Update July 2018 – Which are the cleanest beaches in Mexico? As of mid-2018, 53 beaches in Mexico have now achieved the coveted Blue Flag status from the international organization Foundation for Environmental Education. The group awarded the designation to 18 more beaches in Mexico in the summer of 2018. New designations were in four states: Baja California Sur, Guerrero, Oaxaca and Quintana Roo. The most notable for tourists include several in Los Cabos and the Puerto Vallarta region on the west coast, multiple beaches from Isla Mujeres down to Bacalar on the Caribbean side. See that list here.
In preparation for Easter weekend of 2017, the Mexican government did sweeping tests of the water quality at all the popular beaches in Mexico. Thankfully all but one came out clean enough for swimmers. The one that didn’t—Playa Hermosa in Ensenada, Baja Norte–was promptly closed.
If you want to go to a Mexican beach and be 100% confident that the water is pristine, your best bets are on the Pacific coast. Two of the top-10 (all tying with the same score) cleanest beaches in Mexico were in Campeche. One was in Quintana Roo, but far to the south. The rest were all on the Pacific Ocean or the Sea of Cortez between the west coast and the Baja Peninsula.
Of the big resort areas, Puerto Vallarta came out on top, with its main beach area and the Nuevo Vallarta one both getting into the top-10 cleanest beaches.
According to the latest tests, these are the 10 cleanest beaches in Mexico:
Zipolite, Puerto Ángel, Oaxaca, 10
Zicatela, Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, 10
La Paz, Loreto, Los Cabos, Baja California Sur, 10
Bahía Kino, Guaymas, Huatabampo, Puerto Peñasco, San Luis Río Colorado, Sonora, 10
Nuevo Vallarta and Bucerías, Nayarit, 10
Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 10
Cárdenas, Centla, Paraíso, Tabasco, 10
Ciudad del Carmen, Campeche, all beaches, 10
Champotón, Kalkiní, Campeche, 10
Othon P. Blanco, Quintana Roo, 10
As you may have noticed, they all tied, so I took out the number order. The “10” in that score is the measure of enterococcus fecal bacteria levels. “If the count is over 200 per 100 milliliters of water, swimming is deemed unsafe.” Figure if it’s only 10, it’s probably at the same level it would have been in ancient times just from what’s running down from the pastures in the mountains.
The good news is, for foreign visitors, that most of the low-scoring beaches are not places that would be on your radar. Four of the ten worst were in Veracruz, a Gulf Coast state. One not far north of Puerto Vallarta did show up though: Sayulita was the second-dirtiest out of all the ones tested, with a score of 130. Time for all those wealthy expats and business owners living there to mobilize it sounds like.
Aside from the cleanliness, there are ample reasons to spend time on Mexican beaches. For one, whale watching is a popular excursion from the Pacific coast areas and if you’re a more adventurous traveler, you can get right in the water to swim with whale sharks from La Paz, Cancun, or Holbox Island.
See more on the dirtiest and cleanest beaches in Mexico at the Mexico News Daily site, which is a great resource for what’s really going on in the country—good and bad.
For where to swim in the place where it’s hardest to swim, see this related post on the best swimmable beaches of Cabo in Baja.
Want to get authoritative advice on the best beach resorts in Mexico? Follow that link and drill down to the area you’re most interested in. We have detailed, first-person reviews written by experienced travel writers who have seen it all. We only cover “the best of the best” in each location and nobody can pay to be included in our coverage here at Luxury Latin America.