Mexico consists of 32 federal entities. The 31 states have their own constitution and congress, while the federal district of Mexico City has less autonomy, with a local congress and government. The states are free to govern themselves, provided they do not contradict Mexico’s national constitution. Several of the states have existed in largely the same form since the Treaty of Córdoba confirmed Mexico’s independence in 1821. The last to gain admission to the federation were Quintana Roo and Baja California Sur in 1974.
A state in the Central Northern Bajio region, Aguascalientes is probably most popular for its eponymous capital. Here there’s lovely colonial architecture, exemplified by the Palacio de Gobierno, a delightful baroque building from the 1600s. If you’re visiting the city in late-April/early-May you’ll catch the San Marcos Fair, the oldest and largest of its kind in Mexico. There’s lots going on, with fireworks, dancing, amusements, rodeos, for a thoroughly festive backdrop to your wedding. The wider state is mountainous, with a Natural Protected Reserve covering the Serra Fría, which has peaks up to 3,000 metres and a climate that supports a wealth of plants and animals.
Comprising the northern half of the California peninsula in northwest Mexico, this state gets year-round comfortable temperatures. The outstanding beaches are the main event in this state, ranging from hidden bays on the sheltered Sea of Cortez to the east to the surf beaches on the Pacific to the west. At the heart is desert, stark and endless but beautiful in its ruggedness. Familiar to all is Tijuana, right on the US border and is visited for its frontier-style edge and bustle. The choice of beach resorts is considerable, but Rosarito stands out as a wedding destination, combining a broad white sandy shoreline with colourful nightlife.
Baja California Sur
This is the bottom half of the California peninsula, and is a state with remarkable natural beauty. The largest wildlife reserve in Latin America is set here—El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve contains vast sweeps of desert and coastline that teems with birdlife. If you’re tying the knot here then make sure to experience the spectacular wildlife as well. Baja California Sur is seen as one of the best places in Mexico for whale spotting. Guerrero Negro for example has large numbers of grey whales just offshore.
Set on Southeast Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula and facing the Gulf of Mexico, Campeche is known for its historic capital, beautiful coastline and Mayan heritage. The city of Campeche is UNESCO listed and full of preserved colonial architecture from the 17th and 18th Centuries. A must-see is the fort, Baluarte de La Soledad, which was built to fend off pirates. The state’s Mayan ruins are remote but well worth seeing—the beautiful temples at Calakmul are deep in the Petén Basin jungle. Meanwhile, Edzná, established 2,400 years ago, is a little easier to reach from the coastal resorts and has a 40-metre-high temple with outstanding views.
Mexico’s southernmost state, Chiapas is on the border with Guatemala, and has a long Pacific coastline. The climate in this part of the country is tropical, and a great deal of the space is devoted to the cultivation of sugar cane, cacao, bananas, peanuts, mangos and soybeans. With mountain ranges, beaches and gorges, there’s tremendous variety in the landscapes here—the Sumidero Canyon is particularly impressive, with cliff-faces that reach heights of more than 1 kilometre. There’s also some stunning Mayan history in the state. The intricate sculptures and carvings at Palenque are absolutely breathtaking.
In northwestern Mexico, bordering the United States, Chihuahua is the country’s largest state, and is dominated by its namesake desert in the east and the forbidding mountainscapes of the Sierra Madre to the west. Those who come here to say “I do” are attracted by the unbounded natural scenery that can be found at places like the Basaseachi Natural Park, celebrated for its remarkable waterfall, or the Copper Canyon, a network of six different gorges, each with red-green walls. It’s a state that appeals to the outward bound, with tremendous opportunities for adventure.
A state in Mexico’s northeast and also on the border with the USA, Coahuila is composed mostly of desert and the dramatic mountain landscapes of the Sierra Madre. This is with the exception of the Cuatro Ciénegas, an oasis with marshes, springs and pools that give rise to impressive wildlife. People come here for the captivating scenery and to cool off by swimming or snorkelling in the pristine natural waters. For culture, head to Saltillo, which has a cathedral from the mid-1700s and plenty of other historic buildings, all constructed from a distinctive pink marble.
