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Throughout his extensive travels in Mexico, digital nomad and TPG Contributor Ryan Gargiulo has found that its beach towns and cities are his sweet spot(s). Here is his short list of recommendations for coastal destinations in Mexico that are not only safe (more on that below) but also offer plenty of delightful accommodations, dining, and activities—as well as stunning natural beauty.
Puerto Vallarta is on fire right now—and I don’t just mean the weather. Throughout the winter and spring, hordes of Canadian and American tourists and snowbirds flock to this beautiful coastal resort city situated on the Pacific Ocean’s Bay of Banderas to enjoy daytime temperatures that hover in the 80s. According to Visit Puerto Vallarta, the city received record-setting tourism numbers over the course of last year, averaging a 64.2% occupancy rate for the first 9 months of 2014, up a staggering 6% from 2013. Pretty impressive growth, to say the least.
Where to stay: Puerto Vallarta has a lot to offer on the accommodation front, including a growing number of hotels and all-inclusive resorts such as the CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa, Casa Velas Hotel Boutique, Hyatt Ziva as well as both short- and long-term Airbnb rentals.
Where to eat: Puerto Vallarta also offers a wide variety of restaurants that serve up delicious local and international cuisine. Vegans, vegetarians and healthy eaters will love the atmosphere and menu options over at Salud Super Food. Delicious fajitas, shrimp and giant fish kebabs can be found over at the newly renovated Langosta Loca on the cheap (on the beach opposite Sea Monkey restaurant). Those who are in search of an affordable night on the town should head on over to the Cheeky Monkey where you’ll find $1 dollar margaritas and beers.
Things to do: Walk the seaside malecón at night, cool off at the lesser known Palo Maria Waterfalls and catch some rays at Mahi Mahi Beach Club on Los Muertos Beach. For the latest happenings in Puerto Vallarta, be sure to check out the PV Event Calendar and don’t forget to follow Puerto Vallarta Daily News.
This once sleepy little Mexican town is situated on the coast just 1 hour north of Puerto Vallarta’s Licenciado Gustavo Díaz Ordaz International Airport (PVR) and is now an up-and-coming hotspot for bohemian travelers, digital nomads and expats looking to settle in and dig their toes in the sand for a few months each year.
First time visitors have been known to fall head over heels in love with the charm and tranquility of this little beachside town as soon as they arrive. Some have never left. While Sayulita is now an up and coming hotspot, it wasn’t always that way. Little by little, the word has been spreading about this place so your best bet is to add it to your list of places to visit in the near future.
Where to stay: No major chain hotels can be found in Sayulita but there are a few gems in town that will be sure to suit your needs. With a name like Casa Buena Onda (which translates to “House of Good Waves”), it’s no wonder this little eco-hotel is popular among Sayulita’s surfers. Rooms can be rented by the day or by the week but be sure to book ahead because this property only consists of three rooms and the word is spreading fast. In high season (Dec-Apr), room rates start at $60/night.
Where to eat: Yah-Yah Sayulita Cafe is an organic coffee shop serving up delicious breakfast bagel sandwiches, omelettes, milkshakes, a variety of espresso drinks as well as both gluten-free and vegan baked treats. You can find them at Calle Delfin 20 Local 1 in Sayulita. Orangy is a must if you’re in search of a healthy fruit smoothie or fresh juice with locally sourced and organic ingredients. If you’re looking for a delicious dessert, head on over to Chocobanana for a refreshing frozen banana treat covered in chocolate with toppings options such as coconut, sprinkles, nuts and more.
Things to do: Polish up those rusty surf skills of yours with a lesson from a local, rent a paddleboard from a local shop and cruise around the bay, or explore the jungle and hidden beaches of Nayarit on horseback with Rancho Mi Chaparita.
For more information on Sayulita, visit Sayulita Life.
Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is one of Mexico’s hottest destinations, both in terms of its popularity and temperatures: set smack dab on the bright blue waters of the Caribbean, this beach town offers up to 240 days of sunshine each year.
What makes Playa even more tempting to visit is its proximity to Cancun International Airport (CUN), a 45-minute, $10 USD bus ride away. At present, non-stop flights from the East Coast are cheap and plentiful, making a last-minute vacation getaway to Playa del Carmen even more appealing. For more on getting to CUN, see 5 Sunny Award Travel Destinations.
