Guadalajara is the second-largest metropolitan region in Mexico. There is an excellent quality of life, important contributions to the national identity, a developed economy but there are no beaches for over 200 kilometers. The coastal areas closest to Guadalajara are marvelous but you need to log some kilometers on the highway before you can touch put your feet in the sand.
I am a surfer who loves exploring the coast and I have tasked myself with visiting as many different beaches as possible. When I first moved to Guadalajara I thought I was going to be driving to the beach every weekend. With the price of gas, tolls, and accommodations it is a little less frequent. It seems that I have traded frequency of surf for quality of beach experiences. I am dialing in the beaches of the five coastal states closest to Guadalajara and have been scoring epic surf.
Table of Contents: The Best Beaches Near Guadalajara
- Don’t forget to bring
- The three closest Beaches to Guadalajara
- The Beaches of Colima
- The Beaches of Nayarit
- The beaches of Jalisco
- The Beaches of Michoacan
- The Beaches of Sinaloa
- Some Final Thoughts
Introduction: How to get to the Beach from Guadalajara
The capital of the State of Jalisco has an interesting geographical relationship with the coast. The closest beaches to the capital are not in the State of Jalisco but in the neighboring states of Nayarit and Colima. As the crow flies, Puerto Vallarta is relatively close to Guadalajara but the old highway is a backcountry road that curves through the mountains and is not meant to be traveled at a high rate of speed.
Rather than taking the old highway, it is much faster to take the toll-road freeway to the beach. The distance if further but the time it takes to get there is shorter. There are two different directions you can leave from. The 15D heads northwest out of town and quickly crosses into the State of Nayarit. The 54D heads due south out of town into the State of Colima
The beaches in this part of Mexico have waves for all ability levels and experiences for all sorts of beach lovers. As the seasons change so do the options. In the summer the south swells in Colima are monstrous. The beach breaks in Colima can be twenty-foot tall while two states over in Nayarit the point breaks are head high but reeling down the line for a quarter-mile. There are luxury hotels, humble enramada kitchens that rent beach chairs and umbrellas. There are also unspoiled beaches that require some effort to access and enjoy. Choosing the right experience for your mood and style is easy with a little research.
Don’t Forget to Bring
Sunscreen: no matter who you are and what beach you will be visiting, you should wear some sunscreen. Most people will benefit from wearing a combination of a few different types of sunscreen. I like to wear something a little more liquid as a base coat and finish with a face stick on the nose and forehead. If you are going to be spending time in the ocean you should consider a sunscreen that is Octinoxate, Oxybenzone, and nano-particle free to protect the reefs. More marine sanctuaries are moving to ban Octinoxate & Oxybenzone-based sunscreen because they damage marine life.
Hat: If you are interested in hats, Mexico is an amazing place to look for hats. However, the best hats require a little bit of searching. Small towns like Zitacuaro, Michoacan or Tepatitlan, Jalisco are famous for making lovely hats. I have a broad collection including many locally made hats and some imports. The Barmah wide brim hat puts off a lot of shade and stays cool at the same time. It is not an appropriate hat for the rainy season. A classic Panama hat (made in Ecuador) is always a classy addition to just about any outfit. If you are going to be spending a lot of time in the sun, consider the tried and true lifeguard hat.
Water bottle: a good water bottle will change your life. I love drinking cold water on a hot day and I am always amazed at how long the ice lasts in a good water bottle. Plus, you don’t want to contribute to all of that plastic waste that often ends up in the ocean. Most hotels will have 5-gallon jugs of Agua Ciel or Bonafont that you can fill up from.
Cooler: the locals all carry the styrofoam Oxxo coolers but those things are garbage and don’t even keep your drinks cold. Get a good cooler if you want to bring some cold beverages.
Shade: posting up all day at the beach requires some shade. Many of the beaches on the list have humble restaurants that rent umbrellas and lounge chairs. Sometimes your hotel only has 4 umbrellas for a hundred rooms. I have used both umbrellas and a pop-up sun shelter and I like the pop-up version because there is more shade. It takes a few tries to remember how to fold it back up but it is well worth the price when you consider the virgin beaches you will visit.
