Colonial Nayarit is an area of remote Indian villages and enormous lagoons. The small Mexican state is little known to tourists but has breathtaking beauty and wonderful local food.
Sitting at a bright-red table overlooking an estuary in the fabled village of Mexcaltitan in the Riviera Nayarit, we threw bits of tortillas in the air to acrobatic sea birds to catch mid-flight.
Dozens of great white pelicans floated by on the green water, while a family lustily sang Las Mananitas, Mexico's birthday song, nearby.
Nayarit's beloved "pescado zarandeado" - a whole snapper, caught that morning, grilled on aromatic mangrove wood and served with homemade corn tortillas, grilled scallions, cucumbers, tomatoes - plus a delectable shrimp paté with crackers were available. Icy cold Pacifico beers in hand, we marvelled that such a place still exists.
Never heard of Nayarit? It is Mexico's 10th smallest state (out of 31) and incredibly diverse - birdwatchers, wildlife enthusiasts and those seeking the authentic, unsullied-by-tourism Mexico are drawn to it.
On a recent week-long visit, we travelled through green rolling hills, endless sugarcane fields with fronds blowing in the breeze - and mango, banana, papaya and tobacco farms.
We were just a few yards from enormous crocodiles, inches from an exquisitely beautiful jaguar, viewed thousands of migratory birds in the emerald-green rainforest. We were also eating succulent dishes we had never heard of, and meeting fascinating people from all walks of life, such as elaborately adorned Huichol Indians still living their traditional lifestyle. It's easy to travel from one fascinating part of Nayarit to another. Nayarit's southern border is just 10 minutes north from the Puerto Vallarta airport. The modern, intercoastal highway is serviced by comfortable, air-conditioned buses that stop in each town - with very reasonable fares.
If you want the mega all-inclusives overlooking the Pacific, luxury spas, fabulous surfing, world-class golfing and lie-on-the-beach vacations, it's all in the Riviera Nayarit; but if you yearn for adventure, colonial architecture and art and a heady dip into other cultures, venture into the rest of the state and "know Nayarit."
The Nayarit Colonial zone offers Spanish colonial architecture, history and museums of the capital city of Tepic (founded in 1542) as well as the delightful cobblestoned villages of Jala, Ixtlan del Rio and Bellavista. Tepic is a bustling, lively city perfect as a base for exploration of nearby Huichol Indian villages and other areas.
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