Nayarit, a state on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, is a popular travel and vacation destination. There are large international resort hotels in the southernmost part of Nayarit (a spillover from adjacent Puerto Vallarta), but most of the coastal communities are smaller, less known destinations that have historically attracted backpackers, surfers, and the "off the beaten path" crowd.
- Riviera Nayarit — a coastal strip more than 160 km (100 miles) long, beginning at the Ameca River (just minutes north of the Puerto Vallarta International Airport), and extending up north to the colonial town of San Blas.
- 1 Tepic — the state capital, nestled in a green valley
- 2 Bucerias — a beach town popular with expats
- 3 Chacala — a beach town known for its unhurried lifestyle
- 4 Compostela — quaint colonial town that is one of Mexico's Pueblos Mágicos
- 5 Ixtlán del Rio — small town in southeast Nayarit, Ixtlan del Rio is an archaeological site (also known as "Los Toriles") and is the only pre-Hispanic site in Nayarit open to the public
- 6 Lo De Marcos — it attracts Mexican and foreign tourists, particularly retirees and RV dwellers
- 7 La Peñita de Jaltemba — the service community for the nearby resort of Rincón de Guayabitos
- 8 San Blas — relaxed scene and lack of condos and package tourists
- 9 San Francisco — offers Playa San Pancho and jungle hikes
- 10 Sayulita — small, laid-back town increasingly popular with tourists, long popular for surfing
- 1 Isla Isabel National Park — Pacific island, 34 km off the coast of Nayarit, protected natural habitat
- 2 Islas Marietas — Bahia Banderas islands off the coast of Punta Mita, UNESCO Biosphere Reserve
- 3 Mexcaltitán — historical island settlement
- 4 Punta Mita — a private beachfront village surrounded on three sides by the Pacific Ocean
The beaches of San Blas and the so-called "Riviera Nayarit" are popular with tourists. All of Nayarit's popular tourist destinations cluster along the western areas of the Pacific Coast. Besides tourism, the economy of the state is based mainly on agriculture and fishing.
Most of the state is rough backcountry dominated by mountains and canyons. These areas are definitely unpopular with tourists and are the home of two indigenous groups: the Huichol and the Cora, who refer to themselves as the Nayarit.
The best time of year to travel to Nayarit is January to May. That's the dry season so your plans aren't likely to get rained out. It's also warm, but not so hot that you'll want to stay indoors with the air conditioner blasting. Surfers come to Nayarit all year round, but the water is warmer from April through October. Travelers who want a chance to do a whale watching trip should come between January and March, which is when the whales migrate to and from the breeding areas in the Sea of Cortez.
The easiest way to get to Nayarit is by plane to Puerto Vallarta (PVR IATA) for coastal destinations or to Tepic (TPQ IATA) or Guadalajara (GDL IATA) for inland destinations, then use buses, taxis, or rental cars to get where you want to go.
- 1 Tepic International Airport (TPQ IATA). Small airport with limited domestic service. Aeromexico flies to and from Mexico City once daily. Volaris flies to and from Tijuana (several daily flights) and Mexico City.
- 2 Licenciado Gustavo Diaz Ordaz International Airport (PVR IATA), Carr. Fed. Tepic-Vallarta Km 7.5, Área Militar de Vallarta (4 km (2.5 mi) south of Nueva Vallarta as the crow flies but about 13 km to drive around and to the other side of the airport runway to reach the main passenger terminal from Nueva Vallarta, about 1 hour south of Sayulita via highway MEX 200 (Carr. Tepic-Vallarta)). Puerto Vallarta is the largest airport in the region with frequent flights to all major Mexican airports, frequent flights by US carriers to Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles and more
There's different kinds of buses you can use to get into Nayarit and to get around. Local or long-distance.
Long distance buses typically depart from bus stations (but may make unscheduled stops on demand to pick up and drop off passengers). Travellers in southern Nayarit (such as Punta Mita or Nuevo Vallarta) will use the Puerto Vallarta bus station (Carretera Tepic-Vallarta km 9, Colonia Mojoneras, located close to the PVR airport). From there, buses are available to Tepic, Guadalajara, or other cities throughout the region.
