Mexico is a diverse, colorful, and fascinating country. Its world-famous coastlines are lined with idyllic beaches set beside warm, crystal-clear waters, and its inland areas are enlivened with the hustle and bustle of enormous cities such as Guadalajara and Mexico City — the latter of which positively heaves with a population of over 20 million. But aside from booming cities and gorgeous beaches, Mexico also boasts more than 100 charming pueblos magicos — or, “magic towns.” Defined by their natural beauty and cultural contributions, each of these towns offers something unique and interesting for travelers. They’re great places for weekend breaks, day trips, or stops along your way to discovering Mexico’s rich history.
No matter what brings you to Mexico’s central states, be sure to stop by one (or more) of these hidden gems.
It’s considered criminal to go to Mexico and not sample the nation’s famed drink. So why not go a step further and venture to the very heart of where tequila is made? Just an hour outside of Guadalajara, in the state of Jalisco, lies the town of Tequila, the namesake birthplace of the popular spirit. Legally, Jalisco and a few other states in Mexico are the only places in the world that can produce tequila, and while there, you can discover more about the process of its production, from agave plant to bottle.
A number of distilleries exist in the area, and you’ll have no problem securing a tour, as buses and reps aplenty crowd the streets of the bustling town center. There’s even the possibility to take a train named the Tequila Express from Guadalajara to Tequila and booze en route with tequila-based cocktails and a mariachi band. Once there, you’ll find a colorful market and various stores and stands selling just about every variation of tequila and tequila-based products that you can imagine. Occasionally, you might also catch sight of La Danza de Los Voladores, where performers put on an impressive show in which they climb a pole and ascend slowly while swinging from ropes upside down in a flying motion — it’s a traditional act throughout Mexico, originating from as far back as prehispanic Veracruz.
As you leave this unique town, with the scent of agave still strong in your nostrils and on your breath, be sure to look out over the surrounding agave fields that stretch for miles and miles.
This enchanting colonial town in the state of the same name is brimming with character, color, and stories — so much so that you’ll easily get lost in its charm as you wander its winding, hilly streets and its network of underground tunnels that give the city its maze-like feel. Of all of its alleyways, the most famous is the much-visited Callejon del Beso, an extremely narrow passage where (as legend has it) two lovers once shared a fateful kiss across balconies in a tale of forbidden passion. If you choose to stop at the iconic site, you’ll discover the details of the legend and join the long list of visitors who have kissed there, ensuring your love will exist for eternity.
Guanajuato is also known for its museums, including the Museo Iconográfico del Quijote, which houses the largest collection of sculptures, paintings, and memorabilia related to Cervantes´s famous tale, “Don Quijote.” The town boasts the birthplace and childhood home of renowned muralist Diego Rivera as well, plus the gruesomely intriguing Museo de Los Momias (Mummies museum). The latter is set along the hillside, slightly outside of the city center, but it’s well worth the effort to visit. For a great view over the city and its multicolored lego-block homes, walk or cable-car your way up to the statue of Juan José de los Reyes Martínez Amaro (better known as El Pipila), a local hero in the war for Mexican Independence.
Additionally, night walks and singing tours are a fun and popular way to get a real feel for the history of Guanajuato and its many myths and legends, such as a reenactment of the story of the Callejon del Beso. Since English tours are not offered, you may want to brush up on your Spanish — and your singing skills — first.
San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato
An hour and a half east of Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende is a beautiful town full of charm and churches. It’s a popular retirement spot for Mexicans and expat Americans alike, boasting a well-maintained central square with immaculately trimmed laurel bushes, which provide shade for many a sleepy afternoon spent in front of the iconic parish church, the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel. Pilgrimages are often made here as well, and note that it’s not uncommon to see people approach the parish doors on their knees.
Aside from the central Parroquia with its lofty, pink-tinted towers, San Miguel de Allende is also home to a number of other striking churches scattered far and wide across the city. Among these, the nearby yellow-domed Las Monjas, a previous convent turned hotel, is impressive and worth visiting. A little further east of the town center sits the Templo de Nuestra Señora de La Salud, a smaller but well-attended church with an interesting concave entrance and detailed brickwork. And, if you’re up for an uphill stroll, the view from the southeast edge of town will provide you with a great vantage point of the city’s many churches.
San Miguel de Allende is also home to a host of museums and art galleries, including Bellas Artes with its beautiful arched courtyard, and the Museo La Esquina toy museum — which literally translates to “Corner Museum,” as it’s suitably located on a corner just a five-minute walk from the central plaza. The Museo La Esquina charts the artisan production of toys in Mexico over the years and specifically highlights the town’s involvement in the industry. If you’re searching for a special, handmade gift while you’re there, you’re in luck — artisanal goods are widely available from street vendors as well as a variety of stores and galleries throughout the center and beyond.
In the small, relatively unknown state of Aguascalientes, less than an hour outside of the state’s eponymous and similarly unknown capital, sits the magic town of Calvillo. Though it will barely register on tourists’ radars, it is well worth a day trip if you find yourself in the state — particularly if you’re a fan of guava. If not, don’t worry — that’s sure to change by the end of your visit. Production and sale of this supposed super fruit is big business in Calvillo, and the town proudly carries the label of “Guava Capital of the World.”
The abundant availability of the fruit led to the development of the now-famous-throughout-Mexico guava sweets, of which you can find many different varieties. Tours are available around the town’s factories where much of the work is done primarily by hand.
The health benefits of the guava are seemingly endless. In fact, on a tour of the sweet factory, you’ll be told that if you have diarrhea, eating a guava will help you feel better. Similarly, the fruit will help if you’re constipated. Magic towns produce magic fruits, it seems. And while guava’s distinctive scent hangs in the air year-round, the annual Guava Fair is celebrated in abundance come December.
Aside from guava, Calvillo is known for its surrounding landscape of Sierra Fria, a natural reserve that spans over 276,000 acres of forest and mountainous area. It has much to offer for those interested in outdoor pursuits such as hiking, cycling, or camping, and provides a stunning backdrop for photographers and sightseers alike.
So, while you may fear that stepping away from the beach or big city could mean you won’t get the full Mexico experience, the truth is quite the opposite — these magic towns embody and preserve the country’s rich history and culture. From tequila tastings to leisurely lunches, sweet shops, and endless exploration, the central states of Mexico have plenty to offer inquisitive travelers looking to add a touch of magic to their trip.