The Ultimate First-Timer's Guide to Mexico: Explore Cities, Culture, Beaches, and Cuisine with an Expert Mexico Travel Agent

Travel advisor Hannah Breckner stands on a beach in a green dress carrying a straw hat
Curated By

Hannah Breckner

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  • Mexico

  • Arts & Culture

  • Food & Wine

  • Local Culture

  • Local Food

  • Bucket List

The Ultimate First-Timer's Guide to Mexico: Explore Cities, Culture, Beaches, and Cuisine with an Expert Mexico Travel Agent
Curator’s statement

Embarking on your first Mexican adventure? Juggling vast distances and diverse regions can feel like a daunting and overwhelming task. Seeking the perfect mix of city, culture and beach but don’t know where to start? That's where I come in as your expert Mexico travel agent. With extensive first-hand experience living, working and exploring the country, I'm not just a luxury travel agent—I'm your insider guide to all things Mexico.

Teaming up with Journey Mexico, we go beyond the basics, providing top-notch guides, seamless transportation and unique excursions. I've crafted an ideal 10-14-day route in Central and Western Mexico with the perfect balance of everything Mexico has to offer.

Ready to start planning? Reach out to your go-to Mexico travel agent (that's me!) and let's start crafting your perfect Mexican getaway. From hidden gems to must-try local treats, I can elevate your trip with unique, insider experiences and expert local knowledge.

The Fora Difference

Book with Hannah to access exclusive perks and experiences on your trip.

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Killer perks

Free upgrades, spa credits and more—we got you

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Personalized recs

Customized travel planning for your style

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Insider knowledge

Expert advice from people who’ve actually been there

Where to stay

Susurros del Corazón, Auberge Resorts Collection

Relaxed seaside hotel on a white sand beach with airy rooms and suites.

Fora Perks
  • Breakfast daily.

  • Upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.

  • $100 food / beverage credit.

Four Seasons Hotel Mexico City

Close to Chapuletepec Park, this polished hotel is a standout for the unflappable service and gorgeous public spaces, from the courtyard restaurant to the rooftop pool.

Fora Perks
  • When you book Four Seasons through Fora, you will enjoy exclusive Four Seasons Preferred Partner benefits. Your advisor will be pleased to give you more details.

Casa Habita

Chic property in the neighborhood of Lafayette with trendy rooms and suites.

Fora Perks
  • $25 hotel / resort credit.

  • Welcome drink & fruit plate.

  • Upgrade, based on availability.

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Unlock perks by contacting Hannah to book your trip.

Route Overview

Part 1: Four days in Mexico City
Part 2: Three days in Guadalajara and Tequila
Part 3: Five days on the Pacific Coast

Part One - Mexico City

This itinerary starts and ends in Mexico City, the biggest international hub for flights in Mexico and a strategic starting point for your trip. Mexico City has some of the most fascinating culture, museums, art, history and food in the world, which is why so many digital nomads, expat families, art and culture aficionados and historians are obsessed. Oh and did I mention the food? If there was ever a foodie’s mecca, I believe this is it.

Travel Tip: Remember to factor in some downtime on the first day to recover from travel, the altitude and jet lag can sometimes make the transition a bit challenging.

Sample itinerary:

Day 1: You will be greeted at the airport and transferred to your hotel for check-in to rest until your night taco tour. Indulge in Mexico's culinary wonders with a nighttime tour across San Rafael, Anzures, Roma and Condesa. Explore traditional taquerías, sampling diverse taco styles from world-famous 'al pastor' to regional delicacies, and savor the smoky notes of mezcal with a mezcalillero at La Botica, Mexico City’s first mezcal bar.

Day 2: Discover Mexico’s Mesoamerican, Colonial and Revolutionary history while exploring the historic center of the capital, once the epicenter of the Aztec world, Tenochtitlan. Visit the Cathedral, built upon the main Aztec temple and admire the National Palace, a symbol of federal Mexican Government. Stroll through its iconic streets to reach the Palace of Fine Arts, showcasing impressive architecture.

Following a break, dive into a unique experience with a private, off-hours tour of the renowned National Anthropology Museum. Designed by architect Pedro Ramirez Vasquez in 1964, the museum houses artifacts from Mesoamerican cultures, including the remarkable 24-ton Aztec Sunstone. Your expert guide will navigate you through one and a half hours of history, from the legend of the five suns to replica temples, King Pakal's tomb, and the ancient Mesoamerican ball game.

