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For U.S. travelers, a quick beach getaway is always made simple with Mexico, literally, right there. And with so many easy flight and hotel combos you’d think that all the lovely beach real estate has been gobbled up by throngs of tourists and massive hotel chains. But fear not, those who venture off the beaten path can still discover dozens of concealed coastlines enjoyed only by locals, or the select backpacker who was brave enough to escape the all-inclusive scene. Here are 10 of our favorite Mexican beaches that locals would rather we kept under wraps.

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Playa San Agustin | Photo courtesy of Meagan Drillinger

Playa San Agustin, Oaxaca
Surfers have forever flocked to the southern coast of Oaxaca, where beaches like Playa Zicatela in Puerto Escondido are heralded for their epic pipelines. But just south of Puerto Escondido, on the way to the port of Huatulco, is Playa San Agustin. This mile-long crescent stretch of beach is one of the nine bays that make up Huatulco. One dusty road leads toward the beach, where travelers will find a few palapa’d seafood restaurants. Snack on fresh ceviche and sip on an icy Dos Equis in between snorkeling or swimming in the calm, cobalt-colored water.

Playa del Caballo, Jalisco
Frequent travelers to Puerto Vallarta have heard about the string of beaches to the south that are only accessible by boat. But in between these stops are even more secluded beaches that are arguably way more beautiful. Playa del Caballo is the beach just before Playa las Animas, which is a popular spot to take a water taxi. But hike north of the beach on the secluded path behind Hotelito Mio and you’ll find a virgin beach shaded with elegant palm trees, calm surf, and jewel-colored water that is atypical of Mexico’s west coast.

Costa Maya, Quintana Roo
While everyone else is pulling off the highway to bask on the beaches of Tulum, keep driving another solid four hours and you’ll find a piece of Mexico that is all your own. The Costa Maya is a stretch of coast in the very southern part of the State of Quintana Roo, near the border of Belize. It’s visually stunning, and a paradise for nature lovers. Offshore, discover brilliant coral reefs, mangroves teeming with dolphins and turtles, while onshore there is the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve home to jaguars and monkeys. A good homebase to explore the coast is the beach town of Mahahual, which has a small cruise terminal, as well as funky boutique hotels and beach bars.

Celestun | Photo courtesy of Meagan Drillinger

Celestun, Yucatan
Merida, the capital city of the state of Yucatan, is on the rise as a destination in its own right. So for those staying an extended amount of time, it’s worth a day trip to the western beach town of Celestun. The lazy fishing village, about an hour and change from Merida, is known for its sugary sand, aquamarine water, thatched beach shacks slinging the daily catch with umbrella drinks, and daily boat trips that take tourists out to see the water fields of flamingos in the Reserva de la Biosfera Ria.

Cabo Corrientes | Photo courtesy of Meagan Drillinger

Cabo Corrientes, Jalisco
The main highway south of Puerto Vallarta hugs the coastline along the Bay of Banderas, climbing up into the mountains and deep into Selva El Tuito National Park. Here the highway branches into dusty roads that lead out to pristine and wild stretches of barren beach. This rugged stretch of Pacific coastal Mexico is Cabo Corrientes, a 45-mile stretch of shore on Jalisco’s coast. The beaches here are remote, with many accessible only by boat or winding, unpaved road. One to know in particular is Playa Mayto, a sweeping beach with golden sand and one, singular hotel, Hotel Mayto, with basic rooms, a restaurant and campground facilities, as well as a pool and unspoiled views of the Pacific.

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Isla Contoy, Quintana Roo
If the pool at your Cancun all-inclusive seems a little too crowded, we have just the solution for you. Make your way over to Isla Contoy, a skinny wisp of an island to the northwest of Cancun. The entire island is 1.2 square miles and has been declared a national park. It’s so small that it only has a capacity of only 200 tourists per day. A visit to Isla Contoy can done in a day from Cancun or Isla Mujeres; the trip is about two hours by boat and along the way visitors have an opportunity to snorkel in the Ixlache Reef. The island itself features a stretch of empty beaches and prime snorkeling spots.

Views from the coast of holbox island, Mexico.

Isla Holbox, Quintana Roo
But if Contoy is a bit too laid back for your liking, kick it up a notch (if ever so slightly) at nearby Isla Holbox. Isla Holbox is another Mexican island in the Caribbean that is relatively untapped by travelers, although more people certainly have become aware of it after the New York Times named it one of its top places to visit in Mexico in 2016 (ranking it behind only Mexico City and Todo Santos). The island is part of the protected area of the Yum-Balam, Mexico’s largest ecological reserve, and its intentional lack of development means travelers are enjoying unspoiled nature. Boating is one of the top activities on Holbox, and day trips skirt the coast and visit Pajaros Island, a bird sanctuary. Other highlights include the Yalahau lagoon, where dolphin sightings are common. From May to September, swimming with whale sharks is a popular activity. There are a fair share of backpacker hotels and a mix of luxury boutique eco resorts thrown in. But all travelers seem to mingle at the variety of beach bars, or off shore during whale shark season when it is possible to swim with these gentle giants.

Playa Mismaloya, Jalisco
Though technically not as undiscovered as it once was (thanks to a Barcelo hotel nearby), Playa Mismaloya outside Puerto Vallarta still retains its hidden charm. The cove-like beach was the backdrop for the famous 1964 John Huston film, Night of the Iguana, which essentially put Puerto Vallarta on the map. Today the beach is not quite as sleepy, but it’s still just as beautiful, with a quiet, palm-fringed beach tucked away from the fray.

Zipolite, Oaxaca
On the southern coast of Oaxaca, between Huatulco and Puerto Escondido, is this vortex of hippie culture that is its own world within a world. Zipolite is one of Mexico’s very few nude beaches, and is very popular among the European and backpacker set. Load up the Spotify with Bob Marley and The Doors, light up whatever it is you might want to light up, strip down, and forget about everything else.

Panoramic Aerial View at sunset of La Paz Beach in Baja California Sur, Mexico

La Paz, Baja California Sur
On the Baja peninsula, far from the crowded, high-energy streets of Cabo San Lucas, sits La Paz. This city by the sea has only 220,000 residents and is surrounded by barren desert. But the sleepy oasis of La Paz still delights visitors with restaurants, museums and Colonial-Era buildings and offers some fantastic diving. If you really want to make an adventure of it, grab the ferry from Mazatlan. It’s a long, overnight journey, but will save you a few bucks on a flight or hotel stay.

Tagged: Mexico

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Meagan Drillinger

Meagan Drillinger

Meagan is a New York-based travel writer, though if you give her a plane ticket today she'll be somewhere else tomorrow. Her focus and passion is Mexico, but her travel wishlist never seems to get any shorter.

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