Highlights of Mexico's Pacific Coast

Mexico’s long stretch of Pacific coast is lined with palm-fringed beaches, some with rolling waves making world-famous surf spots, as well as luxury resorts with all the facilities, and secluded bays that you can have to yourself. Here is our guide to highlights of Mexico’s Pacific Coast.
Coastal town of Yelapa near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Photo: zstock/Shutterstock
Coastal town of Yelapa near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Photo: zstock/Shutterstock

1. Baja California’s beguiling beach life

A thin finger of land extending south from the US state of California, Mexico’s Baja California remains blissfully remote and unexplored. One of the world’s longest peninsulas, it traces thousands of kilometres of coastline. Pounding Pacific waves on the peninsula’s west side make for excellent surf, while the temperate waters of the Gulf of California to the east, inset with a smattering of gorgeous lagoons, are home to an abundance of colourful sea life. Grey, blue and humpback whales, dolphins, sea lions, turtles and rays can all be seen off the long beaches along the coast of the Baja. Activities on offer include wildlife spotting, surfing and fishing, and there are even a couple of golf courses. If you can drag yourself away from the idylls of the shoreline, those who travel inland will be rewarded with the staggering mountain and desert landscapes of Mexico’s very own Wild West.

Baja California coastline, Mexico. Photo: Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock

2. Puerto Vallarta and the Costa Alegre

The Pacific coast of Mexico is blessed with a long string of white-sand beaches washed by turquoise waters. The beautiful people have flocked to Puerto Vallarta since the 1960s, when Night of the Iguana starring Richard Burton was filmed here, bringing with it the first waves of celebrity- and sun-worshippers. Today, Vallarta is still among the most picturesque of all the major Pacific resorts, while just a little exploring can get you off-the-beaten-track to sunbathe on a beach with space to sling a hammock, play in the sandcastle and kick a football around on the shore. South of Vallarta, the Costa Alegre offers close to 100km of pretty much undeveloped coastline peppered with scenic capes and quiet bays.

3. LGBTQ Vallerta

Mexico’s attitude towards the LGBTQ community remains ambiguous. While around half of Mexico’s states have now legalised same-sex marriage, super-macho representations of masculinity are widespread, and some sections of Mexican society remain deeply homophobic. Nevertheless, the LGBTQ community is slowly becoming more visible in Mexico. Puerto Vallerta has one of the country’s liveliest LGBTQ scenes; Playa de los Muertos is the most popular gay beach, where the Blue Chairs Beach Resort is a great place for meeting people.

Malecon Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.Malecon Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Photo: c13studio/Shutterstock

4. Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo

Like Cancún, Ixtapa’s resort status is the result of state-sponsored tourism. Unlike its Yucatán counterpart however, three quarters of Ixtapa’s visitors are Mexican, giving it a much more authentic atomosphere. The vibe is more relaxed than in and around Cancún, while the beach is stunningly beautiful, especially at sunset. A couple of kilometres away, Zihuatanejo maintains the true feel of a local Mexican town as it continues to make a living from fishing.

5. Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca

Oaxaca is one of Mexico’s most enchanting cities. Filled with fine colonial architecture, gilded churches and shady squares, it also boasts rich craft traditions and a range of colourful and exuberant fiestas. To top it all off, Oaxaca’s 480km of sparkling Pacific shoreline offers some coastal charms of its own. Puerto Escondido is the oldest tourist spot along the coast, but it retains a laid-back, low-key air, with fishing still a vital mainstay of the local economy. The daily catch is sold at the local market as well as gracing the tables of Escondido’s seafood restaurants. There’s little to do here but kick back, soak up the rays, enjoy the surf and savour cuisine prepared with tasty local fresh fish.

Playa Carrizalillo, Puerto Escondido, MexicoPlaya Carrizalillo, Puerto Escondido, Mexico. Photo: Jakub Zajic/Shutterstock

6. Surfing at Zicatela and Zipolite

Part of Puerto Escondido, the beach at Zicatela is renowned for its excellent surf breaks. Zicatela draws surfers and boogie boarders from around the world who come to try their skills on the famous Mexican Pipeline. A notoriously dangerous surfing break, titanic waves crash in the shallow waters. All but the most experienced surfers should exercise extreme caution; strong currents are also at play. Around a 90-minute drive east along the coast, Zipolite is an extensive arc of palm-fronted beach with thatched cabanas; for a tropical paradise, it takes some beating.

Surfer at Playa Zicatela in Puerto Escondido, MexicoSurfer at Playa Zicatela in Puerto Escondido, Mexico. Photo: Matthias Bachmaier/Shutterstock

7. Puerto Arista

For those seeking an authentically Mexican beach experience, visitors should look no further than Puerto Arista. This sleepy town, the only beach resort in Chiapas, comes alive at weekends when hordes of locals flock to the sands and pack out the beachfront seafood eateries.

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