These Mexico beach towns have all of the beauty and none of the crowds.
Funky, eclectic, naturally beautiful beach towns are the bread and butter of Mexico. The stunning beaches and laid-back villages that go with them are what put the country on the tourist map many moons ago. Over the years, travelers from all over the world have taken notice and flocked by the millions to destinations like Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, and Los Cabos — and for good reason.
These places have the best resorts, top-notch infrastructure, restaurants, activities, and plenty of things to do. But with so many offerings also come crowds, traffic, and higher prices.
Luckily for travelers who like to go a bit more off-book and discover lesser-charted territories, Mexico has hundreds of beach towns along its many, many coasts to discover. From the Sea of Cortez to the Pacific, the Gulf of Mexico to the Caribbean Sea, one thing Mexico will never fall short on is beautiful beach towns. So if you’re looking for an undeveloped sliver of sand and a hammock all to yourself, here are some of the best under-the-radar beach towns in Mexico.
01 of 07
While cruisers pull into Huatulco and surfers dominate the Mexican Pipeline in Puerto Escondido, a bohemian bubble is rapidly growing in Zipolite. Scruffy and unpolished — with barefoot beach bars, one sandy string of restaurants, and a burgeoning LGBTQ+ scene — this tiny Oaxacan beach town is perched halfway between the Costa Oaxaquena’s two more talked-about towns.
The beauty of Zipolite lies not only in its natural splendor, with rocky cliffs bookending a long stretch of golden sandy beach, but also in its free spirit. Attracting the quirky, the creatives, the perpetual wanderers, and the occasional nudist, Zipolite is a beautiful beachfront tapestry of the most eclectic souls.
How to Get There: Fly into Huatulco (HUX) or Puerto Escondido (PXM). Rent a car and drive yourself, or hire a taxi. It’s roughly an hour from either airport.
02 of 07
Loreto, Baja California Sur
Sandwiched between the calm waters of the Sea of Cortez and the towering Sierra de La Laguna mountains, Loreto is a laid-back beach destination that has managed to stay out of the tourism spotlight. It’s a wonder why, though, as the tiny town has an airport that accepts direct flights from Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Dallas.
But those who know Loreto love that it has clung to its sleepy fishing village vibes. A snorkeler’s paradise, the glassy Sea of Cortez is teeming with visuals, while beaches like La Darsena, Ensenada Blanca, and La Picazon are perfect for swimming. The islands off the coast make for great day trips, and the sandy downtown streets are busy with open-air restaurants and small boutiques. Tip: Rent a car and drive the coastline along Bahía Concepción to discover slices of pristine, white-sand beaches, hidden cantinas, and epic mountain-meet-sea views.
How to Get There: Fly directly into Loreto (LTO).
03 of 07
Mahahual, Quintana Roo
Tulum may have once been the palm-fringed escape for barefoot bohemians traveling to Mexico’s Caribbean coast. Those days are long gone, but all is not lost for travelers still searching for that atmosphere. Keep heading south along the Costa Maya and you’ll find yourself on the white, fluffy sand of Mahahual.
Far out of the spotlight that shines on Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and now, even Bacalar, Mahahual is about as far south as you can go on Quintana Roo’s coast before you start heading into the waters of Belize. Mahahual is just one strip of shoreline peppered with lazy beach bars, alfresco restaurants, and a few guest houses and modest hotels. Visitors come for the calm, clear turquoise waters and off-the-grid energy.
It’s worth nothing there is a small cruise port here and ships do stop by periodically during the week, but typically only stay a few hours. Once they depart, things slow down to a crawl in Mahahual.
How to Get There: Fly into Cancun (CUN) and drive four hours, or take the ADO bus to Mahahual. Travelers can also fly into Chetumal (CTM) and drive two hours to Mahahual. Tulum’s brand-new airport (TQO) accepts international flights, too, and is less than three hours from Mahahual.
04 of 07
Celestún’s color palette is about as tropical as it gets: Picture sun-bleached sand, jewel-colored turquoise water, bright jungle green, and pops of pink from the thousands (yes, thousands) of flamingos that call this coastal hideaway home.
