Mexico’s eastern seaboard attracts more visitors, but as Jo Humphries discovers, the more laid-back Pacific coast has plenty for families to see, taste – and do
I caught my breath as our boat rose above the breaking waves and away from the shore. It was an exhilarating ride that took us out to discover the Islas Marietas, an uninhabited archipelago offshore of the Bay of Banderas on Mexico’s Pacific Coast.
The islands are home to the blue footed booby bird famous for its eye-catching blue feet with which it pulls all the moves during its hilarious mating dance. Beneath, the water is swarming with tropical fish and during a spectacular snorkeling trip we spot a sea turtle and a giant manta ray. This engaging eco-tour with Vallarta Adventures is exactly what we need to refresh us following our 10-hour flight from London.
Back at the five-star Punta Mita Four Seasons in Riviera Nayarit we are ravenous at the sight of the freshly caught fish on display for lunch. There are simply not enough mealtimes in the day given the abundance of delicious menu options and the vintage ice cream hut on the beach is a major hit for the kids. Aside from wonderful cuisine, the Four Seasons also offers an extensive menu of fun and engaging experiences including a local sea turtle release programme where we watched tiny, newly hatched adventurers make their way towards the sea and the epic journey ahead.
There is also a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course and a recently established anti-gravity yoga centre which proves to be the most fun I’ve had in lycra in ages. Anti-gravity is a brilliant way to de-stress and I practically float back to my room!
Meanwhile, kids can take part in a variety of fun activities in the Kids For All Seasons programme. There’s a tree house to explore and outside they can float along the Lazy River around this area of the hotel. A basketball court, graffiti wall, DJ and surfing lessons will delight teens and for anyone with any energy left, there are salsa lessons and piñata parties.
Just north of Punta Mita is Sayulita, a place which ought to come with a warning sign – once you’ve had a taste of this vibrant, bohemian beach-side town you won’t want to leave. Until recently a tranquil fishing village, Sayulita has become a hippy-chic surfers’ paradise. The streets are a riot of colour, strewn with Papel Picado multicoloured bunting which is considered a Mexican folk art. They float in the breeze which comes off the beach at the end of the cobbled streets lined with relaxed restaurants, bars and boutiques.
The next day we rise early for a tour with Wildlife Connections of the Bahía de Banderas, hoping to swim with bottlenose dolphins in their natural habitat. Our guide is a professional biologist and a hydrophone allows us to hear the dolphins’ communication. The shore is a long way from view by the time the boat’s engine slows and we are all alert to the signs of a playful pod.
The dolphins do not disappoint as they flip flop in the waves and whoosh by under our boat. We get onto paddle boards and are instructed how to move in the water, where we take care to keep our bodies long and still and are advised not to touch the dolphins as they swim around us. With our heads under water we can hear the sounds they make as we watch this sleek pod speed past – truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Our second hotel, the W Hotel Punta de Mita in Riviera Nayarit, part of the Starwood Hotels group, is a mix of cool and quirky opulence bursting with bright colours. Inspired by local Huichol art and bohemian surf culture, with surf-themed rooms complete with waxed boards for bed heads and the magnificent ‘Camino Huichol’, a colourful mosaic walkway that forms a spectacular bridge over the pool. Such is the hotel vibe you could easily imagine it as a catwalk but the W caters as much for families as it does the cool crowd.
Food at the W ranges from the cool beach-side shack serving exquisite ceviche and burritos to the Venuzu restaurant with its festive vibe evocative of a Mexican town during a week-long fiesta. The tables are large and invite guests to mingle – there are families holidaying en masse and it’s easy to see why it works. The excellent Kids Club has an emphasis on inventive and locally inspired activities including papier-mâché and mask-making in the style of Huichol art, and we returned home with some very precious efforts stowed with care in our suitcase.
Thomson Airways offers return flights for a seven-night break in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico from £438pp departing in June, from London Gatwick airport