Cruise the Beach Bays of Riviera Nayarit

If you enjoy all that goes with vacationing or living near the ocean, then Mexico’s Pacific Coast is the place for you.  Coined the Mexican Riviera, it spans kilometer after kilometer (mile after mile) of dazzling gold beaches framed by beach bays and coves of all shapes and sizes suited to all kinds of activities.

While there are hundreds of bays on the Pacific Ocean, some of the most dynamic are located in the tropical paradise of the Riviera Nayarit, part of the Mexican Riviera.  Mother Nature has bestowed each of these beach bays with varying ocean conditions that match certain water sports and beach activities better than others.

Among them is Bahia Banderas Bay, the largest natural bay in Mexico and one of the ten largest in the world.  This vibrant bay is teeming with tropical fish and sea life that live among underwater rocks, caves, and coral reefs, making it wonderful for snorkeling, diving, whale watching, and sea turtle sightings. Other towns along the bay provide the best conditions for sailing, sport fishing, kiteboarding, and surfing.

Slightly further north are the more authentic Mexican beach towns of Bahia Jaltemba Bay. Home to some breathtaking long beaches and smaller beach coves with island views.  Portions of this bay have calm, clear, aqua sea water and soft, light, gold sand beaches, which are ideal for snorkeling, fishing, swimming, and beach sports.  One of the towns holds the largest open-air market (tianguis) in the region once a week.

Continuing north beyond this bay and the town of Chacala are the natural wonders of Bahia Matanchen Bay.  The towns and beaches along this bay harbor incredible biodiversity, such as marshes, mangroves, jungles, rivers, beaches, wildlife, and historical sites making it ideal for sightseeing, birding, boat tours, and conservation.  Its beaches are known to have some of the best waves in the region for surfing.

Uncover the hidden treasures of the Riviera Nayarit through its bountiful bays on your next Mexico vacation.




Tianguis Outdoor Market in La Penita

For the first time, we had the pleasure of visiting ‘tianguis’ in La Penita de Jaltemba, and what a pleasure it was!  Tianguis (pronounced tee-ang-gees) is Mexico’s version of a swap meet or flea market but offers more than just practical items, including fun things like bright green river turtles, colorful fish and birds, genuine and costume jewelry, new clothes and shoes, Mexican arts and crafts, and of course, all kinds of fresh foods and snacks.  After all, it wouldn’t be Mexico without the tasty treats!

Practical La Penita

La Penita de Jaltemba is a rustic beach town along the Riviera Nayarit, a recently designated tourist region that consists of beautiful undeveloped beaches and charming beach towns, framed by tropical rainforests and the rolling hillsides of the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains.  Just about 30 minutes north of Sayulita and 30 minutes south of Chacala, La Penita (as it is called) rests along peaceful Bahia Jaltemba Bay on the Pacific Ocean and is one of many beautiful beach coves in the region.

Being an authentic Mexican town that provides practical services for its residents and neighboring communities, it’s less of a traditional tourist town with all the bells and whistles but still welcomes and accommodates travelers from all over the world, and the Tianguis in La Penita is well known. As the largest recurring outdoor market in the Riviera Nayarit, it’s the most popular open-air market in the region drawing locals and vacationers from the south beyond Nuevo Vallarta and the north beyond San Blas.

Tianguis Market Details

Along with the warm, friendly people of La Penita, the tianguis is an enjoyable few hours of shopping, socializing, snacking, and listening to live music.  Running from 7:00 or 8:00 a.m.-ish to 1:00 or 2:00 p.m.-ish, the entrance of the market starts at the lovely, tree-lined town square (zócalo) extending south and paralleling the beach.  Vendors line both sides of the long cobblestone street with colorful umbrellas and tarps, offering much-welcome shade from the sunshine, while smiling at visitors who admire their wares.

With high season (November through April) right around the corner, the vendors are gearing up to provide all kinds of special traditional items, such as authentic handmade pottery, woven baskets and hammocks, wool rugs and blankets, leather and beaded items, painted woodcrafts, hand-embroidered clothes and purses, Huichol Indian art, organic Nayarit coffee, and even the basics like eyeglasses and sunglasses, vitamins and herbs, pots and pans, glassware, and cleaning supplies.