Long sleeves: a long sleeve rashguard not only keeps you out of the sun but keeps the mosquitos off of your skin. Several of the Puerto Vallarta beaches are located very close to the jungle and there are mosquitos all year long with the rainy season being particularly bad for dengue fever. I like something that is a little more loose-fitting.
Sunglasses: everyone is going to have their own styles but something with a good polarized lens is going to let you see more of the marine life in the ocean. The polarized lenses are made to cut out the glare that the ocean reflects and allows you to see more. It is really bright along the Puerto Vallarta beaches and you should be prepared. I just got a pair of RAEN Optics sunglasses that I absolutely love. Take care of your eyes.
The Three Closest Beaches to Guadalajara
The closest beaches to Guadalajara take two different routes. You can head south to Colima or northwest to Nayarit. If you are heading northwest to Nayarit there are two fast routes to the beach. The fastest is to head to Tepic, take the macrolibremiento around Tepic, and down the hill to San Blas. The other route exits the 15D about 20 kilometers past the Jalisco/Nayarit state line at the town of Jala. The Jala-Compostela toll road will spit you out right by Chacala.
- Las Islitas de San Blas, Nayarit (250 KM and 2.5-3 hours)
- Boca de Pascuales, Tecomán, Colima (250 KM 2.5-3 hours)
- Playa Chacala, Nayarit (250 KM 3 hours)
Las Islitas de San Blas and Boca de Pascuales are pretty close to the same distance and time to reach the beach. The drive to Las Islitas is a little bit easier because it is a passing lane the entire length of the drive from Guadalajara to the beach. When driving to Colima, there is a short section of the freeway that does not have a passing lane and can sometimes slow down because of the heavy tractor-trailer traffic leaving the port of Manzanillo.
Sometime soon, Chacala will be the closest beach to Guadalajara. Currently, there is a section of windy country road from Compostela to Las Varas. The toll-road freeway is under construction and was supposed to be finished years ago. That leg, from Compostela to Las Varas, is the second section of the new freeway to Puerto Vallarta. The first leg has been done for years and runs from Jala to Compostela. When the next section is complete, Chacala will be the closest beach to Guadalajara by a half hour or so.
The Beaches of Colima
Colima is a small state to the south of Guadalajara famous for an active volcano, coconuts, limes, and sea salt. The capital of the state is Colima which is located about 45 minutes from the beach but should also be checked out. Manzanillo is the most important Mexican port on the Pacific Coast. The tourism in Colima is not as international as the tourism in Puerto Vallarta. Several of the beaches downriver from the volcano have beautiful black sand that forms into sand bars and grooms the massive waves that march in every summer. Be careful during the summertime because much of the coast is open ocean and the surf can be violent. The surf is much calmer inside the bays in Manzanillo but Pascuales and Cuyutlán are known for huge waves.
- Boca de Pascuales
- Las Brisas, Manzanillo
- Santiago Peninsula, Manzanillo
- La Boquita, Manzanillo
- La Culebra, Barra de Navidad Estuary
Boca de Pascuales
After around ten or eleven in the morning, the black sand beach will start to burn your feet. The beach isn’t particularly pretty. It’s mostly an agricultural community with coconut farms as far as the eye can see. The locals are not an inviting group of people either. It is easily one of the most competitive breaks in Mexico and if you make a mistake you will be reprimanded. The wave is dangerous and an error in judgement can cause grave bodily harm. Every surfer in Guadalajara has a horror story about being held down by a big set at Pascuales and most of them never return.
So why is this one of my favorite beaches??!! Well, the surf is amazing. I have gotten the best barrels of my life here, and my worst injuries too. I don’t even surf this place when it gets big and I am still scared of it. But I love it. This is the big leagues where the pros come to shoot videos and get photos published in the magazines. But all it takes is one draining barrel to make you a believer in the virtues of Boca de Pascuales.
Check out the full article on Boca de Pascuales.
Cuyutlán is a tiny sand bar of a village that separates the Palo Verde Estuary from the Pacific Ocean. The estuary has been producing gourmet sea salt for hundreds of years. There are coconut palms as far as the eye can see and a very local tourism industry. A dozen humble seafood restaurants rent umbrellas and chairs to the tourists who eat seafood and play in the shore break.
