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7 luxury vacations in Mexico
The beach-camping crowd can still scrape by on a few pesos a week, but if you want to splash out, here's how to do it right
Mexico has always had all the elements of an upscale vacation destination: glittering white Caribbean beaches and wave-crashed Pacific shores, thriving mega-cities, pre-Columbian ruins, world-class cuisine and an ever-expanding selection of excellent hotels.
The opulence isn’t just for visitors, though. Mexico boasts the 13th-largest economy in the world, with an upwardly mobile moneyed class that includes Earth’s richest man in corporate magnate Carlos Slim.
Even if you’re not part of Señor Slim’s intimate posse, here’s where to do Mexico like you’re at least one of his cousins.
Acapulco’s skyscraper-lined beaches and stunning cliff-top mansions have long been the stuff of vacation legend.
Sadly, its star faded in the 1980s and 1990s as younger, better-planned Mexican resorts took center stage.
Like other gracefully aging beauties, however, Acapulco has been having some work done.
It’s once again filled with updated attractions, top-flight golf courses and outstanding new hotels.
It’s also one of Mexico’s best deals on a five-star vacation -- and, yes, Acapulco’s famed cliff divers are still an attraction.
Go Big: Banyan Tree Cabo Marqués
Fantastic views from luxuriously outfitted villas scattered along the oceanfront are just part of this outstanding hotel’s charm.
Boulevard Cabo Marqués, Lote 1, Colonia Punta Diamente, Acapulco, Guerrero; + 52 744 434 0100; rooms from US$452; www.banyantree.com
Go Boutique: Casa Yal'ma Ya'an
Nine rustic wooden bungalows will satisfy the most discriminating traveler looking to get lost in a secluded spot along a quiet stretch of sand.
Carretera Hacia Barra Vieja, Kilometer 29, Lote 189, Acapulco, Guerrero; +52 744 444 6389; rooms from US$209; www.casayalmakaan.com
Cabo San Lucas
At the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula, Cabo attracts celebs, wealthy jet-setters, championship golfers, U.S. party boys and girls, families and anyone interested in living luxuriously along the Pacific.
Outdoor attractions include scuba diving, sport fishing, surfing, sailing and basic beach bumming -- but Cabo’s fine dining options and nightlife may surprise you.
Go Big: Esperanza Resort
Cabo has scores of upscale resorts, but this award-winning property gets raves for its huge rooms, excellent spa, secluded beach and other extras.
Carretera Transpeninsular, Kilometer 7, Manzana 10, Punta Ballena, Cabo San Lucas; +52 624 145 6400; rooms from US$525; www.esperanzaresort.com
Go Boutique: Capella Pedregal Cabo San Lucas
By Cabo’s mega-resort standards, 66 opulent rooms -- plunge pools, local decor, digital amenities -- still count as boutique hotel. This one is in an unforgettably dramatic setting, with a glorious oceanfront pool.
Camino Del Mar 1, Cabo San Lucas; +52 624 163 4300; rooms from US$500; www.capellahotels.com/cabosanlucas
Cancún and the Mayan Riviera
Mexico’s most famous vacation destination is Cancún; flawless by design, the site was chosen and designed in the 1970s using computer models. Really.
Perfect white beaches, fantastic weather and cheap plane tickets from the United States have attracted a selection of five-star resorts unparalleled in Latin America.
The entire area is now swimming in great options. Isla Mujeres is a mellow island just offshore, and the Mayan Riviera is a seemingly endless strand of resorts and hotels stretching south to Tulúm.
Go Big: Ritz-Carlton Cancún
It’s hard to choose just one of Cancún’s many mega-resorts, but this classic beauty’s fine rooms, luxury spa and gorgeous beach stand out from the crowd.
Retorno del Rey 36, Zona Hotelera, Cancun, Quintana Roo; +52 998 881 0808; rooms from US$300; http://www.ritzcarlton.com
Go Boutique: Zoëtry Paraiso de la Bonita Riviera Maya
Wrapped in wildlife and wilderness just 30 kilometers south of Cancún, this luxury property’s pretty beach bungalows and jungle ground front an almost undisturbed beach.
