Small Towns Versus Large Cities in Mexico: An Argument for the Former

When tourists vacation in Mexico they usually go to Cancun or Cozumel, Cabo or maybe Mexico City (that Day of the Dead scene in that James Bond movie did make it look cool). Sometimes though, it's really nice to go somewhere really obscure. There’s something about ‘Tourist coldspots’ that is actually quite special. 

While some may argue that there are just more things to do in a big city, I would argue that small towns allow you the opportunity to really experience local culture on a deeper level.

The underrated magnificence of obscure Mexican small towns

While there are many different options to choose from, here are
12 things you can do in almost any Mexican small town that make for a great vacation: 

(*As someone who is not a big drinker you will notice that ‘drink tequila’ is not on the list) 

1. You can enjoy being the only tourist in town:

I recently visited friends in the town of Los Mochis Mexico, and being possibly the only tourist in town made me feel really special. As the only girl around with green eyes, I got a fair amount of attention. I felt like a Kardashian and no one in my family even had to make a sex tape!

The lack of tourists also meant that there were no lines, no annoying people posing in all of the cliched ways I’ve vented about before, with all of the confidence (or arrogance) of a supermodel (with all of 300 Instagram followers) in front of everything worth seeing (hashtag: “#model”). It was wonderful!

2. You can have the beach to yourself (Well, if the town you visit is near the beach).

    You know how some Instagrammers photoshop people out of the backgrounds of their pictures? Well, if you go to a less-popular beach in a small town on a weekday in the off-season you CAN have the whole place to yourself (or yourself and your friends and their dogs). Now your photoshop skills can also have a vacation!

    Girl and dog on vacant Mexican beach
    Lucas and I

    3. Visit the town square

    Towns usually have town squares. We went one night to the one in Los Mochis for churros and it was quite the experience. There was live music, a warm breeze and a market. Maybe it was just a novelty for me because I come from a big city where you can’t walk around at night but there was something so warm and magical about this experience. 

    El Fuerte town square

    4. Eat the street food

    Who doesn’t love Mexican food? People who don’t have souls, and don’t like music, and do maths on weekends for fun, that’s who! It’s probably even more bad for you, inexpensive and delicious if you buy it on the side of the road. Oh, and more ‘authentic’ too! 

    Mexican street food

    5. Count Oxxos 

    An Oxxo is like a Mexican seven eleven. There are so many of them that you can turn it into your own version of punch-buggy. Although, that might be too easy. There are probably about three Oxxos in walking distance of each Oxxo. If one doesn’t have what you’re looking for, just try the one across the street.

    6. Visit the cemetery

    Yes, I know I got flashed in one once but I still think it’s a good idea. How people honour their dead is fascinating! 

    Los Mochis cemetery

    Los Mochis cemetery

    Los Mochis cemetery

    7. Visit the churches

    I learnt lots about Mexican catholicism and its saints. I now know all about the Virgin of Guadalupe, Santa Muerte, and San Antonio (I even took a little statue of him home with me as a souvenir but I don’t hang him upside down in my cupboard like Mexican moms who want husbands for their daughters do). 

    Church steeple

    8. You can frolic in the public park

    Towns usually have parks. Parks are good for frolicking. 
    girl frolicking in park
    Jardin Botanico Benjamin Francis Johnston

    This will give you, not only a good overview of the natural flora and possibly some fauna, but if you enjoy people watching as much as I do, it will provide you with a view of what the locals are like.

    Not only are you likely to get your steps in, but you never know who you’re going to meet!

    9. Experience live music and culture

    Whether it’s gatecrashing the neighbour’s Mothers' Day party to appreciate the 12 piece mariachi band who have to serenade them from the pavement because the yard is too small for the whole band to fit in it, or going to the local cafe to enjoy the world’s most underrated acoustic rock duo while sipping on the world’s most decadent milkshake, live music seems to be valued in Mexican culture far more than it is in my own. You will experience some somewhere and it’s awesome!  
    RocksFerry at the Artisanal cafe
    Rocksferry at the Artisanal Cafe

    decadent milkshake
    Take that, pancreas!

    10. Play Mexican Lotería

    Mexican Lotería is essentially bingo but with pictures instead of numbers. Not only might you win some money (or get rid of that pesky small change that weighs down your purse), but you will greatly improve your vocabulary with useful words like:

    • Chiquihuite: It's like a basket
    • Chalupa: The picture is of a lady in a canoe, usually referred to as ‘Sharon’ in our games. (Because I used to live on a ship.)
    • And, the so not politically correct, potentially offensive, actually quite racist ‘negrito’. (Basically a little black man.)
    Mexican Lotería

    11. Find some street art

    Any town (in any country) trying to attract tourists, has some street art (normally with the town’s name included in it). If you create something ‘Instagramable’ tourists will promote you for you. 

