6 Must-Visit Beach Towns on Mexico's Most Laid-Back Coast
Not only does Mexico’s Pacific Coast offer warmer waters, it’s also popular for its surfable waves, fresh seafood, and handcrafted wares.
Between mythically mooned-over mezcal and moles, paradisal playas, and lush green mountain ranges—plus an affordable price tag and year-round tropical weather—there are plenty of reasons to head to Mexico’s North Pacific Coast, which spans the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero.
And while the above reasons have certainly boosted their name recognition, one of the biggest allures of traveling to this region is being faced with fewer tourists, especially when compared to other popular beach destinations like Tulum or Puerto Vallarta.
Along this winding stretch of coastline you’ll find a string of beautiful, unpretentious beach towns offering rest and relaxation of the highest caliber—villages where your view of the ocean isn’t spoiled by high-rises, and the local culture offers ancient ruins and thriving Indigenous villages as opposed to rowdy Señor Frog's and spring break selfies.
Here are the top beachy getaways along Mexico’s most beautiful—and least crowded—coastline.
In Shawshank Redemption, the tiny fishing port of Zihuatanejo serves as Tim Allen’s far-flung fantasy, a warm and peaceful escape where he can evade life’s consequences. Located on the northwestern coast of Guerrero, it’s easy to see how he landed on this hidden hamlet that rose in popularity in the 1950s following the success of Acapulco—where coconut trees line the shores and the tiny town center pops with vibrant street art.
Accommodations run the gamut in this charming resort town, but Thompson Zihuatanejo stands out as a top option. Not only are its suites steps from Playa La Ropa where you can rent a lounge chair or cabana and watch the waves roll in, but there’s also a swim-up bar, a spa, an adults-only infinity pool, and a handful of rooms with patios that open up to a semi-private pool. The hotel also offers immersive experiences like mezcal tastings, one-on-one cooking classes that utilize ingredients from the hotel’s garden, live performances, workshops, and more.
Where to eat: Thompson is home to two onsite dining options, Ceniza and HAO. The former is ideal for a romantic date night, with a rotating tasting menu that includes highlights like steak tartare and octopus served over polenta. The latter offers a casual, all-day atmosphere, with uninterrupted views of the crashing waves, plus a Surf & Turf Hibachi that lets you grill lobster, ribeye, shrimp, and octopus at your table. Just a short taxi ride away are other culinary draws like the raucous Bandido’s, where you can catch local musicians alongside fresh seafood and strong cocktails.
Must-do: Zihuatanego makes for an ideal family vacation, romantic honeymoon, or even an adventure-fueled getaway with friends, depending on your speed. Those who prefer to unwind on the shore all day will find plenty of opportunities to do so, but you can also learn about the region aboard a boat or lagoon trip—you might even spot a crocodile! For a longer excursion, take a tour of Isla Ixtapa, home to four turtle species and a coral reef where you can snorkel or scuba dive.
There’s also the Museum of Coconuts, a working coconut farm where you can learn about the role of this tree in boosting the local economy (and purchase everything from coconut-infused mezcal to coconut soaps and creams). About an hour outside of town, you can also visit La Chole archeological site, which showcases an ancient ball court as well as temples and a museum detailing the area’s history.
Puerto Escondido may prove an ideal jumping off point for your coastal adventures. The name literally translates to “hidden port” and the laidback town has managed to maintain that image even as its towering waves attract international surf competitions. While the beach town is certainly no secret, a tiny local airport with limited flights and a seven- to nine-hour drive from Oaxaca City means that it tends to attract more adventurous travelers. Those who prefer a more straight-forward route will be happy to know that a new highway is set to be completed soon, cutting the drive-time to just two- to three-hours.
After decades of flying under the radar, this fishing port has become something of a global surfing mecca. Playa Zicatela's Pipeline boasts some truly bodacious waves, and that's where you'll find the most experienced wave sharks. Swimmers and surfers who are still getting their feet wet should head to Playa Carrizalillo, a beautiful horseshoe cove rimmed by lush greenery and a few bars, or to La Punta, a bohemian neighborhood at the far end of Zicatela where the surf is protected by the curved beach point. Plenty of surf schools offer lessons on a daily basis.
Zicatela, La Punta, and the neighborhood above Carrizalillo called the Rinconada are packed with bars, cafes, and restaurants of every variety, from dingey beach dives to more refined seafood spots. Beach-goers looking to party won't be disappointed, either—bands and DJs keep things lively well into the morning.
Where to eat: Not surprisingly, fresh seafood is one of the highlights of Puerto Escondido’s culinary scene, but an influx of international expats in recent years means you can find just about any cuisine type. Head to the large market, Mercado Zicatela, and on its beach-side you’ll find a string of tasty restaurants offering traditional Mexican dishes. For a stellar catch of the day, you can’t go wrong with La Principal Cantina La Mar or Marisquería Los Erizos. For dinner, splurge at Almoraduz, a seasonally driven Oaxacan restaurant with a lengthy wine list.
Must-do: Definitely leave Playa Zicatela’s waves to the pros, but there are plenty of gentle shores for snorkeling, swimming, like Playa Manzanillo, which is tucked between two rocky crests near Puerto Angelito. Playa Carrizalillo is another serene spot that’s a great option for trying your hand at surfing.
If you're visiting between the months of August and December, you're practically obligated to check out Laguna de Manialtepec, a lagoon that's lit up at night by bioluminescent plankton. Take a guided boat tour, or simply bathe, literally, in the electric-blue glow of the tiny ocean critters.
If you’re looking to take home some Oaxacan handcrafts, head over to Mercado Benito Juarez where you can find a slew of leather goods, handmade clothing, richly-patterned blankets, and other mementos. And be sure to grab a bag of Oaxacan coffee beans from one of the roasters nearby.
