San Blas, Nayarit is a quintessential Mexican beach town that time has passed by. Located in the State of Nayarit on the northern edge of Matanchén Bay, it is a world apart from the resort towns of Nuevo Vallarta or Punta Mita. There is a lot of history in this area and a lot of bugs.
The State of Nayarit is packed full of spectacular beaches, tasty waves, and exotic fruits. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever be desensitized to the wonders around me. The rainy season leaves the countryside every shade of green imaginable. From Guadalajara to Las Islitas, Nayarit, from the highlands to sea level, the scenery is incredible.
The Tovara Estuary defines the geography creating a natural port and a world-famous surf spot called Stoner’s Point. The region is famous for wildlife including jaguars, crocodiles, and exotic birds. This is the far end of the Riviera Nayarit and you should check it out.
I have been surfing this area for the last 15 years. Today, it is one of my favorite day trips from Guadalajara because the drive is easy and the beach is one of the closest to the capital of Jalisco.
DON’T FORGET TO BRING
- Sunscreen: The Best Biodegradable and Reef Safe Sunscreens for Mexico
- Hat: Barmah Wide-Brim Hat, Classic Panama Hat, Lifeguard Hat.
- Water Bottle: 40oz IRON °FLASK Sports Water Bottle
- Cooler: 3 Can TOURIT Cooler Backpack
- Shade: Pop-up Sun Shelter or Umbrella with Universal Clamp
- Long Sleeves: Rip Curl UV Long Sleeve Tee
- Shades: RAEN Optics sunglasses
- Car Rental: Discover Cars
San Blas, Nayarit, Mexico Overview
Long before this area was called Mexico or even Spain, it was a sacred place for the Huichol (Wixárika) people. Their origin story takes place on a small island just off the coast. Much like Real de Catorce, the Huichol are the foundation of the community and proudly preserve their language, art, and culture.
The Mexican government has gone back and forth on the idea of designating the area a preserve but right now it looks like there are some big hotels on the way.
In the early 16th century, the Spanish crown and the Catholic church established the settlement of Santiago de Galicia de Compostela (today Tepic) as the capital of Nuevo Galicia. However, it wouldn’t be for another two hundred years until the port of San Blas would be founded.
Originally, San Blas was mostly a military port used as a launching point for expeditions into Sonora and California. Because of the availability of wood and shipbuilders, many of the galleons headed to Acapulco from the Philippines would stop in San Blas for repairs.
Fray Junipero Serra disembarked from the port of San Blas aboard the ship La Purisima in 1768 on his way to establishing the missions in Alta California.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wintered in San Blas in the 19th century and wrote a poem called The Bells of San Blas.
The San Blas Battalion distinguished itself for bravery during the War of Independence and the Mexican-American War, and it still functions as a military town. To this day the naval training center is an important presence in these parts.
The dock at San Blas was memorialized by the iconic pop band Maná with their tune, En el muelle de San Blas. The song tells the tragic story of Rebeca Méndez, AKA La Loca de San Blas, or the crazy lady from San Blas.
In the summer of 1971, Rebeca was to marry a fisherman named Manuel. Just days before the wedding, Manuel went to sea and never returned. Rebeca sat waiting in her wedding dress on the docks of San Blas earning her the nickname.
Things To Do And See in San Blas, Nayarit
San Blas, Nayarit is a world-class destination for bird watching. There are large populations of migratory birds making their way south in the winter. There is a small observation deck on the road into town but the best way to observe the birds is on an estuary tour. Tours leave from the San Blas Harbor and the La Tovara National Park is the best.
La Tovara Nature Reserve
La Tovara is a unique combination of freshwater springs and salt water estuary. This is one of the best places in Mexico to see wildlife. The birding around San Blas is world-famous and has been attracting Canadian snowbirds for a really long time. Jaguars are regularly seen in the area, there are tons of reptiles, coyotes, boars, and dear.
La Contaduría and Nuestra Señora del Rosario
On a bluff overlooking the harbor are the ruins of the Contaduría building. The official translation is the accountant’s office but it was more like a customs house guarding the treasure against pirates. There are some excellent tour guides that are happy to share the history of the area with you.
On the road up to the Contaduría are the ruins of the Nuestra Señora del Rosario church. The roof o the church is missing and the stone walls are engulfed in tropical foliage. It makes a good picture for the Instagram.
San Blas has a significant native population. The Huichol (Wixárika) people have a style of artwork that uses very small beads to decorate animal figurines. There are beautiful necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. Wixárika art is one of the best souvenirs to buy in Mexico.
San Blas Beaches
Playa Borrego is a 3-minute drive south of the town square. It is a really big sandbar that separates the Pacific Ocean from the estuary river. The naval base is located at the north end of the beach. At the south end of the beach is a river mouth that a lot of surfers will swim across to access Stoners Point
Las Islitas – There are dozens of enramadas, or rustic kitchens usually with palm frond thatched roofs and plastic chairs with a Corona logo. The specialty is grilled whole fish, local oysters, and coconut water.
