The best Mexico beaches and where to stay

Strip after strip of sandy shore binds Mexico to land in glorious style, making for some of the world’s best beach retreats backed by virgin rainforest and lapped by the bluest Caribbean seas. Visitors to Mexico are spoilt for choice by 9,000 kilometres of coastline, upon which lies everything from luxury resort villages to undeveloped port towns, all at varying degrees of accessibility. Both beautiful and easy to reach is the state of Quintana Roo, which runs the length of the east coast and spans a number of the nation’s best beaches, alongside cave lagoons, Mayan ruins and links to remote island getaways. Read on the discover our top 10 Mexico beaches or check out our gay Mexico guide, from gay Acapulco to gay Puerto Vallarta.

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Cozumel | Photo: Jakob Owens

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What was a sleepy Yucatán fishing village twenty years prior has since become one of the most popular places on the Riviera Maya

1. Playa del Carmen

Topping the list of Mexico vacation spots, Playa del Carmen has a reputation that precedes it. What was a sleepy Yucatán fishing village twenty years prior has since become one of the most popular places on the Riviera Maya, now a thronging resort town centred on a powder-soft stretch of sand. By day the go-to activity is to people-watch from a seaside palapa hut, cold cerveza in hand, or discover the incredible local marine life on a snorkel or diving tour. After too much sun, head to 5th Avenue shopping street for respite, while rooftop bars and fancy restaurants are fine places for sundown. To find Playa del Carmen’s most blissful beaches, jet across to Playa Norte on Isla Mujeres or book a luxury stay at one of the properties based on the exclusive Maroma Beach.

Where to stay: Palmaïa – The House of AïA is an all-inclusive gem-set 5 kilometres from downtown Playa del Carmen, offering guests a selection of outdoor pools, 5 à la carte restaurants, a spa and beauty centre backdropped by jungle on one side and Caribbean shores on the other. Daily activities include cacao ceremonies, sound therapies and yoga classes for ultimate wellness. For more options nearby, view our exhaustive list of the best Playa del Carmen hotels.

Playa del Carmen | Photo: Polina Kuzovkova

Photo: Andrew Wise

2. Cancún

So when we said Playa del Carmen was popular, we were forgetting to mention big man on campus, Cancún. Engineered as the ultimate Mexican beach town back in the 1970s, Cancún Beach soon became one of the nation’s biggest success stories, attracting high-end resorts and streams of international tourists to its 22-kilometre stretch of shorefront on the Yucatán Peninsula. But why Cancún? While we agree that there are quieter spots in the region, few places come as accessible and vibrant as Cancún, in proximity to a ton of Mexico’s top attractions such as ancient Mayan archaeological sites and a number of smaller beach towns (like Puerto Morelos), sandy shores (Playa Mujeres) and islands (like Isla Holbox). As well as all the things to do in Cancún, such as cenote-hunting and Mangrove forest tours, beach action is the main selling point, with water sports facilities, dive centres and organised boat tours offered by myriad resorts.

Where to stay: Of these, Nizuc Resort & Spa is a fine choice with a tad more seclusion than most, located on the Punta Nizuc with ocean panoramas, a private dock and outdoor pool. Sample upscale cuisine from any of 6 on-site restaurants, winding down at the spa with a massage or ‘Thermal Experience’. At Mr Hudson, we like choices, so much so that we’ve made you a list of the best all-inclusive resorts in Cancún.

Cancun | Photo: Gerson Repreza

3. Tulum 

Sounding like our heartbeat after cliff jumping into a cenote, Tulum is very much capable of causing palpitations. It’s no secret either that Tulum has it all; a hippy scene, pre-Colombian authenticity and azure blue waters lapping pure white sands – these are all things that have made Tulum the stuff of Instagram dreams. Once a major port during the Mayan civilisation and still bearing the walls and ruins from that time, Tulum is much loved among new-age spiritualists and bohemians alike for its connection to the past as much as its wholly modern nightlife scene. Spend your days in the luxury realm of South Beach or head to Akumal Beach to cheer on nesting sea turtles and snorkel nearby reefs.

