The call of the Mexican Riviera
With jungle-clad rivers, surf beaches and glam seaside resorts, Mexico’s Paciﬁc-facing coast gives the cool kids of the Yucutan Peninsula a run for their money.
While most of the attention falls on the original party town of Acapulco, it’s the northern coast where the Mexican Riviera comes alive.
Centred around the portside city of Puerto Vallarta, which is known for its nightlife, the northern coast links a series of (almost) beaches, small ﬁshing villages and busy towns.
The most dynamic of these are the invigorated Mazatlán, and the hip Cabo San Lucas at the very tip of Baja California.
Glitz and glamour in Puerto Vallarta
Straddling the banks of the Bahía de Banderas, Puerto Vallarta has been a popular holiday destination since the Hollywood ﬁlm The Night of the Iguanas was ﬁlmed here in 1963.
It’s leading man, Richard Burton, and his rumoured paramour, Elizabeth Taylor, spent months drinking cocktails, jumping off yachts and by all accounts, falling deeply in love. Since then, Puerto Vallarta has grown in size and reputation to be the glamorous coastal city it is today.
To explore it on foot, ﬁrst stop at the beautiful church, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, to admire the impressive architecture and the glimmering religious paintings. Afterwards, head to El Malecon, an 870 metre boardwalk running along the bay packed with restaurants, cafes, sculptures and spots for people watching. If you walk the full length, you’ll end up in the south-side neighbourhood of Zona Romantica, where the city’s hippest residents spend their weekends.
The most popular beach, Playa Los Muertos, is home to the new Los Muertos pier. Water taxis leave from here to the less crowded beaches of Yelapa and Las Animas, and the quiet coastal village of Boca de Tomatlan. And Hollywood royalty is again boosting the area’s popularity, with recent visits from such celebrities as Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston to the nearby beach town of Punta Mita. Only an hour from Puerto Vallarta, the luxury beach resort makes for a fun day trip.
For those seeking adventure, take a boat from Puerto Vallarta to the Marietas Islands and the hidden beach of Playa del Amor. Only accessible by swimming through a tight tunnel (keep your head down!), a visit to this incredible beach is worth any anxious moments en route.
Historic vibes in Mazatlán
With 20km of beaches and surrounded by the Sierra Madre mountains, Mazatlán was always destined to become a tourism haven. In the 1940s and 1950s, when the ﬁrst international tourists arrived, the city boomed, but unlike Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlán buckled under the pressure and ended up self imploding 40 years later.
Luckily, over the past decade, infrastructure in Mazatlán has improved and a lot of civic energy has been put into reinvigorating the 200-year-old historic district, Centro Historico.
The beautiful, neo-classical architecture has been restored, attracting new art galleries, museums and designers as well as restaurants and cafes. This new development has almost eclipsed the ‘Golden Zone’, the traditional tourism hub of Mazatlán, although access to beaches near the historic centre is limited.
Along with the allure of the vast beachscapes, the city’s oceanfront boardwalk, at more than 8km, is Latin America’s longest.
It’s lined with hundreds of palm trees, fresh seafood restaurants, and historic buildings, and is the best spot to experience a Mexican sunset – one of the beneﬁts of visiting Mexico’s Paciﬁc coastline.
Natural wonders in Cabo San Lucas
Framed by the stunning El Arco at Land’s End, an eroding rock arch right on the tip of Mexico’s most westerly point, Cabo San Lucas is located on Baja California’s isolated peninsula.
It’s the current holiday hot spot for the Hollywood set – and even though it was affected by the 2014 hurricane, you’d never know. All along the coast from Cabo San Lucas to its twin city of San José del Cabo, sleek hotels, spas and villas have sprung up to meet the demand. Los Cabos (as the two cities are collectively known) has attracted some of Mexico’s best chefs, restaurants and hotel brands. While package holiday stays are common, venturing away from the pool will lead you to some of the area’s most beautiful natural wonders.
Jacques Cousteau declared the Sea of Cortez (which separates Baja California from the Mexican mainland) the “aquarium of the world” and you’ll see why if you explore it on one of the many day trips from Cabo San Lucas. Some parts of the surrounding marine park are UNESCO protected due to their unique ecosystems, and the abundance of wildlife makes this part of Mexico stand out from its neighbours. The old town of Cabo San Lucas is well preserved and the weekly art nights are a nice way to experience local culture, especially as many of the hotels focus on the modern side of Mexico’s architectural and gastronomical scene.