When it comes to Mexican touristic destinations, it’s almost a given that places like Cancun, Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta, or Acapulco are the first that come to mind.
But Mexico offers more than beaches in paradise. And so when beaches become the touristic norm, a place like Monterrey all of a sudden stands out!
And I’ll show you why Monterrey is a destination you’ll want to consider next time you visit Mexico.
I love Monterrey because there is truly something for everyone in this one-of-a-kind city in Mexico. Whether you are adventuresome and love the outdoors or whether you enjoy world-class museums, modern shopping malls and dining at fine restaurants, you have many options.
First of all, reaching Monterrey is as easy as can be. Its unquestionable status as the Industrial Capital of Mexico has Monterrey connected to top US airports with daily non-stop flights to cities like Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta, and Chicago.
Also known as the Sultan of the North, Monterrey is located in the northeastern part of the country embraced by beautiful mountains.
One of them is the city’s most famous landmark, the Cerro de la Silla or Saddle Mountain (see photo above).
Being surrounded by mountains means the scenery is not only spectacular but outdoor activities are pretty much endless.
I particularly love to hike in Chipinque Ecological Park, located in the south part of the city in the majestic Sierra Madre Mountains. Chipinque has over 15 miles of hiking trails for all levels with its highest peak at approximately 7,000 feet.
The views of the city from Chipinque are breath-taking and the park enjoys a wealth of bird and plant species.
But there’s more in the surrounding areas. You can water-ski at La Boca Lake, hike to the Horse-Tail Falls, and rock climb or mountain bike at La Huasteca Park, among other great opportunities to enjoy nature.
When it comes to city life, Monterrey’s colorful downtown area offers rich history and culture around the Macroplaza (the main square). With an area of 400,000 square meters, the Macroplaza is the second largest city square in the world, just behind Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
You can easily spend an entire day (or days) exploring the Macroplaza and its surroundings.
It is also a great way to see the day-to-day lives of the people of Monterrey.
Some monuments hard to miss are the heroes’ esplanade, the Monterrey Cathedral, the neoclassic Government Palace, and the Faro del Comercio, a modern light-house monument by artist Luis Barragán which shoots a green laser around the city at night.
But also lookout for some unique cultural and artistic sculptures, such as Horse by Colombian artist Fernando Botero (see photo), Homage to the Sun by Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo, an authentic Canadian Inukshuk by Inuit artist Bill Nasogaluak, and La Lagartera by Francisco Toledo.
A few steps away from the Macroplaza are two world-class museums you don’t want to miss.
First is the Museum of Mexican History, which has done an excellent job of showcasing the general history of Mexico in a fun and interactive way.
The other is MARCO, one of the leading contemporary art museums in the country and my absolute favorite museum in Monterrey.
The permanent collection in MARCO features Latin American paintings, but it has exhibited international artists such as William Kentridge, Alberto Giacometti, Claudio Bravo, Henry Moore, and Frida Kahlo just to name a few.
A top attraction that has become an icon in Monterrey is the Santa Lucía Riverwalk, an artificial river that connects the Macroplaza and the Fundidora Park.
You can either walk the whole way (about 2.5 miles roundtrip) or take a motor boat and enjoy the scenery. Along the river there are restaurants and a few shops.
Speaking of shopping, if you are looking to buy traditional Mexican arts & crafts, you should head to the Mercado de Artesanías located on Morelos, a pedestrian street adjacent to the Macroplaza.
If you are visiting Monterrey and love sports, you should definitely go to a soccer match. It is an exciting way to savor the culture and I promise it will be an unforgettable experience.
Monterrey has two teams in the Mexican Soccer League: Tigres and Rayados.
They both have lots of die-hard fans, which means you should get your tickets ahead of time.
Of course, if you are lucky enough to actually see the derby Tigres Vs Rayados, you’re in for a very special event. The entire city goes crazy for this match!
There are a handful of great day trips to do from Monterrey. I recommend you visit the García Caves and Villa de Santiago.
About 20 miles west of Monterrey, the García Caves have become an international attraction.
Discovered by a priest in 1843, they were formed millions of years ago and today they offer spectacular rock formations in one of the largest cave systems in the country (see photo).
Villa de Santiago is a charming colonial-era village also located about 20 miles from Monterrey, but going south east. It is a nice place to go for those looking to escape the big city.
As you arrive in the central square, you almost feel you were transported to the past. Cobble-stone streets, a relaxing water fountain, and the sounds of birds all welcome you to admire this traditional town.
At the highest point in town you can’t miss the 18th century Santiago Apostle Church. And just across you will find Las Palomas, a colorful and friendly restaurant offering live music and superb local cuisine.
If you are a true wine buff, you might be adventuresome enough to drive to Parras Valley in the neighboring state of Coahuila (about 2.5 hours from Monterrey).
Here you will find Casa Madero, the oldest vineyards and cellars of the entire American continent; its history goes back to 1574. Some of their best wines are the Casa Grande Shiraz Reserve, Casa Madero Semillon, and Casa Madero Cabernet Sauvignon.
There are many things to do in Monterrey and I would recommend visiting for at least a week to get a good flavor of this destination.
We understand visitors may have safety concerns due to the current situation in Mexico.
Although, at the time of writing, it is our opinion that the overall city feels safe, you should always take precautions, use common sense, and follow any travel warnings.
Have you been to Monterrey? What was your experience like? Please comment.
* Tigres Stadium Photo by Jorge Adrián