Travel If You has been visiting Riviera Nayarit for over 7 years and the change that has occurred is highly evident. While the region is still relatively undiscovered, we aren’t sure how much longer it will stay a hidden gem of Mexico. Thankfully, the government of Nayarit has promoted eco-friendly development and is focused on boutique accommodation over giant all-inclusives. This state has benefited from watching the Yucatan grow up and has intentionally regulated the state to avoid this type of growth. There are eco hotels, boutique and luxury accommodation, vibrant pueblitas and swathes of untouched land and beaches. In reality, only a small portion of Nayarit, within 1 hour north of Puerto Vallarta International Airport (PVR), has started being developed. All this to say, there are so many amazing destinations within Riviera Nayarit, but here are Travel If You’s top picks!
Arguably the most well known town within Riviera Nayarit, Sayulita has been growing in popularity over the past decade. However, the last few years have really brought attention to this surf town. The recent attention driven from a well known show called the Bachelor, which records south of the town, has helped increase the town’s notoriety. Regardless of how long Sayulita has been popular or how it has received its claim to fame, Sayulita is worth the hype and more.
Sayulita is VIBRANT and full of life. The tiny puebla is bustling with shops, motorbikes, restaurants, dancing, & more. Sayulita is a world class surfing destination. While the advanced surfers travel along the coastline in search of the gnarliest waves, the main Sayulita beach is perfect for beginners.
The main beach of Sayulita is beautiful, big and busy! There are also several other equally beautiful and less crowded beaches all within a short hikes distance. TIY is a big believer in taking the path less traveled and visiting some of these lesser known beaches.
The food in Sayulita is some of the best around. From street tacos to smoothie shops to some of the best Italian food I’ve ever had, Sayulita has it all and does it all extremely well.
The activities in this town are endless. You can take a hike or bike through the jungle, relax on the beach, snorkel, surf, boat to the islands, and much more. You can choose your level of activity and run with it, or not. Your trip; your choice!
If you follow Travel If You on social media, you are highly aware of our love for this beach town. It is ten minutes north of Sayulita, but it has a vibe of its own. San Pancho is charming, colorful, relaxed, kind, and just beautiful. It feels like being wrapped up in your favorite sweater. If that sweater was made of tacos, a stunning beach and vibrant street murals. San Pancho has a strong sense of community that supports local businesses, the youth, art community & the environment. It has grown up next to Sayulita but has chosen the more tranquil and minimalist route.
While we type this today, San Pancho is changing rapidly. Every few months there is a new hotel, restaurant or redevelopment. Travel If You fully believes this is for the best and the local economy and community will all benefit from this change. San Pancho has strong roots and this combined with the community will ensure it grows while maintaining its authenticity and charm.
San Pancho has one main street, Tercer Mundo (“Third World”), that takes you in and out of town. You’ll notice the streets are named after third world countries. San Pancho was created to be a model of self-sufficiency that other towns could emulate. It is this intentionality of development of San Pancho that has created such a special place. The food in San Pancho is of the highest quality. The hotels and Airbnbs radiate history and charm. Have we mentioned the sunsets are some of the best in the world! The town gathers on the beach and claps as the sun falls behind the ocean. It is an enchanting experience. The beach is truly stunning and a fantastic place for the day…or a lifetime. We couldn’t say enough good things about this town and hope to be able to take you here soon.
While Chacala is still under the radar for international tourists, national tourists are well aware of this beauty. Chacala is further north than other popular destinations and isn’t reached by the average traveler. This town is well worth the trek.
Driving into Chacala, you pass an extinct volcano that is covered by the Nayarit Jungle and provides the perfect backdrop to this beach town. There is an amazing hike up the volcano, if you are up for it! Chacala feels like you are slowing down time and going back to a beach town of the past. While it is not immune to the growth that is occurring along the coastline, it is happening at a slower pace. The beach is one of the most stunning along the coast line, as the lush jungle wraps around the beach. It felt similar to some of the beaches we have visited in Thailand.
Accommodation and restaurant options are starting to expand, but for now, there are a few great options to choose from. Take the time to visit this town and embrace the tranquility. Chacala is a natural beauty just waiting to be discovered.
We’d be remiss not to mention this world class luxury destination. Geographically, Punta Mita is incredibly unique. The peninsula jets out into the Bay of Banderas, giving it a remarkable look and offering beaches and waves on ALL sides of the peninsula. While staying within Punta Mita’s pearly gates is not accessible for the average traveler, the town surrounding Punta Mita, El Ancolte, is well worth the visit. If you are a surfer, this is a MUST visit destination. The nearby beach of La Lancha offers some of the best waves in the state. El Ancolte has amazing restaurants and shops that cater to Punta Mita residents, but are still offered at reasonable prices. If time allows, I’d recommend visiting even just for dinner!
Within the Punta Mita gates, there is the Four Seasons, St. Regis, private residences, golf courses & luxury beach clubs. This is truly a top end vacation and full of luxury amenities and stunning beaches. We appreciate all that this community has to offer. But some of our favorites fall outside the gates. Literally right outside the gates are some of the best taco stands. The definition of Punta Mita is starting to expand, and hotels all along the coastline claim the name Punta Mita. It is a one of a kind destination.
Los Ayala is the smallest town on the Jaltemba Bay, and it is much less developed than its sibling towns of Rincon-Guayabitos. It has a pristine beach with turquoise waters and is a great swimming beach. Los Ayala is a great day trip or overnight stop as you explore the Riviera Nayarit.
The town is located just across from the famous Coral Islands, and we highly recommend taking a boat out to the islands to explore. It provides great snorkeling and is a fun way to explore the bay. You will get a unique view of the towns from the water. It is a beautiful destination along the Riviera Nayarit.