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Nuevo Vallarta Mexico: Two Classic Beach Towns

Neighborhood Park in La Cruz, Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico. Noreen Kompanik photos.

Neighborhood Park in La Cruz, Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico. Noreen Kompanik photos.

Bucerías and La Cruz: Discovering Two Mexican Pacific Coast Hidden Gems in Nuevo Vallarta

By Noreen Kompanik
GoNOMAD Senior Writer

Sunset Horseback Ride in Riviera Nayarit in Nuevo Vallarta.

Sunset Horseback Ride in Riviera Nayarit in Nuevo Vallarta.

Riviera Nayarit. These words evoke thoughts of an exotic destination getaway the first time I heard them. And that’s exactly what it ended up being after our recent vacation there.

Though my husband and I had previously visited Jalisco’s Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, this was our very first time in nearby Nuevo Vallarta.

This pristine coastline is dotted with picturesque seaside coastal towns and pueblos, framed by stunning white and golden sand palm-fringed beaches.

Located just 20 minutes from the Puerto Vallarta airport, Nuevo Vallarta is escapism at its finest – a true treasure of the Mexican Pacific Coast.

After a day or two of rest and relaxation at our magnificent oceanfront resort, Villa Del Palmar Flamingos, we were itching to explore other areas of Nuevo Vallarta. After all, this jungle-y tropical paradise just begs to be discovered, and we were certainly game to do just that.

Bucerías: a Traditional Mexican Coastal Town

In Spanish, Bucerías means “place of divers.” Once a small fishing village with its cobblestone streets, and brightly colored homes (with enormous doors), this town still maintains a laid-back simple lifestyle feeling like a trip back in time.

Many say that Bucerías is what Puerto Vallarta was 50 years ago.

In the 1940s, the town had only seven palapa huts, and the locals cultivated corn, sorgo, sesame, peanuts, and fruit, and fished its abundant waters.

Playa La Manzanilla La Cruz

The locals are a friendly lot, more than happy to help with directions or information. However, most do not speak English, so, if you’re planning to visit, you’ll definitely want to brush up on your Spanish. We also ran into several Canadians on the streets as Bucerías has become a popular winter residence for these sun-loving North Americans. We can totally understand why!

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Travelers from Nuevo Vallarta can get to Bucerías via car, the beach, a bike trail, or in our case by walking. We were thrilled when a local showed us the walking/bike path from our resort on a rustic, unmarked, unpaved road that rambled past gardens and palm trees. There was something wonderful to this peaceful “getting off the beaten path” concept as we strolled through the picturesque, verdant valley to the town of Bucerías.Walking Bike Path to Bucerías

Exploring the Town

Bucerías is an easy walkable town, though due to its cobblestone and sometimes uneven sidewalks and streets, flat walking shoes are best. Locals much prefer getting around by bicycle vs. car.

The town is a photographer’s dream with its vibrant colors, fascinating sculptures, creative wall murals, and charming boutique shops. However, the sleepy village is slowly becoming more cosmopolitan, and we wondered how long before the word gets out about this secret slice of Mexican paradise.

While the town’s main road from Nuevo Vallarta is quite busy, the two to three blocks closer to the beach are far more relaxed while maintaining a true sense of authenticity.

The town’s outdoor market adjacent to the beach is even more impressive than we’d heard with its row after row of vendors displaying beautiful pieces of art, clothing, jewelry, and local crafts. It’s ok to price barter. It’s all part of the culture, and they’ll expect you to.

Beautiful Beaches and Lunch with a View

Bucerías boasts five miles of beautiful coastline along Banderas Bay. Here soft sands, calm, crystalline waters, and mild surf create a delightful place to relax and savor a bite of lunch.

Dining toes in the sand is always a favorite and Mar Y Sol gave us that in an idyllic setting. Guests are seated under umbrellas and palapas right on the beach. The Sangria and Corona with lime hit the spot, and we’re certain the food and libations tasted even better because of the magnificent view. Views of the La Cruz Waterfront from La Peska

As we dined, kayakers and paddleboarders were navigating the calm waters of the bay, and parasailers squealed with delight as their parachutes hoisted them into the air. Humpback whales are often spotted off-shore in this area between December and March, and we were lucky to see a little spouting and breeching action happening in the distance. Frolicking dolphins are a common sight just offshore.

Vaquero at Sunset

Vaquero Mexican cowboy at sunset on the beach.

Horseback Riding at Sunset 

You’ll see the local vaqueros (cowboys) with their horses riding along the beaches of Riviera Nayarit throughout the day and evening. We thought it would be fun and memorable to take a sunset horseback ride along the surf, and so we booked it with the vaqueros.

As we clippity-clopped our way down the beach and through the waves, the tide was slowly receding as we headed toward the setting sun. It was an absolutely magical hour that went by far too fast. The horses were gentle, good-spirited, and well-taken care of. We would highly recommend this activity to those who’ve never done it. Our vaquero guide was outstanding and he happily captured lots of pictures to commemorate our ride.

Bucerías Events and Festivals

Colorful homes of Bucerías Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico.

Colorful homes of Bucerías, Mexico.

For those visiting Bucerías on a Thursday evening, the art walk is quite lovely. Galleries stay open for the event, and cocktails and refreshments are served along the main drag of Lazaro Cardenas Street.

