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.
- 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
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 of the damage they do to the
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Three Closest Beaches to Guadalajara
- 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 slowdown because of the heavy tractor-trailer traffic leaving the port of Manzanillo.
Sometime soon, Chacala will be the closest beach to Guadalajara. Currrently, 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 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 for 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, 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 down river from the volcano have a 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 know 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 a very 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
La Boquita is a rivermouth and sand bar at the far north end of the Santiago Bay in Manzanillo. The beach in front of Club Santiago and La Boquita is great for kids because it is inside a bay and there are never waves. There is a surf spot in front of the river mouth but it needs an absolutely massive swell to start breaking. Boca de Pascuales down the beach will be maxing out at 20+ feet and La Boquita will be a playful 3 feet and running down the line. This is one of the favorite beaches near Guadalajara for local families because the drive is easier than going to Puerto Vallarta.
Keep in mind that the Palma Real Hotel is on the far side of La Boquita. You need to leave Manzanillo and drive all the way around the estuary to access the hotel. If you want to go into town for something it is going to take you 30 minutes to get there.
La Culebra, Laguna de Barra de Navidad
La Culebra is the westernmost point of the State of Colima. Jump in the water and you enter the State of Jalisco. Most people identify this area as Jalisco because across the lagoon is the historic beach town of Barra de Navidad. It is worth visiting La Culebra for the seafood. It is worth traveling a great distance to eat at Restaurante La Colimilla and order the zarandeado whole fish. The restaurant is right on the sand with a few tables over the water. The Grand Isla Navidad Resort is a popular harbor for luxury yachts and you will see people parking their dingies on the sand in front of the restaurant.
The whole area is lovely but La Culebra doesn’t get as much attention as Barra de Navidad does. The next time you happen to be vacationing in the area it is well worth it to spend an afternoon hanging out at the beach in the lagoon. The food is amazing.
The Beaches of Nayarit
The Riviera Nayarit is hot right now. It’s a quick flight from the West Coast and there is a lot of infrastructure going in. The Riviera Maya has a seaweed problem that has pushed a lot of international tourism to other destinations. It just so happens that Nayarit has beautiful beaches, good surf, and some of the best new hotels in the country.
- 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 south-west 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 freeway should be done any time now and it will drop you off just minutes away from Chacala. When that section of 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 beach front 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
San Pancho (San Francisco)
Quickly growing into one of Mexico’s premiere 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.
Click here to read the full article about Punta Mita
The Beaches of Jalisco
The State of Jalisco may not have the closest beaches
- 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 as it was 50 years ago. 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.
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 recieve 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 fisherman 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 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.