Get to Know Mexico's Hot New Tourist Destination: Riviera Nayarit
Meet Riviera Nayarit, a place where there are no rigid rules to follow, no rush hour, no worries. You're in Mexico and time slows down when you land in Puerto Vallarta and becomes even slower as you head 10 miles north into Mexico's newest tourist destination, the region known as Riviera Nayarit.
Launched in 2007 with the long term vision of positioning the area into one of the world's finest destinations, Riviera Nayarit has gained this recognition in six short years. It's the perfect setting to do absolutely nothing or positively everything. Sporting 192 miles of beach, a year-around average temperature of 80 degrees and bordered by Banderas Bay, the Pacific Ocean and the Sierra Madre Mountains, Riviera Nayarit has illuminated this low voltage atmosphere.
Let's start at the beginning: Upon arrival you're greeted by those bright, vivid colors that say "Mexico," fuchsia bougainvillea scrambling over white stucco ledges and visions of wildly creative murals decorating roadways. As you navigate northbound, you'll uncover town after town-all different, all delightful, all pieces of the Riviera Nayarit puzzle. Here is a small selection.
Nuevo Vallarta: "New" Vallarta is the region's largest resort area, an area encompassing all-inclusive resorts (including Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit), long stretches of beach, distinctive shopping, a dolphinarium, water park, marina, scores of international restaurants and outstanding golf (Greg Norman's 18-hole Litibu Course, Jack Nicklaus' Nayar Course and Robert von Hagge's El Tigre course).
Punta Mita: Luxury appeal is apparent on approach to the exclusive gated base of two 18-hole Jack Nicklaus championship golf courses, a posh residential community, the Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita and the St. Regis Resort (both AAA Five-Diamond properties). Now a celebrity magnet, Punta Mita helped Riviera Nayarit become the home of Mexico's second largest number of AAA Four- and Five-Diamond resorts. Additional lures are of the pampering sort: Remède Spa (St. Regis) and the Apuane Spa (Four Seasons).
My forever temptation is an indigenous spa treatment, such as Apuane's 'Hakali Signature Massage,' derived from the Huichol Indians which incorporates the therapeutic benefits of ancient Mexican cacti ingredients. When I was escorted to my room, the philosophy of this first-class service was articulated: "There is no problem here. If you want more towels, there is no problem. If you want different pillows, there is no problem. Whatever you desire, there is no problem." This simple statement underscores Riviera Nayarit's commitment to its guests.
Shall we continue? Navigating slightly inland, the two-lane road heads into dense, jungle-like terrain-past thatched huts, roadside fruit stands, parrot-selling stalls and signs announcing "cattle crossing." It is here that you'll discover a collection of back-in-the-day villages representing a period of time when life was defined by scenery and siestas, not BlackBerrys and Bluetooths.
San Francisco: Also known as San Pancho, this tiny town is where Mexico's second largest polo club, La Patrona Polo Club, resides. It is this exciting sporting event that annually awakens the sleepy city during the November to May season.
Sayulita: Described as hippy chic, the happening village is known for superb surfing, experienced expats and celeb clientele and is sprinkled with fine art galleries, custom clothing boutiques (look for Yemaya bikinis) and found-only-in-Mexico shopping. It is in the town square each Sunday where you'll find the distinctive beaded and embroidery craft work of the Huichol Indians (one of four ethnic groups dating back to the Aztec civilization, which remains a part of Riviera Nayarit).
There's more: A rich cultural heritage, authentic Mexican towns and luxury lures would seem enough to drive tourists to a region. But here, there's more-and it's nature.
Birds: A bird lovers' paradise, the area surrounding the Port of San Blas boasts of having 60% of the Pacific migratory shore bird population-equating to more than 500 species.
Sea turtles: As the official mascot of Riviera Nayarit, four protected species of sea turtles use the coast as nesting sites. During the summer and fall months, travelers can visit Grupo Ecológico de la Costa Verde's marine turtle nursery, located in San Francisco, where up to 1,000 hatchlings are released each night during September and October.
Whale watching: The annual migration of the humpback whales from Alaska to Mexico brings as many as 600 whales to the protected waters of its coast from Tecuala to Banderas Bay between November and April, making whale watching an effortless experience.
Dolphins: Friendly wild dolphins inhabit the waters of Riviera Nayarit's Banderas Bay and the Sea of Cortez coastline year-round.
Marina Riviera Nayarit: Located in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle and quickly becoming a recognized nautical destination this yacht marina is Mexico's largest, with 341 slips for yachts up to 400 feet in length and its annual "Nautical Extravaganza," a series of international regattas and deep seas fishing tournaments. Expected catch includes sailfish, marlin, tuna, red snapper, dorado and bonita.
It's deliciously memorable: Yesteryear's Mexico was a culinary contrast to today's Riviera Nayarit. Before, all that was expected was for the tacos to be hot and the beer to be cold. The current setting showcases choices from the finest of international dining to open-air, on-the-beach haunts.
Among my top picks:
Nicksan (Nuevo Vallarta): A restaurant embracing the perfect fusion of Japanese and Mexican foods and creativity. Don't miss the tuna tostadas and shrimp gorgonzola.
Mercado Del Mar (Marina Riviera Nayarit): A fresh fish market, this is where you come to select your fresh-off-the-boat catch, then request your fish choice be sent to your hotel for the chef in preparation of your evening meal.
Don Pedro's Restaurant (Sayulita): Beneath an oversized palapa and overlooking the beach, complete with surfers and sunbathers, it's the see-and-be-scene equivalent of the most popular place in town. Don't miss the signature Sayulita fish taco, fresh fish ceviche and a house margarita.
My two pesos:
Uno, dos, tres, now go. Don't hesitate, don't delay. Just head to Riviera Nayarit, Mexico.