The 20 best places to visit in Western Mexico


In the strict nature reserve of the Sierra Gorda ecological region are five 16th century Franciscan Missions famous for their baroque facades, built by the indigenous Pame Indians. The Santiago De Jalpan, Nuestra Senora De La Luz De Tancoyal in Jalpan, Santa Maria Del Agua De Landa, San Francisco Del Valle De Tilaco and San Miguel Conca in Arroyo Seco make up the five missions, each of which have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Pictured is the Mission at Santiago De Jalpan.

20. Franciscan Missions In The Sierra Gorda


Right in the centre of the main western half of the country, north west from the capital, Mexico City, is the city of Zacatecas, during the 16th century it was one of the wealthiest and most important cities of New Spain. Built on the steep slopes of a narrow valley, the city is dominated by the 18th century Cathedral Of Our Lady of The Assumption. Notable for it's European influenced Baroque buildings, the Historic Centre of Zacatecas has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

19. Zacatecas


West of the capital, Mexico City, is the city of Morelia, known for it's rich architectural history, holding within it medieval, Renaissance, Baroque and neo-classical styles. With over 200 buildings built in the regions characteristic pink stone, many dating back to the 16th century, the entire historic centre of Morelia has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

18. Morelia


Sitting between the capital, Mexico City, and Morelia is the old Colonial city of Queretaro, famous for the ornate Baroque monuments dating from it's golden age in the 17th and 18th centuries. Two of the towns most notable sights are the large Church of San Francisco and the enormous 1,280 metre long city aqueduct that towers over the streets. With such a rich history that dating back centuries, the Historic Monuments Zone Of Queretaro has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

17. Santiago De Queretaro


Just off the western coast in the Pacific Ocean is a group of small uninhabited protected islands that make up the Marieta Islands National Park. With it's paradise beaches and untouched island forests, the islands became one of the most visited tourist destinations in western Mexico.


Because of the significant number of tourists visiting the area and causing destruction to the local coral, the national environmental authority of Mexico have declared the islands and it's beaches closed to the public for the foreseeable future.

Pictured is the Beach Of Lovers, sometimes known as the Hidden Beach, accessible only at low tide.

16. Parque Nacional Islas Marietas


In the far north of the country, close to the border with Texas in the United States is a 2,104 square kilometre (812 square mile) area of protected land known as the Maderas Del Carmen. Part of the Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range, the reserve is home to over 400 birds species and 70 mammals encompassing an area of dry Chihuahan Desert shrubland and a sky island of pine oak forest.

15. Maderas Del Carmen


In the far west of the country, on the Baja California Peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of California is the area of La Purisima, sometimes known as the Comondu La Purisima volcanic field. This landscape of dry desert and low lying arid mountains is interspersed with ancient volcanic cinder cones, making for a desolate and picturesque landscape.

14. La Purisima


In the extreme north west of the country, at the northern end of the Baja California peninsula is the 728 square kilometre (281 square mile) Sierra De San Pedro Martir National Park, encompassing the mountain range of the same name. Meaning 'Mountains Of Saint Peter The Martyr', the area is famed for it's pine tree forests and granite rock formations, with it's highest peak, The Picacho Del Diablo (Devil's Peak) rising a whopping 3,096 metres (10,157 ft) above sea level. Surrounded by deserts, the park of rugged mountains and forests is often described as an oasis.

13. Parque Nacional Sierra San Pedro Mártir


In the southern United States, crossing California and Arizona, stretching into northern Mexico is the 260,000 square kilometre (100,000 square mile) Sonoran Desert, the hottest desert in Mexico. This vast landscape changes dramatically from sand dunes, high mountain regions to below sea level flat lands, and is home to a variety of unique animal and plant life that includes the large Saguaro and Organ Pipe Cactus. The Sonoran Desert is undoubtedly the landscape most visitors pictures when they think of Mexico.

12. Sonoran Desert


North west of the capital, Mexico City, is the city of San Miguel De Allende, famed for it's many outstanding 18th century Mexican Baroque buildings. Close to the city is the Sanctuary of Atotonilco, an 18th century church complex decorated with fine murals and oil paintings considered one of the finest examples of Baroque art and architecture in New Spain. Together the Protective Town Of San Miguel Allende & The Sanctuary Of Jesus Nazareno De Atotonilco have been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Pictured is the neo-Gothic church of La Parroquia De San Miguel Arcangel, unique in Mexico, it is the most iconic building and emblem of the city.

11. San Miguel De Allende


Directly north of the capital, Mexico City, is the Cave Of Swallows, famous among climbers and base jumpers. With a 370 metre (1,214 ft) drop from it's highest point, it is the largest known cave shaft in the world.

