Gulf of Mexico
Not a lot of great beaches on this curving, tropical shore, though plenty of oil wells.
The state of Veracruz occupies a large part of the coast and is scattered with still unspoilt towns and archeological sites as this is a less-travelled part of the country.
The state’s best beaches run along the Costa Esmeralda, a 31 mile (50km) strip north of the Veracruz port (5 hours drive from Mexico City). The sand tends to be grey-brown, waters warm and large stretches are devoid of crowds so this is one of the better places in the country to find isolation. Nearby is the UNESCO World Heritage site of El Tajin, a ceremonial center of the Totonacs.
Maya Riviera, Caribbean coast
An unusually low-rise Cancun beach seen from the Fiesta Americana resort. Photo by Serge Melki
Mexico’s most famous beach resort zone on the Riviera Maya, Cancun, is overbuilt but nevertheless home to some superb beach resort hotels, fine white sand beaches, warm shallow waters, cool strong drinks and everything else a tourist might need except real ethnic colour, style or unspoilt serenity.
Puerto Moreles, Excellence Beach. Photo by Tony Hisgett.
A fishing village and small beach resort between Cancun and Playa del Carmen with fine sand, warm water and for a great bonus, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef just 500 meters offshore for snorkelling or diving. . . more
Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen on the Maya Riviera (Caribbean coast). Photo by Haakon Krohn
A cool, casual beach scene with plenty of accommodation (though there’s an increasing imbalance towards huge, all-inclusive hotels these days), excellent bars, restaurants and shops. Although it is very popular Playa del Carmen is reasonably low-key and relaxing.
This is one of the better places in Mexico to buy high quality crafts, especially jewellery.
Playa also has boats to Cozumel island – for world class diving, pricey shopping (catering to cruise ships), a couple of fine beaches and a marine park for swimming with dolphins – at considerable expense.
Tulum beach and the Maya Templo Dios del Viento, Maya Riviera. Photo by Dennis Jarvis.
Tulum is one of the prettiest beaches in the Americas, albeit very small, but with a picturesque Mayan temple overlooking the sand and more ruins away from the shore. 130 km south of the massive and style-free resort of Cancún, it is a tiny but perfectly-formed white sandy cove, with a few palm shade and the azure Caribbean sea to swim in.
The entrance to Tulum is totally touristy, with a huge car park, souvenir shops, café and restaurants. There are a few hotels and restaurants in Tulum village and also (far better option) plenty of resort type places, cabañas (beach huts) and campsites along the coast road south to Punta Allen.
Temple of the Wind Gods: It’s thought that the holes in the temple roof made a whistling noise when the wind picked up speed, thus warning locals of impending storms or even hurricanes and giving them time to move to a more protected area. The structure is not especially impressive but the location is magnificent.
For seekers of more Maya culture and relics one of the world’s best ancient sites is just a couple of hours away by car or 4 hours by bus – Chichen Itza.