Best places to spend Christmas in Mexico

Christmas doesn’t need to be all twinkling fairy lights and mugs of mulled wine. If you’re dreaming of spending the December holidays basking in sunshine, then Mexico is hard to beat. Here is our guide to the best places to spend Christmas in Mexico.
Temples of the Cross, Palenque. Photo: Diego Grandi/Shutterstock
Temples of the Cross, Palenque. Photo: Diego Grandi/Shutterstock

Thinking of taking a trip to Mexico this Christmas? Whether you're looking for an alternative way to celebrate or would prefer to escape the festivities completely, Mexico makes for a fantastic December destination. Here is our guide to the top spots where you can soak up some winter sun in Mexico.


1. Baja California

Mountains, deserts, and astonishing sea life can all be experienced in the Baja California, and December marks the start of the annual four-month period when gray whales start arriving off the Baja’s Pacific Coast. Having travelled 9,500km from Alaska’s icy Bering Sea, the whales mate and spawn in the warm, shallow waters here. After a century of whaling, in 1972, the breeding ground was established as the world’s first whale sanctuary, which continues today as El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve in Guerrero Negro. 

Early morning or late in the day are the best times for whale-watching, either from the shore with binoculars or the observation tower at Scammon’s Lagoon. Alternatively, locally chartered boats can provide closer views of these magnificent, 15-metre (49ft) long, marine creatures. If you’re lucky, you may see a full or partial breaching (when the animal leaps out of the water), fluke slaps (when it slaps the water with its tail), or flipper waves. Other key places to watch gray whales include San Ignacio Lagoon, a three-hour drive further south, and, increasingly, Bahia Magdalena, which is further south still.  

Gray whale fluke splashing off the coast of Baja California, Mexico. Photo: HTurner/Shutterstock


2. Mexico City

No trip to Mexico is complete without a visit to the country's vibrant capital city. With fabulous museums, exquisite restaurants and grand monuments, as well as imposing plazas, sprawling markets and hectic highways, it’s safe to say that the capital is as diverse and as full of surprises and contradictions par excellence as Mexico itself. Make the expansive zócalo city square your base from which to explore attractions such as the Templo Mayor Museum showcasing impressive Aztec archaeological artefacts; the monumental National Palace adorned with astonishing Diego Rivera murals that dramatically illustrate the history of Mexico; the towering Catedral Metropolitana with its magnificent interior illuminated through contemporary stained-glass windows; and the Frida Kahlo Museum dedicated to the much-loved artist’s innovative and thought-provoking work. 

Complement your time in the capital with Caribbean sunshine as part of Insight Guides’ Mexico City to the Yucatán trip.

Metropolitan Cathedral overlooking the zócalo, Mexico City. Photo: Henryk Sadura/Shutterstock


3. Chiapas Highlands

In the heart of Los Altos, the highlands of Chiapas and the living Maya cultural centre of the state, the capital San Cristóbal de las Casas sits at an altitude of 2,100 metres (6,890ft). A city of immense colonial charm, its mostly one-story houses with red-tiled roofs stand alongside plenty of likeable restaurants, chic cafés, and pleasant hotels, making this a very laid-back place to spend some time and savour the cool, sparkling mountain air.

As in all Spanish colonial towns, there is a cluster of fine churches, as well as a cathedral alongside the zócalo, with a facade painted in ochre and red. The Mercado Indígena or handicrafts market is an irresistible place to browse for brilliantly coloured clothing, weaving, pottery and leather goods. Tours from San Cristóbal taking in the Maya settlements of San Juan Chamula and Zinacantán north of the city, offer a fascinating insight into the culture and beliefs of the communities living in the villages.

San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. Photo: Rubi Rodriguez Martinez/Shutterstock


4. Playa del Carmen

One of Mexico’s top beach resorts, Playa del Carmen offers palm-fringed, soft white-sand stretches, exquisite turquoise seas and dazzling coral reefs. An idyllic place to relax and recharge over the Christmas break, simply sit back and unwind on the Riviera Maya's pristine beaches, take to the waters for impressive snorkelling, or experience the premium diving opportunities offered by high-quality operators. Playa has upscale accommodation and a wealth of luxury condominiums, but with a different style to nearby Cancún – its main artery is a long pedestrian street, giving much more of a sense of street life, and there is also a hip nightlife scene. Just south of the town is one of the Riviera’s most popular attractions, the family-friendly ‘eco-archeological theme park’ of Xcaret, created around a lagoon that was once the Maya port of Polé. Here you can experience a semi-underground snorkelling river, and see dolphins, a zoo, live shows, and a dazzling butterfly garden.

Playa del Carmen on January.Playa del Carmen's beaches are perfect for December and January visits. Photo: posztos/Shutterstock

 

5. Mayan ruins

Tulum, Palenque and Chichén Itzá are three unmissable stops on the Mayan trail, which sprawls across Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, as well as Guatemala, Belize and parts of Honduras and El Salvador. The Maya were pioneers in the arts and mathematics, but their most outstanding legacy is the architecture of the cities they inhabited.

Tulum combines the dramatic sight of ruined Maya pyramids with the spectacular backdrop of the shimmering Caribbean shoreline and waters. 

Rising out of the dense rainforest of Chiapas, Palenque is in one of the most breathtaking settings of Mexico's Maya ruins. Most of the city is believed to remain smothered by the jungle, but Palenque is nevertheless acclaimed for its location, for the beauty of its craftsmanship and its architectural genius, as well as for the stirring image it evokes of Maya culture. 

The best-known and greatest of all Mexico’s Maya ruins is Chichén Itzá. An incredibly well-preserved city, it was founded around AD 300 and achieved its peak around 600 years later. Many iconic symbols of Maya culture are in evidence here, including Meso-American ball game courts and elaborate stone carvings showing scenes of ritual human sacrifice. Chichén Itzá’s most famous structure is El Castillo, a step pyramid built as a temple to the feathered snake god Kukulkan, standing 30 metres high.

Chichén Itzá in Yucatan Mexico. Photo: curtis/Shutterstock


Ready to take a trip to Mexico?

Our local experts can plan incredible trips to Mexico for you. To get started, simply get in touch letting us know your ideas for the trip and when you would like to travel. We will then create a personalised itinerary especially, which you can amend until you are completely happy with every detail before you book. You can browse our existing itineraries for inspiration. And keep in mind that all of our pre-planned itineraries can be fully tailored to suit your needs.


Updated 3 October, 2019