Where to Score the Best Waves Along the North Shore of the Banderas Bay
The Mexican state of Nayarit is one of the best locations for intermediate and beginner level surf trips. The entire State of Nayarit is spectacularly beautiful with lush jungle vegetation, cristal clear water, and a vast selection of waves for every ability level. While the pros flock to Puerto Escondido and Pascuales during summer, the waves there are consequential and rarely drop below 10ft. The coast of Nayarit on the other hand, trades wave size for length of ride. The traveling surfer will score the whole package of fun point breaks, warm-water tropical paradise, and Mexican coastal food culture.
Punta Mita is on the north shore of the Bahia de Banderas, in the State of Nayarit, just a short ride from the Puerto Vallarta International Airport. Much like Puerto Vallarta, The Riviera Nayarit is a tropical paradise with dense jungle, iguanas and still has some secret spots that you will have to find on your own. The difference is that Nayarit has surf and Puerto Vallarta does not. The Punta Mita surf scene is well developed with surf shops, restaurants, and accommodations for every budget.
Mexico’s Surf Destination Of The Moment
The Punta Mita region of Nayarit is hot right now. Ex-president Enrique Peña Nieto is said to spend a lot of time here. That means infrastructure and security are top-notch. Even Bloomberg magazine is doing stories about Punta Mita becoming the next big luxury destination with over 5,000 more rooms at mostly small, high-end beach properties. And there is surf. Why would you go to Tulum (there is no surf in Tulum) when you can surf Punta Mita, Nayarit?
Punta Mita refers to the peninsula on the north shore of Bahía de Banderas and the town next to the Four Seasons resort. There are a bunch of waves in the area and a thriving Nayarit surf culture, including surf shops with board rentals. The area is a little more laid back than Sayulita and San Pancho but the waves are consistently better and less crowded. Beach access is always under threat of local developers fencing off the trails. It is imperative that you help keep this beach in pristine condition by picking up trash if you see it and leave nothing on the beach.
The Puerto Vallarta International airport is right on the border of the state of Jalisco and the state of Nayarit. Your best bet is to head north to Nayarit and depending on the surf forecast, set up camp in Punta Mita, Sayulita or San Blas. From Sayulita, you can take day trips to the other breaks in the area and still make it back for dinner, drinks, and entertainment in Sayulita.
Punta Mita Surf Seasons
The summertime south swells are shaded from the direct south (180 degrees) and like a swell with a little more west into (around 210 degrees). Wintertime swells that come from the northwest are going to light up the beaches of Nayarit much more frequently than the souths will. There are waves during the summer but I like winter a little more than summer. There are a number of world-class point breaks all within an hour of the Puerto Vallarta International Airport.
If you are fair skinned, consider a surf hat. The midday, summertime sun is no joke. If you are planning on putting in some hours it would be a good idea to wear a hat. The days that I go surfing I want to put in as many hours as possible. Its hard to reapply sunscreen while you are wet and sweating. The surf hat is a great option. Look at all the old, lifelong surfers that you know. There are people who take care of their skin and there are those who get skin cancer.
In the summer, it is really hot and the sun is really strong. If you are going to be surfing long sessions multiple times a day, you need to protect yourself from the sun. I find it easier to put on a long sleeve wetsuit jacket than it is to apply sunscreen to my own back. A long sleeve rash guard would be perfect in the summer because the breeze across the wet rash guard helps keep you cool.
In the winter months, the water gets cool. It’s nothing like Santa Cruz winters but it’s nice to have a little warmth. I remember staying at a hostel in January that didn’t have blankets but just a sheet. I woke up freezing at 6 am and the last thing I wanted to do was get into the water because I didn’t have a wetsuit jacket. In addition to a little warmth, a wetsuit jacket offers protection from the sun as well.
Punta Mita Surf Shops
- Mictlan Surf Shop // Google Maps
- Tranquilo Surf // Google Maps
- Quiverito Sayulita (for quality board rentals) // Google Maps
I recommend scrapping all that cold water wax off of your board before you travel because it will just melt right off in your board bag anyway. Put a heavy coat of tropical/base coat when you get here and have an extra bar of warm water wax just in case. In the winter I like to use a combination of base coat and warm water wax.
