One thing that most people do not realize about Mexico is just how big it is. It’s understandable because everything Mexican tends to be stereotyped and generalized. I mean, it’s Mexico — the land of tacos and Dia de Los Muertos — so how big and diverse can it really be?
The answer to that question might just surprise you. It’s the biggest country in Central America which can fit almost every other European country inside of it, without overlapping! With a landmass that huge, Mexico represents a patchwork of cultures and subcultures, a variety of which few other countries can even attempt to match. The environments also tend to match the characteristics of the people who reside within them… landscapes of which, Mexico checks almost every box you can find. You have the down-to-business cowboys that live in the deserts of the north, the chilled-out surfers that live near the swells and beaches of the west/southwest, and at the tip of Mexico’s peculiar jalapeño-like shape, you have the mystical lands of Mayans, both modern and historical.
Needless to say, Mexico isn’t the kind of place where you can visit one region and say you’ve experienced it all. It’s a land that needs to be visited, explored, tasted, loved and cried over, time and time again. When you get to know the culture, the people and the history of Mexico, it tends to get under your skin and it doesn’t leave easily.
So, what unifies Mexico? A newcomer might immediately claim ‘the food!’, and while love for tacos and salsa is indeed ubiquitous throughout the entire country, it’s not entirely uniform throughout. Rather, it’s a vibrant and rough history that is both respected and binds the people together. Most Mexicans can either trace their roots back to Mayans or Aztecs — or Europeans — which harkens back to a time of conquest and colonialism and provides as much contention as it does a shared experience. Mexico is by no means without baggage, but that’s the contrast between darkness and light is what gives it its beauty.
Would you be surprised to learn that Mexico has an innate love and regard for yoga? As yogis, we know how the art of meditation and asana has the inherent tendency to transcend manmade institutions, but Mexico’s reverence of yoga retreats runs deep. Even the Mayans and the Aztecs did variations of yoga/meditation and upheld energetic values that greatly reflect our modern understanding of Chakras. Perhaps the word yoga was not born here, but the concept of it developed independently of what was going on in the eastern hemisphere.
If you’re coming to visit Mexico for the first time (or the millionth time), you’re missing out on something special if you don’t get a taste of its yoga culture. If yoga and a healthy dose of spirituality are what you seek from a trip to Mexico, or you just want to stay active while experiencing one of the most vivid cultures in the world, here are the places you should aim to hit.
If you ask just about anywhere where the #1 destination for yoga and spirituality in Mexico is, they will undoubtedly respond with “the Riviera Maya!” This is another name for the Yucatan peninsula, which is situated at the southern tip of Mexico that juts into the Gulf of Mexico and is called such because of the divine beaches, waterways and freshwater springs that dot this rainforested area. Quintana Roo, of one Mexico’s newest states, is relatively unindustrialized and becomes even more so the farther away you get from Cancun. Spiritual types are attracted to this area’s wild nature, where the Mayan religion and mysticism still hold on strong.
In particular, Tulum is well-known for its yogic culture. What once used to be a place for hippies to camp on the beach now is the high-priced, Instagram famous location that all of your friends are visiting nowadays. It’s uber-trendy, and as such, vegan restaurants, beach-front yoga studies and somehow-still-authentic spiritual experiences (such as the steam bath temazcal) abound. Tulum attracts yoga teachers and yoga students from all around the world, meaning that you can get a world-class yogic experience while just steps away from some of the best sugar-sand beaches on the globe. If the beach isn’t your style, the main town of Tulum is just a 15-minute taxi ride away from the beach and offers more of a laid-back, local vibe.
If you’re looking for a vibrant type of fun that feels distinctly like the ‘Mexico’ that us foreigns are familiar with, go to the center of Mexico and then veer all the way to the west. There, you will find a series of small cities and towns, each more distinct than the last. As far as yoga is concerned, you will most likely be looking at Punta de Mita & Sayulita, situated about 30 minutes away from one another. Sayulita is a haven for hippies and yoga lovers with a large expat community. Punta de Mita is a little bit smaller and located on a remote spit of land, and without much else surrounding it, Punta de Mita feels very much as a secret yoga conclave that no one else knows about. Nearby Punta de Mita is famous Puerto Vallarta, which is a big city full of bars and casinos and parties that appeals to the vacation crowd, more than the yoga retreat crowd.
This area, renown for its world-class cuisine, is also famous for something else. One of the best parts of a yoga retreat in Punta de Mita is that you also have access to some of the best surf spots on the western coast, for both beginners and experts. Surprising to some, surfing is a great complement to a yoga practice; much in the way the yin and the yang work together. One is dynamic and explosive while the other is relaxing and restorative, giving you a chance to experience both extremes of the human condition while away from your everyday responsibilities. Sayulita and Punta de Mita are a great mix of old world and new, with a little bit of something for everyone.
Not every yoga retreat needs to be next to the beach. If truly metropolitan cities are what you seek, then don’t miss out on one of the most bustling, cultured capitals in the world. Mexico City is steeped in tradition and history, both ancient and colonial. Do you remember learning about the ancient city of Tenochtitlan in your high school world history? Well, when you step foot in Mexico City, you’re breathing in the air and vibrations of an ancient Aztec world.
What to do in this old city, turned new? You might be surprised that this is a great place to go on a digital detox. By turning away from always being available on your phone, internet, and social media channels, you give yourself a chance to delve more deeply into a yogic experience and learn things about yourself that you only can when you turn your attention fully onto yourself. The dichotomy between old and new, active and passive, engaging and relaxing can ultimately boost you to a new, higher understanding. While you’re there, you simply also must pass through the Frida Khalo Museum, the historic city center and the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan.
You’ve probably heard of the Mexican city of Oaxaca, known for tequila, mezcal and the best queso blanco you’ve ever tasted. Well, if you head a little closer to the coastline, you’ll find the hidden paradises of Puerto Escondido and Mazunte. In fact, the name Puerto Escondido means ‘hidden port’ in Spanish! Puerto Escondido is known across the global surfing community as having some of the gnarliest, biggest surfable waves in the world — and where you have a healthy surf community, you also have a heightened interest in yoga. Come to Puerto Escondido to find adventure and seaside escape.
You’ll find that this is quite typical in Mexico — where you have one town that is sensational and larger than life, you’ll have its more laid-back counterpart. That is what Mazunte is to Puerto Escondido; the tiny, hippie-land full of turtle nests hatching on the beach and massages are given by hands that are well practiced in bodywork and reiki healing. Several retreat centers in the area specialize in restorative getaways, where you can fulfill all of the drum-circle and ecstatic dance needs you’ve ever had.
No matter where you choose to visit or what your priorities are — yoga, surfing, meditation, self-care, or a little mix of everything — Mexico is a destination that is sure to delight every one of your senses. Visit one of these locations (or maybe put forth an effort to check them all off) for a yoga retreat or vacation that’ll rock your world and teach you a thing or two about bliss.