Nuevo Vallarta – A Paradise Escape in Riviera Nayarit, Mexico


The Grand Mayan resort in Nuevo Vallarta

Having spent a glorious week in Puerto Vallarta last year, I was anxious to explore what was touted to me…as the new Puerto Vallarta. Nuevo Vallarta, just 16 miles north of its more famous sister city, is a beach town in the state of Nayarit. This beautiful destination is filled with sprawling mega-resorts, four miles of fine sand beaches, exciting water sports and lots of family activities. Wildlife enthusiasts will delight in swimming with the dolphins, visiting a sea turtle reserve or going whale watching. The area also boasts world-class golf, tennis, Splash Water Park, and two marinas. For those who can’t stay away from traditional shopping, there’s also the Paradise Village Mall.

  The magnificent Grand Mayan complex served as our home for the week. With six pools, nine restaurants, immaculate grounds and our own two- bedroom condo, the Grand Mayan more than lived up to its name. A good part of my day was spent in the winding, lazy river where I could just float and soak up the warm Mexican sun. Another part of the day was spent watching the craftsmen on the beach paint colorful people on wooden bowls. Yes, a few found their way back home. The resort also offered family-friendly activities such as the Fiesta Night, which featured Mexican cuisine and entertainment, all on the beach. We met tons of people from the Chicago suburbs here, quite a few with several generations in tow. Many were returning guests. I’m hoping to be among them. (

What I especially liked about the resort was that in addition to the various onsite dining choices, we could also walk to local favorites like Guido’s Italian for pizza, Porto Bello’s and the marina’s other fine restaurants. Worth the cab ride was Fajita Republic, with its colorful ambience and fabulous Mexican fare. Or, La Laguna Tino’s, an authentic Mexican setting by the lagoon with traditional music. And the food was excellent.

Las Caletas — (Day) or Night of the Iguana

Several years ago, we took a shore excursion from a Holland American cruise called, “Rhythms of the Night.” This exquisite evening took place at the former private island getaway of movie director, John Houston, where he filmed “Night of the Iguana” with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. It turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. So I was delighted to discover that Vallarta Adventures also offered a day trip to Las Caletas.

The day excursion started at the pier being entertained by playful dolphins. We boarded the boat for a glorious ride out to Las Caletas, a beach hideaway accessible only by sea. When we arrived at the island, there was a blackboard of the day’s activities…including kayaking, snorkeling and scuba diving. Before lunch, we took a cooking class as the chef whipped up seafood paella with fresh caught fish and other natural ingredients. It was great fun to watch and the recipe is available on their web site. Lunch included a delicious buffet of salads, fresh fruits, and fabulous desserts. Then it was time for a nature walk through the jungle to learn about the flora and bird life that inhabit the island. And oh yes, relaxing on the beach before heading back. You can also opt for a rejuvenating spa treatment in the Spa Center. Even the boat ride back was fun with its seemingly endless supply of drinks and snacks…and we even spotted a humpback whale or two. Day or night, Las Caletas is like spending the day at your own private island. Vallarta Adventures is the number one tour company in the area and I highly recommend them. For more information about this excursion or others from Vallarta Adventures, see

Bucerias on the Bay

We also visited the charming town of Bucerias, a quaint little fishing village, which was just a short cab ride away. Friendly locals, beautiful beaches, great dining and art greeted us. We enjoyed walking through the streets and bargaining for souvenirs, while noticing many cars with US and Canadian license plates; always a good sign. We happened on Encore, a beach-side restaurant. The food was wonderful, the staff welcoming and we took in the best views of Banderas Bay, to boot. Come for the live jazz Tuesday – Saturday nights. Encore makes a great evening out of it.

More beach towns

The gorgeous coastline of Nayarit is also home to many other beach destinations including Punta Mita, with its elegant St. Regis and Four Seasons resorts. After spending a week here, I discovered that Nuevo Vallarta is a little less crowded and more laid back than Puerto Vallarta. If you’re looking for more hustle and bustle, Puerto Vallarta is about 45-minutes away. But then, come back. Nuevo Vallarta is a great place to call it a night! For more information on Nuevo Vallarta, visit and