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The El Salto Waterfall in Nayarit. Photo by Raquel M.
The El Salto Waterfall in Nayarit. Photo by Raquel M.
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Nayarit a tiny gem with stunning views in western Mexico

After four trips to Nayarit, I assumed that I’d seen the best of what the tiny state in western Mexico had to offer — pristine championship golf courses, five-star resorts with to-die-for views, incredible food and crowded surf towns with funky restaurants and cobblestone streets.

But on my fifth trip, I realized the best was yet to come. Who knew Nayarit also features stunning waterfalls, simmering volcanoes, charming historical mountain towns, new wineries, and an undiscovered bohemian surf town?

Accessing Nayarit couldn’t have been easier, thanks to the Cross Border Xpress in Otay Mesa, where travelers can purchase a $20 one-way or $38 roundtrip ticket and walk five minutes across a pedestrian bridge to their flights in the remodeled Tijuana International Airport. The eight-year-old CBX offers access to over 40 destinations throughout Mexico.

For my 2½-hour flight on Volaris Airlines last month to Tepic, Nayarit’s capital, I used valet parking at CBX for a little extra money and convenience.

The city of Tepic and nearby San Juan volcano in Nayarit. Stock photo
The city of Tepic and the nearby San Juan volcano in Nayarit. Stock photo

After spending a day in Tepic touring a historic garment factory, visiting the town center, and devouring mouthwatering tacos at Loma 42 restaurant, we headed for the mountains and a morning hike to the El Salto Waterfall in the small town of Tecuitata.

The trail was clogged with three horses, who generously posed for pictures and licked our hands on the way to their morning water break in the Piedras Negras stream. The stunning waterfall plunges over 100 feet and cascades off the deep green and aqua-blue rocks into a pool of frigid, knee-deep water. I didn’t bring my swimsuit, so I reluctantly passed on a cold plunge.

The steamy day heated up in the afternoon after a 40-minute bumpy van ride to Nayarit’s only active volcano, Ceboruco, or “The Black Giant,” which sits 7,500 feet above the small town of Jala. Even though Ceboruco’s last eruption was 153 years ago, the gases and vapors arising from the black rocks still bring the heat.

Trust me, it’s not worth waving your hand within a few feet of the surface.

The day ended with a relaxing spa session at Jala’s chic Nukari hotel and a rooftop dinner that included a wine tasting from the Meseta del Cielo vineyard, Nayarit’s first winery. According to local historians, the volcano’s last eruption changed the soil, making it perfect for growing corn and grapes. The grilled steak/Meseta del Cielo Syrah pairing was the hit of the trip.

Colorful Mexican flags decorate the town of Sayulita. Photo by Patricia Chumillas
Colorful Mexican flags decorate the streets of Sayulita, located in Nayarit. Photo by Patricia Chumillas

From Jala, I made the 2½-hour drive back to more familiar territory, the Riviera Nayarit — 200 miles of coastline and a fixture in Mexico’s tourism industry. I thought I’d seen every patch of sand along the Riviera, but I’d never stumbled upon San Francisco or, as locals call it, “San Pancho.”

The town of less than 5,000 residents sits just north of Mexico’s surf capital, Sayulita. San Pancho is a quiet and unpretentious town with art galleries, funky shops, and near-empty streets.

“I’ve kept hearing that San Pancho is basically what Sayulita looked like 20 years ago,” said 40-year-old Jess Hollmeier, who moved to the region four years ago from Bavaria, Germany, and opened a vegetarian restaurant in a nearby town. “It’s got this bohemian chic feel to it. Nice restaurants, boutique stores, lots of surfers and incredibly talented musicians from all over the world at night in the streets and restaurants.”

We wrapped up the trip in the lap of luxury at the swanky and sprawling Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta Hotel, which has two championship golf courses, one that hosts a PGA Tour event, 35 restaurants, three gorgeous spas, a lazy river and too many pools and swim-up bars to count. We stayed at the Grand Luxxe resort and enjoyed a fabulous brisket sandwich at the Burger Custom Made restaurant.

Before heading to the airport for an afternoon flight back to Tijuana, we treated ourselves to a day lounging at Luxxe’s rooftop pool, followed by a dip in the balmy Pacific Ocean and a Pina Colada at the swim-up bar.

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