Puerto Vallarta is the gateway to Mexico's West Coast playground of Riviera Nayarit. This land of luxury hotels and inclusive resorts is bordered by golden shores, manicured golf courses and the lush Sierra Madre rainforest. The average traveller can simply settle in to soak up some rays and a few poolside margaritas.
But for a real taste of Mexico, visitors should set their sights on Sayulita: a hip and laidback town of adventure on Banderas Bay. It's here that surfers, locals and tourists stroll the cobblestone streets under fluttering banderas (flags). Activities abound in this quirky town, where festivals, parades, fresh food, live music and barefoot nonchalance reign.
Sayulita, in all its creative glory, awaits the traveller who appreciates luxury – but craves adventure.
Set sail into the good life
Before amping up the adrenaline, visitors can learn to performance sail on a racing yacht. Banderas Bay, highly regarded among world sailors for its steady and strong breezes, hosts the Bahia de Banderas International Regatta sailing race each year.
Visitors can get a taste of the action learning on a J105 yacht, where on the water, the boat's sails create a sense of flying. Experienced yachters challenge newbie and pro crew members alike to push the yacht to her limits on the famous sailing bay.
The Amor Boutique Hotel overlooks this picturesque bay, with 22 oceanfront luxury villas that range from one to seven bedrooms. The villas feature a mix of private pools and expansive balconies for sunset toasts. A few perks include complimentary alfresco yoga classes and stand-up paddle boards, which can be accessed on the beach below alongside a wide selection of loaner surfboards. The hotel's surf concierge, too, can offer insider tips to find secret spots based on experience, weather and water conditions.
Feel free to horse around
Steve Conger / Flickr
Equine lovers will find an adventure for every taste, such as moonlit beach rides or treks on horseback through the rainforest where they’ll learn about natural botanicals. Those seeking a refined experience can visit the nearby virgin jungle of San Pancho, and La Patrona Polo & Equestrian Club for a world-class match over brunch. Admire the horses, tour the stables and paddocks or take a lesson in polo, jumping or dressage. But take heed: swinging a mallet as you jostle through other riders and their practiced mounts is not for the faint of heart.
A stay at Cielo Rojo Hotel in charming, cobblestoned San Pancho offers artsy boutique lodging with an abundance of warm Mexican hospitality, only a short walk from the polo grounds. The inn's Bistro Organico is a popular hotspot for locals and visitors due to Chef Juan Diego's talents with locally caught fish and vegetarian meals. A favourite dish among patrons is the steaming whole snapper that's wrapped in an aromatic, heart-shaped hoja sante (large, earthy “holy leaf" herb).
Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit
Beachside Buddha Gallery and Spa in Sayulita village not only offers chic boho wear in its multi-roomed cavernous shop, but also gives visitors the chance to undo the ravages of sun, sand and play. Dip your toes into clear tanks as tiny resident fish swarm to nibble off the dead skin. This somewhat ticklish and Facebook-worthy pesco-pedi soothes and smooths the sole.
For those wanting to continue the relaxation (and find unique activities for the kids or grandkids), the upscale five-diamond Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit offers endless opportunities to spoil yourself and your family. These range from excellent culinary tasting menus and creative cocktails served poolside, to unmatched service and hydrotherapy massage rituals at Spa at Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit. Parents can opt for kid-combo spa therapies or relax solo as the kids try stationary bungee jumping, a jungle horseback ride, sand-castle building contests or eco-craft workshops.
But be warned – you and your family may never want to leave.