During the winter months, there are twice as many items available, so La Penita Tianguis is a great place to shop!

Shop at the La Penita Tianguis every Thursday morning in La Penita de Jaltemba along the beautiful Riviera Nayarit, Mexico.


Nayarit Snorkeling Beaches

The Riviera Nayarit may be a relatively undeveloped tourist region, but it is booming with tropical nature and exotic wildlife and is starting to catch on as a popular travel place.  Located along the Pacific Ocean, the Mexican state of Nayarit is said to have some of the best snorkeling in western Mexico according to

Although not yet well studied, the Mexican Pacific coral reef along the Nayarit coastline draws abundant sea life.  The ocean water in this region is relatively warm and rich in nutrients, so large varieties of tropical fish flourish here, including manta rays, eagle rays, moray eels, puffer fish, needlefish, king angelfish, jack fish, damselfish, Moorish Idol fish, starfish, seahorses, octopuses, sea turtles, dolphins, whales, and more.

The coral reefs of southern Nayarit (Riviera Nayarit) that attract these fish are all one type of reef: narrow fringing reefs.  These fringing reefs are dense, well-developed frameworks, measuring up to nearly 20-feet (6-meters) thick.  Fringing reefs are the most common reef type (the other types are barrier and atoll) and are found near the shore in shallow water.  This is great for snorkelers, since the fish swim closer to the shore.

These conditions make for some pretty terrific snorkeling.  While there are many beautiful beaches along Bahi Banderas Bay, Bahia Jaltemba Bay, and Bahia Matanchen Bay of the Riviera Nayarit, here are five wonderful snorkeling beaches with fascinating underwater worlds.

Playa El Anclote

El Anclote Beach is a lovely beach with rock jetties near Punta de Mita. Fabulous snorkeling tours to The Marietas Islands Marine Reserve with its unusual reef formations, such as with lava tubes and caves, are available from this beach.

Playa Chacalilla

Chacalilla Beach is a small beach with clear, aqua-colored water just north of Chacala.

Playa Los Ayala

Los Ayala Beach is a fairly long beach with clear, aqua-colored water just south of Rincon de Guayabitos in Bahia Jaltemba Bay.

Playa de los Muertos

Los Muertos Beach is protected by large rocks on both sides and has calm, clear water just south of Sayulita.  Beyond the rocks to the south is the tiny beach of Punta Las Cargadas near four rock islands, which is also a good snorkeling spot.

Playa Gemelas

Gemelas Beach is a pair of twin beaches south of Bucerias and Nuevo Vallarta with clear water and rock formations near Los Arcos National Marine Park.

Discover the vibrant underwater world of Mexico’s Pacific Ocean at great snorkeling beaches in charming Mexican towns along the Riviera Nayarit.


Sayulita Sunset Sailing Cruise

Pulling into the Marina Riviera Nayarit in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, just 15 minutes from Sayulita, we walk up the first dock on the right to a 50-foot schooner – more accurately, a traditional trimaran – that reminds of days of old when pirates would sail the seven seas.  It’s as long as its sails are tall and has a cabin (main salon) lined with rare Rangoon teak wood panels, uncustomary on those modern fiberglass boats.

Two steps lead up to the boat and a hand reaches out to help us aboard.  Looking up, I’m greeted politely by a thin, gray-haired man with a strong handshake, welcoming us to his pride and joy: Sayula 1, the first boat ever to operate out of Sayulita.  He’s a bit rough around the edges, and I imagine him wearing a black patch over one eye with a yellow sash around his waist and a long sword at his side.  Could he be a pirate?  This man of the sea is an original with 25 years’ experience sailing the ocean blue.

Sail Away

Once we’re all aboard, a low rumble breaks the sound of rolling waters, and we begin to glide back from the dock as if floating on air.  Passing more contemporary boats in the marina on our way out to sea, feeling the soft sway of the boat and smelling the fresh ocean air, we sense the history of this sailing trimaran and realize we have stepped aboard a legend.  Before long, the marina is behind us and the wide Pacific Ocean draws us in.

