Mexico is home to a number of special places that are considered ‘pueblos magicos’, or magic towns. This designation recognizes certain towns and villages as being particularly special or culturally important. The scheme began in 2001 when Mexico’s Secretary of Tourism created the original list for the Pueblos Magicos Program. Each year, the program is updated, and there are currently 132 towns and villages on this exclusive list.
While Cancun is a pretty magical place to vacation, it’s not officially designated a ‘magic town’. But some of these special places are within easy reach of the city and make a lovely day trip from Cancun’s Hotel Zone. Here are our favorites.
Valladolid is the oldest town in Yucatan State – dating back to 1543 – and it was designated a Magic Town in 2012. It’s a fantastic day out if you want to experience some authentic Yucatecan culture, and it will take you only a couple of hours to drive there from Cancun.
Set around a buzzing central square, or ‘zócalo’, with a striking double steepled church, Valladolid has lovely streets to walk around soaking up the laid-back atmosphere. Only a few minutes’ walk from the main square is a cenote – Cenote Zaci – one of the sunken limestone swimming caves that the Yucatan Peninsula is famous for. Another great attraction is the Convento de San Bernardino where there’s a daily light and sound show, during which images are projected onto the convent and the history of Valladolid is told.
Valladolid is known as something of a foodie destination too, so before heading back to Cancun, make sure you stop off for something to eat – a good tip is El Méson del Marqués, a historic building just off the main square with a beautiful inner courtyard restaurant.
Isla Mujeres joined the ranks of Magic Towns in 2015. It’s a small island located just a 20- minute ferry ride from Cancun, making it a particularly popular day trip. The island was named Isla Mujeres – or Island of Women – because when the Spanish conquistadors first arrived, they mysteriously found clay statues of women all over the island.
Isla Mujeres is famous for its beautiful beach, Playa Norte, and also its sculpture park at Punta Sur. The most popular way to explore the island is by golf cart, which I can guarantee is a lot of fun! It also has some of the area’s best seafood restaurants, and is famous for its Yucatec Mayan fish dish ‘tikinxik’ (pronounced teek-in-sheek’).
Izamal – also known as the ‘city of three cultures’ for the preservation of its pre-Hispanic, colonial, and modern Mexican cultures – is a small but beautiful inland town around three hours from Cancun by road. It was added to the ‘Magic Towns’ list in 2002, making it among the first to be afforded this special honor.
Izamal is a beautiful place, famous for its buildings, most of which are painted a stunning golden yellow color. Try to visit just before dusk to see the shades of yellow shift as the sun sets.
Notably, the town has Mayan ruins right at its heart, and you can climb a small pyramid called Kinich Kak Moo to enjoy views over the pretty town. Also among its beautiful buildings – and there is no shortage – is the San Antonio de Padua Convent. Horse and carriage rides are also popular here and there are some great restaurant options if hunger strikes during your visit.
Tulum was designated a Magic Town in 2015. Located around 1.5-2 hours south of Cancun, it’s an easy trip to make in a day by simply following Highway 307 down the coast.
Tulum itself is split in two – Tulum Pueblo is the town, where you’ll find the majority of restaurants, bars, and shops, and Tulum Playa is the beach area, which is Tulum’s main draw.
If there’s one thing you must see during a visit, Tulum’s Mayan ruins are it. They’re set on a spectacular clifftop overlooking white sands and turquoise waters. Tulum is a great place for fans of yoga and meditation, and also for vegetarians and vegans, as there’s a thriving new-age scene here. It’s also one of the most Instagrammed spots in Mexico (and in case you’d like to join in, here are some handy tips on the hottest photo spots in Tulum)!
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