The Best Beach Towns in Mexico— Beyond Cancun

The Best Beach Towns in Mexico Featured Photo

Overview

Tulum 
Playa del Carmen 
Sayulita
Zihuatanejo
Todos Santos 

When many of us think of Mexican beaches and vacationing in Mexico, our mind goes to Cancun. 

While Cancun is breathtaking and great in its own right, it has become very crowded and even trashed in recent years. The crime rates have also risen. While we’re not trying to turn you away from Cancun, many of you might be seeking a more laid back, perhaps even wholesome, alternative for your trip (whether solo, family, or couple’s). 

These Cancun alternatives don’t necessarily run cheaper either, but you might discover a place that resonates with you more— one that was otherwise buried underneath the Cancun hype. 

For those curious about what other places Mexico has to offer, we’ve got a list of the best beach towns in Mexico (besides Cancun). We’ll be diving deep into the unique characters, as well as costs of each. 

For afterward, we’ve also put together some crucial tips for visiting Mexico. These address questions many of us had (especially for our first trip to Mexico), including safety, drinking water, transportation, etc…

Tulum, aka Zalam or the “City of Dawn” 

Tulum, aka Zalam or the “City of Dawn” 

In the past 50 years, Tulum was mainly a sleepy fishing village, but in recent years more and more people started realizing the hidden beauty of this Caribbean beach. 

Its roots lie in the Mayan civilization, in which it served as a trade hub and held spiritual significance. Nowadays, the cost has gone up to be more than even Cancun on average; however, there are definitely ways you can limit those if you’re on a budget. 

Even as a more “high end” beach town in Mexico, Tulum still costs less than other Caribbean Sea destinations like the Bahamas, for example.

The General Vibe 

This place has two vibes rather than just one. For the most part, it offers beautiful blue water, white sand, and gorgeous views. 

In general, you won’t see as much partying and liveliness that you would in Cancun. Many might appreciate this, though. It has a laid back character to it for sure; however, don’t assume that it doesn’t have parties and bustling bar scenes. 

If you want some night life, you should check out the Pueblo (its small town) or what’s called the “Middle Beach Zone” and “South Beach Zone.” 

These places offer everything from laid back bars to salsa dancing clubs to giant party venues. 

The Bar, Nightlife, & Restaurant Scene 

For night clubs and parties, the most popular spots include Papaya Playa Project. These “Full Moon Parties” get pretty crowded and wild. For many, the energetic scene like at Papaya Playa Project makes it one of the best beach towns in Mexico. 

Papaya Playa Project’s full moon parties happen only once a month, on the Saturday night that’s closest to the full moon. Expect to pay the equivalent of about $25, as well as see hundreds, maybe even thousands of folks there (up to 3k on New Years). 

For Salsa, a popular spot to let loose is La Zebra Hotel on Sunday evenings. They teach you and your family for free!

Laylo Tulum Vegan Lounge

After the free salsa lessons at La Zebra Hotel, you can either practice or go free-style to their live salsa band. They’ll also whip up some cocktails that are handcrafted. 

For vegans, another must-stop spot is I Scream Bar in the Middle Beach Zone. This place isn’t a brick mortar, but also isn’t a food truck. 

It was constructed out of a Volkswagen bus. You just need to look for the headlights (original and still working) and can go for specialty drinks, tacos, and vegan ice cream. 

Ice Cream on the beach is definitely a thing— and who says vegans can’t have it, too? 

For the adults, they whip up signature ice cream shots with mezcal on top.  If you’re vegan and want a sit-down meal, the Laylo Tulum Vegan Lounge is the highest-rated vegan food spot in Tutum. 

We also like that even in the swankiest of restaurants here, it’s laid back enough for you to come in your sandals. 

For a Kosher or Halal diet, one of the most popular spots with a Kosher & Halal-friendly menu is Pasha Tulum Downtown. It’s actually Turkish fusion cuisine, but it offers a special menu for those with Halal or Kosher restrictions. 

Natural, Historic & Cultural 

Mayan ruins

If you want something with a little history and perhaps even mystery, Tulum might be your beach town. 

It offers more than just white sand and parties. 

Historical Sites

Tulum has iconic Mayan ruins and lots of culture. It’s definitely one of the best beach towns in Mexico for history and culture.. . 

On a sunny, breezy day, you’ll definitely want to venture beyond the beach and go see them. Between the 11th and 16th centuries, Tutum had religious and economic significance for the ancient Mayan civilization. 

Temple of the Descending God, El Castillo

The major sites and temples include the Temple of the Descending God, El Castillo, and Temple of the Frescoes. 

