04 MAR 2015: I’ve noticed a trend. Folks take a weeklong vacation in Puerto Vallarta. They love it and spend two weeks the following year. Weeks become months and often these folks (myself included) start venturing further up the Bay of Banderas and into the state of Nayarit for the entire winter. Bucerias is so popular with Canadians, especially those from the West Coast, it’s been dubbed “BC-rias.”

This winter my husband and I rented a condo for a month in a gated community called Punta Esmeralda, ideally located minutes from both Bucerias and La Cruz de Huanacaxtle on the Riviera Nayarit.

This paradisiac stretch along the Bay of Banderas, framed by the verdant Sierra Madre Mountains, is also a region of splendid contrasts where visitors have choices about whether to “save or splurge” in every town and village. You can buy a fresh mango on a stick and a home baked muffin from a beach vendor for a $3 breakfast, or find yourself dining under the stars at a five-star resort for dinner. You will be spoiled by choice.

I’ve listed the major towns, starting at the top end of the Bay and working south, with suggestions on where to pinch pesos or go “loco.”

San Francisco
Nicknamed San Pancho by the locals, there’s a lot to discover here.

At La Petrona Polo Club, the only one in the state of Nayarit, watch the ponies from November ‘til June. You can even take an equestrian lesson. How about Pilates on horseback?

I had my best breakfast in Mexico at El Cielo Rojo, a cute boutique hotel and organic restaurant. Hot-from-the-oven scones with local honey preceded an amazing rendition of huevos rancheros served atop homemade blue tortillas. Cielo Rojo also sells its own brand of tequila.

Take a tour of the Entreamigos community centre. The organizers took over an abandoned dairy in 2009 and transformed it using eco friendly materials. The library and computer area encourages local children to improve their reading skills. A small store sells donated clothing and household items for a pittance. From their extensive recycling centre plastic detergent bottles are transformed into pull-toys. Tequila and wine bottles become glasses and vases.

There’s even a Canadian contribution. Gilles Ste-Croix, co-founder of the Cirque du Soleil, who has a home on the beach, has set up a circus school for the kids.

The beach scene in San Pancho is more tranquil than at Sayulita or Bucerias. Pull up a chair and dig your feet into the sand at Las Palmas and order the tuna tostadas—carpaccio of the freshest tuna topped with crispy caramelized onions and a secret sauce.

More than a surfer town, Sayulita gives off a relaxed bohemian-chic vibe with temptations for all budgets and ages.

If you want to buy an unusual souvenir, consider an authentic piece of intricate beadwork made by the Huichol aboriginals.  When the Spanish conquistadors arrived early in the 16th century, the Huichols (also known as the Peyote People) fled to the Sierra Madre Mountains where they were able to retain their religion and customs, which include the ceremonial use of peyote. Their hallucinogenic visions inspire their psychedelic art that comes in the forms of intricately beaded masks, animals, bowls, bracelets and more. Visit the Galeria Tanana (Revolucion #22).

The Sayulita Wine Shop stocks a huge selection of vino from around the world, as well as artisanal tequilas and mezcales. To accompany the wines, they sell cheese, chocolates, prosciutto and house-baked bread.

Test the waves by taking a surf lesson or rent a boogie board from the beach vendors. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head to Sayulita Fish Taco & Tequila Bar for some of the tastiest tacos on the Pacific Coast. Another favourite is ChocoBanana where they dip bananas in chocolate and serve them frozen, popsicle-style.

Punta de Mita
Up until the late 70s, Punta de Mita was a sleepy fishing village. All that changed with the development of the luxurious Punta Mita Resort consisting of two Jack Nicklaus golf courses, The Four Seasons Resort, St. Regis and luxury villas moved in.

However you can still “do” Punta Mita on either a cerveza or a champagne budget.

You’ll be pampered and wined and dined like an Aztec god or goddess at either the Four Seasons or St. Regis Resorts. The St. Regis, ranked as the 8th best hotel in the world by Trip Advisor and numero uno in Mexico, opened Mita Mary this year. Savour fresh oysters, lobster tacos and whatever the catch of the day with your toes in the sand.  

