Off-the-Radar Places in Mexico for Your Family Vacation

Mexico is trending as a top tourist destination thanks to a weak peso and eager Americans looking to head south and avoid high European prices. But you’ll also see swells of tourists flocking to places like Puerto Vallarta and the surrounding Cancun area that can make these gems feel downright cramped.

Fortunately, there are plenty of places in Mexico that tourists and families are still warming up to that are relatively under the radar.

Las Animas Eco-Lodge

Nestled in the Midriff Islands on the Sea of Cortez on the Galapagos of Mexico, the magical Las Animas Eco-Lodge retreat welcomes travelers year-round. This place is a mix of a wilderness glamping getaway with over-the-top exotic experiences like swimming with whale sharks. Private yurts come fully equipped with luxury camping amenities including full bathrooms with solar shower and composting toilets. There’s no real roughing it here. Choose from queen- and king-sized beds and walk over to the game area and communal lounge to meet the neighbors.

San Pancho

Riviera Nayarit quickly grew a reputation as a beachside tourist destination with great seafood and surfing. But for something quieter, the nearby town of San Pancho still embraces a rural, authentic Mexican vibe with cobblestone streets just an hour from the Puerto Vallarta airport. This sleepy seaside pueblo also has some amazing restaurants and art, yet one main street and just a few thousand year-round residents.

San Pancho San Francisco beach Mexico

© David Hudson | Dreamstime.com

Yelapa

Yelapa draws family travelers away from the swelling crowds of Cancun looking for a spectacular beachside town. So far, it largely avoided mass tourism traffic and lacks a swell of chain restaurants, bars and big brand hotels. The kids can play all day in the surf before scoring a fresh-baked pie. Keep an eye out for local bakers selling their coconut varieties to the scattering of tourists and locals.

Copper Canyon

You may think you hit the motherload of all canyons when you headed west to see the Grand Canyon, but Mexico’s Copper Canyon can actually swallow it up whole. Best of all, you can explore Copper Canyon by train with the kids and take a scenic ride through northern Mexico’s rugged landscapes. The train, called El Chepe, slowly chugs into the Sierra Madre mountains and stops at various pueblos and towns along the way.

Bridges, tunnels and awe-inspiring views abound. But before you go, brush up on the history of the indigenous Tarahumara whose children like to wave at the train and greet passengers.

Mountainous landscapes of Copper Canyon, Mexico

© Dani3315 | Dreamstime.com

San Miguel de Allende

Admittedly, San Miguel de Allende is starting to attract scores of Americans and Canadians to its colorful, colonial city with cobblestone streets. But it’s still a lower profile destination than the country’s beachside town.

Think of San Miguel de Allende as the midwest of Mexico, where a backdrop of mountains and hot air balloons frame the city. In other words, there’s no beach here. A central Parroquia attracts locals and visitors, and it’s the cultural norm for young kids to siesta and they stay out late into the night. Street vendors sell toys in the square daily and nightly to keep the kids happy in the car-free zone. Nearby natural springs, pyramids and a modern water park are within a short taxi ride to fill up the weekends outside the city.

Mexico is still a relatively inexpensive and close destination from most U.S. cities. The hard part is figuring out where to go. I say put them all on your list and turn it into an ever-growing bucket list.