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Why These 6 Lesser Known Mexican Destinations Are Set To Explode In Popularity

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Mexico is one of the world’s most popular vacation destinations, with a wide variety of landscapes to explore. 

This trend is not about to slow down anytime soon as the government of Mexico has plans to make travel within the country more accessible than ever. 

Mexico plans to have 11 new tourist trains by 2050, with the first launching later this year, the Tren Maya. 

woman in izamal mexico

This extensive high-speed train project will connect 17 locations that are home to culturally rich towns, Mayan ruin sites, and beautiful beaches.

Undoubtedly this will bring an even larger number of tourists through the region by making them more accessible. 

These 6 lesser-known Mexican destinations are set to explode in popularity with the creation of the new Tren Maya route:

Houses in Palenque, Mexico

Palenque 

Palenque is located in Mexico’s southeastern state of Chiapas, one of the least visited states, and is the first stop on the new Tren Maya route.

It’s a somewhat remote place to visit currently as it only has a small airport with few flights, meaning that most people choose to arrive by car or bus. The addition of the train will make the location much more accessible for travelers. 

Although the town itself may not be as charming as popular destinations like San Miguel de Allende, Oaxaca, or nearby San Cristóbal de las Casas, there are still many reasons why travelers will want to visit. 

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Hiker man with a hat looking at ancient Palenque Mayan ruins

When most people think of Palenque, they think of the Mayan ruins of the same name. The Palenque Ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was once one of the Mayan civilization’s most important cities. 

It’s located in a national park offering a stunning jungle landscape filled with howler monkeys and toucans, and if you go early enough, you can often see the temples shrouded in mist. 

The cost to enter is only 110 MXN ($6.50 USD) and includes access to the onsite museum, which is less than half of what it costs to visit the popular Chichén Itzá ruins. 

Yaxchilan, Palenque, Chiapas Mexico

Palenque is one of Mexico’s best historical sites offering travelers access to three amazing Mayan ruins, Palenque, Yaxchilan, and Bonampak. It is also home to the gorgeous waterfalls of Agua Azul, Misol Ha, and the crystal clear pools at Roberto Barrios, which only costs $30 MXN ($1.50 USD)

Once you finish exploring the town of Palenque, its quaint streets, and local markets, you can take a trip to nearby San Cristobal or hop back on the Tren Maya and head towards its next stop. 

Natural pools of the emerald waterfalls at Roberto Barrios in Chiapas, Mexico


Campeche 

San Francisco de Campeche, called Campeche for short, is located in the second section of the Tren Maya route. It is known for its colorful colonial architecture, historic center, and nearby Mayan ruins. 

The city is the only walled fortress in Mexico and one of its 35 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. 

One of the best things about Campeche is that you can explore most of it on foot, and since it’s still relatively underrated, you will be able to find better prices and smaller crowds than other more popular destinations. 

Aerial view Cityscape of Campeche downtown on a sunny day.

While visiting the city, you can wander through the historic center, have a meal on the pedestrian-only street Calle 59, stroll along the malecon (waterfront boardwalk), or visit one of its two fortresses: Fuerte San Miguel and Fuerte San Jose el Alto

The fortresses are each located on small hills overlooking the city and the ocean, that you will need to take a taxi to get to. They both have a small fee to enter, which provides visitors access to their museums filled with information on how Campeche was built to protect itself from pirate invasions. 

Yellow colonial San Jose fort in Campeche, Mexico

Outside of the city, Campeche is also known for its nearby Mayan sites of Calakmul and Edzna. 

The latter is less than an hour outside the historic center and is said to be influenced by the family who built Chichen Itzá with its layout copying that of Mexico City’s famous Teotihuacán. 

Two historically interesting reasons to visit, and if you need another reason, you can often find yourself wandering the site alone without the crowds of other locations. 

Edzna Archaeological area at sunset, Campeche Mexico

Whether you stay within the walled city, adventure out to the ruins, drive to Bécal to see Panama hats being made, or head to the nearby beaches like Sabancuy and Isla Aguada, you will find that Campeche is one of Mexico’s hidden gems. 

The locals, or Campechanos, which translates as hearty, kind, and cordial, are exactly that. It’s easy to see how this small city is set to explode in popularity. 

Becal Campeche, Artisan in cave weaving straw to make a hat.

Mérida 

You may have already heard of Mérida, as it has been steadily growing in popularity over the last several years. It’s known for being one of the safest cities in the world, for its colorful colonial architecture in the historic center, and for its proximity to nature. 

The announcement of the new Tren Maya has already spurred an increase in development and intrigue into Mexico’s White City, as it's affectionately called. 

Yellow Colonial Arch In Merida, A Colonial Era City In The Yucatan Peninsula Of Mexico

The train station will be located near Mérida’s international airport and will have an electric tram to bring travelers into the new Gran Parque La Plancha. The park is set to contain an artificial lake, areas to relax, repurposed trains with places to eat at, and will connect travelers to the popular culinary row of Calle 47. 

Once in the historic center, visitors can stroll along the pretty tree-lined Paseo de Montejo, a two-mile long street filled with cute cafes and restaurants. 

On Sunday mornings, the city closes down one side of the street for the Biciruta, an event where you can rent a bicycle for 20 MXN per hour ($1 USD) and ride through the main plaza and into the cobblestone streets of La Ermita. 

Colonial Architecture In Merida, Yucatan State, Mexico

The historic center is a great place to wander around and take in the beautiful architecture, discover local shops, and find hidden speakeasies and restaurants. 

One of the best things about Mérida is that you never know what you might discover behind a building's façade as they often open into stunning interiors and leafy courtyards. 

