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Mexico is known for its heavy-hitter tourist destinations—think Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos, Mexico City, etc. The list goes on, and for good reason: These destinations contain some of the world’s best beaches, cultural attractions and UNESCO heritage sites. But with great reputation inevitably comes great crowds. Fortunately for Mexico, it’s packed with scores of destinations still coming into their own. Think under-the-radar beaches, authentic colonial cities and ancient ruins buried deep in the jungle—all without hordes of tourists. But no secret lasts forever, so get to these five next-level Mexican destinations before everybody else does.

RELATED: 10 best cheap places to travel in 2019

mexico, guanajato city

Guanajato City

Guanajuato City

Mexico’s northern central state of Guanajuato isn’t new to the tourism scene, thanks to its cultural capital, San Miguel de Allende, which often finds itself awarded top accolades like “Best City in the World” by the likes of Travel + Leisure. But the state has another city that is coming into its own, a city that boasts just as much charm and history, with far fewer crowds. Guanajuato City has been growing over the last few years as a center for business and industry. Because of this, there has been increased air travel to the destination, especially on United Airlines, which has direct flights from San Antonio and Chicago. UNESCO has named it a World Heritage Site, thanks to its colonial architecture, pastel-colored buildings, cobblestone streets, wide tree-lined plazas, galleries, churches, and the iconic Templo La Valenciana, which overlooks the entire city from a hilltop. Guanajuato is also the birth city of Diego Rivera, Mexico’s most important muralist, and his childhood home has been converted into a museum where the ground floor is a recreation of the original house, with the upstairs used for original paintings, sketches and temporary exhibits.

Mexico

Todos Santos

Los Cabos may be the land of glitzy hotels and glamorous yachts, but just 45 minutes north, travelers will find the sleepy seaside town of Todos Santos. One of Mexico’s so-called Magical Towns (a designation given by Mexico’s tourism board to towns known for providing a “magical” experience, thanks to their natural beauty, cultural richness, traditions or other factors), it has long been a favorite among budget travelers and surfers seeking its convivial, laid-back lifestyle, massive swells, and its blend of authentic culture and seaside living. Art galleries, cafes and coffee shops abound, as are small boutiques, tapas bars and beach hangouts.

campeche, mexico

Campeche

Campeche

Mexico’s new president has proposed a very controversial $8 billion Mayan train route to run along the Yucatan peninsula. If completed, it will open up Cancun tourism to more far-flung destinations, like Campeche, Merida and Valladolid. Before these new, once hard-to-reach destinations become easily accessible by a tourist train, visit the colorful, vibrant, seaside town of Campeche, which explodes on the scene like a vision from a storybook. Colonial buildings painted bright yellows, pinks, reds and blues flank cobblestone streets. The walled Centro Historico is home to a gleaming white cathedral that stands at the center of the tree-lined plaza, and there are beautiful sunsets that dip behind the Gulf of Mexico, on which the city sits. It’s a beautiful city to visit to try local cuisine, like pan de cazon, layers of white fish between tortillas smothered in tomato sauce, or panuchos de pavo, which are small corn cakes topped with shredded turkey, sour cream, and cheese.

Guadalajara, Mexico

Guadalajara

Guadalajara

Known as Mexico’s second city (behind Mexico City), Guadalajara is drawing massive interest among artists and creative youth, thanks in part to a booming tech industry that is sweeping the city. As a result, the city is blossoming into a thriving juxtaposition of traditional and modern. For example, the city skyrocketed from 5,000 restaurants to 17,000 in only the last six years. These trendy eateries sit alongside traditional markets like Tlaquepaque, which is one of the largest crafts markets in all of Mexico. Six new hotels opened in 2018, including Hard Rock Hotel Guadalajara, 1970 Posada Guadalajara, Aloft Guadalajara, Hilton Midtown, City Express & Suites and FCH Providencia Urban Boutique. An additional 15 hotels are set to open between now and 2020, as well.

Costa Brava, Mexico

Mahahual

Mahahual

While Tulum might be the last stop for many travelers venturing south from Cancun, keep driving another couple of hours to be rewarded with breathtaking sugary beaches, laid-back beach bars, and an eco-friendly boutique hotel scene that mixes nature with luxury. Mahahual is a small seaside beach town that is the nucleus of the Costa Maya—the southern coast of Quintana Roo and home to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere, as well as some of the best snorkeling north of Belize. Right now, the closest airport is Chetumal, the capital of Quintana Roo, but as there are limited flights from the U.S., most travelers fly into Cancun and then end their journeys in Tulum. It’s worth the extra drive to be rewarded with spectacular Caribbean water, a serene environment and jewels of hotels that have yet to be discovered by mass tourism.

Tagged: Beach, Destinations, Mexico

Megan Drillinger

Megan Drillinger

Megan Drillinger

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The coastal communities that hug North Florida’s shores west of the Apalachicola River are magnets to sun seekers looking to catch rays and spend downtime basking on the area’s famed sugar-white beaches, whose enchanting color is a byproduct of quartz eroded from the Southern Appalachian Mountains. From big cities to small towns and one inland gem, we’ve paired personality types with corresponding hot spots to help you find your perfect Panhandle.

