Mexico has nine thousand three hundred and thirty kilometers of coastline, more than two-thirds of which run along the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of California. The remainder lies along the Caribbean sea in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a popular vacation destination for many because its sunny, warm, and stunningly beautiful.
Mexico’s west coast is wilder, offers the best surfing, whale spotting, deep-sea fishing, and exposure to Mexican culture. It’s more geographically diverse and less humid. The east coast is for partying, snorkeling, diving coral reefs, and exploring ancient Mayan ruins.
Five international airports service the east coast, but it’s easy to drive by car to the west coast for people who live in the southwestern states of the US. Airports on the west coast for those living further away are in Tijuana, Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta, and La Paz. This article looks at which coast is better – east or west.
Which Mexican Coast Is Better?
Mexico is a big country, and the weather is not hot everywhere, as many people assume. It is affected by both latitude and altitude. The weather on the west coast is, on average, a bit warmer than the east coast, but the Pacific is cold and has strong, rough riptides, especially in Baja California to the north. The geography along the west coast is more diverse, which means the climate is too.
Locations on both coasts are extremely popular with tourists, but this made be a downside if you want to live a quiet life as some places are party towns. The geography on the west coast is more varied with mountains, deserts, and tropical regions, so if you are adventurous, you may prefer it.
If you are a history buff wanting a coastal experience, you may love Tulum on the east coast with its stunning beaches and ancient Mayan ruins. Whale watchers and nature-buffs may prefer cities like Manzanillo, Puerto Vallarta, Ensenada, and Cabo San Lucas on the west coast.
When comparing the two coastlines, humidity levels are a key consideration because high humidity can make the summer heat intolerable. The coastal areas of Mexico fall in the Tierra Caliente or “hot land” category and extend to coastal plains descending from the mountains into the Gulf of Mexico (east coast) or the Pacific (west coast).
The other land categories are Tierra Fría, or cold land, and the Tierra Templada, or temperate land. These are generally further inland and are home to the three big cities of Monterrey, Mexico City, and Guadalajara. As the name suggests, Tierra Caliente areas get very hot, and the humidity soars in summer.
Hurricane season in Mexico lasts officially from the beginning of June to the end of November, but October and August are the months of highest risk. Hurricanes make landfall more typically along the west coast than in the Gulf of Mexico or the Yucatan peninsula. However, hurricane Wilma struck the Yucatan peninsula in 2005 and caused significant damage to Cancun and surrounding areas, so they are far from unheard of on the east coast.
They can occur on both the east and the west coast, but they are not that common, and there are usually advance weather alerts. The weather on both coastlines is hot and sunny for much of the year, so it depends on where your interests lie when considering which coast is better.
Places On Mexico’s West Coast
The west coast is also known as the Mexican Riviera and has several port towns and cities that offer tourist beaches. If you’re planning to live in one of these places, the number of tourists they attract may be a relevant consideration. These are –
- Puerto Vallarta
- Cabo San Lucas
The beaches on the west coast have rougher, more golden sand, and more rugged landscapes than the east coast, but the water is still warm, although the water is not the brilliant blue of the Caribbean. Diving, kayaking, and snorkeling are popular past times, but currents can be strong and dangerous for swimmers.
The west coast is better if you’re looking to experience various aspects of Mexican culture as the east coast is more metropolitan. The west coast offers the best surfing and access to marine life.
Baja California neighbors the US, and Ensenada is a popular fishing and surfing town around seventy miles from the American border in this province. The Bodegas de Santo Tomas, Mexico’s premier winery is also in Ensenada. It is backed by small mountain ranges and has hundreds of thousands of cruise passengers each year.
The rainy season is short, and in winter, not summer, because it has a Mediterranean climate. The region is prone to extended drought and has a mild, semi-arid climate. The famous Santa Ana winds can raise temperatures at any time in the year, but the warmest times are late summer and early fall.
Mazatlán on the West Coast has around two thousand eight hundred hours of sunshine a year and an average temperature of about 24 degrees Celsius or seventy-five degrees Fahrenheit. Its name means “place of deer” and it is in the state of Sinaloa. It has one of the best coastal climates in Mexico.
