Vallarta-Nayarit on Mexico’s Pacific coast is poised to become the country’s hottest new vacation destination. Vallarta-Nayarit attracts a diverse cross-section of travelers – from well-heeled superstars like Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin to easygoing backpackers carrying a surfboard under their arm. Best of all, development is being carried out at a sustainable pace, ensuring the region will remain naturally beautiful. Here’s a top 10 list to help you make the most of your Vallarta-Nayarit vacation.
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Who would think that the hippest shop in all of Mexico would be found in the tiny surf town of Sayulita? Revolucion del Sueño is small in size but it packs a Pop Art wallop with its mash-up of Mexican icons, such as T-shirts with graphics of Emilio Zapata eating an ice cream cone, doll-size Mexican wrestlers done up in Huichol Indian beads, and positive messages like “Viva la Vida.”
Considering Vallarta-Nayarit’s seaside setting replete with palm trees, it’s easy to find a romantic restaurant for dinner along the Bay of Banderas.
La Palapa Restaurant, in Puerto Vallarta, combines gourmet cuisine, friendly service, and the tropical setting of Los Muertos Beach to achieve the perfect balance between fine dining and the warmth and charm characteristic of Puerto Vallarta Mexico. Located on Playa Los Muertos in the heart of the Romantic Zone, this popular restaurant is one of Vallarta’s favorite places to enjoy great food in a casually elegant atmosphere.
For an over-the-top experience in Nayarit, reserve an al fresco table for two at Imanta Resort Punta de Mita’s Tukipa restaurant.
I’ve ziplined throughout the Caribbean and Latin America and by far the best experience was at Rancho Mi Chaparrita. The natural setting up in the hills offers breathtaking ocean views, and the staff provides good vibes and humor that doesn’t feel scripted. Unlike other operators, they’ve installed a braking system that doesn’t require braking by the person ziplining, helping to create a stress-free ride. Mi Chaparrita provides variety by adding a couple of Indiana Jones-style foot bridges to the mix.
Closer to Puerto Vallarta, Vallarta Adventures can help plan your zipline adventure. Located in a protected tropical forest just outside of Puerto Vallarta, you will zip through a stunning treetop canopy on a series of thrilling zip lines – include Mexico’s longest and fastest zip line at over 1,200 meters (nearly 4,000 feet) in length and reaching speeds of up to 100 kph (or 60 mph)!
Catch a sunset
Watching a sunset in Puerto Vallarta is a must, it should be on everyone’s bucket-list. The day ends with dramatic colors that can be enjoyed on Puerto Vallarta’s newly constructed Los Muertos Pier, recently named one of the most beautiful piers in the world by CNN.
The small town of San Francisco — better known as San Pancho — in Nayarit makes a daily celebration out of catching the sunset. Visitors and townspeople and a passel of dogs congregate on the beach in the hour before sundown. Couples hold hands in the sand, small groups sip Pacificos at the beachside restaurants, and surfers catch their last waves of the day. This is also when townspeople catch up on local gossip. Top off the experience buying some pastries from the guy with a mobile bakery in the trunk of his car, or wander up the town’s main street for a gourmet organic meal at Bistro Organico at Hotel Cielo Rojo.
Riviera Nayarit gives a whole new spin on “board meetings” with its standout surfing. Surf lessons are easy to come by, with instruction in long and short board. Some of the best surf breaks are The Cove and El Faro in Punta da Mita; and in El Anclote in Sayulita. In Sayulita, stop by the Coral Reef Surf Shop. Don’t have a surfboard? No problem you can rent one and take lessons. http://www.coralreefsurfshop.com/
In Puerto Vallarta you will find Paddle-Board surfing classes along the beach and just a tad more south to Punta Negra you will find crystal clear waters popular with boogie-boarders.
For a great paddle board experience, look for Rudy on Los Muertos beach in front of Sí Señors with the green paddle boards.
Explore Marieta Islands National Park
Book a boat trip to Marieta Islands National Park, a protected area just offshore in Banderas Bay. The trip combines bird-watching and whale-watching in season with slipping into the water to snorkel among schools of brightly-colored fish. You’ll also have a chance to try your hand at one of the hottest new sports — stand-up paddleboarding.
Discover Huichol Indian culture
The Huichol Indians have existed in Mexico for a stunning 15,000 years, Chances are you’ll have very little interaction with the shy Huichols, but you’ll see examples of their brightly-colored art everywhere. Much of it is intricate, figurative beadwork. Galeria Tanana in Sayulita is an excellent place to soak up Huichol art and culture. Ask for a pair of 3-D glasses: the Huichols regularly use peyote in their ceremonies and their art is mind-blowingly three-dimensional.
Vallarta-Nayarit offers an abundance of regional seafood dishes and you’ll be tempted to eat your way through the menu. Try aguachile, prepared with shrimp marinated in lime and fiery chiltepin pepper and accompanied by crisp tostadas. Rock god Carlos Santana was recently in Riviera Nayarit, and the local scuttlebutt has Carlos saying the aguachile was his favorite discovery of the trip. You won’t go wrong if you try the aguachile prepared at Tinos el Anclote, in the town of Punta de Mita or at Mariscos Tino’s on Puerto Vallarta’s Malecón.
It takes a little extra effort, since it’s a private course, but dedicated golfers will want to find a way to get onto the links at Pacifico. Designed by Jack Nicklaus, the consistently top-rated course features the optional par-three hole “Tail of the Whale,” set upon a stunning natural island green. The easiest way to enjoy the course is to book a room at one of the five-star resorts in Punta Mita, such as the St. Regis. If that prospect is too pricey, don’t despair; Riviera Nayarit also has a number of top-quality golf courses that are open to the public.
Flamingos Golf is Puerto Vallarta´s favorite golf course due to our stunning design and unparalleled scenery. The course has 18 championship holes designed by Percy Clifford creator of some of Mexico´s top courses. Golfers of all skill levels appreciate Flamingos because it is challenging and fair. In addition to its great design, the course is also set apart from others in the area due to its beautiful rolling hill terrain, lush tropical forest and natural lagoons and mangroves. Nature lovers will be struck by the unspoiled scenery and the presence of various tropical and migrating bird species. The staff at Flamingos is friendly and professional and will do everything we can to make sure you have a great golf outing.
If you’re visiting Vallarta-Nayarit between mid-December and the end of March, definitely join one of the humpback whale-watching expeditions regularly departing from the seaside town of Punta de Mita. Every year hundreds of humpback whales migrate south to breed in the waters of Banderas Bay. I took an excursion with Punta Mita Expeditions and had the thrill of seeing a father, mother and baby calf breach off the bow of the boat.
In Puerto Vallarta you may opt for the Eco-friendly whale watching with Ocean Friendly Tours. This tour provides perfect opportunities to observe a variety of open water species such as Bottlenose Dolphins, Spotted dolphins, Rough toothed dolphins, Bryde’s whales, Humpback whales (from November through mid April), Giant mantas, sea turtles, and occasionally Spinner dolphins, False killer whales and even Orcas. Great fun with friends and great photo opportunities on this tour!