Scenic Drives: Mexico, Nayarit

Nayarit 11393Nayarit extends 192 miles between the Pacific Ocean and the Sierra Madre Mountains. Tourists come for the culture, nature and water sports and forget to leave. European expats have opened galleries and shops in the beach towns after discovering the good life. Activities cluster around Nuevo Vallarta, Punta Mita and San Blas. Read about a celebration traveler’s trip in Mexico, Nayarit: Spicy & Sweet.

Dining is a highlight of any trip to Mexico’s Pacific coast. You will eat well because of the varied, abundant harvest from land and sea. Fresh seafood, fruit, herbs and organic vegetables inspire the dishes of family eateries to five-star restaurants. Try the oyster sopes, enchiladas, shrimp tamales as well as regional specialties: tlaxtihuilli (shrimp soup), aguachile (seafood served with a spicy lemon mix), fish rinds, and gray mullet grilled on mangrove wood.

MEXICO Nayaritnayaritenglish
Plan Your Trip. This seven-day itinerary highlights Nayarit’s major attractions. Begin on Banderas Bay, the largest natural bay in Mexico with 100 miles of coastline. After two days in Nuevo Vallarta, spend two days in Punta Mita at the bay’s north tip. Take day trips to Sayulita and San Francisco (locally known as San Pancho). Travel next to San Blas, a colonial-era port and a mecca for bird-watchers. Visit Mexcaltitan and La Tovara National Park.

On a latitude parallel to Hawaii, Nayarit is comfortable year round, with gentle breezes and balmy nights. The average summer temperature is 85 degrees; 75 degrees during winter months.Nayarit 11326
Nayarit State, Mexico map in 16 zoomable tiles or sections. After the rainy season, tourist activities pick up in November and continue all winter.
At the start of the season, Riviera Nayarit and Puerto Vallarta host the Festival Gourmet International. For ten days, you can sample the cooking artistry of 30 master chefs from Mexico, Europe and North America.

Learn More. For more information, visit Nayarit Tourism online. Use the interactive map to plan your trip. Hwy. 200 is the principal highway from Riviera Nayarit to Mexcaltitan.

Note that Nayarit, Mexico is in the Mountain Time Zone and Puerto Vallarta is in the Central Time Zone. Shopping hours are Monday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Currency is the Mexican peso even though US dollars are widely accepted. Mexican currency is a dollar sign with one line, $. Voltage is between 110 and 120 Volts AC. When calling Mexico from the U.S., first dial prefix 011-52.


DAY 1  Puerto Vallarta Airport.

Fly from your gateway to Puerto Vallarta (PVR).

Pick up a rental car and drive to the hotel. United, Delta, American, Air Canada, Alaska Air, Virgin America and other major carriers fly to Puerto Vallarta. Take advantage of direct flights and book early for the lowest airfares. Compare rental-car rates online at Kayak, an easy way to research the best deal.

Getting There
United Airlines
Alaska Airlines
Virgin America
Gustavo Diaz Ordáz Internacional Airport (PVR)
Carretera a Tepic KM 7.5, Villa Las Flores, 48311 Puerto Vallarta
+52 322 221 1537


Nayarit 10980

Check in for two nights at Marival Residences.

In Nuevo Vallarta, 10 miles north of Puerto Vallarta Airport, Marival Residences is an all-inclusive resort with suites, penthouses, and private villas. Options range from one to four bedrooms, all featuring spacious terraces with garden, pool, or ocean views. Ask for a room on the fifth floor for a glimpse of Banderas Bay.

Marival Residences & World Spa
Boulevard Nuevo Vallarta y Paseo Cocoteros No. 53, Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit 63732
877. 769.7376 toll-free from North America
+52 (322) 226-9740 local


Have drinks and appetizers at Insú Sky Lounge.

A plunge pool spans the length of the 7th floor bar. Great spot to watch the sunset and soak your feet.

