Beaches in Mexico
Passengers have different priorities when the cruise ship pulls into port--some head for the nightclubs, shops or sights. Others want to find a quiet beach with no crowds, a hammock, a coco-loco at hand and the aroma of grilled fresh seafood in the air. Peaceful tropical havens are within reach even at Mexico's busiest ports of call. A warning: The ocean waters off many Mexican beaches have powerful undertows that can be dangerous even for strong swimmers. Reef-protected waters are safer, but you should exercise caution since remote beaches seldom have lifeguards.
Cruise passengers landing in Cozumel often are directed to the island's beach clubs just south of the port, where the action is lively and raucous. But the island also offers sandy retreats beyond the resort areas that evoke the laid-back atmosphere of old Cozumel before it became a major destination. Playa Palancar on the southwest coast of the island is a long stretch of white sand beside turquoise waters, protected by Palancar Reef. Hammocks hang from the palm trees, the outdoor cafe and bar serve freshly grilled fish and the dive shop operates tours of the reef.
Playa del Carmen
Twenty-five years ago, Playa del Carmen was a tiny community on the Caribbean coast of Mexico with a few funky hotels along the beach that attracted divers, hippies and visitors who eschewed air conditioning, cable television, even electricity in some hideaways. Now, the town is a major port of call for cruise ships and Cinco Avenida, the main avenue along the city beach, is the place to be seen--literally. Topless sunbathing, once forbidden in Mexico, is tolerated on the adjacent beach. The beach at Tulum—the archaeological site 40 miles south of Playa that includes several temples and small pyramids--maintains its unique, unspoiled atmosphere. The protected site includes the cove and sandy beach where Mayan trade ships anchored in the 12th century when the ceremonial and political center was at the peak of its power. The sight of a Mayan temple on the cliffs above the white sand is one of the most striking in the Caribbean. Tour the ruins and pack a swimsuit.
The first glimpse of Acapulco Bay, with its wide arc of beaches and the city buildings dramatically situated on the mountainside, is always a show-stopper. It has been a port of call for centuries, giving safe harbor to Spanish galleons long before cruise ships began to call. The beaches in Acapulco Bay are lively and often crowded with visitors, locals and fishermen, but for a glimpse of what the Pacific coast looked like before Hollywood put this area on the map 60 years ago, head to Pie de la Cuesta, just north of town, beyond the bay. This narrow stretch of beach, bordered by the palm tree-rimmed Coyuca Lagoon on one side and the crashing Pacific surf on the other, is a favorite spot to watch the sun set. Rustic, open-air restaurants serve grilled seafood and coco-locos, fresh coconuts spiked with tequila.
Cabo San Lucas
The rocky cliffs of southern Baja California shelter numerous coastal sandy coves that offer secluded hideaways for visitors. You can reach some by four-wheel drive, then on foot, but others are accessible only by boat since they are protected by high, rocky cliffs. Playa de Amor, "Beach of Love," is at the Baja's "Land's End" at the tip of the peninsula, a narrow spit of rocky outcropping that is flanked by the Sea of Cortez on the east and the Pacific Ocean on the west. Swimming is recommended only on the Sea of Cortez side. Water taxis ferry visitors from the marina in Cabo San Lucas to the beach.
Puerto Vallarta's Bahia de Banderas is another vast, natural harbor on Mexico's Pacific coast, once a haven for Spanish explorers and pirates. The town's beaches, some 40 of them, were made famous by Hollywood--Playa Mismaloya, 10 miles south of town, was the setting for John Houston's movie "Night of the Iguana." Lively Mismaloya is now lined with resort hotels, but beyond the resort zone lie the area's quiet and little-visited beaches. Two miles south of Mismaloya on Highway 200 is the fishing village of Boca de Tomatlan, the gateway to some of the remote beaches on the bay. Hike the trail to the remote Las Animas beach, or rent a water taxi to Las Animas, Yelapa or Quimixto.