Sayulita and Islas Marietas: jewels of the Riviera Nayarit

Julia Holland | Live the World

November 23, 2022

The Riviera Nayarit refers to the region of small towns, port cities, and magnificent beaches lining Mexico’s Pacific coast from Puerto Vallarta and the Banderas Bay in the state of Jalisco to the town of San Blas in the state of Nayarit. The small towns that lie in the Riviera Nayarit have a laid-back, adventurous, and authentic feel in contrast to the more developed, commercial, and luxury-oriented Caribbean resort towns. If you are interested in exploring a more culturally and ecologically conscious slice of Mexican paradise, then the Riviera Nayarit has what you are looking for. One of the best sleepy coastal towns in the state of Nayarit, just a half hour’s drive from Puerto Vallarta, is Sayulita. Worth exploring are also its inhabited volcanic islands - Islas Mariteas.

© istock/zstockphotos

Sayulita is a colorful and authentic pueblo magico, full of family-owned restaurants, humble boutique hotels, and Nayarit natives proud of their culture and the bounty of natural wonders that surround them. The beaches in and around Sayulita are perfect for surfing, snorkeling, and scuba diving

© istock/zstockphotos

Whether you visit Sayulita as a day trip or decide to stay in a cute hotel, hostel, or beach campsite, you will want to explore the various local beaches and tour one of Sayulita’s most magical attractions: Islas Marietas.

Sayulita’s Beaches

© istock/Julio Ortega

Sayulita has a central beach lined with restaurants, a small marina, and local art and souvenir shops, but there are better beaches for swimming and relaxing within walking distance. Plus, the walks to some of these more secluded beaches take you through interesting natural and historical settings.

For example, Playa Los Muertos (appropriately named for “the dead”) is a beautiful and pristine beach surrounded by severe rocky outcroppings and the lush jungle-covered mountains characteristic of Jalisco and Nayarit beaches that you can only access by walking through an old cemetery. 

© istock/briela

Another beach called Carricitos requires you to walk through an unfinished home construction site that appears to have been consumed by the surrounding jungle. Yet another magnificent beach, Malpaso, requires you to walk along the main beach headed north till you reach a rocky outcropping that you can climb over or take a less treacherous dirt road that runs parallel to the shoreline. 

© istock/MateusBodaneze

These three beaches are less crowded and offer more relaxing and pristine conditions to swim, surf, and snorkel in the cool blue pacific waters. That said, the main beach in Sayulita is where you can take surfing lessons offered by the local surfer crowd and catch epic morning or evening tours to Islas Marietas.

© facebook/GeneracionViajeras

Islas Marietas

Islas Mariteas are a group of uninhabited volcanic islands off the coast of Sayulita that are unparalleled in natural beauty and an absolute must-see for travelers. One of the islands is home to the rare and endangered blue-footed booby along with other aviary populations, not to mention dolphins and whales that swim around the islands during the fall, winter, and spring months. 

© istock/Doneyanedomam

Another island in the Marietas grouping houses Playa Escondido or Hidden Beach, a beach that is completely enclosed by volcanic rock with a natural circular skylight that you can only access by swimming through a cave.

© istock/cassielMx

You can take a kayaking or paddle boarding tour around las Islas Marietas, but the only way you can visit Hidden Beach is to pay an additional fee to the park service or purchase a snorkeling tour that includes a trip to Hidden Beach. It is a lot more expensive but well worth the expense. Hidden Beach is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  

You can spend the morning exploring las Islas Marietas, then enjoy the late afternoon and spectacular west coast sunsets on one of the smaller Sayulita beaches. You could also reverse the schedule and spend the morning swimming and sunbathing before embarking on a sunset tour in a catamaran around las Islas Marietas. No matter the order, Sayulita’s beaches and las Islas Marietas are amazing jewels of the Riviera Nayarit, Mexico’s captivating and wonderous natural gems. 

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