Punta Mita Surf Hotels
There is nothing worse than flying out for a surf vacation and landing in a hotel that does not have access to a surfable wave. Now that I have a family I need to think about a pool for my wife and kid but I need a wave close by. If I have to drive somewhere I am probably not going to get back until the afternoon to find a very irritable toddler and his mom. What I love about these hotels is the ability to wake up early, check the surf from the balcony and walk down to the break. That way I can sneak in a few more sessions without evoking the ire of my loved ones for my selfish ways.
Grand Palladium Vallarta Resort & Spa
At about US$100 dollars per person per night, this is the middle of the road. The resort is a beautiful, European owned all-inclusive that sits above my favorite wave in the area. All-inclusive means that you can surf more because you don’t have to go anywhere to worry about food and drinks.
One of the highlights of this hotel is the secluded beach and the ‘alberca del mar’ ocean pool that is built into the reef. If you want to introduce your small children to the ocean without fear of the surf pushing them around then you will love this pool.
Hotel Meson de Mita
This is my favorite budget hotel in the town of Punta Mita. The Hotel Meson de Mita is budget fabulous at about US$50 per night with double occupancy. Ther is a small pool and some high-end restaurants adjacent to the rooms but things wind up early in these parts so there is no reason to worry about noise. You can quickly walk down the beach to Playa Anclote or surf Stinky’s out front. The wave in front of the Palladium is way better but the price is right.
The Four Seasons
I haven’t actually stayed at the Four Seasons Punta Mita yet. If somebody from the Four Seasons is reading this and wants to give us the friends and family discount, we would love to add some pictures to the blog.
If you have the cash to blow (US$500 per night) than I highly recommend the Four Seasons. Besides the luxury hotel bit, you will have access to one of the best and most consistent waves in the area and all the equipment you will need. You usually need a boat to get to Bahia but if you are staying at the resort you can walk down. Plus, you are likely to be hanging out with minor celebrities and Silicon Valley big wigs. That could be cool or not.
I am a huge fan of my Rip Curl carry on bag. My wife likes it so much that she has appropriated it for her and the baby. It has held up for years and goes with us on every trip.
La Lancha: Surf It While You Still Can
La Lancha is another one of those iconic Mexican waves. Tons of locals learned to surf here and absolutely treasure the place. It is a ten minute through a mangrove forest. There is a stream that is considered an ecological preserve. The place is pristine. There are waves up and down the beach and the vibe is family-oriented.
Access to La Lancha is currently in conflict and the wave is in danger of being altered due to development. The trail that leads to La Lancha goes through a lot that has plans for development. The company that wants to develop the area has imposed strong-arm tactics to close the access point with tear gas and fencing. It looks like the local government is on the side of the community but only time will tell.
It is unfortunate that beach access is in danger. The best thing that you can do to help maintain access to this amazing beach is to visit and help keep it pristine. One legal argument used to close access to the ecological preserve is that a large amount of traffic will damage the environment. Please do everything that you can to leave this place nicer than you found it. This includes picking up trash if you should see any (I almost never see trash) and not having fires.
The wave is mellow and easy to get into with peaks up and down the beach. Most folks will be riding longboards or something with a little more volume in it. The bottom is a mixture of sand and reef. At low tide, there will be some pockets of exposed reef but there are easy to avoid.
If I am going to be traveling with surfboards, I always take the straps with me. If you are going to be renting a car there are a couple of different options depending on the number of people you will be traveling with and the size of your surfboards. I am a master of sliding a 7’6 inside of a Toyota Corolla. However, that takes two seats away from passengers and you can’t fit any more boards in the car. Consider some soft racks if you will be renting an economy (small) car. The DaKine straps last forever. The cheap ones last for a season or two before they rust and fall apart.
An ideal longboard wave with a spectacular beach that is perfect for camping out all day. The wave at Punta Burros has a shorter left and a longer right. It is not uncommon to score rides longer than 100 meters. There will be guys on shortboards, longboards, funboards, and sponges, but the shape of the wave is best suited for a longboard most days.
Punta Burros is tucked into the northern rim of the Bahia de Banderas and likes swells that have a little more west in them. If the swell is coming from due south or even has a little east in it, the southern tip of the Bahia de Banderas, Cabo Corrientes, will block most of the swell energy. The bottom is a mixture of smooth sedimentary rock and some sand so booties are not necessary.
