Overshadowed by more famous places, these towns may be off your radar, but they’ve earned a special place in the hearts of our nomads.

Photo © Getty Images / Chris Garrett

Chihuahua

For many people, the word “Chihuahua” brings to mind a tiny dog rather than Mexico’s biggest state. But while the dog breed did originate there, Chihuahua offers something much better: its capital, Chihuahua City.

My connection to this city is personal – it’s the site of many of my cherished memories, as well as my mom’s childhood home (now a cool bar on Avenida Bolivar, a nexus of Chihuahua nightlife). But, I also just think it’s incredibly cool: a thriving industrial hub in the middle of a cattle-ranching state, where Mennonites, indigenous Tarahumaras, and Chihuaheños mingle, where this small-town girl got to go to the theatre, take painting classes, and see baroque architecture for the first time.

If I was a new visitor here, I’d be sure to visit one of Chihuahua’s most important historical sites, the Historical Museum of the Mexican Revolution (located in Pancho Villa’s house). Chihuahua boasts the best beef in Mexico, so I’d be sure to try it in any form (from taco joints to steakhouses). And I’d make a stop at a Chihuahua institution, Elotes El Socio, to buy corn prepared the Mexican way: with cream, lime, cheese, chili powder, and love. - Vanessa Nielsen

Chihuahua City. Photo credit: Getty Images / Darrell Craig Harris

Xcalak

Xcalak (pronounced ish-ca-lack) is so underrated, it’s hardly even fair to say it’s rated at all. A town of 400 permanent residents, Xcalak is located on the southern border with Belize. This is a completely off-the-grid kind of place that forces visitors to disconnect for a while (no cell service!). I truly feel like I’m at the end of the world. And I am, at least, at the end of the highway.

The majority of residents are fisherman, as their grandparents were before them, and the pace of life is very slow. The connection with the ocean here is strong, and many of the available activities center on the water through diving, snorkeling, paddle boarding/kayaking, or sport fishing. People come for the world class sport fishing or scuba diving and stay for the simple way of life. I find myself looking forward to the twice weekly arrival of the “veggie truck,” the only way to get fresh fruits and veggies, which is announced by the loud honking of the driver.

My favorite memories of Xcalak are just simple things, like the nights spent with friends cooking up fish for dinner that we caught earlier that day. Although not a big fisherman myself, there is something very satisfying in catching your own dinner. That’s the way of life here: eat, sleep, fish, repeat. Sara Walton

Xcalak. Photo credit: Sara Walton

Veracruz

A city of grit and faded glamour, Veracruz has a sultry atmosphere and a love for music and dance that I find hard to resist.

I spend my first hour or so in Veracruz shading from the tropical sun under the leafy canopy of the zócalo (town square). People sip coffee beneath the colonial-era porticos, vendors hawk snacks and cigars, and worshippers slip into the cathedral. On Saturday evenings the zócalo transforms into a dance floor. It’s flooded with locals sporting crisp white dresses and guayabera shirts who come to danzón.

Everything in Veracruz shines brighter on Saturday nights. A salty breeze cools the streets and live music and dance take center stage in plazas across the city. As a visitor, it’s impossible not to become tangled up in Veracruz’s rhythm.

Down at the vast malecón esplanade, the grittier side of Veracruz springs to life. This is home to one of Mexico’s busiest ports and the 16th-century fort of San Juan de Ulua. In the distance, cranes unload cargo while at the shore, divers swoop into the sea seeking colorful shells. It’s the ideal spot to watch the sun sink into the Gulf of Mexico, preferably with an ice cream from Güero Güera, Veracruz’s finest, and loudest, purveyor of ice cream. Souad Msallem

The zócalo in Veracruz. Photo credit: Getty Images / Fernando Fucili

Zacatecas

A high-altitude city where the air is crisp and the nights are chilly, Zacatecas is not a place of immediate appeal, unlike, say, nearby Guanajuato, with its colorful buildings, or culturally-rich Guadalajara, which is home to some of the country’s best food.

And yet, Zacatecas possesses so much of what makes those destinations attractive: like Guanajuato, it’s smattered with spectacular colonial edifices, which you can see from above if you ride the teleférico (cable car) up into the mountains. The cathedral, in particular, struck me as impressively ornate, and later reading confirmed that its dusky pink façade is one of Mexico’s most elaborate examples of Baroque art.

Zacatecas is nothing if not full of surprises. For example, did you know that it’s also home to a mine bar called La Mina? Yes, a literal bar in a mine. Which you can reach by catching a tiny train from the entrance. Honestly.

However, the surprise I most revelled in was the sampling of Zacatecas’ regional specialty: tacos envenenados, aka "venomous tacos’" Giant, deep-fried, and stuffed with meat, chili, beans, and potato, they’re not for the faint-hearted or the grease-averse.

Sure, Zacatecas isn’t a place I’d dedicate a week to exploring, but it’s well worth a weekend. For those tacos alone.  Lauren Cocking

The cathedral in Zacatecas. Photo credit: Getty Images / fitopardo.com

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