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I just love Mexico – so much so that I'm going on honeymoon there later this year! A bit of daydreaming never hurt anyone, so to ward off the icy chill of winter I've been casting my mind back to all the fantastic beaches I discovered during the six months I spent there as a student. Mexico's main beach resorts are clustered around Cancún in the Yucatán, Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific coast and Cabo San Lucas on the Baja California peninsula, but as I found to my surprise, you don't have to go far to escape the high rises and find some remarkably beautiful, unspoilt beaches. Here are five of my top recommendations for fellow sunshine seekers...
Julia Ross, Former JLA staff

1. Puerto Escondido

Mexico's Pacific coastline is dramatically different to the placid Caribbean, and in some ways its beaches, being wilder and more rugged, seem to have more character. They certainly have a wilder temperament at least, as the surf here is famously good. The flavour of the local culture is different too, with a more wholeheartedly Mexican feel to proceedings – and as for flavours in a more literal sense, the cuisine is more varied and adventurous.

My personal pick of Mexico's Pacific beaches would be Puerto Escondido, a barefoot idyll and hippie haven that lies a bumpy road journey (or a flight, thankfully) away from another of my favourite places, Oaxaca. The golden sands are pounded by breakers but it's still an eminently relaxing place to stay – for probably a couple of days longer than you originally intended if you're anything like me. And if you like the sound of this type of beach but fancy something a little more upmarket, another great choice is Playa la Ropa, near Zihuatanejo, home to the magnificent Tides.

Puerto Escondido, Mexico

2. Balandra, Baja California

I discovered this beach somewhat by accident on a road trip around Baja California (with my parents, so not as cool as it sounds!), and it has remained stuck in a little recess of my mind labelled "Wish I was there" ever since. More off-the-beaten-track than the other beaches on this list, it's a sweeping, shallow cove overlooked by rugged desert hills and the sentinel-like cacti that stand to attention all over the Baja countryside. It's so shallow, in fact, that at low tide you can practically walk right across the lagoon without ever losing the sea floor beneath your feet, which is quite a unique experience.

I'm not the only one feeling the love for this beach: the local people of the area want to keep it just as it is, and remarkably they managed to save their beach paradise from the developers in 2008, just after my visit. I'm so glad that it will remain as unspoilt as I remember it.

Kayaking in Baja California

3. Sayulita

Easily accessed from Puerto Vallarta, Sayulita is an eclectic, upscale little beach town on the Riviera Nayarit. It's very popular with surfers as well as those looking for a laid-back escape, most of whom camp or stay in rustic beach cabanas or locally-run hotels, sidestepping the resorts of Vallarta. The winding cobblestoned streets of this formerly sleepy fishing town are now lined with some sophisticated boutiques and art galleries alongside the more traditional bars and fish taco stands, but it's far from a tourist trap, and the easygoing atmosphere combined with gorgeous, palm-backed beaches make this a hidden haven for anyone in search of sun, sea and sand, Mexican style.

Mexico colours in hotel furnishings

4. Isla Mujeres

Thank God for islands: the fact that the few kilometres separating Isla Mujeres from Cancún consist of sea rather than land has safeguarded this patch of paradise from the rampant overdevelopment that now characterises the neighbouring resort city. Isla Mujeres is certainly far from undiscovered, but it's still a laid-back place with some authentic cuisine and the kind of postcard-perfect beaches, gently lapped by eye-popping bright turquoise waters, that make you realise why developers flocked to Cancún in the first place. It's an ideal place to while away a few days taking in the gorgeous Caribbean tableaus, and perhaps a cocktail or two. Bliss.

Isla Mujeres, Mexico

5. Tulum and the Sian Ka'an Biosphere

Picturesquely-perched cliff-top ruins make for some pretty unique adornments to the shoreline – but even putting the stunning Mayan temples of Tulum aside, the beach that lies below is easily one of the best I've ever had the good fortune to visit. A stretch of faultless coast runs between the ruins and the charming beachfront hotel zone, playing host to some atmospheric candlelit restaurants and recently-added boutique properties including the stunning Be Tulum. Further along you'll find the Sian Ka'an Biosphere (pictured), a paradise of deserted beaches, fresh water cenotes and tropical reefs. In the tranquillity and emptiness of this Caribbean paradise it is almost impossible to believe that the hustle and bustle of Cancún is practically just around the corner – and while Cancún is not my personal cup of tea, when it comes to my honeymoon I am certainly glad of its international airport, just two hours' drive away from Tulum and Sian Ka'an.

beach

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