Meet Riviera Nayarit, Coastal Mexico’s Dreamiest Getaway Destination

Nothing but sun, sand, and the sounds of crashing waves.

Mexico’s other riviera. | Riviera Nayarit
Mexico’s other riviera. | Riviera Nayarit

If you drive down the highway about an hour away from the bustle of Puerto Vallarta, the Sierra Madre Mountains looming in the skyline, palm trees stretching for miles, you’ll reach a side of Mexico less known about: Riviera Nayarit. The 200-mile stretch of gorgeous, soft-sand beaches on Mexico’s southwestern coast has much of the charm of Cancun, Cabo, or Tulum—minus the droves of tourists.

Remote enough that it feels like a tropical getaway for international and Mexican travelers alike, Riviera Nayarit blends the best of beach, nature, and adventure with hikes through mangroves, deep-sea fishing, zip-lining above treetops, and surf sessions on Sayulita’s famous waves. Humpback whales make the same winter migration most of us snowbirds do, meaning you’re guaranteed a sighting of these magnificent creatures even if you’re sitting on shore indulging in spicy, fresh ceviche or thinly sliced tiradito, Mexico’s version of sashimi. And in winter, the sun doesn’t set until after 7 pm, so you can linger by the seaside until early evening before packing up and making the most of Riviera Nayarit’s more laid-back nightlife. Here’s how to plan your escape—and what to do once you get there.

You’ll quickly start soaking up the local culture. | Riviera Nayarit

Fly in with foreigners, mingle with locals

A good number of US cities offer direct flights to the nearest airport in Puerto Vallarta, including Miami, Houston, New York, and Denver. While about 75% of visitors are from the US, Nayarit has long been a popular destination for Mexican tourists, since it’s the nearest beach for many inland residents.

Once you arrive, you’ll quickly discover the cultural fabric of the community through practices from the local Huichol people. Midnight-hued Salsa Huichol, made from local chiles and vinegar, accompanies most meals; woven and beaded Indigenous artwork can be found across the region’s several towns; huitlacoche, known as the “Mexican truffle” (it’s a fungus that grows on corn) is offered at restaurants; and several Huichol traditions are naturally woven into everyday experiences, like a pre-dinner cleansing ritual to leave your stress at the door.

Conrad Punta de Mita
Maybe time to turn on that OOO message. | Conrad Punta de Mita

Lay back in luxury (hotels)

The Conrad Punta de Mita sports waterfront suites and a spacious beach ideal for morning strolls, late afternoon swims, and even whale spotting. The luxe resort itself is mostly outdoors, and features a handful of top-notch restaurants (freshly pressed tortillas at breakfast!), a full-service spa that uses house-made oils, and an agave aging and tasting room. Plus, you can expect all the creature comforts of a dreamy, tropical vacation: a swim-up bar, large pools with cushy bungalows, and ice-cold Topo Chico at your heart’s desire.

If you’re someone who has managed to make the WFH life permanent—or, better yet, started your own business and can work from anywhereSayulinda Hotel is an ideal spot to post up. Steps from the beach and boasting the best rooftop in town (with ocean views!), this newish property is a WiFi-equipped getaway with airy, spacious rooms and plenty of poolside workspace for fresh juice-sipping while Zooming.

The definition of shopping local. | Flickr/Thomas Hawk

Spend your pesos shopping for crafts and artisan goods

Head to the colorful town square in Sayulita to shop for crafts, handmade jewelry, textiles, paintings, and prints. Vendors display hand-embroidered stuffed animals and multi-hued beaded bracelets, while galleries, boutiques, and surf shops lining the streets offer an air-conditioned shopping experience. Nearby, the town of San Pancho is home to scaled-back shops, plus machete-wielding vendors ready to slice open a coconut or fresh oyster for your slurping consumption.

You can’t leave without trying today’s catch fresh from the sea. | Riviera Nayarit

Feast on birria tacos and the freshest pescado

Before the quesobirria took over TikTok, the birria taco reigned supreme in this region of Mexico. Often made with slow-cooked goat meat (though sometimes with beef, lamb, or even fish), birria tacos are hearty, slightly spicy, and served at street stalls, as well as along the roads between towns in the region. Every local has a favorite spot, so ask for their recommendations, or just veer toward the crowds in a self-led taco tour.

But don’t stop your food tour there—Nayarit’s signature seafood dish is as fresh as it comes, oven plucked right off the boat, butterflied, and grilled within hours of swimming in the Pacific. The catch of the day, often whitefish like red snapper or mahi mahi, can be found at pretty much any beachside restaurant. Luxury properties, like the aforementioned Conrad, can even schedule a boat to deliver the freshly caught fish beachside. For an upscale, made-to-order Pescado Zarandeado (fish with chile-citrus sauce), make a reservation at Thierry Blouet’s open-air, waterfront Tuna Blanca in Punta de Mita.

Nearly endless amount of chances to spot underwater wildlife. | San Blas, Riviera Nayarit

Swim (or sail) with whales and sharks

Whales visit the warm waters surrounding Riviera Nayarit from December through March. Small boat tours with marine biologists help you spot humpbacks as they blow water, flip, and even breach (i.e. jump out of the water). Other bonuses of these boat trips? Dolphin spotting and bird watching. Book a voyage from Nuevo Vallarta, Bucerías, Punta Mita or Sayulita. Don’t worry if you get seasick—whales can also often be spotted from shore in the prime season.

For the more adventurous, kick swimming with sharks off your bucket list (or add to your tally) diving toward not-so-dangerous danger—no scuba required. The 20-ton San Blas whale sharks are actually non-threatening (just watch out for an accidental whack from the tails), and with a snorkel you can get pretty close views. The ecotourism experience is in high demand during the colder months, so make sure to book ahead. Before or after the tour, hang out in the quaint fishing village of San Blas, known for its big-wave surfing beaches and tropical mangroves, which offer seasonal bird watching and turtle spotting, plus year-round sunbathing.

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Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner is a writer based in NYC. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.