When you have beach on the brain, who wants to bother with a layover? We've prepared the ultimate insider's guide to seven resort towns south of the border that are just one quick flight away.
Wedged between granite peaks and the water on the tip of Baja California, Los Cabos has one of Mexico's most dramatic settings. But a less-than-thrilling 20-mile-long tourist corridor connects the towns of San José del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas, making it all the more appealing to choose a town and stick with it. SEE In San José del Cabo's downtown arts district, galleries like Old Town show works by Mexican artists (011-52/624-142-3662, oldtowngallery.net). STAY El Encanto Inn & Suites is decorated in Spanish-colonial style, with chandeliers in the entryway and a fountain in the courtyard—plus, the 28 rooms all have balconies (011-52/624-142-0388, elencantoinn.com, from $95). EAT Set in a hacienda in Cabo San Lucas, La Fonda serves dishes that chef Christopher Chong's grandmother used to cook, like empanadas with a red chili sauce (011-52/624-143-6926, empanadas $11). DO At Playa Médano in Cabo San Lucas, Andromeda Divers y Mas offers water sports such as sea kayaking and parasailing (011-52/624-143-2765, scubadivecabo.com). DETOUR An hour's drive north of Los Cabos, eclectic shops and galleries have opened in artist-friendly Todos Santos, including the bookstore El Tecolote Libros (011-52/612-145-0295) and Galería de Todos Santos (011-52/612-145-0500, galeriadetodossantos.com).
Cancún may never shake its reputation as a rowdy college-party destination, but outside of spring-break season, the city is a surprisingly subdued place. The peninsula is where most of the major resorts are located, so if you're looking for character, it's best to head downtown on the mainland. STAY The boutique hotel Sol y Luna has 11 brightly painted rooms, mosaic-trimmed baths, and balconies overlooking Parque de las Palapas (011-52/998-887-5579, solylunahotel.com, from $48). EAT The park is a popular gathering spot for musicians in the evenings; it's also where you'll find one of the city's best restaurants, Labná, which serves Yucatecan dishes such as pibil, achiote-flavored pork wrapped in a banana leaf (011-52/998-892-3056, labna.com, pibil $9). DRINK The aptly named Bling Resto Bar, on the resort peninsula, is just what it sounds like; lounge on the patio with a grape mojito and watch the sun go down over the lagoon (011-52/998-840-6014, blingcancun.com, drinks from $5). DETOUR Xcaret, a sprawling ecological and adventure theme park about 45 minutes south of Cancún, is an ideal spot for families. Activities here range from swimming through caves in an underground river to walking through a butterfly pavilion and watching monkeys, manatees, pumas, and jaguars in their natural environments (011-52/998-883-0470, www.xcaret.com, from $69).
Surrounded by vibrantly colored coral reefs, the island of Cozumel, 11 miles off the Yucatán coast, has been attracting divers since Jacques Cousteau popularized it in the 1960s. The most central place to be situated for day trips around the island is the town of San Miguel, which has a number of reasonably priced guesthouses. STAY Las Anclas gets high marks not only for its seven bi-level suites and beautiful garden, but also for owners Pedro and Eyal, who are eager to offer up restaurant recommendations (011-52/987-872-5476, lasanclas.com, from $95). EAT A local favorite is La Candela, which serves hearty dishes like chicken stuffed with ham and cheese, and jamaica, a cold tea made from hibiscus flowers (011-52/987-878-4471, chicken $8). DO The tour operator Deep Blue arranges dive trips to some of the hardest-to-reach reefs around the island (011-52/987-872-5653, deepbluecozumel.com, from $68). Or, you can take a boat ride through the mangroves in the Faro Celarain Eco Park for an adventure of a different sort: crocodile spotting (011-52/987-872-1680, cozumelparks.com, $11).