For a long time, I’ve avoided visiting Mexico because of all the travel warnings and negative media coverage–not to mention nay-sayers and friends with misguided advice and fear-mongering.

Vendor - Mexico

Despite the warnings, I took a leap of faith and hopped a flight down to Riviera Nayarit recently. Precautions are always necessary when traveling aboard, but maintaining a high level of situational awareness is essential whenever you travel, and I found Mexico to be no different. I was a sole, female traveler and I must say, it was one of the better trips I’ve taken in a long time.

Riviera Nayarit is located along the Pacific Ocean coastline near the southern region of the country. Full of high-end luxury resorts and sleepy beach villages, it’s a contrasting paradigm that just works. I found many of its cities to be just great places to chill and relax, and with the slow pace of life there, I was able to partake in activities I’ve never done before: surfing in Sayulita, bird-watching in San Blas and visiting EntreAmigos, a collective community action project in San Pancho.Ceviche - Four Seasons - Mexico

I checked into the Villa La Estancia, which was more than the average seaside resort. The lobby was luxuriously decorated in a chic-Hacienda style and that carried on throughout the villa resort. Being escorted to my room, by my assigned personal butler was a nice touch.

My home for the next few days was immaculate and fully equipped for all my needs. There was a spacious living area that was oceanfront and led to an oversized extended balcony that offered a romantic view of the Banderas Bay coastline. The lush king-size bed was so inviting and comfortable, it made it difficult to leave the villa every day.St. Regis - Mexico

The spa bathroom was enormous and was lined with high-end fixtures and a deep  sunken bathtub that was filled with rose pedals one night. My butler saw to my every need.

Although I travelled during the off-peak season, the resort was booked to near capacity; but the pool and spa areas never seemed overcrowded. I was able to schedule spa services at Tatewari at short notice, and I appreciated the comprehensive menu and the variety of personalized treatments. After a relaxing experience at Tatewari, I was ready to tour the local surroundings.Colorful Sayulita - Mexico

While this journey had many highlights, most exciting was visiting the Marietas Islands, also known as Hidden Beach. I took a tour with Punta Mita Expeditions and quickly realized that the islands are one of those places that you see in a magazine and say to yourself, “I want to go there one day.” And one day is the distant future, but always in the back of your mind. It’s a lover’s paradise and must-see addition to any travel bucket list. The islands’ indescribable beauty made for an intoxicating experience.

Formed from the collapse of volcanic rock, what remained  is a carved-out cave, whose only access happens to be an underwater crevice. During optimal sea conditions, adventurers can take a twenty-minute boat rid, and then hop into the water and swim, swim, swim as if your life depended on it. Once the swimmer surfaces, there’s a shallow swimming hole, private golden sandy beach and a few nooks and crannies for reflecting on how incredibly amazing the islands are. The guides from Punta Mita Expeditions are competent and emphasize safety first.Pescado Sarandeado - Mexico

Although I’m a very weak swimmer, the guides made me feel confident and comfortable about making the short underwater journey. I knew I was in good hands the entire time. Afterwards the tour included a bit of snorkeling and touring the other smaller islands in the area. Hidden Beach was by far one of the most spectacular sights I’ve ever seen.

Next on my list of things to do was learning how to surf. Not far from the well -known surfing town of Sayulita, there was no way I could be that close and not attempt lessons. I signed up for lessons at Lunazul Surfing School, because it was affordable and its location was right on the beach. My instructor was Papas, whose personality and teaching style enabled me to master some techniques as soon as I hit the water. I still can’t believe I was able to pop up my first time out on a surfboard.Surfing

With doing so many water sports, I developed a healthy appetite and was able to sample some  fine dining options, a wine tasting at Ketsi Restaurant at the Four Seasons Punta Mita and a Champagne Ritual at the Caroline Restaurant in St. Regis Punta Mita. I wasn’t aware of the wine scene in Riviera Nayarit, but the sommelier at the Four Seasons taught me a thing or two about the local and regional vineyards and how the area is optimal for producing grape crops that result in wines that are gaining both Mexican national and international attention.

Riviera Nayarit met and exceeded my expectations as a  week-long getaway. Staying on the tourist track is advisable, but with so many  entertaining activities to do, I can’t think of too many reasons to venture off the beaten path.