With much of the U.S experiencing one of the chilliest winters in recent history, the thought of spreading a towel on a warm, palm-lined beach or curling up with a book under an ocean front palapa is very appealing. Add to that the affordability and safety of many of Mexico’s tourist areas and you have the recipe for the perfect reprieve from the cold.
Mesmerizing turquoise water lapping onto pristine sugar-sand beaches, there isn’t a prettier beach anywhere in the Caribbean. Unlike the more frenetic Cancun to the north, Tulum has a more laid-back beach vibe. If you can tear yourself away from the seaside – which admittedly won’t be easy – there are myriad things to do. Exploring the pre-Columbian ruins for which the area is named is a must. A one-day all-inclusive ticket to the natural aquatic park Xel-Ha includes access to a lazy river, snorkeling, cliff jumping, bicycles, food and alcohol, and for an extra fee, swimming with dolphins. Or head for one of the close-by cenotes, the fresh water sinkholes that were once considered sacred by the ancient Maya. Through the opening in the top of the cenote caves, sunlight and roots filter down to the pools, creating an ethereal feel.
Just a short 30-minute drive from Merida, the vibrant colonial capital of Yucatan state, Progreso rests on the Gulf of Mexico, offering calm, crystal emerald beaches. The newly expanded malécon – the waterfront promenade – begins at the four-mile-long pier, notably the longest in the world, and runs along the palapa-lined beach. Progreso’s beach comes alive and festive with music, food-sellers, massages, and souvenir hawkers when a cruise ship is docked, or can be relatively quiet and private most other times. Across from the beach and a block inland and you will be in the downtown area where you’ll find a plethora of shops, open-air markets, cafes and cantinas. Progreso is also within striking distance to a variety of day excursions including several important Mayan archeological sites and cenotes, and is also a short drive to the culture, delicious regional Yucatan cuisine, and stunning architectural and historical sites in Merida.
Once a sleepy Pacific fishing village, Puerto Vallarta has morphed into one of Mexico’s most popular beach destinations due to its abundance of character and numerous options for activities. From the Bay of Banderas – the largest natural bay in Mexico – to the picturesque craggy beaches, to the marina lined with shops and restaurants, Puerto Vallarta has something for everyone. Water activities include sailing, kayaking, surfing, snorkeling and scuba diving, banana boat rides and parasailing. At the Aquaventures water park you can swim with dolphins and try out their 10 water slides. For the more adventurous, Los Veranos Canopy Tour is one of the best zip line adventures in Mexico, hiking and climbing high up into the jungle canopy and then zooming over canyons and rivers with zip lines up to a quarter of a mile long. The sculpture-lined malécon along the water is near the festive flea-market area where you can bargain with friendly locals for hand-made crafts and jewelry.
With year-round good weather and plenty of activities, it’s no wonder Acapulco has been a favorite Pacific beach destination for decades. You can participate in parasailing, bungee jumping, or you can choose to watch the death-defying cliff divers at La Quebrada hurl themselves from the 100-foot precipice with perfect timing into the crashing waves. Take a glass-bottom boat over to nearby Isla La Roqueta where you can swim, snorkel, enjoy a buffet lunch, and hike up the hill to the lighthouse for a stunning panoramic view. In Old Acapulco, you’ll find Zócalo, the bustling tree-lined plaza at the town center for a glimpse into authentic Mexican culture. On weekends the Zócalo is filled with food vendors, local musicians, and street performers. Another area, La Costera is where you’ll find action like shopping and restaurants. Even after the sun goes down, Acapulco stays hot, offering many options for night life including clubs, discos, bars, and shows.
Located near the southeastern end of the Baja peninsula, La Paz could be Mexico’s best kept secret. With its prime location on the Sea of Cortez – dubbed by Jacques Cousteau as “the world’s aquarium” – La Paz is a great spot for whale-watching. Just off the coast, Isla Espiritu Santo offers visitors the chance to snorkel with wild but friendly sea lions and swim with whale sharks at certain times of the year. About a 15-minute drive from town you’ll find the prettiest beaches on the Baja peninsula. The translucent aqua cove at Balandra beach is perfect for snorkeling, kayaking, and stand-up paddle boarding. The malécon separating the ocean from downtown is arguably the most beautiful in Mexico, especially at sunset, with an ice cream cone in hand. Bismark-cito is a popular, casual open-air restaurant right across from the beach where you can sample delicious fish and shrimp tacos or perhaps try La Paz’s famous chocolate clams on the half shell – if you don’t mind something live sliding down your throat. For a break from the beach activities, you can play golf at Mexico’s only Gary Player golf course at the CostaBaja resort.