With a coastline that stretches for more than 3,800 miles (6,100 kilometers) along the Pacific Ocean, Mexico offers a full range of surfing opportunities, from classic point breaks to pounding surfboard-breaking beach breaks.
The climate is arid in the north and tropical further south.
Wherever you go, the roads are liberally sprinkled with potholes and axle-grinding topes - the famous Mexican speed bumps.
The country features two main surfing areas: Baja California and the Mainland, which runs along seven states from Sinaloa down to Chiapas.
Each region has its prime surfing season.
Baja often picks up consistent south swells in May, then a mix of south swells and early north swells in September and October.
Mainland Mexico gets waves all year round thanks to the excellent exposure to swells from the North and South Pacific.
During the summer months - May through October - consistent three-to-six-foot waves are the norm, with exposed famed surf spots like Puerto Escondido regularly dishing up pounding eight-foot-plus waves.
In the winter months - November through April - Arctic storms send northwest swells down the coast, turning on dozens of spots in Nayarit, Colima, and Michoacán.
Always an Adventure
The earliest explorations south of the United States border were undertaken in the late 1940s by San Diego surfers who didn't have far to go from the Tijuana Sloughs.
Deeper drives into Mexico occurred once Bud Browne released "Surf Crazy" (1959), and Greg Noll's "Search For Surf" (1959) featured waves from their road trip to Acapulco and Mazatlán.
Locals soon got their hands on surfboards.
Half a decade later, Baja duo Ignacio "Nacho" Felix Cota and Carlos Hernandez competed in the 1966 World Surfing Championships in San Diego, California.
Mexico has around 40,000 surfers but welcomes several times more foreign surf tourists, especially explorers traveling from California.
The Central American nation can be a dangerous destination, especially at night. Surfers have become regular targets for armed robbers in Baja.
Mexico is also home to two of the longest waves in the world - Matanchén Bay in Nayarit and Scorpion Bay in Baja California Sur.
"Ron Stoner was one of the best surf photographers of the 1960s, and one of his adventures deep into Mexico resulted in a spot named in his honor," explains Benjamin Marcus, author of "Extreme Surf."
"Stoner's Point is at the top of the headland, and on a big southern hemisphere swell, the even, long-lined, long-period swells can connect from Stoner's Point through to Las Islitas and then to Matanchén Bay to create a legendary, mile-long wave that features in the Guinness Book of World Records for so many years."
Matanchén Bay only gets a couple of epic days of surfing per year on powerful southwest swells that travel for thousands of miles and hit the coast right around San Blas.
Nevertheless, beware of biting mosquitoes and midges and untreated sewage.
Mexico has already lost one of the best waves in the world at Petacalco due to a combination of a new harbor for steelworks followed by a massive hurricane that destroyed its Puerto Escondido-style sandbars.
Environmental organizations have been lobbying against the construction of several marinas along the Baja coastline.
Accessing the Mexican Surf Gems
Access to some of Mexico's greatest surf breaks can be tricky.
The country's primary public transport is the bus, which runs on a strict timetable. As a result, bus travel throughout the region is dependable, albeit slow.
Roads deteriorate into ungraded tracks in the more isolated areas, becoming impassable in the wet season for all but the best 4X4s.
Also, the threat of side road bandits prevents most travel at night.
Cheap and reliable buses work well between the major population centers, but a lack of coastal roads means only a 4WD, hiking, or a boat enables further progress to more remote surf breaks.
Shark attacks can be a threat, especially on the east coast, so precaution is necessary.
A local hardcore community enforces lineup etiquette and punishes any lack of respect with infamous drop-ins in more popular areas and well-known breaks like Puerto Escondido.
The Surf Breaks
Generally speaking, the best time of the year to surf the best Mexican waves is from May to October.
Take a look at the best Mexican surf breaks broken down by state.
Central America and the Caribbean form the link between North and South America, showing characteristics of both continents plus a character all of its own.
Mexico is geographically considered more a part of North America.
But when it comes to surfing, it is a different world from the Southern California hustle and bustle.
And it starts arid and rocky in the mystical Baja.
Wooed by promises of long right-hand points without the insane crowds of SoCal, a road trip down the dusty, potholed, washboard tracks of the Baja Peninsula has become a rite of passage.
The Northern Baja region often resembles a hybrid of lineups north of the border, sharing the same crowds, cool water, and south-facing coves that wrap the northwest winter swells onto cobble and reef.
In other words, you might find a few Lower Trestles-style beach breaks on your way down the Mexican border.
Several protected point breaks lie between Punta Camalú and the beginning of the Central Baja zone at Punta Canoas.
You'll meet Cabo San Quintin, Punta Baja, and San Carlos.
They all prefer west-northwest winter swells and handle the prevalent, strong onshore winds.
Beyond Rosarito and the desolate beach breaks of Natividad begins what many regard as the authentic Baja since the Mexican Federal Highway 1 veers over to the Gulf of California side, and a labyrinth of 4X4 dirt tracks challenges the explorer to reach the coast.
The compensations include the famous Punta Abreojos and the seven points of Scorpion Bay, both preferring southwest swells and bringing warm water to long-peeling right-hand waves.
There are hundreds of kilometers of rocky coast and endless beach breaks, but finding protection from the howling northwest winds is the challenge.
Los Cabos is a whole different world, swapping cactus and chilled-out camping for concrete and a party vibe amongst the throngs of American holidaymakers.
The Gulf of California surf breaks continue the natural footer's playground by wrapping in when a heavy south wind or local hurricane - named "chubasco" - forms.
However, crowds and boardshorts make it a strangely outer-world Baja experience.
Best Baja Surf Breaks
Playa San Miguel
The Sinaloa state sits in a northwest swell shadow behind Baja.
