Mexico’s Pacific Coast does fun in the sun marvellously well. But stray beyond the beach bars and boat trips to experience rich culture, prodigious nature and first-class gastronomy. Here we focus on five contrasting destinations — Puerto Vallarta, Riviera Nayarit, Mazatlán, Tijuana and Los Cabos — that put forward compelling cases for Pacific perfection.
Tijuana’s burgeoning dining and urban art scenes contrast with the rich wildlife of the Riviera Nayarit and languid beaches of Mazatlán. But the unifying theme is that you’ll never be far from someone launching themselves into the waves with a surfboard: Los Cabos swings from diving and kayaking to tequila-drenched nightlife, while Puerto Vallarta mixes dolphin swims, mountain adventures and fine dining on its colonial cobblestones. The balance of nature to nightlife, and coastal to cultural, fluctuates among these five Pacific hotspots, but their proudly distinctive characters are a major part of the appeal.
1. Puerto Vallarta
Best for: all-round adventure
Of all Mexico’s Pacific resort cities, Puerto Vallarta is the one that’s easiest to shape to your own tastes. Overlooking the Bahía de Banderas in the state of Jalisco, the town is simultaneously an LGBTQ+ party destination and a family-friendly haven, due to its aquamarine waters, year-round tropical weather and electric nightlife.
Dining here could just as easily involve stylish restaurants such as the candlelit garden of Café Des Artistes as it could trawling authentic taco joints, while the plethora of active pursuits include swimming with wild dolphins, horse riding in the Sierra Madre mountains and splashing through jungle rivers in an all-terrain vehicle. There’s plenty of culture, too: Puerto Vallarta’s historic downtown centre mixes cobblestoned streets and colonial-style churches — such as the ornate Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe — with contemporary boutique shops and a fizzing gallery scene. It’s a town that fiercely resists pigeon-holing, and that’s a massive part of the appeal.
Where to stay: The Westin Resort & Spa, Puerto Vallarta.
2. Riviera Nayarit
Best for: wildlife-watching
Blessed with almost 200 miles of beachy coastline, Riviera Nayarit is a hive of activity encompassing 23 coastal towns and fishing villages, most of which have undergone glitzy renovations and are micro-destinations in their own right. In La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, for example, sleek yachts are as common as fishing vessels. Others have an alternative feel — Sayulita pulls in the surfers and boho crowds, while the cobblestoned San Francisco, nicknamed San Pancho, has a range of sustainable and community-enhancing projects.
Nature is the common thread here, however, as mangroves and islands nurture wildlife all along the coast. At the southern end of Riviera Nayarit, whale-watching tours from Punta Mita visit humpbacks giving birth, while at the northern end, near San Blas, birdwatching boat trips glide through a maze of creeks and lagoons. Just behind, the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range hustles up from the sea, providing myriad hiking trails that combine rainforests and stellar lookouts.
Where to stay: Delta Hotels by Marriott Riviera Nayarit, an All-Inclusive Resort.
Best for: island-hopping
Stretching 13 miles along the town’s seafront, Mazatlán’s malecón is one of the world’s greatest seaside struts. Take on the entire esplanade and you’ll soon lose track of the number of sandy beaches — yet each has its own character. Playa Olas Altas, tucked next to the handsomely refurbished Old Town, attracts the big swells and surfers, while the islands protect Playa Sábalo, a swimmer-friendly watersports hub. For a mini adventure, hire a kayak and paddle over for a snorkel in the tide pools of Isla de Venados, or, if you’re looking for a more relaxed vibe, the five-minute water taxi to Isla de la Piedra makes for a lovely trip. Here, simple thatched-roof restaurants complete with kooky artwork and outside hammocks serve local seafood.
Where to stay: Courtyard Mazatlan Beach Resort, Mazatlán.
Best for: urban energy and cultural immersion
Just over the border from San Diego in California, Tijuana has long been famous for its boisterous bar scene. But a visit here doesn’t have to be entirely hedonistic. The area of Zona Río, straddling the Tijuana River, is kept deliberately well-polished, with its malls and markets pulling in the shoppers and several higher-end restaurants attracting gastronomes. A craft beer scene is also booming in the less glossy parts of Tijuana, with several specialist bars springing up in the grungy side streets around Plaza Fiesta.
Tijuana has cultural heft, too. The alleyways off Avenida Revolución brim with small galleries, bookshops and artisan shops. Tijuana is still coastal at heart, however. And that’s best discovered by strolling along the Malecón de Playas — a sprawling boardwalk lined with beach bars, cute coffee shops and extravagant murals. If there's time, be sure to pop by the Museo de las Californias. Opened in 2000, this museum acts as a time machine for the Baja Peninsula, offering guided tours and exhibits from prehistoric times to the present.
Where to stay: Tijuana Marriott Hotel, Tijuana.
5. Los Cabos
Best for: watersports
At the southern tip of Baja California, the twin towns of Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo are connected by a 20-mile corridor of beaches and golf courses. Los Cabos has a justified reputation for high-energy nightlife with an anything-goes, end-of-the-line attitude, but it was originally a humble destination for sport fishing. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that the best experiences are still to be had on the water. Jet skiers, parasailers and flyboarders play just off the white sand beaches, while boat trips, kayaking tours and adventurous paddleboarders head to the much-photographed, jutting rock formations of Land’s End. The Sea of Cortez, meanwhile, is one of the world’s great diving destinations. Snorkellers can find themselves surrounded by thousands of fish, including various types of tuna and billfish, groupers, snappers, whale sharks and even giant Pacific manta rays.
Where to stay: Zadun, a Ritz Carlton Reserve, Los Cabos.
Plan your trip
For Puerto Vallarta and the neighbouring Riviera Nayarit, fly direct with TUI from London to Puerto Vallarta. For elsewhere in the country, connect in Mexico City, or go via US hubs such as Dallas, Phoenix and Los Angeles. There are no international flights to Tijuana Airport, so take a direct British Airways flight from London to San Diego, hop on the San Diego Trolley to the border, then walk across the pedestrian bridge into Tijuana.
Where to stay
Marriott Bonvoy International offer a wealth of accomodation options along Mexico's Pacific Coast. For more information, visit marriottbonvoy.com
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