The Backpacker’s Guide to Monterrey, Nuevo Leon | Mexico

Monterrey is one of the largest cities in Mexico, but somehow, it often goes overlooked by travelers. As the capital of the northern state of Nuevo Leon, Monterrey is a long distance away from the tropical paradises that Mexico is known for. However, if you’re close by, it’s a city you can’t miss. I briefly stopped in Monterrey on my way back to the United States, and actually grew to like the city quite a lot. I didn’t have too many expectations, but was amazed at the natural beauty that surrounded the city.

The stunning mountains around Monterrey are breathtaking and awe-inspiring. It blew my mind that after nearly six months in Mexico, I was still encountering new landscapes that I’d never seen before. It’s pretty surprising that Monterrey isn’t more popular among tourists. With plenty of natural attractions to explore during the day and an electric nightlife scene when the sun goes down, Monterrey was a dream city.

Monterry Mexico sunset mountains

How To Get To Monterrey

Monterrey is the largest city in the north of Mexico, so it’s pretty easily accessible. Plenty of buses go directly to Monterrey from all over Mexico and even the United States. It’s only a couple of hours away from the United States border, making it a popular stopping point for travelers going either way. Direct flights to Monterrey are affordable and convenient from almost every mid to major-sized airport in Mexico or the U.S. A direct flight from Dallas only takes an hour and a half, making Monterrey a great destination for a quick vacation, or a longer trip.

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Where To Stay in Monterrey

Barrio Antigua is the best place to stay for travelers in Monterrey. It’s the most picturesque neighborhood of the city. It’s also within walking distance to many of Monterrey’s major attractions, such as the river walk, Macroplaza, and downtown Monterrey. It has a huge assortment of bars, restaurants, cafes, and boutiques.

I stayed at the hostel My Family in Monterrey. It’s a pretty new hostel, opening early 2021 during the Coronavirus pandemic. I stayed there a few weeks after they first opened and loved it. It was a great location right in Barrio Antigua and had all the amenities you could ask for from a hostel. A common kitchen, common areas, hot showers, and good Wi-Fi gave it a pretty cozy, homy feel.

my family in monterrey hostel mexico

For backpackers visiting Monterrey, I definitely recommend staying in Barrio Antigua, or at least close to the Macro Plaza. If you want to experience the nightlife, San Pedro Garza de Garcia is the upscale, boujee neighborhood of Monterrey. However, it’ll be a lot pricier to stay around there than in Barrio Antigua. For a few days, Barrio Antigua should do the trick.

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The Best Things To Do in Monterrey

Monterrey has a wide variety of activities to offer for any type of traveler. However, like most of Mexico, it boasts a plethora of natural wonders. Downtown Monterrey wasn’t particularly memorable for me, compared to how hard I fell in love with other Mexican cities. However, the mountains around Monterrey are unmatched.

Parque Ecologico La Huasteca

After nearly six months in Mexico, I really wasn’t expecting anything else to surprise me. However, Parque Ecologico La Huasteca was breathtaking. I met a local friend to do some hiking in the area, and it shocked me even more that that was first time visiting the park as well. Driving through the park and flanked by sheer, jagged mountains on both sides was a surreal feeling. There aren’t too many trails here yet, but the city of Monterrey is rebranding themselves as an outdoorsy travelers’ paradise. The tourism board has focused on Monterrey’s mountains. Soon, there’ll be plenty of trails to explore in La Huasteca so make sure to pack your hiking boots to Monterrey.

La Huasteca Monterrey Mexico

Parque Grutas de Garcia (Garcia Caves)

These caves are about 45 minutes away from downtown Monterrey. Las Grutas de Garcia are yet another natural wonder that Mexico boasts. I’ll admit, the guided tour was a bit tacky. It seems like most cave tours are just the guides pointing out what the stalactites and stalagmites look like. And since this is Mexico, most of them have to do with Jesus or the Virgin Mary or Corona bottles. It’s still worth the visit, of course.

Museums of Monterrey

Monterrey has a nice assortment of museums to visit. Most of the good ones are around the Macro Plaza. I visited the MARCO, or the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo (Contemporary Art Museum) and it was pretty cool. At the far end of the Macro Plaza, you’ll find the government buildings, including the Government Palace that is now also a museum. Just steps away from the Museo de Palacio is the Museum of Mexican History, also where the River Walk starts.

Macro Plaza

If you’re looking for a chill spot for some people watching, souvenir shopping, and an aimless wander, the Macro Plaza is a perfect spot. The Macro Plaza is also populated with cool art installments, statues, fountains, and on weekends, outdoor markets.

Obispado Viewpoint

Within the city of Monterrey, you won’t find a much better viewpoint than Obispado. This place is magical at sunset, giving you a stunning panoramic view of Monterrey and the many mountains that surround it.

obispado monterrey mexico

Barrio Antigua

The old neighborhood of Monterrey is also the tourist center. Monterrey is a huge city, but sticking around Barrio Antigua will make it feel a little bit smaller.

monterry barrio antiguo mexico

Santa Lucia River Walk

One of the nicest things I did in Monterrey was walk along the river and around the old industrial park. It’s a popular spot for locals to hang out, walk around, and get some exercising. In the evenings around sunset, it’s always buzzing with a lively energy. The river walk starts close to the Macro Plaza and Barrio Antigua, so it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re already in the area.

Santiago Pueblo Magico

About an hour from Monterrey, you’ll find the small pueblo magico of Santiago. The main plaza is very cute, with plenty of nice restaurants to eat at. However, there’s not too much in the city aside from that. I recommend checking out the dam, or la presa. It’s a popular local hang out spot where you can chill by the water, take in the stunning mountain views, and sip on a Tecate or other cerveza of your choice.

Cola de Caballo

Near Santiago is the waterfall Cola de Caballo, or Horse Tail. I didn’t make it here, since my local friend said it wasn’t going to be anything spectacular compared to the other waterfalls I’d just seen in La Huasteca Potosina and Chiapas. It was also my last full day in Mexico, so I was more than content just sipping on some beers by the dam and enjoying the view.

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Nightlife in Monterrey

Naturally, as one of Mexico’s largest cities, Monterrey is going to have some amazing nightlife. I mean, the city has about 5 million people. Wait, 5 million Mexicans who love to party. Mexico is one of my favorite countries for nightlife, and Monterrey is no different. You’ve got a lot of options when it comes to Monterrey. The various neighborhoods often feel like different cities entirely. In San Pedro, you can live large and experience booming megaclubs, fancy nightlife, and some of Mexico’s most beautiful people. Around Barrio Antigua, you’ll find trendy nightlife spots at every budget. Just roam around the neighborhood in the evening and follow your ears. You’re bound to find the nightlife scene for you.

obispado monterrey mexico

Monterrey might not be on most people’s Mexico itineraries, but it definitely deserves to be.

Speaking of itineraries, make sure to check out my complete backpacking itinerary for magical Mexico, a jam-packed 60-page guide covering 25 of my favorite destinations in Mexico!

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