10 Small Towns in Mexico for Natural Beauty, Arts, Culture, and Tequila

Mexico has 132 "magical towns" — here are 10 you need to visit.

Street in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico
Photo: Carlos Macias/Getty Images

There's something special about visiting a small town. The slow-paced lifestyle, a sense of community that welcomes you, long-established traditions and crafts to learn from, and dishes that tell stories. But in Mexico, there's a special concept that spotlights small towns with extra charm.

In 2001, the Mexican government started the Pueblos Mágicos (Magical Towns) program that highlighted towns for their cultural and natural richness. In order to get this fantastic distinction, a town must have historic architecture, amazing landscapes, and rooted traditions. The symbolism, legends, and history behind these places give them a unique identity worthy of being discovered.

There are 132 magical towns throughout the country, and if you're up for an enchanting adventure, here are 10 to get you started.

Bacalar, Quintana Roo

Laguna de Bacalar is also known as the Lagoon of Seven Colors, in Bacalar, Mexico. The crystal clear waters and white sandy bottom of the lake cause the water color to morph into varying shades of turquoise, blue, and deep indigo throughout the day and in different depths.
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When you think of Quintana Roo, you might imagine white sand and turquoise waves, but the Lagoon of Seven Colors is the heart of Bacalar, not the beach. The round lagoon that stands out for its various shades of blue is a perfect place to swim, snorkel, and even scuba dive. Those who go deep enough will discover the underwater caves that connect to other water formations like cenotes — including the impressive Cenote Azul — the reason behind the lagoon's changing colors. You can stay in one of the inns surrounding the lagoon, although for more adventurous souls there are also campsites. The town's downtown is as quaint as you can imagine, with pedestrian-friendly streets lined with restaurants, most of which serve fresh seafood. There are also more than 100 street art murals dedicated to praising Bacalar's natural beauty.

Tequila, Jalisco

The town of Tequila in Jalisco state Mexico is famous for the production of the spirit tequila. The surrounding fields are planted with blue agave and only tequila produced in the state of Jalisco can be called tequila.
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If you want to taste good tequila and witness the complete process that brings this drink to life, this is the place to do it. Its name actually comes from a Nahuatl (or Aztec) word that means "place of tribute" and here most places pay tribute to the art of turning the blue agave into a world-famous distilled beverage. It's even home to the National Museum of Tequila, which explains the process and has some of the most iconic bottles on display. In the past, this town was known for having big traditional haciendas. Now, many original constructions remain, but they're now home to the most important distilleries, many of which are open to visitors. At José Cuervo's hacienda, you can explore every step of the production, from cleaning the agave to an exclusive tasting. They also have one of the top attractions of the town, a train — José Cuervo Express – that parts from Guadalajara and takes travelers through Tequila all the way to the hacienda. Passengers on board get the full experience, including specialty drinks, music, and amazing views of the agave plantations that contrast the red soil and the blue plant. But Tequila isn't just about the drink, it's also a town with a strong crafts culture, especially for pottery lovers. The place also has some beautiful natural landscapes like the Tequila Volcano and the Big River, as well as historic Baroque-style buildings in the historical center, where the Church of Santiago Apostol and its stained glass windows attract architecture lovers from far and wide.

San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas

People walking in a colorful mexican colonial style street of downtown San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas state, Mexico.
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This magical town is named after the patron saint of travel, San Cristóbal, so that's got to be a sign to visit. This is a unique place in Chiapas because it combines the beauty of colonial and colorful architecture with the lush jungle that surrounds the town. The jungle brings in a fog that gives the place a mysterious feeling. The carefully preserved collection of buildings that date back to the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries with styles like baroque and neoclassical make the town feel like an open-air museum. As you walk through the streets of the historical center, you get to enjoy balconies adorned with flowers and houses with big patios painted in bright colors, along with architectural gems like the Cathedral of San Cristóbal Mártir or the former Convent of Santo Domingo de Guzmán, a perfect example of Latin American baroque with deep ornamentation and golden interiors. Several indigenous communities visit the town to sell handmade crafts, offering a unique shopping opportunity. And you must not leave without tasting traditional tamales chiapanecos. If you're looking for adventure, about an hour from the town is Sumidero Canyon National Park and its stunning Grijalva River views.

Orizaba, Veracruz

Orizaba famously overlooks Pico de Orizaba volcano, the highest mountain in Mexico. The town's name comes from an Aztec word meaning "place of joyful water," which is a reference to the river that flows through the city beneath numerous stone bridges. In addition to its scenic natural beauty, the town is full of well-preserved colonial architecture. One of the highlights is the Iron Palace, an Art Nouveau building made of iron that was originally designed by Gustave Eiffel and sent in pieces from Brussels to become the government building. It's now divided into six different museums. Lastly, you cannot visit Orizaba without stopping for coffee. The coffee from the state of Veracruz is considered one of the best in the country, and this town has some seriously high-quality coffee shops.

