Riviera Nayarit: a road trip along the Mexican west coast


The gentle itch of the sun before sunset, the smell of salty water and paraffin on the board prepared for the powerful waves that bombard the Riviera Nayarit coastline. On the golden sand appears the aroma of fish shaken in a palapa between palm trees that sway in the wind. And on the asphalt, a route, the 200, which runs parallel to this wild coast of Mexico.

Riviera Nayarit: barge route through La Tovara, a jungle of mangroves and channels in San Blas with great biodiversity. Photo: J. M. Mansilla
Riviera Nayarit: barge route through La Tovara, a jungle of mangroves and channels in San Blas with great biodiversity. Photo: J. M. Mansilla

This is where you will find fishing villages and even a very magic one among 307 kilometers (190 miles) of virgin beaches, mangroves and jungles that spread from the interior mountain range to the Pacific like that spirit of freedom and good vibes that never ends. We're talking about one of those once-in-a-lifetime beach road trips, and it doesn't have to be in California. So let's go to Riviera Nayarit.

Highway 200

In the state of Nayarit, between Sinaloa and Jalisco, the tourist brand Riviera Nayarit was created a little over ten years ago to compete with the all-inclusive giants, with strongholds such as Punta Mita and Nuevo Vallarta. Today, however, the green has been replaced by the wave and the search is on for the Huichol (pre-Hispanic) essence, the jaguar sanctuary and the boho-chic style. The treasure of the Mexican Pacific, as the area is known, received 2,683,000 tourists in 2018 at an average temperature of 25 degrees C (77F).

Nuevo Vallarta, next to Puerto Vallarta, is the main gateway to Tepic, the state capital. Federal Highway 200 runs along Banderas Bay to Punta de Mita, where tradition coexists with luxury hotels.

Unspoilt islands, surf beaches and Huichol culture in the hottest destination

From the El Anclote pier, a three-hour boat ride (90 euros) will take visitors to explore the Islas Marietas National Park. Underwater volcanoes made up this group of 19 small islands where humpback whales are seen and where the blue-footed booby bird nests in this Biosphere Reserve. Its transparent waters and coral reefs are ideal for diving, and heavenly spots like Playa Escondida are still considered a holiday paradise because only 15 people can enter at a time and 116 a day can swim through the Isla Redonda tunnel.

Magic and surfing

Between the green of the jungle hills and the blue of the Pacific, the road returns. In half an hour, it reveals another treasure: Sayulita. This small town, decorated as a Magic Town and as an icon of the Mexican surfing culture, welcomes the traveler with its cobblestone streets, its colorful facades and palm roofs, in addition to that spirit of peace and love of the sixties. Surfers from all over North America congregate on its beach, ready to ride its tubular waves, and around its plaza, bars, galleries, shops and cafes with that characteristic boho-chic aesthetic.

Taste the huge variety of mezcals, tequilas and raicillas at Sayulita Wine Shop; discover Huichol crafts at Zapotec; try coffee at Chocobanana or tuna at Don Pedro's, right on the beach. Right next door is San Francisco, quieter, more cultural and better known as San Pancho. Stroll along its huge, surfaced beach or along its main avenue, among restaurants like Las Palmas and in art galleries. Stay at the cozy Cielo Rojo Hotel and discover the community spirit of Entre Amigos, where educational workshops and recycling activities take place.

Crocodiles in San Blas

The journey along this road of smooth curves and tree tunnels continues through enclaves such as Lo de Marcos or El Rincón de Guayabitos and with strategic stops at palapas (beach bars) and stalls to try coconut, pineapple or yaka.

On the way to San Blas on Highway 16 and without losing sight of the Pacific, stop at the bay of Matanchén to explore the depths of the mangroves of La Tovara. Don Chencho guides in his barge through this mangrove jungle and the Camalota lagoon, where 199 species of birds live and where a crocodile always appears. It is rarer to see jaguars, although there are some. As mosquitoes.

San Blas is a traditional fishing village that was founded in the 18th century between the jungle of Cerro San Juan, the El Pozo estuary and the San Cristobal River as the most important shipyard on the Pacific. From its colonial past, the Contaduría, the church of Nuestra Señora del Rosario and the church of Fátima have been preserved.

Travel Guide

Where to eat

This is the home of tlaxtihuille, stir-fried fish, shrimp tamale, smoked tuna and sailfish, oysters and shrimp. Chef Betty Vazquez is the best ambassador of Nayarit's culinary tradition, which she defends in her restaurant Delfin at the Hotel Garza Canela in San Blas. For a sea bream or snapper shaken right on the beach and under a palapa, bet on the Islitas in Matanchén Bay.

Where to sleep

El Garza Canela is a complex in San Blas with 50 rooms and suites, pools and gardens ideal for families with children. For couples, the Cielo Rojo boutique hotel is located in San Pancho. It has an eccentric design, young and friendly staff and creative cuisine that you will discover in your breakfasts.

Where to surf

The beaches of Sayulita and San Pancho are the most popular beaches for wave hunting. However, San Blas has the longest one in the world. Rent your board or get a course at Stoners Surf Camp in Playa del Borrego.