|Acapulco's Playa Hornitos draws locals and visitors alike; a resort pool in Playa del Carmen.
You're swinging gently in a hammock on a Mexican beach, eyes closed and ears half-tuned to the ocean's steady swells. That image alone is enough to soothe the harried soul. Luckily, making it happen is easier than ever. Mexico is going all out to welcome visitors and help them feel safe, secure and happy. The saying, "Mi casa es su casa" (my home is your home) has never felt so true. Airlines are offering reduced fares to the country's most popular destinations. Resorts of all kinds have dropped their prices. The all-inclusive hotels that abound in beach towns from Cabo to Cancún are offering especially good deals. (Imagine yourself in that hammock. Now add a frosty margarita—it's included, as are the snorkeling gear, the multicourse sunset dinner, the movie on the beach and . . . you get the picture.)
All you have to do is choose the destination that matches your favorite activities. To ease the decision-making, here's an update on Mexico's major beach getaways, on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts.
The Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez at Los Cabos, a cluster of three distinct destinations at the tip of Baja California. San José del Cabo is the cultural hub, with art galleries and bakeries housed in century-old stucco buildings. Cabo San Lucas is the playground, where revelers party on Playa el Médano and dance the night away in clubs. Along the highway between the two towns, exclusive resorts and golf courses provide splashes of brilliant green. Both wild and sublimely civilized, Los Cabos offers a bit of everything for everyone.
BEST FOR: Marlin fishing, championship golf, whale watching, sublime spas and hearty nightlife.
This family-friendly destination is a real city (pop. 400,000), with a large working port and fishing fleet. Restored mansions line shaded streets in the Centro Historíco, the city's historic heart, and yellow cathedral spires rise above the central market—a great place to pick up souvenirs. In the Zona Dorado, where most of the hotels are clustered, vacationers lounge on the golden beaches, play in the water and dine at seafood cafés.
BEST FOR: Sport fishing, cultural immersion, regional seafood cuisine, and day trips to colonial towns in the nearby Sierra Madre mountains.
This easygoing city combines sophistication (innovative restaurants, fine art galleries) and adventure (jungle hikes and horseback rides, ocean kayaking, diving in Banderas Bay). Whitewashed houses with red-tiled roofs line the steep streets of downtown's Viejo Vallarta. This historic district is where you'll find PV's sophisticated side, from fusion cuisine to high-quality folk art. Resort areas sprawl along the beaches north and south of town, interspersed with marinas and golf courses. On day trips to the nearby Sierra Madre range, you can visit indigenous villages, historic mining towns and farms growing agave—used to make tequila.
BEST FOR: Gourmet dining, shopping for folk art, and day trips to visit isolated beaches, waterfalls and villages.
Yellow fishing skiffs rest on the sand along Zihuatanejo's main beach, while gleaming white yachts bob in Ixtapa's modern marina. The charms of old Mexico and the comforts of a master-planned resort community come together in this dual destination. In Ixtapa, a row of hotels, timeshares and all-inclusives share Playa el Palmar, a long stretch of tan sand and surf. Two golf courses, several shopping/dining complexes and a marina provide ample entertainment. In nearby Zihuatanejo, markets, folk-art shops and abundant seafood cafés add a dash of character and flavor to one of Mexico's most relaxed vacation hideaways.
BEST FOR: Uncrowded beaches, inexpensive shopping and dining, decent surfing and a mix of Mexico old and new.
A renaissance is bringing the grand dame of Mexico's beach retreats back into the public eye. Splashy resorts have opened along the shores of Acapulco Diamante, a new seaside development with golf courses and a concert hall. Extensive makeovers are reviving hotels and restaurants in the Las Brisas neighborhood and the long-popular Costera tourist zone. Nightlife has always been big business in Acapulco, and the flashy discos and nightclubs are constantly updating their pyrotechnics. The city's legendary cliff divers still draw breathless admirers, but the best show always takes place when the sun slowly sinks into the shimmering waters of Acapulco Bay.
BEST FOR: Dancing in glitzy discos, sailing on the bay and watching the cliff divers at La Quebrada.
The clear aquamarine waters of the Caribbean are the obvious attraction at Mexico's most popular and accessible beach resort. But there are many more reasons to visit. Golf courses, spas, bird-filled lagoons, shops and restaurants fill the Hotel Zone with unlimited diversions. Major Mayan ruins at Chichén Itzá, Tulum and Cobá are all within driving distance. The ancient and modern worlds come together here to create the perfect Mexican destination.
BEST FOR: Gorgeous beaches, water sports, nightlife and archeology.
PLAYA DEL CARMEN
The Riviera Maya, a 75-mile-long stretch of Caribbean coastline on the Yucatán Peninsula, encompasses several small beach communities, archeological sites, eco-parks and dozens of large and small resorts. The region's largest city is Playa del Carmen, a favorite haunt for vacationers. Eclectic shops, bars and restaurants line its busy Fifth Avenue pedestrian walk. Adventurers can roam the region to swim in cenotes (freshwater sinkholes), explore underground caves, and dive and snorkel along coral reefs. Sumptuous spas, manicured golf courses and elaborate resort pools with waterslides and river rides will keep the whole family happy.
BEST FOR: Shopping and dining, nature tours, cultural immersion at archeological sites and theme parks.
Tropical fish swarm around coral reefs just off this compact Caribbean island, 12 miles from the coast. Scuba divers and snorkelers can swim with angelfish and giant sea turtles at multiple dive sites, while landlubbers hang out at beach clubs and seaside parks, or drive along the windward coast to stop at beachfront fish shacks. Visitors can check out the church, museum and shops in the town of San Miguel, then linger in the central plaza beneath the flamboyant trees.
BEST FOR: Diving and snorkeling, swimming, swinging in hammocks under swaying palms, and exploring the jungle and small Mayan ruins.
RCI-AFFILIATED RESORTS IN MEXICO INCLUDE:
THE GRAND MAYAN NUEVO VALLARTA, Nuevo Vallarta
CANCÚN PALACE, Cancún
GRAND VELAS RIVIERA MAYA, Playa del Carmen
RHC/PARK ROYAL COZUMEL, Cozumel
For more information,
visit RCI.com or call
4 Blvd. Mijares, San José
del Cabo; 888-277-3814;
HOTEL PLAYA MAZATLÁN
202 Ave. Playa Gaviotas,
doubles from $103
Km 8.5 Carr. Barra de
Navidad, Puerto Vallarta;
doubles from $90
BRISAS DEL MAR
Eva Samano de López Mateos,
Km 14 Carr. Escénica,
PARAÍSO DEL MAR
Km 309, Riviera Maya;
305-774-9225, then dial 0;
iberostar.com; doubles from
NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.