While most consider Mexico’s east coast (Cancun, Playa del Carmen and the Mayan Rivera in the Yucatan Peninsula) the more popular and “tourist friendly” side, it’s the west coast of this country that is filled with lesser known destinations and unique travel experiences. From the border of the United States, down to the southernmost state of Chiapas, there’s culture, beautiful coastline and activities that would rival any destination on the east coast.
The sister resort towns of Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo have become one of the most visited destinations along this coast. Think of Ixtapa as the Cancun of this side of Mexico, as it was a city built for tourism. Zihuatanejo could be considered the “Playa del Carmen” of the region as it organically developed from a small fishing village into a beautiful and peaceful resort town, perfect for honeymooners and couples.
The powdery beaches in Zihuatanejo hug the coastline, with the Sierre Madre Mountains in the background. Most of the smaller resorts are located on a cliff overlooking a bay, offering unobstructed views of the magnificent sunsets this region is known for. There are plenty of activities in the area: fishing, surfing and touring small, quaint villages. The town itself is filled with cantinas and outdoor markets for a festive night out. If you client is a foodie, suggest a fun cooking class at Zihuatanejo’s cooking school (www.zihuatanejocookingschool.com). For dinners, there are romantic restaurants located up on the cliffs; Espuma in the Villa Guadalupe Hotel (www.hotelvillaguadalupe.com) and Il Mare, (www.ilmareristorante.mx) are not to be missed. Down from the cliffs and into town, a favorite of both locals and tourists is Coconut (www.restaurantcoconuts.com).
More than beaches
In the state of Nayarit, beginning with the historic town of San Blas and moving southward there are beautiful deserted beaches and 5-star luxury resorts. “Riviera Nayarit,” as it has become to be known, stretches along 192 miles of the pristine Pacific coast. Framed by the majestic Sierra Madre Mountain range, it is located just ten minutes north of the very accessible Puerto Vallarta International Airport. The region extends along the entire coast of the Pacific state of Nayarit, including the resorts of Nuevo Vallarta, the historic colonial town of San Blas, exclusive Punta Mita, picturesque fishing villages, miles of serene beaches and the spectacular Banderas Bay. The origins of Nayarit are found in the indigenous ethnic groups of the Cora and Huichol Indians who settled in the Sierra Madre; to this day preserving their rich culture and ancient beliefs through their unique beaded artwork. Nayarit has everything to offer...history, culture, traditions, surf, dense jungles and ecotourism. Accommodations range from family all-inclusive resorts to romantic hideaways. The Grand Velas Resort (www.vallarta.grandvelas.com), is an all-inclusive AAA-5 Diamond resort on the northern tip of the Bay of Banderas and in Punta De Mita, the Four Seasons Punta Mita (www.fourseasons.com/puntamita) boasts a Jack Nicklaus golf course. In addition to the larger resorts, Imanta (www.imantaresorts.com), a secluded luxury hideaway consisting of just nine villas, is the perfect spot for honeymooners. Migrating humpback whales pass through the Bay of Banderas from December through March, while July begins the nesting season for sea turtles. The Sierra Madre offers hiking, horseback riding and the ever-popular zip lining through the dense jungle canopy. Water sports are endless with sailing, deep-sea fishing, snorkeling and scuba diving, all available from nearby tours operators who have set up shop in the area. The largest operator, Vallarta Adventures (www.vallarta-adventures.com), is able to provide all types of excursions.
Down the Pacific Coast
Traveling even further down the Pacific coast, the state of Oaxaca is rich in culture and charm. Oaxaca covers an area of over 36,000 square miles with 370 miles of coastline along the Pacific. The resort area known as Huatulco consists of many isolated bays and beaches with rugged, unspoiled terrain. This region is great for surfers and those who want a more rustic beach getaway. There are a variety of hotels here including the more popular all-inclusive resorts: the Barcelo (www.barcelo.com) and Dreams (www.dreamsresorts.com).
Further inland to Oaxaca City, the capital city in the state of the same name, is a romantic Spanish colonial city tucked into the valley of the Sierra Madre mountains offering art, food and history galore. Along with the quaint cobblestone streets, striking Baroque cathedrals and grand plazas there’s ancient ruins, majestic landscape and a culinary scene to satisfy the most discerning connoisseur from local street food to sophisticated restaurants.
We’ve just touched upon the endless vacation opportunities here. There are many more destinations including the very popular Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco. For more information on the “other side of Mexico,” go to www.visitmexico.com.