For the last decade or so, tourists have flocked to Cancun and the Riviera Maya. But now the Mexican government’s attention has turned to the Riviera Nayarit, which snakes for 200 miles along the west coast of Mexico.
They are pouring money into developing tourism here, so now’s the time to go, before the crowds really descend! This has been made easier recently by the introduction of a direct flight from the UK (London and Manchester) for the first time – on Thomson’s Dreamliner. Journey time is around 12 hours.
When I was invited to go and check it out, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I looked out of the plane window as we were landing and I started to get an idea. I could see the Pacific Ocean, bordered by mile after mile of golden sandy beach and the jungle covered Sierra Madre mountains. And not a lot else.
The airport is in nearby Puerto Vallarta, south of the Riviera. It was once a fishing village (weren’t they all?), made famous in the 1960s when Liz Taylor and Richard Burton fell in love there, on the set of Night of the Iguana. Now it’s a sizeable city, albeit one of real charm, with some well preserved architecture and a laid back feel. It’s worth spending a night or two here.
We concentrated our stay on the south part of the Riviera. Here, we found some fantastic little towns – traditional, relatively untouristy, and with a bohemian vibe –like San Pancho (see main pic). I can’t think of a nicer way to spend an afternoon than sitting in the beach shack on the sand here, feasting on tasty little morsels, downing a Mexican beer and watching the surfers – you could, of course, join in if you are so inclined…
We had arrived mid morning in the town and after a hearty brunch, we visited Entreamigos. This initiative was set up in 2006 by American Nicole Swedlow who fell in love with Mexico and moved here from the US as a single parent with an 11 year old child. She wanted to help local families adjust to the wave of tourism clearly heading to the area. She set up classes where people could learn arts and crafts and make pieces to sell…. Initially it was run by volunteers from a make shift stall on the street.
These days she has full time employees all sorts of different classes – from English language to film making to sport – there’s even a circus school with lessons taken by a former Cirque du Soleil performer. Mums can come to read a book in the library, kids to get help with homework. Entreamigos sponsor children through school and have, gratifyingly, seen many go on to university. They promote waste recycling and have a shop selling inventive items made from plastic and glass – I bought a pair of earrings made from wine bottles (not whole ones!).
Nicole is a humble, inspiring woman. I came away full of admiration for her and what she has done. Reading up on her later, I discovered that she has, in fact, been named as an ‘Unsung Hero of Compassion’ by the Dalai Lama in 2014 – praise indeed.
Sayulita – another surfy beach town down the road – has a similar vibe, but feels a bit more touristy. There are many souvenir shops here and you can pick up some good finds – beadwork in the form of jewellery and decorate masks and objects, made by the local Huichol Indians, is particularly prolific, as well as brightly painted ceramics.
From this coastline there are all sorts of possibilities for day trips. Vallarta Adventures (www.vallarta-adventures.com) offer excursions if you want it all neatly packaged.
We did a boat trip to the volcanic Marietas Islands, a protected nature reserve where you can snorkel over coral reefs and beneath a big rock arch to discover a rather stunning ‘hidden’ beach.
One magical early evening we went to Kupuri Beach to release newly hatched turtles into the sea (this trip is open to guests of the Four Seasons Hotel Punta Mita – www.fourseasons.com/puntamita)
We also did one of Vallarta Adventures’ evening trips – the Rhythm of the Night tour. A boat trip took us to a little cove, magically lit up with hundreds of candles. After a beautiful dance/acrobatic performance in a stunning natural amphitheatre, we had an alfresco meal before returning to the boat.
And, of course, you cannot visit Mexico without visiting a tequila distillery. There are lots of them where you can stop, taste the different types and buy a bottle or two.
If you prefer to do your own thing when it comes to sightseeing that is possible, too. This area feels very safe and the people are some of the loveliest I’ve met.
There’s so much to say about the Riviera Nayarit. I haven’t even touched on the amazing food, so watch out for my posts over the next few days. I’ll also be talking about some great places to stay …