With coasts on both the Pacific and Caribbean and a lovely little section on the Sea of Cortez, Mexico has seemingly endless choices for indulging in all things beachy. In Baja California there are remote beaches to drive your camper van and live your best beach bum life, you may even get up close and personal with a grey whale. On the Pacific coast local fish taco stands dot small coves of protected waters while on the Caribbean side all-inclusive resorts beckon with white sands.
Here at Lonely Planet, we appreciate every kind of beach day, so we’ve put together a list of the best of the best, whether you’re looking to stay far from the crowds, get active, or join the party.
Editor's note: during COVID-19 there are restrictions on travel and opening hours may vary. Check the latest guidance before planning a trip, and always follow local health advice.
This stretch of hidden coves south of Mulegé in Baja California Sur is one of the most stunningly beautiful stretches of coast in Baja, if not all of Mexico. Bahía Concepción is a stop for the adventurous and outdoorsy, road trippers often choose this region as a final destination – and stay for weeks.. The milky, blue-green water, funky rock formations and marine wildlife make it a top stop for kayakers. And the protection of the coves make for great swimming.
There are a number of budget-friendly camping areas throughout the coves by the water, we recommend you head there with plenty of daylight left if you’re planning to stay a while.
But if you’re looking for truly remote without so much DIY, check out Todos Santos Eco Adventures. They have three glamping options tucked away so well, you may forget the rest of the world even exists. Camp Cecil de la Isla is in a protected cove on Espiritu Santo. With a few luxury glamping tents, an amazing chef and all the swimming, kayaking, snorkeling and stand up paddle boarding you can handle. They also provide a certified naturalist and guide who can take you on any number of amazing adventures while teaching you all about the ecology of the island and the bay. They’re cool if you just want to read your book and sip margaritas all day too.
And you can rest easy, TOSEA works hard to create sustainable experiences for its guests. Working in tandem with naturalists, conservationists and the residents of Baja California, they’ve managed to help reduce plastic pollution in Todos Santos while creating a glamping experience that leaves no trace at the end of the trip.
While Mexico is flush with tourist beaches that all have their charms, Tulum is our favorite. Its spectacular coastline – with all its confectioner-sugar sands, cobalt water and balmy breezes – makes it one of the top beaches in Mexico. Plus where else can you get all that and a dramatically situated Mayan Ruin?
This is a beach for those looking for lush digs and stylish restaurants and instagram-worthy views. There are also plenty of activities around to keep you busy if you choose to pry yourself out of your lounge chair for the afternoon.
You can stay near the beach, where the prices are a little heftier, but the views prettier or for more budget options, there are hotels near the old town. For our money, we like the eco-conscious La Posada del Sol near the beach. And hot tip, for the best classic Yucatecan taco, the cochinita pibil, head to Taquería Honorio.
Oaxaca’s beautiful, little-developed Pacific coast is home to several varied, relaxed beach destinations and a near-empty shoreline strung with long golden beaches and lagoons full of wildlife. Playa Salchi, halfway between the western edge of Parque Nacional Huatulco and Puerto Ángel, is some of the most precious coastline in Oaxaca.
The water can be somewhat rough on the main beach, but there are several swimmable beaches nearby. The nearby town of Huatulco was developed in the late 1980s with a more ecological bent than some of the bigger resorts in Mexico. There are over 100 dive sites and 45 hectares of coral reefs in the surrounding waters making this the ideal low-key destination for all things below the surface. Dolphins, turtles and humpback whales all cruise through this coast line.
For the best tours head to Huatulco Salvaje, a group of certified tour guides local to the area. Many of them are from families that were displaced after the creation of Parque Nacional Huatulco in the 1990s and they know their stuff when it comes to nature tours.
Puerto Vallarta fell out of favor for a while as Cancún rose to prominence, but this enticing coastal destination is stretched around the sparkling blue Bahía de Banderas and backed by lush palm-covered mountains. It’s also known for a popping nightlife and with numerous LGBT-friendly options, it has become the gay beach capital of Mexico.
The best beach near Puerto Vallarta is Yelapa. It’s the furthermost of the southern beaches from town tucked into a secluded and beloved bay. It’s home to a small community that fishes off the pier. It can be a bit busy with day-trippers, but it empties out in the afternoon and has several comfortable places to stay if you prefer quiet evenings.
