A couple of years ago, my husband and I took a two week trip down the Pacific coast of Mexico -- just the two of us, a beat up car and a road map -- no hotel reservations and no specific plans. We only made one mistake (well -- apart from almost hitting that donkey outside Zihuatanejo), and that was that we underestimated the number of Mexican tourists who had the same idea we had, so lesson number one is make reservations if you plan to travel during high season.

Most of the Pacific coast of Mexico, especially the central and southern sections, is about as far removed from the Yucatan Peninsula and the Riviera Maya as you can get. Instead of high-rises and chain hotels, you'll find small haciendas, humble hotels and boutique properties. No glitzy designer stores, just local artisans and retailers trying to make an honest living. Few expensive restaurants that accept credit cards, but plenty of taco stands where you meet and eat with the local community plus countless beachside seafood shacks serving calamari and shrimp in a variety of ways. Sure you can go to Puerto Vallarta, Ixtapa and Acapulco and get all the luxury amenities that come with five-star resorts but if you want a more authentic Mexican Pacific coast experience, head south and avoid the bigger resort cities.

We flew into Guadalajara, which is an under-rated and quite interesting city. Car rental places are in abundance here and I strongly recommend having a car as there are too many secluded beaches and quaint villages you will miss without one (but beware -- if you are arriving during a holiday period -- Christmas, Easter etc., even some of the larger and more respectable car companies may "give away" your pre-reserved vehicle, as was the experience we had with Hertz). From there it is about a two-hour drive to the coast line. Alternatively you can choose to fly into Puerto Vallarta, Oaxaca, Mazatlan, Manzanillo, Acapulco, Huatulco or Ixtapa (often via Mexico City).

In the state of Oaxaca, Puerto Escondido (home of the Mexican Pipeline) is for the die-hard surfing enthusiast, and to be honest girls (aged 18 to 30), a beach town full of men! Nearby Zipolites, is well-known as a naturist beach area, so hammocks aren't the only things swaying in the breeze here. And just down the road, Puerto Angel is a heavenly spot for kicking back and doing next to nothing under the palm trees.

Further north, the Michoacan coastline is 150 plus miles of golden sand beaches with small resort towns like Playa Azul and growing tourism centers like Zihuatenago. On the central Pacific coast, Barra de Navidad is a great low key alternative to Puerto Vallarta and Huatulco is one of the newer ritzier resort towns.

If you are looking to escape the winter chills, consider a trip to the coast that will warm your body and your soul. You probably won't be able to find too many package deals to the smaller Pacific coast destinations mentioned above (perhaps with the exception of Zihuatenago and Huatulco), but if you want to base yourself in the larger resort towns and make day trips you have a few budget options.

SunMex Vacations (tel. 877/378-2140; has a number of special packages currently available for Pacific coast destinations from a number of U.S. departure cities. For an absolute bargain, try the four-night package with airfare to Mazatlan from Los Angeles on Mexicana, staying at the two-star all-inclusive El Cid Granada Country Club Mazatlan, priced from a super low $386 per person plus taxes. Kids under six-years-old stay free, and free airport transfers are also included. Valid for Thursday departures until March 23, 2006. From Miami on Alaska Airlines, the same all-inclusive package is priced from $597 for Tuesday through Thursday departures from now until April 4, 2006. A similar four-night package from Los Angeles, staying at the three-star El Cid Castilla Beach in Mazatlan is priced from $427 per person plus taxes. Kids under 12 stay free, and free airport transfers are also included.

Fly to Puerto Vallarta from Chicago on American Airlines and get a four-night package at the three-star Hacienda Hotel and Spa in an ocean view deluxe room from $596 per person plus taxes. All these deals are for Thursday departures between now and March 23, 2006. Fly to Ixtapa from Boston on Aero Mexico and enjoy four-nights at the four-and-a-half-star NH Krystal Ixtapa from $747. Kids under 12 stay free, free airport transfers are included and departures are available daily until April 2, 2006. The same deal from New York (but only valid on Wednesdays and Thursdays until March 23, 2006) is priced from $827. Availability on these deals is limited.

Orbitz (tel. 877/672-4893; can fly you from New York to Acapulco on Continental Airlines (with one stop) for a seven-night stay at the three-star Avalon Excalibur Acapulco from $765 per person based on double occupancy. Upgrade to the four-star Fiesta Americana Condesa Acapulco for an additional $120. Fly to Huatulco from Los Angeles and spend seven secluded nights at the four-star Las Brisas Resort for a flat $1,000 per person during February (add $100 from New York). Orbitz has a three-night airfare and accommodation package to Puerto Vallarta (from Los Angeles) staying at the three-star Los Arcos Vallarta Hotel priced from $538 per person. These prices are for Monday departures in February 2006 and include all taxes and fees.

Travelocity ( has round-trip airfares from New York to Guadalajara from March 1 to April 30, 2006 starting at $313 plus taxes on Delta Airlines or $323 on American Trans Air or from Los Angeles fly Aero California or United Airlines from $235. From Chicago, prices start at $273 (March 1 to 23, 2006) on United and from Miami pay $325 flying Mexicana, United or Continental Airlines (March 1 to 23, 2006).

Round trip airfare from New York to Acapulco flying Continental Airlines or Mexicana between March 1 and June 30, 2006 starts from $385. Fly from Los Angeles to Acapulco from $305 on United, Continental or Mexicana (midweek departures from March 1 to 23, 2006), or $353 from Chicago from March 1 to April 16, 2006.

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