Explore the Mexican Riviera

The cruise industry dubbed Mexico’s Pacific Coast the Mexican Riviera–a name whose glamor was bolstered by its prominence in the 1970s TV show “The Loveboat,” where Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta were often featured as ports of call. The area, which stretches from Baja, California to Mexico’s border with Guatemala, offers a little bit of everything, depending on where you touch down.


John Wayne slept here. So did Elizabeth Taylor and Frank Sinatra. Acapulco was Mexico’s first world-class resort, a transformation made possible when the Mexican government built a highway connecting the town with Mexico City in 1927. By the 1960s, it was a playground for what used to be known as the international jet set. But over the years, Acapulco’s glamor faded and its beaches became polluted.

Now it’s coming back, thanks to an effort to rehabilitate its glitzy high-rise hotels and clean up the area’s polluted waters.

One of Acapulco’s most famous attractions is the cliff diving at La Quebrada. From morning to evening evening, bronzed young men make breathtaking dives from a steep cliff into a small cove of water below as passing tourists gasp in astonishment. There are four beaches in Acapulco proper and a number nearby. There you can just sit back and relax or go scuba diving, snorkeling or fishing. Adventurous sorts can take in a bullfight.

But Acapulco’s nightlife is the city’s main attraction. Much of the entertainment revolves around nightclubs and most don’t get really going until after midnight.

Cabo San Lucas

Once a rustic fishing village, you may think of Cabo as another hard partying destination for college kids on spring break, but the area boasts other attractions.

Beaches: From the buzzing Playa El Médano in Cabo San Lucas to the isolated Playa El Faro Viejo, Cabo is a mecca for beachcombers. In addition to swimming, you can snorkel, jetski or parasail at El Médano, the area’s main beach. Other, more remote beaches aren’t safe for swimming but their pristine condition make them ideal for a relaxing day of sunbathing.
Fishing: Angling remains popular and the fishing is good. Depending upon the time of year, you can hunt for tuna, yellowtail, sailfish or marlin.
Golf: Duffers have several first-class courses to choose from, starting with Palmilla, Mexico’s first Jack Nicklaus Signature course. Greens fees are pricey, $200 and up, though you may be able to get a discount if you play after 2 pm.
Whale watching: Depending on the time of year, you can spot blue whales or California gray whales. The prime whale watching areas are in the coves and lagoons north of Cabo–a good side trip.

Ixtapa & Zihuatanejo

The first is a modern luxury resort with white sand beaches and high-rise hotels offering all the amenities. The second is a quiet beach village where none of the buildings are more than four-stories tall.

Ixtapa is where the action is, with four-star restaurants, nightclubs and a variety of activities and attractions:

Delfiniti Dolphinarium is the place to go to swim with the dolphins. But it doesn’t come cheap: a 20-minute “encounter” costs $75 per person while a 45-minute swim goes for $130.
Magic World aquatic park has rides, wave pools and a pirate ship with water slides.
Club de Golf Marina Ixtapa offers tennis and features an 18-hole course designed by Robert Von Hagge.
The Palma Real Golf Club is an 18-hole, championship course designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr.

Laid back Zihuatanejo, Zihua for short, is the place the jailbirds in The Shawshank Redemption fantasized about as their dream getaway. The town boasts five main beaches where you can fish, sail or just relax:

  1. La Playa Principal, located in the town center
  2. Playa La Madera, a five-minute walk from town
  3. Playa La Ropa, a 20-minute walk
  4. Playa Las Gatas at the extreme southern end of the bay
  5. Playa Contramar, at the northern end of the bay: accessible by boat or footpath

The town has a number of other attractions and activities:


The Pearl of the Pacific is Mexico’s largest Pacific port and a haven for water sports and sports fishing. Surfers will revel in the big waves of Olas Altas. Los Pinos, north of the fort, is also known for its waves. Playa Los Gaviota, Playa Los Sabalos, Cerritos, Isla de la Piedra, and El Camaron also offer good surfing.

The Zona Dorada, or Golden Zone, is the place to go for shopping, nightlife and deluxe hotels.
How about some free beer? Mazatlan is home to Pacifico, one of the largest breweries in Mexico. The brewery offers free tours–with samples–five days a week.
Machado Plaza, the city’s historic center, is another attraction with buildings like the recently restored Angela Peralta Theater, the oldest theater in Mazatlan.
The Archaeological Museum of Mazatlan houses pre-Columbian relics and admission is fee.
Acuario Mazatlán features 200 species of marine life. And when your done take your kids to the playground, botanic garden and aviary next door.

Puerto Vallarta

Cobblestone streets, old world charm, teeming nightlife and gorgeous beaches–they’re all part of the Puerto Vallarta experience. Whimsical sculptures, said to bring good luck if you touch them line the malecón, or boardwalk, which is surrounded by restaurants, shops, and bars.
Take the 45-minute boat ride across the Bay of Banderas to Yelapa Beach, which is tucked at the base of a jungle-covered mountain. A short hike takes you through lush tropical vegetation to a 35-meter waterfall.
The Puerto Vallarta Botanical Gardens feature over 3,000 different species of plants in a tropical forest 1,300 feet above sea level. Among the sights to see are the Palm Gardens, Rose Garden, Tree Fern Grotto, Orchid House, Jungle Trails, Agave Garden and the Carnivorous Plant Collection.
Dive or snorkel in the waters of Bahía de Banderas.
“Blue Chairs,” the most popular gay beach in Puerto Vallarta is located on the southern end of Playa Los Muertos.
Golfers will find a variety of world class courses designed by luminaries such as Jack Nicklaus, Robert Von Hagge and Tom Weiskopf.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Esparta