Nature and culture in magnificent Mexico

Sayulita, Riviera Nayarit, Mexico.

Sayulita, Riviera Nayarit, Mexico.

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I have discovered an instant cure for seasickness. Transfixed on watching the spectacle of a whale courtship ritual, I totally forget about my ocean-induced nausea.

Tails thrash ferociously against the waves and gargantuan oil-slick bodies breach from the water, with a cluster of competitive males vying for attention from the single female they are trying to impress.

It’s hard to estimate how many majestic humpback whales we’re watching from our boat on Banderas Bay. The pod fluctuates as unsuccessful males retreat and others join to try their luck.

Once the acrobatics end and whale tails disappear from view, Riviera Nayarit’s 192 miles of Pacific coastline has plenty of equally magnificent sights.

And when new direct flights from the UK to Puerto Vallarta with Thomson launch in May, the number of Brits falling for its charms is likely to rise.

History is everywhere you look, from the native Huichol handicrafts through to nature’s handiwork.

We cruise to the volcanic Marieta Islands to witness the world’s most picturesque bomb site.

I snorkel past tropical fish through a short, dark tunnel following beams of sunlight to a secluded sandy beach not much bigger than a back garden.

Light streams through a large hole which appears to have been blasted in the rock. Some believe Playa De Amor, or Hidden Beach, formed in the early 1900s after being used as a site for military target practice by the Mexican Government.

Now, thanks to conservationist efforts first led by legendary diver Jacques Cousteau, the uninhabited islands are protected as a national park.

On a boat ride along the coast, we whizz past the neverending wall of rocky islands as flocks of birds soar gracefully overhead.

I’m told that Riviera Nayarit has the second highest number of North American birds in one location, as well as being home to many endangered species, such as blue-footed boobies and green macaws.

Puerto Vallarta first rose to prominence in 1963 when Banderas Bay was used as the setting for Hollywood film Night Of The Iguana.

A publicity frenzy surrounded leading actor Richard Burton’s affair with Elizabeth Taylor, who he brought on location, and tourists arrived in droves.

There were no roads, no telephones and limited plumbing and electricity.

Fifty years on, the popular resort city is much more developed but still retains much of its natural beauty.

Riviera Nayarit’s authentic cultural heritage makes for a destination rich in culinary traditions and handicraft trinkets.

In Sayulita, I stumble across an artisan in traditional dress quietly weaving with varying shades of green thread to create a trinket for his market stall.

He’s one of many Huichol Indians who display their colourful crafts on tables in the town’s cobbled plaza.

Nearby, a group of musicians perform as a dancer moves wildly to the beat outside a street-side taco restaurant, drawing a crowd.

We get talking to one of many expats clapping along, now in his 50s, who moved to Sayulita as a teenager for the surf and never returned home. In his words: ‘Bitten by the Mexico bug.’

I can see what he means.

Lisa Haynes was a guest at the new all-inclusive Iberostar Playa Mita hotel (iberostar.com), which offers doubles from £211 per night.

Aeromexico return flights to Puerto Vallarta start from £629 per person, via Mexico City connection. From May, Thomson (thomson.co.uk) will offer direct flights to Puerto Vallarta from Gatwick or Manchester. Iberostar Playa Mita/flight package, from £1,166 per person.

For more information visit RivieraNayarit.com.

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