Day 3: Embark on a journey through Mexico City's vibrant Roma neighborhood with your expert guide, revealing Colonia Roma's culinary and artistic treasures and highlighting architectural gems, beautiful gardens, leafy streets and historic mansions that define this quirky and eclectic neighborhood.

Next, an artistic and culinary adventure in Coyoacán, retracing Frida Kahlo's steps at Casa Azul. Immerse yourself in her creative world, exploring original artwork and personal items. Wander through the charming cobblestone streets of Coyoacán with a private guide, experiencing its village-like atmosphere. Conclude the day with a delightful tasting of artisanal Mexican cheeses paired with three local wines, savoring flavors from local families

Day 4: Witness the sunrise over the Valley of Teotihuacán from your private hot-air balloon, gliding over the iconic pyramids of the Sun and the Moon. Following a 40-minute flight and a celebratory toast with sparkling wine, indulge in a light breakfast before continuing your exploration of Teotihuacán by land. This ancient site, boasting a ceremonial center and residential areas, is a significant Mesoamerican gem. Guided by an expert, immerse yourself in the echoes of Mesoamerican flutes, unraveling the mysteries of this culturally rich and historic destination.

Other itinerary add-ons: Lucha Libre (epic Mexican wrestling show) and Xochimilco (colorful boat rides in floating gardens)


Where to eat: Panaderia Rosetta, Cafe Nin or El Cardenal for breakfast, La Docena, Contramar and Masala y Maiz for lunch and Máximo, Taqueria Orinoco and Pujol for dinner.

Where to drink: La Xampa, Baltra Bar, La Clandestina, Gin Gin Condesa, Fifty Mils, Hanky Panky Cocktail Bar, Licoreria Limantour, Terraza Catedral Rooftop, Cantina Tio Pepe, Pulqueria los Insurgentes.

Where to stay: The best options for first-timers are the Condesa, Roma, Reforma and Juarez or Polanco neighborhoods, which are well-located for the sites, easy to walk around and packed with great restaurants, bars and cafes.


Part 2 - Guadalajara & Tequila

Guadalajara, where I've lived for many years, is a cultural and foodie haven (See my more detailed city guide here). With a mix of old and new, traditional and modern, it feels like both a cosmopolitan city and a quaint town. Just a quick one-hour flight from Mexico City, it's a melting pot of grand buildings, artistic neighborhoods, traditional dance, elegant restaurants and striking architecture. A short trip to Tequila offers serene landscapes amid agave plants, old ranches and charming distilleries.

Sample itinerary:

Day 1: Kick off your Guadalajara visit with a private guided tour of the historic center including the emblematic Cathedral, Palacio Nacional and Teatro Degollado. You’ll make a stop at Museo Cabañas to admire captivating murals by José Clemente Orozco and browse the crafts, souvenirs and clothing at San Juan de Dios Market, one of the largest in Latin America. After a delicious lunch, spend the afternoon resting by the pool at your hotel before heading back out to try one of Guadalajara’s top restaurants for dinner, followed by some mezcal and tequila tasting at one of Guadalajara’s many bars. (See my full bar hopping route here).

Day 2: Stroll the eclectic and walkable Colonia Americana neighborhood and stop at one of Guadalajara’s many outdoor leafy brunch spots for some craft coffee and chilaquiles. Your private guide will then take you south of the city to the famous art and crafts area, Tlaquepaque. You will visit the workshop of the famous local ceramicist Paco Padilla and learn about his work. Walk around this colorful area to browse the boutiques, galleries and main plaza, with a stop at the Regional Museum of Ceramics, Sergio Bustamente Gallery and El Refugio Cultural Center. End with lunch at one of Tlaqupaque’s beautiful restaurants. Hopefully, you will catch some mariachi, folkloric dancers or local live music!

In the evening, head to Zapopan’s main plaza to check out the artisan stands and majestic cathedral before grabbing a bite in one of the picturesque side streets and sampling the neighborhood bars.

Day 3: Embark on an unforgettable Jaliscan adventure, exploring the home of tequila amid the striking blue agave fields, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Accompanied by your private Maestro Tequilero, delve into the rich history and intricate processes behind this celebrated spirit, passed down through generations. Your journey includes a visit to the tequila-centric town of Tequila, exploration of two distilleries, and a private tequila tasting.


