punta de Mita (a celebrity haven), Sayulita, Higuera Blanca, and San Pancho. Choosing which town to visit can be tricky, but in this round-up of must-visit hidden gems we recommend visiting San Pancho and Higuera Blanca.
This pretty and hip town has a laid-back vibe and is a must-visit hidden gem with plenty to do from morning until night. If you are an early bird, there are three excellent cafes you can visit. Kokonati is a favorite breakfast place among the digital nomads who have taken up residence in San Pancho. Cafe Manana and Cafe Paraiso are also great spots to hang out and enjoy a coffee and fresh pastries.
After breakfast you can head to San Pancho Beach for a day of tropical relaxation on its endless white-sand beach. The waves can sometimes get high, depending on the tides, which can make it challenging to swim in the ocean at certain times of day. That is what makes it a surfer’s haven. There are plenty of beach bars dotted along the beach where you can take refuge from the sun and enjoy an icy-cold beverage. You can also watch the surfers trying to catch challenging waves.
Visit San Pancho on a Tuesday and check out the Plaza del Sol Market. This artisanal market is open every Tuesday from 10:00 am to 1:30 pm during the high season (November to April; opening days and hours are subject to change). You will find an incredible selection of goods including handmade clothing, jewelry, local art, textiles and a delicious variety of food and drinks including organic vegetables and fresh juices.
If you know how to salsa dance, check out El Gallo Bar on Friday nights. It is open for dinner starting at 6:00 pm. The live band goes on stage at 9:00 pm and the dance floor gets flooded with salsa dancers like something straight out of Havana Nights. Even if you don’t know how to dance, it is quite entertaining to watch the dancers.
San Pancho is 18 miles from Villa del Palmar Flamingos (approximately a 40-minute drive) and 28 miles from Villa del Palmar Puerto Vallarta (approx. an hour’s drive).
A visit to this quaint little village is like stepping back in time. The town was named after the many higuera ¨fig¨ trees that are native to the area. It is 19 miles away from Villa del Palmar Flamingos and approximately a 35-minute drive and 29 miles away from Villa del Palmar Puerto Vallarta, approximately an hour’s drive.
The top things to do in the area are hike up El Cerro del Mono ¨Monkey Mountain”, where you can observe spellbinding views of the jungle and ocean or visit Rancho Vista Paraiso. You can hike Monkey Mountain on your own or you can take a guided tour with an expert guide from Rancho Vista Paraiso. The gorgeous ranch also offers horseback riding, ATV tours, and ziplining. Another option is to go hiking in the morning and then go to the ranch for lunch afterwards. Everyone is welcome on the property, whether you book a tour or not. They have a fantastic outdoor restaurant serving traditional Mexican fare. You can enjoy an al fresco lunch surrounded by birds such as peacocks and parrots while admiring the beautiful property. They have a lush green lawn with chair hammocks where you can relax after lunch.
3. Los Cabos
Los Cabos is an exciting destination to explore and you will definitely want to include taking a trip to the outback and seeing the cactus-lined Baja California Sur countryside on your travel itinerary. From visiting the famous arches, taking a booze cruise, or riding a camel through the desert, there is plenty of adventure to be found in this vibrant destination. Here are our top recommendations for activities off the beaten path.
One of the best hidden things to do in Los Cabos is visit Flora Farms, a 25-acre organic working farm in the foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains. It is a supremely peaceful setting to take a farm tour, participate in a watercolor painting class with breakfast or lunch included, or go for a nature walk identifying native plants followed by lunch on the beautiful acreage. The farm also offers cooking classes and there is a grocery store there where you can purchase fresh produce to take back to your suite at the resort. Flora Farms is 23 miles from Villa del Palmar Beach Resort & Spa Cabo San Lucas and Villa La Estancia Cabos and approximately a 40-minute drive.