On the central Pacific coast of Western Mexico, Colima is a compact state with much to see and do, containing some spectacular wedding locations too. The tourist highlight of the interior is the town of Comala, near the capital. Its centre is listed as an historic monument, and all the buildings are whitewashed. The surroundings are just as beautiful, with lakes, rainforest, rugged mountains and the snow-capped extinct volcano, Nevado de Colima. On the coast Manzanillo is the big draw thanks to its sublime beaches and great range of recreation available, from deep-sea fishing to adventure tours.
This state is in northwest Mexico, and a little bit off the tourist trail. All the same, Durango possesses stunning natural scenery, which makes it a good choice for couples combining marriage vows with some intrepid ecotourism. And there are few more spectacular natural sights in Mexico than La Quebrada, which is the deepest set of canyons on the continent of North America. The reason it isn’t more popular is that it had long been impenetrable without off-road transport. Durango, the state’s capital, is a must too—known for its colonial architecture and surrounding natural springs.
A landlocked state in North Central Mexico, Guanajuato was first settled by the Spanish in the 16th Century on account of its rich mineral wealth. In fact the capital city had one of the world’s most productive silver mines, the source of almost a third of all the world’s silver up to the 1800s. Now the city of Guanajuato is UNESCO-listed and maintains an incredible network of subterranean passageways that are put to all kinds of uses today. Also established in the 16th Century was San Miguel—like Guanajuato it’s packed with cultural value and is another must.
This southwestern state features Acapulco, the legendary beach destination first made popular by wealthy Americans in the 50s and 60s. It retains its air of luxury and exclusivity to this day, and could be a fab spot for a wedding that harks back to the Jet Set years. The rest of Guerrero’s coastline offers gorgeous beaches and resorts like Zihuatanejo and Playa Troncones. Inland is impressive mountain scenery; ideal for ecotourists embarking on kayak adventures down the Papagayo River. Or you could visit the cave at Juxtlahaca, containing some of the oldest sophisticated cave art in the Americas.
A compact, landlocked state just in from the Gulf of Mexico, Hidalgo has amazing natural diversity with the second-highest number of thermal springs in the country. Around Huasca de Ocampo, Mineral del Chico and Mineral del Monte you can indulge in trips to spas. History in Hidalgo is in the form of grand haciendas; estates built between the 1500s and 1800s when the mining industry flourished. Many remain unaltered to this day and could be perfect for marriages. The town of Tula meanwhile has an important Mesoamerican archaeological site, famous for its columns carved in the shape of warriors.
This southwestern state on the Pacific coast contains Guadalajara, Mexico’s second city, as well as some of the country’s favourite tourist resorts. Guadalajara is the capital and has some lovely examples of colonial architecture, not least the cathedral, which is from the 1500s. A fine wedding location in Jalisco is Puerto Vallarta, loved for its sandy bays but also the unspoiled, jungle-clad hills that overlook the town. In Jalisco you can learn all about one of Mexico’s top exports—Tequila. This town boasts many distilleries and is surrounded by fields growing the agave plant from which the drink is brewed.
The largest city in North America, and a shopper’s paradise, Mexico’s capital is the country’s cultural, political and financial hub. There’s a huge choice of things to see, from the largest cathedral in the Americas to the expansive Plaza de la Constitución, which is the beating heart of life in the city and enclosed by grand old buildings. For a taste of the past, make for Coyoacán, where the artist Frida Kahlo lived and worked. In Mexico City you can get to grips with the country’s pre-Columbian history - The National Museum of Anthropology has an unrivalled collection of artefacts.
Set on Mexico’s southwestern Pacific coast, Michoacán is visited for its colonial towns and cities, sandy beaches and the mountainous landscapes of its interior. For a historical backdrop to your special day, there are few better spots than Morelia. It’s a UNESCO site thanks to the superb ensemble of structures that date to the 1600s, including an imposing aqueduct. At Parícutin you can explore a cinder cone volcano, which erupted and covered a nearby town in lava in the mid-20th Century but is now extinct. For a laid-back beach vibe, try Maruata, an important nesting site for green sea turtles.