The coastline in Mazatlán consists mainly of conglomerates and gravel, but there are some golden sandy beaches. The wet season gets very hot and humid, with June’s temperatures in the upper eighties. The best months are October and November after the rainy season has ended and before the hectic, expensive winter travel season.
December through March are dry and peak season for tourists in Mazatlán, and prices are the highest in these months. Average humidity levels are between sixty-five and seventy percent. Mazatlán is also relatively inexpensive if you want a long-term stay.
Puerto Vallarta has similar weather to Mazatlán but its ten percent more humid and is a couple of degrees warmer at night. The dry season is in February, March, and April, while August is the wettest month. Rain is usually in the form of large tropical thunderstorms and occurs mainly in July to September, with the occasional shower in November.
Puerto Vallarta is on the west coast in Jalisco and has a tropical climate. Summers are wet, and winters are dry. Prevailing winds are from the southwest, and hurricanes are infrequent.
For people who don’t like the heat, Mazatlán is probably the better of the two because of its drier climate. It has a tropical savanna, bordering on hot, semi-arid climate and a long dry season.
Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Peñasco have less annual rainfall than Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlán but are more desert climates without much natural greenery.
Cabo San Lucas
Cabo San Lucas has comfortable winter temperatures ranging on average between eighty degrees Fahrenheit or twenty-seven degrees Celsius and fifty-five degrees Fahrenheit or thirteen degrees Celsius. Summer temperatures are considerably higher between ninety-three degrees Fahrenheit or thirty-four degrees Celsius and seventy-one degrees Fahrenheit or twenty-one degrees Celsius.
It is on the southern tip of Baja California and is one of the most highly rated tourist destinations. The winds can blow either from the Pacific or the Gulf of California, and hurricane Odile made landfall here in 2014, causing widespread damage. The sea temperatures in winter are between seventy and seventy-two degrees Fahrenheit and in summer are between eighty-two and eighty-four degrees, so they are pretty warm.
Several places around Cabo have unpredictable tides and strong undertows, making them dangerous for swimming. Cabo has a cooler, drier climate than Cancun and the best time to visit is between May and June.
Manzanillo is in Colima and has Mexico’s busiest port. It sees plenty of international tourists as its famous for its deep-sea fishing and warm coastal waters. The climate is tropical savanna, and the dry season is from November to May, when temperatures are cooler.
March is the coolest month, with temperatures around seventy-five degrees Fahrenheit or twenty-four degrees Celsius. It has hosted many international and national fishing competitions since 1957 and is known as the sailfish capital of the world. There are beautiful beaches along Santiago Bay and Manzanillo Bay.
You can watch for whales in Manzanillo Bay between December and April or go sea kayaking or deep-sea fishing along the coast. Several companies offer tours from Manzanillo to the nearby Colima volcano complex. The Colima stratovolcano, also known as Volcan de Fuego de Colima, is one of the most active in North America.
The legendary Acapulco is a major seaport in the state of Guerrero located on a deep semi-circular bay. Sadly, a massive upsurge in homicide and gang violence in 2014 has rendered it unattractive to international tourists, and the US even warned citizens not to go there. In 2018 the Mexican armed forces occupied the city and disarmed the police department due to allegations of its links to the drug cartels.
Acapulco is an ancient city with a history dating back to the Pre-Colombian era. It has a tropical climate and experiences tropical storms and hurricanes between May and November, with January being the coolest month. Tourism in Acapulco is slowly recovering, but most visitors are still from Mexico.
The best months are April, May, October, and November, but you may not find Acapulco a great city to live because of the high crime rate. The surf can be rough at Playa Revolcadero, and experts say taxis are safer than rental cars.
Places On Mexico’s East Coast
The turquoise waters of the Caribbean border Mexico’s east coast, and several towns and cities have an international reputation for soft white sandy beaches and warm, calm seas. They include –
- Playa del Carmen
These places are famous for snorkeling, partying, and lazing on the beach. The east coast has more ancient ruins than the west coast, and sites like Tulum and Coba, while not as resplendent as Chichen Itza, are worth visiting.