Look for restaurants that have lots of people. There are a couple of restaurants that look pretty slow during the week and aren’t turning their inventory over that quickly.
The beaches further inside the bay have very small waves that are great for the kids to play in. Most days, there are absolutely no waves at the first couple of beaches.
This happened to be one of the biggest swells of the season and the waves out on the point were three-to-five-foot-tall. On the inside, the waves were one-to-two-foot-tall and reeling down the line with perfect form.
After the last enramada the mosquitos come out and it feels like you are driving into the estuary.
Surfing San Blas
For the rest of us, San Blas, Nayarit means surf. Stoner’s Point and Las Islitas, Nayarit have to be some of the most iconic beaches in Mexico for traveling surfers. The wave evokes a lot of emotion because so many people can say they had the session of a lifetime there.
Stoner’s Point was discovered by surfers in the 1960s and quickly grew to mythic status. It was a right-point break that would break for over a mile. Ron Stoner has an iconic shot of an old woody station wagon packed full of boards whose occupants watch a surfer reel down the line on a runner.
There was a time when it was considered the longest wave in the world by the hodads at the Guinness Book of World Records. Over the years and after some hurricanes, the sand in the bay has shifted and the wave doesn’t break like it used to. That’s ok because there are still lots of waves
The wave needs a serious swell to wake up. If the open ocean buoy is less than 4ft it is going to be a lake. It is a very fickle wave. It only breaks a couple of times a year when the swell is absolutely maxing out. Keep your eye on the swell forecast to see if you can score this place.
When you see a serious south-west swell you should cancel your plans a post up in San Blas for a few days. The wave runs down the line, has a ton of sections, and quarter-mile-long rides are common. The wave starts off mellow with an easy drop and quickly stands up and races down the line.
There are lots of places to surf along the point. Stoner’s Point is the very tip of the estuary. The river empties into the ocean just on the other side of the point. Some of the guys walk down from San Blas and swim across the river mouth. Just watch out for crocodiles.
Check out this guy’s wave. I estimate that he rode this wave for more than 500 meters. That is like a quarter-mile-long ride.
As you move back towards Las Islitas the waves get smaller. Las Islitas is a good place to teach your kid or spouse to surf while lounging at the enremada restaurants set up on the beach.
Las Islitas Nayarit is a treasure that you should visit even if the waves aren’t that big. I am sure that you will enjoy it.
Playa El Borrego
Playa El Borrego is a mostly inconsequential beach break. You are not going to buy a plane ticket to surf this wave. It gets fun but the star of the show is Stoners Point on the northern edge of Matanchén Bay.
Where To Stay In San Blas, Nayarit
San Blas is a much more laid-back destination than Sayulita, San Pancho, or Nuevo Vallarta. The hotel options are tailored more to local families from Tepic than they are to international tourists. The international tourists coming through here are either fishermen or surfers.
My whole family loved this place. We loved Chef Betty when she was on TV Azteca and that is the reason we wanted to check this place out. We got a chance to meet her and talk for a few minutes. She really comes off as a wonderful person that takes a lot of pride in her hometown and her hotel.
When I used to come by myself, I would stay at some really cool huts on the beach at Stoners Surf Camp. These days, I travel with my wife, my mother-in-law, and two little kids. We need a few more comforts. I think that the Garza Canela strikes the right balance between price and quality
My kids loved the pool and the kid’s playground. We spent a lot of time in the kid’s pool. The hotel isn’t right on the beach but it is very close. We drove 10 minutes around the estuary to Las Islitas where we posted up all day at an enremada restaurant.
Chef Betty makes sure that the Delfin Restaurant is high quality. We ate there five times over the course of three days and enjoyed every meal. The San Blas-style shrimp chilaquiles were something that I hadn’t tried before, and loved.
The rooms are not modern but they are well-maintained and comfortable.
This is a really cool hotel that is famous throughout Mexico because of its owner and restaurant. One of my favorite chefs in Guadalajara, Xrysw Ruelas best young chef in Latin America, got her start in San Blas before moving to Puerto Vallarta.
The Garza Canela is a hidden gem that I think you should check out.
Hacienda Flamingos is another excellent hotel that does a good job of evoking the feel of a historic hacienda. It is located just two blocks from the harbor and is a great place for people on fishing trips and whale-watching trips.
There are dozens of big wooden rocking chairs and even a couple of rocking horses looking out on the patio from the covered arches. The grounds are nicely manicured and there is a lovely outdoor swimming pool that the kids will enjoy.
The air-conditioned rooms are traditionally decorated and the bar is the perfect place to end the day. Remember, you don’t want to be outside after dark with no consideration for the bugs. The party moves inside around dusk.
Stoners Surf Camp
I have great memories of staying at Stoners Surf Camp. It is a campground and cheap hotel with simple shacks they rent out right on the beach. The view is pretty great to wake up to.
