What to Know About Visiting Mexico During Spring Break

Spring break crowds by beach in Cancun
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If Miami Beach is the number one spring break destination, then Mexico may be a close second. College students flock to the turquoise waters and white-sand beaches of Mexico throughout spring, and you'll find the resort pools brimming with students sipping on margaritas. Mexico is especially attractive because going out and purchasing alcohol is, in general, much more affordable than in U.S. cities (although the bars around resorts might not seem very cheap).

Whether you're looking for the wild party scene or a more relaxing trip away from the spring breakers, Mexico has plenty of options that appeal to all tastes and budgets.

When Is Spring Break in Mexico?

Every U.S. school chooses its own time for spring break and the exact dates vary by year, by region, and by university. In some schools, spring break is pegged to Easter while in others it's just a mid-term break that can occur any time from the end of February to mid-April. You'll generally find spring break crowds around the major resort cities throughout March and into early April.

In Mexico, spring break takes place during the week leading up to Easter and is called Semana Santa. It's likely that popular destinations will be crowded not just with American tourists during this week, but with Mexican travelers as well enjoying their week off.

Spring Break Destinations

Mexico is home to some of the quintessential spring break destinations for U.S. college students, and the majority of them flock to one of the major resort towns near the coast.

  • Cancun: The most popular resort area in Mexico is Cancun, right at the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Caribbean Sea. Many of the hotels in Cancun and the nearby Playa del Carmen are all-inclusive, which is ideal for travelers who want to enjoy unlimited drinking at the pool all day. Most clubs are in the area called the Hotel Zone, so you don't even have to venture into the actual city if you don't want to.
  • Los Cabos: On the other side of the country at the southern tip of Baja California is Los Cabos, made up of the towns San Jose del Cabo and the more-popular Cabo San Lucas. Apart from the resort pools, you'll find well-known clubs like Cabo Wabo and Señor Frog's in town along with several beach clubs spread across Medano Beach.
  • Puerto Vallarta: One of the premier cities along the Mexican Riviera, Puerto Vallarta is a popular resort town for travelers who arrive by air and by water, since cruise lines often use the city as a port of call. Spend the day lounging and swimming at one of the local beaches before exploring the local food scene in town, considered one of the best in Mexico.
  • Mazatlan: This coastal town also on the Mexican Riviera is one of the more laid-back resort destinations. There's still a vibrant party scene and plenty of water sport activities to keep busy, but you won't find the same big-name resorts and overdevelopment as in other Mexican vacation towns. The historical town center still retains the charm of a small Mexican city that you can't find in places like Cancun or Cabo San Lucas.
  • Acapulco: Mexico's original resort town was once the place to be, attracting big-name celebrities of the day like Elvis Presley, Elizabeth Taylor, and Frank Sinatra. However, it later became eclipsed by Cancun and Los Cabos. Throughout the 21st century, Acapulco has become more known for gang violence than for being a beach destination, which has devastated the tourism industry in the city.

Alternative Destinations

If instead of partying hard with crowds of college students you're looking for a different type of experience for your spring holiday, Mexico offers countless other options. Not only can you experience a more authentic slice of life in Mexico, but the non-resort cities are also much more affordable to visit, especially during peak times like spring break.

For the ultimate big city experience, start in the capital of Mexico City. From there, look to picturesque historical cities—many with UNESCO World Heritage status—such as Oaxaca or San Miguel de Allende. Or try one of the official pueblos mágicos, or "magical towns," which are especially charming villages designated by the government, including Papantla in Veracruz or San Cristobal in Chiapas.

If you still want beach time, there are thousands of miles of coastline in Mexico that aren't Cabo, Cancun, or Puerto Vallarta. Consider an off-the-radar beach destination to enjoy relaxing beach time away from the partygoers, such as the beaches of Oaxaca.

Travel Documents

If you're flying to Mexico from the U.S., you'll need your passport to travel. If you're arriving by land or by sea, then you have some other options. If you don't have a passport, you can also use a passport card, which is cheaper than a passport but more limited. Some U.S. states issue an enhanced driver's license that also qualifies for land or sea crossings.

Spring Break Safety

Mexico has a reputation for being a dangerous place to visit, and it's true that gang violence has surged throughout the 21st century. However, much of that violence is localized to specific areas and tourist centers are typically removed from it. Even Mazatlan, which is inside the high-risk state of Sinaloa, is considered safe to visit as long as you stay in town. The only exception is Acapulco, which the U.S. State Department recommends to not visit.

There's a lot you can do to make sure you stay safe and healthy during your spring break trip. Overdoing it with alcohol or getting involved with drugs are the most common reasons that American tourists fall into trouble, so use moderation when drinking and avoid drugs, even if they're offered. Staying with friends and groups is safer than wandering around alone, so make sure you have a plan to stick with your buddies when you go out.

Alcohol and Drugs

One reason Mexico is such a popular spring break destination is that college students who aren't yet 21 years old can experience going to bars and clubs since the drinking age in Mexico is 18. Even minors accompanied by their parent or legal guardian may consume alcoholic beverages with the consent of the accompanying adult, but a person under 18 years of age may not legally purchase alcoholic drinks.

In 2009, the Mexican government decriminalized the possession of small quantities of most drugs for personal consumption. However, that's not to say that it's safe or legal to walk around with drugs. If you're caught with an amount that goes over the very strict limit, even if it's for personal use, you can be imprisoned for trafficking. Even if you are below the limit, police have been known to arbitrarily force tourists to pay steep fines or risk going to prison. To be safe, it's best to just say no.