When visiting Mexico, most tourists opt for the familiar areas of the country like Cancun, Cabo, Tulum etc. Those are great but packed with tourists. Mexico is a huge country after all, and there is so much delicious food to be consumed and sights to be seen. None better than Mexico City and the surrounding areas. This Central Mexican itinerary is for those that are looking to visit Mexico City, and to work their way down towards the Pacific Oaxacan coastline.
Where I went in Mexico
I have visited Mexico numerous times but this time, it is to visit the central part of the country, specifically the cities near to the capital. This is the cultural and dining heartland of the country. We saw loads of ruins, ate tacos endlessly, and drank mezcal at amazing cocktail bars.
In total, this itinerary is for anyone that has 12-16 days. Of course this itinerary can be shortened or lengthened depending on your schedule. I visited the following areas on this itinerary
- Mexico City
- Puebla City
- Oaxaca City
- Oaxacan Coast – Huatulco, Zipolite, Mazunte areas
If these places ring a bell and sound like the places you want to visit, this is the perfect itinerary for you! Also, Mexico is one of the common starting points for those looking to do the entire Central American route. You can either fly from Mexico City to the Yucatan and work your way down, fly from Mexico City to Guatemala City, or simply take buses by land through the Oaxacan and Chiapas province until you arrive in Guatemala.
- The Ultimate Mexico City Tacos Tour Itinerary
- Puebla City Travel Guide
- Traveling Oaxaca City And Surrounding Areas
- Guide to Traveling the Oaxacan Coast
This itinerary starts in Mexico City as numerous international airlines fly into this airport, and ends in the Oaxacan Coast.
There are two options to do this trip: By bus and air, or by rental car.
Originally, we wanted to do a road trip for this entire itinerary by renting a car from Mexico City and driving towards the Pacific Coast. The main problem with this is we wanted to do a one way rental dropping it off at either Puerto Escondido or Huatulco Airport. The one way drop fee is huge ($500+) so we decided against it.
We opted for taking the bus, and ultimately flew back to Mexico City from Huatulco Airport. Flying back from Puerto Escondido is also an option but Huatulco just happened to have the cheaper flights when I was there.
Day 1-4: Mexico City
The trip begins in Mexico City. Mexico City is one of the most underrated cities in the world in my opinion. It is slowly getting its due but too many people still can’t get over how “dangerous” it is. It is not. If you’re reading this post, I’m here to say that it is not some war zone like it’s made out to be. It’s filled with historical sights, culture, beautiful neighborhoods, friendly people, and great weather. In fact, Mexico City might be one of my favorite places in the world.
I spent three nights in Mexico City but I could have easily spent a week. There is so much to eat and discover in this city that you will never be bored.
Day 1: Sightseeing in the City
Start with a hop-on hop-off bus tour of Mexico City, which offers the convenience of a guided tour but the freedom to disembark as you wish. Hop off at top attractions such as the Zocalo, home to the magnificent Metropolitan Cathedral and the National Palace; the ancient Aztec ruins of Templo Mayor; the Palace of Fine Arts in Alameda Park; and the House of Tiles. Stay on the bus along the grand Paseo de la Reforma Boulevard and jump off to visit the hilltop Chapultepec Castle and the National Museum of Anthropology.
Walk down through the forests and lakes of Chapultepec Park into the colorful neighborhood of La Condesa to browse the shops and tuck into typical Mexican cuisine at one of the many restaurants. In the evening, attend a lucha libre (masked wrestling) match. Afterwards, head to Plaza de Garibaldi and enjoy a drink at one of the streetside bars, while mariachi bands play in the square.
Day 2: Experience Mexican Culture
Start in the southern suburbs of Mexico City at the floating gardens of Xochimilco—a network of canals and chinampas (man-made islands) that date back to Aztec times. Arrive early to avoid the crowds and set sail around the UNESCO-listed landscapes aboard a traditional trajinera boat. Next, head to the nearby neighborhood of Coyoacán, one of Mexico City’s most picturesque. Use your prebooked skip-the-line tickets to enter the Frida Kahlo Museum, known for its long lines, and check out nearby Diego Rivera Anahuacalli Museum too.
Back in the city center, shop at the La Ciudadela artisan market for typical Mexican handicrafts. Head to the San Juan Market a few blocks away for street food, or, for a real Mexican culinary experience, sign up for an evening cooking class.