As the name states, this is a no-frills surf camp. The owner is a longboarding surfing champion and local legend who still hosts a lot of events for the community.
Where To Eat In San Blas, Nayarit
There are shacks selling fresh oysters and grilled zarandeado fish right as you come into town.
Playa El Borrego is lined with simple restaurants like El Amigo, El Borrego, and Caballito de Mar.
In town, my favorite place to eat is La Familia Restaurante. I am a huge fan of shrimp a la diabla. The San Blas style uses ketchup and they have excellent quality shrimp. The San Blas Social Club reminds me of something out of an old Hemingway novel. I suspect a chapter or two of a book has been inspired by the experience.
In Las Islitas, the best enramada restaurants are Mysis III, Garza Blanca, and El Chino. I like Mysis because it is about halfway out the point and there is a fun waves that breaks off the rocks. I can surf and my kids can play in shallows. This is where my oldest started boogie boarding for the first time on tiny waves. The area is great for kids.
There are banana bread shops all over town. Everyone that I have tried is excellent. Juan Bananas has locations in San Blas and in Las Islitas.
Where Is San Blas And How To Get There
The best way to have access to all the best things to do in San Blas is to rent a car. The best beaches are a little ways away from the city center and there is a lot to explore.
I recommend renting through Discover Cars. They are an aggregator site that includes the price of insurance in the quoted price. Most of the other rentals will surprise you with and insurance bill that is bigger than the price of the rental car.
Looking at the map, San Blas is 50 km west of Tepic down a toll highway in perfect condition. It is 150 km from Puerto Vallarta and 250 km from Guadalajara.
Tepic is the capital of the state of Nayarit and the best airport to use to access the area.
Unfortunately, there are not as many direct flights to Tepic as there are to Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta.
AeroMexico just opened a direct flight from Tepic to Mexico City that can connect to anywhere in North America. For those using the CBX border crossing in San Diego, Tijuana has direct flights to Tepic twice a day.
The difference is that the way in from Guadalajara is all toll-road freeway and the way in from Puerto Vallarta is a windy country road. It is cheaper and faster to fly into Guadalajara than it is to fly into Puerto Vallarta.
To drive the 150 km from Puerto Vallarta to San Blas it takes 3 hours. To drive the 250 km from Guadalajara to San Blas it takes only 2½ hours. Driving from Tepic to San Blas when you first see the ocean
The drive from Guadalajara to San Blas
I like driving to San Blas. I bought a 4×4 vehicle specifically so that I could drive right up to the point at Stoner’s and surf.
The drive is 250 kilometers (155 miles) with 230 km of easy, well-marked, and mostly straight toll-freeway driving. As you leave Guadalajara it’s still dark, but as the sun rises over the Tequila Volcano you can see agave fields come out of a low-hanging cloud.
A little further out of town, the forest starts with oak, parota, and even huge cacti. The scenery is filled with cornfields then another extinct volcano that has left a black, metamorphic rock landscape.
As you cross into the State of Nayarit and approach Ixtlan del Río, keep an eye out for the ostrich farm on the side of the freeway. As you approach Tepic, the landscape changes and there is more sugarcane and more cornfields.
There is a macrolibremiento bypass that lets you go around Tepic, doing 110 km/h, rather than going through the city center. It just gets greener and more tropical as you go. On the backside of Tepic has an old textile mill with an arched aqueduct and brick furnace chimney tower. This is where the elevation drops rapidly and it gets intensely tropical.
The scenery changes to trees of banana and mango and billboards warn you to watch for big cats.
This is where you get your first glimpse of the ocean. The freeway turns to a local road that parallels the bay for another 5 minutes. Turn left at the intersection with the banana bread bakeries. Make sure to stop on the way out and pick up banana bread for your wife who is home watching the kid.
If you drive in to Las Islitas you need 4×4 or at least a truck with good clearance to make it all the way out to Stoners Point. If not, you can park a half mile down the point and walk in.
Final Thoughts: Las Islitas, Stoner’s Point, and San Blas, Nayarit
Stoner’s Point in San Blas has become my new favorite surf spot. The drive in from Guadalajara is really easy. It is all freeway without those mountainous curves that you have to go through to get to Puerto Vallarta. I can usually make it in two and a half hours depending on what the traffic is like getting in and out of Guadalajara.
I don’t get to the beach as much as I would like but when I see a big swell on the forecast I try to get organized, even if it’s just for one day. I leave before sunrise and have to be back in Guadalajara before 7 pm. The drive should be less than three hours if I can get out of Guadalajara before the morning traffic.
San Blas is a hidden gem that most people overlook because of the mosquito issue. In the last few years that I have been visiting, the mosquitos have been mellow compared to years past. I think that every season is going to be different.
The area might not be as bustling with tourists from the United States like Nuevo Vallarta or Sayulita but that just lends to the authenticity. I highly recommend you check out San Blas, Nayarit. I think you will enjoy it.