RELATED: Unforgettable Florida road trips for every traveler type

Destin, Panhandle, Florida

Destin, FL

The Family Fun Seeker: Destin-Fort Walton Beach

These Emerald Coast abodes, perched on a peninsula in between Choctawhatchee Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, come by their family vacation bona fides thanks to placid warm turquoise waters and plenty of rides and slides. For whooshing tubular thrill rides, cart the kids on down to Big Kahuna’s Water & Adventure Park, where they’ll splash down over 40 wet and wild attractions, including the 5-storey Jumanji plunge. Sashay over to the Honolulu Half Pipe to body board or surf a continuous wave that rushes 17,000 gallons of water per minute. And you don’t visit “the world’s luckiest fishing village” without at least letting the ‘lil ones dangle a line into the water and hope for a bite.

Spring Break, Florida

The Spring Breaker: Panama City Beach

The super cute antics of flip-happy, synchronized swimming dolphins and smoochy sea lions at Gulf World Marine Park bridge all generation gaps. Ditto for the swashbuckling adventure on tap on a Sea Dragon Pirate Cruise. Still, there’s good reason MTV’s Floribama Shore chose Panama City Beach as the location for the hard partying series, which essentially amounts to Jersey Shore south. Local party scene haunts Newby’s Brew & Booze House, Donovan’s Reef Lounge, Club La Vela and other hopping area beach bars get plenty of play on the show. So if double fisting two-buck beer along with throngs of fast friends sounds like a plan, Panama City Beach will not disappoint.

Golf

Photo | Paul Benson – Flickr

The Golfer: Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Alabama

If your must-have beach accessory is a sand wedge, Gulf Shores is crawling with tantalizing courses primed to show your foursome a good time. Sure, Florida offers golf aplenty, but just a short haul over the state line into the Sweet Home State, you’ll find the Panhandle’s finest tracks. Put Craft Farms double dose of postcard pretty eighteen-hole Arnold Palmer designs on your must-play list. Then head to Gulf Shores Club, the grand dame of area golf courses. Don’t leave off Kiva Dunes, named for the Indian word for spiritual and physical renewal. Max out on your golf swing therapy on this 7092-yard stunner sporting massive greens averaging thirty to fifty yards deep. As for the ultimate 19th hole in these parts, look no further than the Flora-Bama Lounge, the legendary border-straddling roadhouse that has been rhapsodized about by everyone from Jimmy Buffet and Kenny Chesney to John Grisham. Easy on the bushwackers though, the frosty alcoholic milkshake, the honky tonk’s signature tipple, packs a much bigger kick than meets the sip.

ALSO: Earn CheapCash on your Pandhandle vacation—it’s easy and it’s free!

Florida Panhandle, Tate's Hell State Forest

Tate’s Hell State Forest | Trover Photo by Jason Souza

The Tree Hugger: Tate’s Hell State Forest

Go to Hell and back and live to tell about it. This 202,000-acre tract features flatwoods, savannas and a network of creeks and black river waterways to glide over on a kayak or canoe. There are no centralized campgrounds, instead there are 59 areas to set up a tent and hike, bike, and simply enjoy nature and the abundant wildlife. Endangered species that call these bio-diverse woods home include the burrow digging gopher tortoise and the red-cockaded woodpecker. Be sure to visit the dwarf cypress boardwalk in the heart of Tate’s Hell State Forest where the stunted dwarf cypress stand no more than six to fifteen feet tall. The forest’s grisly name comes from a 19th-century homesteader who, as legend has it, waded into these here woods to chase after a panther who had attacked his livestock. Seven days later he emerged in a clearing by Carrabelle and said: “My name is Cebe Tate, and I just came from Hell.”

Tallahassee, Florida

Tallahassee, Florida | Trover photo by Cassandra Collings

The Seminoles Fanatic: Tallahassee

If you bleed garnet and gold and break out into a spontaneous tomahawk chop at the sight of a spear-wielding student donning moccasins and leather garb charging down a field atop an Appaloosa horse, a pilgrimage to the homeland of Seminoles nation is in order. FSU campus attractions include the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Werkmeister Window, a 22-foot stained glass masterpiece made up over 10,000 individual pieces. Of course no visit to Florida’s capital is complete without a tour of Doak Campbell Stadium, the glorious red-bricked edifice seats 80,000 fans and is where Seminoles greats Deion Sanders, Warrick Dunn, and Charlie Ward all forged their respective legends.

National Naval Aviation Museum, Pensacola, Florida

National Naval Aviation Museum

The Aviation Geek: Pensacola

Welcome to the danger zone, Top Gun fans. The city that almost rhymes with cherry cola has a tendency to leave aviation nerds breathless. About 150 warbirds are on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum’s 37-acre grounds and if you want to see some soaring aerobatic maneuvers, the Blue Angels squadron perform their tight diamond formation, inverts, and other tricks in their thundering F/A-18 Hornets twice a week.  For more sky-high culture, check out the Pensacola Symphony or Pensacola Opera, both are great spots for Maverick and Goose to take a hot date.

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Tagged: Destinations, Florida

Mike Dojc
Globetrotting bon vivant Mike Dojc has slung copy for Nike, AAA, Geico, Maxim, Esquire.com, Atlanta Magazine, Score Golf, re:porter, ClublLink Life, Inside Fitness, Fatherly, Toronto Star, Globe & Mail and many other outlets. His YouTube comedy channel Slinging Birdies will leave you in stitches.