Please note that some links on our site are affiliate links. If you choose to purchase through these links, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. By using these you are directly supporting The Vanabond Tales to remain an independent travel blog.
You may have heard of Mexico’s popular Riviera Maya, a stretch of coastline just south of Cancun famous for its all-inclusive resorts and trendy hotspots like Tulum, but have you heard about the Riviera Nayarit?
This stunning section of Mexico’s Pacific coastline runs 200 miles from Puerto Vallarta north to San Blas. Behind the golden beaches and lush, jungle-clad headlands, the Sierra Madre Mountain Range serves as a backdrop to this coastal paradise. Beyond the jaw-dropping natural beauty and unspoiled beaches, the Riviera Nayarit is known for its authentic villages, perfect climate, excellent surf, low-key accommodation, simple and delicious dining, and laid-back atmosphere.
The Nayarit beaches beckon travelers and holidaymakers from around the globe and from all walks of life. Retirees on extended trips or permanent relocation, backpackers chasing fun in the sun, affluent travelers seeking exclusive luxury experiences, and budget-minded families on vacation, can all find something here among the best beaches of the Riviera Nayarit. In fact, this remote and idyllic stretch of a coastline is quickly developing a reputation as one of the most exciting Mexican beach destinations!
The beach towns of Riviera Nayarit are as different as the people who visit them. From tiny fishing villages where you can find local fishermen heading out to sea each morning, boisterous tourist destinations with busy beaches and all-night parties, and private enclaves reserved for the rich and famous. The Riviera Nayarit, Mexico has something for everyone.
Why Are tHe Riviera Nayarit beaches So SPecial?
The notable difference between the Riviera Nayarit and other popular beach destinations is that the Nayarit coast still feels authentic and local. The best beaches of the Riviera Nayarit have yet to be overrun by high-rise hotels and all-inclusive resorts. You won’t find any McDonald’s or Dominos (although you can find delicious Italian pizza). The beaches of Nayarit haven’t given over to cheap tourism, and it is one of the things that make visiting here special and the reason why we love the Riviera Nayarit.
Riviera Nayarit Map of the Best Beaches
The Best Riviera Nayarit Beach Towns for Every Type of Traveler
The beach towns dotting the Riviera Nayarit have something to offer for everyone. Whether you want to party until the sun comes up, escape into your own little hideaway, or enjoy fine dining and luxury accommodation, there is a destination waiting for you.
Sayulita – Nayarit’s Bustling Surf Town
Tulum is played out but the sun is rising on vibrant Sayulita. Once a small seaside village, this busy Nayarit beach town has come to life in recent years with visitors from all over the world. Now, it is one of the most popular places to visit on Mexico’s western coastline.
Sayulita draws people from all walks of life. From snowbirds escaping North America’s cold winters, retirees who are looking for a slice of paradise, digital nomads setting up shop for a few months, backpackers chasing the party, surfers seeking the perfect wave, yogis looking to align their chakra and everyone else you can think of in between.
With the rise of Sayulita’s popularity, an increase in western influence can be clearly seen throughout the town. Simple family-run hostels have been replaced with trendy and stylish Airbnbs, hostels, hotels, and holiday rentals. Modern, chic restaurants and cafes line the streets that were once populated with taco stands and vendors (although there are still a few of these around too). Cocktail bars are on every corner in Sayulita serving up unique spins on the classic marg.
But despite this trend, Sayulita has managed to retain its charm. The surf town has honed in on what the everyday tourist wants and has delivered, without sacrificing its laid-back and authentic atmosphere.
Outside of trendy restaurants, modern cafes serving the best coffee on the Riviera Nayarit, and chic cocktail bars, Sayulita also delivers a consistent surf, yoga studios, art galleries, and a range of other things to do in and around Sayulita to keep you busy for a few weeks.
Sayulita is also the best Nayarit beach for partying. Many of the other Nayarit beach towns close up shop by 10:00 pm but the party in Sayulita can go until the sun comes up.
There are also seven beaches in Sayulita worth exploring (which are explained more below), more than enough to keep you busy on your Mexican beach adventure.
