Orient-Express
The beaches around Playa del Carmen may be some of the most famous in Mexico, but our panelists say it’s hard to beat the sugary white sands at the Hotel Maroma.
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updated 4/9/2007 12:26:13 PM ET 2007-04-09T16:26:13

White sand, glistening water, endless views, lapping surf — you know the drill. The characteristics of a great beach are no secret.

But what’s also important is what’s around the sand; after all, you’re not beach-going in a vacuum. And the best beaches of Mexico offer a real panorama of options. There are stretches of practically virgin beach that cling to a still-wild status in between the untamed jungle and the roiling surf. There are beaches with relics of the Mayan civilization nearby—and how many places can you relax on a beach after climbing around on temples?

Then there are high-end resorts like the Four Seasons and Fairmont that have reserved pristine sand exclusively for their guests. And this has raised issues, since all beaches in Mexico are supposed to be public. But with barriers and guards, some hotels have actively discouraged non-guests from joining the party (an upside, of course, if you happen to be a guest). The practice may not make everyone happy, but it does add to the variety of beach experience for the upscale traveler.

So we consulted our panel of Mexico experts on what they consider to be Mexico’s best beaches. Weighing in were travel agents, writers, and tour operators who know the overrated and overcrowded from the secret stashes of sugary sand.

Our panelists had plenty of options, of course, since Mexico stretches from the more protected waters of the Caribbean Sea to the wilder Pacific Ocean. But their task becomes more difficult each day. As Mexico grows more popular as a tourist destination, beaches are more in danger of being overrun by a Cancun-like caravan. The beaches of Acapulco will always have their place, but for those in search of solitude, the teeming throngs make it an increasingly tougher task.

Fairmont Hotels
In Playa del Carmen, the main beaches are easily accessible and offer fun activities like beach horseback riding. But luxury travel designer Pallavi Shah recommends Mayakoba, and with good reason: This wide, white swatch of sand is set up exclusively for guests of the Fairmont Mayakoba.
Fortunately, Mexico still harbors plenty of options — and not always far from the crowds. South of Cancun, Tulum has plenty of pristine sand. And there's yet more just off the coast on Isla Mujeres. Even in popular Playa del Carmen, travelers don’t have to soak up the sun while sitting sardine-like in the sand.

On the western side of the country, the coast is rockier and the waves stronger, which makes it great for surfers, but not always for swimmers. Still, there are plenty of protected, hidden spots (read on for a couple of them). Cabo san Lucas continues to attract the jet set, but the most glorious beaches in Mexico are north of Cabo, said custom-travel specialist Lisa Lindblad. And further south, Oaxaca offers some lesser-trafficked beaches, according to travel researcher Stan Plog. “Not easy to get to,” he said, “but beautiful scenery and a fabulous, mostly private beach setting.”

So go exploring, but bring this list (and a towel). Whether you choose an untamed beach or a stretch of sand complete with thatched palapa and frozen drinks, you’re sure to find those essential elements that make it a “best” beach: fine sand, azure water, shady palms, and the feeling of utter, complete relaxation.

Photos: Marvelous Mexico

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  1. Tempting Tulum

    The Mayan City of Tulum, Mexico is located on the Caribbean Sea coast of the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. (Ml Sinibaldi / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. View from Palenque

    Tourists sit atop a pyramid in Palenque, set in the foothills of the Tumbal mountains of Chiapas Mexico. (Marco Ugarte / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Blessings in Chiapas

    A tzotzil child walks in front of the church of San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas. (Matias Recart / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Luxury in Puerto Vallarta

    The terrace on the Celestial Suite is seen at Hacienda San Angel in Puerto Vallarta. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Ancient stories

    This photo shows details of a Maya stone, relating the coming to power of governor Sir Jupiter Humenate and dated 613 AC, found in Tonina, Ocosingo, Chiapas. (Janet Schwartz / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Mexico magic

    Mexico City, the capital city of the nation of Mexico. (Diego Goldberg / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Musical Mexico

    A mariachi band play on a punt at the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco in Mexico City. (Danny Lehman / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Cool Cancun

    Cancun, Mexico is ranked as one of the top international vacation destinations. The beaches of Cancun have been completely restored following damage caused by Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Travelers will find its newly renovated resorts, restaurants, beaches and attractions better and even more accessible than ever. (Business Wire) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Isla bonita

    The ferry landing on Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Isla Mujeres is a tiny island mere miles from the Yucatan coast, and feels a world away from Cancun's hustle and bustle. Isla Mujeres, thriving in its own tourism, manages to maintain the feeling of a small fishing village. (Anja Schlein / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Soccer and bullfights

    Estadio Azul (left), a soccer stadium; and Plaza Mexico, the world's largest bullring, in Mexico City. (Danny Lehman / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Azure Cortez

    People kayak in the Bahia de Loreto National Park, in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico. (Terry Prichard / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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