One of the smallest of all the states, Morelos is made of rugged mountains and borders Mexico City to the south. Many people make the trip from the city to see Xochicalco, a UNESCO listed pre-Columbian archaeological site, with temples, pyramids and three ballcourts dating back around 1,400 years. Another popular day trip from Mexico City is the resort town of Oaxtepec, which has campsites, pools and a waterpark. For a taste of tradition the city of Cuernavaca (cathedral) and the town of Tepoztlán (former convent) are charming, with lots of colonial architecture.
This landlocked state encloses Mexico City on three sides. It boasts some of the city’s most upmarket suburbs, but also has one of the highest peaks in the country, several important archaeological sites and numerous attractive old towns. Nevado de Toluca is a dormant stratovolcano, protected as a natural reserve and with numerous pre-Columbian historical sites on its slopes. For more of the state’s history check out Calixtlahuaca, Malinalco, Teotenango and Teotihuacan, the latter being a majestic complex complete with pyramids of the sun and moon.
On the pacific coast in western Mexico, this is where you will find the Riviera Nayarita. For 200 miles there are unfrequented sandy beaches of all types, from sheltered bays to shores exposed to the pacific and great for surfing. The Riviera supports a tremendous variety of wildlife, especially at the historic naval base of San Blas, also one of the most important birding sites in the country. If you want to tie the knot at a beach getaway that also offers plenty of adventure, then Sayulita with its unspoiled jungle, watersports and nature-spotting trips, would be ideal.
A northeastern state, Nuevo León is home to Monterrey, Mexico’s third largest city. It’s a fabulous destination for shopping, sampling authentic North Mexican gastronomy and also a base for ecotourism thanks to the ruggedness of the surrounding landscape. Indeed across Nuevo León there are numerous locations for adventure sports. Matacanes is no more than half an hour from Monterrey and has stunning canyons, waterfalls and caves to discover. Mexico’s largest national park, Cumbres de Monterrey is just south of the city and boasts mountains, waterfalls, caves and a vast diversity of ecosystems.
Located on Mexico’s southwestern coast, Oaxaca is admired for its resorts and beaches, which tend to have unobtrusive development and are loved by backpackers the world over. It’s a fine choice for a wedding location in a naturally beautiful but unpretentious setting. Zipolite is a prime example, with surf beaches, nature-spotting cruises and bonfires held on the beaches in the evenings. Inland you can visit the handsome city of Oaxaca, which is perhaps best known for Monte Alban one of the most spectacular archaeological sites in the Americas, featuring mountaintop tombs.
The East-Central state of Puebla offers an enticing blend of traditional culture, history and natural beauty, with awe-inspiring monuments, picturesque towns and unspoiled nature to make it a superb destination to pick for your special day. The capital of the same name is a fantastic place to start, with an historic centre, Zócalo, founded in 1531 and with a remarkable state of preservation that has earned in UNESCO listing. At Cholula and Cantona there are wonderful archaeological sites, with temples, palaces and pyramids dating back as far as 2,000 years. Another local claim to fame is the beautiful Talavera pottery handcrafted for centuries in the vicinity of the capital.
The essential place to visit in this North-Central state is the eponymous capital, which is packed with stunning baroque architecture and would be a wonderfully romantic place to hold your big day. Such is its level of preservation that it has earned UNESCO World Heritage status. Among the many impressive sights are the churches of Santa Clara and Santa Rosa de Viterbo, and the Palacio del Gobierno del Estado, seat of the governor since Spanish colonial times. In the Sierra Gorda region there are gorges and mountains, primed for outdoor recreation. There’s also wine country in Querétaro with three important wineries at Freixenet, Los Aztecas and La Redonda.
Mexico’s easternmost state, Quintana Roo is on the famous Yucatán Peninsula and is often referred to as the Mexican Caribbean. The setting here is ideal for a tropical wedding, with turquoise waters and white sandy beaches edged by palm trees and jungle. One resort known to all is Cancún, with a reputation for pristine beaches, water parks, nightlife, golf courses and all kinds of nature experiences. Off the coast are a number of tropical islands to visit, or you could head for Tulum to see the wonderful Mayan ruins that are perched atop cliffs looking out over the Caribbean Sea.