El Castillo is just to the left of the city square, and it’s probably the most iconic spot for photos in Tutum. 

Nature Preservations & Reservatories 

Xel ha, Mexico

Another family-friendly activity is its eco-parks. If you haven’t heard of eco-parks, these are self-sustaining parks (meaning they sources their own water, etc.). 

The most popular is Xel ha, which is also one of the world’s most beautiful ocean parks. Its name comes from the Mayan word for “source of water.”  Xel ha offers natural caves, lagoons, natural aquariums, underground rivers, and even dolphin activities. 

Also for nature lovers, Tulum is also home to Sian Ka’an Biosphere— one of the most popular eco parks in the world. 

Other Reasons to Go There 

Tulum beachfront

Tulum is quickly becoming a hip destination for spiritual and art-loving folks. You’ll find all sorts of festivals for art, music, spirituality, and even sports. 

Accommodations, Beaches & Average Vacation Cost

Your Stay

For a week in Tulum, you should expect to spend more than you would in Cancun. Beachfront hotels will range from $700 to $1300 a week on average, with the top luxury ones costing as much as $5000 for a week or more. 

A cheaper alternative to hotels is an airbnb apartment or hostel (around $300 a week). 

The Beaches

Tulum beach clubs

While the public beaches are free, they won’t necessarily have beach supplies like umbrellas, sunbeds, and other services. 

As mentioned earlier, if you want a “nicer” beach with all that included, you’ll need to either get accommodation on the beachfront or go to a paid beach club. 

The beach clubs typically cost the equivalent of 20-30 USD per adult; however, the luxury ones go for as much as $80 or more. 

Other Expenses

The price of eating and attractions varies here, but do keep in mind it’s a touristy place. Street and casual meals might be as low as $5-7 per person, while the high-end place will cost $35 and up. 

Sites and attractions are usually under $10 per person; however, guided tours can get up to 10x more expensive. 

Overall, Average Costs

According to championtraveler.com, a ballpark of the weekly costs for a vacation in Tulum would look something like this: 

  • Just under $2k for solo traveler
  • $3.5k for couples 
  • $6.5k for a family of 4

Expat-Approved

Tulum has recently become a popular destination for expats and retirees. Its general laid back character and nearly perfect weather makes it hard to beat. 

While it’s not the cheapest of places to rent in Mexico, it does have affordable options for longterm rental and property investment. According to nomadlist.com, the average monthly costs of living in Tulum varies depending on whether you’re a nomad or a permanent expat. 

However, a monthly income of $2000 is sustainable for a single person, while supporting a family there as expats would be more like $4000 to live comfortably. 

For a digital nomad with a stable income, Tulum is one of the best beach towns in Mexico for meeting other expats. 

Main Airport

Cancun International Airport

Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen

If you’re on a not-so-huge budget, this place offers a lot of the same perks and beauty of Cancun without costing as much as Cancun. In fact, it’s overall a way cheaper beach destination in Mexico. After all, the best beach towns in Mexico don’t have to be expensive. 

It’s located in Quintana Roo on the Yucatan Peninsula, about 70 miles south from Cancun. 

The General Vibe 

Playa del Carmen at night

Since it’s not as touristy, the vibe here is a bit more urban and residential. It won’t feel as boho-chic as Tulum in general, although it, too, has the same white sand and turquoise beaches. 

It’s also highly developed but with a mix of everything.  

We’ll also mention that it’s driving distance from Tulum. That means you can get tours to the Tulum ruins and other Tulum activities from here (or drive there yourself if you’ve rented a car). 

We also want to mention that the beach and town are less separated than in Tulum. That means you can more easily hop from the beach to the main part of town. 

The Bar, Nightlife, & Restaurant Scene 

Sites & Entertainment   

La Quinta Avenida

Before we get to the activities, we think this beach town itself has a lot of culture and stimulation to offer. 

If you want to wander around and explore, La Quinta Avenida is the bustling main street. There, you’ll find many hotels, hostels, bars, restaurants, shopping, backpackers, night life, street food, markets, street performers…(the list goes on and on).

For nature and ocean lovers, Playa del Carmen has affordable snorkeling and scuba diving, as well as caves and natural wonders, aquariums, and zoos. It’s not as bohemian and historical as Tulum; however— here’s the thing: 

Here at this cheaper beach town, you’ll be close enough to visit Tulum. This is awesome news if you wanted to see those ruins and eco parks of Tulum, yet Tulum turned was too expensive. 

Chichen Itza

Still, while you’re in Playa del Carmen, you can visit the Xel-Há (a natural aquarium) and Río Secreto (an underground river and cave). 

