Photos courtesy of Riviera Nayarit Convention & Visitors Bureau
As temperatures average a civilized 75 degrees and clouds rarely dominate sunshine, Vallarta is a virtual winter wonderland for those with an aversion to cold. It’s especially appealing to families seeking holidays that replace Christmas sweaters and eggnog with a suntan and margaritas.
Here are five ways Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit wrap up multi-generational travelers in Mexico’s winter warmth.
With a bay resembling a giant swimming pool fringed by fine sand beaches, the one-mile/98-foot wide stretch of Rincon de Guayabitos is bathed by crystal clear ocean. The bay’s Bahia de Jaltemba appeals with small waves and a firm, sandy bottom that creates a friendly situation for easy wading.
While you can count on kids building sand castles, other diversions lure beach-goers into the gentle surf for a bevy of water sports.
If the latter is considered a swimming pool, then Las Islitas is comparable to a wading pool. For the bulk of the year, this San Blas beach is free of waves and sees only a small tide calmly moving the water. Even more inviting is how adults and kids can venture for nearly 33 feet into the water with it never rising more than three feet in depth. Thatched-roof huts stringing along this beach help visitors refuel with such traditional dishes as fresh fish and regional seafood specialties.
Although Destiladeras in Punta de Mita is sees 13-foot waves, the good news is that they break some 50 feet from the shore. As a result, gentle ripples of water make for a mellow place to dip toes.
Also on the family-friendly front is the Northern area of Bucerias and Bahia de Matanchen in San Blas. The latter boasts one of the widest stretches of sand in Nayarit state, plus small waves and light currents appeasing novice swimmers.
Whale Watch on Banderas Bay
Each year from mid-December through mid-March, a half dozen species of whales make their annual migration from the Arctic to the warm waters of Banderas Bay to give birth, feed their young and mate.
Across the bay, these massive, majestic mammals can be seen breeching, tail and fin slapping, and spy hopping in a “mating ritual.” Whether heading off on a whale watching tour, catching the action from the shoreline with binoculars or spotting spouts as whales surface in the distance, this seasonal event is nothing short of exhilarating. In Riviera Nayarit, top sighting spots for landlubbers are the shoreline from Nuevo Vallarta, Bucerias, Punta Mita and Sayulita to Guayabitos and further north to San Blas.
When booking a whale watching tour, keep in mind that smaller boats have the lowest impact as operators can go closer without disturbing the gentle giants. Top companies will stress the importance of preservation and protection – especially with the popular Humpbacks that are on the endangered species list.
During the winter months, eco-friendly Wildlife Connection combines whale watching with its dolphin watching tour. The company features an on board hydrophone to hear whale songs and dolphin communication.
Interact with Dolphins and Sea Lions
Depending on ages, kids can join their parents in a natural, eco-adventure for witnessing dolphins and sea lions at Los Arcos and Las Marietas Islands with Wildlife Connection.
Los Arcos consists of three rock formations and arches that jut out from the water, while Las Marietas Islands on the other end of the bay attract with hidden beaches, unique structures and fascinating wildlife.
In a more controlled environment, Vallarta Adventures’ Dolphin Adventure Center elevates family fun with its Sea Lion Program allowing adults and kids to learn about, interact with and swim with these engaging marine mammals. Following a brief poolside introduction, this hands-on program finds pro marine mammal trainers taking participants nose-to-nose with these whiskered creatures. Interaction ranges from petting to the ultimate affectionate sea lion kiss or hug.
Designed specifically for ages 4-9, the Dolphin Kids takes children from a short poolside introduction to petting and hugging the dolphins in the shallow end of the maternity pool. Both encounters find kids wide-eyed and in awe of the intense bond that’s possible between these mammals and humans.
Buckle Up for a 4x4 Adventure
Vallarta Adventures’ Offroad Adventure transports families into the Sierra Madre Mountains aboard specially designed Mercedes-Benz all-terrain vehicles. The journey travels to traditional villages of the Mexican outback for uncovering the ecosystem and wildlife of the Sierra Madre’s mountain and jungle terrain.
Explore La Tovara National Park’s Crocodile Preserve
The World Wildlife Fund describes San Blas’ La Tovara National Park and mangrove eco-region as “one of the most important winter habitats for birds in the Pacific.” Roughly four hours north of Puerto Vallarta, this home to 80 percent of the Pacific migratory shore bird population is a feathered paradise for bird enthusiasts into the potential of gawking at more than 500 species. Among these are the Roseate Spoonbill, Black-Bellied Tree Duck and Great Blue Heron, plus such endemic birds as the Bumblebee Hummingbird and Mexican Woodnymph. The best observation period is from October through April.
Along treks offered by Banderas Bay Tours & Travel, experienced guides share the ruins of the San Basilio Fortress founded in 1530, ruins of Nuestra Senora del Rosario Temple constructed in 1769 and La Contaduria that was built in 1770.
Especially engaging with kids is the Crocodile Reserve in El Manantial of La Camelota, where baby and full-grown crocodiles are viewable in a safe, up-close-and-personal manner.