Day 3: Explore Ancient Teotihuacan
If you only have time for one day trip from Mexico City, make it the ruins of Teotihuacan. The ancient “City of the Gods” is a top archaeological site in Mexico. To get the most out of your visit, choose to explore with an archaeologist guide and discover the history of the pre-Aztec city. Highlights include climbing the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon, walking along the Avenue of the Dead, and visiting the Temple of Quetzalcoatl and the Palace of Quetzalpapalotl.
On your final evening in the city, attend a performance of the Mexico City Folkloric Ballet. The shows are held at locations including the Palace of Fine Arts or Chapultepec Castle and feature costumes, live music, and traditional folk dances from all around Mexico—a memorable way to end your vacation.
Eat Tacos and Enjoy the food
There’s nothing more I can ask for in life than a delicious taco with spicy salsa. Mexico City is home to all the tacos you could ever want. I spent a good chunk of my time consuming the best tacos in the city for all three meals of the day. Whether it’s tacos al pastor, tacos Arabes, carnitas, suadero, seafood, or lengua, I tried it all. Follow my ultimate Mexico City Tacos Itinerary for the scoop on which places to go!
Day 4-6: Puebla City
The next destination on the itinerary is Puebla City, a short two hour bus ride from Mexico City. From Mexico City’s TAPO bus station, there are frequent buses on numerous different companies to Puebla’s CAPU. I’ve only ever taken ADO bus company which I am a big fan and has very comfortable buses. Expect to pay 300 pesos or so for a one way transfer. Alternatively, you can also take Uber to Puebla for 1,000 – 1,500 pesos. This would be a great option with 3-4 people.
Exploring Puebla City
Puebla is known for its culinary traditions, colonial architecture and loads of historical sights. The Renaissance-era Puebla Cathedral has tall bell towers and overlooks the Zócalo. Museo Amparo offers an extensive display of pre-Hispanic art, such as ceramics and mural fragments.
Make sure to enjoy all the culinary highlights Puebla has to offer. Middle Eastern immigrants settled here bringing over their spit style cooking methods. Eventually their methods were adapted to the local flavors using pork, and spicy salsas. Make sure to try tacos Arabes which is the perfect fusion of the two cuisines.
Mole Poblano is probably what Puebla is most famous for. This cacao and chili based sauce (along with 20 other spices) is incredibly flavorful and goes so well with chicken, duck, and other meats.
Also explore Cholula
Cholula is a lovely little town in the Mexican state of Puebla. It is not where the delicious hot sauce comes from as one might immediately conclude. That’s actually from another part of Mexico nowhere nearby. Cholula does, however, boast several other fascinating tidbits. Cholula is best known for its great pyramid, Tlachihualtepetl. It is said to be the largest pyramid known to exist in the world, bigger than any other, even than the Great Pyramids of Egypt.
Cholula is easily accessible using Uber, and is roughly 30 minutes away from Puebla City.
Day 6-9: Oaxaca City
From Puebla, it is a 4-5 hour bus ride to Oaxaca City. The main Puebla CAPU has regular buses to Oaxaca. This bus only runs a few times a day so during busy times of year, I would recommend booking this ticket online on ADO’s online website. You don’t even need to print the tickets as they give mobile options. We paid about 500 pesos for a one way transfer with ADO.
Oaxaca is one of the most picturesque cities in Mexico. Its cobblestone streets, perfectly kept colonial buildings, and mountain landscapes makes this place a must visit in my opinion. Oaxaca is also the epicenter of the forever delicious mezcal, the local firewater. There are many trendy but still very affordable cocktail bars in the Zocalo.
Day trips from Oaxaca
Oaxaca is also conveniently located to some amazing attractions nearby. The Zapotec ruins of Monte Alban make for an excellent day or even half day trip from the city. The Zapotec pyramids of this little town are perfectly kept.
Further away, the famous Hierve El Agua makes for an even more stunning day trip. The natural rock formations of Hierve El Agua (or “water that boils”) resemble cascades of water. You can even swim here in the natural pools and enjoy stunning views of the nearby mountains. This is nature’s rendition of the infinity pool and it does not disappoint.
Day 9-13: Oaxacan Coastline
The last part of this itinerary is to visit the Pacific coast of Oaxaca. While less known to international tourists, Mexicans from Oaxaca and Mexico City regularly come here. The beaches here are fantastic and the waves make for great surfing.