After a good morning of surf head over to the Cuyutlán Turtle Sanctuary. You can get up close and personal with two species of turtles common to the region. There is an excellent estuary tour of the Palo Verde Reserve where you will see lots of wildlife. The tour never gets old.
Don’t forget to buy a bag of the Cuyutlán sea salt from the cooperative at the salt museum. Eat some tacos in the plaza and put some salt on the tacos and tell me that isn’t the best salt you have ever tasted.
Check out the full article on Cuyutlán
Las Brisas, Manzanillo
The Las Brisas neighborhood is one of the older touristic neighborhoods of Manzanillo with some retro charm. There are a number of good restaurants and a lot of full time residents that call this area home. Las Brisas is a sand bar that separates the industrial port of Manzanillo from the ocean so you will see container ships waiting in the bay.
Chef Nico Mejia has a restaurant called La Sal in his childhood home that is listed as one of the best restaurants in Mexico. It is a really enjoyable place to eat for an affordable price. Pick up a copy of one of the chef’s cookbooks. They are as much a travel guide for Colima as they are a culinary lesson.
Santiago Peninsula, Manzanillo
The Santiago Peninsula is a hidden treasure of Western Mexico. Manzanillo is usually associated with the industrial port and a rundown downtown area. The beaches on the Santiago Peninsula are fairly small but they make up for size with a lot of charm.
The resorts of Las Hadas and Barceló have nice private beaches but the real treasure is the public beach, La Audiencia. The water around La Audiencia is calm and crystal clear. There is lush foliage scaling the cliffs. The Santiago Peninsula area is one of the best beaches near Guadalajara because of the developed touristic infrastructure and its proximity. If you haven’t stayed at the Las Hadas Resort you should check it out. We absolutely love that place.
La Boquita and Club Santiago
Club Santiago and La Boquita Beach are on the far north side of the Manzanillo area. This beach faces south and a peninsula blocks the open ocean swells from entering the bay. There are almost no waves which makes a great beach for the kids. Once in a while a huge swell will make a fun wave in front of the inlet but that wave doesn’t actually make it into shore. The same waves in Pascuales will be 20 feet tall and in la Boquita the waves will be breaking 3-4 foot playfully with beautiful form.
There is a shipwreck about 150 yards offshore that is a good place to go snorkeling. There are a number of tour boats that post up on the beach during the weekend.
The Club Santiago development is a semi-private area. There is a guard booth but they don’t check people very well. There is a golf course and a lot of vacation rentals. Many Guadalajara families buy something like a timeshare with a small group of friends that give them access to the houses a few weeks a year.
Just know that if you stay at the hotel Palma Real you have to leave Manzanillo, drive all the way around the estuary and come back in through the little town of El Naranjo. It is a nice property but it is way farther than everything else in Manzanillo.
La Culebra, Laguna de Barra de Navidad
La Culebra probably should be in the Jalisco section but technically this side of the lagoon is Colima even though it is only 150 yards to Barra de Navidad. I love staying at the Grand Isla Navidad Resort and the Colimilla Restaurant in La Culebra is a big part of that. This is an absolutely classic Mexican beach town with amazing food and beautiful views. The zarandeado whole fish they serve at La Colimilla is one of the best I have tasted and unique in the use of the plantains. The plantains are savory with the fish and then for dessert, they bring you some lechera sweet and condensed milk to finish the plate.
Taking the water taxis around the estuary from Barra de Navidad to the Grand Isla and La Culebra is a lot of fun. This place has a lot of history and I highly recommend you check it out.
The Beaches of Nayarit
The State of Nayarit, or more aptly, the coastal region referred to as the Riviera Nayarit is very hot right now. With another wave of seaweed landing on the beaches of Cancun and the Riviera Maya, Nayarit is well poised to capture some of the excess demand for spectacular Mexican beaches and tourist infrastructure.