The stormiest months on the east coast are August through October, and the hurricane season brings floods of heavy rain and high winds even if the cyclones don’t make landfall. Some of the beaches on the east coast, such as Cancun, are having problems with vast quantities of seaweed washing up on the beaches. The east coast is popular with turtle and dolphin spotters.
Cancún is world-famous for its nightlife and party vibe, and the beach is exquisite. It is one of the most populous holiday spots in the entire Caribbean. However, it’s become so tourist-oriented that if you’re looking to experience Mexican culture, you’d best look elsewhere.
Cancún has a tropical wet and dry climate with distinct dry and rainy seasons and an annual average temperature of eighty degrees Fahrenheit or twenty-seven degrees Celsius. The dry season is from December to April when humidity is the lowest, and the northeast trade winds bring cool breezes. The temperatures are pretty even throughout the year, but the hottest and most humid times are between May to late October.
Sea temperatures are around eighty-four degrees Fahrenheit or twenty-nine degrees Celsius in summer and seventy-nine degrees Fahrenheit or twenty-six degrees Celsius in winter. The water is thus very warm throughout the year – maybe even be a bit too warm to cool down in the hot summer.
In June and July, temperatures average around ninety-two and ninety-three-degrees Fahrenheit, respectively. However, they have been known to go as high as one hundred and two degrees Fahrenheit or thirty-nine degrees Celsius.
Tulum is an ancient place with one of the best-preserved coastal Maya sites. It’s only a short distance from Cancun and has many cenotes and cave systems. Tourism in Tulum is increasing, and its impact is becoming controversial.
The beaches are soft white sand next to the azure blue of the Caribbean sea, and there are lush jungles and lagoons to explore. The nightlife is also booming. Tulum is home to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere, home to thousands of species of animals and plants, including turtles, ocelots, pumas, dolphins, and monkeys.
Summers are sweltering, oppressive, and short. Temperatures vary between sixty-two degrees Fahrenheit to ninety-two but rarely fall below fifty-three degrees. The average annual temperature is around seventy-eight degrees. The best time to visit is from late November to mid-March, with February being the driest month and September the wettest.
Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is in Quintana Roo along the Riviera Maya on the east coast. It’s one of the fastest-growing towns in Mexico and is popular with tourists. The town has a tropical savannah climate and a rainy season that’s heaviest from June to November. It is less metropolitan than Cancun and still has some authentic Mexican flavor.
Playa del Carmen is in the Yucatan peninsula and is popular for snorkeling and scuba diving. It’s best to visit in April and May when there are fewer tourists. The dry season is from October to March, and humidity is high in the summer. Temperatures in the day range between seventy and eighty degrees Fahrenheit and drop a couple of degrees in the evening.
Hurricane season is from June to September. It has a party vibe and offers divers and snorkelers the opportunity to explore one of the world’s most extensive coral reefs.
Cozumel is internationally renowned amongst divers and snorkelers as it offers warm water, excellent underwater visibility, and the Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park. It is an island in the state of Quintana Roo. There are also large mangrove forests over much of the island with plenty of wildlife, including the rare Cozumel fox, coati, and raccoon.
Diving in Cozumel’s cenotes is restricted to qualified cave divers. It has a tropical savanna climate and a short, dry season from February to April. However, it rains even in the dry season. The coral reefs house more than one thousand marine species and are part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System.
The wet season is much longer, with the wettest months being September and October. Temperatures are warm all year round but a bit cooler between December and February. Humidity is pretty high at an average of eighty-three percent. Average temperatures range from highs of around ninety-one degrees in August to around eighty-three in December and January.
To experience authentic Mexican culture, whale spotting, fishing, and marine exploration while enjoying the warm water and sunny golden beaches, the west coast of Mexico is best. The geography is more diverse, and the west coast’s climate is slightly less humid. The east coast is best for swimming, historical adventures, snorkeling, diving coral reefs and cenotes, soft white beach sand, and warm, azure waters.