Snorkeling on Hidden Beach in the Marietas Islands. (Photo: Riviera Nayarit Convention and Visitors Bureau)
By Jennifer Ceaser
Punta de Mita, Mexico, is only 30 miles north of Puerto Vallarta, in Riviera Nayarit, but it’s a whole different kind of scene.
Set on a peninsula that juts into Banderas Bay, the quiet, secluded area is a mix of rustic beachfront towns and fancy five-star resorts, sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the Sierra Madre mountains.
And while relaxation is a definite must here, there’s no reason you can’t have an adventure — or three — while on vacation.
This trio of Punta de Mita excursions are worth getting out of your beach chair for.
Marietas Islands tour
Hang ten on Banderas Bay’s sizeable ocean waves. (Photo: The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort)
No one lives on these volcanic islands, a short boat ride from Punta de Mita, but they are alive with life — bird-watchers will have a field day spotting native avian species like the blue-footed booby, which mates and nests along the rocky outcroppings, while snorkelers can spy angelfish, manta rays and sea turtles in the surrounding reefs.
Then there’s the famous Hidden Beach — reachable only by timing the tide just right to squeeze through a cave and emerge onto a beach inside a crater that opens to the sky. Avoid the large, crowded tour boats and go with a boutique operator like Punta Mita Expeditions, which picks you up from the beach at the St. Regis and Four Seasons resorts.
The guides show you a good time — whether it’s stand-up paddleboarding, whale-watching (in the winter months) or snorkeling — but they are also dedicated to preserving the delicate ecosystem, and some of the staff are even studying to be marine biologists. (Three-hour marine adventure tour, $125 per person.)
Take a stroll in funky beachy Sayulita. (Photo: Riviera Nayarit Convention & Visitors Bureau)
Next door to Punta de Mita is this boho/surfer chic beachfront village — kind of like Tulum, but with waves. All roads lead from the steep hills down to the sea — surrounding the plaza are cobblestone streets lined with brightly colored buildings and murals.
Here you can tuck into a great, affordable meal at a taqueria, check out locally made art at the many galleries and shop for stylish clothing and jewelry.
Pachamama has emerged as the region’s sartorial headquarters, thanks to the keen eyes of its French ex-pat sister-owners who specialize in hand-made dresses, tunics, bags, and leather jewelry. On the food scene, don’t miss Choco Banana, for chocolate-covered bananas and excellent espresso, and savor cinnamon-topped deep-fried dough from any of the churros trucks parked around town. (For more info, visit sayulita.com.)
Hike Monkey Mountain
Climbers take on Monkey Mountain.
Not everything in Punta de Mita has to be about the beach. Consider a hike in the subtropical forest, which takes you to the top of the highest point in the area: Cerro de Mono (Monkey Mountain).
No, you won’t see monkeys: The Spanish word for monkey is mono, but the colloquial meaning is different, referring to clay figurines that the indigenous people left on the mountain for their gods.
The experienced guide and founder of Mexitreks, Stephen Pomeroy, will give you the history of the mountain while pointing out the flora and fauna, bugs and birds and even petroglyphs from native Indians on this four-hour-long hike.
You’ll need to be in shape — sections of the hike are strenuous and involve traversing riverbeds via ropes (plus it’s hot here!) — but summit the mountain and you’ll have awesome panoramic views of Banderas Bay below and lush green hills all around. (Half-day nature hike, $45; other hikes also available.)
Where to eat
Set at Punta de Mita’s Cinco Hotel, Tuna Blanca is the seafront Nuevo Vallarta sibling of Chef Thierry Blouet’s Franco-Mexican icon in Puerto Vallarta. With a farm-to-table menu — in a region still warming to the concept — the restaurant focuses on the fresh regional seafood simply grilled and accented by organic herbs and vegetables.
Where to stay
Make time to relax poolside at St. Regis. (Photo: The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort)
Hotels in Punta de Mita and the surrounding villages range from rustic to full-on five star. For the latter, book into Sayulita’s Villa Amor, with apartment-styled one- to three-bedroom villas set both along the Pacific and in jungle-clad hills (from $155).
The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort offers 120 rooms spread over 22 beachfront acres with a full-service Remede spa, three swimming pools and a pair of Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses all fronting Banderas Bay (from $825).
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