The word is out on this once well-hidden gem. The charming Riviera Nayarit has become one of Mexico’s most popular tourist destinations. It’s no wonder. Here, the jungle-clad Sierra Madre Mountains tumble onto the golden sands of Mexico’s Pacific shore, bustling towns and sleepy fishing villages dot the coastline, offering visitors of all persuasions a wide variety of experiences.
From the buzzing nightlife of Sayulita to the relaxed vibes of San Pancho, the luxurious enclave of Punta Mita to the authentic experience of Lo de Marcos and beyond, the Riviera Nayarit has something for everyone. Discover the different flavors of the towns and communities that make up the Riviera Nayarit.
Let’s begin in the south, in Nuevo Vallarta the gateway to the Riviera Nayarit. Next to the famous resort town of Puerto Vallarta, this marks the end of Jalisco State and the beginning of the Riviera Nayarit. While many visitors to the area will transit through Puerto Vallarta via the airport or bus terminal, perhaps fewer have heard of Nuevo Vallarta.
Nuevo Vallarta was purpose-built as a tourist destination and offers resorts, vacation rentals, and golf courses. Its proximity to the airport and the lively city of Puerto Vallarta make it a popular vacation destination in its own right, or the perfect place to begin or end your tour of the Riviera Nayarit.
Bucerías is a charming town set on the picturesque shores of Banderas Bay. Often overshadowed by Puerto Vallarta to the south and Punta Mita and Sayulita to the north, Bucerías has avoided some of the effects of tourism that have plagued its neighbors.
The town continues to offer an authentic experience while still providing comfortable and modern amenities not always available further north. The long sandy beach and calm waters are great for those who enjoy relaxing on the beach or participating in water sports like paddle boarding or kayaking. Family-run local restaurants, guesthouses, and boutique hotels dominate the hospitality landscape here.
Since 2012, the spectacular peninsula of Punta Mita has been transformed by a handful of Silicon Valley investors into a luxurious and exclusive enclave. With premium resorts, golf courses, and high-end dining, Punta Mita offers a lavish and opulent experience.
Beyond the boundaries of the resorts, the Punta Mita peninsula is a pristine paradise with gorgeous beaches, virgin jungle and the protected marine reserve of the Marietas Islands. Consistent breaks at the secluded and beautiful Playa La Lancha and the surrounding beaches also attract surfers from all over the world here.
Once a hidden paradise, the only outsiders who knew this destination were the surfers who came to ride the consistent swell. Today, Sayulita has become a mecca for backpackers, yogis, families, and travelers of all persuasions. In the wake of the crowds came the hotels, burger restaurants, and souvenir shops. In some ways, Sayulita has become a victim of its own popularity, suffering from the rampant tourism and overdevelopment.
Despite the crowds and the obvious environmental damage, the things that have put Sayulita on the map can still be found here. The surf, the sun, the all-night parties, and the drop-dead gorgeous setting. Hopefully, balance can be restored to this former paradise.
San Pancho (San Fransisco Nayarit)
Sayulita’s little sibling is growing up fast and has arguably taken Sayulita’s crown as the cultural and artistic epicenter of the region. The tiny fishing village of San Francisco is better known by its nickname, San Pancho. The town has its own distinct character with a strong emphasis on community and culture.
Hidden amongst the lush jungle, Playa San Pancho’s stretch of golden sand is one of the most beautiful on the riviera. Behind it, the town attracts a wide array of visitors from Mexican nationals, wealthy ex-pats from the US and Canada who have started to amass real estate here, and the bohemian visitors who have long been drawn to the town’s artistic soul.
As its popularity increases so too does the number of new hotels, boutiques, and restaurants appearing here alongside the existing family-run guest houses and Mexican restaurants. You’ll find some of the region’s most exciting new restaurants in this tiny town.
Lo De Marcos
Moving further north along the coast, Lo de Marcos is where the tourism starts to peter out making way for more authentic experiences. Visitors here mostly come from Mexico but Lo de Marcos has its fair share of expats as well. A popular RV ground behind the southern end of the beach caters mostly to American and Canadian snowbirds. Many of them have even ended up staying in Lo de Marcos permanently or semi-permanently.
As this sleepy beach front town starts to pique the interest of tourists moving further north from Nayarit darlings Sayulita and San Pancho, a number of new restaurants, cafes and accomodation options have started to emerge alongside the traditional offerings.
Another local favorite, this small beach town occupies a scenic stretch of sand enclosed by jungle-clad headlands. With calm water, Las Ayala is popular amongst families looking to relax by the tranquil bay and escape the crowds in nearby Rincón de Guayabitos. The southern end of the beach hides several secluded coves including the picturesque Playa Frideras.
Not so many international tourists make it this far north along the Riviera Nayarit meaning you’ll get an authentic Mexican beach town experience here. Although the level of amenities, might not be at the same level you will find further south, there are a number of traditional and modern restaurants, a handful of hotels and guest houses exist.
From Chacala secret surf spots can be reached by boat or by hiking through the jungle. The playa at Chacala itself is calm and tranquil perfect for families or for setting up on one of the many rented umbrellas along the shore.
The final stop on the Riviera Nayarit is San Blas. It is a charming and historic town that offers a unique blend of natural beauty, cultural heritage, and outdoor adventures.
The big drawcard here is the La Tovara National Park. This park is a sprawling mangrove estuary that is home to a diverse array of wildlife, including crocodiles, iguanas, and various bird species. Visitors can embark on boat tours through the mangroves, exploring its winding waterways and observing the rich biodiversity that thrives in this unique ecosystem. Birdwatchers, in particular, flock to the natural reserves around San Blas where numerous species of migratory and resident birds can be spotted.
Final Thoughts on the Riviera Nayarit
The Riviera Nayarit in Mexico is well and truly on the map, attracting tourists from around the world with its natural beauty, and charming towns and villages. There is something for everyone here. Long lazy days by the beach are bookended by the magnificent site of the sun setting into the Pacific Ocean. Hikes through the jungle lead curious explorers to pristine beaches and unsurfed breaks. Elsewhere, golf takes place between spa treatments. Street tacos can be found a stone’s throw from trendy modern fusion restaurants. Ice-cold cervezas are enjoyed around bonfires on deserted beaches under the stars or in the heaving bars of Sayulita. All of it backdropped by the beautiful coastal jungle of the Sierra Madre and the sparkling Pacific Coast of the Riviera Nayarit.