Turquoise waters. Soft, white sand. Calm seas and a cool breeze. The picture-perfect beach vacation is an ideal easily found on Mexico’s Riviera Maya. Yet the country’s impressive coastline, facing the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, features more than 450 beaches. The following insight from Harper Alliance hotel partners provide a tantalizing guide to exploring the well-known as well as more hidden wonders of Mexico’s coasts.
Tucked just under the tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula lies the Riviera Maya, a 75-mile stretch of Caribbean paradise running from Cancun south to the Mayan ruins of Tulum. Here are the white-sand beaches of many a daydream: Cancun, Cozumel, Isla Mujares, Playa del Carmen. Here, too, are the ancient stone pyramids of lost civilizations, rising up from verdant jungle landscapes for endless vistas of the calm, clear seas: Xcaret, Chichen Itza, Zel-ha, Uxmal and what Andrew Harper called “the jungle-cloaked wonder of Cobá.”
Courtesy of Irene Prado, Zoëtry Paraiso de la Bonita Riviera Maya
“… a dramatic juxtaposition of striking rock formations and crashing waves against wide stretches of soft sands and rolling surf.” - Lauren Carr, Las Ventanas al Paraiso
Across the country, where the desert meets the sea on the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, lie the tourist-driven cape cities of Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo. “The culture, architecture and cuisine are all influenced by the dry, desert environment and the beautiful Sea of Cortez,” says Jeri Lyn Walker of Esperanza Resort. “The climate is idyllic, with 360 days of sunshine a year.” While many of Los Cabos’ beaches are closed for swimming due to dangerous undertows, San Jose del Cabo boasts several quiet, sandy beaches that swimmers and sunbathers alike may enjoy year-round.
Courtesy of Jerri Lyn Walker, Esperanza Resort
Courtesy of Lauren Carr, Las Ventanas al Paraiso
Along part of Mexico’s Pacific coast is the Costa Grande, 200 miles of agricultural lands and mostly undeveloped beaches offset by the tourist destinations of Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo. Unlike its modern, resort-designed neighbor, however, Zihuatanejo claims a long history as a sleepy fishing village, with indigenous settlements predating Hernán Cortés’ establishment of a port here in the early 16th century. “Zihua” has managed to retain much of its small-town charm even as tourism increases, and its well-protected bay offers a bountiful base from which to explore the area.
“The combination of the bay with the tranquility of the town and the warmth of its people make Zihuatenejo the right place to relax.” - Flor Quintana, La Casa Que Canta
Courtesy of Flor Quintana, La Casa Que Canta
About an hour northwest of bustling Puerto Vallarta sits the comparatively undeveloped town of Punta Mita, part of the 192-mile Riviera Nayarit coastline famed for its temperate, tropical climate and spectacular beaches. According to Marc Lindskog of Casa de Mita, the town is “more of a lifestyle destination than a tourist destination.” Crowds are rare, leaving ample opportunity for visitors to enjoy snorkeling, paddle-boarding and surfing along the sandy coast. The indigenous Huichol community is evident here as well. “Huichol history, arts and culture play a strong role,” Lindskog says. Known for vibrant yarn and beaded artwork, Huichol artisans create what the country’s tourism board referred to as “one of the most magical and representative artistic expressions of Mexico.”
“I enjoy the area because of the overall lifestyle and warmth of the local culture. [It’s] definitely more relaxed than most.” - Marc Lindskog, Casa de Mita
Courtesy of Marc Lindskog, Casa de Mita
Between Puerto Vallarta and Manzanilla lies the 180-mile stretch of shoreline known as Costalegre, the Coast of Joy. Made up of six distinct groupings of beaches, capes and bays, the area is known for its pristine white sand—and for its isolation, making it an ideal choice for travelers seeking tranquility and privacy.
Farther south along the Pacific Coast, situated on an eponymous bay, Acapulco stands in stark contrast to the calm of Costalegre. It is a pulsating, cosmopolitan port city of some one million residents known for the golden beaches backdropped by the Sierra Madre del Sur Mountains, as well as its exuberant nightlife. Yet the city has a quieter side, too: just around the bend to the southeast are the dramatic cliffs of Acapulco’s second bay, Bahía de Puerto Marqués, where Andrew Harper found Banyan Tree Cabo Marqués to be a “relaxing and beautiful retreat” and a sign of the city’s revitalization.
“Acapulco retains the same ingredients that have made it popular for so long.” - Journey Mexico
There is consensus among Andrew Harper Alliance Partners that the tourism-oriented beach destinations throughout Mexico are safe for travelers. In his February 2013 Hideaway Report, Andrew Harper says, “On the basis of a recent trip, I dare to suggest that the perils of travel in parts of Mexico can be exaggerated. And if you take some common-sense precautions, you can explore without stumbling into trouble.” In its January 2014 Mexico Travel Alert, the U.S. Department of State listed all of the cities and tourist areas mentioned in this article as safe for travel, as well as Mexico City and the state of Guanajuato, where other Alliance properties are located. Still, while visitors may find it easy to navigate many of the smaller towns on their own, in the interest of efficiency, guided tours can be preferable. For further information, visit the State Department website at www.travel.state.gov.