Things to Know Before Visiting Sayulita
Playa San Pancho (AKA San Francisco, Nayarit) – The Best Beach on the Riviera Nayarit for Foodies
San Pancho, officially known as San Francisco, Nayarit, is easy to miss while driving north on Mexico’s Pacific Coast. Situated mostly along a single street, Avenue Tercer Mundo, this tiny town boasts a pretty, one-mile stretch of beach lined with palms. The small beach town swells during the high season with a variety of tourists, travelers and holidaymakers, and people migrating here on a permanent or semi-permanent basis.
The influx of international tourists has brought along with it the rise of an impressive culinary scene. Many of the restaurants and cafes in other Nayarit beach towns are overrun by expensive tourist restaurants serving burgers and water-downed Mexican food. While you’ll still find a few of these at the western end of the main street, there are plenty more interesting options to be had. With authentic tacos, nano breweries, gourmet sopes, vegan ramen, modern Mexican, mezcalerias, sushi, lomitos, even a cafe specializing in biscuits and gravy, San Pancho has become a haven for unique artisanal cafes, bars, and restaurants despite its tiny size.
Our favorite restaurants and bars in San Pancho are
- Su Pancha Madre
- Ikan Cocina Marina
- El Baba del Diablo Mezcaleria
- Bistro Organico
- El Gallo
- Cerveceria Artesanal
Despite the emerging culinary scene, San Pancho is a lot quieter than its southern neighbor Sayulita with only a handful of bars, and boutique accommodation options, and without the busy tourism that has put Sayulita on the map.
For us what makes San Pancho truly special is its ability, so far, to retain its community feel despite the recent explosion of ex-pats and tourists. The community’s focus on sustainable practices is evident throughout San Pancho. The Entreamigos Community Center is just one of the many ways this community is ensuring it retains its sense of self.
Interested in knowing more? Find out our top 5 reasons why we think visiting San Pancho is worth it!
Things to Know Before Visiting San Pancho
Lo De Marcos – The Nayarit Beach with a “Tranquillo” Vibe
The largely undiscovered Lo de Marcos is the next town north after leaving San Pancho, a hidden gem on the Riviera Nayarit coastline. Relatively unknown on the tourist circuit, Lo de Macros is slowly but surely positioning itself as an up-and-coming Riviera Nayarit destination. This authentic beach town still retains its charm and authenticity. Most of the town is linked by dirt roads. Cycling around you will see children selling fresh tropical fruits on the side of dirt roads, and old men gathering on sidewalks with a cold Cerveza at the end of the day. It is these everyday scenes that make Lo de Marcos one of the most genuine and local destinations on the Riviera Nayarit.
Until recently, Lo de Marcos was mostly visited by snowbirds dragging their RVs in tow toward one of the five campgrounds located right on the beach in this seaside village. More recently, a fledgling tourism industry has started to emerge with a handful of quality restaurants and bars cropping up one by one and small stands on the beach selling coconuts and renting surfboards. Nevertheless, Lo de Marcos still very much retains the feel of a small beach village so many seek on a holiday in Mexico.
The beach itself offers the beauty that the Riviera Nayarit is known for with golden sand, palm trees, and jungle-clad headlands. A reliable wave is great for surfing and boogie boarding, and the crescent beach is perfect for taking long walks. It is a beach that offers something for everyone.
Lo de Marco is a special spot on Mexico’s Pacific Coast and definitely one to watch as an up-and-coming destination in Mexico.
Things to Know Before Visiting Lo de Marcos
Rincon de Guayabitos (Playa Guayabitos) – The Most Authentic and Local Nayarit Beach Town
Playa Guayabitos in the beach town of Rincon de Guayabitos, known locally as Guayabitos, is the local getaway for many Mexican nationals in Nayarit. Only an hour’s drive from the state’s capital, Tepic, Guayabitos swells on the weekends and during national holidays with locals vying for a bit of sand. The town has yet to be a victim of over-tourism. Exploring the town feels like stepping back into the 70s when nomads and families would rock up for a weekend by the in their classic VW Kombis.
Dubbed “the biggest swimming pool in Mexico”, Rincon de Guayabitos is known for its gentle waves perfect for swimming and families with young children. Other activities to do in and around Guaybitos include a trip to Coral island for snorkeling in the crystal clear waters, taking a trip to Aguas Termales Nuevo Ixtlan for a soak in the thermal baths, and cooking classes highlighting the traditional cuisine of the Mexican culture.