This trendy food court concept is a hidden gem for foodies and offers several dining options all in a unique environment where European influenced architecture merges with authentic Mexican flavors. Located at Koral Center on the Transpeninsular Highway KM 24.5, El Merkado is 17 miles from Villa Del Palmar Cabo San Lucas and Villa La Estancia Cabos and approximately a 25-minute drive. El Merkado offers gastronomic variety with 10 different dining options and is open daily between 8:00 am and 10:00 pm. Whether you stop there for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, you will be sure to find something to wow your palate.
For a really hidden gem outside of the city, take a day trip into the outback to see the desert scrub and visit Cañon de la Zorra ¨Fox Canyon¨, located 62 miles north of Villa del Palmar Cabo San Lucas, the drive takes approximately one and a half hours. Enjoy hiking through the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains and then take a refreshing dip in the freshwater pool beneath the stunning waterfall.
Cancun is a destination full of incredible natural beauty and the endless activities available make it the number one spot for both dream vacations and dream weddings. From visiting archeological sites such as Chichén Itzá, exploring the theme parks including Xplor and Xcaret, visiting the many cenotes, or picturesque turquoise beaches, you will never run out of things to do in Cancun. If you’re looking for something to do off the beaten track, we recommend a visit to Isla Contoy and to Kabah Urban Park.
One of Cancun’s hidden gems for nature lovers near Isla Mujeres is a small island named Isla Contoy, which is only accessible by boat. This natural reserve is a sanctuary for 150 different bird species, including pelicans and frigates, and 98 plant species. The island is also a haven for sea turtles. While you explore the island, you can swim and snorkel around the Ixlache Reef or relax on the powder soft-sand beach under swaying palms. To get to Isla Contoy, you can take the ferry from Cancun, go with a tour operator, or hire a private boat. Ask our Member Services Team about the best option for you.
Kabah Urban Park
If you’d like to incorporate some wellness activities into your search for hidden gems, make sure you plan a visit to Parque Urbano Kabah ¨Kabah Urban Park¨, a lovely green space right in the center of Cancun. There is a wonderful 1.7 mile paved and shaded trail that winds in a loop around the park and is perfect for running or walking and takes around 45 minutes to complete depending on your speed. Along the way, you can see lush vegetation, birds, iguanas, and coatis (the Mexican version of a raccoon). There is also a kids’ playground and a turtle pond. If you want to do a warm-up workout, you will also find a small public gym located at the entrance of the park. The park is 8 miles from Villa del Palmar Cancun and approximately a 20-minute drive.
5. Islands of Loreto
The Islands of Loreto are simply stunning and also a protected area. There are five main islands including: Coronado, Danzante, Santa Catalina, Carmen, and Montserrat. During your visit, you will definitely want to take a boat trip to one or all of these islands to explore their natural wonders and sea life.
Bahía de Loreto National Park
This hidden gem is a must for your travel bucket list. The Bahía de Loreto National Park ¨Loreto Bay National Park¨ is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and protects marine life in the Sea of Cortez. It is an ideal spot for snorkeling and scuba diving. There are plenty of activities to do at the park including paddleboarding, fishing, whale watching (seasonal), hiking, or just relaxing on the secluded beach. The national park is only accessible by boat. Ask tour Member Services Team about booking a boat tour. Most tours include snorkel gear, lunch, and drinks.
Visit the Cave Paintings
The Baja California peninsula is home to caves with prehistoric cave art dating back to 5400 A.C. The cave paintings feature depictions of animal and human figures as well as geometric symbols and they range from simple to complex. You will surely want to add a Cave Painting Tour to your hidden gems bucket list. Ask our Member Services Team about booking a guided hiking tour to see the cave paintings of “La Pinguica”(also called “Canipole”) located 26 miles north of Villa del Palmar at the Islands of Loreto, and approximately a 40-minute drive. Expert local guides will take you on a hiking tour to see the petroglyphs and pictographs in caves along the La Giganta mountain range. The distance covered in the hike is 2.25 miles and the tour takes approximately 3.5 hours.
We hope you have enjoyed this list of the ultimate selection of must-visit hidden gems on your next vacation in Mexico. From natural wonders to magic towns and prehistoric art, Mexico offers something unique to discover for everyone. So get out your sense of adventure and go exploring! We wish you an unforgettable vacation experience.