Port side (on the left), we begin to pass colorful buildings of all shapes and sizes in the towns that line Bahia Banderas Bay on the Pacific coast of Riviera Nayarit; behind us, San Pancho, then Sayulita, Bucerias, Nuevo Vallarta, Puerto Vallarta and finally the open sea.  Starboard side (on the right), we ride near the land, passing Punta de Mita in the distance and the rolling hills of tropical rainforests in varying shades of green peppered by rock barriers that extend into the ocean.


Sailing On…

The land begins to fade in the distance as the ocean grows wider and the rolling waves draw us out.  With the wind in our sails, we follow the distant shadow of the land and continue starboard when rounding a bend north of La Cruz, a lovely beach cove opens up to a small gold beach where seagulls and pelicans perch on rock beds welcoming us.  Anchoring the boat a short distance from shore, we swim to the beach and relax awhile having this slice of heaven all to ourselves.

If only we could stay here forever, but alas, we are hailed back to deck and climb aboard to enjoy some snacks, drinks, music, and friendly conversation.  We float for a while and then head back in the direction we came, spotting a dead sea turtle along the way: a tragic loss to nature.  We mutter sadly about her death and are quiet for a time as we journey back to the marina.  The ride is calm and smooth as the sun sets on a lovely Nayarit day. Hues of red, orange, yellow, and purple fade into gray as we say good-bye – for now.

Take a boat tour aboard a traditional trimaran for a Sunset Sailing Trip from Sayulita, Mexico, in the Riviera Nayarit.


A Song for San Pancho

San Pancho Beach

Maybe you haven’t heard of the Mexican town called San Francisco, Nayarit, affectionately nicknamed ‘San Pancho,’ but the popular Mexican rock band Café Tacuba feature a video about this lovely beach town accompanied by their song, “El Aparato” (on YouTube).

If it’s worthy of a professional video and song, it’s also worth a visit.  Located on the Pacific Coast of Mexico in the Riviera Nayarit, San Pancho is a quaint town with pristine beaches, tropical nature, and a tranquil lifestyle.

Just a 15-minute drive north of Sayulita, a popular surf spot, and 45 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta, its charm and beauty will steal your heart away.

San Pancho Summary

San Pancho Sunset

Only 40 years ago, this town was just a sleepy fishing village consisting of four extended Mexican families totaling about 100 residents.  When it became an official town in 1975 by founding father and former Mexican President, Luis Echeverria, it began to grow, attracting nationals and foreigners to its shores, eventually reaching the current population of nearly 2,000, many who are relatives of the original families.

More than a few things make this town special:  its secluded location alongside the deep blue Pacific Ocean with sparkling gold beaches surrounded by tropical rainforests and fruit orchards in the peaks and valleys of the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains; fresh fish and seafood caught by local fishermen; colorful sunsets melting into the ocean; and the friendly local characters telling fascinating stories about the town and their lives.

San Pancho’s hidden location in the tropics of Mexico and its natural lifestyle lend themselves best to nature activities both on land and by sea, such as hiking, mountain biking, four wheeling, and horseback riding across the rolling hills and lush jungles; and water activities such as swimming, fishing, kayaking, and some of the best snorkeling, diving, and surfing at nearby beaches.

Multicultural Community

San Pancho Girl

Thanks to its diverse community and increasing foreign population, this little authentic Mexican town has some big entertainment of its own, such as a 9-hole golf course centered amid fruit orchards (Las Huertas Golf & Beach Club) and a polo field (La Patrona Polo Club) with an art gallery, restaurant and lounge with music and is the place where social events and equestrian shows are held.

Community is what defines this peaceful beach town, and with an increasingly growing international population of Americans, Canadians, and Europeans, this brings with it increased employment and education opportunities for the locals.

In addition to the opening of shops, restaurants, and bars in town, the EntreAmigos Community Center teaches new skills to local families so they can achieve success in their evolving town.

San Pancho deserves the attention of the tourism industry for its attributes and contributions to the splendor of the Riviera Nayarit and for creating new opportunities for its Mexican residents.  Over 200 Canadians and Americans have discovered its charm and tranquility for themselves by investing in second homes and vacation homes, while travelers are just starting to catch on.  Why not discover it for yourself?