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can hop on a tour to Chichen Itza (an ancient temple; about 2 hours away), as well as the one to the Tulum ruins as we suggested earlier. 

Accommodations, Beaches & Average Vacation Cost

La Quinta Avenida Street

Your Stay 

Hotels or budget hotels for solo travelers can be as low as under $30 a night. 

For the typical hotel room, it’s around $50 for a two-person room and, therefore, about $100 a night for a four-person family on average. 

The Beaches

If you opt for beach clubs, they’ll run roughly anywhere from $5 to $35 and up for super nice spots. However, they also offer public and cheap beaches. 

Other Expenses

Tulum Street

Overall, entertainment at this beach town will cost an average of $11 per day, although many tours and other activities certainly go up from there (up to $80 or more per person). 

Overall, according to Budget Your Trip, the weekly costs for a Playa del Carmen might look something like this: 

  • $500 for a solo traveler
  • $700-900 for a couple
  • $2000 for a family 

Expat & Nomad Friendly

Expat & Nomad Friendly

For its affordability, this place is praised as one of the best beach towns in Mexico for digital nomads and ex-pats. Don’t be surprised if you come across 

Nearest Airport 

Playa del Carmen actually has its own airport; however, on some occasions, it can be cheaper to fly into Cancun and transfer from there to Playa del Carmen. Either way, Playa del Carmen is just 45 minutes away by car from Cancun International Airport. 

You’ll have to search both options when you’re preparing to book your flight. The rates change constantly. 

Sayulita

Sayulita

One the west, Pacific coast in the south of the state, this former small, sleepy fishing town has just the right amount of charm, zest, and picturesque scenery. 

If it’s your first rodeo abroad (or you’re coming solo), this beach town is one of the safest yet most fun cities in all of Mexico. 

The General Vibe 

It has a reputation for being quite hippie and alive, as it’s always having events and visitors. Some of this hippie character comes from its being a Pacific Coast beach town.  

Because it’s so safe, lots of expats come, go, and settle, and even retire to this Bohemian paradise. It’s definitely one of the best beach towns in Mexico for character and hospitality. 

You’ll see lots of surfing and also will encounter some impressive culinary culture in Sayulita. However, that’s during the day. At night, this is definitely a party area. 

Since Canadians can fly directly and cheaply to this beach town, you’ll come across many Canadians night and day. 

Also, the locals tend to mingle with the tourists here more than in most tourist beach towns in Mexico (so, you’ll meet more than just other Americans and Canadians!). 

The Bar, Nightlife, & Restaurant Scene 

El Itacate

People rave about this place called El Itacate, which is known for amazing tacos and really everything else. 

For something more upscale, Barracuda offers a more upscale experience and specializes in fresh, local seafood. If you’re a vegan or vegetarian, this hippie-chic town has all the chic, hippie, vegan-friendly places that other Mexican beach towns may be lacking. 

Attico, Anchor Cafe, and Organi-k are among the best with vegetarian and vegan options. 

Barracuda

If you eat Kosher or Halal, you might struggle to find places with meat suitable for your restrictions here in Sayulita. However, this hippie beach town has plenty of meat-free menus and options to accommodate. 

As far as nightlife, this town is definitely a party town. If you come out, you’ll encounter mostly Canadians, then Americans, then Mexicans in the bars. If you’re not a party person, definitely don’t stay near the plaza (that’s the loudest area here). 

One of the wildest, late-night spots is Don Pato. They hold lots of special events, salsa dancing, open mic nights, and the best fiestas here. 

Sites & Entertainment

Sayulita sites are the Islas Marietas

People come to Sayulita for all sorts of reasons. It’s not called a hippie beach town for no reason, though. 

You’ll find lots of art, yoga retreats, horseback riding, surfing lessons, and hiking/nature opportunities here. Among the most famous Sayulita sites are the Islas Marietas. This is a string of “people-free” islands that are part of the UNESCO MAB Biosphere Reserve. 

By people-free, we mean that humans aren’t permitted to enter them exactly. You’ll have to take a boat tour or swim to one of its “secret” beaches (but be careful). 

Also, this town has a famous hill known as Monkey Mountain that nature lovers also love. Since you’ll be just north of the Bay of Banderas, it’s worth a visit. The Bay of Banderas has a plethora of wildlife, including hunchback whales. You can book private tours and whale observations with marine biologists that leave from Sayulita. 

Overall, this is one of the best beach towns in Mexico for those who want a highly Pacific Coast character but don’t want to spend an arm and a leg on California. 

