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Five Days on Riviera Nayarit

In the annals of last cheap trips given the weak dollar, the state of Nayarit can't be beat. Between the peso to dollar exchange rate (13 to 1 at press time), the surfing, the history of Huichol indians (last of the Aztecs), the clubs, the fish tacos, this Mexican beach state remains the last great resort area.

Editor's Note:
Though we keep it light here at HipGuide, we cover travel because we love all cultures so it has to be said what a sad and terrible tragedy this week in Haiti. As you plan your winter getaways, please do take a moment to seek out your preferred charity (I like Doctors Without Borders or Unicef) and help out if you can. ~Syl

Day 1
Arrive in Puerto Vallarta city, state of Jalisco, Mexico (Gustavo Diaz Ordaz Int'l Airport). Going up the coast line the towns are Puerto Vallarta (bit Spring Breaky but which continues to make headlines for being gay-friendly), Nuevo Vallarta, Sayulita (the surf destination), San Blas (the arts town and where San Francisco was founded), and the ritzy Punta de Mita.

While technically not in Nayarit, you drive through PV, Jalisco on your way to Nayarit so Carmen Porrasí amazing El Arrayan is our vote for your first stop of proper traditional Mexican food. Antojitos (little bites) such as Jamaica Flower quesadillas with Oaxaca cheese or Mayan-recipe Adobo taquitos in a pumpkin seed pure; ceviche Colima (baby scallops with avocado and cilantro) or ceviche Guerrero (with fish Acapulco style in a tomato and green olive puree); fish in Mone sauce from the Tabasco state, or chiles, either Ancho Relleno or Poblano Relleno.
El Arrayan
Allende 344 esq Miramar Co. El Centro C.P.
Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco
+ 52 322 222 7195

deSantos is the Ďsantosí that started it all. Euro-Miami-esque lounge-dance music is what youíll find here. You can come for dinner but we like the rooftop bar which is open air, just for drinks as well.
Morelos 771 Col Centro
Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco
011 52 322 223 3052

Stay (for at least two nights) at the all-inclusive Grand Velas, which is also couples and kid-friendly with a fabulous spa and two enormous pools. A favourite for weddings because itís on the beach in the centre of things, the buffet dining room is the place to have chilaquiles in the morning. If youíre a spa person, this spot offers herbal steam, eucalyptus inhalation, Swiss shower, pressure shower, sauna, whirlpool, cold plunge lagoon, and hydro reflexology area and that all-important pre-beach scrub treatment.
Grand Velas
Av Paseo de los Cocoteros 98
Nuevo Vallarta
+ 52 322 226 8000

Day 2
The excursion company Vallarta Adventures is the most well-known. We like them for their trip to the Las Marietas Islands. Now a preserve, this sanctuary for seabirds, turtles, dolphins, mantas, and scores of tropical fish that swim along the coral reefs is important because bird poo turns into planktain which feeds the shrimp and fish we like so much. Trip itself is less eco and more entertainment. It's scuba friendly for you divers, and expect lots of post- swim cervezas and hilarious rock music. You're on about the same parallel as Hawaii and it's all day so bring heaps of sunblock.
Vallarta Adventures
+ 52 322 297 1212 x 3

On the garden terrace at Markís Restaurant in the town of Bucerias, New Zealander Jan Benton and Mark McMahon host you for their winning San Blas shrimp, and take home the stunning pottery from their store across the street which carries Jan Marie's own plate ware, but also Tavelas tableware and mini bureaus painted with Frida Kahlo's image.
Mark's Bar & Grill
Lazaro Cardenas 56
+ 52 329 298 0303

Day 3
Start driving north for both nature and colonial history in northern Nayarit but stop in to Pie in the Sky to buy local handmade cards and fabulous tres leches cakes.
Pie in the Sky
Heroe de Nacozari 202
+52 329 298 0838

The very sleepy little San Blas is a town a bit forgotten because the founder sided with Pancho Villa, i.e. wrong side of le revolucion. But here lies the remains of the Spanish fort and ruins of the cathedral that represent the founding of all the 'San' towns including San Francisco.

If time permits, visit Singayta, a local village that has newly opened its doors to tourism and offers hiking tours by foot, bike, or horse back, bird watching and jungle trails. In addition to ecotourism, they are starting a nursery for wild orchids.

Head to nearby La Tovara National Park, a mangrove forest accessible only by small boat, over crocodile waters. This massive sanctuary for birds involves a quiet motor boat tour (picture a row boat really). We saw dozens of native birds of the region, as well as crocodiles, swamp turtles, and other creatures and it ends in a canít-miss crocodile breeding farm.