Where to eat: Los Yunaites Menjurjes Pueblerinos , La Cafeteria, Biolento or Palreal for breakfast, Casa Luna (Tlaquepaque), La Panga del Impostor or I Latina for lunch and Fonda Doña Gabina Escolástica, Bruna or Hueso for dinner.

Where to drink: Salon Candela, Cantina el Fuente, Gallo Altanero and Pare de Sufrir Mezcaleria (Check out my full bar-hopping guide to the best tequila and mezcal spots in town here).

Where to stay: One of the most convenient and walkable areas to stay is the Americana neighborhood which is well located for downtown and other areas, and full of great cafes, restaurants and bars. (Also named 'Coolest Neighborhood in the World' in 2022 by Timeout).

Other things to do/see: Day trip to Lake Chapala and Ajijic, Shopping at Andares Mall, Lucha Libre (epic Mexican wrestling show), Zapopan Cathedral and historic downtown, Colomos Park.


Part 3 - Pacific Coast Beaches

Now, it's time to kick back in flip-flops and embrace the ultimate relaxation. All the charming towns and areas listed below are easily accessible from Guadalajara, whether by car, a (comfy) bus or a quick 40-minute flight.

In all areas, we've got a lineup of activities for all tastes: surf or SUP classes, yoga experiences, boat and snorkeling excursions to the Marieta Islands or other beaches, spa indulgence, hands-on traditional cooking classes, craft workshops with local artisans, adventure excursions, private hikes, dreamy sunset sailing, whale watching, gastronomic food tours, tequila tastings, temazcal experiences and off-road jungle expeditions.

While Puerto Vallarta and its various neighborhoods hog the limelight, covering a vast coastal stretch, there are hidden gems (with even better beaches!) waiting to be explored along the coastline. Here is a breakdown,, starting from the northern tip down to the southern stretch of the renowned Banderas Bay coastline.

Sayulita: A vibrant and petite surfer village with a laid-back and fun-filled vibe. With charming boutique hotels, a yoga haven, fantastic dining spots, and epic beaches surrounded by jungle trails, it's my go-to beach escape from Guadalajara (even though I can’t surf!) The colorful energy and its authentic Mexico charm make Sayulita a perpetual favorite.

San Pancho: A smaller, quieter and more untouched version of Sayulita with a pristine beach (my personal favorite in the region!). This small village is yet to be touched by large crowds and is less known than Sayulita, even though it is just as, if not more, special.

Punta Mita: High-end barefoot luxury at its finest with some of the most breathtaking beaches on the coast for those seeking true pampering. Perfect for golf enthusiasts, surfers, wellness aficionados, couples, and families alike, this haven hosts some of the most stunning resorts in all of North America.

Bucerias and La Cruz de Huanacaxtle: These are two up-and-coming beach towns just to the north of Puerto Vallarta. They feel less touristy with more of the authentic Mexico charm. Think unpaved streets, street tacos, beachside seafood restaurants with plastic tables and potentially getting woken up by a next-door rooster. Tip: La Cruz de Huanacaxtle has an extremely popular Farmer’s Market that runs from November to April in its marina. A must when visiting the area!

Puerto Vallarta: A coastal city with so much to offer. From all-inclusive resorts to small boutique hotels, from picturesque marinas to traditional cobblestone streets of the old downtown, from clubs and nightlife to laidback beachside seafood restaurants, there truly is something for everyone. General areas to stay in include: Marina Vallarta, Nuevo Vallarta, Old Downtown Vallarta (Zona Romantica) and Southern Vallarta, and everything in between.


And if you have more time to explore…

San Miguel de Allende is a great town to visit and a four to five hour drive or bus ride from Guadalajara or a short one-hour flight from Puerto Vallarta. Oaxaca City could also be another option to add on to this itinerary, a short one to one and a half hour flight from either Mexico City or Guadalajara.

Need to Know

Reach out to your go-to Mexico travel agent (that’s me!) using my contact details below for hotel recommendations, personalized itineraries, recommendations and to book hotels with additional perks included in your stay such as room upgrade, complimentary breakfast and overall better value for money thanks to my preferred partner agent status with many hotels.

This trip report is part of our ongoing series on travel to Mexico. In need of further inspiration? Check out my other guide, Guadalajara: A Food Lover's Guide.

Travel advisor Hannah Breckner stands on a beach in a green dress carrying a straw hat

Travel Advisor

Hannah Breckner

Get in touch with Hannah

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