Mexico takes over where the USA leaves off, rolling through some of the most wave-rich sectors of the central Pacific. Hop over the state line with California and you’ll hit the Baja, a region of pumping party towns, cacti-sprouting deserts, and point breaks that make the pros salivate. Keep going and the jungled hills creep close to the shores; first at the popular longboarding hubs of Nayarit, and then down in Oaxaca, Mexico’s undiscovered surf territory.
Yep, there’s no doubt about it: The home of tacos, tequila, and tamales is one of the best surf destinations on the globe. It’s got epic point breaks, monstrous XXL waves, peeling cruisers, and everything in between, just as this guide to the eight best surf spots in Mexico reveals.
I’ve been on the mother of all surf trips through Mexico. It took me to the fabled beach breaks of Puerto Escondido and the palm-fringed surf bays of Sayulita alike. I still consider this one of the best places on the planet to wax the board and paddle out. Here’s my pick of the eight best surf spots in Mexico…
All hail Sayulita. There’s surely no more famous a surf spot in Mexico than this. The town – the fun-brimming, cantina-filled town – is one of the country’s fabled Pueblo Mágicos, a ‘Magic Village’ noted for its unique charms and pretty looks. It sits on a hook-shaped bend of golden sand that’s kissed by two very regular surf breaks…
The first is the Sayulita Sandbar. Once upon a time, someone, somewhere noticed that this mellow little number was just about perfect for starting surfing. It’s mellow, soft, has powder underfoot, and makes bailing as comfy as bailing can be. Just up the playa from that is the Sayulita Right, which pops up where the river enters the ocean and offers shorter, sharper, but still cruisy longboard trimmers; it’s great for when you progress.
The upshot? What you’ve got in Sayulita is just about the perfect cocktail of learner spots. There’s a place to begin at, and another to graduate to later on. Even later again, you can venture to the wealth of wedges that await around the Punta Mita headland, from the fat A-frames of La Lancha to the punchy shore breaks of San Pancho.
Accordingly, Sayulita has emerged as the hub of surf camps in Mexico and its got the moxie to show for it. Margaritas are the order of the day at the beachfront cantinas, there are oodles of great hotels brushing the shore, and there are parties that go on all night long if you want them.
2. Todos Santos
The Bahia de Todos Santos is the huge, gaping cleft in the northern Baja Peninsula that plays host to the beach town of Ensenada. Welcome to one of the original surfer escapes for Cali exiles. Sat just 1.5 hour’s drive south of the international border with the USA, it’s been, for some decades now, a go-to for Americana board riders keen to leave behind the busy spots of San Diego.
Now, if you thought that close proximity to the legendary cobblestone point breaks of Southern California means that this has something similar, then you’d be right. The highlights of the Bahia are the peeling right handers of Salsipuedes, which mimics Lower Trestles on its good days, and San Miguel, a glassy set of take offs that’s credited with kick-starting the sport of surfing in Mexico back in the day.
There’s also the sleeping giant of the Isla Todos Santos to contend with here. And only the most serious daredevils will do that contending. It rises, Nazare-esque, off the side of a rock out in the open Pacific, hitting heights of 30 feet or more on storm days. Yikes!
3. Cabo San Lucas
Crack open the tequila, sizzle up the fish tacos, and squirt the sunscreen, Cabo – as it’s known to the huge cohorts of loyal followers – is the R&R mecca of the Baja Peninsula. Perched just shy of Land’s End at the very tip of said peninsula, it’s been drawing spring breakers, party lovers, and A-list celebs for decades.
But, when the summer swells from the south start kicking around May time, it’s also a haven for surfers. The main reason for that is the whole run of shoreline that spreads east from town, up onto the doorstep of the Sea of Cortez.
As waves push headlong into those from the roaring 40s and the winds switch east and north, things can look very pretty. Very pretty indeed. I’m talking long, peeling right walls at Costa Azul that host elegant longboarders on the nose. I’m talking lippy wedges at Bahia Chileno and all the whitewash a total novice could want along the sands of Cerritos Beach.
Cabo certainly favors regular-footed riders because of the abundance of right-hand point breaks. Staying somewhere in the Hotel Corridor (the strip of resorts to the east of the center) is the best way to go since that gets you closer to the waves.
