Travel Mexico with a Riviera vacation - Follow the map of Mexico Riviera and the
Puerto Vallarta region; enjoy villa rentals and hotels on the Costa Alegre and Costa Azul
January 28, 2006, by Adrian Biffen: Puerto Vallarta, about 400 Km (driving) west of
Guadalajara, looked like a great holiday destination, with plenty of hotels, resorts and villa
rentals to choose from. Puerto Vallarta is located on the 100 mile inner coastline of the Bay of
Banderas, the largest bay in Mexico - it is also the 7th largest bay in the world, and the deepest.
Having already explored the Baja, Cozumel-Cancun, and Huatulco Oaxaca regions, we were eager to continue
our vacation travels in Mexico on the central Pacific Coast. Also known as the Mexican Riviera, as seen on the
map below (images courtesy of Google Earth), it is generally considered to start at Mazatlan in the north, stretching 1300 road miles to
Huatulco in the south. Mexico City is about 1,000 Km east of Puerto Vallarta.
The weather on the BC coast had been grey and wet for weeks on end, and Jenni and I were getting weary of
it. Air Canada had started a direct daytime flight from Vancouver to Puerto Vallarta, so we decided to take
advantage of it, avoiding the hassle of stop-overs and plane changes en route.
Mazatlan to Huatulco: The Mexican Riviera
Since we plan to spend our winters in Mexico, the purpose of this trip was to have a relaxing vacation, and to
see if we could find an area where we would like to live during the winter months.
The driving distance of the entire Riviera is approximately 2,150 kilometres (1300 miles), too far for
us to have a relaxing holiday, so we decided to limit our range to the coast of Nayarit State (Costa Azul
- the 'Blue Coast') to the north of Puerto Vallarta, and the coast of Jalisco and Colima (Costa Alegre - the 'Happy
Coast') to the south of Puerto Vallarta. As seen in the area of enlargement below, we covered the stretch of
coastline on highway 200 from Chacala in the north, to Manzanillo in the south (with a side trip into the interior
heartland of Colima City and the Volcano of Fire).
This allowed us to spend 3 or 4 days in our most favourite spots, and the strategy worked out very
well, with the longest drive (Rincon to Melaque) lasting a relatively easy 4 hours (about as much as I like to
do in a day).
The area north of Melaque, starting just south of the Bay of Banderas, including PV, is unique in
that it is the only place on the Mexican Pacific coast where the jungle vegetation zone reaches the
ocean, and I was very interested to see what that was like. This zone extends north to the vicinity of San Blas,
where the vegetation changes to savannah in the low lying wetlands and mangrove swamps. South of the Bay of
Banderas, the highway climbs and takes you through a pine forest zone, then it gradually drops back to sea level
where it is much drier, classified as the 'thorn bush' vegetation zone.
We landed in Puerto Vallarta just before dusk in the early evening (85º F,
sunny skies, sigh) after a comfortable four hour non-stop flight from Vancouver. We quickly secured
our rental car at Dollar Rent A Car and headed immediately north to a beautiful little coastal town on the
Nayarit state coast called Sayulita, nestled in a verdant jungle setting in a little valley with a river
that flows into the ocean at the beach (the river is dry in the winter months).
I had reserved the car rental through Expedia on the Internet, prior to departure, and
although it seemed like the best deal at the time, we were charged about 15% more than the quoted rate when we
returned it - so be careful when you do this. All told, it was about $375 USD for 2 weeks (including
mandatory Mexican liability insurance, but not 3rd party collision which is covered by our credit
We didn't want to drive through Puerto Vallarta in the dark, and since the airport in PV is north of the city,
it seemed like the easiest direction to start off with. We experienced the congested traffic situation in Puerto
Vallarta later when we headed south, and it certainly confirmed that we made the right decision.
Like PV itself, the aeropuerto in Vallarta is located in the state of Jalisco (on central time), but it is very
near the Nayarit border, and as soon as you drive north and cross the bridge over the river (Rio Ameca), you
pass into Nayarit state (which is on mountain time).
It would have been a simple 45 minute drive, except I got a ticket immediately as I pulled out of the
rental lot. I paid the 300 peso ($30 US) fine to the nice young officer so that he wouldn't have to take my
driver's license to the police station for later retrieval on Monday, as we were leaving the area that evening, and
we proceeded on our way. Apparently I made an improper entry onto the highway, and I was later glad that it
happened as they have a completely different way of handling cross-traffic that I had never seen before, so I
learned something important from the experience (see the Driving in Mexico Tips page).
I had been told there was good signage at the Sayulita turnoff, and I assumed we would easily see it as we
approached. But, it turned out that the highways crew had removed the Sayulita exit sign in preparation for a new
one, and we happened to go sailing by on the one day it wasn't there! After driving halfway to Rincon, I realized
something was amiss, so we turned around and went back. We soon learned that there's one thing for sure about
Mexico - never assume anything!
We found the turnoff and went straight to our little Mexican boutique resort, a lovely architect
designed villa rental just a block from the beach. The rooms were great and the palapa rooftop deck was a
great place to watch the sunrise. We walked down to a beach-front terrace restaurant and started our vacation
with a delicious meal prepared by the Mexican family that runs it (La Terrazola). [see more on the Sayulita page]