Local bus service is based in Puerto Vallarta, but the local buses also serve Nuevo Vallarta and areas as far north as Sayulita. When using local buses, be aware that every bus requires you to pay a fare: there is no such thing as a transfer ticket in this area. The bus to Wal-Mart is usually M$10, the bus to Nuevo Vallarta is M$25, and the bus to Sayulita is M$35 (2022 fares). All bus routes from Puerto Vallarta to anywhere in Nayarit will require 2 buses.
To get anywhere in Nayarit by local bus from Puerto Vallarta, take a northbound bus with a "WalMart" sign in the windshield. Get off the bus at Wal-Mart and take an appropriate bus to where you want to go. There is a guy with a clipboard there who can help you. Don't try to do this too late in the evening: The last bus to Nuevo Vallarta leaves Wal-Mart at 9pm.
- To Nuevo Vallarta, look for the bus with "Nuevo Vallarta" for the southern part of Nuevo or "Riu" for the northern part
- To Bucerias or Punta Mita, look for the bus with "Punta Mita" in the windshield
- To Sayulita, look for the green and white bus with "Sayulita" in the windshield
Most foreign visitors to Nayarit come for the many Pacific coast beaches in the southern half of the state. This area is very easy to drive in and rental cars can be arranged at the Puerto Vallarta airport. Rental cars give you excellent flexibility and its easier to carry baggage if you're traveling with a family.
Small buses and combis are the preferred way to get around between the beach communities of southwestern Nayarit. See Puerto Vallarta#Get_around for information about how to use the local buses to get to Nayarit beaches from Puerto Vallarta. The buses can be used to jump around the different beaches, maybe for a day or even just a few hours. Locals can show you where the combis stop.
Longer distance bus routes are served via major bus stations. The most important bus station in Nayarit is in Tepic. From there, you can catch buses to inland destinations and cities in nearby states, such as Mazatlan or Guadalajara.
Local taxis are generally white Nissans and they frequently wait near larger hotels. Talk to the driver to determine the fare to your destination. Many drivers can be hired by the hour or for a full day. Rates must be negotiated but are often quite reasonable, often around M$300 per hour (US$15).
Nayarit has a number of significant nature reserves and remote areas where development is sparse. Thousands of square kilometers in the central and eastern parts of the state are mountainous, heavily forested, and are part of the Sierra Madre Oriental range. Four of Mexico's six species of feline (including jaguars and ocelots) live in the mountains. Birdwatching is a productive pasttime in Nayarit with more than 300 species known to either nest or migrate through Nayarit. Coastal areas include a number of ecological reserves and are home to a variety of marine mammals, including migratory routes of whales. (Whale watching tours are available in Punta Mita and San Blas and smaller operators can sometimes be found in other coastal destinations. Coastal wetlands include vast mangrove swamps where crocodiles and venomous snakes are common. Areas of particular note include:
- The Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California — a UNESCO World Heritage site, shared with four other Mexican states
- Islas Marietas National Park — a famously scenic national park that is a habitat for several maritime bird species, including boobies, pelicans, gulls and more
Nayarit has never been at the top of any archaeologist's bucket list of "must see" ancient sites, but the state is home to two Indigenous cultures of Mesoamerica, the Huichol and the Cora. Both are related to the Aztec (Mexica) peoples who dominated Central Mexico prior to the Spanish conquest, and both groups speak languages that are part of the same language family as Nahuatl (commonly spoken among descendants of the Aztec).
There are no major archaeological sites in Nayarit, but Huichol handcrafts are highly prized and are commonly sold in galleries and artesanal shops in coastal towns as far south as Puerto Vallarta. Two towns may be of interest to historical travelers with an interest in indigenous cultures:
- Mexcaltitán — unusual island village that some historians regard as being the original homeland of the Mexica people
- Ixtlán del Rio — home to an unusual small archaeological site famous for its "shaft tombs" and many sculptures dating from about 300 BC
The Pacific coast of Nayarit is dotted with small-town beaches with a handful of locally owned beachfront bars and small cheap hotels that cater to regional travelers. Good surfing is found at myriad beaches in Nayarit, many with high quality break points and reef breaks that give a surfer tremendous variety of conditions to choose from. Some beaches are known for more challenging conditions, some as being more suitable for beginners, and some with both easy and challenging locations within a couple kilometers of each other. Just about any style of surfing can be found in Nayarit, including paddle surfing, short board surfing, longboard surfing, and big wave body surfing. Surfing lessons are available at most of the well-known surfing beaches and are often taught by recognized experts from around the world.
