50 Unforgettable Things to Do in Riviera Nayarit

by | Jul 13, 2020 | Mexico | 0 comments

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Mexico is most famous for its idyllic Riviera Maya, but have you ever heard of Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit on the western coast? The Riviera Nayarit is where you can truly get the best Mexico has to offer! There are just so many things to do in Riviera Nayarit, like visiting the stunning beaches stretched over 190 miles of pristine coastline or tasting the incredible authentic food from both land and sea; immersing yourself in vibrant cultural experiences and festivals, and going on adventurous outdoor activities.

Basically, no matter what it is you want to do, it’s likely the Riviera Nayarit has it. (Except for cenotes, they don’t have those like in the Yucatan.) So considering everything that there is to do in Riviera Nayarit, it’s no wonder why it’s quickly becoming Mexico’s next top destination. On that note, please be sure to travel responsibly when visiting the scenic Riviera Nayarit coastline (or anywhere for that matter)!

In my opinion, the Riviera Nayarit is where you can really experience that unforgettable small-town Mexico charm while still enjoying the “touristy” things to do in Mexico. Yes, there are resorts and hotels too, especially in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco – aka the gateway resort town to the Riviera Nayarit, and within the heavier developed towns like Punta Mita and Sayulita.

We have lived in one of the smaller towns in Nayarit for two years now, but there’s STILL so much to do and see in Riviera Nayarit as a whole that we haven’t gotten to check off our bucket list.

If it’s your first time visiting this side of Mexico then read my guide for what to do in Riviera Nayarit and maximize your vacation time in this beautiful state!

Here are the absolute best things to do on a trip to Mexico’s lovely Riviera Nayarit!

1. Release baby turtles
2. Surf, surf, surf!
3. Road trip the entire coast
4. Lounge on Vallarta’s beaches
5. Golf in Punta Mita
6. Snorkel or scuba dive at Los Arcos
7. Participate in a cacao ceremony
8. Cruise to Yelapa
9. Catch a live play or circus show
10. Boat to Coral Island in Guayabitos
11. Fish with the locals
12. Learn salsa dancing
13. Do a yummy food tour
14. Lend a helping hand at Entreamigos
15. Tequila, mezcal, and wine tasting
16. Whale watch in the Bandera’s Bay
17. Experience a Temazcal ceremony
18. Shop at artisanal & farmer’s markets
19. ATV across the Jorullo Bridge
20. Visit the indigenous Huichol Center
21. Marieta Islands
22. Horseback riding in Lo de Marcos
23. Zipline in the jungle
24. Cirque du Soleil dinner show
25. Hike up to Monkey Mountain
26. Take a macrame workshop
27. Celebrate Day of the Dead
28. Go on an eco-luxurious yoga retreat
29. Attend a festival
30. Watch the sunset over the Pacific
31. Sail around the Bandera’s Bay
32. Grab a craft beer at La Cerveceria
33. Listen to live music
34. Tour Nayarit’s petroglyphs
35. Get a healing massage
36. Discover Nayarit’s diverse birdlife
37. Go glamping
38. Visit the Marina at La Cruz
39. Deep-sea fishing
40. Visit jungly botanical gardens
41. Spend the day at a beach club
42. Paddleboarding
43. Get PADI certified
44. Visit “Bachelor in Paradise” beach
45. Hike on a volcano near Chacala
46. Shop at boho-chic boutiques
47. Explore Nayarit’s state capital
48. Stroll the colonial town of San Blas
49. Visit a crocodile sanctuary
50. Camp by a legendary lake

The Ultimate Riviera Nayarit Mexico Bucket List!

1. Release baby sea turtles

Have you seen Nayarit’s logo? There’s a sea turtle on it. If there’s anywhere you can volunteer to help rescue and release baby turtles, its the Riviera Nayarit. In fact, over one million turtles are released on the beaches of Nayarit ever year during the turtle season. The turtles that were hatched here return to nest on the same shores and the cycle of life repeats.

Plan your trip to Riviera Nayarit in November-December to visit the turtle sanctuaries. (If you come before, you’ll likely get to see the turtles but it will be extremely hot as it’s the wet season until October).

