Mexico’s glamour coast offers idyllic luxury with bohemian flair

Riviera Nayarit

Beach at W Hotel Punta de Mita with
Chevycheria seafood bar
Photo:Michele Peterson

It’s sunset and I’m seated in a 1950 Chevrolet 3800 pick-up truck set on white sand facing the crashing Pacific surf. A lone surfer bobs on the ocean’s surface waiting for the perfect wave. This could be a scene from 1960s Mexico, a snapshot of a sleepy coast before mass tourism arrives. Except, it’s modern day and I’m actually at the W Hotel Punta de Mita, the latest luxury addition to the Riviera Nayarit, a 305-kilometre coastline stretching north of Puerto Vallarta to San Blas. And the Chevy is actually the Chevycheria, a chic seafood bar where mixologists shake up inventive cocktails paired with ultra-fresh ceviche.

Celebrities such as Lady Gaga, the Kardashians and Quincy Jones have long been escaping to this idyllic stretch of Mexico, drawn to its posh hideaways and exclusive villas. Now, with the arrival of Starwood Hotels & Resorts’ upscale W Hotel brand, luxury travellers have the option of an equally glamorous stay. The draw? A magical mix of natural beauty, rich culture and design-led aesthetics. Instead of all-inclusive buffets, kitschy crafts and mega-resorts, visitors to Riviera Nayarit find tasting menus, contemporary design and posh low-rise hotels. And it’s still blessedly free of crowds. Here’s what not to miss on a road trip along this palm-fringed coast

Riviera Nayarit

Luxurious swimming pool at the new
W Hotel Punta de Mita
Photo: Michele Peterson

Punta de Mita

A prime place to begin exploring is at W Hotel Punta de Mita, a 120-room hotel that’s adding fresh energy to Riviera Nayarit’s luxury scene. Set within the exclusive Los Veneros development overlooking the Bay of Banderas, it’s graced with a canopy of ancient ficus trees and a rolling terrain. Instead of Spanish colonial architecture, its sleek lines are composed of angular shapes, glass and natural wood with soaring ceilings. The long swimming pool is lined with gauze-draped Bali beds, a DJ booth, and features decor accents by Revolucion del Sueño, a hip, Mexican design studio.

Riviera Nayarit

Golf at Punta Mita Pacifico
Photo: Riviera Nayarit

Visitors looking for even more seclusion can opt for the nearby Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita. This is the place to indulge in menus inspired by local ingredients, ancient traditions and global trends or float in the dreamy infinity pool. It’s also a prime spot to take an excursion to the UNESCO-protected island archipelago of Islas Marietas. Next door, at the St. Regis Punta Mita, you’ll enjoy champagne sunset ceremonies, butler service and a signature restaurant, Carolina, where regional ingredients are prepared with sophisticated flair. Two Jack Nicklaus designed golf courses round out the options, adding to a total of six golf courses in the Riviera Nayarit area.

Riviera Nayarit

Sample an inventive
cocktail by Israel Diaz,
Riviera Nayarit’s
mixology ambassador
Photo: Lindsay Lauckner Gundlock


Heading north up Riviera Nayarit’s coast, art gallery openings and electrocumbia dance clubs are fast replacing full moon parties as after-hours entertainment in this former hippie haunt. A top spot for elegant dining on the waterfront is Don Pedros. Founded in 1994 by two surfers, it has transformed from its rustic beginnings as a backpackers’ fuelling spot into an upscale dining experience. But it hasn’t lost its bohemian vibe. A palapa-shaded table overlooking the main wave break is still the best spot in town to enjoy Mex-Mediterranean cuisine and watch the surfing action. At Haramara, a yoga retreat on the hilltop, celebs like Jennifer Aniston work out their kinks, chill out in harmony with nature and nibble on vegetarian cuisine. For a tutored taste of Nayarit, stop at the Sayulita Wine Shop where you can sample raicilla, the agave-based predecessor of mezcal and ancho chile liqueur, popular in fiery cocktails. As you travel along the coast, watch for cocktails created by Israel Diaz, Riviera Nayarit’s ambassador of mixology. His drink creations such as Sangre Cora are inspired by the culture of the Huichol people and local ingredients such as Flor de Jamaica (hibiscus flower).