You too can Sing About San Pancho after visiting the beach town of San Pancho (San Francisco), Mexico, in the Riviera Nayarit.


Reasons to Visit the Riviera Nayarit

Lo de Marcos Beach

The Riviera Nayarit is the place of fairytales – a natural wonderland on the Pacific Coast of Mexico spanning 200 miles (322 kilometers) of rolling jungle hills scattered with small beach towns lining the deep blue sea.  Although the region is not yet well-known, you may have heard of some of the more popular towns, such as Nuevo Vallarta, Sayulita, Punta de Mita, and San Blas.

The region is just gaining recognition worldwide as a preferred tourist destination with many natural wonders, cultural attractions, land and water activities.  Recent statistics indicate there are over 12,840 hotel rooms in the region, 60% of which are 4-star rated and higher.  More vacation rentals are being developed, but most are smaller, traditional villa or cabana styles to complement the traditional architecture of the region instead of building high-rise mega resorts.

Attractions & Activities

One of the main attractions of the Riviera Nayarit is this part of the Pacific Ocean.  Forty-two miles (68 kilometers), from the state of Jalisco into Nayarit, is Bahia Banderas Bay, Mexico’s largest natural bay flourishing with fish and marine life, and is the primary breeding site for Humpback whales.  Water activities include whale watching (mid-December through mid-March), swimming with dolphins, and sport fishing year round, plus sailing, boating, kiteboarding, surfing, snorkeling, and diving.

There are also plenty of land activities offering nature tours and sightseeing opportunities,  such as hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, four wheeling, and zip lining through the jungle.  The tropical rainforests, lush jungles and valleys of the Sierra Madre Mountains and the thriving wetlands and mangroves have established Nayarit as an important ecological reserve.

Ecotourism & Wildlife

La Tovara Wetlands

Nature conservation makes this a wonderful place for sustainable tourism (ecotourism or environmentally friendly tourism) which provides options to help preserve the world’s precious ecosystems and maintain the region’s natural beauty and cultural heritage.  Nayarit is home to the historic Aztec Indians, such as the Cora and Huichol tribes, featuring a variety of cultural attractions such as archaeological sites like the Altavista Petroglyphs and Los Toriles (Ixtlán del Rio) Ruins, or tours like the Huichol Indian Encounter.

Another of Riviera Nayarit’s ecological contributions is its endangered sea turtle conservation programs.  The region is home to the Olive Ridley, Hawksbill, Leatherback, and Green sea turtles which nest on its golden sand beaches certain times of the year. Their fragile eggs and hatchlings require protection from predators, which have resulted in turtle sanctuaries, farms, and rescue programs that provide opportunities for travelers to observe them in their natural habitat and participate in baby turtle release programs into the ocean.

Not only are the oceans flourishing with fish and marine life, but Nayarit’s rainforests, wetlands, and mangroves are also a refuge for wildlife, including 500 animal species and 200 plant species. The marshes and beaches of Bahia Banderas Bay and Bahia Jaltemba Bay, just north, are a natural habitat for migratory birds, making birding and bird watching another popular activity.  In fact, 80% of the migratory birds along the Pacific Coast make their homes in the towns of La Tovara, Singaita, Isla Isabel, and San Blas, the latter which is home to 300 bird species.

Beach at Punta de Mita

So the next time you begin vacation planning, consider visiting one of the lovely beach towns in the Riviera Nayarit:  Nuevo Vallarta, Flamingos, Bucerias, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Destiladeras, Punta de Mita, Litibu, Sayulita, San Pancho (San Francisco), Lo de Marcos, Punta Raza, Los Ayala, Rincon de Guayabitos, La Penita de Jaltemba, El Capomo, Chacala, Boca de Chila, Punta Custodia, Matanchen, and San Blas, although there are still more.


Vacation in SayulitaPunta de Mita, or one of the many charming beach towns in this tropical paradise known as the Riviera Nayarit, Mexico.

© 2012 Riviera Nayarit Fun Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha