Travel

Riviera Nayarit Is Mexico's Dreamiest Beach Escape

Swim with whale sharks, lounge in a bungalow, eat birria.

Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit
Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit
Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit

If you drive about an hour away from the chaos of the Puerto Vallarta Airport, down the highway through a bay surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, the Sierra Madre Mountains looming hefty in the skyline, palm trees and tropical greens waving for miles, you’ll arrive in Riviera Nayarit. The 200-mile stretch of gorgeous, soft-sanded beaches on Mexico’s southwestern coast may not sound as familiar as Cancun, Cabo, or Tulum-and that’s much of the appeal of this buzzy yet not-yet too-touristy destination.

Riviera Nayarit has lush tropical landscapes, humpback whales that (much like humans) spend their winters here, and spicy, fresh ceviche or thinly sliced tiradito, Mexico’s version of sashimi. Even in winter, the sun doesn’t set until after 7 pm, so sunbathers and paperback enthusiasts can enjoy long days unwinding at a new slew of luxury hotels in Riviera Nayarit. Meanwhile active travelers can pack their days with eco-centric excursions, hiking through tropical mangroves, learning to surf Sayulita’s famous waves, navigating the mountains on ATVs, deep sea fishing, or zip lining above the perpetually green treetops.

Remote enough that it feels like an escape for international and Mexican travelers alike, Riviera Nayarit is still full of offerings for foodies, adventure lovers, cultural explorers, luxury-seeking sunbathers, and piña colada sippers. Here’s what to do once you get there.

Conrad Punta de Mita
Conrad Punta de Mita
Conrad Punta de Mita

Fly in with foreigners, mingle with locals

Atlanta, Houston, LA, and Denver all offer direct flights to the nearest airport in Puerto Vallarta, though Riviera Nayarit is about to become even more accessible for East Coasters once JetBlue launches its new route from NYC in early 2022. Though about 75% of visitors are from the US, Nayarit has also long been a popular destination for Mexican tourists, as the nearest beach for many inland residents.You’ll also find cultural practices from the local indigenous Huichol people. Midnight-hued Salsa Huichol, made from local chiles and vinegar, accompanies most meals. Woven and beaded indigenous artwork can be found across the riviera’s several towns. Huitlacoche, known as the “Mexican Truffle” (TLDR: it’s a fungus that grows on corn) is offered at restaurants. And several Huichol traditions are naturally woven into everyday experiences, like a pre-dinner cleansing ritual to leave your stress at the doorway.

Conrad Punta de Mita
Conrad Punta de Mita
Conrad Punta de Mita

Relax or work remotely at luxury hotels

Opened in 2020, the Conrad Punta De Mita boasts waterfront suites and a spacious beach ideal for morning strolls, late afternoon swims, and even whale spotting. The luxe resort itself is mostly outdoors (and social-distancing safe) with a handful of top-notch restaurants (freshly pressed tortillas at breakfast!), a full-service spa boasting house-made oils, and an agave aging and tasting room. Plus you can expect all the creature comforts of a dreamy, tropical vacation: a swim up bar, large pools with cushy bungalows, and ice cold Topo Chico at your heart’s desire.

Meanwhile, the Sayulinda Hotel is ideal for remote workers on an extended work-ation. Steps from the beach and boasting the best rooftop in town (with ocean views!), this newly constructed property is a WiFi-equipped getaway with airy, spacious rooms and plenty of poolside workspace for fresh juice sipping while Zooming.

Sollina Images/Getty Images
Sollina Images/Getty Images
Sollina Images/Getty Images

Watch whales in their winter habitat

Just like humans, whales visit the warm waters surrounding Riviera Nayarit from December through March. Small boat tours with marine biologists help you spot humpbacks as they blow water, flip, and even breach (i.e. jump out of the water). Plus dolphin spotting and bird watching is easy on these boat trips. Book a voyage from Nuevo Vallarta, Bucerías, Punta Mita or Sayulita. Seasick? Whales can also often be spotted from shore in the prime season.

Kelly Mason Photo/Shutterstock
Kelly Mason Photo/Shutterstock
Kelly Mason Photo/Shutterstock

Spend your pesos shopping for crafts and artisan goods

Head to the colorful town square in Sayulita to shop for crafts, handmade jewelry, textiles, paintings, and prints. Vendors display hand-embroidered stuffed animals, multi-hued beaded bracelets, and mask chains (a sign of the times, but a useful souvenir). Galleries, boutiques, and surf shops also line the streets for an air-conditioned shopping experience. Nearby, the town of San Pancho offers some cute, scaled-back shops, plus machete-wielding vendors ready to slice open a coconut or fresh oyster for your slurping consumption.

Shutterstock/xhico
Shutterstock/xhico
Shutterstock/xhico

Feast on birria tacos and the freshest pescado

Before the quesobirria took over TikTok, the birria taco reigned supreme in this region of Mexico. Often made with slow-cooked goat meat (though sometimes with beef, lamb, or even fish), birria tacos are hearty, slightly spicy, and served at street stalls, as well as along the roads between towns in the region. Every local has a favorite spot, so ask for their recommendations, or just veer towards the crowds in a self-led taco tour.

