Let’s face it, Mexico is too often synonymous with one experience: the classic beach vacation. Originally the focus was Mexico Pacific Riviera, and iconic places like Mazatlán, Puerto Vallarta, Ixtapa, and of course Acapulco. The blossoming of Cancun in the 1980s brought a new palette of alluring Caribbean colors to our beach vacation consciousness. And today the Baja, Pacific, and Caribbean shores continue to rule.
Tourism officials, marketers, and also airlines have been on an almost desperate mission to diversify Mexico’s product awareness beyond the beach and weather in Mexico. Now defunct Mexicana Airlines offered for decades free inland stopovers to beach-bound vacationers, that is with only marginal success. The Mexico Tourism Board has spent millions promoting places like Guanajuato, Querétaro, Zacatecas, Oaxaca, Guadalajara, Mérida, and also Mexico City. Yet vacation-starved Americans find it hard to break the beach all-inclusive addiction.
Some of Mexico’s best airlift is to the interior, commonly via red-eye non-stops catering almost exclusively to Mexican travelers. So, why do so few North Americans venture inland? If airlift and promotion are not hurdles, how can more travelers be lured to explore these nearby cultural and natural wonders?
Take Guanajuato and Querétaro as examples, two adjacent states in central Mexico; richly endowed with UNESCO World Heritage sites, wine country, Mexican history, exquisite architecture, regional cuisine, and also with great air service. Guanajuato has international nonstop via Aeromexico, American, United and Volaris (León BJX); and Querétaro nonstop are via Aeromexico, American, United and Volaris (QRO).
But very few were your tried-and-true Mexico beach clients. Mexican families (nearly all holding US passports) fill these seats and fuel daily nonstop from markets like Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Texas and more.
Highlights of Mexico
Mexico’s central highlands are iconic “real Mexico” destinations. Guanajuato (gwan-ah-WAH-toe) is home to two UNESCO World Heritage cities, the world’s ‘Best City’ (San Miguel de Allende, according to 2017 and 2018 and again in 2021 Travel + Leisure), a high desert climate, canyons, mountains, working silver mines, craft villages, archaeological sites, world-class cultural festivals, 16th-century Spanish architecture, monuments, and hacienda-style boutique lodging. Guanajuato city (a vibrant university town) makes photographers drool, while more sophisticated San Miguel de Allende is a foodie’s dream. Thousands of foreign ex-pats (mostly Americans) call Guanajuato State home, and for good reason.
Touching Guanajuato to the east is lesser-known Querétaro (kay-RAY-ta-row). A high-tech industry, mining, and manufacturing powerhouse, it boasts three World Heritage locations, Mexico’s only wine & artisanal cheese route, thermal springs, the pine-clad Sierra Gorda for mountain biking, exquisite Franciscan missions, and hiking, and the lovely colonial city center of Querétaro City (founded in 1531). Your clients will relish lovely architecture, quiet plazas, and pedestrian walkways lined with color-splashed, colonial-era museums and mansions. There’s also a Costco (hotdog and soda are $35 pesos).
You could jet across the Atlantic to Old World European meccas of architecture, culture, and cuisine. Millennials to hip urban cities around the world, boomers to Hawaiian golf resorts, and families to Florida theme parks. These are all excellent vacation choices. But for value, proximity, wonderment, and a unique peek into our southern neighbor’s way of life, Mexico’s colonial center is just too close to ignore.