A modern beach bohemia on the Nayarit Peninsula, an hour north of Puerto Vallarta, Sayulita was once an impoverished but picturesque fishing village when the first American surfers appeared there in the early 70s. Amid dense jungle, scorpions, and wild parrots, these brave adventurers basically had to hack their way to what would become known as one of Mexico’s most sensational boarding waves.
Not so remote or hidden anymore, Sayulita still has a super chilled vibe (and good waves). Christmas and New Year are chaos, but outside of that week (as well as the first week of April for Mexican Spring Break, apparently), the beaches are clean and beautiful, and only lightly sprinkled with bronzing bodies. Sayulita savors a slower pace. This low-key getaway lures all sorts of sun-seeking tourists from around the world who gather here to recharge on vitamin D, yoga, and surf.
Cobblestone streets circle the central plaza – where tourists and locals gather – and Huichol Indian artists sell their handwoven crafts. You will pass taco carts, fresh-squeezed juice stands, bread and pastry sellers, churro stalls, and local musicians. The streets here are tired, dusty, and somewhat bedraggled… but we don’t mind this kind of scene. And the locals are super friendly – they greet you before you greet them, but don’t harass or bother you in anyway.
Beautiful sunsets are enjoyed daily by the fisherman, the fisherman’s wives, their children, the surfers, the beach bums, the retirees, the locals, and tourists alike. It’s a fun little place to chill and recharge, or party, or both. The margaritas flow freely… and somehow, they are hangover-free. Just the way we like it.
1. To eat…
Although small, this town has a lot to offer by way of food. Eating is oftentimes the focus when livin' la vida Mexicana, and Sayulita’s weekly organic farmer's market (held each Friday) was the highlight of our foodie experience. We fell in love with Sandrita’s healthy and delicious baked treats (try her vegan slice, her blue corn & banana muffins, and her gluten-free chocolate brownies) – also available at her restaurant,Tacos on the Street. It is at the market that we also met (and instantly fell head-over-heels for!) Lucy, a beautiful Australian girl from Byron Bay, who moved to Sayulita with her Mexican husband to start La Esperanza, a delicious wholefoods café. They sell some of their healthy delights at the weekly market, including their unbelievable raw cacao balls, delicious dhal, and quinoa salads. Look out also for great breads, amazing falafel, fresh fruit & veg, and organic kombuchas. For the weeks we were there, Friday could not come soon enough.
2. For tacos…
Try these 4 spots for our absolute favorites:
* For the best fish tacos look no further than Miguel’s Fish Tacos (opposite Paninos). Miguel and his friendly crew dish up fresh and healthy grilled mahi-mahi, snapper, and shrimp tacos, day and night. Try one of Miguel’s delicious blended margaritas as well.
* For delicious vegetarian tacos, head to Naty’s Kitchen. There is always a big queue down the street at this super clean and healthy taco joint. Get there early; the fillings sell out and your options start diminishing the later you go. We love the pulled chicken (it’s not all vegetarian!).
* For our favorite, and the most wholesome and delicious, try Lucy’s fish tacos at La Esperanza.
* Finally, for the most local experience, head north on Avenida Revolucion until you spot the tacos al pastor vendor selling his marinated pork on the vertical rotisseries outside Carniceria Trunco's. Watch this grill master at work. Notice the piece of fresh pineapple on top of the meat (a Mexican tradition); its sweet juice drips over the meat, breaking down the protein and making it very tender. After you order, he'll thinly slice the crusty meat directly on a small, homemade corn tortilla and cover it with onion, cilantro, lime juice, salsa, and a small slice of pineapple.
3. For breakfast…
La Esperanza again takes the cake for their healthy spin on Mexican cuisine, with all sorts of deliciousness including quinoa bowls with coconut yoghurt and fruit, and delicious buckwheat pancakes. Another favorite isYah Yah’s, for their fruit salad, yoghurt, and granola (try this on a waffle as well!), and great lattes (choose from rice, soy, and almond milk). Just be careful of the bees!
4. For the best smoothie in town…
Go and say hi to our mate Isaac at Smoothies Mi Buenon the bridge. Isaac worked in the hospitality industry until opening his smoothie stand 3 years ago. He makes healthy and delicious concoctions that will fill you up perfectly and provide a nourishing start to your day. We were somewhat partial to the “Perfect Breakfast” – banana, spinach, oats, coconut, almond milk, and whey protein. So good!! He also knows how to spin a good tune from his ipod.
