2015 saw Thomson launch the UK’s first direct flights to Puerto Vallarta, making Mexico’s vibrant Pacific Coast easier to reach than ever before. To celebrate, we’re shining our December spotlight on this tropical sun-seekers’ paradise.
The turquoise waters and white sands of Mexico’s Pacific Coast have been attracting beach lovers for decades. Its popularity has spurred the development of major resorts like Acapulco and the smaller, glitzier Puerto Vallarta. But away from the sprawling holiday centres are sleepy fishing villages, hidden waterfalls, and secluded bays backed by jungle-clad mountains. The coast also encompasses staggering biodiversity – dolphins, manta rays, turtles, whales and more.
Set in the vast Bay of Banderas, Puerto Vallarta is one of Mexico’s top resorts. Discovered in the 1960s by the Hollywood jet-set, the former seaside village today hosts millions of visitors every year, who come for stunning sandy beaches, year-round sunshine, a buzzing nightlife and great watersports. Visit the malecón, the waterfront promenade, and the old town with its white-washed houses and cobbled streets lined with shops, bars and restaurants.
Nuevo Vallarta, fronting miles of beach to the north, is a more recent development of high-rise, all-inclusive hotels with little character. That said, Sayulita, on a beautiful sandy beach in a neighbouring bay, is a fun, low-key town and a great place for learning to surf. Equally, the nearby islands of Las Mariatas offer superb diving. We love Playa Escondida, hidden between jungle and sea just outside town.
The scenic southern arc of the Bay of Banderas is where you’ll find the popular Playa de los Muertos. The palm-lined coastal road winds south past beautiful villas, pretty coves and small towns (including Mismaloya, where The Night of the Iguana was filmed), before turning inland. Further south still, remote bays accessible only by boat offer crystalline waters, pristine beaches and the wonderful hideaways of Majahuitas and Verana.
Below the bay, the Mex 200 highway runs parallel with the coast but mostly inland, taking in lush green mountain ranges, ramshackle farms and occasional coconut and banana plantations. Here the 200km coastline is known as the Costa Alegre (the ‘Happy Coast’) and is dotted with secluded resorts, including the exclusive Las Alamandas. Rising up from the ocean are the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountains, which offer trekking on foot or by horse through tropical forests, often revealing picturesque hidden villages.
Way down south (beyond Acapulco and into the state of Oaxaca) are laid-back coastal towns and alluring beachside settlements like Puerto Escondido, a surfers’ mecca where the world championships are held every November. Stay at the friendly Flor de Maria if you fancy taking surfing lessons, or head to Villas Carrizalillo for exclusive access to the beach below.
When to go
We recommend November-May, the dry season. November to February is coolest (mid 60s at night to mid 80s by day); March to May is a touch warmer (high 60s to high 80s). In May, you might see the annual land crab migration, an amazing spectacle. January and February is whale-watching season. June-October is the wet season, but bursts of rain are interspersed with sunny spells, so it’s by no means a bad time to come.
Our top tip
Wildlife in the area is superb. Dolphins are present in the Bay of Banderas and along the coast all year round. Humpback and grey whales can be spotted from December to March, when they migrate south to mate, bear young and care for new calves. April is the mating month for giant manta rays, when they can be seen jumping out of the water. Turtles, once common along this coastline, are now an endangered species saved from extinction by protection projects.
Keen to take advantage of everything the Pacific Coast has to offer? Check out our full collection.