Riviera Nayarit is the youngest destination in the Mexican Pacific Coast. Located on the northern peninsula, across from Baja, the climate is hot and sunny, with a fresh ocean breeze. And, as the area is still very much under the radar, things are relatively affordable and accessible – unlike some of the more established hotspots in the south (we’re talking about you, Tulum).
Although Puerta Vallarta is actually in the state of Jalisco, not Riviera Nayarit, it is the airport you will fly into and the romantic historic town is well worth exploring for a couple of days, before heading down the coastline. See HERE for the CF Guide to the area, including Casa Kimberly, a hotel that’s certainly worth writing home about.
From Puerta Vallarta, head 44 km north to the tranquil private peninsula and gated residence of Punta Mita, with its top-shelf luxury hotel brands. For a change of scene, move a short distance up the coast to the boho-chic Sayulita. This vibrant little town is packed with stylish boutiques and healthy eateries, and also has a buzzing nightlife. Then, there’s San Francisco, or San Pancho as it’s known locally, which is the next resort plotted along the coast. A one-street town which is considered the ‘cultural capital’ of the state of Riviera Nayarit, it owes its reputation to the numerous initiatives carried out to promote Mexican culture and education with cultural festivals. It is what I like to imagine Sayulita was 15 years ago – quaint and, as yet, still relatively undiscovered by tourists.
The Packing Edit
The Four Seasons was the first resort to open in Punta Mita, bagging itself a boast-worthy location overlooking Banderas Bay. Greeted by a stunning vista at check-in (and a welcome tequila cocktail, best enjoyed from a plush armchair with 180-degree views), we were then chauffeur-driven by buggy to one of the spacious suites set along the coast – the perfect spot for watching the sunset over the bay from a queen-sized bed.
A dizzying range of activities are listed on a daily schedule, and during my short stay I managed to take part in the morning ‘yoga on the rock’ and even had a chance to release turtles. Facilities include everything from golf courses to a huge gym and spa. Naturally I made a beeline for the latter, for its healing services for mind, body, and soul and was greeted by the soothing smell of palo-santo, setting the scene for sound baths, reiki sessions, and top-notch massages. Two different private beaches feature daybeds and swinging pods from which to spot humpback whales leaping out of the water. The infinity pool is quite the Instagram moment, with tiles that have been matched exactly to the blue of the sea, while a ‘Lazy River’, as the name might imply, allows you to enjoy a tour of the property with minimal effort, while floating on an inflatable.
With five restaurants to choose from, The Four Seasons Punta Mita really does cater to all. Dos Catrinas is a popular choice, offering a modern and upscale approach to classic Mexican dishes, including, my favourite, an incredible smokey tuna tostada.
Don Bonito is about a ten minute stroll away from the town’s main square. A stylish white building that peeks out among the tropical vegetation, providing a sanctuary from the busy centre, with the quieter end of the beach just on the other side of the road. Modern and minimalist in design, created by celebrated Mexican architect Rodrigo Pena, the rooms are simple, fitted with hip mid-century furniture and wicker pendant lights. The open bathroom features a large stone bathtub and eco-friendly bath products. In terms of facilities, there is a small but perfectly formed jade green, salt-water pool, but the jewel in the crown is the Rose Room rooftop yoga studio – it is hands down one of the best in town. The ground-floor coffee shop is also a vibrant hotspot to grab a post-practice breakfast or a smoothie.
Maraica is a pioneering, eco-chic boutique hotel in San Pancho, positioned a ten-minute walk along the beach or back roads from the quaint little one-street town. The property is run on energy provided by solar panels, there are no single-use plastics, and most waste is recycled. Even the products in the bathroom are locally made (including an incredible choco-mint moisturiser), to ensure all the ingredients are fully biodegradable, as the wastewater is used to irrigate the gardens.
The rooms here are separate buildings, hidden by the jungle and designed to provide unparalleled views of the ocean. A little open to the elements, the spacious suites are bohemian and earthy in design, featuring high, palm ceilings and parota wood furniture. But digital nomads be warned, this may not be the ideal hotel for you, given that technology is limited in the rooms to help you raise your ‘Kupúri’ (a word from the native Mexican tongue Huichol, meaning ‘vital energy’). The main WiFi spot (which is still a little glitchy sometimes) is in the restaurant at heart of the property – a destination for both guests and locals. Menus are inspired by ancestral traditions and offers a welcome break from the tacos and pizzas on offer in town, and the roof terrace sunset views are unrivalled.
