Although a “best” beach for some folks might be horrible for others, many people would agree that a good, all-purpose beach should have convenient bus or car access, somewhere to stay and eat, gentle surf with no more than mild undertow, and also be safe for boogie boarding and swimming. This is true for all beaches listed here unless otherwise noted.
Best All-Purpose Beaches
Continuing south on the Jalisco Coast is family-friendly Pérula, on islet-decorated Chamela Bay. Farther south, find RV- and tent-camper havens Playa Tenacatita and Playa Boca de Iguanas. Finally, those who want it all—good hotels, restaurants, and drowsy, country-Mexico tranquility—choose Melaque.
On the north side of Puerto Vallarta, the best beach comprises the Hotel Zone strip between the Hotel Sheraton and the Hotel NH Krystal, ending just before the Terminal Maritima (cruise-ship terminal).
On the bay’s northwest side, creamy Playa Bucerías is a favorite. Farther away, on the Bay of Banderas’s northwest side, are petite Playa Manzanillo (at the Hotel Piedra Blanca) and Playa Anclote at Punta Mita, with good palapa restaurants, snorkeling and surfing nearby, and excursions to offshore Islas Marietas.
Also on the north side of the Bay of Banderas, check out Playa Destiladeras. There’s no hotel or trailer park, but there are palapa restaurants, and the miles of nearly flat coral-strewn beach are ideal for beachcombing, swimming, boogie boarding, tent camping, and surfing at Punta el Burro, about a mile west of the restaurants.
Continuing north, the best beaches along the Nayarit Coast are the currently hot beach at Sayulita and, farther north, family-friendly Lo de Marco and Rincón de Guayabitos. All of these beaches have trailer parks nearby.
My favorite beach on the Nayarit Coast is gem-like Playa Chacala, whose golden sand curves gently around its intimate, palm-tufted half-moon bay.
Best Wildlife Beaches
On the Nayarit Coast, the beach at San Francisco is steep, often with thunderous waves and strong undertow. Nevertheless, it has hotels and restaurants and is fine for surf fishing, bird- and wildlife-watching, turtle-watching in the fall, and tent camping, if you don’t mind a bit of company.
For pristine isolation, wildlife-watching (egg-laying turtles in the fall), surf fishing, tent or RV camping, and a small rustic hotel with restaurant, no place could be finer than Playa Punta Raza.
Also very lovely and worthwhile is the local country beach haven of Playa el Naranjo, north of Rincón de Guayabitos–La Peñita. It offers palapa restaurants, a near-level beach with little undertow, surfing breaks, a mangrove lagoon, crocodiles, plenty of birds, and lots of palm-shaded room for RV or tent camping.
Best Hidden Beaches
South of Puerto Vallarta, venture off-road to Playa Maito, accessible from Highway 200 at El Tuito, via jeep or public minivan over about 20 miles of dirt road. Playa Maito is a three-mile-long golden-sand beach good for virtually all beach diversions, including a comfortable, moderately priced hotel and restaurant with a pool.
Alternatively, go a mile farther south to Tehualmixtle fishing cove, with restaurants and a rustic hotel; add fishing, snorkeling, and scuba diving (with your own equipment) to the family-friendly beach activities.
Most Beautiful Beaches
Gem of gems, Playa Careyes sits on its own petite half-moon bay and offers palapa restaurants, informal tent camping or RV parking by the restaurants, surf fishing, fishing trips, and more. A few miles farther, de facto wildlife refuge Playa el Tecuán offers everything: a long pristine strand perfect for beachcombing, powerful rollers for advanced surfers, great surf fishing, even bird- and wildlife-watching in your own kayak on the Tecuán lagoon. The beach has no facilities, however, so bring everything.
© Bruce Whipperman from Moon Puerto Vallarta, 7th edition