Accommodations, Beaches & Average Vacation Cost

Accommodations, Beaches & Average Vacation Cost

Your Stay 

Accommodations are ridiculously affordable here. For 2-person rooms, you’ll pay around $60 a night, which isn’t bad (or $30 a night for a solo-person room). 

For more high-end places, you’ll pay $100-200 a night for a room, depending on single or double occupancy. 

The Beaches

Due to Covid, it’s harder to get into public beaches (but this may change soon). There’s a possibility that you’ll have to have a Covid pass or will have to get a beachfront hotel. 

However, one beach you must visit if you can is Playa Sayulita. It’s the most iconic for surfing culture, exhilarating swimming and watersports, and breathtaking sunset views. 

Other Expenses

The food is also quite affordable. You can expect to pay around $5-12 per meal there, which adds up to about $20-50 per person per day. 

Overall, a trip to Sayulita costs about $600 a week on average for a solo traveler, $1200 for a couple, and $2400 for a 4-person family. 

For a luxury vacation, it can spike up to $2000 for solo, $4000 for a couple, and $8000 for the family. This is still a fraction of what it costs to go to the Bahamas or even California. 

Expat & Nomad Friendly

You’re definitely in hippie nomad land here, mixed with locals, retirees, and travelers. It has a tight-knit community and safe atmosphere. 

Also, it’s one of the cheapest beach towns to live in in Mexico. It’s honestly one of the best beach towns in Mexico for expats and nomads, for both its vibe and the price. 

Nearest Airport 

Puerto Vallarta Ordaz (less than 20 miles away). 

Zihuatanejo

This Southwestern, Pacific beach town is the third most-visited beach town in all of Mexico. If you’ve ever seen the classic film Shawshank Redemption, Zihuatanejo makes its cameo as the final, paradise setting of the film’s protagonist. 

It has a long history of legends, Aztecs, & fishing. 

The General Vibe 

This place is known for being extremely laid back and colorful. The New York Times also added this town to the 2022 list of places to visit. 

However, due to the high crime rating, travelers and locals are a bit more “on watch” for themselves and their personal belongings. Its bright character and excitement come with a cost. You’ll definitely want to rent your own vehicle in this place. There’s a huge risk of being robbed in public transportation or even a taxi, so don’t consider walking out alone at night. 

You’ll notice more sober people, as the pickpockets are typically on the watch for intoxicated, or distracted, tourists to drop their guard. 

Zihuatanejo

However, we don’t want this to scare you off. Much of this is due to the high tourism (it’s the third most visited, after all), and it’s safer if you stay in a private, beachfront resort. 

The Bar, Nightlife, & Restaurant Scene

The General Vibe 

In both day and night, this is truly one of the most beautiful beaches on Mexico’s Pacific Coast. 

This town has some of the best nightlife in Mexico, except it’s a bit more couples and family-friendly and less partyish than some other Mexico beach towns. 

You can go to Coconuts to eat and sip cold cocktails for a gorgeous view from a historic building. They also have some amazing music venues and dancing clubs like Barracruda and Bandido’s Restaurant Bar. 

However, we won’t lie and say the parties don’t happen here. If you really need to let loose, Señor Frog’s and Christine Club are among the biggest nightclubs in all of Mexico. 

They have disco balls, lights, djs, and heavy drinks. Don’t be surprised if you encounter some spring-breakers during the months of April and May. 

Zihuatanejo is also popular among honeymooners for its romantic lounges and terrace restaurants. 

Sites & Entertainment

The Bar, Nightlife, & Restaurant Scene

As far as beaches, this place has very lazy, laid back Pacific beaches. The two most popular are Playa La Ropa and Playa Larga. 

Beyond the beaches, there’s an island nearby called Ixtapa, to which you can boat. It has amazing views and a more remote feel to it. 

For history lovers, you can either drive or take a tour bus to the Ruins at Xihuacan within just 30 minutes. It’s an ancient site that they estimate to be over 3,000 years old, predating even the Aztecs. 

For more architecture, you can quickly get to the Costa Grande Archaeological Museum right there in town. People also like to enjoy the architecture and nature by cycling, since the town is pretty bicycle-friendly and provides some routes. For those water lovers, you’ll have access to diving, sailing, and whale tours. 

Nature and marine biology lovers will appreciate the 

Accommodations, Beaches & Average Vacation Cost

Costa Grande Archaeological Museum

Your Stay 

Accommodations largely depend on the time of the year. During the month of March, the average hotel will run as much as $300 a night; however, in the months of June through August, they’re under $200. 

Overall Expenses

According to Trip Numbers, the average cost of a trip to this town will be around $2600 per person per week ($5400 for a couple; $10,000+ for a family of 4). For a luxury trip, expect to fork out $4000 per person per week ($7900 for a couple, $15,000+ for a family of 4). 

