Visitors can go horseback riding on the beach in Bucerias, Riviera Nayarit. // © 2014 Irene Middleman Thomas
The neighboring destinations of Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit share some common traits, such as Mexico’s spectacular Pacific coastline and a blissfully tropical climate, but they can also feel as if they are worlds apart.
Puerto Vallarta is well suited to travelers who want amenities and attractions such as lively nightlife, U.S. chain restaurants, big stores and malls, luxury spas, mega hotels, upscale all-inclusive resorts, top-rated golf courses and activities that will appeal to the whole family.
“Puerto Vallarta is a must for first-time travelers to Pacific Mexico,” said Diana Rapista, manager of three Worldview Travel offices in Encinas, Beverly Hills and Palos Verdes, Calif. “In the heart of downtown, there’s easy access to varied nightlife, traditional dining, shopping and all kinds of people, including cruise passengers.”
Puerto Vallarta is renowned for its delightful colonial section and wide sandy beaches, as well as its thriving art, cultural and gastronomic scenes. It is also home to a beautiful new malecon (boardwalk), which is akin to an al fresco art gallery, as well as the Bahia de Banderas, which is backed by mountains with dense subtropical greenery. What was once a small seaside village has expanded along the coast.
Neighboring Riviera Nayarit provides visitors with a quieter, small-town experience including boutique properties, unique shops, distinctive culinary options and restaurants. Clients can also expect ecotourism and nature-oriented activities, world-class surfing and a sophisticated, international crowd.
“Think about resort-style relaxation, luxury properties, new golf resorts, small town visits, long stretches of beach and privacy,” Rapista said. “These two very unique destinations are set apart by a half-hour drive.”
Nuevo Vallarta is the gateway to the 192-mile verdant Riviera Nayarit coastal area in the small state of Nayarit, just north of Jalisco. Here, visitors will find a blend of luxury accommodations and many small towns including Sayulita, Bucerias, San Blas, San Francisco (San Pancho), Punta de Mita, Lo de Marco, Rincon de Guayabitos and Cruz de Huanacaxtle. Each town has its own charms and attracts different types of visitors as well as U.S. expats.
Some opportunities overlap. There is world-class golfing at Punta Mita in Nayarit, for example, and there are spas in many of the hotels in Nayarit’s small towns. Puerto Vallarta offers a variety of options for nature hikes. Both destinations offer the usual oceanfront sports activities such as parasailing, jet skiing, banana boat rides, ocean kayaking, scuba diving and snorkeling. Deep-sea fishing in the area is excellent from November to May, and whale watching is popular from December to April.
It’s easy to travel between the destinations due to their proximity — savvy visitors with the time and inclination can experience the best of both worlds, no matter where they are staying. Nayarit’s southern border is just 10 minutes north from the Puerto Vallarta airport. Travelers can drive between Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit on a modern, inter-coastal highway. Comfortable, air-conditioned buses that charge very reasonable fares also travel the highway and stop in each town.