Vacation in Riviera Nayarit: Golf, Beaches, Mountains and More

You’ve landed on this page, which probably means you’re pondering a Riviera Nayarit vacation. So let me tell you about our 10-day trip to the area — one of the world’s premier beach vacation destinations.

Day One: Travel Day Ends With An Al Fresco Dinner

We left Seattle at 7:00 a.m. and landed in Puerto Vallarta around 4:00 p.m.

Since baggage claims share the same appeal as Dante’s Ninth Circle, we packed light, avoided the hassle, and by 5:15 p.m. had arrived at the first of our vacation rentals — a gorgeous condo in El Cerrito, which is commonly called Gringo Gulch because of the region’s popularity with American and Canadian “snow birds” who winter there.

An architectural menagerie nestled into a tropical mountainside, Gringo Gulch looks like an M. C. Escher urbanscape superimposed on a Frida Khalo landscape.

Famished and ready to kick start our holiday, we slipped into sandals, strolled down a quiet cobblestone street, and landed at a twinkling al fresco bistro. Several hours floated by as we feasted on shrimp, rock lobster and local wines that were light on the wallet but went down well.

Day Two: Beach, Beach and More Beach

After breakfast, we hopped in our rented jeep and headed to Playa Matanchen in Aticama, a traditional fishing and farming village on the Riviera Nayarit. A picturesque shore, Matanchen is the sandiest and most extensive beach in Mexico. It’s also a casual dining culinary hub. Local restaurants offer delectable rock oysters, robalo and mahi-mahi.

We also took an awe-inspiring walk through the Altavista Petroglyph Complex; it’s a collection of stone, etched monoliths that date back to 2300 B.C.E. Anthropologists aren’t sure of the site’s original purpose. However, the indigenous Huichol people believe it’s an extraordinary place infused with unique energy.

Day Three: Bird Watching near Banderas Bay

Due to the region’s bounty of fresh water and salt water tributaries, lakes, rivers, marshes and ponds, Riviera Nayarit is a world-renowned bird watching area. Before the trip, the closest I’d ever got to bird watching was a Jonathan Franzen novel. And truth be told I was less than eager to spend a day with my neck cranked northward.

But the thing for which I was least enthused was the thing with which I fell in love. The eco-tourism guide we enlisted for the day was knowledgeable, personable and revealed the meditative quality of considering our feathered friends.

In the afternoon, we squeezed in 9 holes of golf.

Days Four and Five: Chacala

On voyage day four, we moved to our next vacation rental in Chacala, an idyllic beach town lined with palm trees and thatched-roofs; it’s also a favorite of Zen Buddhists. In the local dialect, Chacala means “where there are shrimp.” Area cooks are maestros with the crustaceans.

Days Six through Ten: Bucerias and Sayulita

During the last leg of our journey, we stayed at one of the Punta de Mita vacation rentals and took a pair of day trips: one to Bucerias and the other to Sayulita. The former is a vibrant tropical beach enclave complete with sun-kissed surfers. We spent the day haggling with roadside vendors peddling handcrafts and took silly snapshots with the town’s six-meter bronze-plated statue of a scallop-digging diver. In Sayulita, one of Mexico’s designated “magical towns,” we also dove into in some retail therapy and snatched up several one-of-a-kind rebozo shawls.

After 10 rejuvenating days of gaping at spectacular mountain-ocean views, bathing in perfect weather, bird watching, beach reading, treasure hunting and devouring delectable seafood, we were relaxed and ready to face our everyday lives once again. And next year, we’ll definitely be returning to the enchanting Riviera Nayarit.