I grew up going to the Pacific Coast of Mexico, as it is only a 2-hour flight from LA, which makes it the perfect weekend jaunt destination. I have also explored the Caribbean side, and love that too, albeit a bit further from California. Now it is up to you to decide which coast is right for you.
Caribbean: The white sand beaches and turquoise waters of the Caribbean’s Yucatan Peninsula make destinations like Cancun, Riviera Maya, and Tulum all about the beaches. In fact, it’s the allure of the Caribbean Sea on the east coast that drives most vacationers south of the border. Postcard perfect, the coast stretches for hundreds of miles against the second longest reef system in the world—meaning it’s teeming with marine life—so snorkeling and diving is exceptional there.
Pacific: The Pacific Coast beaches are a little more rugged with darker sand but unarguably breathtaking. The beauty of this region is that, rather than one long stretch, the beaches are scattered throughout the coast, and no two are alike. Puerto Vallarta’s main beach, Playa Los Muertos, is a magnet for all types of travelers, lined with al fresco restaurants and bars. A short boat ride away is Yelapa, an unspoiled hideaway with retro allure. Up north, Punta Mita is less crowded and more glam, while Sayulita is a surfer’s paradise. In Cabo, the tides are strong (which creates the wonderful crashing waves it’s known for), but it makes the water a little less swimmable.
The Verdict: The picturesque Caribbean beaches feel more exotic, but Pacific beaches have more personality. Furthermore, on the Pacific side, cafes, bars, restaurants and, in some cases, thatch-roof beach shacks, are right on the sand, like at the wonderful boardwalk with its sightseeing and activity in Puerto Vallarta. In Cabo, the beaches make the perfect backdrop for long strolls, and there is a handful of amazing spots where you can actually swim in the water.
Caribbean: Local Mayan culture is woven through everyday life on this side of Mexico. It’s why the coast is known for traditional Mayan blessings, healing, and ceremonies (particularly around the full moon), and you’ll find pampering, Mayan-themed treatments at luxury hotel spas. For even more spirituality-based vacations, head to Tulum, a magnet for yoga and meditation retreats. Ancient attractions abound, and you can trek to famous Mayan ruins in Tulum, as well as Chichen Itza, one of the ancient wonders of the world.
Thanks to excellent ferry service in the Caribbean, it’s easy to get to gorgeous islands like Isla Mujeres and even hop on a boat to navigate the pristine mangroves at Mayakoba. Unique to the Caribbean, cenotes (natural, underwater sinkholes) are popular swimming spots. Because the entire Caribbean region was built for tourism, there’s nothing you can’t do here, from shopping and water sports to spas and zip lining.
Pacific: In addition to remarkable snorkeling and pristine beaches, Cabo is chockfull of gourmet restaurants with celebrity chefs (like Jean George Vongerichten, Enrique Olvera, and Brian Malarkey), award-winning spas and high-end shopping. There are wine cellars and champagne terraces, yachts, and steakhouses. If you like to splurge and get pampered, Cabo is your getaway.
Puerto Vallarta has a more authentic, colonial vibe than Cabo does. Lined with cobblestoned streets and well preserved for decades, historic Old Town is chockfull of art galleries and outdoor cafes. Puerto Vallarta also has mountains and jungles, so it’s perfectly set up for hikes to cascading waterfalls and hidden beaches along the way.
The Verdict: With the ancient ruins and authentic Mayan culture merging with modern hotels, the Caribbean coast has major allure. Island hopping is even an option if you want to explore outside the coast. A short flight from California, the Pacific has been luring LA locals for decades, so you can expect luxury activities and amenities in Cabo, Punta Mita, and Puerto Vallarta.
Caribbean: With its history as a spring-break stomping ground, Cancun has all the wild tourist bars and clubs you can imagine (from Señor Swanky to Coco Bongo), but there’s plenty of upscale places with all-night party vibes like Rose Bar and The Beach Club at ME Cancun, which offers bottle service. The mother of all nightlife is in Playa Del Carmen, home to excellent al fresco bars and lounges along Fifth Avenue, including Catch, the rooftop bar at Thompson Playa Del Carmen (pictured below), which flies in international DJs on the weekends.
Pacific: Cabo’s nightlife scene is going through a renaissance, recently reimagined with the opening of Hakkasan Group’s OMNIA Day Club (Las Vegas and San Diego) and L.A.’s famous SHOREbar now open at Vidanta Los Cabos. ME Cabo continues to host parties on its pool deck with live DJs. Over in Puerto Vallarta, nightlife is thriving and unarguably part of the culture. Old Town is bustling with late-night partiers who hop among beach bars, nightclubs, and jazz lounges.
The Verdict: You can’t go wrong with nightlife on either coast. Cancun feels very touristy and a bit younger, but you can find local nightlife gems. Los Cabos has quickly become the Vegas of Mexico beach towns, and Puerto Vallarta has an old-school vibe and strong local scene with something for everyone.