Here are great places you can go within Nayarit to volunteer for the turtles:

2. Surf, surf, surf!

Surfing is one of the best things to do in Riviera Nayarit because of the incredible surfing opportunities on many beaches up and down the coastline. Beginners and novices often take surf lessons in Sayulita where the waves are gentle and slow-rolling. La Lancha is a popular surfing beach outside of Punta Mita, Nayarit that’s great for all levels. Pro surfers tend to surf the bigger waves at sunset in San Pancho.

3. Road trip the entire Riviera Nayarit coast

The Riviera Nayarit features nearly 200 miles of pristine coastline. Most of it is untouched and natural, apart from the tourist hotspots surrounding some of the small towns. The region of Nayarit starts just outside of Puerto Vallarta, which is actually in the neighboring state of Jalisco. The Riviera Nayarit begins once you cross the river Ameca near Nuevo Vallarta and stretches all the way to San Blas. In between, there are dozens of fishing villages and magic towns just waiting to be discovered.

I’d recommend taking at least 10-14 days to road trip the coast, so it would look like this: Fly into Puerto Vallarta > Rent a car and head north into Nayarit > Visit Bucerias, La Cruz, Punta Mita, Sayulita, San Pancho, Lo de Marcos, Chacala, Tepic, and San Blas, among other places!

Here is a quick overview of the highlights of each place in Nayarit:

  • Nuevo Vallarta – upscale hotels/resorts, sandy beaches, marina
  • Bucerias – small resort town, local markets, close to PV
  • La Cruz – marina, yacht club, beaches, fishing
  • Punta Mita – 5-star hotels, world-class golf courses, surfing
  • Sayulita – surfing, hippy vibes, beaches, nightlife, “Magic Town”
  • San Pancho – community center, sunset, horses, art, circus, restaurants
  • Lo de Marcos – long beach, authentic Mexican town, plaza, retirees, low-key
  • Chacala – beachy cove, panga boats, fishing, local, seafood
  • San Blas – colonial town, birdwatching, mini islands, Matachen Bay
  • Tepic – Nayarit’s state capital, museums, city, parks, tours, (not right on the coast)

4. Lounge on Vallarta’s beaches

The only fast and easy way to get to the Riviera Nayarit is by landing in Puerto Vallarta and renting a car. But that doesn’t mean you should skip Puerto Vallarta entirely. Puerto Vallarta is an awesome resort town that has a ton of activities to do. So even if it isn’t technically in Nayarit, most people visiting the Riviera will spend quality time discovering Vallarta.

Apart from the historic Old Town and Zona Romantica, Vallarta has incredible beaches to explore. There’s Playa Los Muertos, Conchas Chinas, Olas Altas, and many more!

5. Golf on 5-star golf courses in Punta Mita

Riviera Nayarit has won five Travvy Awards for 2020 for being the best destinations in Mexico for honeymoons, weddings, culinary, and luxury travel. So what does that have to do with Punta Mita? Well, Punta de Mita features some of the world’s most exclusive resorts and six golf courses, two of which are designed by Jack Nicklaus (aka – the man considered to be the best golfers in history).

Punta Mita is definitely a luxurious destination and thus attracts a crowd of luxury travelers. If you love to golf, there’s no better place to swing a hole-in-one than in Punta Mita.

6. Snorkel or scuba dive at Los Arcos Marine Park

Los Arcos National Marine Park is one of the top spots in the Bandera’s Bay to go snorkeling and scuba diving. Los Arcos consists of five little islets with diverse marine and birdlife such as eels, rays, turtles, Blue-footed boobies, seahawks, pelicans, and more. Both snorkeling and diving here are great because there’s a shallow coral reef with tropical fish and a deep canyon that can be explored from 10-90 feet.

7. Participate in a traditional cacao ceremony

Cacao (cocoa) has been used throughout Mexico and Mesoamerica, not just for making chocolate, but for ritual ceremonies meant to offer therapeutic and medicinal healing. Throughout history, cacao has been an integral part of indigenous culture. There are a couple of opportunities in the Riviera Nayarit where you can learn about cacao and participate in artisanal workshops or even guided ceremonies.