If you can’t make it to a cooking class, be sure to try the zarandeado fish from one of the beachside palapa restaurants here in Rincon de Guayabitos, a traditional Mexican dish from the state of Nayarit.
Things to Know Before Visiting Playa Guayabitos
Los Ayala – The Best Beach in Nayarit for Families
Los Ayala is another spot along Nayarit’s coastline that remains relatively undiscovered by tourists. This hidden oasis just south of Rincon de Guayabitos is known for its calm waters perfect for swimming and snorkeling. In fact, it is said to be the best beach for swimming on the Riviera Nayarit.
Los Ayala is a genuine, authentic Mexican beach town unspoiled by the influences of tourism. You won’t find vegan smoothie bars, cocktail lounges, or trendy cafes here. Instead, local restaurants dot the beach serving delicious, fresh seafood and ice-cold beers to locals perched on colorful plastic chairs.
Those who like to explore can continue south to discover the nearby and secluded beaches of Playa Frideras, Playa Hamaca, and Playa del Toro.
Things to Know Before Visiting Los Ayala
Chacala – Best Nayarit Beach to Escape the Crowds
If you are looking to get away from it all, look no further than the hidden oasis of Chacala. A destination you may not have heard of on the Nayarit coastline, this small fishing village is yet another relatively undiscovered destination on the tourist circuit meaning it still retains a lot of its local flavor.
Again this isn’t the spot to find modern cafe culture. No restaurants catering to international visitors. No fancy cocktail bars, although there once was a brewery.
What you will find are local seafood restaurants serving the catch of the day, sunsets that will take your breath away, and a tranquility that will rejuvenate you.
The beach of Chacala is protected in a small cove making it another great destination for families with young children. There are also plenty of jungle walks nearby to enjoy and there is even a legendary surf beach, La Caleta that you can reach by boat or a long jungle slog.
There isn’t a whole lot going on here, but if you are looking to unplug and unwind, Chacala is the best beach in Nayarit to do so.
Things to Know Before Visiting Chacala
The Best Nayarit Resort Beaches
It’s not just backpackers and beach bums flocking to Nayarit. There are also plenty of options for those looking for a more luxurious escape. In fact, Bill Gates himself owns one of the most luxurious resorts in Nayarit, having chosen this location to create an exclusive playground for the rich and famous.
Some of Mexico’s best and most exclusive resorts can be found right here on the Riviera Nayarit. While these resorts come at a high price, they represent the cream of the crop when it comes to the best beaches in the region situated on some of Nayarit’s prime real estate.
One&Only Mandarina – The Riviera Nayarit Beach for Privacy
The pristine, unspoiled nature of some of the best beaches of the Riviera Nayarit sometimes comes at a price with luxury resorts snapping them up to provide extraordinary experiences for their patrons. One such luxury resort is the One& Only Mandarina Riviera Nayarit.
Hidden in the lush jungle with breathtaking views over the spectacular coastline, the One&Only Mandarina is a haven for travelers seeking privacy, luxury, peace, and serenity. Its private beaches offer a chance to escape and relax, two things often sorely needed. World-class service and amenities complement the natural beauty here rounding out a unique experience at the One&Only Mandarina.
Punta Mita – The Luxury Nayarit Beach Resort Worth Traveling For
No list of the best beaches on the Riviera Nayarit would be complete without Punta Mita. Punta Mita is a private peninsula on the northern side of the Bay of Banderas and is home to some of the best Nayarit beaches. A destination for the rich and famous, Punta Mita is the pinnacle of luxury along the Nayarit coast and has become popular with the rich and famous and those who love to splurge on luxury destinations.
The Punta Mita peninsula encompasses a 1500-acre resort complete with two world-class hotels (The Four Seasons and St. Regis), multiple estates and holiday homes, residential communities, two golf courses, and more. Those who love to live the life of luxury will have all their whims and desires catered for here on one of the best beaches of the Riviera Nayarit. Punta Mita has become synonymous with oceanfront views, private unspoiled beaches, and first-class service and amenities.
Outside of being one of the most exclusive and luxurious resorts on the Riviera Nayarit, Punta Mita and the surrounding area also offers some of the best surfing in Nayarit. With seven different surfing locations, there is a wave to suit all types of surfers. Some of the best waves include The Cove, Punta Burros, and La Lancha.
