Paradise Rediscovered: Riviera Nayarit

by Matthew Wexler

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday March 22, 2017

Riviera Nayarit
Riviera Nayarit  

Standing with my toes buried in the sand and sipping a tamarind margarita, I have one thought: This might very well be one of the most beautiful places on earth. I am at Imanta Resorts Punta de Mita on Mexico's western coast - a far cry from my teenage swims in Lake Erie, where it was not uncommon to see a flat tire floating by or come face to face with a deceased walleye amid the bottle caps and other beach-strewn refuse.

By contrast, Imanta's pristine, natural beauty is a prime example of Riviera Nayarit's ascension to becoming one of the country's most coveted destinations over the past decade.

Encompassing 192 miles of photo-worthy topography, the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Sierra Madre Mountains to the east, Riviera Nayarit's southern border begins a stone's throw (or a 10-minute taxi ride) from Puerto Vallarta's Gustavo Díaz Ordaz International Airport.

Nayarit is one of Mexico's smallest states, and until a decade ago was mostly undiscovered. With substantial support from the federal government, "Riviera Nayarit" was born and an infrastructure created to support a broad range of global travelers.

And while PV offers plenty of nightlife, entertainment and potential debauchery (I'll get to that later), those looking for sun-drenched rest and relaxation can discover everything from five-star luxury to boutique beachfront digs.

Imanta Resorts
Imanta Resorts  

Jungle Luxury

Rumor has it that Imanta Resorts owner Juan Mario Sahagún saw Imanta's coveted coastline while on a boating trip and literally leapt into the ocean, swam his way to shore and proclaimed that he would one day build an eco resort to rival all others.

While the tale might be tall, Imanta delivers. Sahagún lived and explored the 250-acre plot before construction began, weaving his way among the floral and fauna to determine the best locations for building and preservation.

The secluded grounds include 10 one-bedroom suites and two three-bedroom villas, each with private terraces and many with private pools. Local materials are used throughout, including enormous soaking tubs carved out of stone and handmade tables carved from the indigenous Parota tree.

Of all the immersive experiences - including guided hikes, Temazcal rituals and romantic cliff-side dinners - be sure to indulge in a treatment at the Jungle Spa. The open-air spa offers a variety of treatments inspired by Aztec rituals and incorporates essentials oils and native herbs. The jungle canopy provides a jaw-dropping setting, along with distant views of Cerro del Mono Mountain and the deep blue ocean waters.

Sayulita
Sayulita  

Sand and Sun

While Imanta's private beach could easily lure you into never leaving the property (particularly with the attentive service and ever-flowing cocktails), consider renting a car or hiring a driver for the day to explore the vibrant neighboring beach towns.

For a bustling vibe filled with sexy surfers, shopping and cheap eats, Sayulita is a home run. Stop by Naty's Cocina, a streetside taco shop that draws locals and tourists alike. You'll eat like a king for a few bucks. Corn tortillas are piled high with fillings such as chicken with mole, marlin, chorizo and nopal cactus - all topped with your choice of homemade salsas, some of which will have you breathing fire. Head to the beach to cool down for the afternoon, where you can take a surfing lesson or people-watch while catching some rays.

Head further north to San Francisco (known locally as San Pancho), where you'll discover a more low-key vibe. Christened in 1524, the area was once known for the production of coconut oil, and today it's a charming cultural hub with plenty of local artwork.

Pop into Bistro Organico at the quaint Hotel Cielo Rojo for a delicious breakfast with farm fresh eggs, smoothies packed with avocado and cacao nibs and limited edition, hand-bottled tequila available for purchase on your way out the door.

You're likely to find San Pancho's beaches less crowded than Sayulita, but the bustling nightlife is in the latter, if you want to continue the festivities after sunset.

W Punta de Mita
W Punta de Mita  

Color Splash

For a contemporary interpretation of Riviera Nayarit's cultural influences, the newly opened W Punta de Mita is a hotspot for catching some rays, listening to some beats and high-octane people-watching.

"W Punta de Mita brings a playfully stylish addition to this Mexican hot spot," says Anthony Ingham, global brand leader of W Hotels Worldwide. "We are confident that with the brand's unique lifestyle programming and cutting-edge design, it will become a must-visit destination to the new generation of jet-setters."

W Punta de Mita is an overloaded feast for the eyes. Drawing from local surf culture, the property bursts with vibrant color, from the nine-foot Huichol statue that stands firmly at the resort's entrance to the 450-foot-long "Camino Huichol" walkway comprising 750,000 mosaic tiles.

The signature Wet deck includes six private cabanas, a bar and a DJ booth. At night, the adjacent Cevicheria offers live music and rustic dining, such as the daily fish, grilled whole on a massive barbecue.

Take your pick from 119 jungle or ocean villas, featuring Mexican tiled floors, private balconies or patios and vintage-inspired artwork. And be sure to schedule some down time to experience the 4,000-square-foot Away Spa. You'll find typical offerings such as Swedish and deep tissue massage, but consider going local with a sweet cactus body treatment or agave tequila facial. Melt the rest of the day away at the Relaxation Deck, where you can plunge into an array of therapy pools and mist away your cares under the Mexican sun.

Marieta Islands
Marieta Islands  

Island Time

A visit to Riviera Nayarit is not complete without a visit to Marieta Islands, a small group of islands that have been declared a national park. Formed by volcanic activity thousands of years ago, the islands are home to dozens of species of wildlife and flora. (Keep your eyes out for the adorable blue-footed booby birds, which mate for life and can often be seen prancing about.)

Punta Mita Expeditions is one of the highest-rated experiential tour operators in the area and can outfit you for scuba diving, hooka diving and snorkeling or keep you above the waterline with an expertly wild dolphin- or whale-watching tour. The real treasure is Hidden Beach (Playa Escondida). Accessible only during low tide and on certain days due to conservation efforts, the beach can be reached by a natural tunnel.

Matthew Wexler is EDGE's Senior Editor, Features & Branded Content. More of his writing can be found at www.wexlerwrites.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @wexlerwrites.