In this Nayarit travel guide, I have put together as much information as possible to help you plan your travels in Nayarit.
Although most of the tourists that visit Nayarit each year tend to stick to visiting the Riviera Nayarit, I’ve also included some great places in the middle and north of the state you should really consider checking out too.
After living in the Riviera Maya for 3 years I decided it was time for a change, which is how I found myself living in Riviera Nayarit and writing this Nayarit Travel guide. In all honesty, I really didn’t think the move through too much. COVID was still a thing and so international travel wasn’t on the cards, and I felt like I’d done all I could do in the Riviera Maya. A friend mentioned having a spare room so I booked a one-way flight.
I can honestly say that it’s one of the best rash decisions I ever made. Nayarit is incredible and so underdeveloped, in the best way possible. It is a state that really does have it all, but for some reason, most people don’t even know that it exists.
In this Nayarit travel guide, I have touched on a lot of subjects, but I haven’t gone into a lot of detail. Where relevant though I have linked to an in-depth blog post that I have written to give you more detailed information.
What better way to see the best of the Riviera Nayarit than be renting a car and doing a roadtrip? There are many cute towns, beautiful sandy beaches, and plenty of cool things to see and do on the way. Plus the roads are generally pretty good and renting a car isn’t that expensive. Many of the other things to do in Nayarit can be done on the road trip starting in Nuevo Vallarta.
Situated just an hour and a half for Sayulita, a visit to the hot springs is a must if you have rented a car. It is possible to get there by booking a driver for the day too if you don’t want to drive. They do also have a camping area if you wanted to spend the night.
About an hour north of Sayulita you will find the Alta Vista Petroglyphs. A petroglyph is a stone calving and there are 56 of them in total here. It’s unknown how old they are and as well as being a site of cultural and archaeological importance, it’s also an important ceremonial site for the Huicholes who still use it regularly. You can book a private tour with a local guide here.
You don’t have to be a pro biker to do this bike trail, not even close! This newly finished bike path spans from the Nuevo Vallarta hotel zone right the way to Bucerias. It’s an easy ride as it’s completely flat, for most of it you are off-road on the path, and it’s mostly shaded. You can rent a bike from Bahia Bikes.
You can’t visit Nayarit without taking at least one surf lesson. Although most people head directly to Sayulita as it’s the best-known surf spot in Nayarit, there many other great places to surf in Nayarit like La Lancha, Punta de Mita, and San Pancho. Take a read of my surf guide here to learn more. You Can also book surf classes here and book board rental here.
You probably won’t read about this very special Temazcal ceremony anywhere else, because it’s brand new! The Aztec Shaman only arrived in Sayulita in early 2021, and I was one of the first people to be invited to experience it. You have 2 options, you can choose to take part in the full ceremony, or you can just do the Temazcal ceremony in the evening. It’s an amazing experience, and I highly recommend doing the full ceremony if you have the time, click here to book. You can learn more about Temazcal’s in Mexico and read my full review of the experience here.
Islas Marietas is a collection of islands just off the coast of Punta De Mita. You can book an Islas Marietas tour from pretty much anywhere in southern Nayarit. Or make your own way to Punta de Mita and spend a night or so there. If the Islas Marietas tour you are booking costs under $100 USD then they are NOT going to be taking you to the secret beach, which FYI is the main attraction. If the tour is less than $100 then they are just going to be taking you on a boat trip around the islands. If you want to visit the secret beach then you need to be very clear about it with the tour guide. The tour does include a short swim to get to the island, and you will be provided with a life jacket and helmet to wear for your safety. Click here to read my full write-up of the Islas Marietas tour.
Whale Watching in Bahia de Banderas runs from December through to late March. If you pack some binoculars you can also see them from the shore which is super cool. But if you want to get up close and personal to the humpback whales then you will need to book a whale watching tour. There are so many you can choose from so it really depends on where you are starting the tour from, what other activities you want to do, and the level of comfort you want.
This is a summertime activity. I went in the winter once and not only was it freezing cold, but the visibility was also awful! So I really wouldn’t advise it. Instead plan to go scuba diving in Nayarit from mid-April until October are the best months to go scuba diving in Nuevo Vallarta. You can read my in-depth guide to scuba diving in Puerto Vallarta and Nayarit here.
Have you even been to Sayulita if you didn’t do at least one ceremony? Haha. But seriously it’s a cool experience to have, especially if you are new to the world of ceremonies. Cacao acts as a stimulant to aid meditation by increasing your heart rate and ‘opening your heart chakra’. From here you can continue to progress on to Kambo and Ayahuasca…
I did the most wonderful cultural tour in Bucerias recently with Human Connections, and I really can’t recommend it enough. During the tour we went to visit the homes of 3 Nayarit locals: Francisco a ceramist, Rolando a weaver, and Nallely a restaurant owner and amazing chef. It was not only a fun way to spend half a day, but it was also very informative. I learned so much about each of their crafts and was truly inspired by their talents. Trust me, you don’t want to miss doing one of these tours! Click here to book.
You will see a running theme in the traditional foods in Nayarit, they almost all seafood! Some are a fishy twist on traditional Mexican foods, others have a deep prehispanic history and originate from here. Not all of them are so common to find, so if you happen to see one listed on a menu be sure to order it.
Zarandeado is actually the name given to the technique used to prepare the fish. It is believed to come from Mexcaltitlan towards the north of the state. Mexcaltitlan, was the original home of the Aztecs before they moved to Tenochtitlan.