When you look at the map of Western Mexico, you will notice that Nayarit starts just north of the Puerto Vallarta International Airport. From the Puerto Vallarta Airport or even the Guadalajara Airport for that matter, you can drive across the state in just a few hours. It is incredibly easy to access a lot of very unique beach towns, quickly.
This is where I spend most of my beach days. I love the area. Some of these destinations are super luxury while others are rustic. There is a Mexican beach experience for all tastes and budgets.
- San Blas
- Rincon de Guayabitos
- San Francisco (San Pancho)
- Punta Mita
San Blas, Las Islitas, and Stoner’s Point
San Blas has become my new favorite surf spot. The drive in from Guadalajara is really easy. It is all freeway without those mountainous curves that you have to go through to get to Puerto Vallarta. I can usually make it in two and a half hours depending on what the traffic is like getting in and out of Guadalajara.
Stoners Point needs a serious swell to wake up. If the open ocean buoy is less than 4ft it is going to be a lake. When you see a serious southwest swell you should cancel your plans a post up in San Blas for a few days. The wave runs down, has a ton of sections, and quarter-mile-long rides are common. The wave starts off mellow with an easy drop and quickly stands up and races down the line.
Check out the full article on San Blas.
Besides being one of the closest beaches to Guadalajara, Chacala is also one of the most beautiful. Most people heading to the Riviera Nayarit from Guadalajara will exit the 15D freeway at Jala and take the new freeway to Compostela. The new freeway ends at Compostela but the next section of the freeway should be done any time now and it will drop you off just minutes away from Chacala. When that section of the freeway is completed, Chacala will be the closest beach to Guadalajara. I estimate the trip will take less than 2.5 hours.
The town of Chacala sits in a small bay and the main beach is lined with simple restaurants. On the north side of town is an exclusive beachfront residence called Chacalilla. The beach houses in Chacalilla rent for thousands of dollars per night.
There are two particularly spectacular beaches on either side of Chacala: La Caleta and Las Cuevas (AKA Divisadero). La Caleta is a world-famous surf spot with fairly difficult access. This isn’t an armature surf spot because the shallow reef is covered with sea urchins and putting your feet down can ruin your day. Access to La Caleta is an hour-long walk through the jungle, a $700 peso boat ride or a 4 wheel drive adventure. Las Cuevas is a little easier to access with a dirt trail getting pretty close to the beach. There are some sea caves with a beautiful view of the tree-lined shore that helped name the place.
Rincon de Guayabitos and La Peñita de Jaltemba
The Jaltemba Bay is made up of La Peñita de Jaltemba on the northside and Rincon de Guayabitos on the south. The Guayabitos side has more hotels while the Peñita de Jaltemba side has more locals and year-round residents. There is a little island that you can just barely make out in the photo called Coral Island. It is less than a mile offshore with a spectacular beach that it is a fun day trip. Just South of Rincon de Guayabitos is Los Ayala with some more expensive vacation rentals and a great white sand beach. South of Los Ayala is a trail that leads to Playa del Tora which is one of the most beautiful beaches in the region. It is undeveloped and absolutely pristine. There is a great lookout point from the cliff above the beach.
San Pancho (San Francisco)
San Francisco is locally referred to in the diminutive: San Pancho. Sayulita and San Pancho are both surf towns that people refer to as hippy chic. There are lots of wannabe surfers who pass through just to smoke pot. You will probably smell pot in the air from time to time.
The surf in San Pancho is better for a shortboard while the surf in Sayulita is better for a longboard. In San Pancho the waves break over sand on the south side of the beach. It is not common to have surfable waves on the north end of the beach but it does happen.
There are a lot of restaurants along the main road, Avenida Tercer Mundo (Third World Avenue). The restaurants closer to the beach tend to be pricier than the restaurants farther away from the beach. The boutique hotels are nice but overpriced for the level of luxury they include. I always feel the atmosphere is just a little bit better than the food. The way the restaurant tables line the street at night with performers passing through is really cool. You can really feel the sense of community because people like to hang out. Time moves a little slower in the pueblos than it does in the city.
