Riviera Nayarit - Mexico's New Riviera Destination
You've doubtlessly heard of -- and perhaps been to -- Puerto Vallarta. Well, just north of there, along central Mexico's Pacific coast, is the state of Nayarit. The coast runs from the tony all-inclusive resorts of Nuevo Vallarta (very near to Puerto Vallarta in the southern part of the state), through the elite and fabulously expensive Punta Mita and up through a series of seaside enclaves catering to all classes of tourists, ending in the sleepy town of San Blas. This coastal region has recently been designated "Riviera Nayarit" and has all the makings of an up-and-coming luxury destination -- and if you're in the market for a vacation home, this area could be your best investment. Let me take you through a couple of the highlights, from the famous polo field in the hipster community to the exclusive resort where the governor likes to stay (no really, he was there when I was, and it wasn't his first time).
Riviera Nayarit tends to get more luxurious as you go from north to south, so we'll start at the top in San Blas, a city lost in time. If you've ever longed for a destination that didn't feel too "touristy," somewhere that feels like real Mexico but offers excellent hospitality (because it's still your vacation), San Blas is definitely a stop you should consider for at least a few days of your trip. While you won't find five-star hotels here, there are two four-stars, Hotel Hacienda Flamingos and Garza Canela (below).
I recommend family-run Garza Canela particularly for their restaurant, El Delfin. European-trained chef Betty Vazquez, a native of nearby Tepic, is in her 29th year of running the restaurant and will knock your socks off with unexpected delights like cream of squash soup with blue cheese and lemon-basil sorbet. She makes the finest Mexican food I had in all of Nayarit, and is happy to open her kitchen to you if you want to poke your head in and watch how it's done. She says the mistake most people make when creating their first Mexican dishes is assuming that everything has to be spicy. Chef Betty regularly teaches her guests about the balance of flavors and how to properly seed and soak chiles.
San Blas itself is a historical attraction, including sites like Le Iglesia de la Marinera (the historical cathedral at the "top of San Blas") and the old fort which is located surprisingly far from the sea. Why? Because the sea receded a couple hundred years ago. The majority of San Blas is located a meter below sea level. Other notable attractions include the town center, full of visitor-friendly shops, birdwatching and panga (small boat) tours of the mangroves native to the area. I also heard that some visitors come down just for lychee season (two to three weeks in June) every year to pick, peel and eat their very own fresh lychees. Having tasted a couple of freshly picked lychees from Riviera Nayarit, I can see why.
The real name of this town is San Francisco, but everyone calls it San Pancho, perhaps to avoid confusion, as many of its residents come from California. This hipster-favorite, bohemian settlement is full of vegetarian cuisine, natural foods, charming boutique hotels and one -- just one -- paved road. Like San Blas, you definitely feel like you're in Mexico here. There are no major hotel developments or tall buildings of any kind. There is, however, a polo field (below).
Yes, a polo field, flanked by cobbled roads and an organic restaurant. San Pancho is a great place to chill out for a few days and eat some granola. Though it's a quiet place, the nightlife (and shopping!) of Sayulita is just four miles to the south.
Perhaps one of Nayarit's most famous settlements, Sayulita is well-known to tourists for surfing, shopping, drinking and the iconic Chocobanana restaurant. Definitely make a stop at Galeria Tanana where you'll find beautiful, hand-beaded jewelry and unique collectibles made with the artisan methods of the area's Huichol Indians (your purchases benefit them). Also, Sayulita Gypsy is full of fun trinkets and souvenirs. If you surf, you'll be right at home here, and if not, you can learn here.
If Sayulita doesn't sound like your speed, right outside of town you'll find the Haramara Holistic Retreat (below), a yoga getaway which has been visited by celebrities like Jennifer Aniston.
Haramara offers all kinds of yoga; usually hosting well-known teachers. The accommodations are beautiful and include modern amenities, but they have a rustic charm and are practically outdoors. The food here is all vegetarian (they believe you absorb the energy of the things you eat), but exceptionally well-done, and no one will tell you you can't have a glass of wine.
When you approach the guarded gates of Punta Mita at the north end of Banderas Bay (just about 10 miles from Puerto Vallarta), it's impossible to tell what awaits you: 1,500 acres of private property devoted to the entertainment of the well-off. Located at the same idyllic latitude as the Hawaiian Islands, Punta Mita consists of real estate, a St. Regis (the first in Latin America, pictured at the top), a Four Seasons (below), and two Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses. This quiet enclave provides a protected haven for those with the resources to relax and let it all hang out. You'll find the excellent kind of dining you'd expect from such notable 5-star hotels and the Four Seasons offers everything from hand-picking your dinner entree on the beach moments after it's caught to swimming with sea lions.
Also highly recommended at The Four Seasons is their Nopales Massage; a custom treatment created on-location in which they rub you down with cactus paddles, soothing and moisturizing your skin. Request this in your room with an ocean view and just try not to relax. I dare you.
One thing you won't find at the Four Seasons is fine dining -- at least, not the kind with a strict dress code, as the general manager there believes that "No one wants that on their vacation." If you do want that on your vacation, head for the St. Regis; they have Carolina, a glamorous restaurant named for Carolina Astor which is divinely decorated with authentic Mariachi costumes.
Lastly, at the southern end of the state of Nayarit, and of Riviera Nayarit, Nuevo Vallarta is a lush haven filled with outlandishly grand resorts and incredible beaches. This is where the governor of Nayarit spends his vacation days: the Grand Luxxe Residence Club, a brand new oceanfront property on the lively and family-friendly Grupo Vidanta complex, also located on Banderas Bay. Guests of the Grand Luxxe have access to all the amenities at any of the hotels on the complex, from spas and gyms to wave pools and lazy rivers, as well as waterslides and plenty of restaurants, all accessible by regularly running golf carts.
Also, in Nuevo Vallarta, you'll find Taheima, a wellness-focused resort with unforgettable architecture (below).
Watery and bright Taheima offers all kinds of wellness experiences, including healthy cooking classes, art, yoga, dance, a state-of-the-art spa with a highly scientific approach, a labyrinth for meditation and a temazcal ("house of heat") for a traditional Mexican holistic experience. Don't be surprised if the reservationist asks you some strange questions; your room at Taheima will be stocked with your favorite flowers and cleaned with your preferred fragrances to ensure a pleasant sensory experience. Also, each room has its very own private plunge pool, so if you're coming to Taheima to meditate and get away, you don't really ever have to see anyone. Alcohol is not served here until 5 PM and cell phones are frowned upon, but other than that, one could stay here as a quiet alternative to the Grupo Vidanta complex -- no wellnessing required. They also have an enormous and striking event space and a lovely, health-conscious restaurant called Silhouette.
Riviera Nayarit lives up to its moniker of "Mexico's Pacific Treasure" with its raw, untouched beauty and endless hospitality. Development is constant; you'll drive past construction sites, mostly for hotels and condominiums, wherever you go. If you're looking for a vacation home and want to invest in an up-and-coming area, this is easily one of your best options in the world right now. Take some time to explore up and down the coast, figure out what speed of living you'd like, and you are sure to fall in love with one of the seaside towns or resorts of Riviera Nayarit.
My trip to Riviera Nayarit was sponsored by the Riviera Nayarit CVB, but the opinions and ideas expressed in this article are 100 percent my own.