  • Mexicolate – makes 100% pure cacao sweets and artisanal goods. Shops in San Pancho, Sayulita, and Lo de Marcos. The owner, Toto, has organized ceremonies before for the employees. You could inquire about upcoming events.
  • Planeta Cacao – artisanal chocolate workshops
  • KaKawSana – cacao ceremonies in Lo de Marcos with practitioners Paola and Gustavo

8. Cruise to Yelapa in Bandera’s Bay

Yelapa is a quaint fishing village tucked on the edge of the Bandera’s Bay with no vehicles or government-owned land. Instead, it is fully owned and managed by the locals. The village whisks up images of unspoiled paradise, as it’s nestled in a private cove at the foothills of lush palm tree hills. It is worth taking at least a day trip or spending the night here.

There’s a recently erected history museum of Yelapa to learn about the locals and the village, two waterfalls to hike to, and the Yelapa beach where you can sprawl out with a margarita in hand.

boats floating in the yelapa bay

9. Catch a live play or circus show

Art, circus, theater… All of this and more can be found in the charming pueblo of San Pancho. There is a large group of artists and creatives here and the Bodega de Teatro offers seasonal live plays featuring short plays, circus performances, dramas, and more.

The building sits right next to the Circo de Los Ninos, which is a locally-run school of circus art created by the co-founder of the world-famous Cirque du Soleil. Visiting this town and enjoying all of the events and festivals is by far one of the best things to do in Riviera Nayarit!

10. Boat to Coral Island in Guayabitos

Rincon de Guayabitos is a tourist hotspot, especially among Mexican nationals. The town is fairly developed with beachfront hotels and condos and a long, wide beach that can get crowded during peak season. Nonetheless, the Coral Island just off Guayabito’s shore offers fun day trips and snorkeling adventures on a reef.

The island attracts lots of tourists, so plan your trip wisely! P.S. Before going, check for any signs of “red tide” when the water becomes murky with reddish-brown algae blooms.

11. Fish with the locals

The Riviera Nayarit is home to dozens of fishing villages, so obviously fishing is a fun and culturally-immersive thing to do in Nayarit! You can practically walk up to the local fisherman on the beaches of Sayulita, La Cruz, or San Pancho and just ask the locals for a fishing tour. Most will take you out on their local boats. Otherwise, you can book through official tour operators that will act as the middleman and organize your trip for you.

12. Learn salsa dancing

Have you ever been salsa dancing? It is a lot of fun to try for first-timers. Many times, the local bars offering live music will have a “salsa night” like at El Gallo in San Pancho on Fridays, or in Sayulita every Monday at Don Pedro’s. If you’re not sure what to do in Riviera Nayarit, why not try to learn a new Latin dance?

13. Go on a yummy Mexican street food tour

You can’t possibly visit the Riviera Nayarit and not go on a local food tour! Nayarit has such amazing food – from fresh seafood, international fare, authentic Mexican, and indigenous creations. The most popular tours are food tours in Puerto Vallarta simply for the diversity of food options available there, but you can easily go on a “DIY food tour” in the small towns and observe where the locals are eating and at which street stalls (that’s usually a good indicator for good food!).

14. Lend a helping hand at Entreamigos Community Center

Do you care about the environment? Sustainability? Community? Education? Then you’ll love touring and/or volunteering at the incredible Entreamgios Community Center in San Pancho. I volunteered here on and off while living in this pueblo and the community service, activism, and energy here are simply amazing. Please consider supporting Entreamigos when you visit Riviera Nayarit.

the entrace at entreamigos community center in san pancho mexico

15. Tequila, mezcal, and Mexican wine tasting

Mexico is famous for tequila, but have you heard of mezcal? Mezcal is referred to as tequila’s “smoky cousin”. The two are both made from agave – just different types. Blue agave is usually what tequila is made from, while mezcal can be made from 30+ agave plants. Mezcal also has that smoky effect because it is roasted in underground pits.

There are tons of ways to try Mexico’s famous distilled spirits, but the best place in Riviera Nayarit is at Sayulita Wine Shop. You can schedule or walk-in to try some of the best tequila, mezcal, raicilla, and Mexican wine there is. I know the owners personally and they do an awesome job at sharing and introducing these spirits with travelers.

