This Riviera Nayarit travel guide uncovers 8 unmissable stops on a Riviera Nayarit road trip from Bucerias in the southern part of Nayarit state to the historic Spanish outpost of San Blas in the north, as well as helpful tips to make the most out of your trip. Enjoy!
The Riviera Nayarit is one of Mexico’s fastest-growing and most popular beach destinations.
Known for its breathtaking beaches, picturesque fishing villages, and lack of large-scale development, this region of Mexico offers visitors a unique tropical getaway you won’t find anywhere else in Mexico.
Featuring two-dozen micro-destinations, planning a road trip in the Riviera Nayarit can feel daunting for newcomers.
In this guide, we cover eight essential destinations, what makes each one interesting, top things to do and see in each place, and advice from a Nayarit resident and avid explorer on making the most of your visit.
Places to See in Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit
Here are some of the best places to see in the Riviera Nayarit to ensure you get the most out of your road trip adventure to this slice of Pacific Coast paradise. From south to north, the map above highlights 8 stops of a Riviera Nayarit road trip itinerary.
You could easily cover the entire 184km distance in a single day if you really wanted to. But trust me, it’s better to take your time in paradise. We recommend budgeting 1-2 weeks duration (round-trip) for the best experience.
We start things off in the far southern part of Nayarit State in Bucerias, just 30 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta International Airport (PVR).
What Bucerias might seem to lack in charm and natural vegetation, it makes up for with a vintage Mexico beach resort vibe and burgeoning foodie scene.
Long-time residents will tell you that Bucerias has the feel of Puerto Vallarta some fifty years ago before the beachfront high-rises and cruise ship passengers arrived there.
Bucerias might not be a love-at-first-sight tropical destination. But spend some time in this relaxed and unpretentious beach town and you may be surprised how it grows on you.
Top things to do in Bucerias? Stroll the Malecon, rent a chair and umbrella for the day and relax beside the Bay of Banderas, or check out one of the many excellent eateries in town.
Hit up Karen’s Place for top-rated offerings and sunset views, and Delicias Mexicanas for excellent local dishes.
Punta de Mita
Heading north from Bucerias, follow signs for La Cruz de Huanacaxtle and take the long way ’round to Sayulita via Punta de Mita (Punta Mita).
The vast majority of this 1,500-acre peninsula is private and very upmarket. But before you decide to beeline it north, there are a number of stops around Punta de Mita that are definitely worth seeing.
At the top of Punta de Mita’s list of prime attractions are the Islas Marietas (Marieta Islands) known for the amazing Hidden Beach and some of the best snorkeling in the Riviera Nayarit.
Also worth a look are Punta Negra for its soft, white-sands beach and Playa La Lanchaknown for its legendary surf break and accompanying surf culture.
If you’re looking for The Spot, this is it! Sayulita is easily the most famous of all the beach towns up and down the Riviera Nayarit, and for good reason.
Sayulita is bursting with more great restaurants, stunning coastline, chic boutique hotels, beautiful people, and fun activities than a town this size should be allowed to have.
Be forewarned though, Sayulita’s impressive strengths also contribute to its biggest downsides – high[er] costs, crowds of visitors year-round, and infrastructure that can’t keep up.
Still, there may be no better place in the Riviera Nayarit to eat and drink, learn to surf, and meet new people.
For dinner, check out El Itacate for amazing traditional fare and a continuous supply of street entertainment, and Si Señor for fine dining and the best beach views in town.
Beach-bumming and surfing might be the most popular things to do in Sayulita. But you’ll also want to consider poking around the variety of boutiques on offer, strolling the Hippie Market, or going on a short hike to Sayulita’s most picturesque beach, Playa Los Muertos.
San Francisco (San Pancho)
San Francisco, better known as San Pancho, seems to attract yogis, artists, healers, alternative thinkers, and other free-spirits who weren’t quite sold on the Sayulita scene.
In San Pancho, you can expect to find folks grooving to the beat of their own drum (literally), a proud and active village community, and a surprising number of excellent restaurants, cafes, and bars for a place this size.
For beachfront sundowners and superb seafood, head to La Perla. For mouthwatering local specialties, don’t miss dinner and live music at San Pancho Marino.
Lo de Marcos
Sleepy Lo de Marcos might just be the least-known beach destination on this list. But don’t let that fool you! Depending on what you are after, it might end up being your favorite stop.
Flat and largely residential, Lo de Marcos boasts an easy-breezy vibe that few other beach towns in the Riviera Nayarit offer. The long, cobblestone main avenue connecting the highway with the beach balances the feel of an authentic Mexican town with a smattering of restaurants and amenities geared to the North-of-the-Border palate.
And the town’s palm-fringed golden strand – bookended by jungle-covered headlands – is among the most peaceful and photogenic you’ll come across in the region.
Check out Alzarohi for drinks and local plates right on the beach, Water Man for international cafe offerings, and Restaurante Bar Neptuno for tasty local fare and a relaxed atmosphere.
Most travelers headed north from Lo de Marcos will arrive in the town of Rincon de Guayabitos without even knowing they’ve passed right by little Los Ayala.
What hidden Los Ayala lacks in size it makes up for in charm (papel picado, market stalls, and cobblestone abound), stunning hidden beaches, and many miles of scenic coastal hiking trails.
Jaltembe Bay boasts some of the calmest waters in the region (perhaps second only to San Blas’ Matanchen Bay), and a snorkeling trip out to the bay’s very conspicuous Coral Island is a must if you’ve got the time.
