American college students gather annually on the southern tip of Baja California to drink, dance, and flirt at bars like the Mango Deck, scores of nightclubs, and of course on the sands of Lover’s Beach (shown here). For a slightly more grown-up escape, The Cape Hotel offers urban sophistication, stunning views, and luxury suites. Not to mention great cocktails—a spring break must. (And for a luxurious girlfriend spring getaway, Esperanza—An Auberge Resort—is hard to beat. The spa is a destination unto itself.)
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On the western flank of the Yucatán Peninsula, Campeche is suffused with Mayan and colonial Spanish history. Mexico’s only walled city is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the surrounding jungles are filled with ancient Mayan ruins. For a day at the beach, head to Playa Bonita, just south of the city on the Gulf of Mexico.
The Mayan ruins of Tulum reign spectacularly over one of Mexico’s best-loved beaches, and this once-sleepy town continues to add boutique oceanfront resorts and pop-up restaurants, as well as cultivating one of the most vibrant yoga scenes going. It’s hard to find a hotter destination in the Mexican Caribbean.
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Playa del Carmen
Restaurants, tequila shops, and small boutiques selling locally made crafts make Fifth Avenue the main artery of Playa del Carmen’s vibrant spring-break scene. Four blocks away you’ll find the resort-lined beach that gives the town its name. This is a true spring playground on every level, and great for the young (and young at heart).
Cancun is one of the most popular spring break destinations in the world, with a party reputation going back decades. You can still find teenagers crowding into hotel rooms and flexing their beer muscles in local nightclubs, but Cancun also has a place for couples and families at its many luxury beachfront resorts.
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A quick boat ride from Cancun, this charming little island attracts eco-conscious spring break travelers with its excellent fishing and diving (on reefs and to the MUSA underwater sculpture museum) and a sea-turtle conservation center. The season for the island’s annual whale-shark migration doesn’t start until June, but spring visitors can still swim with dolphins in several locations. Playa Norte on the island is one of our favorite beaches in Mexico.
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Cruise ships regularly deposit day trippers on Cozumel, but it’s not hard to get away from the crowds on an island that’s mostly undeveloped mangrove forest that shelter crocodiles, iguanas, and other native wildlife. Spanish-run all-inclusive hotels appeal to travelers on a budget. Ferries from Playa del Carmen dock in San Miguel, which has excellent shopping and dining.
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This sophisticated and historic Yucatán capital city is about a half-hour south of the beautiful beaches at Progreso on the Gulf of Mexico. In town, rich Mayan culture suffuses Merida’s distinctive cuisine and language, making for a perfect city/beach spring break escape.
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These neighboring beach towns on Mexico’s Pacific coast couldn’t be more different, which is good news for spring-break visitors: Ixtapa’s El Palmar Beach is lined with high-rise hotels, shops, and restaurants, while Zihuatanejo (shown here) retains the small-town vibe of a backpacker’s beach hideaway.
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The Malecón running along Puerto Vallarta’s Pacific shoreline is one of the nightlife capitals of Mexico, and the beachfront hotels of the self-proclaimed “Friendliest City in the World” fill up with American college students every spring.