Nonetheless, south swells arrive at a nice angle for left-hand point breaks in San Miguel, Patoles, and Mármol.
The Mazatlán area holds hollow, spinning right and left-handers at multiple reefs, including Valentinos, Los Patos, Chivos, and A-frames behind Isla de la Piedra (Stone Island), where the ferry arrives from Baja.
Best Sinaloa Surf Breaks
Isla de la Piedra
River mouths are another dependable source of great waves at the shifting sandbars of Barron and Teacapan, located down the coast toward Nayarit and the crowds of San Blas and Puerto Vallarta.
Best Nayarit Surf Breaks
Summer rains can wash out the access roads to many of the small fishing villages on the northern coast of Jalisco.
However, the beach breaks of Playa Peñitas, Boca de Tomatlán, El Tecuán, and Arroyo Seco, the river mouth breaks of Chamela and Barra de Navidad, and the odd point break of Ranchito are good places for beginners and intermediate surfers to get some quiet water time.
The central mainland region faces directly into the southwest-south swells and benefits from swell-amplifying deepwater bathymetry.
Best Jalisco Surf Breaks
Boca de Tomatlán
Barra de Navidad
Colima is home to the ultra-powerful Boca Pascuales, the state's best wave.
Like many of the waves nearby, it's usually perfect in the morning thanks to the northeast offshore winds and then blown out in the afternoon before a possible late afternoon glass-off.
Best Colima Surf Breaks
Michoacán is the place to go for challenging, fast-peeling river mouth waves like Playa La Ticla and Rio Nexpa.
On a good day, they're both excellent waves.
Best Michoacán Surf Breaks
Playa La Ticla
Despite the coastal armoring, grinding, sand-churning barrels can still be found at Petacalco.
West Guerrero is chock-full of exciting beach breaks and a fair number of points and reef/sand combos.
East of Acapulco's madness, you'll almost exclusively find sandy beaches punctuated by many estuaries, rivers, and streams from the coastal lagoon systems.
With the right swell - small to medium - and some north or east wind, there are plenty of lightly surfed waves at places like Copala and La Bocana.
You may also try the left-hand point break at Punta Maldonado. The spot has south wind protection and additional options in the immediate area.
Best Guerrero Surf Breaks
Oaxaca is home to Mexico's most famous wave, Puerto Escondido, where many believe the best beach break in the world hurls itself at the sands of Playa Zicatela.
A considerable scene revolves around these brutal semi-closeouts in West Oaxaca. Nevertheless, there are less-crowded alternatives.
One quiet beach in East Oaxaca was put on the map when The Search competition was held there in 2006 - Barra de La Cruz.
And those who go the extra mile will discover that this coastline is perfectly angled for right-hand point breaks.
Best Oaxaca Surf Breaks
Barra de La Cruz
Inadequate coastal access is a theme repeated in Chiapas, which shares some geological features with Guatemala - long, featureless beaches broken by entrances to salt marsh lagoons and inland waterways.
Puerto Arista, Barra de San José, and San Simeón river mouths, plus Puerto Madero, offer some reliable waves thanks to the local jetties.
But water quality and security are issues that should be taken into account.
Best Chiapas Surf Breaks
Barra de San José
Gulf of Mexico
The Gulf of Mexico needs onshore winds to drive the swell unless a cold front or hurricane produces proper groundswells.
Otherwise, wind chop is the norm.
Jetties and river mouths provide sandbars and some wind protection on the long sandy stretches like Escolleras in Tampico.
Veracruz is the best pick, as the power-sapping shallow shelf is narrowest here.
Other worthy spots include the hollow left reef break at Marti, the semi-consistent beach break located at Destapador, and the jetty breaks down at Boca del Rio, like Costalitos.
There are a few more waves to the south, like Camaronera and Barra de Sontecomapan.
But the continental shelf widens to the east, and mushy, gutless waves are the standard around the Yucatán Peninsula.
Deepwater returns on the east coast of the Caribbean Sea, where coral reefs fringe the islands, and east-southeast wind swells have the longest fetch.
It works best in January and February for cold fronts and hurricane season for swells from northwest round to south, but it is just as likely to be flat.
There are some shallow coral head rides off Punta Cancún and choppy onshore beach/rock/reef peaks right down the hotel strip - Chac Mool, Riu Palace Hotel, and Club Med - including Playa Delfines, which has surfboard rentals.
The offshore islands of Isla Mujeres and Cozumel can hold surprisingly powerful beach and reef combos, but clean conditions and longevity are rare.
Best Gulf of Mexico Surf Breaks
Barra de Sontecomapan
When should a surfer travel to Mexico? From May through October for south swells. Areas that pick up northwest swells - Baja and Nayarit - can also be good from November to March.
Where do you fly into Mexico? The airports, depending on your destination, can be Los Cabos (SJD), Puerto Vallarta (PVR), Puerto Escondido (PXM), or Huatulco (HUX). Mexico City (MEX) is the long-haul hub.
Where can a surfer stay in Mexico? In a camper van, surf camp, apartment, or hotel.
What is Mexico's currency? The Mexican Peso.
What's Mexico's official language? Spanish.
Which wetsuit should a surfer bring to Mexico? A short neoprene skin or a 3/2 for Northern and Central Baja. Further south, you'll only need boardshorts.
What are the main hazards? Crime is commonplace, so avoid night travel. Bandits target travelers in parts of the country, so keep a low profile.
Bibliography and References:
B. Sutherland and A. Colas. "The World Stormrider Surf Guide," Low Pressure Publishing, 2018
S. Bleakley. "The Longboard Travel Guide," Orca Publications, 2015