Cancún’s Avenida Tulum is always a crowded place, but the month of March takes crowded to a whole new level. The melee known as spring break brings a crush of college students, who celebrate the annual ritual by crawling from bar to beach and back again…all day long.
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“March Madness” has a different meaning when talking about spring break. And scenes like Avenida Tulum can either be heaven or hell, prompting us to run far and fast or just join in. Either way, travelers want to know what they’re getting into—before they go.
So here’s our list of destinations that pack in the spring breakers. Whether you join or flee is up to you.
Lake Havasu, Ariz.
Thousands of college students invade Lake Havasu each spring for time-honored rituals like nearly running aground, naked waterskiing, and around-the-clock boat parties fueled by shots and thumping music. (No, it’s not legal to dive off London Bridge.) There are plenty of places to keep the party going onshore too, like the open-air beach club Kokomo.
This resort strip on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula lures more than 100,000 spring breakers from the U.S. each year—eager to experience the raunchy contests, foam parties, banana-boat rides, and general boozy mayhem that have made Cancún infamous. Many book cheap, all-inclusive packages that include bus rides to clubs like Dady’O and Señor Frogs, where the beers and margaritas flow freely (cover charges often include unlimited drinks).
Cheap and plentiful all-inclusive packages bring thousands of American college students to Nassau each spring to marvel at the British colonial architecture, the abundant natural beauty, and … Who are we kidding? They come to drink. A lot. With dozens of nightclubs, including one at the massive Atlantis on Paradise Island, and plenty of booze cruises setting forth daily, you’ll never be thirsty as long as you and your fraternity brothers are in town.
Miami Beach, Fla.
Miami was the top U.S. spring break destination in 2012, according to a survey by STA Travel. If you’re looking to tan towel-to-towel on packed beaches all day and crash four (or more) to a room each night, then Miami Beach has you covered.
Thousands of students converge on the already crowded city, where day drinkers, Jet Skiers, and topless sunbathers share the sand and surf with retirees. Party-oriented hotels like the Catalina Hotel and Beach Club (setting for a trashy but fun new reality show on the CW) add to the up-all-night, sleep-all-day scene.
South Padre Island, Texas
When it’s not spring break, South Padre Island dwindles to fewer than 3,000 residents, bird-watchers, and retirees. But come spring break, an annual migration of college students and families with school-age kids hits that 34-mile stretch of Gulf Coast beach with noisy glee.
If the crowd gets to be too much, drive out to the end of the northbound road, cross the dunes to an empty beach, and pretend you’re on a deserted island. Feel like rubbing sunburned elbows with the masses? Padre Island Brewing Company serves burgers, tacos, and local beers, y’all.
Venice Beach, Calif.
While Venice Beach may not be the first place that comes to mind for gone-wild spring break debauchery, it’s certainly a scene and stays popular year round. Sixteen million visit annually, making this America’s most crowded beach. The people-watching alone is entertaining—fortune-tellers, street musicians, vendors, and skimpy beachgoers and rollerbladers. Rumor has it a zipline will be added later in 2013, a proposal opposed by locals worried it’ll only add to the chaotic, amusement park-like vibe.
Montego Bay, Jamaica
Fans of reggae music, rum, and other, perhaps smokier, ways to relax have been coming to Montego Bay and Negril for spring break for decades. That means that from March to April, every inch of white sand beach is packed with revelers eager to have their hair beaded, sing along to Bob Marley tunes, and practice the worst “Jamaican” accents the world has ever heard.
Vacation packages that promise all sorts of activities from cliff diving to snorkeling mean that even if you try to get away from the bars and nightclubs, you won’t get far from the crowds—or the endless loop of “No Woman, No Cry.”
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
As noisy and good-natured as Sammy Hagar (proprietor of Cabo Wabo Cantina and former Van Halen front man—the one who wasn’t David Lee Roth), Cabo San Lucas has been playing host to epic spring breaks for nearly 40 years. The town’s party scene doesn’t take a college degree to locate, but for extra credit, check out local highlights that don’t involve pulsating music and body shots: the sushi at Nick-San, for instance, and Playa Santa María, a sheltered cove ideal for snorkeling (look for a beach access sign on the highway at kilometer 12).
Daytona Beach, Fla.
College students flock here every March for spring break for its wide swaths of sand and party reputation. In addition to competing with 8 million fellow humans for a spot on the beach, cars—and rentable motorcycles and bikes—are permitted to drive on the hard-packed sand (a rarity in Florida). It’s only fitting for the city proudly home to the NASCAR headquarters.
San Juan, P.R.
Large resort chains dominate the Isla Verde and Condado areas of San Juan, offering convenience and beach access to you—and to the hordes of college students in hundreds and hundreds of rooms. To avoid the crowds and find that quintessential Caribbean island vibe, retreat to an island farther afield, like Vieques.
See more of the Craziest Spring Break Party Destinations