The Best Sayulita Beaches
We already let you in on the secret of the best beach towns on the Riviera Nayarit, but even these small beach towns boast more beaches than you can visit on a weekend. In fact, there are seven beaches in Sayulita alone that are accessible without a vehicle using your own two feet or a golf cart or scooter hired from town. Some of them are located directly in town with heaps of amenities, and some require a bit of effort to get there.
Here is a list of the best beaches in Sayulita worth a visit in their own right.
The South End of Playa Sayulita (Sayulita Beach) – The Sayulita Surf Beach
Playa Sayulita is the main beach in town. From early morning until sunset the busy and crowded beach is the central point around which the town of Sayulita revolves.
The southern end of Sayulita beach which is separated from the northern section by the small river that dumps into the water is not the most picturesque of all the Sayulita beaches. During high tide, most of the southern end of the beach is underwater, the ocean water is murky from the emptying of the rivers, and fishing boats are pulled to shore covering the beach as the town has no port for boats.
One saving grace of the southern end is its status as the best Sayulita surfing beach. There isn’t a day that goes by that you don’t see locals and tourists alike bobbing about on their boards, hoping to catch the next wave. And, there are plenty of surf schools in Sayulita, like WildMex Surf and Adventure, just waiting to help make that happen.
Things to Know Before Visiting the South End of Sayulita Beach
The North End of Sayulita Beach (aka North Beach or Gringo Beach)
The northern end of Sayulita Beach is by far the prettiest beach accessible in the main town. If someone in town speaks of Norte Beach (North Beach) or Gringo Beach, they are talking about the northern end of Sayulita Beach. The beach gets the name Gringo Beach from the many holiday and vacation homes owned by wealthy Americans and Canadians who call Sayulita home during the winter months.
North Beach is everything you could want in a Mexico beach. Unlike the southern end of Sayulita Beach, North Beach is exactly what you expected when you saw the brochures (or pictures online) of Sayulita. Fine, silica sand. Turquoise blue waters. Palm trees swaying. It is idyllic in the truest sense.
If you are interested in watching and learning about the release of baby turtles, North Beach is your best bet.
Things to Know Before Visiting the North End of Sayulita Beach (North Beach or Gringo Beach)
Playa De Los Muertos (Beach of the Dead)
Playa de los Muertos or the beach of dead may not have a name that beacons travelers to visit, but if you can get past the deadly name you will be rewarded with a beautiful small beach nestled in a cove nearby Sayulita. Just a short walk from the center of town, Playa de los Muertos is one of the closest beaches accessible without some form of transportation besides your own two feet.
Directions to Playa de los Muertos
To reach Playa de los Muertos in Sayulita simply head towards the southern end of Sayulita beach past all of the fishing boats or along Calle Pescadores. Continue following the road as it bears to the left. Once past the cemetery, hence the name Playa de los Muertos, take a right on a small dirt road that will lead you to the ocean.
Things to Know Before Visiting Playa de los Muertos
One of the prettiest of all of the Sayulita beaches is Playa Carricitos. Located on the outskirts of town, this Sayulita playa is accessible by walking an easy mile (1.6 kilometers) along the dirt roads just south of town. This small beach is wild and rugged and less protected than some of the other beaches in Sayulita.
What’s more, you will likely have Playa Carricitos all to yourself outside of the few guests staying in the stunning hotel, Playa Escondida, that overlooks this little slide of heaven on Mexico’s western coastline. When we visited, there was no one else there but us and the beautiful sunrise over the Pacific Ocean.
Directions to Playa Carricitos
To reach Playa Carricitos, follow Calle Pescadores which runs parallel to the beach on the south end, or take Calle Ninos Heros from the center out of town past Yah-Yah, one of the best cafes in Sayulita. If coming from Playa de los Muertos, continue straight past the first road you come to. Take a right at the next road to join up with Calle Ninos Heros. From here, follow the sign to Punta Sayulita.
At the fork in the road, bear left to follow the road uphill towards Casa de Carricitos, a yellow casa at the top of the hill. From here, you should see a sign pointing left to Playa Carricitos. Follow the road for approximately 200 meters. Along your left, you will see a wall in a state of disrepair covered in graffiti. An opening in the wall will lead you down a narrow, dirt path to the stunning, unspoiled beach of Playa Carracitos.
