4 Things To Do In the Riviera Nayarit
With 192 miles of pristine Pacific coastline vacationers are flocking to the Riviera Nayarit. Known primarily as a beach destination, there are plenty of places to spend a week with your toes in the sand. Whether you stay in a luxury hotel, all inclusive, or small inn, you’d be remiss not to get out and explore what else the region has to offer. The Riviera Nayarit boasts a diverse assortment of activities and attractions. Book a sailing, snorkeling or fishing trip. Go kayaking, learn to surf or go deep sea fishing. On land take an ATV ride through the jungle, play golf or go on an extreme zip-line adventure.
We took a day trip to the Marietas Islands with Vallarta Adventures. We were excited to get out on the ocean and explore the coast off of the Riviera Nayarit. Our trip departed early by vacation standards. We got on the boat at 7:00am and watched the sunrise over the mountain range as we set sail. It is a long day as boats return close to 2:00pm, but the onboard staff kept the guests entertained the entire time. You may get lucky on your way out to the islands and spot a whale or see dolphins.
Our first stop was Hidden Beach, which was formed by the collapse of the volcanic rock that makes up the islands. You won’t actually pull up to the beach and hop out. From the boat you will take a small power boat which brings you as close to land as possible. Then you have to swim the last 100 yards. Don’t be discouraged by this, it is totally worth it. Someone even got engaged on Hidden Beach during our trip!
Once you are back on board the boat circles close to the islands while the crew points out which native and migratory birds make the park their home. Our last stop was to a secluded bay where we were able to snorkel, kayak or paddle board. After that it was time to travel back to the adventure center. During these last few hours the bar is opened up and lunch is served.
Tips to help you enjoy your trip:
- Bring sunscreen, towels, and a cover up.
- There is plenty of bottled water available on board.
- Continental breakfast, buffet lunch, and all drinks are included.
- Bring snacks for in between meals.
- Snorkel gear is provided but you can buy your own snorkel mouthpiece for 8 pesos.
- There are life vests and wetsuits on board for all guests.
- There is no Dramamine on board — pack some just in case.
- The crew ‘entertainment’ is rated PG-13.
La Cruz de Huanacaxtle
La Cruz de Huanacaxtle is home to the largest marina in the Riviera Nayarit. The biggest attraction is the Mercado Del Mar where you can purchase the fresh catch from the day. The local fishermen are eager to sell you their tuna, shrimp, mahi-mahi, oysters or lobsters which are all displayed beautifully on ice. They will even will expertly filet your fish or devein your shrimp before you take it home.Be sure to come back on Sunday for the farmer’s market. In addition to fish, you can buy organic produce and prepared foods.This is a great place to buy fresh baked breads, empanadas, tacos, pastries, flowers and more. There are also jewelers and artists selling their goods. Listen to local music as you stroll around.
Save your souvenir shopping for a day spent in Bucerias, Mexico. You will find artists selling their crafts on the cobblestone streets of old town. In the main plaza, many will be working on them right in front of you. The locals are more than happy to show off their work and tell you about their traditions. We were amazed at the workmanship. For example, this artist painstakingly presses one bead at a time on a beeswax mold to create a colorful cactus. He was also making bracelets, rings, and small bags.In the center of town, there is an open-air market where you can buy hand painted pottery, jewelry, t-shirts, hammocks, and more. The street vendors compete with each other to try to entice you into their stall offering the ‘best prices and best items’. They are all pretty much the same. No matter which one you choose most of them are willing to negotiate price so you walk away with a keepsake from your trip.
Sayulita is a surfer town where the beach is the primary attraction. Many come here to learn to surf. The main beach crowded and there are a lot of locals hocking their wares. You can buy almost anything from them. They sell sunglasses, cigars, fresh fruit, oysters, donuts, clothing or hats. You can even get a tattoo or have your hair braided. The constant onslaught was exasperating. I must have repeated ‘no gracias’ more than a hundred times a day. It certainly isn’t a relaxing day on the beach.
In stark contrast, the north end of the beach is far less crowded, almost empty. It is the perfect place to take a long walk away from the masses. As beautiful as it is, we were advised not to go swimming here. There is a strong current and undertow, plus no lifeguards which takes ‘swim at your own risk’ to a whole new level.
In town, the streets are lined with galleries, shops, restaurants and sidewalk cafes. There is a causal vibe which means you can leave your fancy clothes at home. Day or night there is often something going on in the pueblo. We happened to be there in February for Sayulita Days and Dia de la Bandera (Flag Day). No joke the town was constantly abuzz with activity. We rented a home up in the canyon and could hear the party going on until 6am!
Don’t be alarmed at least 2-3 times a night the power goes out and the whole town goes dark for a few seconds. It comes right back on, but you should bring a flashlight to be prepared for this. There are a lot amount of stray dogs. Don’t feed them. Also don’t be surprised to see a young child come up to your table during dinner trying to sell you this or that. We never felt unsafe but it became bothersome.
Need to know
- Money – Bring Pesos and don’t use any ATMs on the street. If you must use an ATM do so only inside of a bank.
- Dining – You can make reservations at some of the restaurants, which is recommended during the high season. We had very good meals at Mamma Mia, Don Pedros and Gusto’s.
- Food Shopping – If you are renting a home you may be tempted to stop at the Mega supermarket on your way to Sayulita. However in town, there are lots of good pastry shops, small markets and on Fridays in November – April there is a farmer’s market.
- Golf Carts – They are $55-75/day. The town is totally walkable and you really don’t need one. It is likely cheaper to rent a compact car for the week. However, the hills surrounding the main town are steep. Make sure you don’t get a car with a low bumper or you will be hitting it all the time!
Disclosure: While the Riviera Nayarit CVB hosted our trip to the Marietas Islands, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, and Bucerias, no other compensation was received for this review. This post reflects the honest opinion of my experience without outside influence.