Although Mexico is best known for its all-inclusive resorts, colonial hill towns and European-inspired capital city, the best places to visit in Mexico are actually the country’s laid-back beach towns. These towns are dotted along the Pacific and Caribbean coastlines and offer travelers unique ecotourism, cultural travel and budget travel experiences. Clean, safe and welcoming, each of these Mexican beach towns has its own allure.
Twenty-five miles north of Puerto Vallarta on Mexico’s breathtaking Pacific Coast, Sayulita is one of the most picturesque beach towns in all of Mexico. In 2015 it was awarded the <em>Pueblo Magico</em> (Magical Town) designation by Mexico’s Ministry of Tourism, celebrating its charming central square and ecological biodiversity. Sayulita’s narrow cobblestone streets are packed with surf shops, artisan boutiques and comfortable apartment rentals. For the ultimate Sayulita experience, walk from the city center through the jungle to the town’s historic graveyard, then continue on the trail to one of the region’s smallest and most beautiful beaches.
Keep heading past Sayulita for five miles and you’ll stumble across San Pancho, a traditional fishing village that has slowly been opening its doors to increasing numbers of foreign visitors. San Pancho is home to an upscale polo club (the season runs from November to May) and hosts an annual music festival each February. Visitors will also enjoy browsing through San Pancho’s independent gift and souvenir shops before stopping for lunch or dinner at one of the town’s organic restaurants.
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Further south, on the coast of Oaxaca State, Zipolite still retains some of the charms that made it a hippie hotspot in the 1970s. Perfect for travelers who want to get off the grid, Zipolite doesn’t have a bank or proper police station, and many of the beachfront hotels still use cold water showers. Visitors who can make do with a little bit less will be rewarded with a friendly community atmosphere, home-cooked Mexican cuisine and a two-kilometer stretch of clean, clothing-optional beach. Beachgoers should pay attention to the warning flags posted along Zipolite’s beach. The town’s name comes from the local word for “beach of the dead”, accurately describing the strong current and undertow in several spots along the shore.
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Less than three miles up the road from Zipolite is Mazunte, another <em>Pueblo Magico</em> with its own unique charms. Mazunte is much more developed than Zipolite and offers its visitors a more contemporary travel experience. The highlight of any visit to this Oaxacan town is a visit to the National Turtle Center, where guests can learn about turtles, volunteer for local conservation efforts and assist with the moonlight release of baby sea turtles. If you fall in love with Mazunte, it’s possible to spend a few months in the town while obtaining yoga teacher certification or studying Spanish.
Travelers looking for white sand beaches and turquoise waters will want to cross over to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, which juts out into the Caribbean Sea. The region’s most laid-back beach town, Tulum, rose in the shadows of historic waterfront Mayan ruins dating back to the thirteenth century. The town of Tulum is also an easy home base for visitors who want to explore the nearby <em>cenotes</em>. These underground rivers and caves are filled with fresh water, making for an unusual swimming, snorkeling or scuba diving experience. Of course, nobody will judge you if you skip out on both and spend your entire holiday relaxing in a hammock on the beach.
With most major currencies holding strong against the Mexican peso, there has never been a better time to book a trip to one of these laid-back beach towns. Toss your towel, flip-flops and sunscreen in your suitcase and head south to the sunshine!