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Off the Beaten Path: Quiet Retreats in Mexico

Off the Beaten Path: Quiet Retreats in Mexico

Discover the blissful seclusion of these intimate beach destinations south of the border.

Balmy Mexico’s coastline is dotted with welcoming, white-sand beaches that attract honeymooners from all over the world. And no wonder: idyllic seaside towns like Los Cabos, Cancun and Puerto Vallarta are ideal — and easy — getaways, brimming with high-end resorts, top restaurants and romantic activities. But couples seeking a little more privacy and tranquility can still enjoy an escape south of the border. These four playa destinations are the ultimate vacation sanctuaries, set far from the crowds. Each offers a rustic and authentic beach experience while providing the individualized service for which Mexico is so often lauded. Here’s where to cast away.

Todos Santos

It’s hard to peel away from the intimate and sexy beaches in Los Cabos. But Todos Santos, an hour drive up the Baja peninsula, lures with equally tempting beaches, many which are swimmable, in stark contrast to Los Cabos. Chock-full of art galleries and family-run businesses, the artsy, surfer town has remained not only one of the best-kept secrets for decades, but also a boon for in-the-know surfers and crowd-phobic free spirits and artists. The most popular beach is Los Cerritos, which seems to unfurl for miles (cue: endless, romantic walks) and is framed by the breathtaking backdrop of the Sierra Laguna Mountains. Learn how to surf with Mario Surf School, an excellent surf shop that rents boards and offers lessons. There are some full-service restaurants and bars, but don’t expect any Cabo Wabos here: this beach scene is still well off the radar.

Where to Stay: Ten miles from town, Rancho Pescadero is a 15-acre, 27-suite property that’s all about relaxation and luxury. Expect handcrafted mojitos embellished with fresh-from-the-on-site-garden mint, daily yoga and ubiquitous, comfy beds (in the suites, by the pool, on the beach and on the private rooftop decks). The hotel recently debuted new oceanfront suites and offers modern cabanas on the virtually empty, two-mile sandy shore (room rates start at $260 a night; ranchopescadero.com).

Where to Eat: George’s, a popular taco stand in town, serves up the most scrumptious fish tacos in the area.

Zihuatanejo

Set on Mexico’s Pacific coast, this paradisiacal enclave is as exotic as the name sounds. It’s not a stretch getting here (there is frequent non-stop service from Los Angeles and Houston) but Zihuatanejo is still the lesser-known beach destination compared to its neighbor, Acapulco. A waterfront walkway, lined with seafood restaurant and souvenir shops, is the heart of town — but the main allure is the beachy bay, surrounded by the foothills of the sierra Madre Mountains. Playa la Ropa, the most popular beach in Zihuatanejo, is almost a mile long with water so calm it’s perfect for swimming and myriad watersports.

Where to Stay: Viceroy Zihuatanejo, a five-star boutique hotel right on the sand. Rooms are spacious with Mexican-inspired interiors but most couples spend most of their time on the beach. The property boasts a “beach boy” who helps with activities, palapa-shaded cabanas and an open-air spa palapa. The resort is the first and only establishment in the area to offer paddleboard yoga — you stand-up paddle to Playa las Gatas, a beach at the end of the bay, have a yoga-on-the-board-session, then SUP back (room rates start at $336 a night; viceroyhotelsandresorts.com).

Where to Eat: Paty’s Mirimar serves traditional, gourmet Mexican fare and seafood right on the beach.

Isla Holbox

Feel completely removed from the modern world in Isla Holbox, an island hideaway just off the coast of Cancun, about two hours via ferry. Devotees love it for its retro allure — not much has changed in decades — and bohemian vibe that’s the polar opposite of lively Cancun. The island is so small, guests get around by golf cart and the main town square is a stone’s throw from the beach. While the name of the game is beach bumming on the sugary white sand, plenty of activities like birding, Mayan village visits and even a short trip to a tinier sister island, Isla Pasion, make Isla Holbox a main attraction, rather than an excursion. If you’re adventurous, gear up in snorkel and fins and swim with whale sharks (it’s totally safe — they’re vegetarians). The animals migrate near the island, which is one of the few places in the world visitors can experience this once-in-a-lifetime activity.

Where to Stay: Casa Sandra, an intimate, 18-room boutique retreat, trumps other surrounding hotels with its artistic design. Cuban-born artist Sandra Perez, who filled the romantic space with antique furniture, handwoven linens and other one-of-a-kind pieces, owns this romantic hideaway. Gourmet meals have wooed Rene Redzepi (chef at Noma, voted best restaurant in the world) and the thatch-roof palapitas (rustic accommodations) on the beach are perfectly plush (room rates start at $279 a night; casasandra.com).

Where to Eat: Don’t miss a visit to El Sushi, where grilled snapper is hours fresh and the shrimp sashimi is to die for.

Sayulita

About an hour drive from Puerto Vallarta, Sayulita in Riviera Nayarit on the Pacific Coast has long been the stomping ground for visiting surfers and young locals. But secrets don’t last forever — especially if you’re one of the best beginner beach breaks in Mexico — and laidback couples have been flocking here for authentic eats, sprawling beaches and top-notch boutique hotels. Wander the small village for plenty of independent shops and open-air bars or get active at a number of yoga studios or surf classes. The main beach, Playa Centro, stretches for miles, is lined with outdoor restaurants and is virtually hawker-free. Other smaller, unspoiled beaches are just a short stroll away. Horseback riding is popular in Sayulita, where Rancho Mi Chaparrita arranges rides through the jungle and onto the beaches. Due to its emerging popularity, Sayulita is slated for major development (cruise-ship stop, corporations breaking ground), so visit now while it’s still boho-chic.

Where to Stay: A hidden gem of a property, Playa Escondida is set on its own beach and is within walking distance to Playa Centro. The cliff-side property features 25 thatch-roof villas, an outdoor pool with cascading waterfall and thatch-roof cabanas flanked by hammocks on the beach. With no TVs and limited cell service, it’s as authentic as it gets (room rates start at $230 a night; playa-escondida.com).

Where to Eat: Mary’s is a restaurant visitors return to several times during their time in Sayulita, thanks to delicious aguachiles (chili-spiked ceviche) and a delectable tomato-based sauce topping the famous chile rellenos. 

This article was published by Bridal Guide. Feature photo courtesy of Rancho Pescadero.

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