Nuevo Vallarta and the Riviera Nayarit
Being on the East Coast, I was familiar with Cancun and Tulum but hadn’t experienced much of Mexico on the Pacific Coast. A couple weeks ago, C and I took a relaxing getaway to Nuevo Vallarta, or the new Vallarta – an up and coming beach retreat quickly making a name for itself as a celeb getaway and surfer haven.
About 15 minutes by car from Puerto Vallarta International Airport, this small peninsula is largely sheltered from coastal storms due to its location on the Pacific Coast and boasts incredible sandy beaches, vibrant colorful towns and a luxurious strip of all inclusive resorts. Nuevo Vallarta has something for everyone. From the hippie community at Sayulita chock full of expats and surfers to the Ecological Park home to exotic bird species and little human life, Nuevo Vallarta was an amazing experience.
If you’re considering a fun getaway for the upcoming holiday season, check out the Nuevo Vallarta region within the Riviera Nayarit!
Before You Go
When to go: The best time to visit Nuevo Vallarta is in the winter months. December is peak season.
Where to stay: This region of Mexico next to Puerto Vallarta is best known for all inclusive resorts. We stayed at the all inclusive Marival Luxury Resort.
What to do:
- for the water babies, you’ll find every possible activity from diving, snorkeling, try a surfing lesson, horseback ride on the beach and more.
- for the adventures, you can zipline through the canopy
- families with kids can do a city tour of Puerto Vallarta, a day trip to nearby Sayulita and Punta Mita or enjoy tacos and incredible Mexican street food.
Decided to head to Puerto Vallarta? Great, you won’t be disappointed. Here are just a few of the top things to do in the Riviera Nayarit (I managed to squeeze them all in on a 24 hour visit but would recommend a solid 2-3 days if you have the time).Read more: What to Pack for Mexico
6 of the Best Things to Do in Puerto Vallarta
1. Tequila Tastings
Tequila vs Mezcal vs Sotol – Do you know the difference?
We had a tequila tasting at an amazing liquor shop. I am admittedly a tequila lover but this was a really interesting experience since we got to learn about the flavors and notes in the liquor. We also learned about Mezcal and Sotol and the differences between each type. I especially loved the smokey burn! If I didn’t have luggage weight restrictions, I would have bought a ton to take back home. Most of the brands in this really cute shop were Mexican only brands.
Sher’s Tip: Tequila is a mezcal, but specifically made from only a single type of agave plant, blue agave. Technically tequila liquor can only be produced in the state of Jalisco and select areas of 4 other states. Picture the difference between tequila and mezcal as akin to the distinction between Champagne from the Champgne region and sparkling white wine. Finally, sotol tastes similar but is made from the Sotol plant (nicknamed Desert spoon) and not technically from agave so it’s not a mezcal!
A Sleepy Surf Paradise
This colorful hippie expat town is perfect for those looking for vibrant activities and shopping. We loved browsing at the various small boutiques, which sell everything from beautiful towels to day of the dead skulls and colorful hats, and also stopped in the Sayulita Wine Shop for local Mexican liquor. The town has pastel colored buildings, gorgeous wall murals and flags and more! You can dine at one of the many restaurants on the water or indulge in some water sports.
Sher’s Tip: There were so many great shops, cafes and restaurants in Sayulita that I really wish we had bought more pesos (and that my apartment was bigger than a shoe box). I especially loved the neon skulls and refreshing roadside coconuts! We did a tour of the town and really loved exploring off the beaten path.
3. Marietas Islands
Snorkel, Paddleboard & More
This protected island reserve is a bird sanctuary and home to the Blue Footed Booby. We booked a tour through Punta Mita Expeditions and had a fantastic time snorkeling in the cyrstal clear water. The guides were excellent at pointing out the birds, leading us an exciting snorkeling swim and teaching us how to paddle board. Because Las Marietas is a protected marine park, you’ll need to book a boat tour to visit the island and wear a life vest at all times as they don’t want you to accidentally touch any coral or swim too deep to disturb the marine life. Definitely a great day on the water.
Sher’s Tip: There’s a hidden cave entrance to Lover’s Beach that’s only accessible during low tide. Try to time your visit so that you can access the beach! We went in the early morning and missed it. If you do go in the afternoon, make sure to pack sunscreen and a hat as it got blazing hot as early as 11am! We booked a tour to see the cavern and snorkel and were very happy with the crew, snorkel experience and equipment.
For availability and rates, check out the Cavern Swim and Snorkle Tour
4. Classic Mexican Food
Oh boy the food in Sayulita was amazing! We had a big lunch group at this amazing restaurant on the water, Don Pedro’s. The restaurant was packed and super busy but service was prompt and attentive (no small feat since our group was 15 people!)
We tried multiple different kinds of tacos, a variety of local Mexican beers and frozen margaritas as well as huge platters of chips and guac with fresh salsa. I tried the grilled red snapper which came with two whole fish and was so delicious. I definitely want to come back for more! If you can, try to come with a big group and share appetizers and mains so everyone can have a taste of everything.
Sayulita is quite popular with expats due to the great waves. If you’re new to surfing we saw tons of classes in action and beginners braving their first waves. I first learned to surf in Indonesia just a couple weeks before this trip to Mexico and absolutely loved it. I wish we had had time for surfing but it just means I’ll have to re-vist Sayulita again!
Read more: Two Weeks in Indonesia
If you have more time, I highly recommend trying a surfing lesson. The waves looked so fun and we saw lots of group surfing lessons going on. For group rates, check availability and pricing here. If surfing’s not your thing, you can also try horseback riding!
6. San Francisco
After spending a couple hours in Sayulita we headed nearby to the town of San Francisco. The town is more relaxed and much less touristy, with pristine secluded beaches that the locals recommend for couples, ha. We explored a local community center, the town square and walked briefly along the beach before it was time to head back to our hotel for a dinner feast and wine tasting.
If you’re short on time I would recommend sticking to Sayulita but if you have a couple extra days and want to see the rest of the Riviera Nayarit, San Francisco makes for a unique alternate experience.
Follow Sher She Goes on
I experienced Nuevo Vallarta as a guest of the tourism board.
That’s it! Have you tried any of these activities or been to Sayulita?
For more Mexico adventures, consider a visit to Cuernavaca, right outside Mexico City, family fun at Xcaret at Playa del Carmen or the unique Biosphere Reserve. If you’re looking for a hidden gem, read up on Playa Zipolite in Oaxaca Mexico.
Visiting Mexico from the East Coast? Then you’ll want to check out Mexico’s Yucatan, Tulum for shopping and health retreats and of course, Isla Holbox – a hidden gem that sees whale sharks migrate annually!