It’s impossible to run out of things to do in Mexico City, but visitors looking for a change of scenery and pace will find that the capital’s surrounding areas are just as full of possibilities. There are captivating ancient sites, charming colonial towns and awesome natural wonders just outside the megalopolis.
In its heyday, this expansive city dominated Mesoamerica, but it was abandoned by the time of the Aztecs, who gave it its name, which means “the place where men become gods.”
A wide avenue runs through the center of the ancient city, connecting the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon, both of which offer spectacular views of the site and the surroundings for visitors undeterred by steep climbs.
Paso de Cortés
The volcanoes Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl are a vital part of Mexico City’s landscape. Although they can only be seen from the city on clear days, they figure prominently in culture and legend, where they appear as star-crossed lovers who turned into mountains.
A trek to the peak of Iztaccíhuatl requires more than a day trip, but there are several easier trails in the pass between the volcanoes that provide ample enjoyment of the dramatic landscape. Keen-eyed visitors may be lucky enough to spot teporingos, the cute volcano rabbits that are endemic to the area and now in danger of extinction.
Nicknamed “the land of eternal spring,” Cuernavaca is a bustling town that is home to several interesting historical buildings and museums. Following the conquest, Charles V granted this area located to the south of the capital city to Hernán Cortés, and the conquistador promptly built himself a castle.
The Palacio de Cortés is a fine example of 16th-century civil architecture and now houses the Museo Cuauhnáhuac, a regional history museum, and contains murals by Diego Rivera. Another fascinating historical building converted into a museum is artist Robert Brady’s home, built in a section of a former Franciscan convent.
The Robert Brady Museum features the late artist’s eclectic art collection and home furnishings.
According to Aztec lore, Tepoztlán was the birthplace of the god Quetzalcoatl. This colonial mountain town has acquired a New Age vibe in recent years and its natural setting, towering 16th-century Dominican convent and bustling market make it an appealing day trip.
The market fills up the streets on weekends and is a popular stop for souvenirs and handcrafts as well as local produce and food items. It’s a steep but worthwhile climb up Tepozteco mountain to see a small Aztec pyramid and a superb vista of the town and surroundings.
Valle de Bravo
Best known as a destination for outdoor enthusiasts to take part in adventure activities such as paragliding, hang gliding and mountain biking, Valle de Bravo is home to a picturesque artificial lake surrounded by densely forested mountains.
The town center is also a worthy attraction, with cobbled streets and terra cotta tile roofed houses. Apart from the high adrenaline activities, visitors also enjoy hiking, horseback riding and watersports such as boating, water skiing and fishing on the lake.