The purpose of the present work is to validate the capability of the actuator line method to compute vortex structures in the near wake behind the MEXICO experimental wind turbine rotor. In the MEXICO project/MexNext Annex, particle image velocimetry measurements have made it possible to determine the exact position of each tip vortex core in a plane parallel to the flow direction. Determining center positions of the vortex cores makes it possible to determine the trajectory of the tip vortices, and thus the wake expansion in space, for the analyzed tip speed ratios. The corresponding cases, in terms of tip speed ratios, have been simulated by large-eddy simulations using a Navier–Stokes code combined with the actuator line method. The flow field is analyzed in terms of wake expansion, vortex core radius, circulation and axial and radial velocity distributions. Generally, the actuator line method generates significantly larger vortex cores than in the experimental cases, but predicts the expansion, the circulation and the velocity distributions with satisfying results. Additionally, the simulation and experimental data are used to test three different techniques to compute the average axial induction in the wake flow. These techniques are based on the helical pitch of the tip vortex structure, 1D momentum theory and wake expansion combined with mass conservation. The results from the different methods vary quite much, especially at high values of λ. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.