Puerto Vallarta: Vallarta exemplifies the beauty of Mexico — a Pacific bay framed by lush mountains, a vibrant colonial town, open-minded culture with an artistic bent, perfect weather, and friendly locals. Spectacularly wide Banderas Bay is graced by 42km (26 miles) of sandy beach. The beaches of Punta Mita, the exclusive development north of Vallarta, offer white-sand, crystalline waters, and coral reefs just offshore. Others around the bay nestle in coves, accessible only by boat.
Sayulita: Less than an hour north of Puerto Vallarta, Sayulita is a longboarder’s paradise with a chilled-out beach scene. Although tourists descend in droves on the town during vacation periods, the rest of the year Sayulita clings to a bygone era of total beach simplicity and Mexican tranquillity.
Puerto Escondido: The best overall beach value in Mexico is principally known for its world-class surfing beach, Playa Zicatela. The surrounding beaches and towns all have their own appeal — be they lined with colorful fishing pangas, delicious seafood restaurants, or shady palms. Puerto Escondido has unique accommodations at excellent prices, with exceptional budget dining and nightlife.
Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo: These side-by-side resorts afford beachgoers the best of both worlds: serene simplicity and resort comforts. For travelers seeking to get back to basics, the best and most beautiful beach is Playa La Ropa, close to Zihuatanejo. The wide beach at Playa Las Gatas, with its restaurants and snorkeling sites, is also a great place to play. The high-rise hotels in Ixtapa, on the next bay over from Zihuatanejo, front Playa Palmar, a fine, wide swath of beach.
Cancún: This man-made resort offers some of the most spectacular beaches anywhere. The powdery white sand is complemented by warm Caribbean waters the color of a Technicolor dream; it’s so clear that you can see through to the coral reefs below. You can come here just to relax, but this is also one of the world’s most popular entertainment destinations. Cancún offers Mexico’s widest selection of beachfront resorts, with more restaurants, nightlife, and activities than any other resort destination in the country.
Isla Mujeres: If uninterrupted relaxation is what you’re after, Isla Mujeres offers a quintessential laid-back vacation. Most accommodations are small, inexpensive inns, with a few luxury boutique hotels tempting you for at least a night. Bike — or take a golf cart — around the island to explore rocky coves and sandy beaches, or focus your tanning efforts on the wide beachfront of Playa Norte. Here you’ll find calm waters perfect for swimming and snorkeling, and beachfront palapa restaurants beckoning you for a fresh fish lunch.
Playa del Carmen: Stylish and hip, Playa del Carmen has a beautiful beach and a social scene that focuses on the beach by day and the pedestrian-only Quinta Avenida by night, with its assortment of restaurants, clubs, sidewalk cafes, and shops offering all the entertainment you could want. You’re also close to the coast’s major attractions, including nature parks, ruins, and cenotes (sinkholes or natural wells). Playa is Mexico’s fastest-growing city and is becoming homogenized (think Dairy Queen and Starbucks). Enjoy it while it’s still a manageable size.
Tulum: Fronting some of the best beaches on the entire coast, Tulum’s small palapa hotels offer guests a little slice of paradise far from the crowds and megaresorts. The bustling town lies inland; at the coast, things are quiet, as all these small hotels must generate their own electricity. If you can pull yourself away from the beach, there are ruins to marvel at and a vast nature preserve to explore.
La Paz: This state capital borders a lovely beach, dotted with colorful playgrounds and lively open-air restaurants. Take a cue from the local residents, though, and pass on swimming here in favor of the exquisite beaches just minutes from downtown. La Paz’s beaches and the islets just offshore have transformed this tranquil town into a center for diving, sea kayaking, and other adventure pursuits.
Los Cabos: Dramatic rock formations and crashing waves join forces with wide stretches of soft sand and rolling surf breaks. Start at Playa Palmilla and work your way down the Tourist Corridor to the famed Lover’s Beach at Land’s End. Some beaches are more appropriate for contemplation than for swimming.
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