Beaches of Mexico
By Hideaway Report Staff
April 3, 2014
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
- Make the most efficient use of your time with guided tours of historical sites
- Snorkel and dive along the phenomenal coral reef—the second largest in the world
- Between June and September, swim alongside giant whale sharks
- Bird watch within the 1.3-million-acre Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Attend Playa del Carmen’s Riviera Maya Jazz Festival, which takes place in the fall.
“… 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
- Watch anglers reel in prize catches at the renowned Bisbee’s Black & Blue Marlin Tournament, the world’s richest fishing event. “Los Cabos is a mecca for deep-sea fishing enthusiasts, with more striped marlin caught within 20 miles of Cabo San Lucas year-round than any place in the world.”
Courtesy of Lauren Carr, Las Ventanas al Paraiso
- Take a whale-watching excursion to spot gray and humpback whales during the prime viewing season between December and March
- Play a round of golf at pro-favorite Robert Trent Jones II Cabo Real Golf Course
- Explore the desert landscape through camel rides and ATV races
- Take in the rich culinary and artisan culture of San Jose del Cabo, which Carr says offers “the natural charm and quaintness of Colonial Mexico.”
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
- Enjoy La Ropa Beach, one of the town’s four beaches. “There are two kilometers of sandy beach, making it the best one in the area”
- Experience Zihua’s sailing heritage firsthand during the annual Zihua SailFest in Novemeber, which Quintana calls “one of Mexico’s premier sailing events.” The weeklong festival functions as an educational fundraiser for disadvantaged children
- Explore the ruins of La Soledad de Maciel, a Mesoamerican archaeological site still under excavation
- Peruse Zihua’s 250-shop artisan market for jewelry and silver from Taxco, enameled objects from Olinalá and ceramics and paintings from Oaxaca
- Attend the International Guitar Festival, which moves to a different location in the city every night for one week in March.
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
- Hike, bird-watch and tour the canopy by zipline in the nearby Sierra Madre tropical forest
- Enjoy horseback riding along the beach or through jungle trails
- Banderas Bay serves as a breeding ground for Humpback Whales, with observation tours available between November and April
- The Punta Mita Gourmet and Golf event each April features world-class chefs and winemakers from Mexico and abroad. The four-day event includes cooking classes, wine- and cheese-tastings, cocktail parties and golfing on the highly acclaimed Jack Nicklaus-designed Pacífico and Bahía courses.
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.
- Devoid of overcrowded bars and massive hotel chains, the area is well-suited for experiencing the natural offerings of the region—go for hikes and horseback rides through the rainforest, or scenic drives along the coast
- Taste one of the main staples of the region, Jalisco tequila, and make sure to try local beverages such as tejuino, made from fermented corn, and tepache, made from fermented pineapple
- Enjoy local culture through the occasional charreada, or Mexican rodeo, and through saint’s days celebrations in the town of Barra de Navidad.
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
- Beyond the ample shopping, beachfront watersports and city entertainment, consider a historical tour of Acapulco. Visit the 17th-century San Diego Fort; the Chapel of Peace, built by architect-monk Gabriel Chavez de la Mora; and stroll through the Zócalo, or central plaza, featuring a 1930s-built cathedral
- Observe the native flora and fauna of Acapulco with a tour to the freshwater Barra Coyuca Lagoon.
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.
Get Inspired for Your Next Adventure
Register to sample:
- One-of-a-kind itineraries
- Inspirational travel articles
- Free e-newsletter from our editors