Campeche, Mexico
Credit: Doug McKinlay / Getty Images

Campeche, capital of the eponymous state on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula, is a two-hour drive south of the airport in Mérida, but what it lacks in convenience it more than makes up for with charm, affordability, and the sort of immersive, gringo-free experience that's increasingly hard to come by in Mexico. The entire city, founded in 1540 and still ringed by its original forts, is remarkably well-preserved, but equally impressive is the array of things to do outside its walls. Hotel Socaire, a grand colonial residence given a fresh, hipster makeover (from $55/night), is an ideal base for a few days of easy adventures: In the afternoon, climb the Mayan ruins of Edzná, spelunk the ancient vertical wells of X'Tacumbilxuna'An, or dive a few of the 23 shipwrecks off this once-important port. If you're feeling lazy, camp out on one of the deserted beaches just south of town. In the evening, dine on fresh-caught pompano, buy a jipi hat, handwoven on the street from local palms, and hoof through spontaneous dance parties in the 16th-century central square, Plaza de la Independencia. "Campeche gets as many tourists in one year as Cancún gets in a day," says Raul Castaneda, owner of Tarpon Town Anglers, which offers year-round tours. "The history and natural beauty are so intact, there are places where you feel like you're the only person within 100 miles."