San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas
The Mexican state of Chiapas is known by many Americans as a combat zone and home to the Zapatista rebels. But much has changed in the last 15 years, and Chiapas is a much safer place to visit. San Cristóbal de las Casas is located near the Tzotzil Maya communities of Chamula, and Zinacantán, and a half-day bus ride from the Classic Maya ruins of Palenque, so it is the perfect outpost for your adventures through Mayan ruins. This city of nearly 100,000 has the feel of a Spanish colonial town deep in the heart of Indian territory. The indigenous population of the city is 35 percent, but San Cristóbal is the trading post for many communities dotting the surrounding mountains. To visit San Cristóbal is to experience truly authentic indigenous Mexican culture, both modern and ancient.
Barrancas del Cobre, Chihuahua
Barrancas del Cobre (Copper Canyon in English) is a group of six canyons in the southwestern most part of the state of Chihuahua, Mexico. This is a truly rustic Mexican experience. Even the train ride into the canyons offers amazing panoramic views of the dramatic landscape. Lodges and hotels are inexpensive and often offer food and bus rides from the train station, but they are charmingly simple in their offerings--expect wood-burning stoves. Not only do the Barrancas del Cobre offer you stunning views and hiking opportunities galore amidst the indigenous Tarahumara community, which has remained unchanged for nearly 1,000 years. Reservations and navigation in this area can be difficult, so consider going with a tour group such as Canyon Travel, which offers relaxed adventures into the canyon. But if you're prepared for an all-out adventure, it is completely possible to do it independently.
If you want to stray off the beaten path, but aren't interested in the rustic, indigenously populated areas of Chihuahua and Chiapas, then Guadalajara might be more your speed. Of course, it is no Acapulco or Cancun, but it offers some of the more common creature comforts such as hot water and air conditioning. Guadalajara is Mexico's second largest city and the capital of the tequila-state, Jalisco. In the area surrounding Guadalajara, explore ancient archaeological sites, museums, shopping and of course, tequila. The region is known as the tequila state because the volcanic soil covering most of the area provides perfect conditions for the blue agave plant, a central ingredient to the production of tequila. As such, there are plenty of opportunities for volcano and mountain climbing near Guadalajara, particularly near the town of Tequila, Jalisco. There are other active volcanoes in southern Jalisco, but climbing is restricted for safety reasons.