16. Whale watch in the Bandera’s Bay

Every year, humpback whales migrate south to mate in the warm waters of the Bandera’s Bay. Peak whale watching season in and around Vallarta is December-January, but you can often spot whales through March.

There are plenty of whale watching tours in Nayarit to choose from, but please go with operators who work hard to conserve and protect the environment and the whales.

17. Experience a Temazcal ceremony (Mesoamerican sweat lodge)

Have you ever heard of a temazcal ceremony? I hadn’t, not until I moved to Mexico! I tried my first temazcal at the end of our first year in Mexico (you can read about our temazcal ceremony here).

In sum, temazcals are an intense meditation. Many people call it a rebirthing as, symbolically, the temazcal you enter represents crawling back into the womb of mother earth. Inside, everyone sits around a hole in the ground in which hot volcanic rocks are placed. Water is poured onto the rocks to create a steam bath. There are four “doors” (sessions) of the temazcal and it can last for 1-2 hours.

The experience is truly immersive and I’d recommend it for anyone looking to experience this widely practiced cultural ritual in Mexico. It can be healing for both body and mind.

Temazcal Ceremony Mexico: Ultimate guide to experiencing a temazcal ceremony with locals in Mexico. #mexico #temazcal #ritual #travel #bucketlist | bucketlist bri

18. Shop at artisanal & farmer’s markets

Nayarit has many outdoor markets (often called tianguis) to shop for organic produce, handmade Mexican crafts, artwork, clothes, and more. Most of the markets also feature live music, food stalls, fresh seafood, or local artisanal products.

When you travel in Nayarit, try to experience some of these markets in the following towns:

19. ATV ride across the Jorullo Swinging Bridge

The Jorullo Bridge just outside Puerto Vallarta in the Sierra Madre mountains offers a fun day trip on the back of an ATV or RZR. The bridge is the longest vehicle suspension bridge in the world, making it a an exciting trip for adventure-lovers!

The area also has zip lines, hiking trails, horseback riding trails, and waterfalls you can enjoy. If you’re afraid of heights and want to skip the bridge part, but still want to ATV around in the mountains you can take this tour here.

If you’re between Punta Mita and Sayulita, there’s an awesome local ATV tour at a family-owned rancho called Mi Chapparita worth checking out.

20. Visit the indigenous Huichol Center for Cultural Survival

The Wixarika (most widely known as the Huichol Indians) is one of the most ancient indigenous cultures in the world and they originate from the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains of the states of Nayarit, Jalisco, Zacatecas, Durango, and San Luis de Potosi.

The below video is a TEDx talk by Cilau Valadez, a Wixaritari who, through art and education, shares about the traditions and culture of the Wixarika.

“Cilau Valadez is the son of renowned Huichol artist Mariano Valadez and anthropologist Susana Eger Valadez. He grew up in Santiago Ixcuintla, Nayarit Mexico. Cilau’s parents were the founders of The Huichol Center, non-profit organization that has provided medical aid, food, shelter and artist training to hundreds of Huichol migrants who worked in inhumane conditions throughout the nearby tobacco fields.” -TEDx

We actually got to see Cilau and his father Mariano speak one night in San Pancho for an indigenous dinner event. It was amazing to hear how the Wixarika people live in such a way that’s in harmony with the universe, nature, animals, and all earth’s beings.

If you get the chance, please consider visiting and supporting the Huichol Center in Sayulita. All of the crafts and jewelry are handmade by the indigenous locals of the area and funds directly support their livelihoods and cultural survival.

21. Snorkel Marieta Islands

Touring the Marieta Islands is by far the most popular thing to do in Riviera Nayarit. The islands form a small archipelago in the Bandera’s Bay off the shores of Punta Mita ideal for swimming, snorkeling, and diving.

No doubt, you’ve already seen the stunning photos of the hidden beach with an open-sky – that’s Playa del Amor. It can only be accessed by swimming or paddling once you reach the islands.

The archipelago is protected federal land, and as such, they only allow 100 visitors per day so you must book in advance if you want to see the islands during your Riviera Nayarit trip.

