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This year's World's Best Awards survey was open for voting January 11 through May 10, 2021, as destinations around the world were lifting COVID-19 restrictions. Survey rules have always allowed readers to reflect on their travel experiences over a three-year period. We hope that this year's honorees will inspire your own travels as you get back out into the world.

Mexico is a perennial favorite among Travel + Leisure readers, who consistently ranked its cities among the most compelling in the world when voting in the World's Best Awards. Just last year, voters chose Oaxaca as the best city in the world, with San Miguel de Allende taking the No. 2 spot and Mexico City and Mérida at 11th and 24th, respectively. Given all that, most of the best cities to visit in Mexico, according to T+L readers, will come as no surprise. 

Every year for our World's Best Awards survey, T+L asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top hotels, resorts, cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. Hotels were rated on their facilities, location, service, food, and overall value. Properties were classified as city or resort based on their locations and amenities.

Mexico City and Oaxaca, which ranked second and third on this year's list, are the stuff of legend. Both are renowned for their diverse and bountiful food scenes, though CDMX has the cosmopolitan energy and sprawl of a major global capital while Oaxaca still holds on to a languid feel, where tradition is prized and the heritage of the many Indigenous groups in the region is on display. 

In fourth place is Mérida. While the historic architecture is overwhelmingly Spanish, Mayan influences are still alive and well in the city's food, culture, and even dialect. And according to readers, there's much to love about Mérida. "This city is everything," gushed one, "the food, the people, the places, I mean everything is great!" Another loved how off-the-beaten-tourist-path it felt: "There was a sense of discovery around each corner, on every visit."

The former fishing village of Zihuatanejo — more accessible than ever, thanks to new infrastructure — landed the fifth-place spot. Readers sang the praises of its "amazing beaches" and called it "excellent for romance." One reader highlighted the town's fresh seafood and abundant water activities on the sleepy bay, along with easy strolls through the town's central shopping area. Don't miss a walk along the waterfront promenade, or the theater of the early-morning fish market on Playa Principal, where fishermen haul their wooden vessels ashore and gather beneath the palms to hawk the day's catch — just one of the singular experiences that led one reader to declare Zihuatanejo the "most amazing city in the world!" 

Read on for the full list, plus the scoop on why San Miguel reclaimed its first-place finish.

1. San Miguel de Allende

Aerial View of San Miguel de Allende in Guanajuato, Mexico
Credit: R.M. Nunes/Getty Images

This small colonial city has flourished in recent years. As the story often goes, its vibrant creative scene drew ever more artists and craftspeople, eventually followed by innovative restaurants, chic hotels, and scores of expats from around the globe. But even as the boho-cool city's popularity has grown, it hasn't lost its quirk and charm, which perhaps is why San Miguel de Allende holds a place in so many Travel + Leisure readers' hearts. One enthusiastic fan (in an all-caps, exclamation-mark-studded rave review) called the city "magical" and went on: "Walking down the street with the smell of food being cooked is outstanding, the mystery of what the houses look like behind the doors is intriguing — I love this wonderful place!" After the stressors of the past year, one reader found reassurance in the city's stringent COVID-19 measures, which kept both locals and visitors safe, and another praised it as an all-around hit: "San Miguel is an incredible city, very beautiful, historic, with friendly people and fantastic food and restaurants." With the colorful buildings, crenellated cathedral, desert botanical gardens, and more amazing restaurants than you could visit in a lifetime, it's possible to explore San Miguel at a breakneck pace and never run out of compelling things to do. But that would mean missing out on the way the city reveals itself when you take the time for a few easy, languorous afternoons, as one reader hints: "Even sitting in the central garden park was fascinating with the mariachi bands, the people-watching, and the sights."

Score: 93.54

2. Mexico City

Pedestrians on Famous Madero Walking Street in the Historic Center of Mexico City, Mexico
Credit: R.M. Nunes/Getty Images

WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 90.23

3. Oaxaca

Santo Domingo de Guzmán Church in Oaxaca, Mexico
Credit: Getty Images

Score: 90.22

4. Mérida

A motorcyclist passes by the Casa de Montejo, which dates from 1540 and is located on the south side of Plaza Grande in Merida, Mexico. It originally housed soldiers, but was soon converted into a mansion that served members of the Montejo family until the 1800s. Today it houses a bank and museum.
Credit: Joel Carillet/Getty Images

Score: 86.61

5. Zihuatanejo

Early Morning in Zihuatanejo Bay, Mexico
Credit: Nancy C. Ross/Getty Images

Score: 85.35

 See all of our readers' favorite hotels, cities, airlines, cruise lines, and more in the World's Best Awards for 2021.