5. For lunch…
La Esperanza (again!) is our favorite, for an ever-changing menu of home-made, wholesome goodness. Think homemade dhal, quinoa salad, and Mexican slow-cooked beef. Also, amazing juices (watermelon and mint - our favorite), and delightful sweets (we love their cacao balls packed with dates and nuts). Be sure to visit the organic market on Friday mornings as well, where Lucy has a few of her offerings for sale.
6. For an afternoon coffee and snack…
Head to Taco’s on the Street (on Avenida Revolucion, across the street from the International School). Don’t be deceived by the name! Sandrita is known as Sayulita’s leading baking lady! Sandrita’s apple and blackberry crumble, her vegan bar, and her blue corn, mango, coconut, and banana muffins are all to die for. She also does a great coffee and some killer smoothies. Wifi also on offer.
Always full with gringos, and known as Sayulita’s original coffee shop and café, Choco Banana is good for a quick drink stop. A good people-watching spot right on the plaza, we kept going back for their Choco banana frappe: frozen coffee ice cubes, banana, and chocolate – blended with milk. They also do a mean frozen banana dipped in chocolate!
7. Best sandwiches….
Can be found at Paninos. They have a great range of fresh and homemade bread and pastries, and do some great baguettes – perfect if you plan on doing a day trip at another beach.
8. For dinner, our favorites include…
* Green Grill: new this season, head there for a beautiful ambience (think fairy lights, open kitchen and bar, living green wall) and great, simple, healthy food. The grilled salmon and the filet mignon were standouts. Choose your sides (grilled veggies) and salads. All delicious. Great wines as well.
* Pizza Venezia: (BYO) be prepared to wait, but worth it, the wait shall be! The most authentic Italian-style pizza to be found in Sayulita. Perfect thin base. Gluten-free option as well, and good salads and pasta. We love this little strip – less touristy, more laid-back and friendly. Another great spot is the Argentinian grill across the road. Say hi to Nano, the hard-working Argentinian working the outside grill on the street!
* Miro Vino: for home made pasta, decent pizzas, and great fish dishes. Lovely outdoor setting, just steps up from the main square.
* Don Pedro: on the main beach. This upscale restaurant (for Sayulita, anyway) is where we spent our Christmas dinner. Beautiful views and a lovely ambience, the food here did not disappoint. The highlight was the whole snapper. More expensive than most, this makes for a beautiful (more fancy) night out.
9. Others that we tried, and liked…
* Café Sayulita: located on the main street coming into town, half a block from the plaza. We loved their beef fajitas and grilled fish dishes. The margaritas here are also something special!
* Don Juan: slightly out of town, but lovely, romantic setting.
* Mar Plata: in San Pancho, 15 minutes from Sayulita, but amazing food and ambience. Great seafood.
10. To drink…
* La Zouave de Hotel Hafa…our absolute favorite! Next to Le Petit Hafa, Christophe’s cute adjoining bar is the perfect place to while away a night after dinner. They make a killer cucumber margarita!! Or try their delicious berry caiprinha. Good tunes as well.
* El Barrilito is a cute little red bar on the corner of the square. Fun for an evening drink, or even a quick lunch. The coconut shrimp was delicious.
11. To sleep…
* Petit Hotel d'Hafa: owned by Christophe and his Spanish wife Marina, this gorgeous six-room boutique hotel is a winsome bit of Morocco in the middle of town, just steps from the water, with barrel-vaulted ceilings, chartreuse polished-cement floors, and pierced-tin wall lights in the shape of angel wings. Our favorite place to stay in town.
* Casablanca: we liked the beachside location of this white-colored resort. A great pool that hugs the beach, the hotel is perfectly situated away from the hustle and bustle of the centre of town.
* Villa Amor: sweeping ocean vistas from these hill-hugging suites, and a sexy room concept that does away with outside walls and invites you to see Sayulita through a rustling fringe of palm fronds.
* Haramara: a serenely stylish, magnificently groomed yoga-and-meditation compound that accepts nonpractitioners without making them feel like second-class guests. Sixteen palapas scattered on a jungle bluff overlooking the Pacific a few minutes out of town have no electricity, only kerosene lamps and candles.
