Once Upon a Time in Mexico

Picturing a storybook vacation full of tequila sunrises and ocean adventures? Andale!

Puerto Vallarta's Crown of Our Lady of Guadalupe, image

The Crown of Our Lady of Guadalupe is in Puerto Vallarta.

aerial view of Cancún Mexico, image

An aerial view of Cancún reveals inviting long beaches.

Cabo San Lucas bay, image

The bay at Cabo San Lucas wraps around the sea.

Ever since the 1960s, when Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton filmed Night of the Iguana south of the border and returned to build a glamorous hideaway, Mexico’s beach towns have lured sun seekers.

Today, you may come in search of swaying palms, azure seas and the freshest seafood. Or you’re on a mission to find the perfect curl or mysterious ocean creatures on a deep dive. Or you can’t wait to tee off on an award-winning course. Regardless of what vacation you have in mind, Mexico’s beach resorts are designed to help you live the dream, surrounded by a spicy concoction of Spanish, Mayan and Aztec cultures.

Mexico’s modern, luxurious destinations, including elegant Puerto Vallarta, lively Cancún and upbeat Cabo, can fulfill your fantasies with luxurious yet affordable accommodations. Here are gratifying ways to enjoy sensory overload at these Mexican beach resorts.

Puerto Vallarta
Art, culture, world-class cuisine and seafaring pleasures come together in Puerto Vallarta, where Banderas Bay’s quiet coves and smooth beaches provide endless opportunities for sailing, kayaking, sport fishing, surfing and snorkeling—or just lazing in a poolside cabana with the latest thriller. Evenings, stroll along the Malecón, Puerto Vallarta’s waterfront walkway, against a picturesque backdrop of white stucco, red-tiled roofs and tendrils of bougainvillea.

When you finally relinquish your lounge chair, take off on the Caletas by Day excursion, an all-day adventure with stops to kayak, bird-watch on a nature walk, snorkel or learn to dive in a secluded private cove where your hosts serve a traditional meal in a sumptuous garden setting. You can even swim with sea lions or indulge in a spa treatment.

Puerto Vallarta Fantasy Stay
The hydrotherapy and water circuit at Dreams Villamagna’s Dreams Spa by Pevonia is only the first reason to choose this luxe resort. Massage tables on the beach and dazzling pools for every preference make relaxation effortless. Your biggest problem will be getting yourself to leave your room, where floor-to-ceiling windows frame dazzling ocean views, freestanding Jacuzzi tubs soothe away aches and pains, and 24-hour concierge service satisfies your every need. A fully outfitted fitness center and the Explorers Club for Kids make sure everyone has plenty to keep them busy.

Cancún
“Taste” and “comfort” are watchwords in Cancún, where world-renowned resorts vie with each other to offer the cushiest amenities and thoughtful service. Beyond fruity drinks and places to dance, if you’re so inclined, Cancún’s turquoise waters, limestone caverns and dramatic coral reefs offer some of the best snorkeling and diving in the Caribbean. And its Mayan roots provide a fascinating historical and cultural context to explore.

For a sampling of all that Cancún and the Riviera Maya have to offer, tour Mayan pyramids, visit an authentic Mayan village, swim in a cenote and take a guided nature walk through the vine-draped jungle. You can even up the thrills quotient with a zip line and rappelling adventure.

Cancún Fantasy Stay
Does a luxury villa just steps from a signature Jack Nicklaus course sound like nirvana? How about a double Jacuzzi in every room? If that’s not enough to keep you happy, there are always spa treatments such as a romantic couples’ massage. Keep the kids from getting antsy, while you’re being pampered, with the full-service kids’ program. Plus, if you venture outside paradise, the resort’s exchange privileges put all the amenities of Cancún’s other Palace Resorts at your disposal.

Cabo
Gone are the days when Cabo was synonymous with rowdy revelry. These days, it’s the ultimate relaxation destination where you can indulge all your senses with the finest dining, celebrity-studded spas, world-class golf and beach time.

Be sure to take a surfing trip to nearby Costa Azul, where you’ll find waves to suit every proficiency level, from first-timers to seasoned pros. If you prefer immersive ocean adventures, go on a scuba diving excursion along spectacular underwater cliffs where Baja’s warm waters nurture a rich variety of sea life, including enormous manta rays that skim the ocean floor like shadows.

Cabo Fantasy Stay
Beach aficionados know that some of the smoothest sand and gentlest waves can be found at the all-suite Barceló Palace Deluxe, one of the newest resorts in Cabo. The beach is a marvel by day, but it comes to life at night, when Barceló hosts colorful cultural shows performed by local dancers, singers and storytellers. With an all-inclusive option, easy access to Cabo’s famed golf courses, and pools for all ages, Barceló can provide the setting for a romantic escape, a fun family vacation or a multigenerational reunion.

Please contact your AAA Travel Counselor or go to AAA.com/offices to find one near you.

Photography courtesy of Melikamp/Wikipedia (Puerto Vallarta); Mauro I. Barea G./Wikipedia (Cancún); Stan Shebs (Cabo)

This article was first published in July 2012 in Traveler. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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