- Punta Mita is well known for its breaks with seven breaks around the peninsula. These provide surfers of all skill levels with many kinds of conditions from which to choose.
- San Blas (Mexico) has several well-known surfing beaches, including one that may be the world's longest rideable wave
- Chacala has a gentle beach, but just a short boat ride away is La Caleta with a deep water peak and exceptional walls
Nayarit is a coastal state, and like coastal areas everywhere, fresh seafood is a cornerstone of local culinary traditions. Local fishermen harvest shark, dog fish, sea bass, sierra, shrimp, and oysters. Regional specialties of Nayarit include tamales de camarón (shrimp tamales), enchiladas de ostiones (oyster enchiladas), sopa de camaron (shrimp soup), and barbecued fish. In the coastal areas, locals often use manglar (mangrove) as a fuel for cooking fires and the smoke from these fires lends a distinctive flavor to foods cooked over open fires or coals.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are grown throughout the state, particularly in some of the highland communities. Nayarit produce includes coconuts, corn, wheat, and beans. They are known for their bananas (14 varieties are grown in the state), mangoes, and sugar cane.
In Mexcaltitán, pescado sarandeado is a grilled fish dish made with fresh-caught bream, marinated in a blend of lime juice, soy sauce, and chile and is served on a platter with onions, tomatoes and cucumbers with tortillas and salsa.
Moles are popular everywhere in Mexico and in Nayarit a regionally known varieant is pipián de pepitas de calabaza, made with pipian chiles and pumpkin seeds, the light brown mole is typically served over chicken.
Cacada is a sweet treat made with shredded coconut mixed with a variety of fruits like pineapple, strawberry or lemon.
During sugar cane harvest season in Tepic you can find cañas asada, roasted raw sugar cane with s delicious flavor of lightly burnt sugar.
Most visitors to Nayarit are coming for the idyllic small beach towns where the most popular drink is beer. The iconic beer of this part of the Pacific Coast of Mexico is Pacifico. Surfers and backpackers embraced the brand over 50 years ago and it remains the beer of surfers, budget travelers, and travelers who enjoy trying beers in their native environment.
These days, travelers often expect a wide range of beers in different styles produced in small batches by artisinal craft brewers who emphasize quality and variety over predictability or slick marketing. Craft beers are found in cities and towns throughout Mexico, and there are some places where the beer connoisseur can find something beyond "pale fizzy lager" (as Britain's CAMRA describes mainstream lagers).
- Cerveceria Artesanal San Pancho (San Francisco - best beer bar on the Riviera Nayarit, several house beers are brewed on site including a blonde ale, an IPA, and a stout with various seasonal beers
- Cerveceria Chapultepec (Nuevo Vallarta) - part of a beer concept chain with a party atmosphere and a variety of beers that includes its own house brand of craft beers
Tequila based drinks (especially margaritas) are extremely popular everywhere and some bars offer a selection of artesanal tequilas. Voodoo Monkey Tiki Bar in Bucerias is a fun place with a wide range of cocktails (obviously including fruity rum-based drinks with paper parasols and fruit on a plastic sword)
Nayarit offers some unique non-alcoholic drinks as well, though some share their heritage with Jalisco and other nearby states. Tejuino is probably the most widespread of these. It is a corn-based drink made with masa (corn meal), sweetened with piloncillo (crude brown sugar). It is sometimes fermented a couple days giving it a very low alcohol level (similar to "near beer").
Coffee drinkers will also find local coffees grown in the highlands and roasted and served in local communities. In the town of Compostela, look for Café Moloto El Chilai.
Nayarit is generally peaceful and tourists have few problems in the popular coastal areas, however, things become dicey north of Tepic with rural roads leading into Sinaloa, where significant cartel violence has occurred over the past two decades.