22. Horseback riding in Lo de Marcos

If you’ve ever dreamed of trotting horseback on a beach at sunset, then there’s no better place to do it than in Nayarit! There are many opportunities to horseback ride, but the best I think would be in Lo de Marcos. Lo de Marcos has a long sandy beach surrounded with rolling hills ideal for a horseback trip! Mi Chapparita that I mentioned just before also offers horseback riding, too, nearby Sayulita.

23. Zipline in the jungle

Nayarit has such awesome outdoor activities because of its prime location between land and sea. There are just as many land things to do in Nayarit as there are water-based activities. Ziplining is a super fun thing to do in Riviera Nayarit because of the surrounding jungle and mountains. There are tons of zip-lining tours to choose from but you’ll have the best experience with either the Canopy River Tour or the Vallarta Adventures Tour.

24. Cirque du Soleil candlelit dinner show

The Rhythms of the Night Dinner Show is Vallarta’s number one dinner show – and for good reason!

The tour consists of a cruise at sunset to a private beach at Playa Las Caletas, where circus performers recount the history of the Aztecs through light and circus art in an amphitheater while you enjoy a candlelit dinner under the starry sky.

Credit: GetYourGuide

The show was created and written by Cirque du Soleil co-founder Gille St-Croix, who also co-created the Circo de Los Ninos circus school in San Pancho where I took aerial silk classes.

I’ve heard only amazing things about the show and wholeheartedly recommend it as one of the best things to do in Nayarit (even if the show takes place in Puerto Vallarta!).

25. Hike up to Monkey Mountain for 360° views

For those who love hiking, a fun outdoorsy thing to do in Nayarit is to climb Monkey Mountain and soak in the panoramic views of the Riviera Nayarit coastline. The trek begins at Higuera Blanca, located in between Sayulita and Punta de Mita. You’ll actually pass the Mi Chapparita Rancho on your way up to Monkey Mountain. Swing a left at the fork in the road and continue up the trail. The hike will take roughly 2-3 hours up and down.

Tips and what to bring for hiking Monkey Mountain:

  • The trail at Monkey Mountain is steep and rocky, so be sure not to go in your beach sandals!
  • Bring lots of water
  • Wear sunscreen, take insect repellent
  • Take your camera for photos at the top
  • Follow the LNT (Leave No Trace) principles
  • Don’t meander off the trails
  • Hat/sunglasses

26. Take a macrame workshop

As you stroll through the shops in Nayarit, chances are you’re going to see lots of macrame crafts and artwork. From hammocks to plant and wall hangers, macrame is a popular art and skill among the locals. My friend Eva hosts her very own macrame workshop in Sayulita on Airbnb. (Get $15 off your first Airbnb experience with my link!)

I have taken Eva’s macrame shop and learned how to do the basic macrame knots. I already created my first macrame planter from the very first class! If you enjoy making art, this is a fun thing to do while traveling the Riviera Nayarit.

27. Celebrate Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead (Dia de Los Muertos) is one of Mexico’s most famous celebrations and traditions. If you’re in the Riviera Nayarit November 1-2nd, do head to one of the larger towns to celebrate Day of the Dead with the local community.

Celebrations take place ALL over Mexico. We first experienced Day of the Dead in Sayulita and to this day it’s one of my most favorite cultural experiences of all time!

28. Go on an eco-luxurious yoga retreat

The Riviera Nayarit is home to many health-conscious artists, yogis, healers, and more. The state is known for offering services for your well-being: spas, yoga retreats, natural therapies, pilates, and more.

You will be able to find such services in nearly all of the Riviera Nayarit’s smaller towns – Sayulita, San Pancho, Lo de Marcos. But if you want to go on a full, week-long retreat in an eco-luxurious jungly escape, check out the Haramara Retreat.

29. Attend one of Nayarit’s many festivals

If you’re not sure what to do in Riviera Nayarit during your stay, all you need to do is check the calendar for upcoming events and festivals! Nayarit has dozens of festivities happening all the time, especially between January-April during high season.

Whether it’s an international music festival, environmental fair, circus show, or Catholic holiday, the Riviera Nayarit is exploding with opportunities to immerse yourself into the fun.