To prepare the fish it is first butterflied then covered with lime and sea salt. The fish is then cooked complete with bones and scales in a metal grill over wood.
The best place to sample Zarandeado is at Bahia restaurant at The Four Seasons in Punta de Mita.
I’m sorry, but I really can’t write a post about Mexican food and not include tacos. These are some very special tacos though. Rib-eye steak tacos which can be found on the streets of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle every Wednesday – Sunday.
If you sit on Sayulita beach for 20 minutes you will see plenty of vendors walking by selling this Nayarit favorite.
Traditional pozole is a meat soup or stew with shredded lettuce or cabbage, chile, onion, garlic, radish, avocado, and lemon. Now while this isn’t strictly speaking a traditional Nayaritan dish, replacing the meat with shrimp makes it so.
Honestly, compared to other popular tourist states like Quintana Roo, Nayarit isn’t expensive. Of course, Sayulita and Nuevo Vallarta can be a little pricey. But in general, things aren’t expensive here.
The most important things to pack for Nayarit areprotective swimwear, i.e. rash guards! Especially if you plan on going whale watching, diving, surfing, or doing any other water activities.
There are a lot of great hikes around so I’d also advise picking some good travel/ hiking shoes like these from Tropicfeel.
Other than that, everything I recommend to pack for Mexico you will find on this epic Mexico packing list here.
I have written a lot of in-depth accommodation guides for individual places in Nayarit which I have linked to below.
If you just want some recommendations here are my top pics for the most popular destinations in Nayarit.
Most people arrive in Nayarit via the airport in Puerto Vallarta. It’s just 15 minutes in the car from the airport to the hotel zone in Puerto Vallarta.
By far the best way to get around Nayarit is by car. Renting a car is very affordable and the roads are very safe. If you don’t feel comfortable driving, or you are on a budget, then you can also easily take the bus. You will need to pick up a bit of Spanish to do this as the drivers are unlikely to speak English.
Uber works sometimes, but there aren’t so many drivers, so you will probably be able to get an Uber from the airport to Sayulita, but don’t hold your breath that you can get one for the return drive. It really is just luck!
If you want to get to and from specific places then I’ve written these detailed transport guides to help you. Click each one to learn more.
Nayarit, in my experience, is one of the safest places I have ever traveled to. I feel very safe here. I often travel back from Puerto Vallarta after a night out alone in an Uber. I wouldn’t feel concerned about walking around in sayulita at night etc.
Of course petty crime happens everywhere, so be aware of your things at all times, and don’t take any big risks with your safety.
For me the best time to visit nayarit is January to May. During this time of the year the temperatures are cooler and there is little to no rain.
From january to March you have the added bonus of getting to go Whale watching. But If you want to come scuba diving then I’d wait until April when the sea warms up.
You can surf all year around here, but the water is warmer from April until October. November- march it’s pretty cool.
Where would we be without the trusty Lonely Planet Mexico book?!? It really is the best all-around guide to Mexico. The only issue I ever have with these books is that often the information can be outdated, but if you want to really explore Mexico, not just the tourist trail version of Mexico then get this book on your Kindle. It’s oftern free if you have a kindle unlimited subscription.
It’s all about the food here in Mexico. Especially in Oaxaca, thought of as the culinary heart of Mexico. This Mexican cookbook is the first true introduction to Oaxacan cuisine by a native family, each dish articulates their story, from Oaxaca to the streets of Los Angeles and beyond.
The book showcases Mexican “soul food” serving up 140 authentic, yet accessible recipes using some of the purest pre-Hispanic and indigenous ingredients available.
As much as I don’t want to perpetuate Mexico’s reputation as a county full of cartels, drugs, and danger. It can’t really be ignored, and I know many people are interested in learning more. So I’ve included Midnight in Mexico on my list of books to read. It’s a true crime book written by a Mexican-American journalist and migration lawyer. It’s about as close to the truth as you can get. Being. journalist here in Mexico is one of the most dangerous arrears you can have. But Corchado is known for never shying away from the truth reporting on government corruption, murders, and the drug cartels of Mexico. In 2007, Corchado received a tip that he could be their next target, he had twenty-four hours to find out if the threat was true…
Are you even alive if you don’t know who Frida Kahlo is? If you are a Friday fan then this is the perfect fictional accompaniment to your Mexican vacation. Especially if you will be visiting Mexico City.
Using several of Frida’s notebooks as inspiration acclaimed Mexican novelist F. G. Haghenbeck was inspired to write this touching fictional account of her life. Through the book, you are taken on a magical ride through this imagined life of Freida
An old, but a goodie! This one is for all of you lovers of romance novels! It’s described as:
“A novel of passion, food, and magic, Like Water For Chocolate is a romantic, poignant tale, touched with moments of magic, graphic earthiness, bittersweet wit – and recipes.”
Forbidden love, family obligations, and seduction by food… what more could you ask for in a novel!
I must confess, my friend Mexico Cassie wrote this book. That doesn’t mean it’s not a bloody brilliant guide to moving to Mexico, because it is. As someone who moved to Mexico there was so much of this book that resonated with me, even though I moved here myself, without a family.
She goes in to great detail about the visa application process and some other notoriously tricky things like trying to buy a car or find a good school for your kids.
If you are considering a move to Merida, or anywhere in Mexico actually this is a great read!