    Street art - Topolobambo

    Street art - Topolobambo

    Sometimes brightly coloured walls are exciting enough. El Fuerte - with its Spanish colonial architecture and its brightly coloured edifices - is a perfect location to shoot your next album cover! 

    Brightly coloured walls - El Fuerte, Mexico

    Brightly coloured walls - El Fuerte, Mexico
    It's like street art but abstract! 

    12. Pose with an abundance of letter signs 

    In Mexico, they absolutely love letter signs. You will find one anywhere. (Don’t photograph the one at the airport though - you’ll get shouted at for that.) I suspect that if a town has a greater number of occupants than the number of letters in its name, it is entitled to a letter sign. Topolobampo just made the cut off! 

    Sign: Los Mochis

    Sign: Topolobampo

    Sign: El fuerte

    Sign: Los Mochis
    (This is the one at the airport. Don't photograph this one)

    13. And finally, you can crash a wedding

    The Small Towns I Visited on my Recent Trip:

    Los Mochis

    If you google Los Mochis, the first google search result that comes up is a store in the UK. The small town in Mexico of the same name only ranks second. That’s how small it is. With a population of less than 400 000 people, it is hardly a bustling metropolis but it is warm and oddly charming in its own way.  

    Honestly, I never would have visited this town if not for the fact that close friends of mine live there, but having been there, I can admit that I enjoyed myself. 

    If you’re looking for a quiet holiday destination away from the crowds, a small town like Los Mochis might really appeal to you. And since over-tourism is the latest four-letter word, this way you can have a nice vacation without being made to feel guilty or unwelcome about your presence there. I was there for two weeks and we never ran out of things to do or sights to see.

    Highlights include:

    The Beach: 
    The water is not exactly that beautiful teal colour associated with the Caribbean but it’s warm. What more do you want? 

    The Jardin Botanico Benjamin Francis Johnston
    (The town's botanical gardens)

    Here you may also see some fun features like:

    Duck and iguana unlikely animal friends:

    Unlikely animal friends: Iguana and chickens

    Cactus gardens

    Cactus garden

    And even other strange ‘public art’. - At least that’s what I’m calling it. 

    public art in Mexican small town park

    These local landmarks:

    Los mochis statue
    (Sorry, it's a bit pixelated.)
      Or Mary up on the hill:
      Maria de Los Mochis
       (Significantly less popular than her Brazilian son)

      Mary is located at the top of a hill overlooking a main road into the city. This area provides a lookout point from where you can see most (or maybe all) of the town.

      When in Los Mochis, be sure to check out the local music act Rocksferry. Check their Facebook or Instagram to find out the details of their latest gig. You won't be disappointed!

      The palm trees
      The slogan for Los Mochis is "Donde las palmas tocan el cielo" which means "where the palm trees touch the sky." The palm trees here are quite something. Until you have a neck ache from gazing up at the tops of some crazy high palm trees, you haven't been to Los Mochis. 


      (Yes, that’s even more fun to say than ‘Guadalajara’, and ‘Guadalajara’ is fun to say!)

      Topolobampo is hard to describe except to say that it looks more like Europe than Mexico. Beautiful little homes line the hillsides overlooking the port area, while fishing boats line the waterside. It is scenic AF.

      Highlights include:

      The lookout point
      On a hill overlooking the scenic town is a lookout point and a great place to stop for a picture on your way into town.

      Boat Tours
      In Topolobampo you can also go on a boat tour (for a fraction of what it would cost in America or the Caribbean) and see dolphins, LOTS of dolphins. You may even get to see one poop! 

      Dolphin pooing

      El Fuerte:

      The nearby town of El Fuerte dates back to 1563.  


      The fort
      Judging from the town's name, you have probably guessed that there is a fort here. 

      El Fuerte's fuerte
      El Fuerte's 'fuerte'

      These days it is a museum and it’s full of insightful information about all sorts of interesting things like this:

      Strange museum exhibit

      And this: 

      Video machine
      Yup, that's a video machine. Just in case I needed help feeling old.

      The animal sanctuary
      The town is also home to an 
      animal sanctuary where you can feed Bambi: 

      Girl feeds buck in El Fuerte

      Zoro’s birthplace 
      El Fuerte is also the site of the Hotel Posada del Hidalgo, the birthplace of Diego de la Vega. The hotel claims that he moved to California and while defending the poor against Spanish rule, he became the person upon which the legend of Zorro was based.

      Hotel Posada del Hidalgo

      Girl and flamingo takes on Zoro at Hotel Posada del Hidalgo

      How to choose which town to visit:

      If you’re not sure which Mexican small towns to visit (and you don’t have wonderful friends who live in one) you can always look for one considered a ‘pueblo mágico’ (a magical town). The Mexican tourism board assigns this title to towns that they feel are worthy of it (like El Fuerte).  

      Rodrigo flamingo in Los Mochis Market
      Rodrigo at a market in Los Mochis

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