Burros is directly in front of the Palladium resort but there is a long stretch of secluded beach that is open to the public. As you are coming down highway 200 look for the Mictlan Surf Shop and head down the road towards the Palladium. About 20 meters before the gate to the Palladium there is a little dirt turnoff for the beach parking. Follow the trail down to the beach. There is one relatively steep part of the trail but you can also walk around it you choose.
The Palladium is going to run you around US$200 per night if you want to stay in front of the break. They have plenty of equipment to lend their guests with competent instructors and lessons. I like to stay in Sayulita and make day trips to the breaks in this area. Just make sure to bring an umbrella for the sun and some water.
I can not stress the importance of sunscreen enough. The Vertra Face stick is what I have been using for years. It is easy to apply and lasts for hours. When the surf is on, I will spend six hours at my favorite break. I’m getting old and I am nervous about skin cancer. So far, my dermatologist says that I am doing alright and even said that this is a legit brand of sun screen. Plus, it is oxybenzone and octinoxate free meaning it is reef safe.
El Anclote, Punta Mita Surf Spot
Even though I have been here a dozen times I have never actually surfed El Anclote. The photo was taken on a day when Punta Burros was a solid 4-6 foot on the face. After surfing Burros for close to 5 hours we headed back to our hotel thinking about some food and an evening session. The surf was 1 foot and there were a dozen people out. Plus, there are always a ton of paddleboarders taking most of the waves. I am still trying to dial this place in. I have seen pictures of it working but I have yet to score it doing it’s thing properly. Most days it is a great place to teach the kids to surf.
Bring an extra pair of sandals just in case.
El Faro surf spot needs a pretty hefty northwest swell to really get going. The wave is a right-hander best suited to a longboard. Be careful surfing at low tide as there will be exposed reef to avoid. The bottom is mostly reef with a little bit of sand. While it is possible to walk all the way out there from Punta Mita, it is no fun. The walk is almost entirely on rocks. It starts off easy but once you twist your ankle it is a nightmare. The best way to get there is to hire a boat (lancha) to give you a ride and check out Bahia while you are there.
Bahia: The Tip of Punta Mita Surf Peninsula
Unless you are staying at the Four Seasons Resort it may be difficult to gain access to the Bahia surf spot. Most people are going to take a boat in from Punta Mita harbor and a few crazies may try walking in. What is special about Bahia is that it picks up just about any swell that is in the area. This is your Punta Mita surf spot of last resort. If it is flat here, it is flat everywhere. Grab a boat, check Bahia, if it’s flat, head over to the Isla Marietas to do some snorkeling because it is flat everywhere else too.
Alberca del Mar
The beach around Punta Burros is beautiful. One of the highlights of this area is not surf related but just plain relaxing. Out in front of the Grand Palladium Hotel is the Alberca del Mar. It is a swimming pool that has been built into the reef. Considering the environmental restrictions in the area I have no clue how they did it, but it is done.
The beaches in Mexico, in theory, are open to the public. Beach access is another topic and the trails getting down here constantly being challenged. Plenty of locals, that are not staying at the hotel, walk the trail at Burros to access the Alberca del Mar wit the family. Bring an umbrella, a chair and maybe a cold beverage and bask in the crystal clear water of Punta Mita.
It is best to visit around mid-tide. The high tide makes the walk along the beach challenging and the low tide empties the Alberca del Mar. I loved introducing my son to the ocean in the Alberca del Mar. The area is spectacularly beautiful. It is a must-see!
Obviously, the sea salt in Nayarit or Colima is going to be way, way cheaper in Punta Mita but it’s heavy and sometimes you forget. This is the most gourmet sea salt you will taste. I only use that pink Himalayan salt and the Colima sea salt at home. You will throw away the old table salt. This is the secret to making amazing tacos at home.
Getting There and Away
Puerto Vallarta International Airport is located 45 minutes (25 miles) from Punta Mita. There are all sorts of transportation to and from the airport but I recommend renting a car so you can surf more waves. If the waves are huge Stoner’s is an hour up the road. If the swell is coming from the northwest there is always Chacala. There are a lot of waves around and having transportation means that you can surf more of them.
If you coming in from Guadalajara check out this article about transportation from Guadalajara to Sayulita, it is almost the same.
Make sure to stop for oysters, clams, and ceviche up the highway near Lo De Marcos. The quality is insanely good.
I have gotten in the habit of traveling with my swim fins. Whether it’s body surfing big Pascuales or just checking out the local reefs, I love having my fins with me. DaFins are great fins.