Venture Beyond the Resorts to Fully Experience the State of Nayarit

Awaken your senses in these locations across Mexico’s Pacific Coast.

The state of Nayarit, located in south-central Mexico, is nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Sierra Madre mountain range. Internationally renowned for its ultra-push resorts along the Riviera Nayarit — a long stretch of coastline with some of the best beaches in Mexico, like Sayulita and Punta Mita — the state offers visitors multitudes of experiences, from the mountains to the sea, that will awaken the senses and enrich any winter getaway.

Nayarit’s easily accessible main air hub, Tepic International Airport, is conveniently located in the middle of the state. It offers transfers to nearly anywhere in the state within 40 minutes as well as daily flight connections from Mexico City. Bay of Bandera’s airport (PVR), meanwhile, located 10 minutes south of Nayarit’s border, offers direct and/or nonstop flights from many airports in both the U.S. and Canada.

The best way to get around Nayarit is by rental car, which affords visitors the freedom and flexibility to stop at and explore myriad destinations across the state. The following are just five locations to not be missed while visiting the state:

Beaches: Create your own adventure on the virgin beaches of Nayarit. Sunbathe on the secluded sands of Chacala, Destiladeras, Litibu, Playa Tortugas or Los de Marcos. Although part of the popular Riviera Nayarit resort area, these beaches are located in its north and provide a more private escape away from the crowded strands farther south.

Magical Towns: The Magical Towns of Mexico, or Pueblos Magicos, is a government-granted designation given to towns or villages in Mexico that best exemplify aspects of culture, history, tradition, art, food, nature, and beyond. These recognized places have something unique to them that helps to tell the story of the soul of Mexico. Nayarit has nine Magical Towns, experience this unique cultural offering by visiting the towns of Ahuacatlán, Amatlán de Cañas, Ixtlán del Río, San Blas, Puerto Balleto (Islas Marías), Sayulita, Compostela, Jala, and Mexcaltitlan.

Boats: Take a boat ride to the ecological reserve of Coral Island. This protected area is home to an important variety of marine flora and fauna, including sizable populations of pelicans, seagulls, earwigs and the famed blue-footed boobies. The island is also popular with those looking to practice diving or snorkeling in crystalline waters. A visit from November to March increases the chance of seeing dolphins and  humpback whales. Travel by glass-bottomed boat to see the submerged statue of the Virgen de la Purísima Concepción (Virgin of the Immaculate Conception), considered the protector of the fishermen of this region.

The locals: Step back in time and visit a Huichol village and interact with the original natives of Nayarit. Head into the foothills of the Sierra Madre and up 3,000 feet to visit the historic city of Compostela, as well as the Puga sugar factory, before reaching a small Huichol Indian village with a population of only 130 indigenous people. The Huichol are renowned because they managed to maintain their unique culture, pre-Columbian traditions and way of life for centuries — through the fall of the Aztec Empire, the Spanish conquest and, now, the ever-encroaching modern world. While touring the village, visitors may see the Huichol practice many ceremonies that help enrich their culture.

Islands: The Islas Marías (or, Las Tres Marías) are a small archipelago located in the eastern Pacific Ocean, lying at a distance of 58 miles from the coast of Nayarit. The island chain has been mostly uninhabited, except for Maria Madre Island, which until 2019 housed a prison. In 2010, the Islas Marías was designated as a UNESCO biosphere reserve, a specially protected biodiverse region. The islands are home to a diverse array of flora and fauna, including the Tres Marías raccoon and the Tres Marías cottontail rabbit. The reserve is a prime spot for whale-shark watching and is an important breeding and feeding site for large colonies of sea birds, sharks and sea turtles.

Shopping: If you are in Nayarit on a Sunday, visit the mercados — or markets — of La Cruz and Bucerías. La Cruz’s farmers’ market is a  food-and-crafts extravaganza that fills the Mercado del Mar with hundreds of vendors, live music and crafting workshops. Just 10 minutes down the road is Bucerías, with its art galleries and home decor stores along and around Calle Lázaro Cárdenas.