If you’re not sure where to look, I’ve listed just a handful of events that happen in the pueblo of San Pancho (San Francisco) which is the cultural capital of Nayarit.

30. Watch the sunset over the Pacific Ocean

Watching the sunset is obviously the best “free” thing to do in Riviera Nayarit and let me just say that, boy, does Nayarit deliver on its sunsets!

The beach of San Pancho is famous for its sunsets, but no matter where you are in Nayarit you can catch it. It’s not every day that you can see the sunset over the Pacific Ocean from the shores of Mexico, so be sure to take advantage of this during your time here!

ocean wave crashing with sunset light

31. Sail around the Bandera’s Bay

In fact, why not catch the sunset while sailing around the Bandera’s Bay? Sailing is a popular thing to do in Riviera Nayarit and finding an opportunity to take to the seas is easy.

There are countless of marinas, boat tours, cruises, and yacht clubs scattered around Nayarit. Check out Nuevo Vallarta Marina and the impressive La Cruz de Huanacaxtle Marina.

32. Grab a craft beer at La Cerveceria Brewery

If you love community, fries, and beer, then take a trip to arguably the best artisanal brewery in the entire Riviera Nayarit – the Cerveceria Artesanal in San Pancho. Wally, the owner, is an all-around guy from Portland who knows how to bring beer and community together to create an evening of fun and cozy ambiance.

33. Listen to local live music in tropical bars

Nayarit is filled to the brim with bars and restaurants featuring local live music. There are many to find in virtually every town. You’ll definitely find your fair share of indoor and outdoor tropical bars and restaurants catering to their guests with local live music. All it takes to wander around the restaurants and bars and follow the music! They’re all over Sayulita and San Pancho, especially during the high season.

One of the “go-to” places for live music in San Pancho is La Buena Vida, a cozy Spanish cocktail bar. They’ve since moved their location beachside. Our next favorite place for live music and margaritas is the Atico swing bar down on one of Sayulita’s most popular streets.

34. Tour Nayarit’s petroglyphs

They may not be Mayan ruins, but the Riviera Nayarit has its own ruins – the Altavista Petroglyphs.

Seeing these engraved stones up close is one of the best cultural things to do in Riviera Nayarit! The hike takes you along the river and opens up to crystal clear rock pools that you can swim in.

You can go on your own to see the petroglyphs, but the best way to learn about the history and natural area is with Mexitreks who provide excellent eco-adventure tours. You can also book with Nayarit Uncovered Tours, created and led by Nayarit local and TV star Jorge “The Bartender” off Bachelor in Paradise. Cool, I know!

35. Get a healing massage

Other than lounging on the golden beaches, getting a massage is the second most relaxing thing to do in Riviera Nayarit. You can either book directly through your hotel or go to an independent business.

You might also be tempted to get a message directly on the beach inside a beachfront, airy palapa. The local masseuses’ will try to entice you in, but usually, the prices are extremely elevated.

I think a good deal for a massage in Nayarit will be around $1200 pesos for 1.5 hours. That’s the package I had during my stay at the Pal.Mar Hotel Tropical and the experience was one of the best I’ve had.

36. Birdwatching

The Riviera Nayarit coastline is home to over 140 species of birds including 21 endemics (check out this pdf to Nayarit’s birds). Meaning, birdwatching is one of the top things to do in the Riviera Nayarit!

You have quite a few options to birdwatch in Nayarit. If you’re on the north end of the Riviera Nayarit, San Blas is one of the top destinations in Pacific Mexico to birdwatch thanks to the diversity of the species and surrounding habitats like the rainforest, beaches, estuaries, marshes, mountains, islands, and more.

If you’re sticking around the southern side of the Riviera, near Sayulita, check out Birding San Pancho. The guide, Luis, is a San Pancho resident who takes you on early in the morning to bird watch at the estuary in San Pancho.

