Nick Kontis  |  Special to USA TODAYLooking for beaches? Nearly 6,000 miles of coastline fringe Mexico on its east, west and south, stretching from the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortéz.With white sand beaches sweeping ancient Mayan ruins and sunken mangrove forests along these sun-splashed shores, Mexico has some of the most sought-after beaches in the world. And did I mention the translucent waters of the Caribbean are a mecca for divers and snorkelers?If you’re looking to visit, Mexico’s major international airports are in Cancún, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas. And there are some nearby beaches where you can bury your toes in the sand.Story continues below.Cancún and the Yucatán offer ‘turquoise-hued waters,’ convenient hotel zoneMost Americans considering a beach holiday will place Cancún near the top of their list. The beauty of this Caribbean resort city and its state of Yucatán is that there is a spot of white or golden sand for every travel style. Cancún has a massive hotel zone with a ribbon of beach resorts. Travelers who prefer a quieter holiday venture south two hours (80 miles) to picturesque Tulúm.Playa Paraiso, where lofty Mayan ruins graze the sea, is the most striking beach in the region. Nearer to Tulúm’s low-rise hotel zone, Playa Ruinas faces the ancient architecture and is Instagram-worthy. If Playa Las Palmas is jam-packed in the high-season winter months, seek out Playa Akumal, a less-crowded getaway popular for seeing sea turtles. For a vibrant island getaway, the lively island paradise of Isla Mujeres is only 30 minutes from Cancún via the Ultramar ferry.Serene Playa Norte feels more like Thailand than the Yucatán. Snorkelers and scuba divers can swim right up to gentle whale sharks, always resident in these tranquil waters.WANT TO LEAVE THE US?: These women found a home, community in MexicoThree hours north of Cancún, where the Caribbean meets the Gulf of Mexico, is the island of Holbox, as yet largely undiscovered by tourists.”The perfect mix of relaxation, great weather and bohemian beauty, it’s the paradise island you’ve dreamed of visiting,” writes British blogger Wanderlust Chloe. There are no high-rise hotels, no chain restaurants, to distract from the beauty of Holbox’s mesmerizing, turquoise-hued waters.As the state of Yucatán borders Quintana Roo, many travelers use Cancún as a gateway to Mayan treasures such as Progresso and Sisal. Over 200 miles of coastline feature comfortable lodging and some of Mexico’s tastiest regional cuisine, within a three-hour drive from Cancún Airport.Puerto Vallarta offers rustic beaches, lush greeneryAnother beach destination close to an international airport is Puerto Vallarta.You have to see: The Riviera Nayarit – a swath of sun-kissed waterfront that wraps around the broad Bay of Banderas extends nearly 100 miles north, up the coast of Nayarit state from Puerto Vallarta, in Jalisco.While families and novice surfers are drawn to Sayulita, couples might venture 5 miles north to charming and sophisticated San Pancho. You’ll find an excellent array of boutique hotels and better dining options, with a laid-back vibe and a broader sense of a sustainable community. Locals and tourists alike enjoy fresh seafood at Barracuda Cocina del Mar.Off the coast of Punta Mita are the Islas Marietas, comprising one of the most beautiful conservation parks in the world. These uninhabited rocky islets are like something from a James Bond adventure, and their crown jewel is Playa del Amore (Beach of Love), spectacularly sheltered by a natural, semi-dome roof. It’s a one-hour boat ride from Puerto Vallarta, less than a half-hour from Punta Mita.Most travelers who arrive by air at Puerto Vallarta miss the road less traveled: rustic beaches surrounded by lush green jungle and flanked by rolling mountains. The pristine Chacala Beach, a 90-minute drive north of Puerto Vallarta and about 50 minutes from Sayulita-San Pancho, offers a long stretch of golden sand and a bohemian vibe as one might have seen in Bali three decades ago. Mar de Jade is a yoga and wellness retreat worlds apart from others of Thailand.I live part of the year in San Blas, a historical town three hours from Puerto Vallarta yet far off the tourist radar. On the drive north through the town of Las Varas, you’ll pass Playa Platanitos, where beachfront palapa restaurants beckon diners to try the slow-smoked mesquite-grilled fish called “pescado sarandeado.”In San Blas, join Mexican tourists at the locally run La Familia restaurant, which also offers a few rooms above an adorable courtyard. Take the La Tovara boat ride through backwater canals loaded with crocodiles, turtles, iguanas and over 200 migratory bird species: I call it Mexico’s Everglades.Heading south from Puerto Vallarta’s Old Town, you can catch Playa Las Gemelas, which is just a half-hour drive. Yet its twin, soft-sand beaches – offering close views of Los Arcos rocks, a favored snorkeling spot – seem a world away.Further south, panga boats and water taxis transport day-trippers from the quaint fishing village of Boca de Tomatlan to the rarely visited, golden-hued beaches of Las Animas, Quixmixto and Colomitos. Yelapa, where the thick forest meets the sea, is accessible only by boat. Sip a cold beer, lounge in a hammock and enjoy the freshest of fish tacos.Zachary Rabinor, president of Journey Mexico, recommends hiking to any of these beaches and returning by water taxi. Though not as peaceful as two generations ago, when they were frequented by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, “they still embody the remote tropical paradise that has kept locals and visitors loyal and enchanted.” “You can pack in food, but why bother, with the vast array of excellent local seafood restaurants?” Rabinor said.And there are new beach clubs at Xinalani (Quimixto) and Majahuitas. Baja Sur offers a party town, desert landscapesThe first time I visited Mexico’s Baja California Sur, my mind was on the iconic El Arco rock formation at Cabo San Lucas. The water-taxi ride to its centerpiece beach, Playa del Amor, is so choppy that locals call it Playa del Divorcio (Divorce Beach). But visitors are also astounded by the desert landscape, including giant cacti and hovering dunes stretching right to the azure sea. Los Cabos, at the tip of the peninsula, is a party town.Expat travel writer and photojournalist Kristen Gill suggests “it’s worth driving a few hours north, where you can experience a true taste of the Baja life.”Oceanographer Jacques Cousteau called the Sea of Cortéz and Gulf of California the “Aquarium of the World” for its diversity of marine life. From the state’s capital city of La Paz, take a boat trip to Isla Espíritu Santo, a UNESCO World Heritage site where you can snorkel with sea lions and possibly spot a few blue-footed boobies along the way. “Just an hour north of Cabo is Playa Cerritos, a swimming and surfing beach nestled between the laid-back towns of Pescadero and Todos Santos,” Gill also recommends. “Here you can take up surf lessons, boogie board or just enjoy the view, where it’s not uncommon to see whales breaching in the distance.”Another must-see, she says, is Playa Balandra, a naturally protected series of shallow, white-sand bays. From there, it’s a five-minute drive to Playa Tecolote, “where you can mingle with local families, barbeque, build sandcastles, swim in gentle waves, and enjoy freshly-caught fish tacos served at simple beachside restaurants.”