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3 Ways to Experience Mexico

Whether you’re jonesing for snorkeling, spa treatments, or street food, there’s a vacation for everyone just across the border


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Hotel San Cristóbal

Romantic Escape 

Todos Santos

While tourism (and commercialism) booms in Cabo, Sayulita, and Puerto Vallarta, Todos Santos—the mission town located an hour’s drive from Los Cabos International Airport—remains a relaxed beach getaway with the same color, glamour, and culinary cred.

Hotel San Cristóbal is reason enough to visit. The 32-room waterfront property (from $385) by Austin hotelier Liz Lambert and a local developer opened last year. Three miles from town, the tucked-away hotel is one of the only tenants in the area (save for fishermen who go into the water daily and a beach club farther down the sand), making those long walks on the beach feel ultra-private. The hotel itself centers around its stylish pool, with cabanas, ornately tiled soaking tubs, and a bar populated mostly with mellow couples. On Fridays, the hotel hosts a poolside happy hour with local indie bands and on Saturdays, salsa dance classes. There isn’t a spa, but the concierge can book massages atop their breezy mirador rooftop. Rooms are equal parts rustic and polished: bare white walls splashed with hot pink and yellow accents, with woven details and Mexican-made ceramics. Each has a well-outfitted patio, overlooking the ocean or the pool.

Hotel San Cristóbal

In town, don’t miss a visit to La Sonrisa de La Muerte, a hip gallery showing paintings and lithographs by Mexican and Argentine artists. When you’re hungry, feast on farm-to-table eats at chef Javier Plascencia’s alfresco Jazamango, freshly caught ceviche at the no-frills Compa Chava, and cookies and scones at Taller17—because your sweet deserves a little sugar. 

Nonstop flights are available from San Diego or Tijuana. Upon landing in Cabo, it’s best to rent a car and drive the 70 miles to Todos Santos. Parking at Hotel San Cristóbal is free and plentiful. —Archana Ram

 

Aquatic Adventures

La Paz

Scuba diving in La Paz

This sleepy cobblestone village sits along the Sea of Cortez—deemed the “aquarium of the world” by Jacques Cousteau—with gin-clear water, empty powder-white beaches, and islets inhabited only by sea lion colonies and nesting birds. The Cortez Club dive center can organize bucket-list swims with friendly whale sharks (some 50 feet long) in the bay from August to May, as well as world-class dives to see shipwrecks, schools of hammerheads, and giant Pacific manta rays. A snorkel trip to Isla Espíritu Santo means frolicking with curious members of the protected California sea lion colony. There’s also kayaking through the mangroves of Bahía Puerto Balandra or paddleboarding across its teal-hued shallows, and plenty of time for ceviche and cerveza on arguably one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

Back on land, stroll the five-kilometer Malecón (boardwalk) or wander the backstreets with RED Travel Mexico, whose local tour guides will show you the colorful street art of the city’s mural project, the 18th-century cathedral, top seafood carts, and the bustling Mercado Madero for fresh juices, leather ranchero goods, cowboy boots, and embroidered shirts. Local dining means everything from hidden courtyards with the pageantry of tableside cart service at Sorstis to alfresco fine dining under market lights at Las Tres Virgenes; from flatbreads and carafe wine at Il Rustico to a toes-in-the-sand palapa meal at Restaurante Playa Pichilingue. At the latter, we like the icy beers and the giant chocolate clams plucked fresh from the water.

Kayaking by Ensenada Grande beach

A stark contrast to Cabo, lodging in historic La Paz takes the form of smaller, more intimate beachfront digs like the stunning Playa de la Paz, an enclave of high-design villas overlooking white sand dotted with canopied daybeds and a seaside pool. A personal concierge orchestrates private chef dinners, massages, yoga on the beach—even a trip to owner Jeffrey Curtiss’ seaside ranch for a shoreline gallop. Villa stays start at $600. 

Nonstop flights are available via Tijuana International Airport. Shuttles run from the La Paz airport into town; private transportation offered when staying at Playa de la Paz. Alternatively, La Paz is a two-hour drive from the Los Cabos International Airport, easily accessible from San Diego’s airport. —Ann Wycoff

 

Foodie Getaway

Puebla

“Yes, that’s a volcano!” says a waiter in Puebla, referring to the spitting mountain that looms over the city. “Every single day, either a white cloud or a gray cloud!”

Sitting at the confluence of five volcanoes two hours southeast of Mexico City, Puebla has largely flown under the foreign-tourism radar, but it boasts a colorful historic city center framed by Baroque churches on nearly every corner.

Street food in Puebla

It’s also a food lover’s dream, with a distinct lineup of street eats found nowhere else in Mexico. The best way to explore is to hire Eat Mexico for a tour ($75 for three hours). Not only will their knowledgeable guides show you the ins and outs of Puebla’s gustatory treasures, they’ll also give you a good dose of city history along the way.

Must-tries include the cemita, a beloved crusty roll sandwich with pork milanesa, chipotle pepper, quesillo, avocado, and an indigenous herb called papalo; mole poblano (also known informally as “the kind made with chocolate”); tacos árabes, a nod to Puebla’s Lebanese population, which comes in a pita-like tortilla with spit-roasted pork; and pasita, a local liqueur served with queso fresco and a raisin.

Puebla’s historic city center

While there, bed down at the brand-new, luxe Hotel Cartesiano (rooms from $250), which spans two buildings that used to be a mansion and tire factory. Their kitchen serves updated poblano classics—all in the shadow of Mexico’s most active volcano.

Nonstop flights available from Tijuana to Puebla, or fly from Tijuana nonstop to Mexico City and drive two hours to Puebla. Flights from San Diego typically require a layover. —Jackie Bryant

 

Flying out of Tijuana?

Use the Cross Border Xpress, a pedestrian bridge ($29 round-trip) in Otay Mesa that transports you directly into the Tijuana airport. 

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