Quickly growing into one of Mexico’s premier destinations, Sayulita is the surf capital of Nayarit. Just a few decades ago this was a sleepy fishing village 45 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta. Today Sayulita has a minor league baseball team, boutique hotels and international cuisine. You can still find a good taco but you might have to look a little harder to find it.
Sayulita should be your base camp for exploring the Nayarit coast. There is a great bar scene, plenty of surf shops, and a decent wave out front. If you rent a car you can surf out front in the morning, head over to Punta Mita in the afternoon and be back to Sayulita before happy hour starts. Life congregates around the main plaza so grab a chocolate-covered banana and take it all in.
In the state of Nayarit, Sayulita is regarded as the town that grew up quicker than the infrastructure around it. A couple of years back there was a sewage problem that made most of the town violently ill. The local government finally finished the wastewater treatment plant but at a cost to the town’s reputation. During the spring there are major shortages of water. The population is absolutely booming but there aren’t any parking spaces left on the weekend. I love Sayulita but the high season isn’t as enjoyable as the low season.
Punta Mita, my in-laws always correct me should be Punta de Mita, is a secluded and very wealthy community on the north shore of the Banderas Bay. It is a little peninsula sticking out into the ocean. The tip of the peninsula is a gated community with a Four Seasons, a St. Regus, and some luxury villas that rent for thousands a night. There are some great beaches if you know here to look 🙂
Click here to read the full article about Punta Mita
The Beaches of Jalisco
The Coast of Jalisco is broken into two main sections: The Banderas Bay and the Costa Alegre. Puerto Vallarta is the principal attraction in the Banderas Bay area. The Costa Alegre is a little more rural.
- Puerto Vallarta
- Cabo Corrientes
- Barra de Navidad
I don’t know what I can add to the conversation about Puerto Vallarta except that it is just as relevant today as it was 50 years ago. There is no shortage of wonderful things to do in Puerto Vallarta.
John Huston is one of my favorite directors and Puerto Vallarta will always carry the glamour of a golden era.
The southern part of town is fabulously lush, green and the epitome of charm. The cobblestone streets and tile rooves preserve an air of rustic coastal life. Puerto Vallarta has grown into a reasonably sized city the life south of the Río Cuale still feels like you are stepping back in time.
Check out the full article on the beaches of Puerto Vallarta
Barra de Navidad y Cuastecomates
Barra de Navidad is a hidden gem along the Costa Alegre in the State of Jalisco. There is a super fun longboard wave right off the jetty. In the summer the waves can get big but remain unintimidating. The natural harbor used to receive Spanish ships bringing treasures from the Philippines and China. There is still a narrow sandbar beach that separates the estuary from open ocean swells. The fishermen keep their boats on the estuary side while the surfers hang out on the ocean side.
One of the coolest beaches in this area is Cuastecomates. This is the first beach in Mexico to build infrastructure to accommodate handicapped beach lovers. The inclusive philosophy has taken off and includes wheelchairs for the sand, ramps that go right out to the water, and a good rural hospital. The beach is tucked into a cove that is protected from the surf which makes for great snorkeling.
The Beaches of Michoacan
- San Juan de Alima
- La Ticla
- La Manzanillera
- La Llorona
- Barra de Nexpa
La Ticla is a magical village with a Trestles-like cobblestone river mouth and world-class surf. The food is spectacular. This is where I first tasted a tortilla made with locally grown heirloom corn ground on a metate (prehispanic grinding stone). This is a special place for the surfing community in Guadalajara to spend long weekends camping.
This is rural Mexico so don’t expect any cell phone service or modern hotels. The area had some security issues a while back because the local Indians took up arms and fought off invading drug cartels. The federal government didn’t take kindly to the Indians setting up a checkpoint on the coastal highway and forcefully removed them. Today the region is calm but don’t take chances driving at night.
The Beaches of Sinaloa
It is hard to find better food on Mexico’s Pacific Coast than you will find in Mazatlan. The name Mazatlan is synonymous with deer but the local specialty is shrimp. From upscale eateries to down-home street food, there is no shortage of exciting culinary adventures.
The historic core is a treasure of early 20th-century architecture and there are waves right off of the boardwalk. People around here love the beach and spend lots of time on the boardwalk taking in sunsets.