Famous for its white sandy beaches and beautiful landscapes, Mexico has long been a favorite for sun-seeking travelers. But what if you’re looking for a vacation getaway without the mega resorts or hoards of tourists found in cities like Cancun or Cabo San Lucas?
A mere 45 minutes north of the bustling tourist town of Puerto Vallarta lies the village of Sayulita, which is quickly being transformed from a small surf town into a hidden gem for travelers.
The first thing you’ll notice is how rustic and traditional it still is. Cobblestone streets are lined with shops selling locally produced artwork and souvenirs, and restaurants serve fresh seafood caught earlier that day. Each night, music can be heard being played in the town square, while street performers and people literally dance in the streets. The combination of Mexican surf culture and foreign travelers creates a laid-back, international vibe. For those seeking a tropical oasis that’s truly off-the-beaten-path, Sayulita is that magical place.
Where to Stay
You won’t find any massive hotels or resorts in Sayulita, but that’s a good thing. The ‘biggest’ resort is Villa Amor, a boutique hotel on the south side of town overlooking the bay. The full-service hotel consists of approximately 30 villas spread across a hillside, each one unique. The staff is helpful, friendly and everyone speaks English. Prices vary based on the villa and season, and they range in size from studios to 5-bedroom units. The location is ideal: a short ten-minute walk into town and just five minutes from the beach.
If Villa Amor isn’t your style, you can find private villas of all sizes on Airbnb as well as other hotel options in town. The website sayulitalife.com is a great resource, with reviews on many different properties.
Insider Tip: Book your transportation to and from the Puerto Vallarta airport before you arrive. You can do this through your hotel and it costs around $150 USD round-trip per shuttle (up to 7 people fit in each shuttle). This will save you time, hassle and money compared to catching a cab or booking a car service at the airport.
Editor’s Tip: There is a regular city bus that goes to Sayulita every day from morning to night for about 30 pesos each way. It takes about an hour and half to get from downtown Vallarta to Sayulita, but it’s an entertaining ride with gorgeous views of the surrounding landscapes and saves your money for shopping and dining – two things Sayulita does very well.
Where to Eat
There’s no shortage of food options in Sayulita. A quick walk around town and you’ll notice dozens of choices, from authentic Mexican cuisine to Italian to fresh seafood.
Tacos y Mariscos ‘El Rinconcito’: The best, fish tacos we’ve ever had. Another favorite is the fresh fish ceviche served on a flat tostada. The restaurant offers homemade hot sauce and salsa on every table. It’s quite simply a must-visit spot.
Tierra Viva: Located just off the town square, it boasts some of the freshest seafood in town. Always order the special, which changes regularly based on the daily catch, such as Seared Ahi and Prawns served over garlic mashed potatoes…amazing.
Los Corazones: Also just off the town square, Los Corazones offers Mexican fusion consisting of a variety of traditional dishes with a twist. We had the calamari appetizer, seared ahi and grilled sea bass entrees. Their margaritas are also the best in town.
Choco Banana: Right in the middle of town, this is the spot for breakfast. They started out in 1991 selling chocolate-dipped bananas from a stand, and now offer a wide variety of Mexican and American breakfast dishes.
If you’re looking for something on the lighter side, they also offer baked goods and smoothies. Another nice perk: they have fast, free WiFi.
Other favorites include Don Pedro’s, Miro Vino, Burrito Revolucion, Monchis and La Rustica.
Insider Tip: While it’s hard to go wrong with food in Sayulita, stay away from the restaurants with eager waiters trying to lure you in. We made the mistake of trying one of these places—the food was terrible and almost double the price of any other restaurant we visited.
What to Do
Whether you’re surfing, standup paddle boarding, lounging, or enjoying a few cocktails, the main beach is a good option. The beach is also where you’ll find a number of surf shops, beach activity rentals and an endless row of beach bars. One thing to keep in mind: there are lots of vendors selling trinkets, blankets and just about anything else you can imagine. A simple, “No, gracias,” and they’ll continue on their way.
If you’re looking for a beach without the hassle of vendors, the North Sayulita Beach is where you want to be. It’s a bit of a walk down the beach, or you can take a five-minute drive or taxi ride to the north side. This area consists mainly of large villas and residential neighborhoods, so there are less people competing for beach space. The sand is powdery white and you’ll find some welcoming little beachside bars and restaurants; but it’s not recommended to swim or surf here due to the strong undercurrent.
Another beach option is La Playa de Los Muertos, which translates to ‘the beach of the dead.’ The name comes from an old cemetery located near the beach. While this may sound creepy and not like a place you want to visit, the beach itself is secluded, beautiful and has far less people. It’s also a great place for snorkeling.
Be sure to do some shopping. Take a walk around the town square and you’ll find a wide range of boutiques worth checking out. One of our favorites is Revolucion Del Sueno, where we found magnets, postcards and special gifts for loved ones. Each item is handmade by local artists and very unique. But don’t forget to take home some souvenirs from Sayulita for yourself—after you’re home, you’re going to want some reminders of this remarkable Mexican gem.
Insider Tip: If you’re looking for a unique experience that also helps the environment, join local volunteers on the North Sayulita Beach and help release newly born sea turtles to the ocean. Visit the beach every evening at sunset between October-January to participate.