Exploring the Southern Pacific Coast

Beach bumming with a frosty piña colada or cold Corona and a big, shady sombrero used to be the stereotype for most travelers to this part of Mexico. Today, ecotourism, adventure tourism, and more culturally oriented travel are siphoning people away from the beach for at least part of their visits. Each beach town in this chapter can serve as a complete vacation. You could also combine several coastal resorts into a single trip or mix the coastal with the colonial -- say, Puerto Escondido and Oaxaca, or Acapulco and Taxco.

These coastal communities have distinct personalities, but you get the beach wherever you go, whether you choose a city that offers virtually every luxury imaginable or a rustic town providing little more than seaside relaxation.

The largest and most decadent of Mexican resort destinations, Acapulco leapt into the spotlight in the late 1930s when movie stars made it their playground. Today, though challenged by other seaside destinations, Acapulco still lures visitors with its glitzy nightlife and sultry beaches (even if the Hollywood celebrities who made it a household name have moved on). Of all the resorts in this chapter, Acapulco has the best airline connections, the broadest range of late-night entertainment, the most savory dining, and the widest range of accommodations. Beaches are generally wide and clean, and although the bay itself remains suspect, it's cleaner than in past years.

Ixtapa and its neighboring seaside village, Zihuatanejo, offer beach-bound tourist attractions on a smaller, less hectic scale, attracting travelers with their complementary contrasts -- sophisticated high-rise hotels in one, local color and leisurely pace in the other. Their excellent beaches front clean ocean waters. To get there, many people fly into Acapulco, then make the 4- to 5-hour trip north by rental car or bus.

Puerto Escondido, noted for its celebrated surf break, laid-back village ambience, attractive and affordable inns, and nearby nature excursions, is a worthy destination and an exceptional value. It's 7 hours south of Acapulco on coastal Hwy. 200. Most people fly from Mexico City or drive up from Huatulco.

The Bahías de Huatulco encompass a total of nine bays -- each lovelier than the last -- on a pristine portion of Oaxaca's coast. Development of the area has been gradual and well planned, with great ecological sensitivity. The town of Huatulco, 130km (80 miles) south of Puerto Escondido, is emerging as Mexico's most authentic adventure-tourism haven. In addition to an 18-hole golf course, cruise ship pier, and a handful of resort hotels, it offers a growing array of soft adventures that range from bay tours to diving, river rafting, and rappelling. Dining and nightlife remain limited, but the setting is beautiful and relaxing.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.