Where to stay: Hidden out in the jungle 6 kilometres from Tulum Archaeological Site, Hotel Bardo comes equipped with its own cenote-inspired pool, restaurant and cocktail bar, alongside a temazcal healing centre serving their burnt-out guests.

Meanwhile, The Beach Tulum is an adults-only spa resort on Tulum Beach hosting nightly entertainment and live music at its beach club as well as yoga classes at its palapa studio. Then there’s the eclectic Casa Malca, an art lover’s dream on the edge of Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, boasting its own underwater grotto. More you say? Try our top 10 list of the best hotels in gay Tulum.

Tulum | Photo: Anna Sullivan

Photo: The Beach Tulum

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Tulum has it all; a hippy scene, pre-Colombian authenticity and azure blue waters lapping pure white sands – these are all things that have made Tulum the stuff of Instagram dreams

4. Isla Holbox

The island retreat of choice for those wishing to escape the rowdy spring breakers of Cancún, Isla Holbox is radically different. An alternative to the more popular choice of Cozumel, Isla Holbox comes smaller off of the northern edge of the Yucatán Peninsula. Get to Isla Holbox via boat transfer from Chiquila town, embracing the off-grid community of yogis, backpackers and down-to-earth locals once you arrive. The island is car-free but walkable, allowing easy access to its selection of seafood restaurants, live music bars and boutique hotels, never far from excellent coral beaches and biodiverse waters known for their population of whale sharks. While Playa Punta Cocos is a favourite sunset spot near downtown, Punta Mosquito and its sandbar are further removed still. Discover more things to do in Isla Holbox here.

Where to stay: For family-run luxury and rustic rooms, try Casa Las Tortugas Petit Beach Hotel & Spa while the eco-friendly (and adults-only) El Corazón Boutique Hotel provides sustainable style and hammock lifestyles in the hotel zone. Also, adults-only is Holbox Casa Punta Coco winning over guests with its private beach area where you can undertake daily activities such as windsurfing, cycling and fishing.

Holbox | Photo: Marco Boldrin

5. Cozumel

Though Mexico is not short of tropical islands, Cozumel is a worthy favourite. Just offshore from the busier Playa del Carmen, Cozumel provides an easy retreat with more of the same stunning beach vistas. The western side of the island is both the main cruise port and tourist area, but those wishing to find a quieter, more rugged Cozumel can venture east to the area around Playa Chen Rio. Snorkelling and diving are popular activities in Cozumel as the waters surrounding are home to vibrant coral reefs, tropical fish, stingrays and nurse sharks. Get around the island via rental scooter, taking the dreamy coastal circuit to find your favourite beach. As an added adventure, take a day trip to Passion Island, an even smaller and simpler slice of paradise off of the north coast.

Where to stay: A reliable luxury hotel set on a 600-metre stretch of sand between ocean and jungle is the Presidente InterContinental Cozumel Resort & Spa, said to host the best spa on the island. A low-key alternative however is Villas El Encanto Cozumel, a family-run hotel amidst tropical gardens near Cozumel town centre. For more, see our list of the best hotels in Cozumel for gay travellers.

Photo: Villas El Encanto

Cozumel | Photo: Jakob Owens

6. Mahahual

Comparable to Tulum but lacking all the social media hype is Mahahual, a town put on the map by its dock which now ushers in boatloads of tourists each week. Despite the recent addition of many cruise ships, Mahahual remains the relaxed town it always was, particularly after sunset when the cruisers reboard their vessels. Mahahual is home to the Costa Maya’s widest selection of accommodation and dining options, many based towards the north side of town near a mixed residential area known as ‘casitas’, with offerings expanding all the way down to Xcalak and the beachfront malecón.

Where to stay: Adults-only with its own terrace, pool and gardens is Hotel Jaiba Mahahual, while Kalma 40 Cañones is another option with a terrace overlooking its private beach. 

