The first time I visited Mexico’s stunning Pacific Coast, I took a cruise from California to Ensenada in Baja California Norte, on the edge of the Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico’s answer to Napa Valley. I’d been to Mexico before – I live in Miami and love to travel, so I’d explored the gorgeous Riviera Maya from Cancun to Tulum and beyond – but I’d never ventured further west. I loved my trip down the Pacific coast, which offered a completely different experience to other parts of Mexico and was a world away from the country’s traditional image.
Mexico’s Pacific coast offers an incredible variety, but everything is defined by a deep connection to nature, the environment, and the natural world. Everywhere I went, I felt like I was immersed in the gorgeous landscapes, trees, and plants around me, and I was surrounded by extraordinary wildlife everywhere I turned.
The scenery and vibe changes dramatically as you head south – from mountainous desert and calm, turquoise seas in Baja California, through lush jungle in Nayarit, to wide-open beaches and stunning surf breaks in Oaxaca – and a trip down the coast is a unique, incredible experience.
Spending a month exploring ‘the Mexican Riviera’ from Ensenada to Puerto Escondido and beyond is a magnificent adventure and the guide below includes some of the most exciting sights and things to do along Mexico’s wild Pacific coast.
Baja California is a dramatic place, an almost alien landscape of mountainous desert that plunges into pristine beaches and clear blue seas full of extraordinary creatures. The Sea of Cortez, on the east of the peninsula, was described by Jaques Cousteau as ‘the world’s aquarium’ and is home to staggeringly beautiful reefs and some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world.
Ensenada is the gateway to Mexico’s best wine region – the Valle de Guadalupe. It’s well worth exploring this delightful little corner of the state, as it also boasts some of Mexico’s best fine dining restaurants! A food and wine tour of the vineyards and eateries of Baja California will be a delight for gourmands and lovers of the finer things in life.
Cabo Pulmo, well off the beaten track, is the oldest coral reef on the west coast of North America, and diving and snorkeling here was easily one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had in the water! With crowds of vivid, electric-colored fish, manta rays, sea lions, dolphins, and even whales, the reef at Cabo Pulmo teems with life and is truly something special.
Right down in the south of the peninsula, La Paz and Todos Santos are well worth exploring too. In La Paz, you can swim with whale sharks, and there’s some lovely architecture to be found in the historic center of town too. Todos Santos is an alternative, artistic paradise, all laid-back vibes and relaxing good times. And if you need a little kick of excitement here, grey and humpback whales are regular visitors to the seas just off the coast!
From baking deserts and rugged mountains to lush, green jungles, Nayarit’s verdant coastline is a pretty massive contrast to Baja California. Nayarit is one of the smallest states in Mexico but boasts the birthplace of the Aztecs, an underground beach, and some incredible surfing and sea life, meaning that it punches well above its weight!
Mexcaltitan de Uribe in the north of the state is said to be the birthplace of the Aztec civilization. This tiny town produced the fierce warrior people that eventually conquered much of modern Mexico. It is also known as Mexico’s Venice as it is a tiny island city entirely surrounded by the Laguna Grande and crisscrossed with picturesque canals.
Sayulita is a sleepy, laid-back surf town with gorgeous beaches and a chill vibe. It’s a wonderful place to base yourself for exploring the jungles further inland or just catching waves off the coast.
Off the coast of Puerto Vallarta (technically in Colima state, but shhh!), the Islas Marietas in the Bahia Banderas are a haven for wildlife lovers, packed with a huge variety of birds as well as abundant marine life. They are also home to the amazing Playa del Amor (Love Beach), a wide, sandy cavern tucked away beneath the island’s surface thanks to the volcanic rock formations and accessible only by water!
Oaxaca is perhaps my favorite place in Mexico. A wonderful mix of stunning beaches, incredible art and culture, gorgeous traditional architecture, a remarkably rich history, and one of the best cuisines in Mexico make it an absolute must for any adventurer exploring the Pacific coast.
The city of Oaxaca itself is some way inland, but well worth taking a detour to explore. It’s a delightful city, truly beautiful, with charming cobbled streets and picturesque colonial architecture. The Zapotec ruins of Monte Alban perched precariously above the city are astounding and almost always empty. They are just as fantastic as the more famous spots like Palenque, Chichen Itza, or Teotihuacan, but with half the crowds! Finally, Oaxaca is surrounded by maguey, making it the center of Mexican mezcal production. A mezcal tasting tour, or just an evening trying experimental cocktails in town, is not to be missed!
Oaxaca’s coast is surf central and comes with that classic hippy surfer vibe. From Puerto Escondido to Huatulco, the breaks are fierce, and the beaches are gorgeous.
Aside from catching rays and waves, it’s also a fantastic place to get up close to nature. The coast is full of mangrove swamps, and a boat tour through the channels and lagoons at Laguna Ventanilla will bring you face to face with turtles, monkeys, iguanas, all manner of birdlife, and crocodiles!
A little further away from civilization, the Lagunas de Chacahua National Park is an unbelievably beautiful spot, totally off-grid, and tranquillity personified. Best of all, as night falls, the sea comes alive with mind-blowing bioluminescence, which coupled with the starry night sky, makes for a pretty remarkable natural light show!
Travelling down Mexico’s Pacific coast was a wonderful experience, and it is a part of the world that is well worth exploring.
Less well known than plenty of other Mexican destinations, you get a sense of authenticity here that is often lacking in more popular spots.
The places I mentioned above really just scratched the surface too. You could truly spend months exploring the region- there’s so much to see and so many wonderful things to do.
So don’t hesitate to head out on an adventure down Mexico’s wild west coast – you won’t regret it!