The stunning Riviera Nayarit features over 200 miles of nearly-untouched beaches and jungle on Mexico’s Pacific Coast. That would be reason enough to visit, but what makes this stretch of land even more alluring is its charming beach towns, fishing villages, and colorful Pueblo Mágicos (Magic Towns).
As such, Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit is attracting more visitors than ever before who are eager to flock to its golden sand beaches, chow down on fresh seafood, and enjoy an exciting morning of whale watching in the warm Bahía de Banderas (Banderas Bay).
The first time we moved to Mexico in 2018 we happened to move to a small beachside town in Nayarit by the name of San Pancho (or San Francisco on the map). We ended up living there for almost two years, as we could never seem to pull ourselves away from its beautiful beach and lovely people.
During our time in Nayarit, we were able to visit many small towns dotted along the coast, including a few of Nayarit’s major cities like its bustling capital of Tepic.
In this guide, I’ll share with you the best towns and beaches in Nayarit that you won’t want to miss on your next Mexico vacation.
Here are 13x adorable towns and beaches in Riviera Nayarit to add to your bucket list!
13 Unmissable Beaches & Towns in Nayarit, Mexico
Responsible Tips Before You Visit the Riviera Nayarit!
There are indigenous groups, like the Wixárika (Huichol) native to the Sierra Madre mountains, lovely Mexican nationals, international expats, plus hundreds of endemic bird species, sea turtles, and big cats, that call Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit and its pristine Pacific coastline, home. When you visit, please take care in respecting and supporting the local culture, people, and wildlife.
Sadly, many beaches in Nayarit are trashed after waves of tourists visit. There are thousands of sea turtles who nest on Nayarit’s golden sands and their ecological habitats are negatively impacted both by the increasing light pollution from ritzy hotels and beachfront clubs and by tourists irresponsibly disposing of their garbage.
Your travel footprint has a serious influence on destinations like the Riviera Nayarit, which in many places still has virgin beaches and jungle. But if we are not careful, those once hidden gems will soon turn into concrete wastelands.
That said, please enjoy the Riviera Nayarit but do so with the awareness that your visit leaves both an ecological and cultural impact. Some ways you can help out is by reducing your plastic consumption, supporting eco-responsible hotels and businesses, and respecting wildlife and biodiversity. Click here for 22+ more tips on how to be a responsible traveler.
1. Puerto Vallarta (“Gateway” to the Riviera Nayarit)
Puerto Vallarta is a coastal port resort town in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. Many people confuse it as being in the state of Nayarit, but it’s called the “gateway” because the Puerto Vallarta airport is where you will fly into in order to reach the Riviera Nayarit, which officially starts as you cross the Ameca River heading north into the Nayarit toward Nuevo Vallarta and beyond.
Anyone who enjoys a more romantic colonial city, coupled with golden sand beaches, fresh seafood, and luxury resorts, should spend a few days soaking up the sunshine in Puerto Vallarta. Some of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta are going scuba diving and taking a boat tour to the Islas Marietas (Marietas Islands) which jut out of the Pacific Ocean just off the coast of the Banderas Bay.
2. Nuevo Vallarta
Nuevo Vallarta (the “new” Vallarta) is one of the first destinations in Nayarit that you will pass. Less busy than its southern neighbor, Nuevo Vallarta is a great vacation spot for those who’d rather spend a day at their beachfront luxury resort, on the green grass of the golf course, or sipping a margarita at the marina.
Nuevo Vallarta is less cute than it is ritzy. Its boulevard, lined with palm trees, is chic and clean – you’re not in small-town Mexico here. Regardless, Nuevo Vallarta is popular for its long, sandy beach, upscale marina, and expat community. If you want to meet fellow internationals, head to the Nuevo Vallarta Riviera Farmer’s Market that takes place in a parking lot nearby the Hard Rock Hotel every Tuesday from 9-2 pm.
You can also take many boat tours from Nuevo Vallarta beach to see the Marieta Islands, go whale watching, or skirt across the bay to discover hidden coves and fishing villages like Yelapa.
The next closest beach town in Nayarit is Bucerias. Be careful not to speed by Bucerias on the highway as you head north into Nayarit’s jungle. This small beach town is abuzz with both locals and internationals who enjoy the proximity and convenience of Nuevo and Puerto Vallarta while being tucked away on their own slice of beach off the Banderas Bay.
Bucerias is prized as being an “authentic” Mexican town, yet you won’t go without your creature comforts with its upscale hotels, fantastic dining, shopping, art galleries, and of course – its beaches. It also boasts a sprawling flea market typical of what you’d find in Nayarit, filled with colorful handicrafts, tapestries, leather goods, glassware, toys, silver, traditional clothing, and more.
