Best Beaches in Mexico
Mexico is world-renowned for its beaches—in fact, many people visit for this sole reason, and spend their entire trip alternating between hotel pools and the white sand shores. The country is sandwiched by the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean, and you’ll find starkly different beaches on the two sides.
The beaches on the East Coast are similar to the Caribbean, particularly in the Riviera Maya where resorts abound. But there are certainly quiet spots to be found, especially for those willing to take a short boat ride to the islands off the coast. The airport to fly into is Cancun (which is a four-hour flight from JFK, and there are plenty of daily flights). Cancun has, of course, gained a reputation for attracting rowdy spring break crowds, but most travelers now fly in and take a car to the more peaceful resorts along Playa del Carmen and Tulum, where there’s something for every type of trip—honeymoon spots, great all-inclusive resorts, and family-friendly hotels. And no trip to this area is complete without a visit to Xcaret, an outdoor adventure park where you can snorkel, float down a lazy river, or swim with dolphins; or a visit to the well-preserved Mayan ruins in Tulum.
The best-known spot on the Pacific Coast is Los Cabos, a three-hour flight from San Francisco. Cabo’s beaches are unparalleled, and ideal for any type of trip. There are plenty of fantastic resorts, from the One&Only Palmilla to the Esperanza, for a fly-and-flop trip. And for those who like action, there are endless possibilities for snorkeling and even whale watching.
Regardless of where you end up in Mexico, there are endless fantastic beaches. The only problem? Picking which ones to go to. Here, our list of the best places to get a dose of Vitamin D and relax with a great book.
This island off the Yucatan Peninsula may be tiny, but it’s slowly gaining traction. The entire island is essentially one unnamed beach, with hotels lining the sand, and has been called the next Tulum for a good reason: nothing is fast-paced here—even the dogs seem to laze around. Stay at the art-focused Casa Las Tortugas, a family-run boutique hotel with a yoga studio, bakery, and boutique, and rest assured that you won’t run into anyone you know.
Playa Carrizalillo, Oaxaca
Most of Oaxaca’s surfer beaches are always packed, but Playa Carrizalillo, in Puerto Escondido, stands out for its quietness. You’ll have to take 157 steps to get there, but it’s well worth it. The beach is great for swimming and bodyboarding, and there are also vendors offering snacks and surfing lessons. If you want to spend a weekend here, stay at the Hotel Escondido, with 16 beach bungalows, a spa, and a pool.
Playa Paraiso, Tulum
This beach is incredibly close to the famous Mayan ruins in Tulum, which are two hours from Cancun. Many consider Paraiso to be one of the most beautiful beaches not just in Mexico, but also in the entire world. Yes, you’ll find crowds here, but it’s blissfully beautiful and there’s always space to lounge on the impossibly pristine white sand. Best of all, the weather is pretty much fantastic year-round.
Playa del Amor, Cabo San Lucas
Better known as Lover’s Beach, this two-sided Cabo spot has perfect views of the arch, since it lies exactly where the Sea of Cortez and Pacific Ocean meet. You can only get here by boat, but it’s an easy ride from the Cabo San Lucas marina. The wildlife here is unbeatable—you’ll see all types of tropical fish and manta ray swimming on the water, as well sea lions lying on the rocks. Best of all, the backdrop to every photo will be the spectacular El Arco rock formation. Keep your swimming to the Cortez side—the waters are a bit rougher on the Pacific—and there are no vendors around, so bring your own lunch.
Playa Akumal, Riviera Maya
If you’re looking for peace and quiet, this is the beach to head to. The bay has impossibly clear waters, as well as plenty of caves and underground rivers. The area is wonderful for snorkeling: you’ll get to see plenty of turtles and tropical fish. Bonus: the waters are nice and calm, and ideal for younger (or less confident) swimmers. For lunch, we like the Lol-Ha restaurant, which has wonderful house-made churros.
Stone Island, Mazatlan
Despite its name, this isn’t really an island—it’s a peninsula that has tons of activities, from parasailing to jet-skis to carriage rides. Unlike the historic part of the city, this area is much more laid-back. You’ll need to take a short 10-minute ferry ride to get there, but it’s worth it for the seafood restaurants and delightful white sand. There are private snorkeling experiences available as well, for those who want a guided tour of the waters.
Playa Norte, Isla Mujeres
Naturalists will love this island, where sea turtles and whale sharks are just a few of the animals that appear here often. Another plus: there are gorgeous coral reefs within walking distance of the beaches. Playa Norte is not one of those completely isolated places—it’s great for mingling, as there is a small group of restaurants and bars where visitors tend to gather. For a real Instagram opportunity, pop over to this seashell-shaped house on Isla Mujeres (which is also available to rent as an Airbnb).
Sayulita, Riviera Nayarit
This trendy beach (and former fishing village) has become a Mexican hotspot, attracting surfers, families, and even musicians. Just a few steps from the beach are tons of great shops, cafés, and restaurants—this is one of the few places in the world where you can get a gorgeous (and pricy) one-of-a-kind pearl necklace, followed by a dirt-cheap fish taco.
Playa Balandra, La Paz
You’ll recognize this beach immediately, as it has a backdrop of green mangroves—it’s the perfect place to kayak, stand-up paddleboard, or swim. The famous mushroom-shaped rock formation, El Hongo, is a true natural wonder. The beach is completely sheltered and great for safe swimming, but there aren't tons of amenities or vendors here.
Playa La Ropa, Ixtapa
This white-sand beach got its name when a Spanish boat crashed nearby, and all the colorful fabrics it was carrying washed up on the shore. These days, it’s fantastic for water sports: you can rent hobie cats, jets skils, or parasails, and there are tons of great restaurants around. For great seafood (grilled, breaded, or fried), try La Gaviota, at southern end of the beach—but avoid the waters down here, as it’s where crocodiles tend to gather.
Playa Palmilla, Los Cabos
Despite the fact that Playa Palmilla was hit hard by Hurricane Odile, the natural disaster actually brought more sand to beach, so it’s now much more expansive. It’s one of the most family-friendly beaches in the area, with calm waters for swimming with kids, a dive shop for renting gear, and plenty of palapas for shade.
Zicatela, Puerto Escondido
This beach is one of best surfing spots in the world—the waves here are powerful, and can go up to 18 feet tall. And where surfers go, others will follow—it’s now a trendy place with many shops and restaurants. Yes, there are lifeguards, but amateurs should stick to sunbathing, as it can get pretty dangerous.
Mayakoba, Riviera Maya
The beaches on this development (about 45 minutes from the Cancun airport) are only open to guests of the three hotels—the Rosewood, the Fairmont, and the Banyan Tree—but they are absolutely stunning and well worth the trip . The Rosewood is fantastic for honeymooners and has unparalleled service; the Fairmont has done a complete overhaul of its culinary offerings and is great for foodies, and the Asian-inspired Banyan Tree feels like a serene oasis. Luckily, no matter where you stay, you’ll have access to the gorgeous coastline and all of the restaurants on the complex. An Andaz hotel will open soon on the development, no doubt attracting a much younger crowd.