37. Glamping

From jungle lodges, retreats, tree houses, and eco cabanas, there are many forms of glamping that you can do in Riviera Nayarit, depending on your budget. For camping in your RV, there are RV parks at Lo de Marcos. For staying in style, there are tons of luxurious boutique hotels in the jungle around Sayulita. My favorite place to go glamping is tucked away between the jungle and the beach on the outskirts of downtown San Pancho at Aldea Bamboo (Bamboo Village).

38. Sip a margarita at the Marina in La Cruz

The Palapa Restaurante on the beach of Playa la Manzanilla in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle is a great place to grab fresh chips and guac, ceviche tostadas, and an oversized margarita. You can’t go wrong with a combination like that!

39. Deep-sea fishing

Talking about fresh seafood, La Cruz is also THE place to go fishing with the locals. Deep-sea fishing is practically a sport here. Every morning you’ll see many fishing boats and pangas floating around off the shores of La Cruz, eager to bring in the day’s load of fresh fish.

Fishing is a real attraction to Nayarit and one of the best things to do in the Riviera. Fish for marlin (the “bacon of the sea”), yellowfin tuna, sailfish, dorado fish, and more!

40. Visit jungly botanical gardens

A favorite activity among nature and plant lovers, visiting the botanical gardens in and around Nayarit is a fun and educational thing to do while here. The most impressive botanical garden to visit is perhaps the Vallarta Botanical Garden which houses 64 acres of tropical paradise. If you’re already north into Nayarit, though, check out Lo de Perla Jungle Garden in San Pancho and stroll among thousands of orchids, bromeliads, and more exotic native plants.

41. Spend the day at a beach club

Beach clubs are not my go-to thing to do, but I can understand why people enjoy them! Most have free-flowing drinks from the tropical bar, oceanfront lounge chairs, and nearby pools. It’s relaxing and sometimes that’s just what a vacation calls for. Here are a few beach clubs in Nayarit where you can buy a day pass (for probably $20-30 USD or more) and enjoy the facilities:

  • La Patrona Beach Club (San Pancho)
  • Cocos Beach Club (Sayulita)
  • Eva Mandarina Beach Club (La Cruz)
  • Kupuri Beach Club (Punta de Mita)
patrona beach club riviera nayarit

La Patrona Beach Club

42. Paddleboarding & kayaking

Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) excursions are becoming a popular thing to do in Riviera Nayarit thanks to its pristine, jungly coastline, ideal water temperature, and beaches with gentle surf breaks.  Sayulita was even the host of the 4th ISA World SUP Championship in 2015 – the first time the championship took place in Mexico and it all happened in the Riviera Nayarit!

Moreover, Punta de Mita boasts Performance SUP, a paddleboard retreat offering lessons and rentals. It’s not uncommon to spot kayakers along the Riviera Nayarit coast either, especially in the estuary in the beautiful Playa Las Tortugas south of San Blas.

You can rent paddleboards or kayaks in most of the small towns, including Sayulita, Punta de Mita, and Bucerias, among others from local to big surf stores like WildMex.

43. Get PADI certified

Scuba diving is one of the top things to do in Riviera Nayarit because of the incredible diversity in marine life in the Bandera’s Bay and the Pacific Ocean. You can take any type of scuba diving course here – from discovery dives to refresher lessons to full-on PADI or SSI certification.

There are many places to get your open water PADI certification, but I’d recommend going with either Vallarta Adventures, Oceano Adventures, or Silent World Divers. The cost to get your PADI in Nayarit is around $350-500 USD.

44. Visit the Bachelor in Paradise beach!

Yes, the Bachelor in Paradise is filmed here in the Riviera Nayarit, about 10 minutes outside of Sayulita at a private beach called Playa Escondida. And yes, you can actually stay in the hotel ($200-400 per night) or buy a day pass ($100 USD) and enjoy the pool, bar, and secluded beach!

playa escondidaCredit: Playa Escondida

45. Hike on a volcano near Chacala

Chacala is a sleepy fishing village on the northern side of the Riviera Nayarit. It’s one of the most off-the-beaten-path places to visit in Nayarit with a gorgeous, calm bay and traditional Mexican villas. Tourists who visit during the holidays, namely for Christmas or Easter, hike from the beach up to the volcano crater with locals in the morning from Mon-Sat.

