Thoroughly scouring the sands of Mexico's preeminent coastal playground, the Riviera Maya, to find 10 of the best beach bars, here are some top picks, from simple palapas to decadent dance-all-night clubs.
01 of 10
Playa del Carmen’s famous beach club has been going strong since 1984 and still packs them in every night. Head on down for the nightly fire show at 11pm, then stick around for international DJs, who mix tunes for each of the bar’s three areas: the beach dance floor (right on the sand beneath swaying palm trees), the Palapa Lounge (which plays progressive dance to a mostly European crowd) and the Sky Bar, which offers a more relaxed, ambient vibe. During the daytime, the scene is far more chilled, with low-key sounds and a drinks and snack menu to take you through the afternoon.
02 of 10
This blue-chip luxury resort located between Cancun and Tulum on Maroma Beach – a secluded stretch of powdery white sand mixed with fine pink coral – is home to a sophisticated beachside bar and restaurant that feels a world away from the wild scenes in Cancun and Playa del Carmen. With over 100 varieties of top-shelf tequila, Freddy’s is the place to really get an appreciation for Mexico’s iconic spirit. There are six types of ceviche available daily, prepared tableside, and the service is top-notch.
03 of 10
The sand-between-the-toes casual chic of this boutique hotel in the Tulum hotel zone is carried through to its oceanfront bar and lounge. During high season, the bar kicks off its “Bikini Beach Sunday party” series, which draws a fun-loving crowd for the live music, dancing and margaritas galore. An idyllic way to while away a lazy Sunday afternoon beachside.
04 of 10
Touted as one of Playa’s most romantic beachfront venues, Fusion is a laid-back bar with palapas and tables right on the sand. The menu takes a global tour through Italy, the Middle East and the US – the burger gets good reviews – along with Mexican staples like fajitas and enchiladas. At dusk the mood is enhanced by hurricane lanterns glowing on every table.
Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10
This swanky hotel by Spanish brand Melia has one of the most sophisticated beach bars in Cancun. The open-air dining pavilion has unbeatable views of the Caribbean Sea, which makes it an ideal perch either during the day – when the menu leans towards casual Mexican fare like quesadillas and tacos – or once the sun goes down, when it becomes a romantically lit hotspot serving dishes like mahi-mahi ceviche.
06 of 10
This beach club is notorious as the haunt of Playa’s beautiful people, who spend all day and night preening and playing on Playa Mamita, the stretch of white sand studded with chic white daybeds. The scene can be wild after sundown, with DJs, dancing and drinking margaritas ‘til dawn. Daytimes, meanwhile, are all about staking out a prime sun lounge position beneath a palm tree, ordering up some sushi and watching the passing parade.
07 of 10
This friendly, family-run hotel has been luring guests back since 1985 thanks to its warm service and great location along the beachfront in Tulum. The open-air, palapa-style restaurant serves delicious Mexican dishes with an international spin, like the lobster tail flambeed with tequila and the tuna salad with poblano chiles. The breakfast menu features mouth-watering traditional dishes like Huevos Motulenos and Chilaquiles. Tables are right on the sand and have gorgeous views of the sea, making it a big hit with couples.
08 of 10
This small resort town situated between Playa del Carmen and Cancun is perfect for those wanting to kick back in a fun setting that’s less of a non-stop party scene than its more high-profile neighbors. Many visitors come to see the turtles for which the area is famous (Akumal means “place of the turtles” in Maya), and the eco-aware theme is carried through at many of the town’s hotels and restaurants, including the popular La Buena Vida, on Half Moon Bay. Sand floors, swings at the bar and Day of the Dead skeletons are all part of the whimsical vibe. There’s also an inventive cocktail list and happy hour every evening.
Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10
Every hotel worth its salt along the Cancun hotel zone has a beach or pool bar of some sort, but this five-star mega-resort goes one step further: its bar is right on the beach, and has multiple jacuzzi-style pools that come complete with tables and a swim-up bar section.
10 of 10
Na Balam, meaning “house of the jaguar” in Maya, is a chic, laid-back boutique hotel on lovely Isla Mujeres, a small island northeast of Cancun. The Palapa Bar, right on the beach with stunning ocean views, offers a wide range of tequila, freshly squeezed fruit juices and simple Mexican dishes. There’s also live music on the weekends.