The Unspoilt Allure of Lesser-known Southern Mexico

For a true taste of Mexico skip the nightclubs of Playa del Carmen and the tourist traps of Tulum and make for the quieter ways of the south

Culture and simple pleasures abound in Chocholá, Punta Maroma and Puebla 

While the larger cities and towns like Playa del Carmen, Cancún, and, of course, the capital Mexico City might draw in the tourists, Mexico’s lesser-known municipalities and villages have just as much to offer. A nine-day tour of the south peninsula can provide a rich offering of crafts, cuisine and culture away from the masses and closer to the locals. Tequila and tacos galore, your stomach certainly won’t be left wanting, particularly with a stay at one of the luxury resorts operated by Hamak Hotels.

Puebla City, Mexico

Three days in Puebla

About two and a half hours southeast of Mexico City is the dinky student town Puebla, centred around the leafy Zócalo de Puebla plaza. Proudly declaring its mole poblano – an ancient Mexican dish – the best in the country, you might as well sample some here. The rice and chicken dish is covered in a thick, rich puddle of sweet chilli and chocolate and sprinkled with sesame seeds.

Merely strolling up and down the multi-coloured streets and numerous antiques stores will keep you more than entertained. Don’t miss the ‘Street of Sweets’. Bright pink archways are nestled together down this lone cobbled lane with ‘dulces’ piled high to the delight of milk-toothed children or sweet-toothed adults.

Puebla City, Mexico

When it’s time for a little pick-me-up, prop up the bright marigold La Pasita bar with locals by sampling its in-house sweet liqueur (its namesake), made of raisins and decorated with a cube of fresh goat’s cheese. Be warned though, there is no time to hang about; doors shut promptly at 5.30pm.

While on a tour of the town, include a drive-by of the antiques markets (open on Sundays); the creaking, wooden Palafoxiana library, the oldest library in the Americas; and the impressive gold-ceilinged Church of San Francisco. The Amparo Museum has works of art by famed Mexican Surrealist sculptor Alejandro Colunga – see his five-headed bench in the museum’s courtyard. If you don’t speak Spanish, the exhibits won’t keep you occupied for long so head up to the rooftop restaurant for a 360-degree view of the town’s terracotta rooftops.

Church of San Francisco, Puebla

The Hotel Cartesiano is a short stroll from the centre with a more sophisticated approach to hospitality than some of its neighbours. It is made up of four redeveloped grand family houses; the largest was once a tile factory and remnants of the delicate paintings and ceramic artistry are thoughtfully embedded into the walls of the bedrooms and communal areas. The spa area, restaurant with roof terrace and downstairs café provide the finest Mexican cuisine. For the best experience, opt for one of the seven suites on the second floor, each with an impressive bathroom, king-sized bed and lounge area.

Hotel Cartesiano

From $180 per night, hotelcartesiano.com

Three Days in Chocholá

A short flight east and you arrive at the small and friendly town of Chocholá. Winding dirt tracks, rusty signs, bicycles and long grass are the main attractions here, but that is part of its charm. Turn off down a discreet road and you’ll find Chablé Resort & Spa Yucatán set on a grand 750-acre estate. It’s time to turn off your phone and unplug the internet as staff receive you at the gates and bundle you into a buggy for a tour of the steamy jungle-like terrain.

Chablé Resort & Spa Yucatán
Chablé Resort & Spa Yucatán

The resort is made up of 36 casitas and four family villas, each with a private pool; there’s almost no need to leave your abode. Tea is brought each morning to the door, which can be drunk as soon as you’ve managed to pull yourself out of the four-poster bed and draw back the blackout blinds. The shower is quite the experience, too – cover yourself in soapy suds with only a glass door separating you from the leafy outdoors.

In the main part of the building, there are three restaurants to choose from: the Mexican-inspired Ixi’im, the poolside Ki’ol or the Spa Restaurant with its healthy vegetarian-only menu and freshly-pressed juices. These wholesome offerings, alongside the clipped lawns, the old 19th-century stone buildings, calming water features and palm-tree covered pool, are sure to relax your soul.

The perfect place to unwind, Chocholá isn’t too far from the buzzing town of Merida, the Yucatán state capital, nicknamed Ciudad Blanca (White City). There’s the food market piled high with fruits and vegetables; a rich calendar of dancing and music most evenings; and a few trendy bars, such as La Negrita with its Wild West swing doors and an impressive array of tequila.

Chablé Resort & Spa Yucatán
Ik-Kill Cenote, Chichen Itza

About an hour away is the Mayan city of Uxmal with pyramids much like those found at the more renowned Chichén Itzá complex. Bucket-list activities should also include a visit to a cenote. These underground pools of water decorated by stalagmites and stalactites have been transformed into a tourist attraction of winding wooden steps and pop-up shops.

From $974 per night, chableresort.com

Three days in Punta Maroma

Swap to the other side of Mexico’s shores and you have the Caribbean Sea lapping on the quiet beachfront of Punta Maroma. Just north of the bright lights of tourist hotspots Playa del Carmen and Tulum, this area is another location for those wanting to retreat from the hustle and bustle.

Chablé Resort & Spa Maroma 
Chablé Resort & Spa Maroma 

Chablé Resort & Spa Maroma opened its doors at the end of last year and offers guests a prime seaside location and relaxing spa sessions. The villas don’t quite live up to the private extravagance of the Yucatán property, but the draw here is the pristine white sandy beach. Hours can be spent sunbathing by the infinity pool or down on the sand with a friendly waiter occasionally topping up your glass. Sample some of the pink tuna ceviche, which is delicately placed on a perfectly symmetrical tostada, sprinkled with seeds and spring onions and drizzled in lime.

Chablé Resort & Spa Maroma 

Once again, the local area is bristling with ancient secrets. Just over an hour away is Tulum for its cocktail bars and shopping, but nestled on the beach right next to the resort are the ruins of an old Mayan settlement that served as a major trading post and where you can now buy tickets to have a wander and soak up the history. On the way back to your palatial villa in Chablé, you could always take in the pumping music and vodka shots of Playa del Carmen’s nightlife; but why do that when you could snuggle up in the pristine sheets of your king-sized bed and be up for sunrise in your own private pool?

From $620 per night, chableresort.com