Best beaches in Mexico for sun and surf

Plotting the country’s most ravishing ribbons of sand

Picture this: It’s sundown and you’re sitting in your bathing suit under the shade of a palm-topped palapa. To quench your thirst, you sip a lime margarita—as you do in Mexico—which cools you off after surfing and relaxing in the sand. As the wind lightly blows your sun-bleached hair into salty curls, you get a whiff of guacamole con totopos (with chips) from down the beach. In that moment, your stomach informs you it’s time to start thinking about dinner. Will it be a big bowl of tortilla soup, zesty chicken mole, or a fresh-caught fish? You can’t decide, so you order another margarita.

Ah, Mexico. Blessed with more than 450 beaches stretched over 6,000 miles of coastline, Mexico knows beach life as well as it knows fish tacos (read: really well). 

Mexico’s coastal position is unique, straddling the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea, making this triple-threat location a beach-lover’s dream offering swaths of sand from frothy and surfable to flat and snorkel-friendly.

Couple this with a cuisine so mouthwatering it has been exported around the globe, and it’s no wonder why the country draws millions of beachgoers every year—it’s a sure thing for tanning and taste buds.

After visiting the nation where desert, mountain ranges, and tropical forests meet the beach, here are my último selections for the country’s most ravishing ribbons of sand.

Viewfinder Tip: When choosing a Mexican beach destination, first decide if you’d prefer the Pacific or Caribbean shoreline; then follow your travel style and budget. There’s something to suit every style. 

Riviera Maya

About 20 minutes south of Cancun’s margarita-soaked shoreline, the Riviera Maya skews a pinch more upscale with resorts so exclusive they hide where the Mayan jungle borders the Caribbean coast. As far as stretches of shoreline go, rather than a beach you visit for the day, the strands of sand in the area are best to enjoy from a hotel, as the easiest access points are via the resorts edging the shore. Whether you decide to park yourself at an upscale all-inclusive or at an all-villa resort, the gorgeous and gradual-entry beach stretches so far, it meanders as far as the eye can see.

Tulum

While Mexicans have known about Tulum for many moons due to its ruins’ historical significance, the windswept municipality famous for its boho beach scene has grown into an “it” escape with fashion and yoga crowds who are set on a no-frills, rustic approach to lazing the day away a la playa. Free from mega resorts and plastic beach chairs en masse, the seemingly never-ending talcum shores of Playa Paraiso in Tulum are where Swiss Family Robinson–style inns dot the sand, fresh-pressed juice stands outnumber margarita bars, and kiteboarders color the coastline in a rainbow of hues. 

Want more? Read our first-timer’s guide to Tulum.

Punta Mita

Punta Mita

Located an hour south of Puerto Vallarta—one of Mexico’s most beloved beach destinations—Punta Mita is a relative newcomer on the country’s sunbathing site map. This jet-set stretch, where hotels such as Four Seasons and the St. Regis have settled along the seaside, comes standard with a beach befitting its chichi cachet: 9.5 miles of sugary sand commingle with beachfront villas and peekaboo infinity pools. Stretching over a peninsula at the north end of the Bay of Banderas, think of Punta Mita as Mexico’s Pacific-side tropics—the area is located at the same latitude as the Hawaiian Islands. Aloha (make that “hola”).  

Cabo San Lucas

Chances are, if you haven’t been to Cabo San Lucas, you’ve likely seen photos of Playa del Amor and El Arco, the secluded beach and famous arch at Land’s End. This iconic scene, with its intoxicating mix of lapping waves and towering rocks, often causes a double take, because it’s unclear if you’re looking at Mexico or the Italian Riviera. In keeping with its exotic allure, the marine sanctuary known as Playa del Amor maintains its cachet with boat-only access. If you go for the day, remember to bring your own gear, water, and provisions for a picnic worthy of the location’s name. To get there, rent a kayak from Médano Beach or catch a water taxi from the Cabo San Lucas Marina.

Maguey Beach, Huatulco

Hanging so far south along the Pacific Coast, Huatulco is North America’s last major beach destination (save for the small and surf-friendly Puerto Escondido an hour south). While a few international jumbo jets and all-inclusive resorts lure tourists to the region, the area remains ultra-local and a splashy stop for Mexican weekend warriors. Here, shore life is a little different than elsewhere in Mexico. Of the 36 beaches nestled within the bluffs of nine cactus-covered bays, only one beach, Tangolunda, is home to big hotels. At the 35 remaining swaths of sand, it’s advisable to bring your own beach towel and a few pesos for cervezas and tacos, because a DIY day at the beach in Huatulco is as refreshing as a cold Corona. 

Want more? Read about beach hopping in Huatulco here.

What stretches of sand do you dream about in Mexico?

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Trip Styler

Trish Friesen chose an unlikely profession given her fear of flying and propensity toward car, air, boat, train, and chairlift sickness. Thanks to Gravol, Sea-Bands, and cruise ship stabilizers, the reluctant—yet enthusiastic—jetsetter packs her bag once every two weeks to swim with sharks in the Great Barrier Reef or to sample the latest libation in Portland. Trish unpacks her suitcase in Vancouver, Canada, Eh! where she’s the editor-in-chief of TripStyler.com, a travel lifestyle website for aspiring jetsetters. Find her moonlighting on Expedia, Fodor's, Jetsetter, and as a travel expert on TV while circumventing the globe with her entourage: a MacBook Air, an Olympus camera, and the biggest carry-on she can fit on the plane.