4. Puerto Escondido
No list of the most iconic surf spots in Mexico could possibly be complete without a nod to Puerto Escondido. Known as the Mexican Pipeline, the main playa at Zicatela is a factory for one of the gnarliest beach tubes on the planet. When huge summer south swells start rumbling, it churns out 40-footer walls that demand daring drop ins straight into a backdoor pit. It lasts seconds but will be the ride of your life.
Of course, most folks wouldn’t even consider trying that. Most only get as close as the sands, where crowds gather with cold cerveza and lime to watch the pros doing their thing. Thankfully, there are beaches for all levels in Puerto Escondido. There’s La Punta, a point break with nice right shoulders for intermediates. There’s Carrizalillo, a well-sheltered beginner bay that works good in the low season.
One of the things I consider the best about Puerto Escondido is that it’s the gateway to the whole of the Oaxaca coast. That’s got to be some of the most unchartered surf territory in the land of tacos and tequila. Some say there are strings of epic right points that go off like clockwork in May, June, and July down there. But shh!
5. San Pancho
For a real Mexicana experience, San Pancho is a top choice. This sleepy little surf town is the sort of place where cowboys trot down the street in the morning and mariachi bands strike up tunes in the taquerias. It’s got cobbled streets crisscrossing each other this way and that, cafes that spill onto the sidewalks, and just an all-round great vibe.
The surf happens along the main beachfront – Playa San Pancho. It’s not exactly the best array of peaks around but it is consistent. You’ll get short left and right rides off of punchy walls that pop up on the reef beds. They only work on certain sections of the beach, though the south end is generally more reliable in my opinion.
San Pancho stands out because it’s a chilled version of Sayulita with a foot in the very same epic surf region: The Riviera Nayarit. The surf schools on the main street – Tercer Mundo Avenue – offer trips out to La Lancha and Punta Mita that include board rental and lessons. Choose those when San Pancho itself is flat or blown out.
Mazatlán is the premier beach resort of the State of Sinaloa. Yep, that’s the same Sinaloa that gave the world El Chapo et al, but don’t worry too much because the designated tourist zones of the Malecón and the recently renovated old town (more on that below) are generally considered safe for visitors in 2023.
A whopping 21 kilometers of shoreline stretches up the western half of town. It encompasses long runs of golden sand and rocky bays alike. Each hosts their own unique sort of break. The main acts I’d consider are Rucos, where the crowds spread along multiple peaks that are good for all levels, and Playa Bruja, a left-right frame with very fun shortboard rides in the offing.
Now, let’s return to that aforementioned old town. The Centro area of Mazatlán has just completed 10 years of meticulous restoration. It’s got a sort of Havana feel to it, which some have dubbed “tropical Neoclassicism”. There’s no denying it’s a moody place, with colorful buildings lining tree-sprouting alleys, gilded balconies jutting overhead, and pretty plazas shaded by jacarandas.
If you’re the sort that likes to stray off the beaten path to beaches unknown and waves unsurfed, then Troncones could be the place for you. It’s one of the sole surf towns in the state of Guerrero, which I still think is strange considering just how much exposure this land has to all those consistent southerly swell channels in the Pacific.
Anyway, Troncones sort of creeps out of the jungles between the sturdy rows of coconut palms some 30 minutes’ drive north of Zihuatanejo. It’s got a main playa that’s peak after peak of all-level surfing, though it can get big and beefy on solid summer swells. North of that is La Salidita, which is the rising star of the region…
Yep, La Salidita is a trim-fest of a river mouth wave. It begins where some water snakes into the sea from a small creek to the south of the hamlet (and it really is a hamlet) of the same name, proceeding to lap around a cobblestone headland and into a wide bay. It tends to stay nice and small thanks to a shallow shelf of silt and mud at the estuary, making it perfecto for longboarders no matter the season.
8. Punta Mita
Punta Mita has cut its teeth on luxury vacationing at the bottom end of the Riviera Nayarit. The name of both a headland and a town, which juts out along the Bahia de Banderas north of Puerto Vallarta, it’s packed with five-star hotels and lux resorts with views of the frothing Pacific Ocean.
There are two coasts to play with here. The first faces west. That picks up decent winter swells and mimics the likes of Sayulita and San Pancho with a series of beach breaks that can be okay, can be epic – it all depends on how the sandbanks align.
Then there’s the south side of Punta Mita. It’s where the goldeen spots awaits, in the form of some well-protected beachfronts and points that love those summer SW pulses. I’m talking the likes of La Lancha, arguably the most enjoyable A-frame beachy in the country, and Stinky’s, a top-to-bottom wave with long rides close to the main harbor.