By Lila Battis
July 08, 2020
Advertisement

This year’s World’s Best Awards survey closed on March 2, just before widespread stay-at-home orders were implemented as a result of COVID-19. The results reflect our readers’ experiences before the pandemic, but we hope that this year’s honorees will inspire your trips to come — whenever they may be.

Here’s the thing: a ranking of Mexico’s cities should only serve as a helpful tool to prioritize, because every single town on this list is a must-visit. When it comes to exploring our southern neighbor’s biggest hot spots, there are no wrong answers — only right choices for your particular mood.

Every year for our World’s Best Awards survey, Travel + Leisure asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. Readers rated cities on their sights and landmarks, culture, cuisine, friendliness, shopping, and overall value.

This year’s list of the best cities in Mexico is a collection of cosmopolitan hits. At. No. 5, there’s Mexico’s own Silicon Valley, Guadalajara, where tech start-ups and contemporary architecture mingle with artists and craftspeople working to carry on the region’s cultural legacy. In No. 4 Mérida, the beating heart of the Yucatán, sisal plantations once financed an empire with more millionaires than any city on earth in the late 1800s. The ugly system of exploitation and indentured servitude — and the hacienda families who perpetuated it — finally fell after the Mexican Revolution in the 1900s, but today it’s left Mérida with one of the most extensive and remarkable historic districts in the Americas, rivaled only by those of Havana and Mexico City.

Speaking of CDMX — the selling points of this year’s No. 3 are well-documented, but suffice it to say you could spend a lifetime getting to know its cuisine and art and millennia of history and barely scratch the surface of all there is to discover in the sprawling capital. Coming in at second place is a previous all-around champ: San Miguel de Allende. Twice voted the best city in the world by T+L readers, it’s a perennial favorite for its quiet charm and vibrant art scene.

Ahead, find the full list of the best cities in Mexico, including this year’s No. 1 pick, culinary heavyweight Oaxaca.

1. Oaxaca

Kevin Yulianto/Getty Images

Score: 93.54

Any place where an array of cultures have left their mark is bound to be interesting. Nowhere in Mexico is that more acutely felt than in Oaxaca, where you can still see the fingerprints of the Mixtec and Zapotec, the Aztec and the Spanish, as well as the countless merchants from around the globe who ventured to the region in its wealthiest heyday. One reader noted the city’s “amazing gastronomy,” and indeed, the food alone is reason to go. Oaxaca is known for its seven moles, but in truth there are infinite variations, many of which rely on ingredients that can’t be found elsewhere. The number of delicious masa-based antojitos you can encounter is dizzying: memelas and tetelas and tlayudas, served with spoonfuls of salsa laced with the bright, peppery hoja santa leaves native to the region. The more artistically inclined can delve deep into the many crafts still flourishing here. Potters sculpt vessels with local clay and paint them with ground mineral paints; weavers soak skeins of yarn in dye made from cochineal bugs; and artists carve alebrijes by hand from copal wood and paint them with intricate designs. “One of the most delightful cities I’ve ever visited,” one reader wrote. Another raved, “warm, friendly folks, lots of great food, and oh so reasonable.” But visiting is the only way to find out for yourself how this charming city stacks up.

2. San Miguel de Allende

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Score: 92.01

3. Mexico City

Dario Gaona/Getty Images

WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 87.95

4. Mérida

iStockphoto/Getty Images

Score: 86.84

5. Guadalajara

Roberto Galan/Getty Images

Score: 84.14

See all of our readers' favorite hotels, cities, airlines, cruise lines, and more in the World's Best Awards for 2020.