Tourism in Mexico is ever-evolving, and one of the most exciting areas to explore is the 100-mile strip of Pacific coastline north of Puerto Vallarta, otherwise known as the Riviera Nayarit. Somehow, with all of Vallarta’s popularity and immense growth over the past few decades, the nearby state of Nayarit escaped the crowds, and its tiny seaside villages stayed much the same — quiet, unspoiled and idyllic, each with its own personality and charm. Today, with ongoing, controlled development in the area, Riviera Nayarit has resisted the changes that take over so many other tourist areas. Travelers can still take days to explore the intricacies and delights of each of the region’s communities without finding the cookie-cutter resorts that might sully the adventure. From my recent experiences, here are some of the most distinctive places to visit in the region.
La Cruz de Huanacaxtle
Surfers flock to Sayulita during the month of December.
Overlooking the sparkling Banderas Bay, this modest fishing village has indeed undergone a transformation while maintaining its traditions. Last year marked the opening of the Marina Riviera Nayarit at La Cruz — with a capacity for 400 yachts up to 400 feet in length — and the La Cruz Yacht Club. A two-mile beachfront promenade, new restaurants, a seafood market, luxury condominium residences and a boutique hotel will serve the yacht club and marina clientele. But those looking for a more intimate experience may opt to stay in the exquisite, hillside Villa Bella Bed & Breakfast Inn, overlooking the bay.
This tiny fishing village is a step back in time to Old Mexico. Still proudly showing off its cobblestone streets, delightful main plaza, unique shops and umbrella-shaded sidewalk cafes, Bucerias hosts the popular Virgen de la Paz (Our Lady of Peace) Festival each January, a festive event that blesses the local fishermen and their boats, many of which are decorated. The festival runs for 10 days, during which the streets are filled with vendors and carnival rides. On the last day, the boats race each other, and a procession of townsfolk heads to the Catholic church — all dressed in traditional costumes — to watch an impressive fireworks display. Clients who want to catch the Virgen de la Paz Festival would do best to stay at a quiet, family-run property, such as the Vista Panoramica, with just six rooms, excellent service and attention to detail.
Sayulita looks like Mexico, but, during my visit, I found it to be somewhat of a United Nations microcosm, with expatriates from Europe, Canada and the U.S. not only visiting the local shops and cafes but running them. A rather artistic, tattooed and pierced group of residents lives here and makes sure the town keeps its bohemian ambiance. At the same time, clients will also encounter sophisticated shops and art galleries sprinkled around town. In fact, expect to find unusual boutiques and eateries, such as a Swiss-owned bead store or a French bakery right next to a traditional, Mexican-owned jeweler.
December is a lively time, when the Sayulita Surf Classic draws surfers and spectators to Sayulita from all over the world.
As one might expect from such an eclectic town, Sayulita is home to Haramara Retreat, a world-famous property known best for its yoga offerings and quiet elegance.
Also known as San Pancho, San Francisco is a small Mexican village where locals ride horses beside the crashing waves of the beach. Enormous banyan trees, situated around the village, provide shade to San Francisco’s very environmentally conscious population.
Examples of green living are evident in the various solar energy projects, windmills and ecological foundations based in San Francisco. Further proof is the lovely eco-boutique hotel, Costa Azul Adventure Resort, which familiarizes guests with the local environment through its sea turtle program and numerous eco-tours.
A good time to plan a visit is from November to May, when clients can watch or play polo at the town’s Polo Club. While there, don’t miss a stop at the main plaza with its murals that depict the town’s history.
The northern tip of Nayarit is home to the exciting town of San Blas, which has a rich history of pirate expeditions, conquistadores and battles of the Mexican War of Independence. San Blas features various statues and monuments, as well as ruins, commemorating its past. A must-see is La Tovara National Park, where you can take a motorized, but quiet, boat ride through the mangrove-filled canals. On the excursion, I spotted many crocodiles, turtles and rare birds — much more eye candy than what a trip to Everglades National Park might yield.
San Blas is home to many beaches, a bustling seaport, nearby islands and a huge bird-watching fan base due to the area’s large numbers of migratory bird populations.
While exploring the park or beaches, stay at the nearby 42-room Hotel Garza Canela. Its incredible El Delfin restaurant, owned by internationally renowned chef Betty Vazquez, combines traditional Mexican with international cuisine in intoxicatingly delicious ways. Vazquez exclusively uses local produce and herbs from her own garden, yet charges reasonable prices for gourmet meals, which are sought out by return patrons from all over the world.