4. La Cruz de Huanacaxtle
La Cruz de Huanacaxtle (or simply known as La Cruz) is a traditional fishing village on the coast just past Bucerias. It’s here where you can go on an exciting ocean fishing tour with the locals or where you can grab a round of chips & guac and sip on a margarita as you watch the sailboats sway in the bay at La Cruz Marina.
Head to one of the best beaches in Nayarit at Playa la Manzanilla to spend the day relaxing on its golden sands. The swimming here is great because there aren’t big waves, like in some of the other coastal villages and pueblos. Even with the eager vendors and beachfront restaurants, the beach is large enough to find a secluded spot just for you and your family. Lastly, La Crus hosts one of the largest markets each Sunday from around 8-2 pm.
5. Punta de Mita
Love golfing and ritzy 5-star hotels? Then you will love the 1,500+ acre peninsula of Nayarit known as Punta Mita. Punta de Mita boasts some of the top luxury hotels and resorts in the world – including the Imanta Resort (where the Kardashians stayed, apparently) and the Four Seasons and St. Regis Resorts.
The peninsula also boasts six golf courses, two of which were designed by Jack Nicklaus (i.e. one of the greatest golfers in the world of all time). To top it off, the resort town has upscale restaurants and classy boho-chic boutiques in its downtown area.
While all of that certainly sounds nice, luxury travel is not my cup of tea – so I know of a different side of Punta Mita I think is (more) worth checking out. By that I mean Punta Mita’s local town, filled with hidden gems like NAEF – a French bistro and artisanal ice creamery – and its popular surfing coves and beaches like La Lancha. If you visit Punta Mita, I’d highly recommend exploring the local streets and beaches for a truer Nayarit, Mexico experience.
Sayulita is one of the most popular towns in Nayarit to visit! Its main beach, Sayulita Beach, is a mecca for surfers – new and pro – as the waves are small, frequent, and ideal for the sport. But there’s so much more to love about this Pueblo Mágico beyond its backpacker surf scene, like its charming boho boutiques, scrumptious cafes, salsa bars, colorful flea markets, indigenous Huichol Center, and hidden beaches.
Actually, some of the best beaches in Nayarit can be found in Sayulita. For example, Playa Los Muertos Beach is a popular choice among beach-goers that’s uniquely located just downhill from the town’s local cemetery. Then there’s Sayulita’s North Beach, which stretches all the way between the north end of Sayulita to the jungle surrounding San Pancho – the next beach town over.
Sayulita definitely has an alluring vibe, but because of this it also has become saturated with massive crowds and tourists who tend to stay out late partying. We love to visit Sayulita for the day, but when it comes to where to sleep, we like to retreat back to one of the quieter towns nearby, like San Pancho or Lo de Marcos.
7. San Pancho
San Pancho (or San Francisco), is one of the cutest towns in Nayarit and it also has one of the best beaches, too (the San Pancho Beach). Most of all, it’s here, where you’ll find the incredible Entreamigos Community Center – the beating heart of the town – in addition to dozens of grassroots organizations, a theater and circus art school, and a few dozen genuine Mexican shops, cafes, and restaurants.
There are few places as charming as the pueblo of San Pancho. It has fiery-red and pastel sunsets that dip down over the Pacific Ocean, Mexican cowboys on horses trotting down its cobblestone streets, and a sea turtle rescue center that releases thousands of baby turtles each season from San Pancho’s sandy shores.
We were fortunate enough to call San Pancho our home for two years. Now, it is rapidly growing in size and development, but it’s with the hope that it will retain its charm and authenticity as a Mexican pueblo thanks to the endless support from the down-to-earth, eco-warrior community.
8. Lo de Marcos
Keep driving further north beyond San Pancho and you’ll soon come upon the next up-and-coming beach town in Nayarit – the sleepy Pacific beachside town of Lo de Marcos.
Lo de Marcos is an unassuming destination in Nayarit, but it’s got a surprisingly large expat and retiree community. It is less popular than Sayulita or San Pancho, but still attracts the type of traveler who enjoys some peace and quiet in a town that doesn’t receive too many foreigners on its shores. That said, the Lo de Marcos has one of the most picturesque and uncrowded beaches in Nayarit.
While here, you can go horseback riding, swim in the tranquil waves, shop at the tianguis (open-air) flea market, or go hiking in the scenic palm-tree covered hills surrounding Lo de Marcos.