Where to stay: Points properties are scarce in Playa del Carmen, aside from the Fairmont Mayakoba and the all-inclusive Viva Wyndham Maya. The area’s luxurious Viceroy Riveria Maya won Conde Nast Traveler’s #1 Mexico-Caribbean Resort last year, but otherwise, Spanish chains and reasonably-priced, independent hotels are more the norm. The boutige-vibe, budget-friendly Bric Hotel, an intimate property set just steps from 5th Avenue, has 14 rooms (all with double or king beds), a small pool and a friendly staff, and nightly rates start at $65 USD. The beautiful, mid-range Aventura Mexicana has two swimming pools, the on-site Mayan Bistro and Kava Kasa bar, donation-based yoga classes, free WiFi throughout the property, and high-season (Nov-Apr) rates that hover around $150 a night.
Where to eat: Set on a quiet side street between 5th and 10th avenues, La Coronela is a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant that serves my favorite dishes in town; try the chicken or arrachera (skirt steak) fajitas, chicken or beef burritos, and the tortilla soup. Organic/health food hotspot BIO-Natural, a favorite of the area’s vegans and vegetarians, has an extensive menu that includes fresh salads (their star attraction), falafel, quinoa, couscous, tofu, vegan lasagna, veggie pitas and more. A short walk from the madness of 5th avenue, Oh Lala is quite possibly Playa’s best restaurant for its high-quality food, efficient service and laid-back, friendly atmosphere, ideal for couples and families looking for a relaxing meal. I highly recommend the filet mignon in red wine sauce, as well as the butter soy tuna steak. Yum!
Things to do: Spend the day basking in the sun and watching the kiteboarders fly high above Playacar Beach, dine at one of these delicious restaurants in town, and kick back with drinks in hand at either Fusion Bar & Grill or Zenzi Beach Bar.
Set on the Riviera Maya, Tulum—much like Sayulita—is increasingly attracting bohemian travelers from around the globe. This small town is located just 1.5 hours south of Cancun and 45 minutes south of Playa del Carmen.
Tulum is home to the famous ancient Mayan ruins, as well as incredible white sand beaches and a wide variety of cenotes (pronounced “say-NO-tess”), are collapsed-limestone sinkholes in the Earth that fill up with groundwater and create swimming holes. To visit cenotes, you can book a group tour through LabnaHa Cenotes & Eco Park, or take a more independent approach by hopping in a colectivo (shared taxi) north from Tulum and making your way to nearby cenotes like Dos Ojos, Cenote Azul, Cenote Eden and more.
Where to stay: Tulum offers little to nothing in the way of points properties, and aside from a few large resorts like the Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa, the area is best known for small, independent lodgings. On the luxury end, Ana y Jose is a romantic, 24-room resort set right on the sand, where rates start at about $400 USD/night. The more budget-friendly Teetotem is a four-room boutique hotel just off the beach, with an on-site restaurant, lounge and spa, air conditioning, complimentary Wi-Fi and loaner bicycles, and high-season rates (Nov-Apr) starting at $130 USD/night.
Where to eat: On the corner of Av. Tulum and Centauro Sur, El Gourmet serves delicious paninis and sandwiches, fresh cheeses, espresso, salads and more. Located right on Avenida Tulum (you can’t miss it), one of the more popular restaurants in town, One Tulum, serves up a mix of Mexican and Italian food—and it seems like everyone in town raves about their pizza.
Things to do: Take a morning or evening stroll along Playa Paraiso, Tulum’s most beautiful beach, visit the Tulum ruins early or late in the day, explore a cenote or three, and make a pit stop at El Gourmet for lunch.
A Few Words on Warnings About Travel to Mexico
If you’ve read worrisome news stories or seen U.S. Department of State Travel Warnings about the potential dangers of drug-trade violence in Mexico and are wondering whether it’s safe to take a trip to the country, what I can tell you is that I’ve been living in Mexico for the last year now and have yet to experience anything other than cheap food, good living, friendly locals and smiles all around. Not to say that bad things don’t happen here, but I’ve personally never seen any sort of violence since I stepped foot in the country. I’m not going to advise you to completely ignore the recommendations of the government, but I would urge you to take them with a grain of salt.
You can research your destination(s) by asking questions in TripAdvisor forums, or find a local expats’ Facebook group (Expats & Locals in Playa del Carmen, Cancun Expats, Young Professionals in Puerto Vallarta, Tulum Community), where plenty of people will be happy to offer timely and practical information. There’s nothing like hearing from someone who’s actually living in the country/city/town/neighborhood you think you’d like to visit to help you make a good decision—like visiting the coastal hotspots of Mexico.
Well, what are you waiting for? Have you booked your next trip to any of the above? If so, leave a comment below letting us know where in Mexico you’re headed next. Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.
Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.