The Riviera Nayarit is much more than exclusive resorts set on gorgeous beaches or traditional fishing villages. This tourism corridor that extends along more than 307 kilometers of coastline also guards a variety of historical places, as do other regions of the state like the Sierra del Nayar and Colonial Nayarit.
In these places it’s possible to find the remains of pre-Colombian civilizations and also more modern ones, whether in the Heroic Port of San Blas, in archaeological sites like Altavista in the municipality of Compostela, or in the towns tucked away in the intricate mountains.
Below is a list of the 10 Historic Places in the Riviera Nayarit that we suggest should be visited at least once in a lifetime.
1 Petroglyphs – Pila del Rey (King’s Basin) in Altavista
The Altavista archaeological site, also known as “La Pila del Rey,” “The Petroglyphs,” or “The Sanctuary,” is located in the foothills of the Sierra del Vallejo, south of the municipality of Compostela just a few minutes from Rincón de Guayabitos. It extends over 80 hectares and more than 2,000 rock carvings have been identified. It’s believed the Tecoxquines, an Aztec group that lived here, carved these fascinating petroglyphs over 1,500 years ago as symbols of their lives. Some archaeologists believe they were offerings to their gods and have a primarily religious meaning, from the simple spirals to the complex symbols of crossed lines, plants, animals and men.
2 Los Toriles
The Los Toriles archaeological zone, also known as the “Ancient Ixtlán,” is recognized as one of the most important cities in the western region of ancient Mexico. According to archaeologists, it was inhabited from the year 100 A.C. to 600 A.C. Over 85 mounds and structures have been identified within the complex, though it’s only possible to visit 15 since most are still unexcavated. Among the most salient structures are the Round Temple, which, according to specialists, was dedicated to the wind god, Ehécatl-Quetzalcóatl; the Palace of the Bonfires; the Palace of the Reliefs; the Palace of the Columns; and Palace B-6. The archaeological center is located 9 kilometers east of Ixtlán del Río on road 15. Visiting hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
3 La Contaduría (The Accounting House)
La Contaduría in San Blas, located in the mountains of San Basilio, harks back to the year 1773 and is one of the places that saw the most battles in the long history of the port. Its beautiful colonial architecture and imposing cannons are mute witnesses to past glory. As the departure and arrival point for the legendary Manila galleon, it was also the most important center for business and product and cultural exchanges between America with Asia and Europe. La Contaduría was also a military fort, where José María Mercado directed the liberation strategies during the Mexican Independence movement, having been named Commander-in-Chief of the regional divisions by the famous priest, Miguel Hidalgo. Currently, La Contaduría has a museum where visitors can see the remains of the bravery and pride of the people of San Blas.
A visit to Mexcaltitán takes visitors to a world filled with mystery, history and unique cultural experiences. The island is known as the cradle of Aztec civilization and the “Venice of Nayarit,” thanks to the many canals that crisscross it. Its roots are deep and start back in ancient Aztec history, and many believe it’s the birthplace of modern Mexico. It is also said Mexcaltitán served as the map for Tenochtitlán (Mexico City), distinguished by its narrow streets and the city’s ability to function beneath the rising water levels.
To speak of Bellavista is to travel from the Riviera Nayarit to Colonial Nayarit. This spot is called an archeological site, but not from the pre-Hispanic era: from Modern Mexico. One of its main symbols is the old textile factory with its European-style architecture. It was opened on September 11, 1841 and all of its construction materials were imported—from the technology and the knowledge to the immense stone blocks. For years it was the commercial model for Nayarit and the entire country until it went bankrupt in 1846. To get to Bellavista from the Riviera Nayarit you have to follow some of the roads that take you to Tepic and travel a bit farther—less than 10 minutes—to the north side of the City on the road that goes to Aguamilpa.
The Magical Town of Jala is located in the southern part of the state of Nayarit. Touring it is a wonderful experience, as it’s a town that has preserved its essence in every corner. The National Institute of History and Anthropology (INAH) keeps guard over the streets and buildings of this colonial village. To get to Jala, you have to take the highway from Tepic to Guadalajara and get off at the intersection located about 10 minutes from Ixtlán del Río. There are limited accommodations, so we recommend spending the night in Tepic.
7 Santa Teresa del Nayar
The indigenous community of Santa Teresa del Nayar, located in the Sierra del Nayar, is a mosaic of customs and traditions that are displayed in its festivals and colorful art. Besides its many natural attractions that include forests, mountains, lagoons, waterfalls and springs—ideal for ecotourism—there are original celebrations such as Santa Cora Week, which takes place in early November. The famous Borrados (The Erased) appear during these festivities, representing an army of nocturnal fertility demos who “erase” their bodies with black and white paint, covering themselves with multicolored symbols.
8 Jesús María Franciscan Temple
The Jesús María Franciscan Temple is found in the community of Mesa del Nayar and was built in the 18th century. According to information provided by Francisco Samaniega Altamirano, the archaeologist in charge of the national coordination of the National Institute of History and Anthropology (INAH), there is a giant altar within the temple with a hanging black cloth in the shape of a body, crowned with a skull. The locals say that skull belonged to the last indigenous Cora king named Hueitlacatl Tonati, considered the Huei taboasima, or “Grand Corpse,” and is used as a sort of oracle, especially during the festivities of the Say of the Dead, when it’s asked about situations having to do with the rituals of this ethnicity.
9 Compostela Parrish
The gorgeous parish of Saint James Apostle, also known as the Temple of our Lord of Mercy, is located in the municipal seat of Compostela. This is a colonial work of art that still conserves pieces from that era, such as the Spanish Christ from the 16th century, worshipped in the main niche of the main altar: this is a polychromatic wooden carving representing a life-sized Crucified Christ. It’s said to be a gift from Nuño de Guzmán for the old town of Compostela; Spanish Emperor Carlos V donated the reliquary and some of accessories. The celebrations for Our Lord of Mercy in December are famous, highlighting the religious fervor of the locals. There are pilgrimages with live tableaus, floats, fireworks and pre-Hispanic dances.
10 Amado Nervo Museum House
The Amado Nervo Museum House is dedicated to poet Amado Nervo, a native of Nayarit, and is housed in the mid-19th-century residence where he was born on August 27, 1870. The building is located in the center of the city of Tepic, and re-opened as a museum on April 27, 1970. It has three rooms: one is a multiuse salon with documents about the life and work of the author; the second one has the library and a series of pictures of the Nervo family; and the third displays books and furniture owned by the artist. Local Nayarit artists created paintings in his honor that hang the main hallway. Guided visits to the museum are available, as are courses, literary workshops, and conferences.