With the temperatures dropping, we’re just about ready to fly south for the winter- but not just anywhere. There’s a reason Mexico is the second most visited country by Canadians. From cool margaritas to upbeat mariachi to of course, the glorious beaches, Mexico vacations are attractive to any sun-seeker. Each city will surprise you with something new: we bring you 9 of the best beach towns in Mexico.
VALLARTA & NAYARIT
Puerto Vallarta has long been one of our favourite Mexican beach towns, photogenic, energetic, and charming. The pretty Old Town, called Zona Romantica, was built in 1851 and has two beaches – Playa Olas Altas and Playa de los Muertos, home of the Los Muertos Pier. Puerto Vallarta is the gay beach capital of Mexico, and is lively day or night. Stroll along the Malecon boardwalk or through the city’s cobbled streets to discover quirky souvenir shops, art galleries, boutique hotels, and dance clubs. Check out restaurants, El Barracuda for its beachside location and great seafood and tacos, and La Dolce Vita for authentic Italian pizza made by a Venetian himself.
While it may not be familiar to you, Sayulita is not to be overlooked in Jalisco’s neighbouring province of Riviera Nayarit. Just an hour away from Puerto Vallarta, this is the hippest of Mexican beach towns, known for its sand and surf, with 100 foot waves on a good day. Surf lessons are available from a bunch of shops on the beach like Lunazul, for novice and advanced surfers. Rent a palapa and chill out on the beach; the vendors are respectful but will approach you. Peruse the colourful shops between hostels and join in the youthful party in this laid-back area of Mexico.
Cabo San Lucas
The livelier of the Los Cabos, Mexico beach town duo, Cabo San Lucas has recently become the nightlife hotspot, even more so than Cancun and Puerto Vallarta. The party goes down at Cabo Wabo, the Hard Rock Café, or the Baja Brewing Company among others. Restaurants and clubs are abundant in this lively cosmopolitan tourist destination. When you’re not throwing back drinks or sunbathing, organize a visit to the photo-worthy natural rock formation of El Arco, great for whale watching and snorkeling.
San Jose del Cabo
Separated from its Cabo San Lucas counterpart by the Resort Corridor, this Los Cabos beach town is quieter and more colonial. (Note that local buses do run between the two Los Cabos towns often for less than $3 USD). Founded in 1730, San Jose del Cabo has a relaxed rhythm, typical of a traditional Mexican beach town. Meander the cobblestone streets, past colonial buildings and historic attractions like the Mission of San Jose del Cabo Church, City Hall, and Casa de la Cultura (Cultural Center), and even experience the Thursday night Art Walk.
If you’re seeking eco-adventures, great diving and snorkeling, and archeological sites, Tulum is the Mexican beach town for you. With a laid back vibe, small authentic restaurants, souvenir shops, and a mix of hostels, boutique hotels, and large all-inclusives, Tulum is a diverse destination with a range of accommodation options and activities. Eat out and walk the town, admire picturesque views of nature, and explore the Mayan ruins like the cliff-top Castillo between dips in the ocean.
Playa del Carmen
Located between Tulum and Cancun is Playa del Carmen, trendier and more sophisticated than Cancun, but increasingly popular with tourists, making Tulum the new Playa in terms of authenticity. Once a small fishing village like many Mexico beach towns, Playa del Carmen has a European charm and more intimate feel. Aside from the beach, this walkable city is home to bike rental shops, a good restaurant scene (including American chains), craft and souvenir shops, and bars and nightlife.
Cancun is the most developed of the three Mexican beach towns in the Mayan Riviera –and arguably the most tourist-filled spots along the Yucatan Peninsula. The Las Vegas of Mexico, Cancun’s large strip features resort after resort with bars and restaurants scattered between. It may be considered the best beach town in Mexico for the Spring Break crowd, attracting frenzied young people to join the fiesta. Come to Cancun for discos, cultural events, shopping, and activities.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH
Thankfully, some of Mexico’s most beautiful spots remain, for the most part, uncovered. Zihuatanejo is the real deal, where fisherman meet every morning to showcase their catch and where the cobblestone streets of downtown lead to local restaurants and art shops. The area has lovely, darker sand beaches, great market shopping, and a relaxing atmosphere – definitely not as busy as Cancun or Puerto Vallarta and lacking nightlife options. Zihuatanejo is big sister Ixtapa’s opposite, with an Old Mexican feel contrasted to the modern, built-up resort area of Ixtapa, 6 km away. This blissful beach town is small, but its friendly people and historic charm seduce visitors in a big way.
This colonial old town on Mexico’s Pacific Coast boasts some of the best seafood joints, a marina, cliff divers, golf courses, and water sports like kayaking and jet skiing. Spend your days lazing on the beach and your nights at a table around Plaza Machado where lots of local, independent cafes and restaurants await guests. Stroll down the Malecon for more restaurants, shops, and hotels or take time to discover the city’s Cathedral, multicoloured homes, El Faro lighthouse, archeological museum, or tequila distillery. A mix of culture and history, Mataztlan maintains its Mexican traditions while still welcoming tourists. Visit during Carnaval to join in the party, dating back to 1898.
What do you consider the best beach town in Mexico? Share your comments below!