Things to Know Before Visiting Playa Carracitos
Playa Las Cuevas (Caves Beach)
This secret and hidden beach is the smallest of all of the Sayulita beaches but one that certainly should not be missed if you are exploring the area. Tucked between the rocky headland that separates North Beach from Playa Malpaso is Playa Las Cuevas. Despite being only 50-meters or so wide, its tranquility and beauty make it easily one of the best beaches to visit in Sayulita.
Similar to Playa Malpaso, getting here requires a trek through the jungle from Sayulita Beach and around the headland from Playa Malpaso during low tide. Sayulita Beach provides detailed directions on how to reach this idyllic location from Sayulita. Plan to spend at least an hour here enjoying the tranquility and serenity that this secret beach in Sayulita provides.
Things to Know Before Visiting Playa La Cuevas
Another beach in Sayulita worth the trek is Playa Malpaso. Playa Malpaso spans the coastline between Sayulita and San Pancho. It is one of the last beaches near Sayulita unspoiled by tourism and vacation and holiday homes. Where the jungle meets the sea, a visit to Playa Malpaso is the perfect way to spend a morning or late afternoon.
The only way to reach Playa Malpaso is through a jungle hike through the lush rainforest. From the Sayulita side, access to the hiking trails begins from the southern end of Avenue del Palmar. Once inside the jungle, there are many hiking trails. For the shortest and most scenic views with glimpses of the stunning beach through the foilage, bear to the left at every fork in the trail. Ultimately, all of the trails will lead you to the same place so you won’t get lost. It will only take a bit more time to reach your final destination, the stunning Sayulita beach of Playa Malpaso.
Things to Know Before Visiting Playa Malpaso
Another of the Sayulita beaches which requires a bit of effort to reach, Playa Patzuarito is the furthest of all of the Sayulita beaches from the main town. This hidden beach is secluded and unspoiled, making it the perfect Sayulita beach for those who like to get off the beaten path.
While not technically considered a nude beach, those who like to drop their knickers will likely have this desolate beach all to themselves and many reviews online have indicated that is just what people do.
There aren’t any restaurants or hawkers here, so you will want to take everything you will want for the day with you. The beach itself, however, is lined with palms providing plenty of shade from the relentless Mexico sun.
Directions to Playa Patzuarito
Playa Patzuarito is relatively easy to get to with an easy 2.5-kilometer walk from the center of town through the spectacular jungle. Head south from the town square along Av. Revolucion (Revolution Avenue). The road will meet up with the main highway, Punta de Mita, so exercise caution when walking along this section of the route. After approximately 200 meters, take the first right onto Calle Patzuarito. From here continue along Calle Patzuarito until you reach the unspoiled beach of Playa Patzuarito.
Things to Know Before Visiting Playa Patzuarito
Best Nayarit Playas Beyond Sayulita
Beyond Sayulita and further along the Riviera Nayarit coastline there are other great beaches to be explored. These are beaches not accessible from a Nayarit beach town but rather are undeveloped and take a bit of effort to get to. Beaches where you will need to get off the beaten path to explore.
If you are looking for one of the last true unspoiled beaches of the Riviera Nayarit, then Punta Raza is the place to be. A Nayarit beach where the jungle meets the sea, you won’t find anything here except two kilometers of white sand beach.
Once slated to be the destination of a new luxury resort of the Grand Hyatt back in the early 2010s, this development has yet to gain legs meaning Punta Raza is still undeveloped, unspoiled, and special.
To get here, however, you need your own set of wheels and you need to bring everything you will want for the day in tow. Punta Raza is north of Lo de Marco and Rincon de Guayabitos.
Things to Know Before Visiting Punta Raza
A Nayarit beach that remains still relatively undiscovered and unvisited by international tourists is Litibu Beach, but not for long. There are many developments such as the Litibu Golf Course that are slowly overtaking this pristine beach but it hasn’t quite been completely overtaken yet.
There are mixed reviews on what is best to do here. When the ocean is calm you can find some great swimming. In the right conditions, you can surf, largely by yourself. Taking long walks is always on the cards here. Litibu Beach is just north of Punta Mita and south of Sayulita.
