Riviera Nayarit unfurls along approximately 200 miles of coastline north of Puerto Vallarta. The most southern town in the Riviera Nayarit is Nuevo Vallarta; push a bit further to Bucerias, Sayulita, and San Francisco (locally called San Pancho) to skip the pricey luxury hotels. The artsy Hotel Cielo Rojo in San Pancho is affordable and is steps from the beach.
Stay until the sun goes down; the area's combination of coastline set against the mountains creates spectacular sunsets.
For those who don't want to try surfing or the other local favorite water sport – stand-up paddleboarding – there's also plenty of space for simply lounging and soaking up the sun. Bucerias, Sayulita, and San Pancho all have excellent beaches.
Guide books describe many of the towns along the coast as “sleepy fishing villages.” Though “sleepy” isn't the most apt adjective, fishing does remain important in many of the pueblos. Get an early start and check out the Mercado del Mar in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. Watch fishermen motor into the marina, the largest on this coast, and check out their catch as they haul it up to the Mercado del Mar. Most of the local restaurants buy their catch of the day here.
Neighboring La Cruz de Huanacaxtle is Bucerias, known for its open air arts and crafts market, as well as its food stalls. It doesn't cost anything to look, but if you feel like taking home an authentic, locally made souvenir, the Huichol beadwork pieces are worth the price.
Once a “best-kept secret,” Sayulita is quickly becoming a hotspot for expats and travelers alike. Full of funky clothing and home décor boutiques such as Makaria (homemade children's and women's clothing), you can spend the better part of a day dawdling in the shops and wandering the cobbled streets of the town that is hoping to be named as one of Mexico's “pueblos magicos.”
Sayulita is also home to Galeria Tanana, one of the projects of The Huichol Foundation, an organization that is dedicated to preserving and promoting the living culture of the indigenous Huichols. Here, you can learn more about the group and purchase the intricate bead and yarn artwork they are known for.
Surfers in the know, such as Canadian expat Desiree Bilon, go to San Francisco (known locally as San Pancho) for some of the best wave action in Riviera Nayarit. Bilon, who has surfed in 13 countries, loves the waves here so much that she decided to stay. If you need gear, the Mexican Surf Mafia, a shop in Sayulita, offers rentals; they also provide lessons for total beginners.
Despite all the luxury, budget travelers have plenty of options for exploring the communities along the 200-mile Pacific coast north of Puerto Vallarta.