Agua de Luna
Agua de Luna is the only adults-only, design-led hotel in San Pancho. It is also the only hotel with a heated pool (35 degrees), which is a very welcome addition in the fresher, winter months. The stylish, urban/industrial feel is a contrast to its rustic beach setting, and this juxtaposition continues through to the spacious suites, which blend clean, modern design with rustic textures – think woven baskets and a statement driftwood macrame wall hangings. The palette in the bedrooms is monochromatic, with cushions and throws providing pops of green to compliment the lush plants. Communal areas include a heated swimming pool with loungers, a co-working station, and a rooftop lounge with jacuzzi – but who needs the latter when each suite has its own private hot tub on the balcony?
EAT + DRINK
So you’ve had enough tacos and quesadillas? Enjoy more variety on the menu at La Rustica, Sayulita – a modern, open-air eatery that serves some of the best wood-fired pizza, salads, pasta, and seafood in Sayulita. Located just a few steps off the plaza, it has a buzzy atmosphere and great service. A Sayulita favourite, it’s also worth noting that the restaurant won the yearly margarita championship. Chin chin.
Frenteal Al Punto
Frenteal Al Punto is one of Saylulita’s more premium beach clubs, often reserved for private events, such as weddings. Beachgoers can also reserve tables here for beautifully presented classic Mexican dishes and drinks, to be enjoyed over mellow beats, at the quieter end of Sayulita beach. If you’re looking for a buzzier vibe, head to Cocos Beach Club. Situated where the main square leads to the beach, the club provides a prime spot for people watching. The music is pumping here – order a beer and some tuna tostadas and take in the party atmosphere.
Tierra Tropical Beach Club in San Pacho is one of the most dramatic exercises in bamboo architecture I have ever seen – the club was created by local talent Rodrigo Peyre, and has received numerous architectural awards. The property (rather randomly) also has an equestrian club, which offers jumping and polo lessons. For those who would prefer to maximise their time at the beach club exclusively, day passes allow guests access to facilities which include pool, loungers, as well as free towel use. Alternatively, you can simply come here to dine in the restaurant, feasting on a menu of gourmet dishes – try the catch of the day with black beans and mango salsa.
Buddha Sayulita is a standout boutique for boho-chic beachwear. The founder/designer is aptly named Summer, and hails from California. After studying fashion in New York and Paris at Parsons, she moved to Milan to work with Dolce and Gabbana, who helped shape her love for floral feminine designs. She then moved to Sayulita and launched her own boutique, where her free spirited lifestyle is translated into her collections. Find beautiful pieces such as embroidered playsuits, flippy shorts, and elegant spaghetti-strap tops that will effortlessly take you from beach to bar.
For stylish textiles, ceramics, and candles, check out the family run store, Project Artefakto. The boutique also offers a beautiful selection of one of a kind fine gold jewellery handmade by Mexican-American designer, Debbie De La Cueva. Shop a collection of delicate 19th-century Venetian beads coupled with precious stones, tiny pearls, and diminutive gold connective pieces.
A relatively new adventure company on the Sayulita scene, Sea Sayulita creates non-touristy adventures to make the most of your time in Nayarit. Go for stand-alone activities, like hiking to a secret waterfall or sunset paddle-boarding if you have time, but surfing should be your first priority. Sea Sayulita know how to do this in style, taking clients to the quieter sandy beach of La Plancha, with their super patient surf instructor and resident photographer Christie, who will capture the moment for you. They will even build a beach fire for you to enjoy with your friends afterwards. I mean the Sea Sayulita dream.
The Marieta Islands are a group of small uninhabited islands a few miles off the coast of the Nayarit Riviera in Mexico. Protected as part of Islas Marietas National Park, these natural wonders are some of the most breathtaking landscapes in all of Mexico. Originally formed thousands of years ago by volcanic activity, in the early 1900s the Mexican government began conducting military testing on the islands. Many large explosions took place on the islets, creating caves, erosion, and rock formations. Situated in an open crater, and affectionately nicknamed ‘The Hidden Beach’ or ‘Beach of Love’ (‘Playa del Amor’) is just one example of the captivating islands you can explore.
After a massive international outcry in the late 1960s, the government eventually decided to declare the islands a national park and therefore protected against any human activity. At present, the Mexican government allows only a few boat companies to go near to the islands, and the passengers can only disembark onto this secluded beach with the necessary permit. One such company that does this excursion is Chica Locca – I recommend a private charter on one of the crewed sailing boats, which leave from La Cruz Marina. The trips are all inclusive of food/drinks, the snorkelling equipment you will need to access the beach at low tide, and a guide. Just note that the hidden beach is only open Wednesday to Sunday.