Tip: The clocks will go back 1 hour to Mountain Time as you travel north beyond Lo de Marcos. Puerto Vallarta, and popular destinations in Nayarit like Sayulita, Punta Mita, and San Pancho, operate on Central Time.
Chacala is a small fishing village on the coast of Riviera Nayarit known for its calm bay, traditional Mexican villas, volcano and waterfall hikes, and fresh seafood! Yep, the name of Chacala in Náhuatl actually means “where there are shrimp” so you can expect to chow down on freshly-caught seafood while you’re here.
As for what to do, Chacala is a nature lover’s paradise. You can hike to the El Capomo waterfall or go spend a day on the hidden beach of Las Cuevas. While we haven’t seen them in person yet, there are also known petroglyphs in the jungle around Chacala that you can hike to.
If you’re looking to escape crowds of the Riviera Nayarit beaches, then come to Chacala.
10. La Peñita de Jaltemba
One of the most underrated destinations in Nayarit is the Jaltemba Bay which is home to three fishing villages and towns – Los Ayala, Guayabitos, and La Peñita. Of the three, La Peñita is one of the most charming with palm-tree-lined squares, shady benches, and a plaza adorned with a typical Mexican church.
It’s possible to visit all three towns and all nine beaches in the area should you choose to base yourself here in the Riviera Nayarit. This area will definitely allow you to get a glimpse into the daily life of small-town Mexico without foreigners, as these places largely remain off the international tourist trail (there are still plenty of national tourists, however).
11. San Blas
San Blas is a typical Nayarit town, located in the northern part of the state along the coast just one hour outside of the state capital of Tepic.
In fact, San Blas is one of the towns in Nayarit that still has a virgin beach and it is widely known for its biodiversity; it has both beaches and islands, mangroves and marshes, and rainforests and lagoons that all host thousands of species of birds that make San Blas one of the best birding spots in the Americas.
What’s more, the Bay of Matanchén features world-class surfing, gastronomy, and its various habitats can be explored via an exciting boat tour through the mangroves or sea. On top of its natural beauty, San Blas features a unique history with the San Basilio Fort Ruins and Spanish colonial architecture which can be spotted in the town’s tropical main plaza.
Despite not having its own beach, Tepic, the capital and largest city of Nayarit, is a bustling place to visit with its iconic neo-Gothic Tepic cathedral, pre-Hispanic Nayarit Regional Museum, and spooky cemetery.
For the longest time, Tepic was known for being one of the dangerous places in the world but that, I believe, has since changed. We were able to visit Tepic and felt that the city offered plenty of cultural and natural richness, but that it lacked the conviction to become one of Nayarit’s top destinations. As such, Tepic often goes unvisited by international tourists as the thought of pristine beaches beckons them to the Nayarit coastline more than the capital city’s cultural attractions. (I can’t say I blame them!).
Nevertheless, Tepic has quite a lot to offer for the curious traveler who’s down for an adventure. The nearby Santa Maria del Oro lagoon housed in the now-extinct Sangangüey volcano crater is also a stunning destination in Nayarit to visit and it’s located just outside of Tepic.
13. Mexcaltitlán de Uribe
Last but not least on this list for towns to visit in Nayarit, is the newly titled Magic Town of Mexcaltitlan de Uribe (or simply, Mexcaltitlan). If you are willing to drive nearly 5 hours from Puerto Vallarta to reach Mexcaltitlan in Nayarit then you will be in for a treat!
So what makes Mexcaltitlan unique? Well, it’s sweetly dubbed the “Venice of Mexico” because this Nayarit town is actually set within a lagoon, and when its streets become flooded during the rainy season the locals navigate through it by boat! How cool is that?
Also, there are no cars on this mini lagoon-island, so you have to take a 15-minute boat ride to get there which sounds like quite the adventure. Once there, the colorful buildings and plaza will capture your heart (and perhaps your palette thanks to its formidable shrimp-based cuisine!).
Ready to Explore Riviera Nayarit’s Beaches & Towns?
Overall, the Riviera Nayarit remains a wildly underrated destination in Mexico. It has plenty more hidden gems, including mountain towns and indigenous communities not mentioned here, but all of these top beaches and towns listed above are sure to satisfy your craving for a sunny Mexico vacation (or adventure!).
Which one of the beach towns and destinations in Nayarit piqued your interest the most? Let me know in the comments below! Additionally, if you have any questions about any one of these places feel free to get in touch!
Pin this guide to Riviera Nayarit’s beaches & towns for later!