Hit up Cafe Frappe Tropical for breakfast and coffee (get there before 10 am for a seat on the weekends) and Vista Guayabitos for excellent surf and turf and panoramic views of Rincon de Guayabitos and Jaltemba Bay.
Situated on a gently sloping jungle-covered hillside hemmed in by an extinct volcano to the south and a long, rocky point to the north, tiny Chacala is one of a few unpretentious, unassuming, and authentically Mexican towns remaining on the Nayarit coast.
Yet, Chacala’s proximity to the main toll roads coming from Guadalajara and Tepic, expansive beachfront campground, and ever-developing hotel zone, make the town a surprisingly popular weekend beach destination for domestic travelers.
Still, visitor numbers remain well below that of Rincon de Guayabitos, Sayulita, and even San Pancho. Those who do make their way 9km off the main highway tend to be Mexican families, intrepid travelers, and Snow Bird retirees looking for a low-key holiday far from the high-rise all-inclusive resorts of Puerto Vallarta and Banderas Bay.
Head to Chac Mool year-round for local and international favorites served right on the beach, and the seasonal Tapas Bar at the far south end of the beach for delicious seafood plates with amazing sunset views and live entertainment on the weekends.
San Blas might be the last stop on our Riviera Nayarit road trip itinerary, but it was the first city in Nayarit to be settled by the Spanish in 1530, as well as being one of Mexico’s original international beach destinations.
A few structures from the colonial period remain, including an interesting fort and ruins of a church on Contaduria Hill, which are worth a visit for the views as well.
These days, however, most visitors come to San Blas for the seemingly endless idyllic beaches on offer, stretching for a dozen miles around calm Matanchen Bay.
But bring your bug spray! The Jejenes (little sand flies) are known here for having quite the appetite!
In town, Ofros serving local specialties is hard to beat any time of day. On Las Islitas Beach, Restaurante Mysis III is reputed to be the best on offer among the dozens of near-identical-looking eateries fronting the beach.
For a fun and worthwhile day excursion, take a motorboat ride through La Tovara National Park in search of crocodiles and the park’s famous blue lagoon.
Why Travel to Riviera Nayarit?
While the over-the-top, all-inclusive resort destinations of Nueva Vallarta and Punta de Mita are located along the Riviera Nayarit, most road trippers heading north from the Puerto Vallarta airport come to this part of Mexico in search of something different.
Mexico’s serpentine Route 200 treats visitors to lush jungle landscapes, stunning mountain vistas, and an impressive concentration of diminutive, yet very worthwhile beach destinations to suit nearly every travel style and budget.
Travelers can expect to find a slew of independently-owned accommodation ranging from funky to fabulous, for everyone from solo travelers to large groups.
An impressive variety of cuisine also awaits, combining local ingredients, regional flavors, coastal specialties, and international offerings.
And the number of outdoor recreational activities at your doorstep is hard to match elsewhere in Mexico, such as surfing, swimming, snorkeling, whale watching, paddleboarding, hiking, boating, fishing, paramotoring, horse riding, mountain biking, sailing, and scuba diving to name a few.
Is Riviera Nayarit Safe?
Despite the seemingly endless stream of negative news that makes its way North-of-the-Border, the reality is that the vast majority of tourists traveling around Mexico encounter no problems with safety and security.
Nayarit in particular has some of the most consistently low crime statistics of all the Mexican states popular with foreign tourists.
In the Riviera Nayarit, water-related fatalities such as drownings are responsible for the lion’s share of tourist deaths and injuries. Take the usual precautions when swimming and think twice about getting in the water on big surf days and you’ll likely be just fine.
How to get to Riviera Nayarit
If you are planning a road trip to the Riviera Nayarit, getting here is easy.
Puerto Vallarta’s international airport (PVR) is home to nearly every major rental car company, making it an easy starting point for your road trip adventure.
You’ll of course want to reserve your car in advance for the best price and selection, particularly during peak season (Dec-Jan) and holidays.
From PVR, simply head to the northbound onramp for Route 200 and head north to Nayarit!
In terms of visas and entry requirements, no visa is required for most visitors to Mexico (if you aren’t traveling from the U.S. or Canada, you’ll want to check visa requirements for your country).
Visa-exempt travelers will receive a tourist permit (FMM) valid for up to 180 days. The cost of this permit is usually included in the price of your airline ticket.
When is the best time to visit Riviera Nayarit?
The Riviera Nayarit has a very pronounced dry season, which typically runs from early November to early June. If you are hoping to avoid rain, this is the window of time to visit.
However, expect the largest crowds, most expensive lodging rates, and coolest water temperatures between mid-December and late April.
While the summer months also coincide with the hottest temps and largest frequency of storms, June through August can still have periods offering plenty of sunshine, particularly in the morning.
Personally, our favorite months to be in the water here are November and May. January and February offer the best weather for land activities such as hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding.
In this guide, we have briefly explored the Riviera Nayarit, why you should visit, plus what you might expect from your visit.
We covered eight of the most popular destinations along the coast, including my own personal recommendations for what to see and do, where to eat, and who might get the most out of each beach town on the list.
Hopefully, you’ll find as much enjoyment discovering this slice of tropical beach paradise as we have!
David Baxter is the founder of AwayGoWe.com, inspiring independent travelers hungry for off-the-beaten-path destinations and adventure travel. He currently calls Nayarit home and has spent the last two years exploring the width and breadth of this amazing region with his wife and two young children. Follow their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.