A bit of trivia: In 1934, Fernand Petiot, the bartender at The St. Regis New York’s King Cole Bar, perfected the recipe for a vodka-and-tomato juice cocktail he dubbed the Bloody Mary. Today, the Bloody Mary remains the signature cocktail of the St. Regis brand, with each hotel crafting its own interpretation of the libation. The Mita Mary, containing clam juice, tequila, avocado and coriander celebrates Mexico’s native and Spanish heritage

Four Seasons was the first resort in Punta Mita. At the Apuane Spa indulge in a hakali, a rejuvenating massage with the application of a warm meringue made of various parts of the cactus. Your therapist uses nopal paddles to apply the meringue. Nopal helps to remove toxins and re-hydrate your skin.

The ATM bus line runs all the way up to Punta Mita from central Puerto Vallarta. It’s about $2 for the bone-rattling ride that takes about an hour from PV. Get off at the Oxxo store. It’s much cheaper than a taxi and far more fun as you never know who’ll get on the bus and try to sell you candies, nuts or a serenade. You’ll find enormous margaritas and good Mexican grub with a terrific seaside view at Rosa Mexicana.

La Cruz de Huanacaxtle
This old fishing village is gradually being gentrified and boasts the most modern marina on Mexico’s Pacific Coast.

Dine under a beachfront palapa at Sandzibar. Try the catch of the day coated with red chile and tomato, steamed zucchini and sweet corn, salsa verde of avocado and coriander.

Take a day cruise with Ally Cat Sailing Adventures to Islas Las Marietas, a wildlife sanctuary and marine preserve. You might spot rare blue-footed boobies, whales, dolphins and sea turtles. The catamaran is equipped with all sorts of water toys. The cost, $85US, includes all your drinks, food and an entertaining crew. Catch the Ally Cat in the La Crux Marina no later than 9 a.m.

Stop by the Mercado del Mar early in the morning to see fishermen arriving with their catch of the day. On Sundays from October to April this same space becomes a bustling organic farmers’ and handicraft market. Up the hill and across from the main square, you’ll get a good cappuccino and bagel breakfast sandwich at Café Shulet, a cute family-run hole-in-the-wall.

Tuck into beef tacos with all the fixings and cheap buckets of beer at Tacos on the Street (open Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays). Or head to Philo’s Bar for great ribs, pizza and live music most nights under a huge palapa. Philo, the owner, is a musician who sailed into La Cruz years ago and never left. His place has a great vibe and attracts talented musicians from all over.

Diego Perez is a talented local artist whose reasonably priced paintings capture the magic of La Cruz. Visit him at his home/studio, Estudio Coral (Calle Coral #34).

A favourite for Canadians, Bucerias’ traditional Mexican plaza faces a wonderful beach for swimming. The town is chock full of interesting boutiques and great eateries.

Learn to make salsas and regional dishes from all over the country and then enjoy your dinner with Travis and Edgar who run My Mexican Kitchen.

At Sandrina’s try to catch a Flamenco show in the patio two Mondays per month. The front of the restaurant is a boutique with all sorts of hand-chosen gems.

Spend an afternoon being pampered on the beach at Mezzo Giorno. Soak up the rays on an upscale Italian beach lounger and try one of the house specialties, such as bruschetta with shrimps sautéed with shallots and Lemoncello.

Los Chatos Mexican Bakery serves up terrific cappuccinos, pastries and ice cream.

Thursday night, from November to April join Art Walk along the main street. Drop in to several galleries and boutiques to meet the artists, share a glass of wine or tequila and browse the local art scene. Behind the Timothy Real Estate Group office, look for wonderful paintings by artist, Pepe Parra.

There’s no better place to watch the sunset and enjoy cocktails and super chicken enchiladas than Adalto’s On The Beach.

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Anita Draycott

Quite aside from being an award winning writer, whose travel articles and photography regularly appear in golf and lifestyle publications and websites, Anita Draycott is a self confessed golf fanatic, who has chased dimpled white balls over five continents.  

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