Mexico is blessed with miles of stunning coastline on both sides of the country, along the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. From pristine, palm-lined beaches to crashing waves and golden sands, there is no shortage of amazing locations along Mexico’s shores. And with over 5,800 miles of said stunning coastline, it’s certainly not an easy task, picking the best beach towns in Mexico…
On one hand, there are those picture-perfect riviera towns in Quintana Roo, from the wild nightlife scene of Cancun to the chilled atmosphere in Tulum. Then, there are those unspoiled beaches in Bahia de Banderas and plenty of amazing surf spots on the Pacific side, from Baja down to Oaxaca.
But what is the top choice amongst the best beach towns in Mexico? This guide will try to help you decide. It outlines the nine best places to visit for your next Mexican adventure. Whether you’re after plenty of places to party or some relaxed beach sessions, you’ll find places that suit you on this list…
Tulum, Quintana Roo
Tulum is one of the best beach towns in Mexico that has gained lots of popularity in recent years. It is located on the eastern side of the Yucatan Peninsula on the famed Riviera Maya. It is blessed with soft white sands and turquoise, shallow waters.
It has become a frequent destination for Instagram influencers, thanks to the beautiful scenery and the pre-Columbian Mayan Ruins that overlook the beach. The town itself is a sleepy place with plenty of beach cabanas and bungalows rather than mega-hotels like in some parts of the country. There are also plenty of eco-friendly cafes, yoga retreats, and spas.
Aside from visiting the Mayan ruins, there are lots of cenotes to see in the area. These are natural underground pools surrounded by rock formations. Dos Ojos cenote is an underwater cave system with picturesque, crystal-clear pools. You will need to pay a fee of around $17 to enter without a guide, and around $30 for a guided tour. Another one that is much closer to Tulum is Cenote Naharon, which also attracts fewer crowds.
Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur
Another top-place spot on this list of the best beach towns in Mexico is reserved for Cabo San Lucas. This well-known resort is set on the southern tip of the gorgeous Baja California Peninsula. Cabo, as it’s usually called, is a popular jet-setter destination with plenty of luxury hotels and glitzy bars. But it’s not only for the rich and famous. It’s also a great spot for spring breakers, offering vibrant nightlife like few other places in the country.
From golden sands and wild waves of the Pacific Ocean to picturesque clifftops and rock formations, there is no shortage of beautiful beaches here. While most of them are perfect for sunbathing, not all of them are safe for swimming. The longest, Medano Beach, always bustling with life, while Lover’s Beach is undoubtedly beautiful though has quite rough waters and is only accessible by boat. For tranquility and pristine waters, head to Santa Maria Beach, where there are coral reefs right by the shore.
San Pancho, Nayarit
Located less than five miles away from the more popular Sayulita, San Pancho is a tranquil little beach town. Otherwise known as San Francisco, this lovely little place is framed by a beautiful, long beach that stretches for almost a mile along the Pacific Ocean.
The main street here is dotted with cafes and restaurants that serve delicious Mexican treats, not to mention a clutch of small, locally owned surf shops. At sunset, head to the beach and have a margarita at one of the sandy bars. Go to Tacos con Amor for the best tacos and try tasty craft beers at Cerveceria Artesenal.
This off-the-beaten-track location is ideal for those longing for more authenticity away from the hustles and bustles of Puerto Vallarta. You can even trek to the town from Sayulita through a lush jungle overlooking a couple of hidden beaches. Be sure to bring plenty of water as there are no shops along the way!
Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca
Puerto Escondido is Oaxaca’s answer to Hawaii and Bali. Iconic Playa Zicatela has over two miles of golden sands and big, bombing waves that make it a surfer’s paradise. It’s only suitable for more advanced surfers, so if you’re a beginner try out Playa Carrizalillo – one of the most picturesque coves in Mexico that has easy-going waves.
But Puerto Escondido isn’t only about riding the water. Although you’ll sport surfers at every corner here, the beaches here are also top-notch for just lazing and topping up your tan.
In town, there is a mix of locals and ex-pats from all over the world. The town is small and relatively underdeveloped in comparison to many of Mexico’s resort towns. You will find smaller hotels and guesthouses, along with plenty of cafes and restaurants dotted around the narrow streets.
Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo
Another one of the best beach towns in Mexico is the popular resort of Playa del Carmen. It is located on the Yucatan Peninsula around 45 miles south of Cancun on the pristine Caribbean Coast in the heart of the Riviera Maya.
With soft sugar sands and calm, turquoise waters, this is a great place for a peaceful holiday. It offers a more relaxing atmosphere than its northern neighbor, with plenty of boutique hotels and cafes dominating the scene.
The beaches here are some of the best in the country, with palm-lined, soft sands and colorful coral reefs. From here you can easily get to Cozumel Island, which is known for beautiful sandy bays and amazing diving spots. You can also take a trip to one of the adventure parks in the area: Xcaret or Xplore. In those, you’ll find underground rivers and caves, amongst other family friendly attractions. Moreover, Playa del Carmen is only about an hour away from Tulum’s historical Mayan Ruins (see above).
