After I returned from Mexico, I met a good friend for lunch and she asked me how my trip had been. “It was a game changer,” I replied. “It reminded me why I love traveling so much.”
I meant what I said. Mexico wowed me in so many big ways, from the level of sophistication I saw in hotels and restaurants to the profusion of cultural wealth on display in every town and city I visited. The country surprised me in small ways, too — the quiet benches in beautiful parks, the noticeable importance of family life, the cute cafes and coffee shops.
Here are some of the best things I discovered on my journey around Mexico:
This area encompasses the city of Puerto Vallarta and Punta de Mita, a beachgoer’s paradise an hour’s drive north.
- Best Hotel: Imanta Punta de Mita, hands down. I loved the “entrance” — an eight-minute drive through a protected paradise — to this luxe jungle hideaway. At the end, you are greeted with Asian-inspired villas perched on the edge of deep blue water. And the alfresco Observatorio bar offers the most incredible panoramic view in the city.
- Best Restaurants: Barracuda is a prime spot for lunch in Vallarta, with a beach view in both directions. The atmosphere is casual and relaxed, and the tacos and tostadas are spot-on and some of the best in town. Try Ketsi at the Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita for high-end Mexican dishes and great sunset watching.
- Best Day-Trip: The Marieta Islands. Swimming out to the Hidden Beach tucked away in these protected islands made famous by Jacques Cousteau is an experience I won’t soon forget.
- Best Neighborhoods: Start by exploring my favorite trio of neighborhoods – Polanco and Roma and Condesa – which showcase the best of modern Mexico City, with the most enticing restaurants and tree-lined streets. They are all lovely to stroll in and find your personal favorite spots.
- Best Guides: If you’re planning to travel anywhere in Mexico, Journey Mexico can handle small details (booking a guide for the day) to big ones (planning your entire trip). My favorite day was spent with Francisco, who has been working as a guide for 27 years. Your welcome packet includes detailed historical information on what you will see.
- Best Hotels: If you’re looking for luxury in a boutique hotel, you’ll find it at Las Alcobas in Polanco. You feel your shoulders relax when you walk in and are surrounded by modern and chic Mexican design. The Four Seasons Mexico City has an entirely different feel, but you’ll love the upscale international vibe at this urban oasis in the middle of the city.
- Best Restaurants: Cozy Rosetta, housed in an old-school Mexican mansion in Roma, serves the best fresh pasta dishes and salads in Mexico City. (Tip: Pick up a bag of Rosetta’s granola to take with you.) Delirio – Do not miss the chocolate cake, or “Tarta Helena,” at this chic deli – but I also really loved the prepared foods, perfect baguettes, and herbal teas.
- El Romita – This two-story, soaring space was my favorite place for a nightcap in Mexico City. The crowd is a good-looking mix of 20-to-40-somethings.
- Best Cultural Offerings: See the riches of the Aztec and Maya treasures on display at National Museum of Anthropology, the top museum to visit in Mexico City. If you’re not familiar with Frida Kahlo (and her lover and husband, Diego Rivera), you will be by the time you leave Mexico City. Kahlo’s birthplace, home, and place of death, Casa Azul (“Blue House”), provides a fascinating look into her personality and her enormous contributions to creating and preserving Mexican art.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
- Best Hotel: Las Ventanas al Paraiso has so many repeat visitors for a reason: The resort lives up to its name, “The Windows to Paradise.” From the amazing resort manager, Daniel Scott, and Chef Fabrice Guisset (who hails from Provence) at the helm of the delicious restaurants, to the personal butlers and transformative spa, this resort represents the best of Cabo. Rosewood’s Las Ventanas al Paraiso resort (Photograph courtesy Rosewood Hotels & Resorts)
- Best Artisan: Young designer Eduardo Sanchez is a third-generation designer and is bringing international flair from his travels and studies around the world to jewelry and a new handbag line.
- Best Restaurants: I have a permanent smile on my face from dinner at Edith’s thanks to the convivial atmosphere and, of course, the superfresh seafood and famous tableside Caesar salad. Flora’s Field Kitchen, located on a ten-acre organic farm, goes beyond farm-to-table in a setting that feels like nowhere else you’ve been.
This is a city I will return to again and again, because it’s an easy flight from most American cities, and because even with seven packed days, I didn’t come close to doing everything I wanted to do.
Separated from mainland Mexico by the Sea of Cortez, Baja California Sur offers its own mix of colonial towns and cosmopolitan glamour. At the very tip, Los Cabos makes for a dream getaway, boasting a desert landscape and sparkling blue water.