It was only a few years ago that frequent news of violence on Mexico's Pacific coast threatened to scare away tourists for good. Recently, however, a light has emerged out of that dark period. The 190-mile coastal development known as the Riviera Nayarit, north of Puerto Vallarta, has seen significant expansion since 2007. In January, Aeroméxico will begin a new non-stop route between New York City and Puerto Vallarta, with fares for less than $500, while Virgin America's route from San Francisco, which launched in 2011, costs less than $400 round-trip. Add in the current exchange rate between the USD and the MXN, and you'll find the beaches and resorts of Riviera Nayarit make for a very affordable winter getaway.
Where to Stay
Nayarit's hotel scene mirrors what's going on in the region as a whole: it's growing, and fast. In 2010, Riviera Nayarit had only 756 rooms to accommodate visitors; by 2015 this number is expected to rise to 10,128. About 450 of those rooms come in the form of the five-star, all-inclusive Iberostar Playa Mita, the area's newest resort, and the first Pacific coast property for the Spanish hotel chain. Of those, 120 are oceanfront junior suites. You can also enjoy two pools, one with a swim-up bar, five restaurants, an 18-hole Greg Norman-designed golf course, a spa, and interiors featuring colorful Huichol art. The resort currently is running a "Winter Super Sale" with rates starting at $265 per night, all-inclusive. For single travelers, the rate goes down to $192.
What to Do
Shop: Artists and surfers are drawn the bohemian beach town of Sayulita. This is the place to hang out, take it easy, bum around on the beach, and maybe take a surf lesson or shop for crafts. At the Tanana Gallery you can shop for authentic Huichol artwork while supporting this vulnerable local community. (Purchases help sustain the Huichol Center for Cultural Survival projects, which helps to improve the quality of life in the Huichol communities.) At the Revolución del Sueño boutique, you can shop for unique gifts – produced in limited quantities – including t-shirts, handbags, and jewelry.
Learn: San Pancho (or, San Francisco, per its proper name) is best-known for its quiet beach and polo club, but one of the most interesting places to visit is the entreamigos community project, which provides education and recreation for the town's children and adults, and welcomes visitors and short-term volunteers. Eighty percent of the materials used in the center are made from recycled materials, and the benefits of entreamigos' commitment to sustainability are many: the center collects the town’s recycling and delivers it to the plants, and local people learn new trades through the recycled glass, fabric, and plastic workshops where they make products to be sold in the on-site store.
Eat: For fresh seafood, head up to San Blas, 70 miles north of Sayulita. El Delfin Restaurant at the Hotel Garza Canela, whose chef, Betty Vasquez, studied at The Cordon Bleu in Paris, offers fresh Mexican fish (main courses from $14-23). More casual restaurants line the beach and are known for the local specialty, marinated red snapper grilled open over the coals, and ceviche.
Swim: If you are looking for something a little more active, you can visit the Marieta Islands, a small group of uninhabited islands a few miles off the coast of Punta de Mita (read a little more of their history here). Here you can snorkel, kayak, and – if you're lucky – spot whales, turtles, and blue-footed boobies.