Acapulco was Mexico’s original party town, with a stunning topography of soaring cliffs curling into a series of wide bays and intimate coves, fringed with sandy beaches and backed by jungle-green hills. It was dubbed the ‘Pearl of the Pacific’ during its heyday as a playground for the rich and famous, including Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Elizabeth Taylor and Judy Garland.
Thanks to 20km of sandy beaches, Mazatlán became one of Mexico’s most alluring and inviting beach destinations in the mid-20th century, before it lurched past its prime into a midmarket, package-tourist category. Recently, however, Mazatlán's historic core – referred to as 'tropical neoclassical' – has been restored and peopled by the creative class.
Zihuatanejo, or Zihua as it’s affectionately called, is a Pacific paradise of beautiful beaches, friendly people and an easygoing lifestyle. Until the 1970s it was a sleepy fishing village but with the construction of Ixtapa next door, Zihua’s tourism industry boomed practically overnight.
Though it boasts miles of golden sands, Manzanillo puts bread on the table by being one of the Mexican Pacific's major seaports, and tourism takes second place. The beaches are none too clean, and the dimensions – it's 20km from the old town to the best beach at Playa Olas Altas – make it a drag to get around without a car.
Bahía de Navidad
The tight arc of the Bahía de Navidad is practically ringed by deep, honey-colored sand with two resort towns at either end, waving amiably at each other. Situated 5km apart by road, but only a kilometer and a bit along the beach, Barra de Navidad and San Patricio-Melaque are siblings with distinct personalities.
The tranquil fishing village of San Blas is a peaceful, drowsy backwater, and therein lies its charm. Visitors come to enjoy isolated beaches, fine surfing, abundant birdlife and tropical jungles reached by riverboats. San Blas was an important Spanish port from the late 16th century to the 19th century.
Ixtapa was nothing more than a coconut plantation until the late 1970s when Fonatur (the Mexican government’s tourism development group) decided that the Pacific coast needed a Cancún-like resort. In came the developers and up went the high-rises. The result is a long string of huge hotels backing a lovely beach, but little local community.
Once upon a time – OK, it was the late 1990s – Sayulita really was a tranquil fishing village. Many of the town’s norteamericano residents still describe it that way, but the truth is that in peak season the place is full of gringos, drawn here by the beautiful (if not that clean) sandy beach, rideable waves, good restaurants and tasteful B&Bs.
Founded by the nephew of Hernán Cortés in 1524, Tepic is the capital of Nayarit state, a predominantly middle-class place with a veritable hum of provincial bustle playing out on its narrow streets. Indigenous Huicholes are often seen here, wearing their colorful traditional clothing.
Not long ago, Troncones was a poor, sleepy fishing and farming village, but these days expat homes and B&Bs have left the long beachfront road resembling more a California subdivision than the traditional Mexican villages at either end. The attraction is obvious: fabulous beaches, a laid-back atmosphere and world-class surfing.