Insú Sky Lounge
Marival Residences & World Spa
+52 (322) 226-9740


DAY 2  Banderas Bay

Nayarit 10954MORNING
Spend a day at the beach.

Pack up for the beach, a half mile away. Guests have unlimited use of the services and facilities at the sister resort, Marival Resort & Suites where you will find a fine-sand beach, temperate waters and a menu of optional activities including Mexican boxing. Hotel guests were in the surf throwing punches and looking very dangerous in lucha libre masks.

Sports & Recreation
Banderas Bay


Nayarit 10985EVENING
Have dinner at Omaggio on the outdoor terrace.

The hotel’s haute cuisine restaurant has an appreciative following. Omaggio’s chef Alfredo Jimenez is young and imaginative. The stone-seared tuna is a riff on stone soup from a time when the village cook placed heated stones in the soup pot to cook  root vegetables, fish and meat. The fresh blue crab timbale with mango and cilantro salad beautifully blended the tropical setting. Alfredo also has traditional French dishes such as duck confit with sautéed brussels sprouts, bacon and mustard sauce.

Marival Residences & World Spa
+52 (322) 226-9740


DAY 3  Punta Mita

Nayarit 11352-2MORNING
Check into the St. Regis Punta Mita for two nights.

Arrange for an early check in to have a full day at the beach. Spiny Ceiba trees line the avenue leading to the St. Regis resort, located on a peninsula overlooking two rocky islands and a coral reef. Greeted with champagne and a sparkling ocean vista, you’ll keep smiling throughout your stay. The reasons are many: three restaurants, three pools, casitas with furnished balconies and 24-hour butler service. Every morning Rafael appeared at my door with French-roast coffee and madeleines, which the myna birds stole the moment I turned my back.

The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort
Carretera Federal 200, Km. 19.5, Lote H-4, Condominio Maestro Ramal, Punta de Mita, Nayarit.
(329) 291 5845


Have dinner at Sea Breeze, a 2-minute walk from your casita.

Make your way through the 22-acre garden to the Sea Breeze Beach Club. Most guests prefer to sit on the terrace overlooking the pool on warm evenings. We had the special menu that Hugo Gutiérrez, a French-trained star of Mexican cuisine, created for the Gourmet Festival. We dined on confit foie gras with cranberry gelee and figs, cod fritters, smoked New Zealand green-lip mussels. The lamb tenderloin came with carrot puree, ginger, green peas and mint. The dessert was a landscape painting: islands of meringue infused with hibiscus flower floating in a coconut smoothie and decorated with raspberries and caramelized pistachios.

Sea Breeze
The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort
(52)(329) 291 5955


DAY 4  San Francisco (San Pancho), Sayulita.

Nayarit 11391MORNING
Drive north on the coast road. Shop in San Francisco (San Pancho).

Stop at vista points along the northern end of Banderas Bay. The Marietas Islands provide a sanctuary for whales, dolphins, giant manta ray, tropical fish, and for indigenous blue-footed boobies. Shop for Huichol yarn paintings and beaded jewelry at San Pancho plaza.

San Francisco. Sayulita


Nayarit 11402AFTERNOON
Have lunch in Sayulita. Browse for artwork in the town’s galleries.

Sayulita lies south of San Pancho. Have fish tacos and a Pacifico with lime at the street vendors in Sayulita or under a beach palapa. Stroll on Calle Delfines toward the beach and you may meet Alfreda serving Sayulita’s best fish tacos. Then retrace your steps to the main plaza and visit the art galleries for good buys on jewelry, clothing and handicrafts.

Fish taco stand
Calle Delfines, Sayulita
Révolucion del Sueño
55 Calle Manuel Navarrete, Sayulita 63734
+52 329 291 3850


DAY 5  Mexcaltitan. San Blas.

Nayarit 11195MORNING
Drive to Mexcaltitan.

