Mexico’s winter season begins on or around December 21 each year, and although the seasonal change does not feel as marked as it does further north in the hemisphere, if you’re living or visiting here during this time of year, you’ll feel a distinct change in the air and its temperatures from early to mid-December.
How marked the temperature change feels depends on where you are in Mexico: areas situated at low-lying levels and near the coasts lose their high humidity and heat to become pleasantly warm, whereas the central highlands and some areas along the Gulf Coast are cooler and also become subject to temporary cold fronts from Canada and the US which can bring gusts of icy wind and even overnight frost for a few days at a time. Cold spells tend to pass surprisingly quickly and on most winter days daytime high temperatures can reach pleasantly-warm 21-23 degrees centigrade (70-74 degrees Fahrenheit).
As we outlined in a related article, Mexico is a land of three lands—with low-lying coastal plains, central highland towns, and smaller settlements situated high-up in the mountains. A direct correlation exists between the altitude you’re situated at and the temperatures you’ll feel year-round, although in winter the higher altitudes can feel distinctly cooler, even cold.
Enjoy Mexico’s long daylight hours, even during winter!
A big attraction of Mexico’s climate is that, temperatures aside, it offers long hours of daylight all year-round. During winter, daylight hours do shorten a little, and while most of the country observes Daylight Savings Time, most places in Mexico enjoy between ten and eleven hours of daylight every day of the year—in contrast to Canada and the northern US and Europe, where you can experience as little as five hours of daylight in the depths of winter.
The climate in Mexico begins to turn during the Autumn when temperatures at higher altitudes will feel generally cooler from late September. By late December, towns and cities situated in the highlands can feel chilly or even cold after sundown.
The Monarch Butterflies begin to arrive in Mexico from around mid-November. The highland oyamel fir-tree forests where they overwinter are coldest during December, causing the insects to cluster together on the trees for warmth, so if you want to see the butterflies in a more active state, then the ideal time to visit them is from mid-January to the end of March—the peak viewing season—when the daytime temperatures are warmer.
For guaranteed warmth during December, January, and February, you’ll need to be situated at or near Mexico’s coasts. Los Cabos and Baja California Sur, Mazatlán, Puerto Vallarta, Cancún and the Riviera Maya, Manzanillo, Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo, Acapulco, Huatulco, Mérida and the Yucatán peninsula—places which can get very hot during the summer months—tend to enjoy gloriously comfortable and warm temperatures during the winter, which is why they are so popular with part-time winter residents (“snowbirds”), as well as residents of Mexico’s highlands who may repair to the coast for a few days’ dose of sweet warm air, especially if a cold front lingers.
Winter climates in Mexico’s central highlands range from temperate to cool, and can turn cold on occasions. Mexican states situated in the central region of the highlands and northwards (including Mexico’s Copper Canyon) can experience snow and sub-zero temperatures through the winter months; but as you journey south — the highland states of Zacatecas and Aguascalientes the central colonial highland region which includes the popular cities of San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, and Querétaro; Mexico City; the western highlands of Guadalajara and the popular retirement enclaves of Chapala and Ajijic; Morelia and Pátzcuaro in the state of Michoacán — winter temperatures can oscillate between being comfortably warm during the afternoons, to freezing overnight; these places are also subject to cold spells brought by intermittent weather fronts from the north.
South of Mexico City, colonial cities including Cuernavaca, Puebla, Taxco and Oaxaca tend to enjoy spring-like climates through the winter months, but they too are subject to cold snaps brought by weather fronts causing temporary spells of chilly weather for up to a few days at a time.
Winter months in the highland mountain town of San Cristóbal de las Casas tend to be quite cold overnight and during the early mornings; mountain fog in this area can linger until the early afternoon, or all day if a cold front is present.
By late January, you can begin to feel the climate shifting again, and by late February temperatures in the central highlands can return to feeling quite warm as winter yields to spring in Mexico, ushering-in some of the driest days of the year before the rain season begins in May or June. Temperatures near the coasts begin their transition back from warm-to-hot during the spring, which is also when the coastal humidity returns.