Knowing Nayarit

By | Category: Travel destinations
Nayarit river

the serenity of the waterways

Sitting at a bright-red painted table overlooking an estuary in the mythical, yet real, village of Mexcaltitán in the Riviera Nayarit, we threw bits of tortillas in the air to acrobatic sea birds that caught them in their bills mid-flight.

Dozens of great white pelicans floated by in the emerald green waters, while a nearby family lustily sang “Las Mañanitas,” Mexico’s birthday song. The feast was succulent – Nayarit’s beloved “pescado zarandeado” — a whole snapper, caught that morning, grilled on aromatic mangrove wood, served with home-made corn tortillas, grilled  scallions, cucumbers, tomatoes, and a delectable shrimp ‘paté’ with crackers. Icy cold Pacifica beers in hand, we marveled that such a place still exists.

and Nayarit reptiles

and Nayarit reptiles

Never heard of Nayarit? Mexico’s 10th smallest state (out of 31,) it’s incredibly diverse – and birdwatchers, wildlife enthusiasts, and those seeking the authentic, unsullied-by-tourism Mexico are drawn to it. On a recent week-long visit, we travelled through magnificent green countryside with rolling hills, endless sugar cane fields with fronds blowing in the breeze, mango, banana, and papaya orchards and tobacco farms. We were just a few yards from enormous crocodiles, inches from an exquisitely beautiful jaguar and viewing thousands of migratory birds in the emerald-green rainforest. We were eating succulent dishes we had never heard of before and meeting fascinating people from all walks of life, such as elaborately adorned Huichol Indians still living in their prehispanic, ancient lifestyle.

It’s easy to travel from one fascinating part of Nayarit to another. Nayarit’s southern border is just ten minutes north from the Puerto Vallarta airport which now has a direct connection from Gatwick. The modern, inter-coastal highway is serviced by comfortable, air-conditioned buses that stop in each town – with very reasonable fares.

Nayarit coastline

Nayarit coastline

If you want the mega all-inclusives overlooking the Pacific, luxury spas, fabulous surfing, world-class golfing and lie-on-the-beach vacations, it’s all in the Riviera Nayarit, but if you yearn for adventure, colonial architecture and art and a heady dip into other cultures, venture into the rest of the state and “know Nayarit.”

The state of Nayarit has four distinct tourism zones:

Nayarit Colonial offers Spanish colonial architecture, history and museums of the capital city of Tepic (founded in 1542) as well as the delightful cobblestoned villages of Jala, Ixtlan del Rio and Bellavista. Tepic is a bustling, lively city perfect as a base for exploration of nearby Huichol Indian villages and other areas. We enjoyed exploring the lively Plaza de Armas with its enormous cathedral and beautiful Municipal Palace, as well as the Amado Nervo, Museo de las Cuatro Culturas (Museum of Four Cultures) and Juan Escutia museums, and gazed for a long while at a father and small son cutting, trimming, and bagging sugar cane stalks at their street stand

colonial Nayarit

colonial Nayarit

Nayarit has several spectacular “enchanted lagoons,” such as San Pedro, Tepetiltic and and Santa Maria del Oro, where we spent the night The morning there is breathtaking – with silver mist rising over the lake and layers of multi-hued green mountains rising beyond. People come to these towns to fish, bike, waterski, boat, rest and to enjoy the area’s famous delicacies.

We started our Riviera Nayarit exploration in the large town of San Blas (founded in the 17th century,) renowned as one of the world’s most important natural bird refuges.  While bird watching here is wonderful all year, its rich migratory bird watching every winter season (November-April,) brings an estimated 80 percent of the migratory North American bird species to interact with local bird species living in the area year-round, about 2 ½ hour’s north of the Puerto Vallarta airport. Caution – you will need insect repellant in this area!

Around San Blas there are nearby dense mangroves and a hilly rainforest’s microclimate which attract thousands of birds to mate, nest and feed in the nutrient-rich estuary. One morning, we arose before sunrise to climb up through the rocky paths at Tecuitata, through impossibly dense mango, jackfruit, banana and papaya trees, and as the first rays of sunlight hit us and filled the sky with streaks of pink and blue, so did the cacophony of sound – birds calling, singing, and cawing all around us, along with crickets and woodpeckers. Our bilingual guide, expert birdwatcher Francisco Garcia, called in excitement to us when he spotted a squirrel cuckoo.

San Blas is where Junipero Serra, the Spanish priest, sailed to begin his quest to build missions throughout California, a period of history marked by the still standing colonial fort in San Blas.  Today, the beach from which Serra sailed is better known for having the longest surfable wave in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records.

Nayarit beaches

Nayarit beaches

The next morning, we skimmed the glass-like surface of the estuary in a small panga (a boat) to enter the gloriously peaceful and beautiful La Tovara, a mangrove refuge filled with about 60 crocodiles, a multitude of turtles, lizards and herons, storks, hawks, eagles, egrets, ducks, falcons and more.

About a 45-minute drive from San Blas, small boats take visitors to the fascinating village of Mexcaltitán, mentioned above. This no-vehicle village of 1,800 residents is only reachable by boat. Inside the estuary, this delightful town is completely walkable Everyone’s doors are open, children are outside playing, the church has an exceptionally bloody Jesus Christ statue, and there is a surprisingly well executed small historical museum (Museo del Origen.) Stroll the paths into yesteryear and slow down – what would it be like to live here, we wondered. In fact, we learned that some locals have never left – afraid to experience cars, noise and big city life. As our magical day in Mexcaltán drew to a close, we embarked onto the little boat, alongside of some 25 great white pelicans. It was a day like no other we’ve ever had.

Knowing Nayarit is a joy, one that takes much more than one trip there – this gloriously beautiful, lush, authentically Mexican destination will happily fill your minds, hearts and stomachs.

For more information about Nayarit, click here.

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