Mexcaltitan is a small island with 800 residents in the coastal lagoon of San Pedro River. Reputed to be the legendary Aztlan, birthplace and ancestral home of the Aztec civilization, Mexcaltitan is a designated pueblo magico. Its colorful houses have ceiling tiles and its elevated sidewalks become canals during the rainy season.



Nayarit 11139AFTERNOON
Have lunch at La Alberca.

From the dock the main street leads to La Alberca. Take the wooden walk walk to the dining pavilion that extends over the lagoon. When we entered, a birthday celebration was underway by the balcony. The scene reminded me Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party. Gathered around a long table, we celebrated Mexican-style with a long afternoon of eating. Dishes ordered by our Spanish-speaking host emerged from the kitchen. We had fresh fish plunked from the lagoon and grilled with mangrove wood. We had shrimp dishes too numerous to count: shrimp tamales, fried shrimp, shrimp salsa, shrimp paté, spicy shrimp ceviche (aguachile), and baskets of baked shrimp tortillas. By the time we emerged, the sun was setting.

La Alberca
off the main road from the dock, Mexcaltitan
+52 323 235 60 27
Check into Garza Canela Hotel for two nights.

The colonial port of San Blas is a popular destination on Mexico’s Pacific coast for cultural travelers, eco-tourists and birdwatchers. Garza Canela is a welcoming home base, run by the Vázquez González clan since the 1970s. The hotel epitomizes Mexican hospitality at its finest. Guest rooms are spacious, comfortable and decorated with Mexican handcrafts and textiles.

Garza Canela Hotel
Paredes 106, 63740 San Blas, Nayarit
+52 323 285 0112


DAY 6  La Tovara National Park. San Blas.

Nayarit 11271EARLY MORNING
Go birdwatching in a mangrove swamp.

La Tovara National Park 4 miles from San Blas is a labyrinth of canals in a dense aquatic jungle. Herons, giant ferns, orchids and wildlife including turtles and crocodiles live in the mangrove swamps. It is one of the world’s largest bird sanctuaries. The Garza Canela staff recommend the best boatmen and assist with arrangements. These boatmen will take you deeper in the jungle to the less-disturbed Camalota Spring and San Cristóbal Estero’s upper reaches.

Sports & Recreation
Jungle Boat Ride
Oscar Partida Hernández
“Chencho” Banuelos
“Jungle Man” Manuel


Nayarit 11310AFTERNOON
Visit San Blas.

An important port from the late 16th century to the 19th century, San Blas has a fortress that protected Spanish trading galleons from marauding British and French pirates. It was also the port from which Junípero Serra embarked northward to establish the California missions. The Virgin of the Rosary church has a plaque inscribed with Longfellow’s poem. The hilltop fort with a panorama view of the coastline is also worth a visit. The Huichol were at the fort to protest a Canadian mining operation near their homelands. The gathering was a colorful sight. The men wore hats decorated with red tassels and the women full-length embroidered skirts.

San Blas


Have dinner at El Delfin at the hotel.

Chef and owner Betty Vázquez focuses on flavor, texture, scent and color in her signature dishes. Her menu is a primer on Mexico’s Pacific cuisine and an introduction to new tastes. Try the oyster sopes, house-smoked fish fillet with peanut pesto and squid with garlic, coriander seeds and citrus.

El Delfin
Garza Canela Hotel


DAY 7  Puerto Vallarta Airport

Have breakfast at El Delfin. Drive to Puerto Vallarta Airport.

Sit down for a stellar breakfast. I recommend the shrimp omelette with mole, one of  300 varieties in Mexico, or so they say. We also ordered machaca with eggs (dried beef with scrambled eggs and tomato sauce) and an order of molletes with beans and chihuahua cheese for the ride to the airport.

El Delfin
Garza Canela Hotel


Fly home.

Book a late afternoon flight. You’ll need the extra time since Puerto Vallarta Airport is a four-hour drive south of San Blas. Stop at a roadside stand for snacks on the way home. The food at the airport is unwholesome and barely edible.

—Text and photography by Donna Peck

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