Rent a car so you can cruise the rest of the coast: Los Tres Reyes is by far the most reputable provider. There are also a few scooter and motorbike rental services scattered around, which are great options if you’re traveling light.
Mazunte has become something of an international playground for yoga retreats and mind-expanding resorts with services like sound and reiki healing. The water is the main attraction: gentle aquamarine waves that are among the most swimmable in the area.
You'll find a number of entrepreneurs staking beach umbrellas into the sand for you. Rent one for the entire day for the equivalent of $5-10. As you lounge and swim, other enterprising souls will roam the beach: a machete-armed man trimming fresh coconuts to drink, señoras balancing tamale- and taco dorado-laden baskets on their heads, groups of teenagers from the local bakery hawking a variety of sweet and savory pastries. The farthest you'll need to roam from your towel is a few meters to the back of the beach, where little bar-huts dispense shots of mezcal, or provide you with a Styrofoam cooler full of ice and bottled beer that you can sip under the shade of your umbrella.
Where to eat: For a non-sandy meal, stray to the town for thin-crust pizzas and a decent selection of imported beers at La Empanada. If you’re in the mood for a more romantic setting, look no further than Azulmar, where you can enjoy seafood with a beachside view of the sunset.
Must-do: Climb up to take in the dramatic sunset from Punta Cometa, a rocky outcrop that delivers the region's absolute best view of the horizon. And if you’re looking to experience some wildlife, participate in a turtle release via the National Mexican Turtle Center at the nearby Laguna Ventanilla. While you’re there you’ll have the chance to spot crocodiles and a variety of other animals.
For those seeking the same beautiful coastline as Mazunte, with tasty food and lazy afternoon Micheladas, but with fewer waterfront bongo circles and a slightly older crowd, neighboring Zipolite is the perfect choice.
Tiny Zipolite enjoys an outsized reputation as a nudist paradise: In actuality, the only remaining nude areas are clustered at the extreme west and east ends of the mile-long beach. In between, there's just sun, soft white sand, and the roaring of the ocean. The waves here are choppier than in Mazunte, and the area is not safe for swimming, though bodyboarders and surfers can still do their thing.
Where to eat: Just steps from the beach, the neat, orderly town of Zipolite consists of just a few gridded streets, but there are still plenty of brightly painted shops and restaurants to peruse. The best seafood eatery in the area is Piedra de Fuego, an open-air, family-friendly joint that specializes in grilled catch-of-the-day. Ask for it "a la talla," butterflied and crusted with a crimson-red, subtly spicy chili paste. For a gorgeous setting check out El Alquimista, which also has tasty vegan and vegetarian offerings. It doubles as a popular boho-style hotel with yoga classes and a spa.
Must-do: In the mornings, usually at 8 am, motor boats depart from the beach on guided tours to spot whales, dolphins, and sea turtles. Trips usually last 2.5 hours and are around $10-15. Arrange a reservation with your hotel, or just scout around for the guides on the beach.
For beachgoers seeking more than just sun and sand, Chacahua is an ideal getaway. While it's right on the coast and has its fair share of beautiful beaches, the main attraction is the expansive Parque Nacional Lagunas de Chacahua, where turtles, crocodiles, and shore birds frolic. The area is a must-visit for nature lovers, especially those who want to disconnect; there's still very little WiFi or internet here.
Accommodations in the area tend toward the very rustic and affordable, with few frills. Other than the wildlife, there's not much to do besides lie on the beach, sip a cerveza, and enjoy the calm tranquility of an as-yet-undiscovered gem.
Where to eat: At Restaurante Siete Mares, octogenarian owner and cook Doña Meche plates soulful seafood such as shrimp in a fiery al diablo chili sauce, crispy red snapper in garlic sauce, and seasonal ceviches. Note that availability of food offerings in Chacahua—which are limited to begin with—tend to open and close somewhat randomly based upon how busy business happens to be, so if you’re worried about going hungry it may be advisable to pack along some food from neighboring Mazunte. Otherwise, the thatched beachfront palapas offer fresh, thirst-slaking coconuts and a variety of antojitos like tacos dorados and tlayudas.
Must-do: Explore the lush lakes and mangrove forests of the national park. Speak with your accommodations about hiring a local guide, who will pilot a boat through the five major lagoons and chat with you about all the incredible flora and fauna you see along the way.
Bahías de Huatulco
Known simply as Huatulco to the locals, this former fishing village saw a boom in development starting in the '80s—but don't let the word "boom" throw you. Buildup has been modest in scale, the town never feels overcrowded even during peak season, and it's maintained a laid-back charm that's rare for a resort community.
Huatulco has a series of seven turquoise blue bays that are calm, clear, and excellent for swimming. They also host a splendid array of marine life, so snorkeling is the thing to do here. The small, leafy center of town, La Crucecita, is anchored by a tranquil public plaza and packed with plenty of restaurant options, from no-frills Mexican diners to buttery French bistros.
Where to eat: Everyone in Huatulco knows Terra-Cotta, not only because it's air conditioned and therefore in high demand, but also because its wide-ranging menu of Mexican and international dishes is rock-solid. Down the street, Giordana's Delizie Italiane is a surprisingly authentic trattoria serving 100%-from-scratch pastas.
Must-do: Snorkeling is affordable and highly encouraged. Head to the harbor at Santa Cruz, where you can rent gear for the day for a reasonable price; then hire a lancha (AKA a motor boat) to take you to the coral reefs located in La Entrega, San Augustin, and Cacaluta. And be sure to check out the Hagia Sofia Eco Park for a guided tour of the jungle where you’ll encounter over 300 species of butterflies along with a range of other wildlife. Then hit the trees for some ziplining.
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