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Riviera Nayarit, Mexico: Where You Can Own, Play, or Both

The all-inclusive experience is upgraded at Villa la Estancia Beach Resort & Spa Nayarit.
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The AAA Four-Diamond resort is situated in an exclusive residential neighborhood of Nuevo Vallarta across from a wildlife sanctuary.

Riviera Nayarit, Mexico: Where You Can Own, Play, or Both

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Located on the northern edge of Nuevo Nayarit, just steps from Bucerias Beach, is the Riviera Nayarit. And comfortably nestled in Riviera Nayarit, you’ll find Villa la Estancia Beach Resort & Spa Nayarit—a luxury beachside resort just 30 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta that is redefining the all-inclusive vacation experience.

Secluded, quiet, and laid back, Villa la Estancia Nayarit offers a range of experiences, from long weekend stays to a trip that lasts a few weeks or more. About 60 percent of the units are owned by guests who often combine work with R&R, so it’s common to make this resort a luxurious working vacation spot.

The AAA Four-Diamond resort is situated in an exclusive residential neighborhood of Nuevo Vallarta across from a wildlife sanctuary. It’s easy to enjoy peace and quiet without distraction—and that’s by design.

A bonus is the easy flight time to paradise. We left DFW Airport for Puerto Vallarta at 8 a.m. and were at the resort’s gates by noon. Upon arrival, and after a welcome glass of bubbly, our butler, Jaime, explained the origins of the colonial aesthetic of the hotel, which is noticeable throughout its architecture, design, and furnishings. He says Banderas Bay got its name when Spanish conquistadors arrived in the area to find thousands of Indigenous people armed with bows and arrows and carrying feathered flags to defend their territory; Banderas means “flag” in Spanish.

Villa la Estancia Nayarit is part of the Villa group, a Mexico owned-and-operated collection of resorts. Each Villa resort provides an authentic, intimate experience and places a priority on sustainability and service. We quickly noticed the staff referring to guests by name and chatting as if they were longtime friends. As it turns out, they are. Many of the resort’s staff members have been with the property for more than a decade and consider regular guests as family.

Most of the luxury suites at Villa la Estancia Nayarit can accommodate couples to large groups, as select units feature several bedrooms or adjoining rooms. Some are equipped with complete kitchens, professional-grade appliances, (cookware, too), a washer and dryer, a full living area, and expansive balconies framing ocean or mountain views.

Each bathroom is stocked with luxurious L’Occitane en Provence products and plush robes. Because of the “home-by-the-sea” concept of the sizable suites, many guests book the resort for a work/play experience. For instance, a CEO may work in the morning and join his or her family later at the pool or schedule a chef-prepared meal to enjoy together at night in their suite. Although most vacationers choose Estancia’s elevated all-inclusive option, the resort also offers a traditional European plan that many members use.

Day one of our all-inclusive experience cemented the authenticity of this resort with a lively fiesta and show at Huichol Plaza. We sampled a winding buffet filled with authentic Mexican cuisine, from fresh fruit and salads to traditional fare and dulce treats, while enjoying a colorful and festive performance by folklorico and mariachi dancers.

We then walked through the botanical gardens to make our late reservation at La Casona, the resort’s eclectic Mexican steakhouse. We followed a tip to be strategic in our table request, as La Casona lays claim to some of the best seats at the resort offering stunning sunset views of Banderas Bay past the resort’s fountains and pool. We began our meal with a twist on the traditional Caesar salad made tableside to taste, followed by the house specialty lasagna and a seven-ounce Angus beef tenderloin sauteed with a creamy brandy and three-pepper sauce.

La Casona is also one the resort’s favored destinations for the first meal of the day. The next morning at breakfast, we chose the spicy Bloody Mary made to order and mimosas to pair with a buffet of local breakfast favorites, including chilaquiles and Mexican bread pudding.

Had we felt more energetic, we could have kayaked or tried paddle boarding as well as some of the resort’s scheduled activities—all part of the all-inclusive plan. We took the chill route instead and relaxed poolside before enjoying a late patio lunch at La Parrilla. We watched the waves come in and horseback riders pass by on the beach while dining on Mexican ceviche, wraps, and freshly made salsa and guacamole paired with ice-cold, handmade margaritas.

We asked for the salsa recipe and instead received an impromptu personal demonstration so that we could make it at home. After lunch, I headed to the resort’s Tatewari Spa for its signature Tatewari massage. Each treatment at the spa addresses the mind/body/soul with a full sensory experience and can be followed with hydrotherapy.

As someone who has indulged in several all-inclusive Mexico vacations, I kept wondering when the resort would “turn up the volume” each day. Typically, at most all-inclusive resorts, by midday the music at the main pool is loud, entertainment ramps up, and the swim-up bars are noisy and packed. Not here. The resort knows its guests well and intentionally remains serene and quiet all day with soft music, just one pool and swim-up bar, reserved beach and pool lounge areas for members, and a carefully curated nightlife scene.

Sister Property: Villa del Palmar Flamingos

Evening walks on the beach are uncrowded and peaceful. We learned that families with young children often swim and dine next door at Estancia’s sister property, Villa del Palmar Flamingos, which has a livelier scene during the day. There is a slower pace here; each evening we spotted several guests purchasing food items and grabbing a bottle of wine at the on-site market, Palmita Market & Deli so they could make dinner with their families to enjoy on their suite’s balcony.

Activity opportunities at Villa del Palmar Flamingo include a premium tequila tasting and cooking lesson.

Later that day, we advanced our knowledge about tequila from novice to pro by reserving a premium tequila tasting and cooking lesson through Villa del Palmar Flamingo. The resort customizes experiences like these to the preferences of guests, and a mixologist and chef can accommodate a personal tasting and cooking experience for two, a small group, or even a large party for corporate events.

A tequila sommelier walked us through an array of premium tequilas—some familiar and a few that are regarded as more exclusive. He explained how to best define and savor the spirit, from fragrance to palate. We paired our sips with sizzling fajitas, as well as guacamole we mixed and prepared ourselves and fresh flour tortillas that we shaped then cooked on hot stones.

We ended our last full day at sunset, back on the beach at a candle-lit table overlooking the water at La Trattoria, the resort’s Italian restaurant. By day, it’s a pizza bar with a wood-fired oven—a convenient spot to grab a slice before hitting the beach. At night, it is an open-air, elegant destination for dinner with contemporary Italian dishes and premium wines.

One of the many charms of Nuevo Vallarta is the surrounding collection of small beach towns and mountain colonial villages that have purposefully maintained their authenticity and charm, even as their popularity has soared due in large part to Instagram influencers. For instance, the laid-back surf town of Sayulita is just a 40-minute ride from Villa la Estancia Nayarit, and the sleepy fishing town of Bucerias is a 10-minute ride from the resort. For longer stays, it would be easy to make Estancia your home base while exploring nearby villages.

On the last morning of our trip, we took a quick cab ride to Bucerias and were charmed by the cobblestone streets, colorful homes, and local boutiques. Before heading back to the resort to grab our bags, we stopped for breakfast at Karen’s, a Bucerias beachfront favorite among locals and guests, listening to ’80s music and enjoying omelets, huevos rancheros, and horchata while wishing our flight from Puerto Vallarta to Dallas would be delayed so we had more time to explore.

 When we left the resort, Jaime waved goodbye and said, “See you next time.” We can’t wait.


Jennifer Sander Hayes

Jennifer Sander Hayes

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