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Nature tours and ecotourism vacations are highlights of Riviera Nayarit. You'll find biosphere reserves, whale watching cruises, bird watching tours, sea turtles hatching and wildlife sanctuaries in the state of Nayarit.

Jaguar in Sierra de Vallejo State Biosphere Reserve
Jaguar in Sierra de Vallejo State Biosphere Reserve
Photo: Riviera Nayarit CVB

Bordered on the west by 309 kilometers (192 miles) of Pacific coastline and on the east by the Sierra Madre Mountains, Nayarit is north of Jalisco and south of the state of Sinaloa. To get to Riviera Nayarit, you drive ten minutes north of Puerto Vallarta International Airport (code: PVR).

Biosphere reserve

Wild boars, jaguars and parrots live in Sierra de Vallejo State Biosphere Reserve, located inland from the town of Nuevo Vallarta. Herons, seagulls, pelicans and ducks thrive in the bird habitat created from the meeting of the freshwater Ameca River with the salty Pacific Ocean.

You can take eco cruises of the mangrove swamps near Nuevo Vallarta. Eco-tour boats cruise along canals joining three lakes.

San Juan State Biosphere Reserve shelters forests below the San Juan and Sangaguey volcano. In northern Riviera Nayarit, migratory birds and crocodiles inhabit the National Marshes, where 20 per cent of Mexico's mangroves are found.

Whale acrobatics
Whale acrobatics
Photo: Riviera Nayarit CVB

Whale watching cruises

The Marietas Islands (Islas Marietas), located south of Punta Mita, at the mouth of Banderas Bay, are another biosphere reserve. Every winter, up to 600 humpback whales visit Banderas Bay to give birth during their annual migration from Alaska to Hawaii.

When is the best time to see humpback whales? "The official whale watching season is November through April," says Richard Zarkin, Public Relations Manager, Riviera Nayarit Convention & Visitors Bureau.

"The best time to see humpback whales is December to March," he adds. "You can watch mother whales teaching their calves to breach. Even from the beach in Nuevo Vallarta, you can see whales breathing."

Vallarta Adventures offers whale watching trips with opportunities for snorkeling and kayaking. Besides humpback whales, you can also see wild dolphins that live year-round in Banderas Bay.

Bird-watching trips

Riviera Nayarit is ideal for bird-watching holidays, because it is home to more than 250 species of birds, including the black-bellied tree duck, great blue heron and roseate spoonbill. Endemic birds include the bumblebee hummingbird and the Mexican wood nymph.

Eighty per cent of Pacific migratory shore bird populations winter in La Tovara National Park and the San Blas mangrove eco-region of Riviera Nayarit, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Bird watching
Bird watching
Photo: Riviera Nayarit CVB

San Blas Mexico

Located two kilometers (1.2 miles) northwest of San Blas, the bird sanctuary in La Tovara National Park is a natural mangrove forest, fed by the Pacific Ocean. On bird watching cruises through the mangroves, you also see crocodiles and swamp turtles.

Banderas Bay Tours & Travel offers a San Blas eco tour, by boat, through the mangrove swamps. Nature guides help identify birds, such as boat-billed herons and white herons.

The Riviera Nayarit tour also includes a visit to San Blas fishing villages and the Crocodile Reserve in El Manantial of La Camelota, where you can view baby crocodiles and adult crocodiles up close.

San Blas, Mexico, hosts the Festival of Migratory Birds in late-January and early-February every year. Ornithologists and wildlife experts give seminars on birds, bird watching and environmental conservation.

Bird watching sites

Other Nayarit bird watching sites include Del Coral and Del Cangrejo Islands, where you can observe pelicans, seagulls and boobies. Several species of birds, including magpies, herons and pelicans, inhabit Chacala, on the central coast of Riviera Nayarit.

La Vejiga, El Quelele and La Cortada lagoons, around the community of Flamingos, also shelter aquatic birds. Eco-tours include boat rides, through nine kilometers (six miles) of canals, to view migratory birds, iguanas, turtles and crabs.

In Banderas Bay, the Marietas Islands shelter aquatic, sub-aquatic, resident, migratory and endangered bird species, including brown boobies, frigates, swallows and blue-footed boobies.

Because Islas Marietas are a protected national ecological reserve, you cannot walk on the islands. Visitors can snorkel and scuba dive off the coasts.

Turtles on nesting beach
Turtles on nesting beach
Photo: Riviera Nayarit CVB

Turtle conservation

The sea turtle is the official mascot of Riviera Nayarit and a major ecotourism attraction. Four protected species of sea turtles nest and lay eggs on Riviera Nayarit beaches: hawksbill turtles, Olive Ridley, leatherback and green turtles.

Olive Ridley turtles are indigenous to Nayarit. The nesting season for Olive Ridley turtles is from June to November.

Sea turtles hatching

Punta El Custodio sea turtle sanctuary, located on the Riviera Nayarit central coast, protects about 3,000 nests every year. Volunteers come from around the world to protect the nesting marine turtles and their eggs.

In the San Francisco region of Riviera Nayarit, you can visit the marine turtle nursery operated by Grupo Ecologico de la Costa Verde. Every Wednesday evening, during the sea turtle nesting season in summer and fall, you can release sea turtle hatchlings after sunset.

Baby turtles on beach
Baby turtles on beach
Photo: Riviera Nayarit CVB

After the hatchling release, participants watch an educational photo show about sea turtles at the Costa Azul Hotel. Grupo Ecologico de la Costa Verde also invites volunteers to make a minimum commitment of two months to help with the hatching and releasing of endangered sea turtles.

Information on sea turtles

Other Nayarit sea turtle sanctuaries are located at Nuevo Vallarta, Playa Platanitos, Lo de Marcos, Punta de Mita and Boca de Chila. Several Riviera Nayarit hotels and turtle sanctuaries in Nuevo Vallarta and Litibu run turtle hatchling release programs from August through December.

In Marina Vallarta, Wildlife Connection offers an evening eco tour to turtle camps in Riviera Nayarit. After releasing baby turtles, you learn about sea turtles and turtle conservation during a lecture.

Riviera Nayarit ecotourism

"The State on Nayarit is careful to ensure that all new hotel developments are eco-friendly," says Richard Zarkin. "Nayarit was one of the first states in Mexico to preserve the mangroves. Green Peace requires us to monitor our water once a month, but we monitor it weekly."

Riviera Nayarit publishes an Official Visitors Guide, which lists addresses and phone numbers for eco tour operators in Nuevo Vallarta, Bucerias, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Punta de Mita, Sayulita, Rincon de Guayabitos, Los Ayala and San Blas.


Riviera Nayarit: www.RivieraNayarit.com

Mexico Tourism Board: www.visitmexico.com

More things to see & do in Riviera Nayarit:

Salsa Huichol - Hot Sauce from Nayarit Mexico

Jala Nayarit Mexico - Pueblo Magico (Magic Town)

Island of Mexcaltitan

Mexican Breakfast - Almuerzo in Nuevo Vallarta

Festival Gourmet Puerto Vallarta, Riviera Nayarit and Tepic