After exploring all that the city has to offer, travelers can adventure into nature. Within an hour of the city, there are a variety of beautiful beach towns like Sisal, Progresso, and Telchac Puerto.

You can visit flamingos in Celestun, swim in one of the many cenotes in Homún, tour an abandoned hacienda from the old henequen production days, or see an ancient Mayan ruin. 

Young woman visiting the city of Merida in Yucatan, Mexico. Tourist destination with colorful houses and streets, typical of the country.

Mérida is a large city with a small-town feel that has much to offer. It comes as no surprise as to why this destination is going to continue to grow in popularity.

Izamal 

The final station within the third section of the Tren Maya will be in the unique small town of Izamal, one of Mexico’s Pueblo Magicos.

Located in the state of Yucatán and only an hour and a half by car from Mérida, this town is the perfect stopping point for travelers on their way towards popular Quintana Roo destinations like Cancun or Tulum. 

Yellow Houses In Izamal, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

Izamal is famous for historic colonial architecture that is all painted the same color yellow. It’s hard to say for sure why this is the agreed-upon color scheme for the town. However, it is rumored to have been done for the visit of the Pope in the 90s or to honor the Mayan sun god of Kinich Kakmó. 

Whatever the reason, these yellow buildings make for the perfect backdrop for photographers and social media enthusiasts. It’s almost impossible to take a bad picture in the adorable town. 

Izamal is a safe and authentic Mexican town that can easily be explored in a day. Its main attraction is the Convento de San Antonio Padua containing the second-largest atrium in the world outside of St. Peters. 

Yellow-Colored Convento de Santo Antonio de Padua In Izamal Seen Through The Arched Terraces, Izamal, Mexico

The other popular thing to do is to walk to the top of the Mayan Ruins of Kinich Kakmó. The entrance is free to the site, and the view from the top is amazing. 

After a day of exploring the town and its artisan shops, a trip to Izamal wouldn’t be complete without stopping for a meal at the famous Restaurante Kinich, known for its local Yucatecan cuisine and freshly made corn tortillas. 

Visitors can opt to spend the night in a local Airbnb, one of the surrounding haciendas, or continue on toward their next destination. 

Mayan pyramid, Kinich kak Moo, in Izamal, Mexico

Valladolid 

This small town has a decidedly European vibe to it and is famous for its proximity to Chichén Itzá. Its charm comes from its laid-back atmosphere and traditional colonial architecture. 

Valladolid is great for a day trip or a weekend getaway. You can see all of its main attractions in one day. However, there are a lot of interesting destinations nearby as well. 

As with any Mexican city, the Plaza Grande is always a must-see for its little shops, restaurants, and nightly cultural shows. 

San Gervasio Church Valladolid, Yucatan, Mexico

The most popular street in Valladolid is Calzada de los Frailes, or Calle 41A, which is home to some of the best boutiques and hotels, like the famous Coqui Coqui. 

At the end of the street sits the convent of San Bernadino of Siena, an impressive church and fortress you are able to explore for only 30 MXN ($1.25 USD). 

Valladolid is also a popular spot to explore some cenotes. These freshwater sinkholes or caverns come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some are open to the air, some are relatively untouched, and others have been modified greatly for tourist appeal. 

Couple together under the light beam at Cenote Suytun in Valladolid Mexico

The town has its very own cenote that is only 10-minute from its centre. Cenote Suytun is one of the most Instagram famous cenotes, known for its man-made stone ledge and perfectly positioned hole in the cavern ceiling that illuminates it. 

Other popular nearby attractions include: Ek Balam, a lesser-known Mayan ruin but easily one of the best sites to visit, and Las Coloradas, which is a small fishing village that has a salt field with pink lakes. 

With the amount of things to see surrounding Valladolid and its close proximity to Cancun and Tulum, it makes sense that the new Tren Maya station will undoubtedly bring even more travelers to experience this beautiful little town. 

Female Tourist Wearing A Summery Blue Dress And A Straw Hat As She Poses For A Picture By The Las Coloradas Pink Colored Lake, Near Rio Lagartos, State Of Yucatan, Mexico


Bacalar

The town of Bacalar is located in the state of Quintana Roo, just two hours south of Tulum and an hour from the border of Belize. It’s been a long-time favorite destination for locals but still remains relatively laid back and devoid of Mexico’s usual tourist crowds. 

This is likely to change soon as the new Tren Maya station there will make accessing this destination easier than ever. 

Aerial View Of Bacalar, Lake Bacalar, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Bacalar is a Pueblo Magico best known for its “Lagoon of Seven Colours”, a lake that was originally formed by combining several cenotes and now offers many stunning shades of blue and turquoise. 

The lagoon is pretty much the main attraction of Bacalar, and there are a lot of water-based activities to enjoy. 

Renting a boat or joining a tour is the most popular way to experience the lagoon. The excursions are for 3 or more hours and take you to see the cenotes and the well-known Canal De Los Piratas. This small shallow waterway connects the Bacalar lagoon to another smaller lagoon and was once used as a trade route between Belize and Mexico. 

Los Rapidos, Bacalar Mexico

Another popular activity is to spend the day at Los Rapidos, although not technically in Bacalar, it’s just a short drive away. The site is a narrow channel within the lagoon that is lined by stromatolites and mangroves and has a current you can float down. 

To enter, you have to pay a 150 MXN fee ($7.50 USD) at the attached restaurant, and this allows you access for the entire day. 

Some articles have been claiming that Bacalar is the new Tulum. With its sleepy laid back town and sparkling blue waters, it is bound to continue to grow in popularity.  

If you’re looking for a place to unwind without the tourist crowds, then you need to head to Bacalar now before it explodes on the international scene. 

Woman on Dock in Bacalar

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