Another state in the North-Central Bajio region, San Luis Potosí was settled by the Spanish for zinc, silver and gold mining. The central plateau is where most of the mining activity took place, and the wealth generated here can be witnessed at the state’s capital. The historic centre is very atmospheric and bustles in the evenings with street vendors. For a more rural ambience, the Huasteca Potosina is a region of farms and natural attractions like lakes and woodland. A real natural wonder here is Sótano de los Golondrinas, an open-pit cave with a straight three hundred metre drop to its floor.
Facing the Gulf of California and the Pacific Ocean on Mexico’s west coast, Sinaloa is long and narrow, with sumptuous beaches and mountain scenery to take in. If you fancy saying your vows in a beach paradise with a traditional flavour then Mazatlán is a strong choice. The colourful historic centre is based around Machado Square, with interesting independent shops and restaurants. If you’re a keen surfer then Playa Bruja has swells of up to three metres and is pleasantly free of any major development.
Mexico’s second largest state, Sonora is in the northwest and made up primarily of desert in the interior and has a long coastline facing the sheltered waters of the Gulf of California. If you favour a coastal destination for your special day then there are lots of intimate little resorts to pick from, such as San Carlos and Bahía de Kino. Puerto Peñasco is a resort with more of an urban feel, with numerous immaculate sandy beaches and a great tourism infrastructure. If it’s wilderness you want then the Altar Desert boasts some magnificent sand dune systems.
A richly fertile state in the far southwest, Tabasco has a strong Caribbean influence on its language, cuisine and environment. There are a number of designated routes to help visitors delve into Tabasco’s culture and nature. The Cacao Route for instance takes in state’s grand haciendas and cocoa plantations. Comalcalco is a major centre for cocoa cultivation, but is also home to a wonderful Mayan temple and pyramid complex. The Adventure in the Sierra Route is a self-explanatory itinerary with mountains, natural springs and fast-flowing rivers. The best rafting however can be had in the Macuspana and Tenosique areas.
A northeastern state bordering the USA, Tamaulipas is on the Gulf of Mexico, which furnishes it with a long and appealing coastline. It’s a prized location for sport fishing, especially around the resort of La Pesca where there are plenty of guides and boat charters on offer. Tampico is on the state’s southern tip and is a convivial waterfront city with a charming colonial district, beaches and traditional activities such as bullfights.
East-Central Mexico is where you’ll find the country’s smallest state. It’s a rural area, made up mostly of arable farms where wheat, barley, potatoes and maize are grown. For visitors the two main draws are the La Malinche National Park and pre-Columbian archaeology. The star of the former is the 4,461-metre-high La Malinche volcano, dormant for more than three millennia and looming large over the landscape. At Xochitácatl there’s the glorious sight of the Flower Pyramid, the fourth-largest in Mexico.
Arcing around the western side of the Gulf of Mexico, Veracruz is a state that tends to be less frequented by tourists. All the same it offers two fantastic UNESCO World Heritage Sites. El Tajín is an ensemble of pre-Columbian structures including temples, pyramids, ballcourts and palaces—deep in the jungle it remained undiscovered for the first 350 years of European settlement. Tlacotalpan warrants a visit for its Caribbean character, while the Emerald Coast is where many of the prime beach destinations can be found.
The state of Yucatán is in the northwest of the Yucatán Peninsula, in the south east of Mexico. Yucatán has a whole host of places of interest, from the sandy beaches and the coastal towns on the Gulf of Mexico to Mayan archaeological sites. For adventure seek out the Cenotes natural underground lakes and cave formations, the best of which are in an ancient meteor crater. Mayan history abounds here but a must see is the Chichen Itzá, site of the Kukulcan Pyramid. There are also numerous haciendas—some romantic and decaying and others that are beautifully restored hotels, perfect for weddings.
Found in North Central Mexico, Zacatecas is characterised by its three main mountainous regions creating spectacular and unusual landscapes. Due to its height Zacatecas has a pleasant and temperate climate. Most of the local festivals are in honour of local patron saints with lots of traditional dances, many not dissimilar to the polka or waltz. Much of the history and architecture here is Hispanic due to the Spanish mining silver and other precious metals. The historic Centre of Zacatecas is a UNESCO World Heritage site, with preserved baroque architecture creating a handsome and atmospheric backdrop to your big day.