Carretera Chetumal–Cancún, Kilometer 328, Bahia Petempich, Benito Juárez, Puerto Morelos, Quintana Roo; +52 998 872 8300; rooms from US$450; www.zoetryresorts.com
Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo
Only recently discovered by the luxury crowd, these twin resort towns on the Central Pacific coast couldn’t be more different.
Like Cancún, Ixtapa was planned from the start, its flawless coastline carpeted with gleaming high-rises, golf courses and shopping.
Neighboring Zihuatanejo started out as an authentic Mexican fishing village, and still has charm to spare.
The two compliment each other well, with glitz matched by atmosphere.
Go Big: Capella Ixtapa
Rustic but luxurious rooms perched on ocean cliffs come complete with personal
assistants and other extravagant amenities found nowhere else in the region.
Paseo Playa Linda, Ixtapa, Guerrero; +52 755 555 1100; rooms from US$275; www.capellahotels.com/ixtapa
Go Boutique: Amuleto
Upscale travelers now have a bohemian outpost in laid-back Zihuatanejo in this luxurious and well-appointed bamboo-and-thatch hotel.
Calle Escénica 9, Playa La Ropa, Zuhuatanejo, Guerrero; +52 755 544 6222; rooms from US$500; www.amuleto.net
Mexico’s capital is a metropolis with 20 million people, the elite of which are at the center of the business, political and cultural hub of the nation.
World-class museums, trendy restaurants, glittering boutiques, bohemian galleries and an artistic undercurrent make Mexico City one the most vibrant cities on the planet.
More on CNN: Best of Mexico City
Luxury travelers will feel most at home in Polanco, just north of famed Chapultepec Park. It’s loaded with designer suits, gourmet meals and expensive golf courses.
Go Big: W Mexico City
Mexico City has five-star, business-class hotels to spare, but the W’s cool, clubby ambiance, complete with neon and sleek design, remains a magnet for the stylin’ crowd.
Campos Eliseos 252, Chapultepec, Polanco, Mexico City; +52 559 138 1800; rooms from US$249; www.starwoodhotels.com
Go Boutique: Hotel Condesa df
The star of the trendy, bohemian Condesa neighborhood is this hip hotel, famed for its French facades, modern interiors and a fresh rooftop bar.
Veracruz 102, Colonia Condesa, Mexico City; +52 55 5241 2600; rooms from US$205; www.condesadf.com
The “Culinary Capital of Mexico” is much more than its legendary restaurant scene.
Carved from glistening cantera stone into a splendid example of harmonious Spanish Colonial architecture, it’s home to exquisite churches, museums, pre-Columbian ruins and shops selling seriously psychedelic handicrafts.
Go Big: Camino Real Oaxaca
Built almost 450 years ago, graceful Santa Catalina Convent has had its courtyards, gardens and rooms refurbished by Mexican luxury chain, Camino Real. Classic.
300 Cinco de Mayo, Oaxaca; +52 951 501 6100; rooms from US$178; www.camino-real-oaxaca.com
Go Boutique: Casa Oaxaca
This whitewashed gem offers seven perfect rooms surrounding a sunny courtyard with one of Oaxaca’s best restaurants; guests can arrange meals, cooking classes and market tours.
García Vigil 407, Centro Histórico, Oaxaca; + 52 (951) 514 41 73; rooms from US$199; www.casaoaxaca.com.mx
San Miguel de Allende
Its artsy ambiance, refreshing climate and UNESCO historic district make the magical mountain town of San Miguel de Allende a magnet for both adventurous expats and wealthy Mexican families.
In recent years, its “quality of light,” and quality of life, have been enhanced with renowned art schools, gourmet restaurants, eclectic nightlife, fine hotels and real estate agencies (with English-speaking employees) on every block.
Go Big: Rosewood San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel’s plushest property offers world-class accommodations in the heart of the historic center.
Nemesio Diez 11, Colonia Centro, San Miguel de Allende; +52 415 152 9700; rooms from US$350; www.rosewoodhotels.com/en/sanmigueldeallende
Go Boutique: Casa Misha
Each detail is anticipated in this elegant seven-room winner, featuring balcony views over San Miguel’s famous Parroquia.
Chiquitos 15, Centro, San Miguel de Allende; +52 415 152 2021; rooms from US$300; www.casamisha.com
More on CNN: Insider guide -- best of Mexico City