But don’t stop your food tour there-Nayarit’s signature seafood dish is as fresh as it comes, oven plucked right off the boat, butterflied, and grilled within hours of swimming in the Pacific. The catch of the day, often whitefish like red snapper or mahi mahi, can be found at pretty much any beachside restaurant. Luxury properties, like the aforementioned Conrad, can even schedule a boat to deliver the freshly plucked fish beachside. For an upscale Pescado Zarandeado, of course made to order, make a reservation at Tuna Blanca in Punta de Mita.

Sartiaguin Tours y Expediciones
Sartiaguin Tours y Expediciones
Sartiaguin Tours y Expediciones

Swim with whale sharks

Kick swimming with sharks off your bucket list (or add to your tally) with this immersive opportunity to dive towards not-so-dangerous danger, no scuba required. The 20-ton San Blas whale sharks are actually non threatening (just watch out for an accidental whack from the tails), and with a snorkel (plus waterproof camera) you can get pretty close views. The ecotourism experience is in high demand during the colder months, so make sure to book ahead. Before or after the tour, hang out in the quaint fishing village of San Blas, known for its big wave surfing beaches and tropical mangroves, which offer seasonal bird watching and turtle spotting, plus year-round sunbathing.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner is a writer based in NYC. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Travel

Airbnb’s New Tool Makes it Easy to Discover Homes You Didn’t Know Existed

And provides comprehensive protection in travel, included for free with every stay.

airbnb new features

We’re living in a new world of travel, which means we’re looking for new destinations and new ways to find places to stay. Airbnb is one of the most popular booking platforms for travellers, and for the first time in a decade, they’ve launched their biggest change yet.

The new tools help travellers find unique homes and provide more options for longer stays.

“The way people travel has changed forever. We’re introducing the biggest change to Airbnb in a decade,” said Brian Chesky, CEO and Co-Founder of Airbnb.

Airbnb Categories

Millions of people are now more flexible about where they live and work. But travel search has been the same for 25 years—you enter a location and dates into a search box. Most of us can only think of a few dozen cities to type into the search box, but there are Airbnbs in 100,000 towns and cities worldwide.

When you open Airbnb, you’re presented with 56 categories that organize homes based on their style, location, or proximity to a travel activity. When you search for a destination, your search results are also organized by categories relevant to that destination. As you view different categories, the map intelligently zooms to show you where the homes are located.

Airbnb Categories uses machine learning to analyze titles, written descriptions, photo captions, structured data from Hosts, and reviews from guests. Airbnb’s curation team members review listings and hand-pick featured photos—so if a listing is in the Amazing Pools Category, the first photo shows a pool. Then, each category goes through a final check to help ensure consistency and photo quality.

The 56 Airbnb Categories include more than 4 million unique homes that are made possible by Hosts all around the world. Airbnb Categories organize homes by what makes them unique, which helps people discover places they wouldn’t have otherwise found. This can help alleviate over-tourism by redistributing travel to new locations beyond the same popular destinations.

Split Stays

In the last three months, nearly half of the nights booked on Airbnb were for a week or more trips. Split Stays is an innovative new feature that splits your trip between two homes. With Split Stays, you will typically see around 40% more listings when searching for longer stays.

When searching a specific destination, Split Stays automatically appear in your search results. They also appear within 14 categories—including Camping, National Parks, Skiing, and Surfing—to inspire you to stay in two destinations as part of a longer trip. For example, when browsing the Skiing Category, Split Stays might suggest a pair of homes near Thredbo and Mt. Hotham.

When viewing Split Stays on a map, an animated line visually connects the two homes to show you the distance between them and the sequence of the stays. Once you select a Split Stay, you’re guided through an easy-to-use interface to book each stay, one home at a time.

MORE: These Are Australia’s 10 Most Wishlisted Airbnb Stays

Aircover for Guests

This northern and southern winter, millions of people will travel for the first time since the pandemic’s start. AirCover is the most comprehensive protection in travel. AirCover is always included and always free, and it represents the biggest upgrade to Airbnb customer service in a decade.

With AirCover, you’re covered by four protections every time you stay on Airbnb:

  • Booking Protection Guarantee – In the unlikely event a Host needs to cancel your booking within 30 days of check-in, Airbnb will find you a similar or better home or refund you.
  • Check-In Guarantee – If you can’t check into your home and the Host cannot resolve the issue, Airbnb will find you a similar or better home for the length of your original stay or get a refund.
  • Get-What-You-Booked Guarantee – If at any time during your stay you find your listing isn’t as advertised—for example, the refrigerator stops working and your Host can’t easily fix it, or there are fewer bedrooms than listed—you’ll have three days to report it and Airbnb will find you a similar or better home or refund you.
  • 24-hour Safety Line – If you ever feel unsafe, you’ll get priority access to specially-trained safety agents, day or night.

AirCover has been designed directly into the Airbnb app and website, making it easy for you to contact an agent and resolve issues quickly. There is a team of specially trained agents for last-minute rebooking assistance. Airbnb also has significantly expanded its 24-hour safety line to cover 16 languages.

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