The Riviera Nayarit on Mexico's West Coast includes over 200 miles of pristine Pacific coastline with authentic beach towns, all-inclusive resorts, championship golf courses, and colonial history. While far less touristy than Puerto Vallarta, the Riviera Nayarit has become a popular destination for families, who can also venture inland and try canopy tours and zip lines in the nearby mountains. This coastline is on the migration path of several types of whales, and whale-watching cruises are one of the most popular activities between December and March.
The Riviera Nayarit is at roughly the same latitude as Hawaii, and you get a similarly breezy, balmy climate. In the summer, the average temperature hovers around 85 degrees, while in the winter temperatures drop a mere to 10 degrees on average.
The Puerto Vallarta airport is a 20-minute drive south of Nuevo Vallarta and 35 minutes from Punta de Mita. Keep in mind that the Riviera Nayarit is a different time zone, one hour behind Puerto Vallarta when making arrangements to arrive at the airport in time for your return flight.
The southern gateway to the Riviera Nayarit is Nuevo Vallarta, nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Sierra de Vallejo mountains. It is the most touristy town on the Riviera Nayarit (it even has a Starbucks) and one of the most exclusive beach destinations of Mexico. With the second highest number of hotels in the country, the town is teeming with all-inclusive resorts along Banderas Bay, the largest natural bay in Mexico.
It is also a nautical center with a yacht club and several marinas. Water sports and up-close encounters with wildlife are plentiful, including diving, snorkeling, parasailing, windsurfing, and more. Kid-friendly activities include an eco-park that offers interactions with dolphins.
Love nature? There are plenty of opportunities to view marine life, including leatherback sea turtles and humpback whales.
Just a few miles north of Nuevo Vallarta, Bucerías is a small coastal town with good restaurants, art galleries, charming Sunday market, and a lovely beach. Bucerías makes a great day trip from Nuevo Vallarta and Punta Mita.
Punta de Mita
Jutting into the Pacific at the northern tip of Banderas Bay is the peninsula called Punta de Mita. Considered a sacred place by the native Indians, this is a magnificent place with quiet beaches and coral reefs. Once a simple fishing village, Punta Mita is now a beach town known for its upscale resorts, many of which have championship golf courses. Well-known resorts in the area include the Four Seasons Punta Mita, St. Regis Punta Mita, and Iberostar Playa Mita. Punta de Mita is also a great launching pad for visiting the Marietas Islands, a UNESCO reserve and Mexican national park.
One of Mexico’s hippest surf towns, Sayulita offers great beaches and a laid-back vibe. Think low-rise buildings and a bohemian, retro atmosphere.
Surfing is particularly exciting to watch during the north swell from December to April. Want to learn? Take a surf lesson on the main beach with Lunazul Surf School.
Another cool activity that kids will like is a bike trip on jungle singletrack with Wild Mex Surf and Adventure, which offers a half-day Malpaiso Beach trip on rolling jungle trails and car-free dirt roads.
About a two-hour drive north of Sayulita, the coastal town of San Blas is another surfing hotspot and a favorite haunt of birdwatchers. Covered with mangrove swamps, estuaries, lagoons and beaches, the area is one of the most important natural shelters for birds in the Western Hemisphere. San Blas is home to 300 species of birds, making it second only to Panama in abundance and diversity. The best time to observe birds in San Blas is October through April.
– Edited by Suzanne Rowan Kelleher