Meagan Drillinger

For more than a decade, Punta Mita has been in the conversation when we talk about luxury in Mexico. 

The peninsula in the state of Nayarit at the northern tip of the Bay of Banderas has long been a quiet luxury enclave just north of Puerto Vallarta. You may know it from its heavy hitters like the St. Regis Punta Mita and the Four Seasons Punta Mita. But Punta Mita is now just a piece of the ever-growing luxury puzzle that is the Riviera Nayarit. With new luxury hotels coming online quickly, new attractions and new airlift into Puerto Vallarta, Riviera Nayarit is positioning itself as a new capital of luxury in Mexico.

“Punta Mita set a standard for growth in Riviera Nayarit,” said Richard Zarkin, public relations manager of the Riviera Nayarit Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Thanks to Punta Mita, luxury hotels and developers [became interested in the region.]” 

One of the biggest announcements in the past few months was the opening of the One&Only Mandarina — a resort where the cheapest room is roughly $1,000 per night, according to Zarkin. The destination works heavily with the Virtuoso consortium, as it has five properties that are affiliated with Virtuoso: Four Seasons, St. Regis, Imanta, Grand Velas and One&Only. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. 

In the coming months, Riviera Nayarit expects to open a new Auberge resort as well as a master-planned community called Costa Canuva, which has been in development since 2016. The master-planned community will have five luxury hotels, including a Ritz-Carlton Reserve and a Fairmont. Punta Mita has more lots that are expected to be developed by luxury hotels, as well. 

“We are expecting more luxury properties very close to the airport in Banderas Bay municipality, but the bulk of our luxury development will be past San Pancho,” said Zarkin. 

San Pancho (or San Francisco) is a small beach town just north of the bohemian enclave of Sayulita. The luxury development in Nayarit is expected to boom along the northern coast of Riviera Nayarit. 

Things to do

The state of Nayarit offers 192 miles of coastline and 23 coastal towns. It’s a new frontier for travelers looking to expand upon their knowledge of Mexico’s Pacific Coast, especially travelers who are already familiar with Puerto Vallarta and are looking for the next “it” destination.

The main draw to 192 miles of coastline is sun and sand, of course, but like so many other beach destinations in Mexico, this is only the surface. 

“Beach and sun are the main pillar,” Zarkin said. “But what’s behind that are unique colors, streets, stores, hotels and activities. You can get in touch with real Mexico here. You can see the towns that have a main center and a historic church. This is what makes this such a diverse destination.”

In fact, in 2020, Riviera Nayarit announced a new Pueblo Magico. Nayarit welcomed the island of Mexcaltitan, known as the Venice of Mexico. Just a short boat ride away from the mainland, Mexcaltitan is famous for its network of canals that form within the streets during the rainy season. The island is entirely car-free, and locals move around on canoes. Similar to Venice, the houses are brightly colored and sit atop high sidewalks that keep them out of the water. This island is one of the best spots on the Pacific to try seafood and ceviche.

Coming this summer, Riviera Nayarit has announced that Islas Marias, about 60 miles off the coast of San Blas, will be open for tourists. The archipelago is made up of four mostly uninhabited islands, except for Maria Madre Island, which housed a prison until 2019. Today the facility acts as an education center for biodiversity.

The islands were declared a natural protected area in 2000 and a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2005. It is a paradise for bird-watchers, home to the Tres Marias Amazon, an endemic parrot that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. In addition to nature, the islands are a great surf spot, particularly Hammerhead Beach on Maria Cleofas Island.

“One very important thing we have in Nayarit is nature,” said Zarkin. “We have the coral reefs, we have Islas Marietas, we have the Sierra Madre Mountains. When you think of golf and fishing you think of Cabo, but we have that, too, and much more.”

Getting there

Spirit Airlines announced this week that it will be adding a third destination in Mexico. Starting in July, the carrier will run to Puerto Vallarta from Los Angeles with daily service, Houston George Bush Airport with three weekly flights and Dallas/Fort Worth Airport with three weekly flights.