The other Mexican Riviera
fter spending a day on the beaches and in the markets, or perhaps after staying onboard to catch a glimpse of humpback whales, the passengers on any one of the cruise ships that lowers its anchor every day in Puerto Vallarta, in the Mexican Pacific, return to their cabins. They continue their route without even glancing at the paradise of Riviera Nayarit: 300 km that stretch along the mountainous and wild coast of the Sea of Cortez, from Nuevo Vallarta to San Blas. Here you can tour the islands and mangrove swamps to spot animal species and buy traditional colourful ‘huichol’ craftwork.
Surfing enthusiasts were the first people to delve a little deeper, until they reached Sayulita, a little bohemian-style village with cobbled streets and perfect waves, only 30 minutes from Puerto Vallarta. You need to be careful not to get distracted by the coconut cocktails and tequila, making you miss out on a visit to the most important archaeological site in western Mexico. Los Toriles is not as impressive as Teotihuacán, but because it receives fewer visits it is easier to pretend you’re Indiana Jones discovering his circular pyramid and the rest of pre-Hispanic ruins. It is an important place for studying Mesoamerican cultures, as is the island-city of Mexcaltitán de Uribe, which can be reached by boat from La Batanga. It was the Aztecs’ first attempt to build their empire on water, the predecessor of Tenochtitlán, founded two centuries later.
Whales and men
The Sea of Cortez that bathes the coast of Riviera Nayarit is famous for the many species that live within its waters. You can swim next to whale sharks all year round, go deep-sea diving to watch manta rays and turtles, and sail off in search of humpback whales during the winter.
Like Riviera Maya, the important tourist resort of the Caribbean coast, Riviera Nayarit offers all kinds of leisure and sports activities, ranging from golf courses to fishing expeditions, kitesurfing and polo; it also has numerous beaches, but they’re much quieter. The harbour of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle has 350 berths, a shipyard and even its own shellfish market.
Chacala and Bucerías are working fishing villages with perfect beaches for walking or snorkelling. They are surrounded by palm trees that extend into the jungle, where wild cats, birds and coatis live. The best luxury services are to be found on the peninsula of Punta Mita, with hotels and spas that belong to prestigious international chains, where famous people like Lady Gaga and the Kardashians often stay.
San Blas stands out for being one of the best places for birdwatching, thanks to its wide variety of habitats: mangrove swamps, marshes, beaches, and oak tree and pine forests. On the outskirts of San Blas, in La Tovara, you can also find numerous crocodiles, and Playa Las Tortugas (Turtle Beach) owes its name to the high number of turtles that lay their eggs in the sand. La Bahía Tiburonera (Shark Bay) and the Playa de las Iguanas (Iguanas Beach), on Isla Isabel, are two more places whose names don’t need to be explained. This island is a stopover location for nearly a hundred species of birds and the nesting centre of about 3,000 blue-footed boobies.
In the same way as birds, tourists flock to Riviera Nayarit because of its beaches, which include the famous ‘Hidden Beach’ of the Marietas Islands that can only be reached by swimming through a narrow tunnel. However, the locals prefer the crater lake of Santa María del Oro, where it is possible to swim, go water-skiing and eat fish fritters in any one of the restaurants. The inhabitants worship the god Nayar, which means ‘Son of God which is in Heaven and in the sun’, and which gives its name to the land.