The Riviera Nayarit and its more than 180 miles of coastline are home to tropical islands rife with wildlife and adventure, each an exceptional tourist attraction.
Besides these islands—some of which have been declared National Protected Areas (ANP by its acronym in Spanish)—there are other areas along this tourism corridor that also boast this designation and have exceptional landscapes, offering visitors unique experiences.
The ANPs are meant to preserve the area’s natural heritage through careful management and administration, as well as allowing for a meaningful revenue stream for the community that resides in the areas of tourist influx.
1. Islas Marietas
Created by volcanic activity, these islands were declared a National Park and Natural Protected Area in Mexico, as well as having received a designation from the UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve. They are home to thousands of birds and the surrounding waters offer an exceptional opportunity for diving. One of its major attractions is Playa Escondida (also known as Playa del Amor—Hidden Beach and Lover’s Beach, respectively), located in Isla Redonda. Though access is limited, it isn’t a deterrent to enjoy La Nopalera beach, practice kayaking, snorkeling, diving or SUP paddling.
2. Islas Marías
They may be home to a penitentiary, but the Islas Marías are also an unspoiled natural paradise, having been declared a Biosphere Reserve by the UNESCO in 2010. This is a group of four islands in the Pacific Ocean, right across form San Blas, Nayarit. The largest one is the Isla Madre, followed by María Magdalena, María Cleofas, and the islet of San Juanito. Besides being the largest, María Madre is the only one that is inhabited and is the site of the Islas Marías Federal Penal Colony, established there May 12, 1905.
3. Isla del Coral
The Isla del Coral has become a tourism icon for Rincón de Guayabitos thanks to its beautiful beaches (which received the Clean Beach Certification awarded by the SEMARNAT), which look like an impressive natural aquarium where visitors can snorkel and dive to their heart’s content while admiring the amazing variety of flora and fauna. Its crystalline waters are home to manta rays, sea turtles, starfish, jellyfish, and an immense variety multicolored fish. It’s located less than two miles from Rincón de Guayabitos.
4. Isla Isabel
Created by subaquatic volcanic action, this Biosphere reserve is a nearly virgin paradise, an amazing experience reserved for the travelers who most value being in contact with nature. It’s two hours away by boat from the coast of San Blas. The island is also a National Park with a mountainous surface with ravines and panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. Amateur and professional divers will enjoy spectacular marine landscapes lively with manta rays, humpback whales and brilliant coral communities.
5. Isla de Mexcaltitán
A trip to Mexcaltitán takes travelers on a voyage filled with mystery, history, and unique cultural experiences. The island is knows as the cradle of Aztec civilization or the “Venice of Mexico” thanks to the many canals that crisscross it every which way. The trip begins in La Batanga aboard a motorboat, some 30 minutes from the town of Santiago Ixcuintla (an hour from San Blas). Visitors will enjoy seeing mangroves, islets and caves, as well as a rich variety of marine life and exotic animals. There’s no public or private transportation on the island, so it can only be explored on foot.
6. Tatei Haramara Islet
Tatei Haramara, the famous White Rock (or White Vapor in Washiere or Waxiewe) is located across from Playa del Rey in San Blas. For the Wixárika people, it’s the physical manifestation of the goddess Haramara and the first solid object to appear in this world. According to Huichol legend, Tatei Haramara is the origin of all life, since the ocean is considered “our mother.” From there the gods emerged to begin the sacred journey to Wirikuta in the Catorce sierra of San Luis Potosí. This is one of the most sacred spots for the Huichol, the Cora and the Mexicanero people.
7. Isla Jaguar-National Marsh
The “Isla Jaguar” tourism corridor was created in order to promote the natural riches of the region’s ecosystems. This is one of the most interesting and exciting places on the coast of Nayarit, located in the municipality of Santiago Ixcuintla in the National Marsh area. It’s considered a Biosphere Reserve and is home to numerous species of animals and plants. The National Commission of Protected Areas (CONANP by its acronym in Spanish) has been studying the jaguar population in the area for the past three years, having installed hidden cameras that capture the movements of these formidable felines.
8. Sierra de Vallejo
The reserve in the Sierra de Vallejo encompasses 157,154 acres of land, of which 64,677 are in the municipality of Compostela and the remaining 92,477 belong to the municipality of Bahía de Banderas. There is also a 4,900-acre area that has been declared a Jaguar Sanctuary. This is one of the best-preserved forest and tropical jungle areas on the Pacific Coast, and thanks to the efforts of several civil associations it was declared a Natural Protected area in 2012. Because of its environmental importance, it is a heritage site for the people of Nayarit, of Mexico and of the world.
9. La Tovara
When traveling to the historic Port of San Blas, one of the most highly recommended experiences is a tour of the La Tovara National Park aboard a small motorboat that winds through the mangroves. The visitor can enjoy the presence of several endemic species of birds any time of year; during the winter season (from March through April) the area turns into home base for 80 percent of the migratory birds coming from North America. After the tour, a visit to the crocodile reserve in the park is a must.
10. San Juan Sierra
The San Juan Sierra was declared a “reserve for the conservation, environmental balance and regeneration of the environment for the state of Nayarit” in 1987 in order to suspend the exploitation of pumice deposits, as well as all the other activities that could potentially harm the flora and fauna of the area. The sierra, especially the San Juan Mountain, is a fantastic option for hiking as it has several paths with magnificent panoramas of the nearby towns of Tepic, Xalisco, and Francisco I Madero among others. It boasts an amazing diversity of flora and fauna, including seven types of natural vegetation; 1,250 species of plants and ferns, 31 of them endemic; and 370 registered species of birds.