Mexico’s Best Beach Towns
There’s a reason Americans made more than 20 million trips to Mexico last year, and it’s not for the on-point margaritas and guacamole (though they’re certainly part of the experience). We’re in it for the soft-sand, turquoise-sea beaches— shores so gorgeous they make your eyes ache. Here, the six best beaches in Mexico we can’t get enough of. * Updated 2018
Cancún and Riviera Maya
Gorgeous white sand beaches, over-the-top luxury hotels and plenty of partying tourists (this is a spring break capital, after all) make up this part of the Yucatan Peninsula. The young crowds tend to stick to Cancún, with its affordable all-inclusives and white-hot nightlife, while luxury seekers head to the quiet Riviera Maya, a 30-minute drive to the south. Wherever you choose to stay, put these on your to-do list: a guided tour with Xenotes of the Lu'um cenote, where you'll snorkel and rappel down walls; dinner at the White Box (chef Rafael Zafra is an El Bulli alum, and it shows); and lunch at Labna, the place for a traditional Mayan dishes like lime soup with fried tortillas ⎯ accompanied by a Tecate, of course.
Once a quiet fishing village, Zihuatanejo has cemented its place on the luxury beach map (proof: there’s now a Viceroy hotel here). But the vibe remains blissfully low-key. Kick back at Playa la Ropa, a calm beach fringed with lush trees, or Zihuatanejo Bay, and watch the fishermen haul in the day's catch. Then sign up for a private cooking class with Claudia, where you'll learn the secrets to whipping up tasty Mexican dishes like chiles rellenos and tamales in Claudia's own house. If you'd rather have someone do the cooking for you, the family-run Carmelitas Café is a local favorite, thanks to its buzzy atmosphere and ridiculously fresh dishes (the tortillas are made on a sizzling griddle before your eyes).
At the southernmost tip of Baja, where the Pacific meets the Sea of Cortez, Los Cabos is a resort paradise full of Instagram-worthy spots. Start with a naturalist-led boat tour of Magdalena Bay; you'll stop at El Arco, an otherworldly rock formation that's a favorite gathering place for sea lions, and look for humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins. Then make your way back to shore for a dinner at Flora Farm, 10 acres of organic farmland near the Sierra de la Laguna mountains (we love the rabbit with lemon-cauliflower puree, and the wood oven-roasted pork chops in tomato chutney). Go for late night drinks at Esperanza Resort's Cocina del Mar, known for both its candlelit cliffside perch and on-point cocktails.
A Hollywood favorite in the 1970s and ’80s (Liz Taylor got cozy with Richard Burton here), Puerto Vallarta has regained its former glory after years of being overlooked in favor of such destinations as Cancún and Los Cabos. It's one of Mexico's prettiest beach towns, thanks to a colorful cobblestone center (built in 1851 and now fittingly called Zona Romantica) and miles of powdery sand. While the main beaches get crowded, the quieter Destiladeras Beach is just a half-hour to the north and is dotted with thatch-roofed seafood shacks turning out simply grilled fish. Another favorite stretch is in the volcanic Marietas Islands, where a private tour will take you through a cave that leads to an unspoiled shore so pristine it could be a scene from The Beach. Back on the mainland, stop at the cliffside Ocean Grill for fried plantains and ceviche.
Tulum needs almost no introduction, having made a name for itself around the world as the ultimate beach destination for the bohemian-chic set. Flip-flops and a stylish caftan are Tulum's uniform of choice, whether at the village's trendy little shops, the nearby Mayan ruins, or one of the many low-key beachfront hotels, where guests sip fruity cocktails and people-watch. Go for at least one dinner at the sceney Hartwood restaurant (the smoky wood-fired pork is a must-try), or opt for Italian classics at Posada Margherita, with its perennially packed, low-lit terrace. If you're itching for action afterward, Curandero has killer live music and the finest mojitos in town.
Sayulita is the surfer/hipster beach town dreams are made of, with perfect water and a main street lined with low-key cafes and restaurants. Sign up for a 4-day surf camp with Viator -- you'll be riding the waves like a pro in no time. Our hotel of choice is Playa Escondida, where cozy bungalows front the beach and have private patios and hammocks for whiling away an afternoon. Or skip the hotel and rent a villa with Sayulita Life. For dinner, we love the boho-chic Mary's, which serves some of the finest chilaquiles around.
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