Anyone who’s ever watched The Shawshank Redemption will know of Zihuatanejo as the holy grail at the end of the road. These days, it’s less escaped con, more escaped snowbird. Beaches of light yellow powder flow through a hook-shaped bay on the Guerrero coast. They’re fringed by a lively promenade, the Paseo del Pescador, which unfolds in fish-taco stands and souvenir shops for a couple of fun-filled miles. Up above, the rising Sierra Madre del Sur mountains display glowing green ridges of jungle.
There’s no doubt it’s a stunning spot and we can see why it’s been firmly placed among the best beach towns in Mexico since its boom days in the 1970s. But it’s not been all plain sailing for Zihuatanejo. A spate of shark attacks in the 90s was followed by episodes of gang violence, and it looked to many like the clouds were gathering over the much-loved Guerrero getaway.
Today, you’ll still have to be okay with coming somewhere that has one of the highest crime and violent crime rates of any beach resort in the country. The reward will be palm-fringed sands, one of the best yachting meccas on the Pacific coast, and waters that teem with dolphins and whales.
Yelapa is a gorgeous little beach town on the southern end of Bahía de Banderas in Jalisco. It’s a small cove with unspoiled sands and clear aqua backed by lush green palms. Behind the beach, there are high mountains covered by a thick jungle. The only access to this beautiful beach town is either by boat from Boca de Tomatlan and other beaches in the area, or, for the more adventurous ones, by hiking from Chacala, a village high in the mountains.
With gurgling waterfalls nestled in a tropical jungle, picturesque beaches, and beautiful ocean-facing houses, Yelapa is one of the most iconic locations on the southern part of the Bay of Banderas.
The obvious base for getting to Yelapa is Puerto Vallarta, a lively resort town known for its vibrant nightlife scene. Whether you walk around the cobbled, colorful streets of Zona Romantica, stay in an all-inclusive, luxury hotel, or enjoy one of the many bars and clubs, there is plenty to do in the big city, too. And, although Yelapa is undoubtedly the most picturesque cove in the bay, there are plenty of pristine hidden beaches south of Puerto Vallarta that you can also pick from.
Cancun, Quintana Roo
For those who are after crazy nightlife coupled with paradise beaches, Cancun would be the top choice out of the best beach towns in Mexico. Stunning turquoise seas and long stretches of white sands backed by huge resorts are what is on offer here, all helping to make Cancun one of the most visited places in Mexico.
It’s located on the Yucatan Peninsula on the northern tip of Quintana Roo state. That means Cancun is also a gateway to popular resorts on the Riviera Maya stretch. During the spring break, the town is flooded by party-hungry youngsters seeking all-night raves. They mainly stick around the Punta Cancun area to hit legendary bars like Coco Bongo.
Although this is a great place for an unforgettable holiday, you won’t get a feel of an authentic Mexican town, as tourists and ex-pats outnumber the locals by a long shot. You will find plenty of international restaurants with English-speaking staff, along with all-inclusive hotels and condos that welcome over 15 million tourists every year!
If you don’t want the high-intensity hustle of Puerto Escondido – Oaxaca’s surf haven – or the sprawl of a developed port city like Puerto Vallarta, then Mazunte could be the choice for you. It’s still a sleepy getaway on the south Pacific side of Mexico, with a loyal following of wave riders and beach goers but an overall level of chill that would make places in the Caribbean blush.
Officially designated as one of the country’s Pueblo Mágico, Magic Villages, this one’s a handsome affair. It’s anchored on a grid of cobbled alleys that go this way and that past taquerias and margarita stalls down to a rocky beach (more on that later). What’s noticeable is how the place seems to sprout from the jungles. There are ficus trees crawling over hotels and big palms jutting out from rooftops.
We said we’d get to the beaches…they are the true highlight. Crumpled by walls of rock and stone at some points, they’re long and uninterrupted runs with powerful waves at others. You can witness amazing sunsets at the Punta Cometa, laze on the secluded cove at Mermejita Beach, or spot turtles between the rock stacks of San Agustín.
Best beach towns in Mexico – the conclusion
While it’s not an easy task to pick the best beach towns in Mexico, you can narrow down your search to a couple of locations to help you decide where to visit. If you’re after soft white sands and clear waters with colorful reefs, you should go to one of Quintana Roo’s beautiful beach towns. Go to Cancun for wild nightlife and stay in Tulum if you’re after a relaxing holiday in a beach cabana. Alternatively, say on the Pacific side if you want to flex your muscles on a surfboard. Or head to Puerto Escondido and enjoy one of the most iconic surf locations in the world, Playa Zicatela.
What’s the best beach town in Mexico?
That all depends on what you’re after. The west Pacific coast is great for surfers who want waves. There, places like Puerto Escondido and San Pancho come with long runs of sandy beach and surf shacks for renting your board. The eastern side of the country, especially the stretch along the Yucatan Peninsula, is better for resort towns with white-sand beaches – think Cancun and Tulum.
When to visit Mexico for the beaches?
The good news is that Mexico is a year-round beach destination. It’s hot virtually all year and has loads of sunshine. Places like Cabo and Cancun have a high season in the winter months when loads of American snowbirds come down from the USA, but they are scorching hot in the peak summer too. The Caribbean coast does have a rainy season in the summer, but it rarely rains all that much. The main thing to look out for is the so-called seaweed season, which hits the beaches of Quintana Roo between April and September.