If you are looking for something more budget-friendly, we highly recommend both Hostal Casa Amistad and the Sayulita Trailer Park & Bungalows. The private rooms at the Hostal are spacious, clean, and accommodating (USD50 per night); and we had a great 2-bedroom apartment at the Sayulita Trailer Park, with sunroom, bathroom, kitchen, and living room, for only USD80 per night.
Another option: check out sayulitalife.com for a wide variety of Spanish-style vacation homes, apartments, and villas.
12. To do…
* Hire paddleboards/surfboards from Kalle at Lunazul Surf School, and book in for some surf lessons as well. We loved nothing more than starting our day with an hour-long paddleboard session out from the main beach. On our last morning, we were completely blessed to be out in the ocean with two enormous, peaceful humpback whales playing in the waters just 100m in front of us. We named them Esperanza and Fortuna! Awe-inspiring creatures. Kalle (half Mexican/half Finnish) and his team are super friendly and can offer up some sweet recos for surf spots off the tourist map. Kalle gave us a great tip about La Lancha - a surf beach 20mins south of Sayulita.
* Day trip to La Lancha (700 peso/USD55 return trip in a cab) – great surf spot 20mins south of Sayulita. The only catch is you have to have a board to enter this spot. The entrance is guarded by security, and they wont let you in unless you have a surfboard or boogie board. Grab a board from Lalunazul. Stop at KM5 (in Higuera Blanca) on the way home, for a beer and guacamole on the rooftop. Great tunes and views over the jungle.
* Weekly Organic Food Market (Mercado del Pueblo): every Friday on Calle Miramar.
* Arrange a private chef: Carlos Rojas works for catering company ITAKATE. He is an excellent chef and extremely professional. Our tastebuds were spoiled by his delicious homemade shrimp ravioli, sautéed sea bass with cauliflower puree, and red wine pears with homemade ice cream. For more information, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
* Rent a car / golf buggy / boat!
* Day trip to San Pancho: just 10mins north of Sayulita (200 peso/$15 return cab ride). A smaller, somewhat quieter, version of Sayulita. A beautiful long, white, sandy beach and some cute spots to eat/drink.
* Walk and explore! Continue along the beachside road in Sayulita to visit the city's cemetery. On many of the graves you'll see decorations and flowers from the Day of the Dead, when local families go to visit their dead relatives. If you go to the cemetery, pack your bathing suit and walk through to the secluded beach called La Playa de Los Muertos. It's where local families like to go, and the surf is calm. Nice place for a picnic.
13. To shop…
* Gypsy Gallery is our favorite store in town. Colorful, chaotic, and jam-packed full of Mexican tiles, pareus, antique oriental rugs, textiles, leather bags, Day of the Dead papier-mâché figures, plates, tray, jewelry, and Frida Kahlo-inspired anything and everything.
* Pachamama: this colorful, gyspet boutique is on the main brick path down to the beach. Inside you’ll find cute leather bags, jewelry, beach towels and homewares. Sininen Surf Shop, a few doors down, has some good surf-friendly bikinis on offer.
* El Revolution del Sueno for home goods embroidered in ultra neon colors. Think tees, hoodies, cards, posters, bags, beach towels, sarongs, jewelry, and sunglasses.
14. Things to note…
Getting there: From Puerto Vallarta, you can take a taxi for approx. 650 pesos (USD50) one-way. Otherwise, walk over the pedestrian bridge outside the entrance and get the bus (for only 25 pesos, USD2). This only takes a little longer than a cab, and drops you off near the centre of town. Another option is to organize ashuttle service from Sayulita for about USD130 round trip.
Money: There are several ATMs in Sayulita – but they often run out of cash! A bit of a problem, given Sayulita is almost entirely a cash economy. You can use US dollars at some stores, but it's definitely better to use pesos. Try to grab pesos at the airport first if you can.
Weather: Winter is a perfect time to visit: clear skies, highs in the low to mid 80s, and lows in the high 60s or low 70s. Summer is the rainy and hotter season (crazy humidity at times) – but still paradise.
Tourist Cards: This applies for any trip to Mexico. Do not lose this card. You need it to leave the country. You will get one on the plane going to Mexico and it will be stamped by Mexican immigration upon entry. Should you lose the card a new one will be issued at the airport, but it will take time and cost money.