Photo: Darren Lawrence

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7. Zipolite

A long way from the big resorts up north is Zipolite Beach in Oaxaca, a surfer’s paradise with a chilled out approach to beach life. Set between two headlands and endowed with strong winds, Zipolite remains undeveloped except for the strip of palapas and shacks that lines the sands. Inland a little towards the town centre of Colonia Roca Blanca, visitors will find thatched-roof restaurants and small bohemian businesses (run largely by Italians) as the largest of three beach towns on the west coast outside of Puerto Ángel. As well as baring all on the clothing-optional beaches near town, visitors can also learn about conservation from the Mexican Turtle Centre on Mazunte Beach.

Where to stay: Only 300 metres from Zipolite Beach, Casa Kalmar boasts a boutique vibe by way of an open-air lounge and infinity pool overlooking the ocean. Over near Camaron Beach meanwhile is Hotel Descalzo and Heven, both moments from Zipolite Walkway and the White Rock, the latter offering sea-view terraces in Mexican stylings.

Photo: SK

Photo: Johnny Macri

8. Puerto Escondido

More ‘do nothing’ vibes ripple through the air in Puerto Escondido, though those with a surfboard and a love of partying are sure to stay amused. By day the action remains firmly on the beach, most notably, the 3.5-kilometre Playa Zicatela which often sees waves over 20ft high or Playa Carrizalillo, a more swimmer friendly offering. Mingle with ex-pats and backpackers along the shores or window shop the lanes around La Punta, booking a table at a world-class restaurant in residential Rinconada if you’re feeling fancy. Later on, nightlife in Puerto Escondido comes alive and kicking, with bars and taquito vendors operating until 4 AM some nights.

Where to stay: Hotel Escondido lies around 45 minute drive outside of Puerto Escondido but the secluded bungalows and ocean views are just what the doctor ordered. Casa de Olas Boutique Hotel however sits much closer to the action, boasting adults-only facilities inclusive of a lounge, garden, pool and fitness centre just 300 metres from Zicatela Beach.

Puerto Escondido | Photo: Lorraine Mojica

9. Sayulita

Another of the best beaches in Mexico for surfers comes in the shape of Sayulita Beach, around 50 kilometres from Puerto Vallarta on the Riviera Nayarit. As well as boasting perfect sands and surf, the charming town beyond is a perfect base for sustainable travellers and adventurers. Attend a surf camp or check-in at an eco-friendly boutique, enjoying all the artisan goods, live music bars and restaurants close at hand. Though becoming more popular year on year, the town is still a quieter alternative to Puerto Vallarta, sometimes affectionately referred to as Tulum West. If Sayulita gets too busy for you, move up the coast to San Pancho; a lesser-known spot that time forgot.

Where to stay: Anjali Casa Divina’s adults-only concept helps maintain a sophisticated edge across its grounds and wellness sanctuary on the sea. If the party calls, however, consider staying in one the best gay-friendly hotels in Puerto Vallarta for a night or more.

Puerto Vallarta | Photo: Nicole Herrero

Puerto Vallarta | Photo: Alonso Reyes

10. Los Cabos

As close as you’ll get to mainland USA while still getting an authentic margarita in view of the Sea of Cortez, Los Cabos is our final flagship. Despite being torn apart by a hurricane back in 2014, Los Cabos has rebuilt itself with remarkable style, as one of the most luxurious beach destinations across Mexico. Though Los Cabos – inclusive of San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas – comes at a price, you’ll be happy you paid it on sight of Playa del Amor where rock formations shape the southern tip of the peninsula. For more rock formations, El Arco is also a big regional landmark, while Balandra Beach can take you off the beaten path from La Paz towards lagoon illusions and snorkelling paradise.

Where to stay: The elegant crown atop El Arco cliff point,  The Cape, a Thompson Hotel is the place to come for endless horizons and polished finishes. Enjoy the poolside day beds or any of the 6 on-site restaurants, pampering yourself to perfection at the outdoor spa or driving the 4 kilometres to Cabo San Lucas. Then, on San Jose del Cabo, Viceroy Los Cabos is our go-to for eco facilities, alongside an 11,000 square-foot spa, 5 pools and a whole host of wellness activities.

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Photo: Viceroy Los Cabos Hotel

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