You can also hike to El Capomo waterfall, Las Cuevas private beach, and hike to petroglyphs while in Chacala. We never got the chance to go, but we hope to visit one day!

46. Shop Mexican crafts & boho-chic boutiques

I’m not much of a shopper myself, but the Riviera Nayarit makes me want to take all of it home! You can shop for indigenous Huichol craftwork, Mexican clothing, artisanal items, local art and so much more that it makes shopping here a must-do activity.

There are also boho-chic boutiques in the resort towns like Sayulita, Punta de Mita, and San Pancho for bohemian-style beachwear mixed with indigenous handiwork and artisanal crafts.

Shopping for Mexican treasures is one of my favorite things to do in Riviera Nayarit even though I’m not someone who spends a lot on shopping!

47. Explore Nayarit’s state capital of Tepic

Tepic is Nayarit’s bustling state capital. We once spent a weekend in Tepic to discover the city, shop, and explore the surrounding area. I’m so glad we did, too, because the atmosphere was strikingly different from the culture of the Riviera Nayarit where beaches and surf reigns. Tepic felt more immersive in the Mexican way of life in the city. It’s also home to the Museo Regional de Nayarit where you can learn more about Nayarit and its indigenous populations such as the Huicholes.

We had heard Tepic was dangerous, but we found nothing but friendly locals and shops and food stands abuzz with activity. We went on a city tour at night via a rooftop bus and discovered the historic sites around the city including the cathedral and cemetery. All in all, it was worth the drive and we had a weekend full of adventure!

nayarit huichol craftwork

48. Stroll the colonial town and ruins in San Blas

San Blas is a historic port town that’s definitely worthy of a visit on a Riviera Nayarit road trip. Escape to the seaside, birdwatch, explore mangroves by boat, and stroll around the historic downtown to visit all the 18th-century ruins from the Spanish expeditions.

49. Take a swamp tour and visit a crocodile sanctuary

Crocodiles and swamps — it might not sound like you’re in the Riviera Nayarit, but you are! The Riviera Nayarit is extremely diverse, which is exactly why you can have crocodile sanctuaries, estuaries filled with native bird species, and beaches where you can spot whales, dolphins, and sea turtles.

If you’re traveling with kids in Riviera Nayarit, or just want to see the crocs, then visit the El Cora Crocodile Sanctuary in Nuevo Vallarta. The cost isn’t much so it’s a budget-friendly thing to do in Riviera Nayarit. You can also take a 1-hour swamp tour and get more up close with nature!

50. Camp by a legendary lake inside a crater – Santa Maria del Oro

Last but not least, if it’s more adventure you want then head outside of Tepic, Nayarit to a legendary lake inside a volcano crater – Santa Maria del Oro. There are lots to do here, including camping, hiking to an old gold mine, fishing, kayaking, swimming, and birdwatching.

Even though it’s not exactly along the Riviera Nayarit you can reach it with a short car ride inland from San Blas (1hr 20m). The area is gorgeous and wild, with restaurants on-site, rentals, and plenty of things to do and see.

santa maria del oro lake

Enjoy These Epic Things to Do in Riviera Nayarit!!

Above all, the Riviera Nayarit is endearing and inviting. There are TONS of things to do here. It very much rivals the Riviera Maya for many reasons – apart from the Mayan ruins and the cenotes which are a huge attraction to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

Besides Yucatan and Quintana Roo, the Riviera Nayarit is going to be the next “hottest” destination in all of Mexico. However, both the locals and the expats who live there full-time have tirelessly worked to preserve many of its local fishing villages that speckle the coast. Hopefully, these efforts will bring a new wave of eco and responsible tourism to the area.

With that said, please support local vendors, small hotels, shops, and businesses that practice sustainability in Riviera Nayarit. The type of tourism that comes here will determine Riviera Nayarit’s future. It’s up to us to encourage and influence greener, eco-conscious travel.

Finally, if you’re still reading this, wow! Thank you! I’m sending you a big hug for making ti all the way down here! I hope this ultimate Riviera Nayarit bucket list helps plan your stay to this gorgeous state in Mexico.

So tell me, is visiting the Riviera Nayarit in Mexico on your bucket list?!

 

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