Our Lady of Peace Festival takes place each January celebrating La Virgen de la Paz, patron of the local Catholic church. The fiesta lasts for nine days and includes carnival rides, colorfully decorated boats that take to the sea, fireworks, dancing, local Mexican delicacies, and lots of festive fun.

This charming town was such a pleasant surprise bringing lots of “wows” and smiles throughout our day that we returned for a romantic dinner along the beach a few days later.

La Cruz de Huanacaxtle- Nautical Capital of the Riviera Nayarit

Alleyways in La Cruz

Alleyways in La Cruz, Mexico.

Just 6-km or 3.5 miles up the coast from Bucerías, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle was known as a small authentic fishing village for generations. It was a mere 20-minute taxi ride from our resort, enabling us to explore yet another of the area’s charming seaside hamlets.

In 1930, the pueblito (village) of La Cruz was founded by the Chavez family who continues to live in this rustic town today. La Cruz is so-named for a cross located at the entrance of the village made from huanacaxtle, a tropical wood with multi-grained swirls similar to Hawaii’s monkeypod trees.

Though the Riviera Nayarit Marina was completed here in 1993 as the largest and most modern in the corridor, the small-town picture-postcard feel still exists, blending harmoniously with the marina project and its modern yacht club.

The dichotomy here is totally fascinating. Local fishermen still arrive at the pier in their pangas (local boats) loaded with their fresh local catches, in a marina surrounded by multi-million-dollar yachts and fancy vessels. But, you know, somehow it all works here to perfection.

Fishing Boats Pangas of La Cruz

Fishing Boats Pangas of La Cruz

Dining in the La Cruz Marina

Our hotel concierge grew up in the village of La Cruz and suggested we dine at the marina’s La Peska. He knows the family and chef and highly recommended the restaurant. The locals know. He was spot on, and we were impressed.

You can’t get seafood any fresher brought from the sea to the table as we literally watched the fish being delivered. Marina and bay views from the restaurant are spectacular, the interior is lovely, and the cuisine and service are top-notch.

Entrance to Riviera Nayarit Marina in La Cruz

Entrance to Riviera Nayarit Marina in La Cruz

We always rave about the ceviche in Mexico and La Peska’s versions were incredible, as was the garlic shrimp, served whole, and butterflied in the shell. Though we’d only intended to stay for a quick lunch, the magic of the moment kept us at the restaurant longer as we continued to soak in the ambiance and breathtaking vistas of the La Cruz waterfront.

Exploring the Town of La Cruz

Another easy walkable coastal town, La Cruz is often called “the market in the middle of the sea.” Their farmer’s market, Mercado de Mar de La Cruz is impressive, featuring the freshest products of the region, including a myriad of seafood and some fish varieties we’d never heard of. Fishmongers will gladly clean and filet the fish for buyers at no extra charge.

Strolling through the town was such a fun experience. We wondered what we’d possibly find around each bend. A neighborhood park with a gazebo, park benches, and a children’s playground sits in the middle of the town square surrounded by swaying palms and colorful bougainvillea. Wall art here is impressive and plentiful. Even vibrantly painted local abodes are accented with artistic scenes celebrating the local sun, sea, and Mexican culture at their finest.

Iglesia De La Santa Cruz, a local Catholic church, caught both of our attention with its whitewashed exterior, dark blue doors, and double church bells. Though it was lovely outside, it was the warm, welcoming, and reverent interior that surprised us with its magnificent palm-lined dark wood pews, huanacaxtle ceiling, and red and gold-colored altar.

Fish Market in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Nuevo Vallarta.

Fish Market in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle.

La Cruz Beaches

We never tired of Riviera Nayarit beaches, and La Cruz touts some beautiful local stretches of sand. Playa La Manzanilla is stunning. Known as the “local beach,” the white-sand crescent-shaped beach is known for its calm crystalline waters and beachside palapa restaurants.

Destiladeras Beach just a few minutes up the coast is easily accessible by taxi or local bus. Waves here are typically suitable for body boarding vs. surfing but can get rough with weather changes. Generally (and when we visited) the beach is ideal for swimming and stand-up paddling within its tourmaline waters. If you’re into beach walks, this is the place. Locals also say it’s a great spot for whale watching.  Beach chairs and a palapa can be rented here for about $300 pesos ($15) for the entire day.

We thoroughly enjoyed our relaxing vacation time at our Nuevo Vallarta resort. But, after returning from Riviera Nayarit, we both agreed that our favorite adventures were exploring these two lovely Mexican beach towns. Sometimes getting off-the-beaten-path leads to a lot of surprises, and that’s what makes vacationing fun.

Destiladeras Beach Riviera Nayarit, Nuevo Vallarta.

Destiladeras Beach Riviera Nayarit.

We now know there are more Mexican Pacific coastal towns out there like Sayulita, Punta de Mita, and more. Visiting these the next time we’re in this magnificent area is a must, as we thoroughly enjoy their eclectic mix of the charming, rustic, historic, modern, splendid, and extraordinary.

Artist Ansel Adams once said, “I have found that every experience is a form of exploration.” We couldn’t agree more. After all, isn’t that what travel and life are all about?

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