Celestún sits on the northern coast of the state of Yucatán, about 30 minutes by car from its capital, Mérida. While Celestún is close enough to Uber from the cosmopolitan city, it truly is worlds away. Little more than a dusty beachfront road and a smattering of palapa-topped seafood restaurants, Celestún is where travelers go to kick off their shoes and wade peacefully into the Gulf of Mexico.
The other reason people come to Celestún is, of course, the flamingos, which paint the blue-green waters pink in the nearby Reserva de la Biosfera Ría Celestún. Hop on a local tour directly from the shore and head off into the reserve to explore the wetland habitat, teeming with crocodiles, ocelots, and an overwhelming number of flamingos.
How to Get There: Fly into Mérida (MID). Take an Uber, taxi, or ADO bus to Celestún.
05 of 07
San Pancho, Nayarit
For those of us who spend a lot of time in Puerto Vallarta, we’ve been keeping our mouths shut about San Pancho. The sleepy sibling town to nearby Sayulita, San Pancho is where those in the know go and have gone ever since Sayulita has become crowded.
Most people will tell you San Pancho (whose full name is San Francisco) is how Sayulita was 15 to 20 years ago. These days, it’s more like how Sayulita was five to 10 years ago, but even that is a dramatic difference. This means more locals and surfers than tourists, and a sleepier, much more laid-back vibe. The beach in San Pancho is arguably better than in Sayulita as well.
Things are changing in San Pancho, especially as travelers who are tired of the foot traffic in Sayulita venture further afield. But for now, San Pancho is still basking in its under-the-radar energy.
How to Get There: Fly into Puerto Vallarta (PVR). Drive, take an Uber or taxi, or bus to San Pancho.
06 of 07
Barra de Navidad, Jalisco
Four hours south of Puerto Vallarta, Barra de Navidad has long been a local favorite for beach getaways. Where Puerto Vallarta has gotten too expensive or crowded in recent years, Barra de Navidad, shortened to “Barra” by locals, retains its small-town charm.
Barra is one of the last stops travelers will hit along the Costalegre, or the stretch of coast between Puerto Vallarta and Jalisco. This largely protected coastline is known for its crashing surf, undeveloped beaches, and wild jungle. The remoteness of the Costalegre, and Barra by extension, is what makes it so special and has kept it relatively quiet over the years.
Barra is one of the bigger towns here in the string of small villages dotting the coast. It’s often coupled with its neighbor, San Patricio (a.k.a. Melaque), another town known for its wide stretch of undeveloped beaches, beautiful sunsets, and oceanfront restaurants. Barra is a bit busier and has more residents and facilities than Melaque, but both are beloved alternatives to the built-up beach destinations to the north.
It’s worth noting hotels in Barra and Melaque are limited, but you can find gorgeous Airbnbs or vacation rentals. The new Four Seasons Resort Tamarindo is about 30 minutes away.
How to Get There: Fly into Puerto Vallarta (PVR) and drive or take the bus. You can also fly into Manzanillo (ZLO), about an hour away.
07 of 07
Mulegé, Baja California Sur
Driving up the coast of Baja around Bahía Concepción, travelers will inevitably pass through Mulegé. Shrouded in thick jungle with towering palm trees, the riverfront town has developed a cult following among Baja Road trippers for its remoteness and natural beauty.
Straddling Río Santa Rosalía, Mulegé is one of the greenest places you’ll see in Mexico: Picture groves of fluffy-topped palms and thick mangroves that border either end of the river. Río Santa Rosalía empties into the Sea of Cortez, whose glassy, blue-green water is rimmed with silky, white sand.
It’s a popular destination for beach camping, water sports, snorkeling, and diving. But beware — because of its position on this narrow river, Mulegé can get slammed with storms, which often happens in the rainy season (September and October).
Hotels in Mulegé are modest, with most travelers coming through with RVs or on their way to somewhere else. Hotel Serenidad is a traveler favorite, however, for its walkable location, pool, and top-notch margaritas.
How to Get There: The nearest airport to Mulegé is Loreto (LTO). The drive from Loreto to Mulegé is less than two hours, and you will need a car.