Top Winter Vacations to Take in Mexico

Humpback Whale breaching off the coast of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Cavan Images / Getty Images

When you need a warm escape during the dark days of winter, look no further than just across the border. The winter months in Mexico are one of the most comfortable times to visit, since you're spared from the blazing heat of summer and arriving just after hurricane season ends. Of course, it's a big country and the weather can vary significantly depending on what region you visit, but all in all, you can expect sunny days lounging around at the beach.

Each area has its own advantages, whether it be whale watching or holiday events in December, so read up to choose the best destination for your winter getaway.

01 of 07

Riviera Maya

Tulum Mayan Ruins
Kelly Cheng Travel Photography / Getty Images

If a romantic getaway with your partner is what you're looking for to warm up in winter, then the Riviera Maya is the place to be. Situated just south of Cancun, the Riviera Maya is a coastal section that runs for roughly 40 miles between the cities of Playa del Carmen and Tulum. As Cancun became overdeveloped and glutted with resorts, the Riviera Maya turned into a less-crowded escape with the same sublime beaches. And while the Riviera Maya is no longer a secret, the region does have a stronger focus on conservation and sustainable tourism in order to protect the delicate local ecosystem.

Playa del Carmen is one of the most popular towns in the area, but other towns you can stay in include Tulum and Akumal. All of them are located on the Caribbean Sea, which is ideal for snorkeling and scuba diving in the crystal clear water with all types of sea life, from colorful fish to sea turtles. Within easy driving distance, you can visit Mayan ruins or the famous cenotes, an expansive underground cave system that visitors can swim in.

02 of 07

Cozumel

Beach at Chankanaab Park in Cozumel, Mexico

Michael DeFreitas / Getty Images

Even though the island of Cozumel is technically a part of the Riviera Maya, the sheer beauty of the island and its remoteness from the mainland make it deserving of special recognition. Only 12 miles off the coast, it's easy to reach via ferry from Playa del Carmen or a short flight from the Cancun airport. While many tourists in Cancun head to Cozumel just to spend the day, those who have been there know that this idyllic island is worth a vacation in and of itself.

Diving and snorkeling are the prime activities around Cozumel, which is right in the heart of the Mesoamerican Reef, the second-largest coral reef in the world. If you want to explore farther out from the shore, there are a number of boat companies that will take visitors out to sea for a more intimate experience with the reefs. After swimming around for the day, check out the nightlife scene on the island. It's much more low-key than the packed clubs and bars of Cancun, appealing to a very different crowd from the party-goers on the mainland.

03 of 07

Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca

Scenic view of beach at Puerto Escondido, Mexico
Roman Romrom / EyeEm / Getty Images

Puerto Escondido isn't quite as accessible as the major resort destinations in Mexico, so you can take in the area's natural beauty without feeling overwhelmed by towering resorts or hoards of tourists. Puerto Escondido is especially popular with surfers since it's home to the legendary Zicatela Pipeline, one of the best surf spots in the world. If you don't know how to surf but want to learn, the Oasis Surf Academy pairs your surf lessons with Spanish classes so you can learn how to ride the waves and order food in a local restaurant all at the same time.

Even if surfing isn't your thing, the laid-back surfer lifestyle is appealing to many. Puerto Escondido is a small town and several hours away from the nearest big city, Oaxaca, so there isn't a lot to do. This is the place to go when you want to escape and spend your days reading on the beach and eating fresh-caught seafood, without any pressure to sightsee or do touristy things.

04 of 07

Cabo San Lucas

Rocks in ocean in Cabo San Lucas

Davidlohr Bueso / Flikr / CC BY 2.0

At the southern tip of Baja California Sur is the popular resort town of Cabo San Lucas. The party scene downtown is especially popular with groups of friends visiting for bachelor or bachelorette parties, but Cabo is also a destination with lots to do for families. Winter is actually when Cabo experiences the best weather of the year, with the average high temperature hovering around 81 degrees Fahrenheit. It's also one of the busiest times to visit and travelers should plan out reservations long in advance, especially during the Christmas holidays when kids are out of school.

Perhaps an even bigger draw than the ideal weather is the perks of visiting during whale season. From December to April, humpback whales come to the Sea of Cortez right off the Cabo coast for their annual migration, and boat tours can bring visitors close to these magnificent animals. If you're willing to travel a few hours north, you can see gray whales breeding during the same time.

Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07

Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board

Like many Pacific Coast cities in Mexico, Puerto Vallarta experiences the most comfortable temperatures—and biggest crowds—in the winter. This resort town on the Pacific Coast wraps around scenic Banderas Bay, with its dramatic Sierra Madre backdrop. Safe, friendly, and bursting with family-friendly activities, Puerto Vallarta offers kids distractions like snorkeling, whale-watching, and jungle adventures while keeping parents entertained with world-class restaurants, golf courses, and a thriving art scene.

Not only is Puerto Vallarta a popular family destination, but it's also one of the prime LGBTQ+ vacation spots in Mexico. After a day spent on a local excursion or sitting by the beach, downtown Puerto Vallarta has plenty of nightlife options for all tastes, including a neighborhood with a collection of LGBTQ+ bars that's amusingly named the Zona Romántica. When you need a bite to eat, the food scene includes upscale fine dining and casual beach palapas, plus everything in between.

06 of 07

Tequila Country

Tequila, Mexico

TripSavvy / Ana Alarcon 

Just 40 miles outside of the bustling metropolis of Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco, visitors can head to the endless fields of agave plants that are used to make Mexico's national drink, tequila. Just as vineyards are known as wine country, this area of Mexico is known as Tequila Country, and the epicenter of it all is the aptly named town of Tequila. Here, you can visit the factory of the world-renowned Jose Cuervo brand, along with dozens of other local distilleries. You'll likely be trying tequila at each place you stop, so hiring a tour guide to drive you around is a smart idea. While this can all be done on a day trip from Guadalajara, nothing beats spending a couple of nights in an authentic rural hacienda.

Apart from tequila, the state of Jalisco is also the birthplace of quintessential Mexican traditions like mariachi music and charrería, the country's national rodeo sport. You can—and should—see them both while in the area. Mexican cuisine varies from state to state, so don't expect to just eat tacos everywhere you go. In Jalisco, the specialties are tortas ahogadas, a saucy sandwich, and birria, a meat stew often made with goat or mutton.

07 of 07

Monarch Butterfly Reserves

Monarchs on a branch at the monarch butterfly reserve in Mexico

Richard Ellis / Getty Images

Winter isn't just whale season in Mexico; it's also butterfly season. When it gets too cold in the U.S. and Canada for monarch butterflies to survive, they make a 3,000-mile journey to the Monarch Buttery Biosphere Reserve in Mexico, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The reserve straddles the states of Michoacan and the State of Mexico, just under two hours away from the capital Mexico City so it's easy to reach for a day trip or weekend excursion.

Up to a billion butterflies make their winter home in the area, so many that the sound of their wings flapping mimics rainfall. There can be so many on a tree at one time that their weight actually causes the branches to bend. The butterflies start to arrive in November, but they're most active during the cooler months of January and February. If it gets too hot during the day they'll head back to their trees to roost, so morning or evening are usually the best time to catch them.

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