Riviera Nayarit

Soaring lobby bar at W Hotel Punta de Mita Riviera Nayarit Photo: Michele Peterson

San Francisco

A short jaunt further north, the beach town of San Pancho (as it’s known among locals) is just beginning to feel the influence of Riviera Nayarit’s tourism growth. Here, the snowbird RV trailer parks are long gone and instead, eco-chic hip is what it’s all about. Comprehensive wine lists, Chanel beach bags and low-rise hotels boasting environmental sustainability philosophies are joining the chickens that wander the sandy streets–giving new meaning to the concept of free-range.  Fuel up on fair-trade espresso at the organic bistro at boho-chic Hotel Cielo Rojo or head to La Perla Beach Bar and dive into a dish of aguachile, a pale-green concoction of shrimp and chile water that’s stylish in its simplicity and flavour.

Rincon de Guayabitos

Riviera Nayarit

Fun decor at W Hotel Punta de Mita
Photo: Michele Peterson

So scenic it has often served as a backdrop for the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders calendar photo shoots, this still-rustic beach town offers tempting views of migrating humpback whales and dolphins frolicking in its pristine bay. Tour the bay on a glass-bottomed boat or hop aboard a party boat for a sunset cruise. El Naranjo Turtle Camp offers the opportunity to aid in the recovery of the sea turtle population. When it comes to dining, shrimp in its many forms is the main culinary attraction here. Sample it dipped in coconut, butterflied and breaded or grilled in garlic. Be sure to stock up on Salsa Huichol, a legendary Mexican hot sauce with a smoky kick that’s a favourite in Nayarit.

Riviera Nayarit

Celebrity Chef Betty Vazquez helms El Delfin restaurant in San Blas
Lindsay Lauckner Grundlock

San Blas

At this fishing village in Nayarit’s northern outpost, culinary ambassador chef Betty Vázquez, who serves as a judge on MasterChef Mexico, continues to push her sophisticated menu to new frontiers. Her fans, many of them well-heeled birders and those willing to make the pilgrimage from Puerto Vallarta, come to sample Vasquez’ latest menu offerings at El Delfin restaurant in Garza Hotel Canela. Vasquez’ culinary philosophy is seasonally-inspired Mexican ingredients fused with classic European cooking techniques. Local seafood shines in dishes such as octopus with apple and mango.

Looking ahead, even more luxury is on the horizon for Riviera Nayarit’s coast. The One&Only Mandarina is expected to open with 145 ultra-luxurious villas in 2017 and the Fairmont will open its own luxury resort complete with canopy park and mountain biking trail in late 2018. Now is the time to put the fascinating coastline of Riviera Nayarit on your travel radar and go exploring.

Travel Planner

Official Website Convention Visitors Bureau Riviera Nayarit: Get information on events, attractions and activities, accommodation and sample itineraries.

Visit Mexico:

W Hotel Punta de Mita:

Garza Hotel Canela: Located in San Blas, this family-run hotel offers exceptional dining by Executive Chef and Riviera Nayarit Culinary Ambassador Betty Vazquez.

Air Transat: Air Transat offers direct flights to Puerto Vallarta from Montreal. Riviera Nayarit is 20 minutes north of Lic. Gustavo Diaz Ordaz International Airport in Puerto Vallarta.

Michele Peterson is an award-winning travel writer who specializes in food, drink and sun destinations. Her work has appeared in major magazines, guidebooks and travel anthologies. Get tips, insider info and travel inspiration on her blog at A Taste for Travel  and Twitter/Instagram @atastefortravel