Izamal, Yucatán

The ex convent San Antonio de Padua in Izamal, Yucatan, Mexico
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Imagine a town where every building is painted golden yellow and where the cultures from the past blend together. That's the essence of Izamal. Pre-Hispanic constructions coexist with colonial architecture and invite visitors to discover how the region's rich culture has been preserved. Several important Pre-Columbian structures and archaeological sites lie within or near the town. One of the most iconic ones is the Kinich Kakmó, a pyramid dedicated to the Maya sun god. Visitors can climb all the way to the top to enjoy a wonderful view. To discover Izamal's colonial architecture, there's no better place to start than Convento de San Antonio, a former convent with golden-colored walls and detailed sculptures. Although it's a great town to explore on foot, it's even more romantic to ride in one of the horse-drawn carriages that take visitors past quaint squares, colonial mansions, and lush parks.

Palenque, Chiapas

Temple of the Foliated Cross at Palenque, a Maya city state in southern Mexico and a UNESCO World Heritage site
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This is the place to go if you want to be embraced by the natural beauty of the southern Mexican jungle. Palenque is a very small town but at its heart is a national park and archaeological site, where one of the most important Mayan cities is located. The archeological site is nestled within the deep jungle, down walking trails covered in vegetation. Once you get there, you'll find a clearing with pyramids and Mayan palaces. Palenque's ruins are considered among the most important archeological sites of the Mayan civilization since they combine key constructions dedicated to rituals, military purposes, and scientific research. There's also a vast collection of hieroglyphics and the sacred tomb of King Pakal. Several local tour operators offer guided hikes and bird-watching excursions around the national park, which is home to jaguars, colorful birds, and howler monkeys.

Xilitla, San Luis Potosí

Aerial Drone point of view from Xilitla, San Luis Potosi, City, this is a famous touristic city in Mexico
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There's an inherent link between Mexico's culture and surrealism but this town really makes it shine. Surrounded by the jungle of Huasteca Potosina and its beautiful waterfalls, the English artist Edward James built El Jardín Surrealista, a surrealist garden that's unlike any other place in the world. It mixes the lush vegetation with a building-sized art installation that has unfinished concrete staircases, pillars, and labyrinth-like passageways. The town of Xilitla is also home to the oldest building in the state, Xilitla Convent, which was built in the 16th century. Beyond the art and architecture, you'll find delicious regional specialties like enchiladas potosinas (enchiladas made with chili-infused dough) and great organic coffee. To enjoy the essence of the town, it's best to sit in a coffee shop and wait for the street musicians who turn an afternoon coffee break into an impromptu concert.

Valladolid, Yucatán

Mexican city life at sunset in a street of Valladolid in Yucatan.
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Valladolid is considered one of the oldest and most beautiful towns on the Yucatán Peninsula. There are numerous big colonial mansions, museums, and small hotels and restaurants housed in historic buildings, like the Casona de Valladolid, an 18th-century mansion where wealthy families held parties in the early 1900s. In the town, you'll also find old convents and beautiful churches like the ones dedicated to Santa Lucía, Santa Ana, and San Juan, as well as places to shop for crafts like stone sculptures or hammocks. And, like every other place in Yucatán, its natural beauty is impossible to ignore. Valladolid has 10 cenotes, natural water pools with crystal clear water in the middle of the jungle. One of the most important ones is the Cenote Zaci, which is a deep cavern with ancient stalactites.

San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato

Street in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico
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San Miguel de Allende is a place that combines the beauty and traditions of the past with modern trends and luxury living. Cobblestone streets, colorfully painted houses, colonial mansions turned into museums, and the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel — a church carved out of pink sandstone — are among its beloved features. The town is home to several art galleries showcasing works by national and international artists and shops carrying contemporary and traditional crafts like blown glass hearts. Numerous music, art, and food festivals take place throughout the year. One of the most famous is the celebration of the city’s patron saint, San Michael the Archangel, which takes place every September and includes mariachi performances, parties, and parades of dancing puppets through the streets. The town's popularity means there are plenty of luxe accommodations to choose from including Rosewood San Miguel de Allende and the design-forward Hotel Matilda.

Cholula, Puebla

an Pedro Cholula city streets and architecture during daytime
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Cholula's foundations are deeply spiritual. The area used to be the home of a large pre-Hispanic civilization but during the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, many of their temples were replaced with new Catholic ones. Today, this small town has 37 churches, most of which are active and make their bells sound at the same time to call people to mass. One of the most important churches here is the Church of Los Remedios, which stands at the very top of what used to be a pre-Hispanic pyramid. Now, icons representing both cultures live side by side. Cholula is also a town of crafts. Talavera is a unique form of glazed pottery with colorful decorations — most typically in deep blue. It can be found all around the town, from a mug you can buy as a souvenir to a traditional accent in architecture. The complete façade of the Temple of San Francisco Acatepec is covered in the colorful mosaics.

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