10. Sótano De Las Golondrinas


Between the cities of Durango and Zacatecas is the relatively small 11 square kilometre (4 square mile) Sierra De Organos National Park, famed for the towering rock formations reminiscent of organ pipes, from which the park gets it's name. The landscape is one of arid desert interspersed with unusual rock formations, vertical dramatic cliff faces and conifer forests.

9. Parque Nacional Sierra De Órganos


In the north east of the country south of the Texan border is the Summits Of Monterrey National Park, encompassing part of the Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range, it's highest point a huge 2,260 metres (7,410 ft) above sea level. This huge protected landscape is a place of high mountains, deep canyons, pine oak forests, rushing rivers and raging waterfalls. The symbol of the park is known as the Cerro De La Silla, which translates as 'Saddle Mountain', rising high above the city of Monterrey.

8. Parque Nacional Cumbres De Monterrey


In the extreme north of the country​, straddling the border between the United States and Mexico is the Santa Elena Canyon National Park, connected across the border to Big Bend National Park in Texas. Within an area of the Chihuahan Desert, the landscape is one of vast broken plains, fragmented blocks and depressions hiding great fissures, canyons and valleys created by ancient volcanic activity. The most notable feature is the Santa Elena Canyon, from which the park gets it's name, with it's 467 metre (1532 ft) canyon walls above the Rio Grande, it provide a natural and formidable border with the United States.

Pictured is the Rio Grande River running through the Santa Elena Canyon. The left wall of the canyon is in the United States Of America, and the right side is in Mexico.

7. Parque Nacional Cañón De Santa Elena


In the centre of the main bulk of the country, north west from the capital, Mexico City, sitting in a narrow valley between high peaks is Guanajuato City, filled with numerous plazas and colonial era buildings built using various coloured sandstone. Among the subterranean and narrow winding streets the churches of La Compañía and La Valenciana are considered to be among the most beautiful examples of Baroque architecture in the America's. Visitors can climb the mountain trails surrounding the city for incredible panoramic views over the rooftops. The Historic Centre Of Guanajuato & Adjacent Mines are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

6. Guanajuato


South of Basaseachic Falls National Park, still within the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range is a group of six distinct canyons, their walls an obvious copper/green colour from where it received it's name, 'Copper Canyon'. This wonderful natural landscape of high sloping rugged mountains has been shaped and carved by the rivers that run through it, dotted with small villages still populated by the indigenous Tarahumara people.

5. Barancas Del Cobre


Discovered in the year 2000 at a depth of 300 metres (980 ft) beneath the ground is The Cave Of Crystals, sometimes known as the Giant Crystal Cave. Within it's main chamber, where temperatures can reach 58 Celsius (136 F) with 99% humidity, it contains some of the largest natural crystals ever found, the largest ever recorded being 12 metres (39 ft) in length and weighing a whopping 55 tons. Relatively unexplored due to the intense conditions so deep underground, the cave is not accessible to visitors but remains one of the most astonishing sights to those fortunate enough to have seen it.

4. Cueva De Los Cristales


In the north of the country in the state of Chihuahua is the magnificent Basaseachic Falls National Park, lying within the heart of the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range. Named after the 246 metre (853 ft) Basaseachic Falls, the second tallest waterfall in the country, the park is also home to thick pine forests, incredible rock formations and steep cliffs that can reach up to 1,640 metres (5,380 ft) from the canyon floor. 

3. Parque Nacional Cascada De Basaseachi


In the extreme north of the country close to the border with Arizona in an area of the Sonoran Desert is the protected El Pinacate And Great Desert Of Altar Biosphere Reserve, regarded as one of the most significant landforms of North America. The ever changing sand dunes can reach 200 metres (656 ft) high around ever bigger 650 metre (2,132 ft) black granite massifs that rise from the flatlands. The reserve is also home to ten enormous deep almost perfectly circular craters formed by eruptions and collapses contributing to the dramatic beauty of this unique landscape. This entire reserve has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Pictured is the Crater Elegante.

2. Gran Desierto De Altar Biosphere Reserve


From just south of the border with Arizona in the United States, stretching 1,500 kilometres (932 miles) parallel to the Pacific Coast is the Sierra Madre Occidental, translated to 'Western Mother Mountains'. Formed by volcanic activity over millennia, the high plateaus reach 3,311 metres (10,863 ft) above sea level, giving way to enormous valleys and pristine untouched forests. Home to some of the most astonishing natural features in the country, the Sierra Madre Occidental range is often regarded as the most incredible natural landscape in Mexico.

1. Sierra Madre Occidental

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