Things to Know Before Visiting Litibu Beach
Just north of Punta Mita you will find Playa Careyeros. Another one of the Nayarit playas that is perfect to spend a lazy afternoon and a beach you will likely not be sharing with many other sunbathers. Playa Careyeros is one of the few beaches in the area with beautiful white sand and relatively calm waters.
To reach Playa Careyeros, however, you will need your own vehicle as access is down a long dirt road.
There is one restaurant on Playa Careyeros, El Barracuda Punta Mita. Expect to pay a premium when dining here given the off-the-beaten-path location. El Barracuda does have beach chairs and umbrellas available for its patrons which is a bonus for those who like to stay sand-free.
Things to Know Before Visiting Playa Careyeros
The Best Nayarit Surf Beaches
The Riviera Nayarit is consistently listed as one of the best destinations in Mexico for surfing. While you may not find the biggest waves in Mexico on the Riviera Nayarit, you will find consistent and reliable surf breaks. Surf breaks that are suitable for novice surfers and those more advanced. Many of the great Nayarit surf beaches are found on Punta Mita, one of the luxury beach resorts on the Riviera Nayarit.
One of the best and most loved of the Punta Mita surf spots is La Lancha. The secluded beach of La Lancha offers the most consistent and reliable break in Punta Mita. The mellow wave is perfect for beginners trying to learn the ropes before attempting some of the more gnarly waves nearby. La Lancha is best suited for longboards.
La Lancha is also unique in that it is mostly secluded unlike many of the other surf beaches near Sayulita. The 7-10 minute walk from the road is a detractor for some, but those up for the challenge will certainly enjoy a visit to La Lancha.
La Bahia (The Cove)
The Cove is considered the best surf break on the Riviera Nayarit and is best tackled by advanced surfers and at high tide. The Cove is also one of the least accessible surf spots and is accessible only by a boat ride from Punta Mita or a 30-40 minutes hike over the rocks from El Anclote beach.
One of the most popular surf breaks near Punta Mita and on the Riviera Nayarit is Punta Burros. Punta Burros is easily accessible, reliable, and suited for all types of surfers. Punta Burros is at its best in the winter months with occasionally good surf during summer in the right conditions.
Other Nearby Nayarit Surf Beaches
Outside of these three most popular surf beaches, keen surfers can also check out the following additional breaks in Nayarit:
- El Anclote – Perfect for beginners
- Los Veneros – A classic reef break
- Swimming Pools – Best for longboards
- Beach Break – Barrel surfing
When is the Best Time to Visit the Nayarit Beaches?
Let’s be honest, there is never a bad time to visit the Riviera Nayarit and the Nayarit beaches. The area is fortunate enough to have great weather year-round with the average temperature ranging between 72°F – 81°F (22°C- 27°C). The months of June through October see the most rainfall and are also the hottest.
The high season in the Riviera Nayarit runs from November to May each year which coincides with the best weather. The Nayarit beach towns swell to life over the Christmas and New Years’ holiday season with international and local travelers alike.
If you want to enjoy the best weather and fewer crowds, we recommend visiting the Nayarit playas after the Christmas surge in late January and early February before spring break in the United States or in late October and early November before things are in full swing again.
is The Riviera Nayarit safe?
You may have checked your country’s travel advisory listing for Mexico and noticed that the state of Nayarit is regularly included on the “reconsider travel” listing. Despite, this rating by governments, we have been to the Riviera Nayarit on multiple occasions and found the area to be safe.
When traveling to any country (or even within your own country), precautions should be exercised. It is not recommended to walk around at night by yourself on dark streets, carry or flash wads of cash, wear over the top and gaudy jewelry, or get excessively intoxicated. These are the times when people are the most vulnerable and when people are most susceptible to being taken advantage of regardless of where you are.
What we have found during our time on the Riviera Nayarit is that most people are warm, welcoming, and inviting to the tourists that visit the area.
So…Which Nayarit Beach Is Your Favorite?
Deciding on which Nayarit beach or beach town tops the list is heard. If I had to choose, for us, it would be San Pancho.
Which Nayarit beach would top your list? Let us know in the comments below.
Want to save this list of the best Nayarit beaches for later? Pin It!