Getting to the Oaxacan coast from Oaxaca City
While there are regular flights from Mexico City to Puerto Escondido and Huatulco, there are fewer options from Oaxaca City. There are essentially three ways to get to the Oaxacan coast from Oaxaca:
- Air: From Oaxaca City, there are two companies that fly to Huatulco and Puerto Escondido. TAR Airlines and Aerotucan make daily flights between the two destinations. The airplanes are very small 10-15 people planes. I’ve seen flights on TAR for as cheap as 1300 pesos and Aerotucan has a set price of 2,700 pesos for a one way flight. The flight is 40 minutes and offers some spectacular views of the scenic mountain ranges. My original plan was to take this flight but Aerotucan’s website looked super sketchy that I decided to wait until I got to Oaxaca and could talk to my Airbnb host. They were full by this point and TAR just happened to not fly that day! Therefore, I had to go to the next option
- Bus / Shuttle: For group transfers, you can either take a large bus, or a van shuttle. My Airbnb host recommended the latter saying it was a smaller vehicle and would be more comfortable. To be clear, the land based transport from Oaxaca to Huatulco is very uncomfortable. In total it is 7 hours, and you are going up a mountain where the roads are intensely winding. It is uncomfortable to say the least.
Staying in Mazunte
The Oaxacan coast is home to many little quaint beach side towns like Puerto Angel, Zipolite, Mazunte, etc. As we rented a car and were able to explore the entire area, my favorite place was definitely Mazunte. This charming little town defines what it means to be lazy. Unlike Tulum where people are hippie and Instagram chic, people here are just mostly hippie and chilled out.
There are countless guesthouses, hostels, Airbnbs, and nice resorts here. You won’t have trouble finding a place in any budget range. For the higher end budgets, stay at Hotel Zoa which has spectacular views of the ocean.
The beaches are fantastic here, although the Pacific coast beaches are rougher and better for surfing than say the beaches in the Yucatan which are perfect for diving and lounging.
We chose to rent a car at the Huatulco Airport so we could explore the region. We were able to easily explore all the neighboring beaches. However, if renting a car is not in your budget or plans, I think it is quite easy to explore the area on your own using the collectivo taxis. These are very cheap and efficient, and an adventure as you are literally just sitting in the back of a truck.
While on the coast, make sure to check out the beaches in Mazunte, have a drink at El Copal for the sunset, and check out Zipolite for their famous nude beaches.
Day by Day breakdown
Here is a day by day breakdown of the itinerary.
Day 1: Land in Mexico City, explore the city
Day 2: Mexico City
Day 3: Mexico City
Day 4: Bus to Puebla, explore Puebla Zocalo
Day 5: Puebla
Day 6: Morning in Puebla, afternoon bus to Oaxaca
Day 7: Oaxaca
Day 8: Oaxaca
Day 9: Oaxaca to Mazunte
Day 10: Mazunte
Day 11: Mazunte
Day 12: Mazunte
Day 13: Mazunte to Mexico City
What to do with more days?
If you have a few more days, I would have liked to spent at least one more day in Mexico City, and could have done one more day in Oaxaca too to explore all the wonderful mezcal bars. In fact, I could spend weeks in either place and wouldn’t feel like I was over doing it.
Central Mexico and the Yucatan
This itinerary would also combine very easily and feasibly with my two week itinerary in Mexico and Belize. From Central Mexico, take a very affordable flight on one of the many Mexico airlines to Cancun and start the itinerary that is filled with beautiful beaches and quaint coastal towns. Follow it up with some epic diving in Cozumel and in Caye Caulker, Belize.
As this itinerary includes many beaches, you may elect to skip over the Oaxacan coast if you’re short on time. However, the beaches on the Oaxacan coast are very different from the Yucatan, so it may be cool to get both perspectives.
Day 1: Land in Cancun, transfer to Tulum
Day 2: Tulum – Explore the ruins
Day 3: Tulum – Chichen Itza Day Trip
Day 4: Tulum – Cenotes Snorkeling
Day 5: Tulum – Free day to explore
Day 6: Bacalar
Day 7: Bacalar
Day 8: Bacalar to Chetumal to Caye Caulker
Day 9: Caye Caulker
Day 10: Caye Caulker
Day 11: Caye Caulker
Day 12: Caye Caulker to Belize City to San Ignacio
Day 13: Explore the Xunantunich Mayan ruins
Day 14: ATM Cave tour
Day 15: Return to Belize City
Central Mexico, Yucatan, Belize, and Guatemala
Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala make an even better travel itinerary if you can swing the time. Guatemala is the capital of the ancient Mayan civilizations and its picturesque cities and lakes make it a must visit. Belize and Guatemala border each other and is very easy to get from San Ignacio to Tikal via bus.
This is the perfect way to start off a Central America tour. After Guatemala, head to Honduras, El Savador, etc.
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