Owned by three sisters, the Hotel Garza Canela and their renowned El Delfin Restaurant in San Blas cannot be missed. Itís simple rooms (just enough of what you need) but the gift shop has the best deals on silver jewellery and El Delfin is headed by chef Betty Vasquez who studied at The Cordon Bleu School of Culinary Arts in Paris and then worked under celebrated chef Juan Mari Arzak of the Michelin three-star Arzak restaurant in Spain. We didnít hear it (possibly because we were in a happy food coma) but local folklore has it that you can hear the church choir ghosts singing.
Hotel Garza Canela
Paredes 106 Sur
San Blas
+ 52 323 285 0112

Day 4
On your way to Sayulita, take a drive through San Pancho, home to the famous Polo Club which comes alive between November and May, there are great crafts to be had here from the tables on the beach on in the shops right off the beach.

Then head for bohemian surf town of Sayulita. There are beachfront restaurants, art galleries and shops of clothing, handicrafts, decorative items, handmade cosmetics, Huichol jewelry......and ziplining companies.

I think no trip to Mexico is complete without ziplining. The day we went the organisers actually showed us a baby tiger which had been found; thatís whatís in the forest below you. Itís called a canopy tour adventure from Rancho mi Chaparrita and they do it where you donít stop yourself (the safer way) gliding over the jungle from tree to tree for about an hour. $75 US and worth every penny.
Rancho mi Chaparrita
Manuel Rodriguez Sanchez 14
+52 329 291 3112

Have lunch at Panino's, a bakery that does their own bread and creative sandwiches.
+52 329 291 3429

Then go for a surf lesson where they teach you how to handle the sharks who do sometimes come close to shore. Nonsurfers? Thereís also great shopping to be had. Galeria Tanana with its Huichol art does breathtaking earrings. I also like the bikinis at Yemaya. Somehow bikinis from beach towns always seem better made and slightly chicer to me. Lastly the locally embroidered tops, jewellery and shirt dresses are a steal at Scarlett with prices around 690 pesos ($53).
Lunazul Surfing School
Marlin 4
+52 329 291 2009

Galeria Tanana
Ave del Palmar 8
+52 329 291 3889

Yemaya Bikini
Ave Revolucion 40c
+52 329 291 3803

Marlin 10 Loc 4
+52 329 291 3862

You've done the partying, nature, history, surfing and ziplining; head for ritzy resort area Punta Mita. Be sure to stop at roadside stands for homemade candies, tropical fruits and juices. Sample the tart tamarind candies, the giant jackfruit or get someone to cut you open a coconut.

There's a Four Seasons here but I personally like the intimacy of Hotel des Artistes, one of Riviera Nayaritís newest properties. What it lacks in service (they have a small staff), they more than make up for in having just twelve 2- and 3- bedroom beachfront suites and a stunning rooftop infinity pool.

Don't miss dinner at the hotelís Cafť des Artistes del Mar, which is owned by acclaimed chef Thierry Blouet. Thierry also owns the award-winning Cafť des Artistes in Puerto Vallarta.
Hotel des Artistes
Avenida El Anclote 5
Punta de Mita
+52 329 291 5005

Day 5
Have breakfast down the road at the El Dorado. It's far from fancy but the chilaquiles isn't too shabby either. Then head back to Vallarta Adventures for swimming with the dolphins. Let the sea lion give you a kiss for photos. I'm not a big souvenir person but you'll want to buy disks of photos of both these experiences as the photographers literally create travel brochure-esque images.

Have lunch at the marina's outdoor restaurant in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle on the pier. (At night the rooftop bar is buzzing.)

Depending on your airline, your flight might be headed out at lunchtime. Make sure to leave time on your return out of PV to check out Tacon de Marlin across from the airport for fish tacos.

If you have a later flight, spend dinner at Frascati, a charming Mediterranean restaurant.
Ave Lagosta 10 esq Coral
La Cruz de Huanacaxtle
+52 329 295 6185

Bon voyage!

Some notes: at press time, the peso is 13: 1 US dollar. All locations are in the state of Nayarit unless otherwise noted as being in Jalisco. The int'l country code for Mexico is 52. When local, all numbers above can be dialed replacing +52 with 01.

PICTURED ABOVE: Ziplining Sayulita's lush jungle.
All rights reserved. Image copyright Syl Tang.


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