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Riviera Nayarit

Hidden Beach

By AJ Williams
If you think you’re done with Mexico, think again – and prepare to see, do, eat and learn things you’ve likely never imagined! Mexico’s newest resort area, this state is located north of Jalisco (where you’ll find Puerto Vallarta), and while the two areas may share an airport, there’s a unique world awaiting you when you venture north of PV.

A marine safari to the Marietas Islands is a must!
A marine safari to the Marietas Islands is a musThis area hugs a spectacular area of Mexico’s Pacific coastline, and there’s very little on or near the water you couldn’t do there!Spend a day in Sayulita, a quaint town with shops & a magical square that comes alive each evening. During the daytime, however, it’s all about surfing! Have lunch at Don Pedros on the beach – the shrimp tacos are heavenly! Every level of surfing is there, and lessons are easy to find on the beach. Hippy-dippy surfers (or wannabes) rejoice! Sayulita even has live music on the beach – it’s unspoiled and special.
Surf's always up in Sayulita!
Surf’s always up in Sayulita!Want to dial back even more, San Francisco (San Pancho to the locals) is nearby too. An almost spiritual place, filled with solitude and reflection, you’ll find accommodations that are more modest & less expensive than the resort areas, but quaint, clean and all about the warm hospitality of the people who call this place home. Here its all about organic, sustainable, and really making a difference in the world. Stay at the Hotel Cielo Rojo, a fabulous little boutique hotel on a cobblestone street where they offer local olive oil and cheeses, a house-brand Tequila, and local honey.

While in San Pancho, visit Entre Amigos, an incredible community centre started by Nicole Swedlow, a transplanted Californian who came for a vacation and never left – starting out with a small table on the street teaching local children crafts. That was in 2006. Since then she’s grown the centre into a model for how to change a community, change lives and change the world though education, sustainability, recycling and creating employment. The centre has attracted the attention of Gilles St. Coix, one of the founders of Cirque du Soleil, who has invested in a ‘circus production school ‘ for the town’s children. The Dalai Lama recognized Nicole as an ‘Unsung Hero for Compassion’ in 2014. Her vision single-handedly changed this community. Children have a library, activities and skills that help them see a brighter future, anchored in being kind to each other and the planet.

San Pancho and Sayulita are surrounded by lush jungles and unique species. The area is home to the ancient Huichol natives, a tribe who boasts being one of the few that survived into modern times. Their culture is deeply rooted in shamanism, folk medicine and native traditions. Spectacular artwork features bead work and weaving treatments that tell stories and carry deep meaning. In Sayulita, be sure to stop into Galeria Tanana and be prepare to marvel at the finest Huichol jewelry.

In deciding where to stay in the Riviera Nayarit area, there’s no shortage of options! In Nuevo Vallarta, they’ve taken the “all-inclusive” to a new level at both the Grand Velas and Marival Residences. The Grand Velas features high end restaurants and top notch service. The spa is world-class – I’d recommend the hydro-reflexology pool and a massage – but you may need a nap after!

At Marival Residences, another luxury all-inclusive, while not directly located on the beach, they run shuttles all day to an exclusive beach club 5 minutes away. They too have an amazing spa, and dinner at Insu Skybar is an absolute must if you like tapas, incredible service and a killer sunset.

In Punta Mita, a nearby conclave of luxury and stunning vistas, you’ll find the Four Seasons. It’s one of the most stunning properties I’ve ever experienced, with luxury at every turn. The suites are striking and they’ve thought of every detail. The food is world-class – their ceviche will have you dreaming about it until your next visit!

The view from our Four Seasons suite in Punta Mita.
The view from our Four Seasons suite in Punta Mita.

Nearby in Punta de Mita, you can dine at Tuna Blanca, voted for years one of the very top dining spots in all of Mexico. Start with the prawn and pumpkin cream soup – it’s been on the menu for 24 years for a reason! The argentine steak is like silk, and then the desserts come on a surfboard! It’s a feast for all your senses! Not to be missed.

In nearby La Cruz, the top spot for gastronomy is Sandzibar – where Chef Jesus Vazquez always has a smile, and warm handshake (not to mention the amazing grilled Octopus!) You’ll unforgettably dine under the stars, on the shore of the Bay of Banderas.

While Riviera Nayarit has plenty to offer in the accommodation and culinary departments, make sure you get out & see the area too! We loved the Marine Safari with Punta Mita Expeditions – a half day excursion to the Marietas Islands – an ecological preserve where you’ll see rate, endangered species, like the blue-footed booby birds. Snorkel through an amazing tunnel to Hidden Beach – one of the great wonders of the area. Our guides, Omar and Gustavo were knowledgeable and fun!

Riviera Nayarit is a state of contrasts, a state of sensory awakenings, a state of natural beauty, and a state of endless culture and adventures to uncover. If you think you know Mexico, you may be quite surprised to spend your next vacation in this area. As they say, you really do need to Live it to Believe it!

If you go:

Stay: Grand Velas – Marival Residences – Four Seasons Punta Mita–

Dine: Sandzibar – Insu Sky Lounge at Marival – Tuna Blanca by Café des Artistes –

Adventure: Punta Mita Expeditions –

AJ Williams
AJ Williams
‘CAO’ (Chief Adventure Officer) is A.J. Williams, a travel blogging, food & wine lover who writes for various print and online publications. She's never happier than when she's dragging a bag through an airport (no really!) heading off on another adventure!

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