Nearest Airport 

This town has its own airport on the outskirts— Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo International Airport. However, check rates for other flights to nearby places, as these change frequently. 

Todos Santos

Todos Santos

Ever wanted to go somewhere there are mountains, desert, and beach in the same place? Todos Santos is a safe, Pacific coast town between the Sierra Laguna mountains and desert, near the Tropic of Cancer. 

The General Vibe 

This is probably the most laid back and least touristy beach on this list. However, many are catching on to what used to be a badly kept secret. 

If you’ve crossed between quiet beaches and beautiful beaches, then this could be your answer. This is one of the best beaches in Mexico, yet it’s still a secret for many. 

You can definitely relax more here, since it’s safe, and there really is no sense of rush or get-up-and-go mentality here. 

For those wanting a more chill experience, this could be your best bet in Mexico. 

The Bar, Nightlife, & Restaurant Scene 

This isn’t a major spring break, party town, and many of the frequent visitors and locals would like it to keep its laid back character. 

Here, you’ll find more places like wine bars, lounges, bar/grills, and seafood bistros. We won’t say there are absolutely no DJs and techno, but the norm here consists of beachy drinks, coffee, and live music. 

Even in the hippest establishments, it’s overall more calm in Todos Santos. 

Sites & Entertainment

Punta Lobos

As far as fun, this place offers wholesome activities like surfing, whale watching, and watersports, hiking on Punta Lobos, and downtown shopping at Pueblo Magico. 

For nature lovers, this is a real oasis, since you can visit the desert, beach, and mountains all in one week! You won’t find as many touristy “attractions” as in other major beach towns. However, this is a good base from which you can take day trips and tours for affordable prices. 

For a creative person, couple, or retired person, this laid back yet the picturesque character is an ideal setting. Sometimes we want a true escape from the hustle and bustle, and this Todos Santos provides the opportunity. 

Accommodations, Beaches & Average Vacation Cost

hiking on Punta Lobos

Your Stay 

According to Champion Traveler, the average cost of hotels is about $111 a night, or $287 for a luxury stay. 

Overall Expenses

Overall, you should budget around $1400 per person for a week, or $4500 for a family. 

Nearest Airport 

Los Cabos Airport (about 90 minute’s drive) 

Crucial Questions & Tips for Visiting Mexico

Is Mexico safe? 

Let’s address the elephant in the room: Many people hear scary things about Mexico, despite all the beauty and friendly folks there. 

First, let’s talk about the water. What you hear about the water is not a stereotype, exactly. The tap water in Mexico is dangerous for both visitors and locals. 

Do not drink the water. Drink bottled water only! If you order water at a restaurant or order anything with water, you can rest assured that they’ve used filtered, clean water. As far as crime, the majority of places we’ve listed are safe. However, some of the top tourist spots have pickpockets and other criminals looking to take advantage. 

You shouldn’t wander around alone at night; instead, you should definitely rent a car and get a Mexican sim card if possible. 

What do I do about transportation in Mexico? 

What do I do about transportation in Mexico

While Mexico does offer public transportation, we strongly recommend you rent a car beforehand. 

Luckily, you won’t need a Mexican or even an international license, as long as you have a valid US license. 

You also don’t need to be 25, as many rental places offer car rentals for 18 year olds. However, take note that you absolutely have to purchase car insurance, by law, in Mexico. Overall, the price for renting a car including the insurance will be less than $100 a day (more around $50), but prices greatly, greatly vary. 

We recommend you use a service such as Kayak to book ahead of time. 

If you don’t want to rent a car, you will likely need to rely on taxis and buses. 

Internet & Mobile

In Mexico, the Wifi availability and strength varies. Many travelers and nomads complain that they struggle to find it. 

The best solution (especially for safety), is to get sim cards for your mobile phone. You’ll just need to make sure to get your phones unlocked with your service provider beforehand. 

The most trusted service to get for your sim card, or “chip,” in Mexico is Telcel. They have very affordable plans, starting at just $15 that are typically more than enough data for a week.

Also, consider purchasing a VPN to protect your information. 

Weather 

In the western, Pacific coast, you should expect warm and hot weather year-round, with the rainy seasons being from June to October (mainly in the later part of the day). 

It’s a similar situation on the Caribbean side, except the rain does come down a bit heavier and more frequently within the same time frame of June to October. 

This doesn’t mean it’s pure sunshine throughout the rest of the year, though. 

Regardless of what month you come, you should make sure to pack ponchos, umbrellas, and, perhaps, a waterproof beach bag in case you’re caught in the shower. 

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