Playa Las Islitas
Riviera Nayarit is all the rage with families these days and it’s really no wonder. Punta Mita and Sayulita are both charming little surf towns with clear, aquamarine water, white sand, great food and tons of wildlife excursions to take in the stunning, jungled mountains. But head to the peaceful, drowsy backwater of San Blas for the perfect laid back charm.
The beaches here, Playa Los Cocos, Playa Miramar and our favorite Playa Las Islitas are popular for surfing and have palapas under which you can lounge and drink fresh coconut water. Playa Las Islitas is wonderfully swimmable with a very gentle surf, just perfect for beginners.
If you’re searching for surf though, head to Troncones, where the world-class surfing has been attracting ex-pats for a few years now. There’s also good mountain biking in the hills and day trips to check out petroglyphs in a nearby cave and a local hot spring to soak sore surfer muscles.
Cozumel remains Mexico’s number one stop for diving and snorkeling. The surrounding reefs are world-renown and for good reason. They have year-round visibility, and a jaw-droppingly impressive variety of marine life that includes spotted eagle rays, moray eels, groupers, barracudas, turtles, sharks, brain coral and some huge sponges.
The beach at El Cielo, living up to its heavenly name, has shallow turquoise waters that are ideal for snorkeling and swimming among starfish, stingrays and other small, bright fish. It’s the perfect stop after your morning exploring the depths below the surface.
If diving is your main goal, head to Cozumel in September or October when the weather conditions are ideal. Book a trip with Aldora Divers, one of the best dive shops in Cozumel. They’ll take you to the winward side of the island when the weather is bad on the western side and have full-day excursions to caves with sleeping sharks.
More than 60km long with a bottom of sparkling white sand, the crystal-clear Laguna Bacalar offers opportunities for camping, swimming, kayaking and simply lazing around amid a color palette of blues, greens and shimmering whites - as if you’ve left real life behind and stepped into a filter-perfect world.
The small and sleepy town has enough tourism to give you things to do and places to eat, but let’s be honest, it’s the quiet opportunity to soak in all the beauty that is the draw here.
To live out your cabana-over-turqouise-water dreams head to Rancho Encantado. A day at this striking hotel consists of wake up, have breakfast on the lagoon, kayak or swim in calm, translucent waters and then unwind in the Jacuzzi.
Playa Los Algodones
Near the under-the-radar beach retreat of San Carlos, Playa Los Algodones is arguably the most beautiful beach in northern Mexico. The sand is fine and white, the water blue and calm and the view is of dramatic mountains.
The low-key San Carlos is presided over by the majestic twin peaks of Cerro Tetakawi which glow an impressive red-earthed hue as the sun descends. Kayaking is the main activity when not beach lounging, but there are hikes up the mountains and horseback riding in the desert.
Northern Mexico isn’t often traveled by visitors holding passports from outside of Mexico, but it can get packed with weekend warriors from nearby Hermosillo. Even so, Sonora sees far fewer travelers, especially foreigners, than its myriad attractions and drop-dead beauty would suggest.
The beach at Zipolite is huge, running for a good 1.5km and dispatching massive waves. It’s famous for nudity, you’ll see people randomly swimming, sunbathing or happily walking across the wet sand minus their clothes at any time of day, although it is more common in a couple of coves at the western end of the beach and in the small bay called Playa del Amor.
The town of Zipolite is a chilled out strip of palapas, beach shacks and intentionally rustic boutique hotels. It's the largest of the three beach towns that decorate the coast west of Puerto Angel and it’s well known for surfing, an unashamed ‘do nothing’ vibe and a touch of bohemian magic.
The essence and glory of Zipolite is that organized activity is minimal. This is a place for hanging out and doing just as little as you like. But you need to eat so head to the outstanding La Providencia, a contemporary Mexican treat with a perfect open-air lounge.
Ahhh Puerto Escondido. Is this where surfers go when they die? Many places claim to be the world’s best surfing beach, but Puerto Escondido’s Playa Zicatela – 3.5km of golden sand and crashing waves – makes many wave-rider’s top 10 for good reason. The heart of the action is the Mexico Pipeline at the northern end. But, if you’re looking to learn among the best, head to Playa Carrizalillo.
This small, beautiful sheltered cove west of the center is a superstar of Mexico’s beaches and a gorgeous place to hang out, swim and live vicariously as a surfer dude. In fact, it is the place for beginner surfers. Book a lesson and you’ll probably end up here making a splash or three. There is a mellow line of palapa beach bars when you finish.
Around town you’ll find that the Rinconada quarter is emerging as a culinary hot spot and the beach bars in Zicatela host spirited dance parties for late-night mischief.